Photo by Balazs Kornis, 2020
Thwin Thet Su San is a Sophomore student studying Finance at Florida International University. She dreams of working as a corporate lawyer after finishing grad school. She came to Miami from Yangon, Myanmar after finishing high school to explore, learn and grow in a new environment. Miami is a wonderful place for her to explore cultures other than the one she had grown up in for the past 17 years. She hopes that she will be able to gain amazing new experiences every week that she spends exploring Miami. Other than that, she loves reading fantasy and other novels in her free time. She recommends The Stranger by Albert Camus! This will be a great course as she will be able to leave the books and explore the real world.
Downtown Miami as Text
“Clash of Cultures” by Thwin Thet Su San of Downtown Miami,January 22,2021
Cramped between tall high rise buildings are different structures of architecture. This indeed is a clash of different cultures. On the corner, a small la ventanita occupies the space, providing quick meals for anyone who wants amazing food. Facing it was a humongous tall structure of a courthouse designed to look like a Babylonian ziggurat. Cars and metro still bustling down the road that divided the two buildings, yet it somehow provides this sense of balance. As we walk further down the street, the courthouse holds a statue of a man named Flagler who had improved the settlements along Miami. But this settlement didn’t come at a cheap price. This settlement had caused a loss in homes and lives of the indigenous, the Spanish and the African Americans. A racial war was upon them after segregation upon people was brought on by Flagler. What made Miami full of culture ranges from the slaves quarters and other buildings built by African Americans people to Wagner, a German man who fell in love with a Haitian Creole woman to indigenous people who had been driven down to Florida and had been settling down there ever since. The different cultures made Miami what it is today. To some people, America was the land of the free, a place of sanctuary and security compared to their home country. Its deep enrichment of Cuban American culture can be found in Downtown Miami where a statue of Operation Pedro Pan stands still, facing the Freedom Tower where they have first gotten their citizenship and moved towards freedom.
Everglades as Text
“Life of a little fish” by Thwin Thet Su San of Florida International University at Everglades National Park, February 5,2021
Mom had always told us that our nature is important to who we grow as a living being. Now, I was just a small fish in a large pond. Mom always reminds me and my siblings that our ancestors have lived in this swamp for a long time and that we should be grateful to be born with diverse plants and algae that we can feed on. I have only been swimming around in a tiny proximity from where I was born. I haven’t seen much but one thing I remembered when I opened my eyes was seeing a clear world where plants seem to stretch for miles and miles. Luscious greens and yellow seem to decorate my home, along with the light that seems to have traveled far through Cypress trees to get into the water. Sparkling streaks of lights serve as a way to explore this swamp even more. As I drift along further, the water gets muddier. The water was full of moving trunks that seem to make the peaceful serenity of my home chaotic. I, unlike my hundreds of brothers and sisters, felt the need to explore these moving trunks. I follow them along, hearing them talk and I learned something my mom has never taught me before. I knew we were not the only beings that exist, but I was hearing all about alligators, Burmese pythons, and bird species such as Anhinga which can potentially eat me. After stopping for a while, they started going to a restricted place my mom would never let me go. It was an alligator hole, where the water was muddy and deep filled with potential dangers. Luckily, there weren’t any animals that were dangerous to me. They mentioned something about the water level being higher than the normal dry season, and the alligators being scared of these moving trunks. After following these moving trunks struggle for so long in the muddy water, I decided it was time for me to go back to my family. They are probably wondering if I got eaten by a frog or one of the other animals, but mom I am coming back right now after a long day of exploring. Today I have learned something no other fish has, and that is, I am grateful to be born in a place where a lot of different moving trunks come to research on the peacefulness and the durability of this amazing home that I live in.
In my mind that is how one of the little fishes we have seen have felt experienced our adventure to the Everglades most likely the fishes were as amazed by us and our moving trunks as how much we were amazed by their home The Everglades National Park, and its diverse ecosystems. One of the things the little fish was not able to see is our walk on the Anhinga trail, where we were able to get up-close with the Alligators, see a pond full of Lilies and diving birds looking for fish and as the name of the trail suggest the Anhinga birds.
