George Coba: Miami as Text 2023 Ita

PHOTO DATE: 7/14/2022 LOCATION: Bldg. 8 Rm. 183. SUBJECT: Official NASA Portrait of George Coba. PHOTOGRAPHER: Norah Moran

George Coba has been a native Miamian all his life. He currently lives in Little Havana with his parents who are Cuban immigrants. He is currently an FIU student that is a part of the Honors College and has an internship with NASA. He loves to rock climb, hike and go on new adventures. He finds the most fascination and peace in nature’s impossible and chaotic beauty.

Italia Encounter as Text

The Italy study abroad program is my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Italy’s deep history and culture that has spread across the entire world. Having taken John Bailly’s class in Miami I count myself incredibly lucky to be able to learn from him. His teaching style of walking lectures is extremely effective in immersing a student into the authentic nature of a city.

I chose to take this program because even though I may be able to travel to Italy on my own someday, I will never be able to recreate the teachings and unique experiences from the study abroad program. Learning and living among a group of fellow students is impossible in any other setting than these programs. It’s also unlikely that I will ever be able to take another study abroad program again as I will soon be graduating and leaving FIU. As a student in the honors college, I’ve been taught to value the importance of being a well-rounded human being through interdisciplinary studies and study abroad is the most different experience someone can have from everything that they know. Being born, raised, and going to school in Miami I have never been able to be fully enveloped with a different culture. The value that a program like this provides in terms of life experience is unparalleled by anything else a person can do.

While in Italy I expect to learn about the source of my own culture and Western civilization. Rome is the ground where there is history for millennia and the very beginnings of the Renaissance. Rome’s influence on the modern world around us can be seen everywhere. From the architecture of some of FIU’s buildings to the very foundations of language that shape the laws that we live by every day. Having the opportunity to connect with the origins of many of our society’s most fundamental ideas is unique to Rome.

Image by Harry Burgess from Pixabay

Although Rome will be incredible, the other cities on this trip also hold incredible value I’m excited to learn from. The economics of early Europe made their way to the US’s current economic system and exploring Venice’s history would show the very beginning of modern capitalism. As a Finance major, Venice is an incredibly unique place to learn about the origins of the systems that I work in today to see how they formed and why they have changed over time.

Besides the incredibly exciting and expansive history I will be learning, there is also the culture of a completely different country I would dive into the deep end of. Italy is a powerhouse around the world and as one of the oldest countries that still exists, its traditions run deep. The food, language and everyday life of the country will be completely new. With a new culture around me the ideas and lessons I will learn from the people around me are completely unique. They will open my mind to completely new ways of thinking not only about academics but life. These are lessons that I will be able to bring back to Miami with me and unlike a silly souvenir from a regular trip they will change my life forever.

Ancient Rome as Text

Ancient Rome was a place of intense suffering and poverty. There was a lack amenities and basic human rights that we consider to be default today. There was slavery, limited running water, violence was rampant everywhere, gladiator events were used as entertainment for the masses and nearly every man was a soldier. The treatment of women was brutally sexist, normalization of rape, sexual assault and accepted as fact that women were inferior to men. Brothels were filled with widowed women from conquered lands forced to submit to the soldiers of the Roman empire. These things that make ancient Rome unacceptable by today’s ethical standards.

Despite being terrible in many ways, Rome is the foundation of our western culture. There were terrible practices from the ancient times we have systematically adapted today, classist and sexist systems for example. In Rome the separation of class was very clear the same way segregation was in the United States not too long ago. Nowadays, many of those issues still exist but are much less obvious and come in the form of federal funding, gerrymandering and gentrification.

It is important try and not judge Rome through the lenses of today’s ethics. The ethics of today are very different than those of the time but for most Romans it was extremely important to be honorable in their actions. The way that Julius Caesar was killed on the steps of the senate exemplifies that even when it comes to murder Romans wanted their kills to be honorable. Honor being connected to every facet of life shows that Romans did what they believed at the time was ethical and humane.

Rome had the flaws I mentioned and much more so why did it become the basis of our culture and so incredibly powerful at its peak? Rome’s ability to create massive infrastructure, have a democratic process, and its access to limited amenities like bath houses and aqueducts made ancient life much more easy and pleasant. The political processes and procedures of Rome allowed it to become the most powerful empire of its time. The creation and use of a senate to separate powers was a fantastic practice of Rome’s that led with the revolutionary idea of not giving absolute power to one man.

