Rachel Pasteris: Miami as Text 2021

Photo taken of Rachel Pasteris in 2020. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/ CC BY 4.0

Rachel Pasteris is a junior working towards a B.A. in Mathematics Education at Florida International University (FIU), as part of FIU Honors. She recently transferred from Miami Dade College (MDC), graduating with an A.A. in Mathematics as part of MDC Honors. Passionate about education, she is looking to specialize in teaching secondary and college students in the subject areas of mathematics and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, making music, playing soccer, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering in her community. As she was born and raised in the multicultural city of Miami, where she grew up surrounded by a large extended family, she is eager to explore what more her home has to offer.


Downtown as Text

Fort Dallas and the William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“History Hidden Through Time”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Downtown, 22 January 2021

Originally called “William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters,” this historic “Long Building,” currently standing in present day Lummus Park, is now known as “Fort Dallas.”  Following the events of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, in 1831, the Second Seminole War transpired.  Consequently, the first three wooden buildings constructed for Fort Dallas commenced in 1835.  Its ownership changed hands when the war ended in 1842.  The fellow who had leased the land in the first place sold the land to his nephew, William F. English, who would adapt the building’s former use at Fort Dallas to plantation slave quarters.  He abandoned the property in 1849 for the California Gold Rush.  Once again, the Army requisitioned it as soldier barracks and a storehouse.

The property continued to be repurposed over time, serving a myriad of means: trading post, county courthouse, post office, restaurant, tea room, and hotel.  In fact, those largely responsible for its successful relocation from Miami River were the Miami Women’s Club and the Everglades Chapter of the American Revolution (DAR).  After being rebuilt in 1929, the city finally designated it a historic site in 1984.  Originally called “City Park,” the site now recognized today as “Lummus Park,” Miami’s first designated park, is the current standing place of this historic structure.

It is quite unfortunate to see how much of Miami’s rich and colorful history has fallen victim to the whims of time.  One may conjecture that few of the residents residing in the city of Miami are even aware of such a complex past. Perhaps in the future society would grow to recognize and appreciate its historic roots.

Source material courtesy of plaque located onsite. Further information may be found online at http://www.historicpreservationmiami.com/pdfs/Fort%20Dallas.pdf


Everglades as Text

Slough Slog at Everglades National Park. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“The Living Amongst the River of Grass”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Everglades National Park, 5 February 2021

As one slogs through the “River of Grass,” is it evident to the trekker how even the air itself is teeming with life, from bough to slough.

The trees, the bald cypress and the pond cypress the two in particular which call this cypress dome home, stand tall and proud, swaying in the wind, their branches bare for the time being, until spring. They carry up on the weight of their limbs several species from the family Bromeliaceae (to which pineapple plants also fall under). These particular kinds, better known as “air plants,” belong to the genus Tillandsia, donning silvery-green leaves as they stay home in the trees.

Several of the cypresses’ bark are speckled with cavities left behind by what one may credit to be some of the prominent local species of woodpecker that can be found year round, among them the pileated woodpecker or “woody woodpecker” (the largest of the woodpecker species), the red cockaded woodpecker (an endangered species that has been reintroduced to the Everglades), the red bellied woodpecker, and the ivory billed woodpecker. Warblers also twitter to and fro, singing about as they go. Many of these have migrated south due to the cold season, currently enjoying the warm weather South Florida is so famously known for, as other “snowbirds” of sorts also flock here during this time of year.

Amongst the numerous insects found onsite, both dragonflies, with approximately 65 species identified thus far, and damselflies (including or the Florida bluet or “the Everglades sprite”) thrive in this Everglades environment.  In fact, a discarded exoskeleton of a dragonfly nymph, remains of the second stage in their life cycles as part of incomplete metamorphosis, was witnessed and photographed by the slough sloggers on the day this post was made. 

Many more creatures may be discovered high and low; these are just but a few of the near and dear flora and fauna which can be seen located along the Slough Slog at Everglades National Park.

