Sofia Scotti: España as Text

By Sofia Scotti of FIU

Sofia Scotti is a rising senior at Florida’s International University majoring in English and Psychology and getting certificates both in Women’s Studies and Exile Studies.

Madrid as Text

“A Fight to the Death” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, Madrid

Bullfighting is a traditional, if controversial, sport that is still practiced in varying degrees in many places throughout the world. Nowhere however, is it more thoroughly embedded in the culture than in Madrid where “toreros”, the men who fight the bulls, are treated like NFL players are in the United States. Madrid is home to one of the worlds most important bullfighting rings called Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. When walking into the arena, it quickly becomes evident how popular the sport is with locals and tourists alike. Hundreds upon hundreds of people wait outside to buy tickets and once we got in, not one seat was left empty even in the blistering summer sun. People were on their feet heckling  matadores when they took too long to kill bulls, cheerin hen they killed them in one shot, and openly crying when the men were injured in the fight. It was clear how excited and emotionally invested people got about this sport the same way they would get excited over any other sport. Personally, I had a hard time watching the bullfight. The bull just seemed completely defenseless and pathetic after having been stabbed a number of times. He struggled to stay on his feet and panted in a way that seemed almost human. Watching the bulls collapse in a heap after minutes of torture just filled me with a lot of sorrow. Despite my deep and increasing moral opposition to the practice, I’m still glad I went. I really got myself in the mindset of a local who  feels that this is a part of his cultural heritage or that this is no worse than slaughtering a cow for meat. In a way I understand the argument despite the fact that I believe it’s wrong to torture animals for entertainment. Madrid’s bullfighting culture, despite its brutality, taught me a lot about opening my mind up to others while staying firm in my convictions when they are based on both experience and research

Toledo as Text

“Monstrosity” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo

When standing before the monstrance of Toledo’s cathedral Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, it’s difficult not to lose sight of everything else in the room. All of the other priceless treasures kept in the same area fade into background noise and the only thing my brain could focus on was the obscenely opulent monstrance placed before my eyes. At 309.5 cm tall, it towers over the rest of the room and with its gold, silver, and jeweled embellishments it gives the impression of a true piece of treasure. The monstrance was created between the years 1517-1524, as commissioned by the Cardinal Cisneros, to be used every year in the feast of Corpus Christi that is held in Toledo. It consists of a mind boggling 5600 pieces and is held together by 12,500 bolts. Gold from Queen Isabella the Catholic’s personal collection was actually melted down to create it and jewels that she donated were used in it as well. The monstrance was created to honor God and celebrate to His splendor and majesty in an earthly manner but as someone who was raised Catholic myself, it’s breathtaking beauty in some ways alludes to a Catholic Church firmly cemented in earthly displays of power and beauty while ignoring the legitimate plights of people who it claims to fight for. Gold used for this display could have been utilized instead to help the poor in the country gain shelter and food. But if I believed that the afterlife was all that there is or at least all that is important, maybe I too would use all my wealth not to help the poor and my community in this life but to honor God so much that he would save us all in the next.

Granada as Text

Photograph by Sofia Scotti (CC 4.0)

“A World Beyond Our Own” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at The Hall of Abencerrajes, Alhambra, GranadaI

In The Hall of Abencarrajes, it is said that 36 gentlemen of the family Abencerrajes were executed by order of the Sultan Mouley Hacen. Though I had always been aware of the role of geometry in art and architecture, I had never so viscerally been affected by it as I was looking at the dome in the Hall of Abencarrajes. Every inch of the walls and ceilings seemed to be covered in details that altogether overwhelmed the senses in a way intended to emulate divinity. My eyes couldn’t find a place to land in a room full of information. Once I thought I understood an inch of the wall the next inch came along and then the next each more complex than the last. At once I felt as if I was in a cave carved slowly over a millennium to have stalagmites hanging down from the ceiling and as if I were living in a palace designed only by the best architects of the time and worked on deliberately by craftspeople over centuries. I can’t imagine that even after living there for a century or more, one could begin to memorize the patterns or be less filled with awe when one looks at it. Part of its wonder for me however, may be in just how alien the design was to me. I have become so used to European art and its depiction of humanity and reality that the abstract and functional sculptures of the Moors was impossible to process. I can’t imagine what it must have been like being one of the knights slaughtered in the Hall of Abencerrajes and having the last thing I see be something so complex and beautiful. To ride through the seven heavens myself and endup squarely at the center of a lote tree before passing on to whatever truly comes next.