Image by Mauricio A. from Pixabay

These incredible innovations are what explains why western culture has adapted its practices. Like Rome the United States democratically selects its leaders and uses the Senate to spread power and allow for checks and balances. This process has proven strong for the last 200 years. It has allowed for peaceful transitions of power every four years through wars and peacetime alike. The United States (like Rome) also constructed roads, lots of it. Like all roads lead to Rome, the United States highway system are the arteries of the country. Built for military access the US public highway system touches every part of the massive country.

Seeing the connections between ancient Rome and our culture in the United States has allowed me to understand the systems were in with their flaws and genius more deeply.

Historic Miami as Text

Miami has spent millions of dollars maintaining its well-earned prestige as a cutting-edge city with unmatched diversity worldwide. Almost every southern American Culture and many cultures worldwide are represented here. Art, sports, architecture, stadiums, and other programs keep our Miami culture thriving. Still, a thought has yet to be given to the Tequesta.

The Tequesta managed the land that Miami is on and kept it pristine for over 500 years. They were indigenous people with Culture, trade, and large communities. There is proof of their existence still in the center of Downtown Miami under the “Miami Circle.” Sacred burial mounds formed by the Tequesta have been discovered throughout the Miami area on multiple occasions before they are swiftly covered up. The most shocking overlook is a mound of hundreds of incredibly well-preserved bodies under what is now a downtown Whole Foods and office building. The archaeologist at the time reported that a perfectly preserved human brain was in the mound (thanks to salt water) and that the site was the most important find of our generation. Still, Miami only gave the archaeologists three months with the site before construction began. Now above the area is a mural of indigenous people that does not even call the Tequesta by name.

In the last 150 years after the Tequesta left and the beginning of western Culture’s incursion, the land quality had degraded rapidly. The Miami River is an example of this, as what was once clear enough and fresh enough to drink from directly is now so polluted it’s inadvisable to drink from it. The mangroves that once protected our precious coastlines have been cut and razed to create building space. As a culture, we have failed to be stewards of the land. Now we’re spending billions to repair after hurricanes and protect against severe flooding.

Photo taken by George Coba CC by 4.0

The city of Miami tries to be a progressive city that provides a lot of funding for the arts and public transportation and faces socio-economic issues head-on. Yet, it fails to look at its dark history and acknowledge it. What little acknowledgment there has been on minor signs, barely visible to the public eye, has yet to be referenced in their public school system. The failure to talk about the Tequesta, who they were, and what they did for the area known as Miami is not only unfortunate but damaging to the future of this place. We need to learn about the past, what the Tequesta did right, how they did it, and what we have done wrong, or else we will repeat history and make the same mistakes again. Another shoreline will become eroded, another river will be polluted, and others will be forgotten. Miami needs to reflect, publish, and learn from its mistakes in the past, then teach those lessons to the young people growing up in this city. Not only is this practice so that we all understand our effect on the land we share, but as a respect for the Tequesta that held this land for half a millennium.

Italia America as Text

Ancient Roman architecture is distinguished by three major innovations of its time: the arch, the dome, and Roman concrete. These characteristics of Roman buildings set them apart from anything else during that era. The shapes made possible by these innovations allowed the Romans to create not only aesthetically pleasing buildings but also highly complex public amenities. The United States modeled its form of government heavily on the Roman empire and, as a result, incorporated Roman architecture into its own buildings.

One of the most significant examples of Roman architecture in the United States is the White House, located in the nation’s capital. Its front facade is made up of columns and arches that resemble those built in ancient Rome. Other federal buildings with similar architecture include Federal Hall in New York City, the Lincoln Memorial, the New York Stock Exchange, and the California State Capitol.1 However, we do not have the advantage of using Roman concrete to build these structures. Modern-day engineers are attempting to recreate the product, not only because it is more environmentally friendly but also much stronger than modern concretes.