Slough Slog with Park Ranger Dylann Turffs. Further information may be found online at https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/sloughslog.htm


South Beach as Text

McAlpin Hotel on Ocean Drive. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Colorful Culture: Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at South Beach, 19 February 2021

For the past 21 years, I have grown up in Miami, visiting South Beach solely within the vicinity of the South Pointe Park Pier.  Never had I walked far beyond the shore, let alone be aware that a whole world seemingly trapped in time, evidently displaying the wonders originating from the heights of the Roaring Twenties, existed outside of the zone I had begun to strictly associate with South Beach.  Today, living in a contrasting kind of twenties, one overrun with widespread shutdowns due to the current global coronavirus pandemic, visitors may now walk down Ocean Drive since the roads have been closed to traffic.  In fact, the City of Miami Beach is now seriously considering the case for a permanently car-free Ocean Drive, which would, in turn, prioritize pedestrians and, no doubt, benefit local tourism.  That being said, there is much to be said about the roots and influences of this particular district located within the confines of Miami.

Barbara Baer Capitman, writer, artist, preservationist, founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) in 1976.  The MDPL is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the appearance and integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District.  She lead the crusade to establish the Miami Beach Art Deco District, the first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, much of which is now preserved and restored to their original style is thanks to her efforts.  The neighborhood is made up of over 800 buildings and structures, built between 1923 and 1943.  Aside from Art Deco, Miami Modern (MiMo) and Mediterranean Revival belong to the three predominant architectural styles found in the Art Deco Historic District.

Four of the local Miami Beach Historic Districts together comprise the National Register Art Deco District.  One of these is Española Way, the first commercial development on Miami Beach in the early 1920s, built to serve as an artists’ colony.  As of May 2017, a revitalization project went underway, making it a pedestrian-only street.  Another notable recent development may be found on the intersection of 12th Street and Ocean Drive: “The Rainbow Crosswalk.”  On the designated plaque, it reads: “Dedicated on November 9, 2018, the Rainbow Crosswalk celebrates Miami Beach as a diverse and inclusive city and salutes the many LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer +) people who worked for decades to preserve and revitalize this unique historic community.”  Bestowed with a beautiful myriad of intricate mosaics, the Jewish Museum of Florida, now owned and run by FIU, was also placed under the National Register of Historic Places.  At the time, Jews were solely permitted to live south of 5th Street.  It is there that they created their first congregation and cemetery in 1913, the beginning of many things for Miami’s Jewish History.  Years later, long overdue, in 1949, a law was passed by Florida’s Legislature that ended discrimination in real estate and hotels.  Many of the Miami Beach Art Deco buildings, now architectural treasures known throughout the world, were designed, built and operated by Jews.  As mentioned before, Barbara Baer Capitman, a Jew, launched the campaign in the 1980s that established the Art Deco District.

Many other colorful cultures not mentioned here contributed to the beauty in art and architecture that tourists travel from far and wide to see for themselves firsthand.  I would encourage anyone intrigued by my brief blurb here to research the representation of those who may have taken part that are not as renowned nor remembered for their part in making Miami the cultural melting pot that it is, that we would rightly respect and honor all for their work.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://mdpl.org and https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/art-deco-historic-district.


Deering as Text

Nature Preserve Trail Bridge at Deering Estate. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Dying to the Past whilst Living in the Present”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Deering Estate, 5 March 2021

Over a decade ago, I visited these grounds for the first time, for my tío and tía’s wedding. Now, I experienced Deering Estate for what it is and what it was, taking in all its former glories, as well as surviving beauties.  We explored several ecosystems onsite, three of them notable in particular: the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, the Pineland Rocklands, the Mangrove Forests. 

In the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, porous oolitic limestone have gradually been eroded away as a result of the acidity associated with rainfall, slowly carving into the Miami Rock Ridge drop by drop, creating solution holes.  Over time, serveral of these solution holes have dried up, leaving sinkholes behind of varying depths.  Hundreds of caves can also be found scattered around alongside the other topographic features of South Florida.

The most famously called “Gumbo Limbo” (elsewhere recognized as “copperwood”) trees by Miami locals, is known for growing extremely fast, so much so that it can grow from seed into a 6- to 8-foot-tall tree in a year and a half.  Funnily enough, it is also nicknamed the “tourist tree,” as it constantly sheds its red flaky exterior bark, resembling sunburnt skin.  These traits make them ideal for resisting hurricane conditions, which so often visit South Florida.

In the Pine Rocklands, other trees have grown to stand their ground as well.  Saw pines remain resistant to the not so uncommon brush fires that often accompany the harsh heat of the summers here.

In recent years, a wooden walkway has been built around a Tequesta burial mound.  As of 2012, the structure was rebuilt, its plaque identifying it as the “Cutler Burial Mound Boardwalk.”  Atop this Miami mountain, a might oak tree had been planted, honoring their dead by bringing life to the site to this day.  Unfortunately, no traceable Tequestan descendants have been delineated, thus, much of their history is lost to us now in the present day.  Hopefully, the little we do know now shall not be forgotten, as we hold on to the treasures the past provides.