Sevilla as Text

“Grappling With a Colonialist Past” by Sofia Scotti of FIU in Sevilla

Being in Sevilla has further allowed me to consider the legacies that we inherit from our ancestors and the roles that each of us plays in carrying them forth while deriving our own meaning from them. In my home, we have a chart illustrating the genealogy of my family tracing back to the sixteenth century. The furthest back we have been able to trace it shows that my family was some of the first settlers on Argentinian soil. The first Argentine settlement was in 1536 and my family came in about 1600. Every day I pass by it and think about the deep colonialist history that my very existence represents and whether proudly displaying that history in our homes is constructive or not. To walk around Sevilla is to grapple with a similar conflict. Sculptures around Sevilla represent a continual celebration of colonialism and a deep awareness of the wealth that they were able to build while often remaining indifferent to the violence that was carried out to build it. When looking up at the balcony of the Palace of San Telmo, I am shocked by the self awareness of the city. The fact that they acknowledge the role of colonization in building their state and the celebration of it strikes me as problematic at the very least but actively violent at worst. I love Sevilla and I love my family but in some cases love requires critical analysis and the active decision to work to improve the legacies we inherit. While the people of Sevilla may have inherited a violent past, that does not mean they need to continue that legacy into the future. I think about how my very identity is built on the backs of Native Americans who had their land stolen by the people whose livelihoods I have inherited just as Sevilla’s identity is. I cannot change what my ancestors have done. What I can do instead is refuse to celebrate their violent actions and build a different legacy for myself.

Sitges as Text

“House of the Rising Sun” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at Sitges

The sun rises on two ends of the earth and it is similarly recognized as a life bringing force in both areas. The sun symbolizes life and joy for people both in the western and eastern hemisphere and on both ends people have appropriated the symbol for their homes. While in Sitges, the house facing the east, named Maricel, has as its symbol the red sun rising over the ocean so too does The Deering Estatein Miami. Maricel was the home of Charles Deering in Sitges and the inspiration for his later home in South Florida the Deering estate. Maricel gets its name from the Catalan words for sea and sun two symbols prominent throughout the house as well as the Catalan bloody bars. Both homes look out onto the water and both have a distinctly Mediterranean style one that later infused the homes of natives of Miami for generations to come. When sitting back at my home in Miami I see the tiles that decorate the flooring in the same cau ferrat blue that permeates Cau Ferrat and Maricel. These are tiles that emulate the style of the Sitges house and I now am keenly aware of just how much the aesthetics here in Miami have been influenced by Calalunyan culture. While many of us think of Spain’s influence in Miami as being mainly based in its colonization of the region, Maricel was a reminder of the aesthetic values that were carried over later on and the influence that a modern Spain continued to have on Miami for decades.

Barcelona as Text

“Baptism of Flames” by Sofia Scotti of FIU in Barcelona

The fire rained down on us as we looked into the square where the devil danced. The devil representing hedonism and a life of temptation while the fire represented purification of one’s soul. The imagery in a sense perfectly connects the life of Saint John the Baptist, for whom the Sant Joan festival was originally intended to celebrate, with the modern world in which he is still worshipped. He is a saint best known for being the first to baptize people into the Catholic Church. For Catholics, baptism wipes away original sin and opens the doors of heaven for individuals who otherwise would be stuck in limbo for eternity. This ceremony is usually done with water which symbolizes purity and cleansing just as fire does. The Sant Joan festival additionally overlaps with the summer solstice making it a celebration of one of the shortest nights of the year. Catholics believe that Saint John was born six months before Jesus hence his birthday and the celebration on June 24th. This is one of the few catholic celebrations that celebrates life instead of  death. There is a certain natural balance in watching fire, the elemental opposite of water rain down on those who are looking into the devils dance. It is like watching a baptism take place with an opposing force. At once it is a warning against a life of sin and yet undoubtedly a temptation towards it. The fireworks dance over the water and remind us of the joy and danger that can come from playing with fire and of the open arms of purification that await you even when you do slip into temptation.

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