Overall, I was amazed by this adventure into the home of the little fish and all the interesting plants and animals I saw. I am very grateful of this opportunity of visiting the Everglades and taking part in a Slough Slog as part of one of my classes giving me a break from the world of Zoom.
South Beach as Text
“Architecture: Shaping a culture” by Thwin Thet Su San of Florida International University at South Beach, February 19,2021
There are three major types of building architecture styles in the surroundings of South Beach: MIMO(Miami Modernist), Mediterranean Revival, and Art Deco. My favorite building would be the Versace mansion, which was beautifully decorated and built in 1930, in the style of Mediterranean revival. It was also the residences of Gianni Versace. South beach has a vibrant mix of buildings from the three styles along with a couple outliers.
Miami Modernist is a type of architecture that was developed after World War II. These Buildings are usually high rise buildings that are surrounded and decorated with glass panels all around. Some of them are even seen to be curved to give that spaceship or a cruise-ship type of atmosphere completed with porthole style windows. Whereas Art Deco tries to build buildings that seems to be out of this timeline, as if it was from the future. These buildings often have rounded edges and brightly colored walls complete with neon lighting, that catches our eyes. More over, these buildings are designed with parallel lines that run across the buildings and even on the terrazzo flooring to give the illusion of a bigger space than it actually is. These buildings not only incorporate the future but also sometimes past architecture such as the ziggurat styled roof.
One prominent thing you can see looking at the buildings is that they are not as tall as MIMO architecture style buildings. They are only 3 story tall. The reason for this was because of a building code requirement of elevators for buildings that are over three stories tall, they decided to build no taller than that due to the high cost of elevators at the time. The Colony Hotel can be seen as one of the best examples of an Art Deco building. It is painted brightly blue, with vertical lines running along the building with its curved edges to show its futuristic design. On top of the building, it has incorporated wave like lines to turn an object to a 2D model, a commonplace in Art Deco. More of this can be seen at Clevelander where the flamingos are purposely built in a way it has no curves but strong edges. The flamingos are shaped to seem more stiff than other art style which favor the sense of being lively. This was because Art Deco tried to make nature look industrial instead the other way around. Moreover, even water fountains are seems to be lifeless and 2 dimensional as it was painted flatly at the Finnegan’s Way bar.
But my favorite style has to be the Mediterranean Revival like the Versace Mansion on Ocean Drive. As Versace travels to Miami and saw all these Art Deco buildings and Miami Modernists and Mediterranean Revival, he fell in love with the architecture and the style of living in Miami. Mostly Mediterranean Revival was what drew Versace in to South Beach. Versace loved the vision of old roman columns, arched windows, vintage walls and spindle gates He felt that he could express himself in South Beach and with his arrival started the expansion of South Beach. Famous and rich people started buying real estate and living in South Beach, and open shops like Versace. This caused the culture and the population grew along with the areas popularity. His arrival also helped the LGBTQ community who frequented Miami Beach and met at places like the Palace Bar which features constant Drag Shows.
Overall the colorfulness of Miami Beach and its distinct architecture, drawing in tourists from all around the world, is something most people in Miami take for granted and not realize the importance of. The class made me realize that I should treasure being only a short drive away from something others travel long hours to see.
Deering as Text
“Where the sea meets the sky” by Thwin Thet Su San of Florida International University at Deering Estate, March 5,2021
The Deering Estate sits on top of Cutler Ridge, also called the Miami rock ridge, 24 feet above sea level. This part of the Biscayne bay is where the freshwater originating from the Everglades meets the Saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean. Spreading across 460 acres, a lot of ecosystem comes together as well. Along with animals such as raccoons, snakes, otters, crocodiles, birds, manatees and other animals, it houses a huge variety of plants as well. Some of the plants that can be seen in the park includes Gumbo Limbo trees, Strangler Figs, Mangroves and Spanish moss. Gumbo Limbos are known to have a red trunk with peeling barks. More than that, Gumbo limbo is also an amazing tree that can withstand hurricanes and strong winds. Mangroves are also a very important part of the ecosystem as well. Mangroves can also withstand hurricanes and keeps the shoreline from being eroded. These all help keep Miami together.