Along the trail, one may find iron nails, originally designated as markers for a railroad whose construction site was relocated as a result of the cries of the people.  Off the beaten path, several shell tools can be found adjacent to the mangrove forests.  These so-called tools were merely broken pieces of shells, repurposed for everyday use, such as digging.  The Tequestans and paleo natives utilized their surroundings in ways such as this to support their livelihood amongst the local flora and fauna.

Within the mangrove forests, an unexpected curiosity remains: a stolen plane crash site.  Its tale, largely unknown, but it is believed to have been taken to carry out illegal activity.  And yet, deep within the hardwood hammocks, another mystery still unsolved: an abandoned stone well.  Down below, a Star of David, along with several other unknown inscriptions, is inscribed within its inner walls.

Although some stories may never be uncovered, shrouded or even gone altogether due to divisions within our world or simply lack of care, it is important to value what we have discovered, accessible, within our reach, now.  At Deering Estate, one may glimpse at what Miami, perhaps all of the Florida coastline itself, used to be in its prime, existing untouched in its pure natural state, what a rare site, at that.  As such, we should feel a certain sense of duty to our current homeland, preserving and protecting that which we hold to be precious, wisely stewarding wildlife and all else that exists within these natural ecosystems.  The future is in our hands. Let us not permit history to repeat itself, but yet, learn to grow from our mistakes, withstanding hardships as they come our way, as seen with the nature surviving and thriving ‘till this day.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://deeringestate.org/miami-hiking-trails-parks/ and https://deeringestate.org/conservation/.


Vizcaya as Text

Secret Garden at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“Fateful Encounters”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 19 March 2021

Since I was little, I’ve always been an avid reader. One of my favorite books in middle school was The Secret Garden, authored by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In it, a young English girl, recently orphaned, named Mary, sent to live with her uncle Archibald, whom she had never met before, returns to England from India. Left to explore the house on her own, one day, she discovers the Secret Garden, and, in it, a sad, sickly young boy named Colin, later revealed to be her cousin. Several other individuals belonging to a curious bunch join along the way, leading to a lot of growth, not only in their gardening skills, but in character as well. As a bookworm with well over a hundred books under my belt, along with hundreds more on my shelves still waiting to be read, I would like to imagine that the Secret Garden at Vizcaya would foster a similar tale, both in the past and in the present.

Though the Secret Garden was originally known as the Orchid Garden, the new name is quite fitting nonetheless. The Miami Herald interviewed the chief horticulturist at the gardens, Ian Simpkins, who divulged the following observations:

“You could be anywhere in this garden and you would feel like you were by yourself. That was one of the reasons they called it the Secret Garden. The family had a place to retreat to where they could be by themselves while the head of the house did all of the entertaining.”

Ergo, one may care to speculate the hypothetical happenings that could have been made possible by having such an elusive getaway so close to home on the property. Maybe family, guests, and servants alike had reserved rendezvous, obscured beneath botanical beauties. Other mysteries remain regarding the personal life and sexuality of James Deering, as attempts to document these aspects prove inconclusive. Some speculate that, due to the fact that he never married, he may have been homosexual. As famously quoted from Pride and Prejudice, authored by Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Thus, who is to say that a substantial case may not be made in favor of this theory? Coincidentally enough, artist Paul Chalfin, who worked on Villa Vizcaya (surprisingly never working on another after Deering’s death despite receiving high praise), undoubtedly was homosexual. After a major hurricane in 1934, Chalfin even returned, again, after Deering’s death, to Vizcaya to consult on rehabilitation of the property. Either way, the world may never know.

About 320,000 visitors are welcomed annually to fulfill fairytales of their own, for European-inspired gardens, photography and filming, birthdays, communions, quinceañeras, graduations, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, you name it. It is indeed a very Miami-esque bucket list type of tourist attraction, for romantics, dreamers, adventurers, historians, educators, and tree huggers (like me) alike.

Source material courtesy of plaques on location, along with various linked websites. Further information may be found online at https://vizcaya.org/.


Margulies as Text

“Untitled” by Barry McGee at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“It’s a Piece of Art because It’s an Idea”

By Rachel Pasteris of FIU at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE, 16 April 2021

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eyes.”

