Hannah Singh: Miami as Text 2022

Hi everyone! My name is Hannah Singh and I am currently a junior at FIU studying Sociology and English. I have a deep passion for reading, writing, and nature, which I hope to use in my career in the future. I’ve always known that I would try my best to study abroad if I got the chance to do so and I am so grateful to be joining such an awesome group in Italy this summer!

Deering As Text: 2022

“Finding Elevation Below Sea Level” by Hannah Singh

When I moved to Miami from Illinois, I made peace with my new reality, i.e. that I would not be able to make the same connections with nature that I was able to have in my home state. South Florida is nothing like I have ever experienced before, both culturally and in reference to the climate and terrain. As someone who finds solace in time spent exploring the natural world, visiting the Deering Estate has provided me with a new outlook on South Florida in ways that I plan to carry with me going forward.

Upon arriving at the entrance of the estate, I was, at once, taken in by the flora that surrounded the gate as if it was an archway into a different world. I thought to myself how there couldn’t be any way that a place like this exists even though we’re in Miami. However, after an exploration of the grounds and professor Bailly’s lecture, I found that the Deering Estate is special because it’s in Miami, not in spite of it.

Beginning with the architecture, the limestone that makes up the Mediterranean Revival Stone house can be seen not only there, but throughout the estate. Drawing inspiration from his home in Spain, Charles Deering had this house built in 1922 with many of its features being hand carved. With rich history both outside and inside of the home, it is important to keep in mind the era this occurred in and who is to thank for such beautiful work. The land had previously been home to the Tequesta peoples, with remnants of their inhabitants still visible on the grounds. The work that was done on this land, both the carving of the bay entrance and the architecture can be traced back to the Afro-Bohemian peoples that resided in South Florida during this time.

As we walked the paths of the grounds, I continued to think about where we were walking and who had been here previously. In Illinois, I often lead group hiking expeditions and I very purposefully remind others of the land we walk on and who it belonged to before it was stolen. I feel that having this understanding not only allows you to find a deeper connection with the nature that surrounds you but also with humanity, both good and bad. After being provided with historical context, I was able to walk these grounds with an understanding of who was walking here before me thousands of years ago and find elevation through them.

Viscaya As Text 2022

“Shhh, it’s a secret!” by Hannah Singh

Stepping through the grand doors of James Deering’s extravagant vacation home, Dionysus, god of wine and ecstasy, as well as a patron of the arts, welcomes you. Although actually placed at the back entrance of the home, viewing this statue first and foremost was excellent in setting the tone for further exploration of both the house and the gardens. With the intricacies of the architectural design and the vastness of the gardens, time could be lost uncovering all that Viscaya has to offer.

Within the home itself, the extent of the details within the designs of each room was seemingly ceaseless. With each scan of the room, my eyes would lock onto something new, something minuscule, something hiding in plain sight. For example, upon entering the kitchen of this home, I noticed a small spout-like fixture on the wall near the trim. I might have missed it had it not been next to my foot. I was shortly informed that it was a vacuum hose that traveled throughout the house, which further enforces the notion that James Deering spared no expense when it came to both the aesthetic and functional design of the home.

The gardens of the estate mimic the level of detail found within the house, with stone garden keepers welcoming visitors into its vast expanse of maze-like vegetation. Having had been built nearing the era of prohibition, it’s no surprise that Deering would want a particular level of privacy within the estate. Secret meeting spots can be found scattered throughout the garden, used as a rendezvous point for lovers or for a private conversation away from wandering ears. These secret points came in the form of shaded benches, covered pathways, and alcoves made entirely out of shells and stone.

Visiting Viscaya not only uncovered the secrets of James Deering and the estate itself but provided insight into how the culture in Miami manifested in the way that it did. Both James and Charles Deering were instrumental in the manifestation of the party and art culture in Miami and it can be clearly seen in what they have left behind for us to discover.

Downtown as Text

“Bittersweet” By Hannah Singh

In the time I have spent here, I have come to really love Miami. I also really love oranges. I purchased an orange recently and when I asked the clerk if it was seedless, I was met with a smile and a “yes”. I began to peel the orange as I left, thinking to myself how nice this piece of fruit was and how sweet it was going to taste. I brought the fruit to my mouth and bit off a single wedge. The juice was sweet, slightly tart; a perfectly ripe orange. I placed another wedge into my mouth and bit down only to be met with something hard and bitter. A seed. I grimaced and spit the seed into the grass. What an unpleasant sensation, biting into something soft and discovering something tough, hard to swallow. This is what it felt like to learn the history of Miami. 

One of the first stops on this tour was the Wagner Homestead, which is also the oldest standing home in Miami. Despite the story highlighting some historical progress at the time, it does not outshine the glaring injustices that occurred in Miami in the process of its founding. Located directly next to the Wagner home were the slave quarters, which were constructed of limestone and said to have originated around 1844. I placed my hand onto the stone of the structure and created a connection between myself and the generations of those who came before me. I placed my hand there and thought to myself how extraordinary it was to be alive at that exact moment in time. 

Despite our existence in time as of now, there are lasting and distasteful remnants of Miami’s problematic beginnings, such as in the case of Henry Flagler’s monument located outside the Miami-Dade courthouse. Although Flagler is largely credited for the creation of Miami, his method of doing so, coupled with his actions following, completely diminishes any justification for the existence of this statue. 

Our final stop was the Miami Freedom Tower, a former Cuban refugee center and current historical landmark. In its use, more than 450,000 refugees from Cuba were registered inside the freedom tower and relocated throughout the United States. Existing as a symbol for Cuban liberty and freedom, this was a sweet end to a bitter lesson in the history of Miami. 

South Beach as Text

“Ruby, Blue and Green, Neon Too” By Hannah Singh

Not too far from the coast of South Beach is home to the highest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world. As we walked the length of Ocean Drive, “Salvatore” by Lana Del Rey plays in my head, a song drawing inspiration from both South Beach and Italy. Spanning well over a mile and brimming with pastels and neon, it comes as no surprise that several songs on this album make reference to the aura of this area of Miami.

Walking along this historic road, it is not difficult to recognize the artistic markers that categorize the architecture as Art Deco, especially when in comparison to some of the other architecture that is randomly scattered throughout the strip. One of the most easily recognizable aesthetic devises used in Art Deco architecture is the relief art, usually depicting intricate designs of flora and fauna. It is clear that this architecture is meant to be a reflection of its surroundings, with the pastel color pallets and creative use of glass existing as a compliment to the bright south Florida sun.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of experiencing the beauty of the architecture within the Art Deco District can thank Barbara Baer Capitman, whose efforts resulted in the preservation of these historic landmarks in the late 70s. The founding of the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976 was a capstone in her efforts to preserve this area, allowing South Beach to remain a truly unique and unforgettable neighborhood in southern Florida. Her monument lies towards the end of Ocean Drive, facing the length of its expanse, allowing her to watch over what she fought to preserve and protect.

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