Victoria is a senior at FIU graduating through the Honors College with a BA in Communication Arts in May 2020. She is a proud Miami native who loves to explore new cultures. Here are her personal reflections during the FIU Honors Study Abroad trip in Summer 2019.
Madrid as Text
An evening at Plaza de Toros
Sitting in the Sol y Sombra section of the 20th-century, Moorish-influenced stadium, a group of us sit with our faces scrunched under the conquering sunlight. The stadium was full of people, and the enthusiasm of the crowds spread quicker than fire. We found ourselves squinting around at anxious faces and absorbing the emotions we found in faces, words, and cheers.
The first bull came out. The stadium roared while the small group of us stared in awe. The animal spared no time. Aggressive, wild, confused.
The first round of fighters came out with bright pink and yellow capes to commence The Cape Stage. Subalternos y matadores. They are meant to protect the main bullfighter, who we could not distinguish at that moment. They taunted the bull into the walls of the ring until the animal was convinced running was pointless. Until the fighters changed the game. Two men mounted on padded and blinded horses, armed with spears, appeared on the sides of the doors. The Stage of Pikes. Picadors. The bulls charged them only to be impaled from above. And still, while blood flooded its sides, the animal continued to fight. The blinded horse struggled to stay standing without knowing the threat surrounding him. Suddenly, the bull overtook the horse, and in a flash, the horse was on the dirt motionless.
“Uh… can you remind me why we came to this?”
We fanned ourselves with crumbled brochures and pamphlets we had gathered throughout the day. We fanned ourselves to relieve ourselves in the heat, to feel better about being in the stadium in the first place, to get rid of our preconceptions of cruelty, abuse, animal rights, and entertainment. “What is this?”
And before we could think about the answers, matadores ran out into the ring with harpoons decorated in brightly colored cloth. They revive the fight by stabbing the bull and decorating him with the bright colors, provoking the animal while making an art piece of it. And finally, the work of art was put to the test; one it couldn’t even possibly win. A fight between an advanced, armed actor and a pitiful, weary animal.
“Well. It’s Spain.”
Segovia as Text
How on earth?
Hearing this can make someone think that a structure this grandiose could only be built to stand by the gods (Lucifer maybe). Layers and layers, stone blocks on top of stone blocks, at its tallest reaching over 90 feet. I pause and stare with the rest of my classmates. I’m inclined to take my phone out for a picture, but instead I realize I can’t move. I’m completely in awe.
A structure of almost 30 meters held together entirely by weight?
When the Romans built the aqueduct 2,000 years ago, they had the structure prepared with a wooden mold, which they removed when the weight was equally distributed among the arch. But the whole structure would crumble to the ground if not for the keystone, the last stone block placed at the center of the arch. This stone pushes the weight of the blocks onto the column and makes them stronger. Only one stone has this kind of power, and without it the arches would not stand.
Every community has its keystone. And if the keystone were removed, the community would fall, and another community and another keystone may take its place. However, if the keystone remains, the community around it can change without falling. In 1492, Spain set a keystone in America: the church. The wooden structures were removed when Americans began to spread Catholicism on their own, and practice it on their own terms. Damage to the structure included the independence movements of the individual communities that drove out the Spanish government; however, Catholicism continued to grow and stand tall throughout the 20th century.
Cordoba as Text
The Mosque Cathedral
A cathedral within a mosque…
Did I hear that correctly?
Stepping into the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain, you wouldn’t think anything different. I had never been inside a mosque before. The extent of my exposure to Islam had been very controlled by my Catholic upbringing. I did not know anything about the religion, save several crossovers between Christianity and Islam. I assumed that religious establishments would be quite similar to one another, as they are all meant to worship and glorify. However, I immediately knew I was wrong when I saw the interior of the Mezquita.
When the structure was first built in the 8th century as the Giant Mosque at the order of Abd Al-Rahman, it was originally intended to be one of the largest mosques in Islam. Normally, at the time, mosques were humble sights of worship. The Great Mosque would challenge many norms in the Islamic world, including a rule as stead-fast as facing Meccah. The rest was built quite traditionally: there was minimal use of furniture, simple floor tiles, decorated pattern artwork along selected walls, arches and structures that promised to send sound waves as far and intensely as possible so that the Khatib’s voice would be heard throughout the service.
