Italia Spring 2020: Alexia Callava as Texts

My name is Alexia Callava and I am currently a sophomore studying Marketing at Florida International University. Some of my hobbies include, traveling, cooking, going to beach, and spending time with family and friends. I cannot wait to travel more in the future and experience many more cultures, food, and memories.

Vizcaya as Text

“Wait we’re still in Miami?” by Alexia Callava of FIU Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Stain glass window in Vizcaya Museum (photo by Alexia Callava)

Although this was not my first visit at Vizcaya Museum and Garden it was definitely my first time truly embracing all it had to offer and all of its beauty. I never realized the beauty that really was Vizcaya. This hidden beauty. Upon entering the property you are welcomed by a forest of trees that seems never ending. You walk down a path that leads you to the jaw dropping villa. This was the home of James Deering which is located in the heart of Coconut Grove. It is clear that Deering and Chalfin were inspired by European styles specifically from Rome. I never realized how meaningful every inch of the museum really was and how much everything resembles European styles. Deering’s home proves how influential western Europe was in his life that he based his luxurious villa on a many European aspects. He would often travel to Europe in search of inspiration to bring pieces of what he saw back and make it into his reality. When entering the museum one is greeted by the Bacchus fountain which exemplifies Baroque elements. It is a bath tub with Bacchus standing above it who is a copy of the god Dionysus. The tub came from Rome as well as the statue that portrays many Roman characteristics. Bacchus is the god of wine and agriculture which was fitting to the estate due to its wealth and beautiful gardens. When I walked into the tea room I could not help but notice the ray of light that was coming through the stain glass window and how it looked as it reflected on some of my classmate’s faces. It was beautiful much like the stain glass window you would see in a Catholic Church. Beyond the stain glass windows you can see the breathtaking views of the garden. There are truly no words to describe the gardens and how I felt when I saw them. It was beautiful and out of a magazine. There was not one leaf out of place in this garden and the amount of effort that goes into it to keep it in the pristine condition Deering kept it in is evident. The Columbian style garden was designed by Diego Suarez who was landscape designer that incorporated many trees, bushes, and even fountain into this project. Despite the beaches and other aspects Miami has to offer, it does have one beautiful hidden gem and that is Vizcaya.

MOAD as Text

“Where it All Began” by Alexia Callava of FIU at MOAD

Tower of Snow. (Photo by Alexia Callava)

Upon visiting the MOAD I had no idea what I was walking into or how I would feel the second I walked through the doors. MOAD stands for Museum of Art and Design, located in Downtown Miami very close to the shore. I mention it is close to the shore for a very specific reason. That reason is due to the fact that that same shore is what gave entry way for most Cubans to begin their new life here in The United States of America. I did not know really what this building was whenever I would pass in front of it. It just reminded me of the Biltmore Hotel, which has very similar architecture. But little did I know that this building had so much more meaning than “just the building that looks like the Biltmore” and would carry such a special place in my heart for years to come.

This building represents all the struggles that many Cubans here in Miami endured, including my grandmother. This very building is what gave my grandmother her freedom to create a life here in the U.S. During our visit to the museum I had the opportunity to text my grandmother and ask her about this very building and she explained all that it meant to her. She explained to me that right when she landed from Cuba, she went to the Freedom Tower which is now the MOAD. The day after our visit I decided to go to my grandmother’s house and talk about my time at the museum as well as her experience many years back. While talking, she made me a cafecito which really took me back to my Cuban roots. She explained to me the feeling she had when entering the Freedom Tower where they gave her a bag filled with spam, powdered eggs, cheese, and clothes. She described receiving that clothes as the best feeling in the world despite the fact that it was used and not in the best condition. It was hard for her to leave most of her belongings back including many of her favorite clothes, so the feeling of receiving even just a t-shirt was indescribable she said. This she said was the beginning of her new life in a city where she would meet my grandfather and begin her beautiful life.