As we hike along the park, there were a lot of things we saw, ranging from solution holes, sink holes and caves to the remains of the Tequestas. These solution holes and sink holes are formed from the erosion of the limestone by the freshwater movements. The rainwater falls and the limestone gets corroded as the leaves that fell unto these grounds gives off some acidic property. They then get eaten away by water, forming Solution holes and other features. This became a hunting ground for large animals to prey on smaller and vulnerable animals. Remains of these animals can sometimes be found inside these holes. More than animals, we can also see the remains of the Tequesta as well. There were pottery and tools that were left on the site of the park. Tools made from shells such as a drill by using a conch shell, or a scraping tool, or killing tools that fits the palm of our hands were found. It was like coming into touch and knowing how the Tequestas have been living in this land all along. The pottery was also proof that Tequestas had a relationship with tribes up north. After a long while of hiking, we came to stop at a place where a large oak tree resides on top of a small rise of land. It was a tree growing on top of a burial site of the Tequestas which was there before 1763. We saw the civilizations of different cultures before Miami was even developed.
After civilizations starts spreading in the 1800s and the 1900s, Deering Estate was also included in the spread. In 1896, Samuel Richmond built the Richmond hotel, which is located between Coconut Grove and Key West as traveling between places used to take a lot of time. Another significant building that stands beside was the Mediterranean revival style home built by Charles Deering in 1922 to showcase his art collections which he collected from Europe after he met artists in Paris. The house was mostly for showcasing art and sleeping in, he had the Richmond hotel converted into a support house with a kitchen. Besides paintings his house also features a mosaic but unlike roman mosaics it uses seashells and other things from the ocean instead of colorful pieces of clay or glass. Since he lived there during the prohibition his wine cellar was hidden behind a shelf guarded by a vault door to ensure it was hidden from the authorities.
At the end of the day the Deering Estate is a great place to hike in nature and learn about the ecological history of Miami. It also gives us an insight into how the Tequesta used to lived and what their surroundings looked like. The houses are also interesting and shows us what life was like for the top 1% back then.
Vizcaya as Text
“Miami as we know it”by Thwin Thet Su San of Florida International University at Vizcaya villa, March 19,2021
The Vizcaya villa stands breathtakingly beautiful in an area now known as Coconut Grove. The villa represents the nowadays Miami as it was built by incorporating European culture elements in Miami. We can see it across South beach and in Coral Gables the examples of the influential in architecture. The owner, James Deering, like his brother Charles Deering was influenced by the European culture. Due to this, the Vizcaya villa had elements of Mediterranean revival architecture and Neoclassical French architecture.
The villa started out in 1916 when James bought the land from Mary Brickell and built it with resources that are found in Miami such as the limestone which are used to make pillars, statues and some elements in the garden such as caves and shells which are used to decorate the ceilings. This style of using resources from Miami can also be found in his brother, Charles Deering’s estate where he used shells found nearby to decorate his ceiling. The Vizcaya villa is built by the Bahamians and even though the work was very hard and there were segregations and exploitation of labor, they still earned money for their labor.
As we get to the villa, it is very prevalent of the cultures that influenced him. He had built an arch of triumph in the pathway to his large garden. The arch of triumph, also included his own personal touch as there were seahorses that were proudly displayed and it was made out of oolite limestone. When entering the villa, we were greeted by a statue of Dionysus, the god of wine, pouring wine into a lavish bathtub which represents the indulgence and the lavish lifestyle that the people in Miami have always enjoyed.Inside the villa, there were also a lot of displays of seahorse and ships that decorates the place beautifully. Surrounded by marvelous fountains and pillars, we can really see the European elements that has perfectly collided with the amazing view of the Biscayne Bay that stretches out.