The Giant Mosque continued to be expanded over the next few centuries by other Muslim rulers. Over hundreds of years, walls were torn down and rebuilt tens of meters further to make room for committed worshippers and great expectations. The mosque was meant to be a growing symbol of contemporary Islam. A religion that is alive and growing. With every breath that the mosque took, it expanded and never contracted.
When I saw the Mezquita, I imagined that it hadn’t changed that much from the last moment it had been used as a mosque 700 years ago. I stepped between the dimly lit archways that seemed to go on forever, hearing soft murmurs of tourists who were just as curious as I was as to why this was called a cathedral for Catholics when it was so obviously not. And then I saw it; the hole that was carved deep into the center of the mosque to create. Suddenly, the weight of the building shifted. Beforehand, I had been drawn to all sides of the building, vowing to myself that I could walk for ages exploring the new concept of the “mosque” and what it meant to me personally.
Now, my attention was drawn to the familiar center of the building. A weight concentrated at the hole that Catholicism had created in the history of Islam in Spain. I struggled to wonder the purpose of keeping a significant building that has been completely stripped of its purpose. A building meant to worship Allah in the way the Quran had described is instead now worshipping a god of a different name in a different and inappropriate way.
But the fact that we can have a conversation about it will always be the most important part. I do not applaud the Catholic church for absorbing a building of cultural importance, but I do recognize that if it had been torn down completely for the sake of a new cathedral, a large part of Islam and its historic presence in Spain would have been forgotten.
Sevilla as Text
The View from Above
While looking down at Sevilla from the roof of the city’s veteran Cathedral, I tried to take it all in. This city is one of the most beautiful I had ever visited. Parks and trees scattering layouts of every neighborhood; grandiose plazas bustling with tourists and locals alike; vintage districts with small and winding pathways. In each of these aspects, I would find such aesthetic and cultural pleasure that I had not been able to encounter anywhere else. Whether it was the Mudejar designs plastered on popular Moorish-influenced structures or the city’s familiar highlights of warm yellows and reds, there was something about this place that made both my mind and my eyes restless. I felt it when I traveled within the narrow lanes of the Jewish quarter every time I made a turn into a corner that smelled strongly of empanadas and wine, that echoed with the minor chords of softly strummed guitar strings. I felt it when I strolled along the river on the side of Triana in the middle of the night, watching locals slowly trickle out of small bars and restaurants, speaking their sensual, desert Latin as the full moon hung brightly in the sky. I found this feeling so often in the city streets, parks, buildings and people, but I was not at first able to understand what it was.
I did not understand it until I stood at the roof of the Cathedral, who’s layers loomed solidly over Sevilla. The Catedral, originally built as the Almohad mosque in the 12th century, was completed as a Catholic cathedral in the early 1500s. The building’s stained glass windows, leaning arches, and vaulted ceiling give it away immediately as a gothic work of architecture. While walking onto one of the many roofs during our tour, our guide remarked that one of the key elements in Gothic architecture is the value given to the aerial view of buildings. There is no perspective more important than that of God, the all-knowing and all-powerful. Because of this, the most decorative parts of gothic cathedrals are located towards the top, and a lot of importance is given to how the church can be seen from above, normally taking the shape of a cross. The view from heaven always supercedes the view from the streets below, or from the leveled windows across. To understand the value of Sevilla, I had to change my perspective.
No matter how much I want to view Sevilla’s narrow streets, local accents, and beautiful art from the ground level, I had to elevate my mind to understand the history and its influences on the present.
This perspective altered many views. The Jewish quarter I so admired: a neighborhood of tragedy and blood, where Jewish people had been denied their rights to life by those same Christian’s that claim to have contributed so much to the city. The Plaza of Espana, where I had enjoyed music and dance: a failed attempt to bring Spain into the international playing field until its major delay due to the outbreak of civil war. The statues and sculptures dispersed throughout the city’s parks and gardens hailing the discoveries of Christopher Colombus and the generosity of Isabel and Ferdinand: blatant symbols of a country turning away from horrors and bloodshed caused by its own historic victories.
Sevilla’s beauty as a city and attractiveness as a culture are woven together by a history that must be acknowledged for it to be appreciated in its entirety. I can take the view from the streets, looking over only the surface that I choose to see. Or I can take the view from above, a view that embraces each piece of the puzzle that has made Sevilla what it is today.