Another aspect of this visit that really spoke to me was the “Tower of Snow” which is a statue of a young boy carrying a house on his back while on crutches. This is such a powerful statue with an even more powerful meaning behind it. It symbolizes the great amount of struggle that many Cuban- Americans went through in order to make a home in this country. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to leave everything behind including your home, but this is what most Cuban- Americans did in order to begin a new life, including my grandmother.

Deering Estate as Text

“Hidden secrets of Deering” by Alexia Callava of FIU at Deering Estate

Boat Basin. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

Deering Estate is a history packed gem located in Miami that hosts many locals as well as tourists. The gem itself was home to Charles Deering in the 1920s but now is a museum that offers tours to all. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic I did not have the opportunity to physically take the Deering tour. I have had the privilege, though, of visiting earlier in the year for a poetry reading with some of my classmates. Prior to the reading I decided to walk around and see what Deering was all about and let me tell you, its beauty is so captivating.

Through this tour I truly felt like I was back at Deering learning all about its roots and history in person. One aspect of the tour that stood out to me was the fact that most of the workers on the estate were African American and the conditions were so poor it resulted in several deaths. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the boat basin because that was personally my favorite part when I last visited. The view is absolutely breathtaking and definitely such an amazing place for pictures or selfies. I saw so many animals such as small fish, manatees, and a dolphin. Nowadays many wild animals need to be protected and I think that having rules and regulations about not letting motor vehicles into the area is an awesome way to let the animals roam freely without any dangers. After quarantine, I will definitely be returning to the estate to experience the thousands of birds that travel through the basin.

If I am being honest, I really did not know of the island of Chicken Key and how it came to be the island that it is today. It is so interesting how it has evolved to what it is through “quartz and limestone sands by ocean currents.” Though this is not your typical island with beaches and resorts it does show how islands like those do form and evolve. I would love to keep learning about this island as well as participate in the debris cleanups that some fellow schoolmates organize. By kayaking through Biscayne Bay, I feel as if I would learn even more and have a different view of Deering as well as everything around the area.

The estate truly does offer so much history and beauty but another aspect that I will definitely go back, and visit is the Nature Preserve. I would love to take a tour and experience Deering as it was back when Miami was not so modernized. The image on the tour truly looks like something out of a movie and definitely does not look like it belongs in Miami. This is what makes the estate so special and popular, the fact that you can come here and learn so much and feel as if you have traveled somewhere else. There really is so much to do and see in Deering and every aspect has such a deeper meaning than what it seems to be. For example, the Tequesta Midden which might just look like mangroves, sticks, and trees but has so much more history than anyone would expect. Here you can find some of the tools that the Tequestas used back in the day, which is quite amazing. You can also find a freshwater spring in between mangroves which looks so refreshing and beautiful. There truly is so much offered here at the estate and I am saddened that I did not have the opportunity to experience it all in person. I am glad, though, that I was able to take a virtual tour that was so detailed and thought out.

Miami Beach as Text

“South Beach: Built by Women” by Alexia Callava of FIU at Miami Beach

Barbara Baer Capitman Memorial. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

South Beach is probably the most visited area in all of South Florida due to many reasons. There is truly nothing like South Beach or even Ocean Drive itself, because there is so much to see and do. There is a lot to take in on this street ranging from the architecture and art to different restaurants and even historical sites such as the Versace Mansion. You will never find Ocean Drive empty because if it is not locals, there are tourists that are constantly walking up and down the street. With the immense amount of people, traffic is horrendous especially during the summer or weekends. Although I have been to South Beach and walked down Ocean Drive several times I have never really learned about the history or much about it at all.

Miami is such a history packed city and it is truly evolving all the time. South Beach was not always this beautiful and fun tourist attraction though. It had to start somewhere and when Carl Fisher discovered it back in the early 1900s it was land with mangroves and tons of mosquitos.  Fisher wanted to create this land into somewhere where he could escape and vacation to, which is what this area is known for today.

