Italy As Text: Spring 2020 by Elaine Arias

Elaine Arias

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Elaine Arias is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor of science in biochemistry. She has always hoped to work in the medical field because of her love for science, but it was her passion for animals that lead to her aspiration of one day becoming a veterinarian. Elaine is currently the community service chair of a student organization for students in pre-health tracks called Alpha Epsilon Delta. When she is not in school, she enjoys spending time with her loved ones and shadowing a small animal veterinarian. However, one of her favorite things to do on her free time is to go stand-up paddle boarding with her close friends. Elaine has always loved traveling to other countries and has visited some amazing places, but she has never had the opportunity to immerse herself somewhere and be able to say she really got to know it. That is one of the main reasons she is looking forward to studying abroad in Italy with FIU Honors.

“Third Time’s A Charm” by Elaine Arias of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

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On January 31st, I had the privilege of attending Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and receiving what was basically a free tour of the place. This was not my first time visiting John Deering’s famous estate, but actually my third. However, the first two times were with the intention of using the breathtaking gardens and architecture as a photography venue. Without knowing anything about Vizcaya, all visitors undoubtedly appreciate its eminent beauty. From the trees to the fountains, it is obvious upon first glance that everything in the museum and gardens was planned to perfection. Little did I know about the rich history of Vizcaya and the many influences responsible for the creation of such a unique place. 

From the moment I stepped in the door, I was fascinated by how much thought John Deering put into every part of the estate. He merged Italian, French, and Spanish cultures in a way that was unprecedented in his time and very impressive in ours. Out of all the ways he did this, my favorite has to be the way he integrated these cultures and their history into the architecture and landscaping of the estate. For example, inside the actual house, the first area you walk into is an interior garden enclosed by the house itself. Deering’s inspiration for this was from ancient Italian homes in places like Pompeii and Venice, where it was impossible to have a garden outside your home due to limited space. If I were to add an aspect of ancient Italy in my home, I would choose an interior garden as well, so I can definitely see why Deering did. 

Another example of Italian influence that caught my eye was Deering’s “secret garden”. I have always been a sucker for romance, so when I heard the inspiration for this small, secluded garden I was instantly interested. The garden (pictured above) is surrounded by tall walls that make it impossible to see until you are inside. Once you walk in, it is clear what the center of attention is meant to be. Located at the very front of the garden is an intricate bench (pictured above) surrounded by symbols of love, such as a large seashell similar to the one the Roman goddess, Venus, was born out of. Deering created this garden to allude to where forbidden lovers would meet in ancient Italy, since people of different social classes were not allowed to form relationships with each other. Despite having seen this garden my first two times in Vizcaya, knowing the inspiration for it definitely made me see it in a new light – and the same applies for the rest of the museum.

“The Tragedy Behind the Mural” by Elaine Arias of FIU at MOAD

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The Museum of Art and Design at the Freedom Tower is definitely rich in history. However, it was the New World mural that stood out the most to me because of the irony of what it represents and the true story behind it. The mural is supposed to serve as a symbol of the old world joining with the new world, as is depicted by the center of the mural, in which Spanish settler Ponce de Leon can be seen on a ship beside a Tequesta tribe chief (pictured above). The rest of the mural has subtle details, such as fruits and mystical beings, that were obviously meant to depict all the riches and prosperity that the settlers and missionaries were bringing to the “savage” Tequesta people. 

Nowhere in the mural is any representation of all the foreign diseases they brought along as well. The Tequesta people had not been in contact with any foreigners before, therefore they had never been exposed to the types of diseases the Spanish were already accustomed to. As a consequence, most of the Tequesta tribe was wiped out, leaving the remaining persons weak and defenseless against neighboring tribes. It is this tragedy behind the merging of the old and new worlds that makes this mural so ironic in nature. 

However, there is a more positive way to see this mural. Since the Freedom Tower where the mural is displayed was once the center of Cuban immigration, the mural could also represent the beginning of immigration in the United States. This country is known for being made up of immigrants from all over the world, so I find it fitting to look at the mural as a symbol for that instead. But of course, it will always serve as a way to remember the Tequesta people as well. 

“Where You’ll Find Me” by Elaine Arias of FIU at The Deering Estate

Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0

The walking tour at the Deering Estate was one I was definitely looking forward to attending, but the current worldwide pandemic had other plans for all of us. Although I have not had the privilege of personally visiting the famous Deering Estate, I was able to learn about the things that make the place so great through an informative virtual tour. With this tour, I was able to read about the estate and give myself something to look forward to for when the world eventually bounces back. 

Out of all the interesting things to see and places to explore at the Deering Estate, there was one that called to me the most. The moment this pandemic crisis ends, Deering Point is where you will find me. I have always loved being in the water and I jump at any opportunity to see marine life in its natural habitat. That is why when I read that the Deering Estate has free, public access to the Biscayne Bay for unmotorized vehicles, I knew I had to go with my stand-up paddleboard. 

I have always wanted to take my paddleboard to Biscayne Bay, but I gave up on finding somewhere with an easily accessible, public entrance to the bay. Deering Point not only has this, but it also has plenty of parking right near the docks! This makes the area convenient for unloading everything and allows you to spend the whole day in the water without worrying about where you left your car. Of course, the convenience of Deering Point has nothing on the amazing animals you have the possibility of seeing. Since freshwater and saltwater meet at Biscayne Bay, the area is rich in food and habitats for manatees and other marine animals. However, the water is not the only source of excitement. Every day at sunrise and sunset, an astonishing amount of birds are seen flying across the bay. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the day I get to visit the estate and finally see these things for myself.

“Hidden Gems“ by Elaine Arias of FIU at Miami Beach

Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0

I grew up in Miami, and while for me that does not mean I grew up anywhere near Miami Beach, it does mean that going to the beach was a big part of my childhood and adolescence. I remember going to South Point beach with my family every weekend during the summer and on spontaneous weekends throughout the year when the weather would allow it. Despite the number of times I went to Miami Beach with my family, and on my own when I finally got a car, there are still many hidden gems I had no idea existed. 

Before reading the virtual tour of South Beach, I only saw it as a place for sandy beaches and good food. I never noticed the art deco buildings that define the area, nor the little artistic representations of Miami’s culture. The Betsy Hotel, located on the famous Ocean Drive, is known for incorporating art and culture into its design as well as its overall guest experience. Not only does The Betsy offer rooms for its artistic guests, such as the “Writers’ Room”, but it also displays artwork and photography from emerging artists in the visual arts exhibit, which is available for all guests to appreciate. 

The best way this hotel shows its support of the arts is with The Betsy Poetry Rail. This rail, lined with trees on the side of the hotel, is a prime example of Miami Beach’s artistic architecture and the bigger purpose it serves. The rail itself is made up of several famous poems, whose authors are believed to significantly embody Miami’s identity. This subtle piece of architecture allows all Miami Beach visitors to appreciate the poets’ art, whether staying at The Betsy or not. Next time I visit, it will definitely be for the poetry rail, instead of the beach. 

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