Barcelona As Text
A Brief Intermission
Barcelona; the home of Modernisme, Catalan pride, and our final destination this summer. Throughout our adventures in Spain, we have encountered more beauty in three weeks than I could handle. I find it fitting that right at the heart of the powerfully stimulating city of Barcelona, I learned a valuable lesson on how to cope with overwhelming beauty.
The beauty of the Palau de la Musica Catalana is obvious at first sight. Hailed as a palace of Modernisme (pronounced modernism-a in Catalan), the music hall was always meant to be an inspiring sight. From its patios to its stained-glass ceiling, it is an intricate glorification of the nature around us. This is one of the artistic elements of the modernist movement in Barcelona, and was the clear intention of architect Lluís Domènech I Montaner when he built the music hall in the early 1900s.
As I was walking through the entrance of the hall myself, enjoying a cafe con leche and a butter croissant for breakfast, I could not help but overlook the beauty of the foyer, with its giant brick columns and classic stained glass. Sitting by the bar, I did not take a glance into the rooms beyond the archways or let my eyes wander up the grand staircase at the hall’s entrance. I did not brace myself for what was to come.
It only took me until the beginning of the tour to realize I should have taken several breaths before entering the performance hall. Upon exiting the elaborate intermission room, I could see where I had made a mistake. The intermission room itself was the simplest in the building; a large empty room with a small colorful balcony lined from the inside with tall, only partly-stained glass doors. The only thing in the room was a small bust held on a simple pedestal by the left-most wall. The rest of the room was entirely empty, except for the numerous amounts of people chatting and walking in and out of the room.
Our tour guide mentioned that this was typical of intermission rooms. For obvious reasons. To allow people to group up or walk through the room freely, I thought, only taking note of the rooms emptiness. But what our guide was really referring to was the simplicity of the room compared to other parts of the music hall.
To let the mind rest.
And even without entering the giant concert hall, I could feel its beauty. Without seeing Antoni Rigalt’s stained glass skylight, or the muses that dance on the walls behind performers on the stage, I knew this hall would require full attention and restless eyes. In this intermission room, where members of the audience come to collect themselves after being overwhelmed by beauty in every sense, I learned the importance of reflection. The best way to appreciate and understand beauty is to take it all in, with a brief intermission every so often to reflect.
Sitges as Text
Bought and Borrowed
Spain has found itself in Miami in many ways. Spanish language, food, music and art has explicitly made a home for itself in the growing city in several different forms throughout its history. The most straightforward of these that I’ve seen in terms of Spanish art and architecture is the representation of these two in the Deering Estate. I never understood its influences entirely until I met the Palau de Maricel in Sitges.
Upon my first encounter with the buildings that make up the Maricel Museum, I was immediately brought back to the waterfront, stone house that sits along Old Cutler Road back in Miami. The walls, balconies, and arches almost directly resemble each other. I was able to support this idea having known that Deering did in fact draw his inspiration for his residency in Miami from Spanish architecture, but I was not exactly prepared to understand the extent to which he was involved with the Maricel Palace himself.
Apart from using it as his residency in Sitges for about 10 years, Charles Deering stored art collections in that house as part of a collaboration project between him and artist Miquel Utrillo. That is, Utrillo devoted himself to helping collect art for Deering’s Hispanic art collection. Together, they collected amazing art works by artists such as El Greco and Goya. They repurposed a private hospital and residence into the Maricel residence where they could store the art. The building would essentially characterize the rest of the neighborhood.
Then suddenly, in 1921, the two collectors ran into a disagreement, and, in a move that surprised me entirely, Deering eventually removed all his pieces from the Maricel to bring them to America. All the work that had been put into the collaboration of this project, and all the pride that Maricel had originally housed, was suddenly taken from it. Charles Deering took everything he could, including the house’s coat of arms that was initially taken from the cover of a prayer book: a sun setting over the sea. More importantly, Deering removed significant Spanish art works from their place of origin and brought them to Miami to keep in his residency to himself. All the work that had been put into the collaboration of this project, and all the pride that Maricel had originally housed, was suddenly taken from it.
Now, after years of struggling to redefine itself, Maricel museum stands powerfully over the shining waves of the Mediterranean Sea, housing amazing works by Picasso and El Greco. Still, it surprises me that Deering, an American philanthroper and collector, had threatened that only some decades ago.