So much from the virtual tour stood out to me and interested me but one part in particular really caught my attention. This was the Barbara Baer Capitman Memorial, which I have never actually heard of and so reading through this section was so enticing. This was truly so inspiring to read because throughout history women are seen as less than men and not capable of the things that men can accomplish, which is so far from the truth. This memorial is a perfect example of this, and every woman should look up to Barbara and Julia Tuttle as figures of hope and pride. When reading, “Miami is truly a result of the visions of strong women” I felt nothing but pride that it was women who built the city I so love and call my home. It was through women and their drive that Art Deco exists today and is so protected and will truly never change. While reading this short snippet of information I wanted to learn more about Barbara and Julia, so I started reading the article that was linked under this section. I enjoyed reading this article so much and felt even more inspired considering that Barbara was seen as a shy and timid woman which I might describe myself as sometimes. Despite her shy voice she was a very successful woman and is the reason why Art Deco exists as it does today. She was so passionate and would stop at nothing to see her visions come to life. Art Deco still is very prominent on Ocean Drive where you can still see all the buildings looking just as they did back in the day. I do believe this is one of the reasons why this area is still so popular to this day and brings in so many people from around the world. It was through women not giving up and fighting for what they wanted that Miami Beach is what it is today, and Art Deco still exists.

History Miami as Text

“The Good and The Bad” by Alexia Callava of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum

Seminole History. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

I truly cannot believe I have never visited the HistoryMiami Museum or know anything about it really. I am glad I had the opportunity, though, to take a virtual tour and learn many things about a place that carries so much history and information about my home for the last twenty years. When I started the tour, I made sure to watch the video that was provided to really get to see how it looks inside instead of just seeing it through images.  This aspect of the tour made it all the more special and enjoyable. Of course, living somewhere for twenty years you get to know the area and know a good number of things but there is still an enormous amount of information that I have yet to learn and that information lies here at the HistoryMiami Museum.

This museum tells a story and I feel that is what brings many people here and what unites individuals. One aspect that I personally enjoyed reading about was the “Miami Circle” which focuses on the Tequesta which I have recently learned about through another tour. It was nice reading more about them as I have prior knowledge and know about how they used their tools in their everyday lives. At the museum you are able to interact with some of these tools which I find to be all the more enjoyable and enticing. This makes the tour much more intimate than just listening to a guide or reading information. This “Miami Circle” is basically known to be a circle with deep holes that archeologists believe the Tequestas used for their ceremonies.

The whole tour was very enlightening, and I feel as if I have gained a great amount of knowledge by following along the story of how South Florida became what it is today. I also appreciate the museum showing the good and the bad of history because some places might just focus on the good things and completely ignore the ugly side. As I was following the tour “The Creek Migration” exhibit really stood out to me. At first, based on the image of the canopy I thought this section would tell stories of some of the beaches in South Florida. Whenever anyone sees a canopy they think of the beach and laying out and getting some sun. This canopy, though, is different it tells such a powerful and sad story about how the Creek tribes had to leave their homes due to a genocide. It is really heartbreaking to read such a thing because you can only imagine what it has to feel like leaving your home and everything you know to escape harm and death. This in fact reminded me of what some of my ancestors and many others had to go through when leaving behind their beloved home, Cuba.  

This tour has truly made me feel so many emotions because you learn that history really is not always pretty or nice. Another aspect that caught my attention was seeing the orange and yellow trolley that roamed the streets of Miami at one point. Of course, I know about segregation but seeing signs that read “white passengers seat from front” really gets to someone. I have learned about that aspect of history but physically seeing that sign and in a vehicle that still exists in the city I live in is surreal and very saddening. The things I learned about today made it all the more interesting due to the fact that this was the history of the place I live in. Considering this, I felt more touched by the information I learned had it been about the history if another city. Like I mentioned this tour is so authentic and shows how things really were without sugar coating anything. I can only imagine what it must feel like to physically be at the museum and the whole experience just be more intimate and personal. This museum has definitely made it on the list of places to go to once quarantine is over.

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