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

As we roamed the halls of The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE, Mr. Martin Z. Margulies in the flesh divulged his intimate feelings regarding his collection. It all started with a story: a couple decades ago, a lady friend of Margulies said to him, “All you’re interested in is chasing women and sports: football, basketball,” to which he responded, “What else is there?” to which she suggested, “Well, a guy like you, you could go and collect art.” Margulies continued telling the tale: “so, she goes ahead, and she saw a future with me wasn’t too encouraging,” we laughed, as he presented further, “so what she did is, she found a nice man, and she moved up to Princeton, New Jersey. I lost touch with her. We were really just friends. There was no real romance there, but it was a very wonderful friendship.” Turns out, after all these years, she got married and ended up becoming quite a successful woman, teaching speech therapy, in addition to teaching companies how to communicate with customers, employees, and various people. Coincidentally enough, Margulies actually received a letter from his dear old friend, who had read in a magazine that he was a top collector, to tell him that he’d be happy to know she was coaching the New York Giants. Funny to see how their roles reversed as time went on, apart from each other. Thus is the inspiration for Margulies’ beginnings in collecting art. As to why he opened The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE to the public, well, “I collect art, and I ran out of space in my house,” as good a reason as any, I’d say.

Margulies is an interesting character, to say the least. He began by discussing abstract expression, demonstrating brushstrokes as a composer would wave his baton to orchestrate beauty, gesturing dripping as a pianist would caress the keys to create a cacophony, but not in the way you would think. “If you know the outcome of this painting, then you’ve lost,” he proposed, emphasizing that abstract expression is a subconscious effort on your part. It was their arms, their wrists, their hands that took them to a place of psychic automatism, the theory of not knowing the result. “So, when you doodle, you’re an abstract expressionist,” he remarked, and again, we chuckled.

Another philosophy that he brought to light within the realm of art is the idea of alchemy. I thought of how, like in Merlin, people believed and hoped in these philosophical doctrines, magical practices, and direct investigations of nature, aiming to find the Philosopher’s Stone, the principle that could reveal the secrets of life and transform the very essence of things, turning base metals, such as lead, into gold. As to the tools these artists used, many viewed them as essentially alchemy, as the rust would eventually be gold, eventually that the grass and trees would astound and plant. The coal and clay would one day transform into something of greater value, for now resting in the power of potential. What a beautiful perspective to consider! If only such things were reality; but maybe it’s better that they’re not. Optimism can only take one so far in life.

Finally, Margulies and Bailly touched on the topic of art itself. What is art? Bailly challenged our “traditional notions of art, that it’s a painting on a canvas on a wall, or a sculpture is a freestanding figure,” pointed out how a French artist contradicted this, expressing his sentiment as, “you’re obsessed with an object, when art is an idea.” I found this article from Artspace Magazine titled “It’s The Idea That’s Important”: Christian Boltanski Thinks Art Is Like a Musical Score that Anyone Can Play.” In it, we can read direct quotes from Christian Boltanski on this observation:”…I think that the idea of the relic is completely stupid, especially in art today…what I have been trying to do for a few years now is to escape this idea of the relic…but it’s not an object, it’s an idea…it’s the idea that’s important.” You know what? He’s absolutely right. Bailly elaborated that “the idea is the most important part of art, and then, along with that idea, manifests itself materially is secondary; the idea is most important.” This is the idea of conceptual art. It’s a curious matter. Makes me think of when I read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school and our teacher asked us if eradicating words would destroy the ideas behind the terms themselves, as the government aims to accomplish in the book by implementing Newspeak. Can art exist without a physical, tangible medium? As I answered my teacher then, I believe so. These things are not merely objects in and of themselves. The power of something is not in itself, but in what it can do, its purpose. To close, I’ll leave you, the reader, with this question:

Without ideas, would we even be human?

Private Tour with Martin Z. Margulies. Further information may be found online at https://www.margulieswarehouse.com/.


Silhouette of Rachel Pasteris featuring “Blind Eye 3” by Jennifer Steinkamp at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. Photo by Rachel Pasteris/CC By 4.0

“One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”

Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Augustine of Hippo

“I would rather die of passion than boredom.”

Vincent van Gogh

Author: rachelpasteris

I am currently a full-time student at The Honors College at FIU. I intend to graduate with my BA in Mathematics Fall 2022. Passionate about education, I am looking to specialize in teaching secondary and college students in the subject areas of mathematics and science.

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