One prevalent decoration I could see throughout the villa was vines decorated with gold on the walls, furnitures and appliances. There was also a room where it was very satisfying for my perfectionist mind. Everything was perfectly at balance just like the Neoclassical French architecture. The walls and the floor tiles matched depending on where we look up. There was also the music room where the walls were plastered with gold and vine like decorations and images of children. One of the images that caught my mind was the ruins of a structure. It emphasizes on the point of everything in life is temporary which was a popular way of thinking the French artists follows. Other than the room, the garden also has major French architecture influence in the grottos.
Moreover, there were influences of Italian, Spanish and Islamic. Tapestry hangs along the wall decorated beautifully in blue has Spanish designs but the writings that borders the tapestry was Islamic writings.Islamic influences includes on the door which was decorated with stars. There was also a room where it seemed like it was influenced by Italians. A fountain was also brought from a town in Italy and placed in his garden. A noticeable influence would be the Roman and Greek influence. There were statues and paintings of famous heroes that were decorated throughout the villa. The floors and walls were also decorated with fake marbles. As marbles were expensive and valuable, even in Rome, James wanted an inexpensive way of marbled floor and wall. Thus creating a fake marbled floor and wall that has been painted. This creates a trend where the price of the fake painted marble floors rise more than that of the real marbled tiles. We can see the influence that the roman architecture has on the villa very easily with all the statues and the decor that surrounds the place.
The villa is the embodiment of Miami. As in all the inspiration that James Deering had also inspired the city of Miami as we know of today. We can see all the cultures clash together in Miami and in his villa which shows the importance of the culture and the people that are all coexisting in Miami.
Margulies as Text
“Appreciating Art” by Thwin Thet Su San of Florida International University at The Margulies Collection, April 16, 2021
There is a collection studio near Wynwood, with no prominent exterior, which looks subtle and small compared to bright, beautiful and creative walls of Wynwood. This was the Margulies Collection. Inside were walls filled with modern art from hundreds of artists around the world. The studio is incorporated with different types of art ranging from short movies to sculptures and photographs.This collection was set up by none other than Mr. Margulies whose hobby to collect black and white photographs turned into a passion. Our honors group were lucky enough to be given a personal tour by Mr. Margulies, the man who collected all this art. We were able to know why and how he had collected these art pieces.
Going around local art collection studios, I would usually think nothing of how and why they were there but I learnt about the struggles of trying to bring art pieces into the studio. Just like the three concrete structure known as Geheimnis der Farne which took a lot of effort to bring it in from overseas. As well as a custom made glass which was used in The Valkyries, which was hard to get it into the studio. This is also how I found out about an artist named Anselm Kiefer who have a lot of art pieces in the Margulies Collection such as Sprache der Vögel which was an art piece with massive wings and books, Erdzeitalter which was a piece where canvases were balanced on top of each other and as mentioned earlier Geheimnis der Farne which includes three concrete structures. My favorite has to be the Erdzeitalter where 400 unfinished pieces and dried out sunflowers were balanced on top of each other.
One of the other pieces that caught my eye was the digital wall piece that was faced towards a wall. All we could see was the wires and the back of the display TVs while the screens stood facing the wall. This was done deliberately by request of the artist. Mr Margulies had put these digital arts in his collection to ensure younger generation’s interest and it worked. I was mesmerized by these short films and animal wildlife films. I could not stop staring as there were a lot of screens that were displaying different animals. Moreover, there were also a lot of abstract arts as well. As told by Mr. Margulies, these art are not planned but done in the way that the artist are feeling. They have no end in mind. Mr. Margulies even said if the artist know it’s arts ending, it is not a successful abstract art piece.
The Margulies Collection and Mr. Margulies really changed the view on how I view art. Not only knowing about the art but knowing the different difficulties on how these arts were transported for us to only view it for a few minutes shows how unappreciative we are about art. The Margulies Collection is free to Florida students and others have to only pay a small fee to get in. Even then, all the money goes directly to a charity so it is worth paying a small sum of fee to view such amazing pieces that sweat and creativity goes into.