My Dinner With Robbe-Grillet

Forget Louis Malle, my evening trying to catch up with with peripatetic curator Hans Ulrich Obrist for a few minutes at Art Basel Miami Beach last weekend felt like it was directed by Fellini. Or Scorsese [think After Hours]. Or John Hughes [Sixteen Candles] for that matter. It was hi-larious chaos all the way through, but somehow it worked.

As our chat got pushed back and back, HUO ended up pulling together a “very small dinner in honor of Alain Robbe-Grillet.” We were to meet at The Shore Club at 8, where HUO had “a room with a terrace for drinks.” Which turned out to be a conference room/office with a tiny outdoor space over the valet parking. It was stocked for an offsite, with rows of tiny Cokes and eclairs, but no cocktails. Or as the dapper Robbe-Grillet–who has more than earned the right to play the curmudgeon–put it, “Il a promis un verre sur la terrace, mais il y a ni de verre, ni de terrace. C’est qu’un balcon!” [Still, it would be a handy space to have on a trip. HUO is a tireless explorer of institutional collaboration; if I consumed infrastructure so voraciously, I would be, too.]

Anyway, No drinks, no terrace, no problem, because HUO’s colleague picked up the phone and ordered a mojito for Monsieur. Then fifteen minutes of smalltalk later, she called to check on the order. So often, these giant art fairs, with their overlapping VIP events, leave you wondering if you’ve chosen the wrong one and are missing something hotter. I knew I was in the best spot in Miami when she called again a few minutes later, and pleaded with the hapless bartender, “Uno mojito, por l’amor de Dios! U-NO Mo-ji-to!”

Like clowns exiting a car, a stream of waiters brought successive, differently concocted mojitos, until we had six, enough for us non-drinkers, too. Then a cart with antipasto and a bathtubful of wine on ice rolled in, which we all nibbled faux-casually in full self-preservation mode, since, except for Mr. Robbe-Grillet, whose eminence gave him the confidence that he would be taken care of, the less famous/faithful among us were not at all sure this wasn’t the only food we’d see that night. Turns out the original restaurant was too noisy, so a quieter venue–for 8 people, at 9pm, on Saturday night, in Miami Beach, during Art Basel–was being sought.

Soon enough Tim Griffin showed up, a restaurant was apparently set, and we piled into the Art|Basel|Miami Beach|BMWs and ended up at The Forge, which sounded like an S&M club and looked like Robin Leach had done over Disney’s Haunted Mansion. It was, naturally, packed with Tony Montanas, and we threaded our way back, back, back through the din–to the chilled silence of a private table in the wine cellar. Nebuchadnezzars of whatever in individual back-lit niches filled the walls [the normal wine cellar was elsewhere]. Sure was quiet. And freezing. We retired to a private courtyard to let the room warm up, which, of course, it never did, so after first trying to set up a table outside, and after I dopily offered to drape my napkin on Robbe-Grillet’s shoulders to stay warm, we went out and joined the haut polloi.

The place was deafening. Though we were able to hear the offer of “surf-and-turf” [at $100+, you’d hope they could come up wit’ a classier name] and the birthday antics of the table next to us, we couldn’t hear across our own table. Thus, most conversation was shouted into the ears of the people on either side of us, or was relayed like a game of telephone to M. R-G. Apparently, they stop playing this game in France at age 5 or so, because R-G [can I call him R-G? I think now I can.] spent an unsettling amount of time with his hands over his ears. Unsettling for me, anyway. I mean, who wants to see anyone–much less one of the greatest writer/filmmakers of the last hundred years–do that when you’re talking to him?

It turned out, though, that several of the table’s stories overlapped: a screening of Last Year At Marienbad on an Icelandic glacier that ended with an emergency airlift; red meat; Patty Hearst and Stockholm Syndrome; Claude Lelouch. Although the owner and staff deserves full credit for their backbending hospitality, the steaks–”Wine Spectator says this is the best steak in the country”–were entirely forgettable. I confess, I ate alone at Outback the night before [come on, I’d just gotten into town, and it was right in front of the containers!], and my steak was easily twice as good, and a quarter the cost.

But whoever the angels in accounting were that night, we can only thank them from afar, because we all bolted for the door in order to make Doug Aitken’s party by 11:30.

Near the end, we were divvying up the rights to the story: Tim Griffin was getting a thinly fictionalized version for his novel; while Robbe-Grillet himself may use it–or at least the curator-as-energizer-bunny/hero version of it–in a film, since he’s apparently showing no signs of slowing down soon; Stefano Boeri may run it in his magazine. I claimed blog rights, which set off a whole new discussion of blogs, the art world, and boingboing. Turns out HUO knows Cory. I guess by definition, two guys who know everyone in the world would know each other, too.