For too many years, I could envision no surer indication of existential triumph than retirement in Florida. Even at age 8, I wanted this for my golden years.
I was destined for Miami. For Jewish girls and the Davids and Jacks and Jasons who love them, the Sunshine State is our cultural inheritance. We grow up; we grow old; we move to Florida. We regress, reviving terry cloth tracksuits and daytime television and applesauce. We become AARP card carriers and take our grandchildren out on the town for milkshakes. We bake babka from scratch.
For me, the reverie was a modest rebellion. My maternal grandmother lives in Toronto and snacks on raw almonds. On my dad's side, Nana fell hard for New York and trained for marathons. A talented cook and reluctant baker, she never made rugelach. But she plied us with other delicacies, treating us to Thai lemonade and cheesecake and bottles of Essie Bordeaux. Between them, I had zero bubbes and zero babkas and no condo in Boca Raton to which to retreat for Passover.
I would do better.
Which is why I jumped—metaphorically speaking, of course; it is really so hard on the joints—at the chance to score early-bird access to paradise and experience Lapis at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Armed with decades of devout precedence, I set off for retirement.
As the Israelites escaped from Egypt, I, too, leave behind the oppression of New York to wander these unfamiliar lands. I arrive in Miami and find it humid and sunlit. There are palm trees; everything smells like citrus. Along the boardwalk that winds around the Fontainebleau, I determine that women fall into two demographics. Between the ages of 14 and 45, they sport Brazilian bikinis and neon crop tops. Older, they outfit themselves in colorful kaftans, slinky jersey dresses, and visors. For both generations, animal print is prevalent.
I remember that I have packed three one-piece bathing suits and much shapeless knitwear. My birthdate notwithstanding, I know to which sisterhood I belong. After I power walk for a few more minutes, I go upstairs to have a short “lie down.” Dinner is not until 7pm, which is midnight in Geriatric Standard Time. For a moment, I wonder whether I am too young and vital to need rest, but the stillness is utter bliss. I have not yet had a detox smoothie or been scrubbed into oblivion. And yet, I am more at peace than I have been since Hanukkah. Even for a few hours, retirement is good. Later, I order two glasses of wine and ask for extra Parmesan cheese at dinner. Life is too short for deprivation.
I go to sleep as soon as the bill is paid and awake the next morning to stretch and caffeinate and make it to Lapis, a two-level oasis in the Fontainebleau that oozes rejuvenation. I change into a robe and slippers, and I am introduced to what Lapis calls the “ritual water journeys.”
At Lapis, all spa services include access to a collection of water experiences, which I am told are “mineral-enriched therapies to promote renewal and restoration.” To do my ancestors proud, I try to maintain our cultural skepticism. But I can’t. When I walk into the Bleau Rain Room, and pressurized water falls like manna from the sky. The essence of eucalyptus permeates a hazy steam room. As I dip into the Immersion Mineral Water Jet Bath, I swear I see the divine. It’s heaven.
While I wait to be fetched for my therapies, I sit in a small room that tempts me with vitamin C-laced water and apples and fresh-cut oranges. I eat four oranges, helping myself to more thick slices than I even knew I could want. They taste delicious and free. I think of bubbes and zeides around the world; I take an apple to save for later.
A combined Abhyanga Massage and Shirodahra Zekhara Ritual, the Ayurvedic treatment that’s been prescribed for me is unprecedented. The nice man who administers it vows that it will stimulate circulation and reduce exhaustion. As is tradition, he uses long and continuous strokes to knead my back and shoulders. He presses a metal ball into my feet to balance mind and spirit. He tells me that “zekhara” translates to “crown of the head” in Sanskrit and proceeds to pour warm oil on my forehead. The herbal concoction is supposed to soothe me and make me sleep like a babe. Covered in oil, I am human challah dough. I like it.
As soon as the transcendence is over, an aesthetician shepherds me to the “relaxation room.” I take up residence on an oversized lounger and peruse the magazines they offer. There is an issue of Glamour and a battered copy of Ocean Drive. Buried beneath them are more attractive titles. I snatch up Good Housekeeping—in pristine condition (people have no taste)—and More, retreating to my chaise to discover how to wear the hottest accessories of the season. (Scarves! Not just for winter!)
But I soon come across more revelatory counsel in the issue. Tom Brokaw has contributed a meditation on love and marriage and forgiveness. The cover story celebrates Melissa McCarthy, who has decided that perfection is not a precondition for happiness. I read it twice.
When the time comes to leave Miami, I am older and wiser for my proto-retirement there. I have softer skin. And I have understood this: There is no green juice that can promise the satisfaction of an existence enjoyed. Not even the most arduous cardio workout is better for the human spirit than bath salts and shower seats and grandchildren.
At least, that’s what 87-year-old Shirley, whom I met in the hotel lobby, would like me to know.
Photos courtesy of the author. Inside The Top Shelf of a glamorous grandmother.