Capitol Hill in the United States: Image by cytis from Pixabay

The innovations of the Romans allowed them to create entirely new types of buildings with amenities that we see everywhere today. Using their architectural and material knowledge, they built aqueducts, baths, basilicas, and the Colosseum. Aqueducts changed waterways in a way that is indispensable in modern times. Miami and most of Florida would not exist if it were not for the concept of aqueducts. The Colosseum’s influence can also be seen in stadiums around the world, including soccer, football, baseball stadiums, and racetracks. Another famous building that the Romans popularized was bathhouses for all people. These bathhouses improved public hygiene in Rome many times over any other place on Earth. Ideas like water fountains, found everywhere in the world, can arguably be traced back to the provision of public amenities like the bathhouses. Those bathhouses also enclosed hypocausts,2 which propelled heat throughout the building and formed the foundation of modern central heating. Heating throughout homes and buildings provides a much more comfortable and practical living situation, especially in colder climates.

In summary, Roman architecture changed the way that all of humanity lives in every city and home across the world. The United States’ admiration for these buildings stems from its desire to model its politics and architecture after the powerful Roman empire. From stadiums to capitol buildings and the heating inside almost every home in the United States, Roman influence is everywhere.

  1. McFadden, Christopher. “21+ Famous Buildings and Monuments Influenced by Roman Architecture.” Interesting Engineering, Interesting Engineering, 11 Aug. 2020,
  2. Forbes, Robert J. Studies in Ancient Technology. Brill, 1971.

Vizcaya as Text

Driving through a winding forest to find the mansion of Vizcaya is an unforgettable experience, there are statues of explorers and trees that look many thousands of years old. The service entrance of Vizcaya is the most beautiful and calming location I’ve ever been to in Miami. The light water flow of fountains leads you down into the main Vizcaya building where you’re greeted with an arc of triumph and the same staircase where President Reagan and Pope John Paul II stood. Opening the door, we find what will be the theme of Vizcaya the Greek or Roman God Dionysus, the God of wine. This is the first hint to what Vizcaya was made to be. A place of forgetting all of your problems and enjoying every moment. An escape from life in all forms. Vizcaya was built by James Deering and he was not known for modesty. This can be seen throughout the whole home where the entrance into the guest bedroom was “J’ai dit” or translated to English “I said”. Deering created a place to live that was an escape from all the rest of the world, in some ways you could escape even the nature surrounding you and Vizcaya.

Photo taken by George Coba CC by 4.0

The architecture-themed rooms transport you to different times and locations. Most of the rooms are European focused and each one is kept to its own and never spreads throughout the rest of the house. Many of the decorations were shipped directly from Europe. In the middle of the home there is a large courtyard that at the time of Vizcaya being built would have been an open-air area with the ocean breeze it cooling the entire home.

When we leave the house, we find the gardens of Vizcaya and their theme of controlling nature. There are a line of trees the shape of squares and grand patterns of shrubs that line everywhere you go though when we start looking at the statues and sculptures that’s when we begin to see the incompatibility of Miami’s natural beauty and the European imported culture. Many of the sculptures were built with oolite a stone native to Miami that is extremely difficult to sculpt with due to its fragility this did not keep Deering from attempting to use it though. Though the faces may look worn and almost unrecognizable they still stand with weak facial features performed by some of the best European sculptors of the time. The incompatibility of Miami’s natural stone and the sculptures being built in Vizcaya represent to me Miami’s obsession with the newest culture. Just a year ago Miami wanted to become the cryptocurrency capital of the world, the buildings in the city are constantly replaced and renovated with whatever the newest meta for luxurious real estate is.

The rapid change of the city is something that I see every day from my own home, I live near the heart of Little Havana, Calle Ocho, and every day I hear stories from my mom about the poverty in the area and every few weeks I hear about a small business being kicked out of the building it’s renting for a brand new condo to be built. This rings a lot to me like Deering moving in the culture of another location because it’s better and prettier, the same way that Miami’s roots and history were invisible in Vizcaya they’ll be erased across the city as a whole more quickly than we expect. I love this city and I hope that its leaders and people will see the value in preserving some of our best histories even if it stands in the way of the newest condo that has to be built.

Renaissance as Text

The Renaissance affected our lives in more ways than any of us could ever imagine. The printing press was created during the Renaissance and without it all types of modern industries and infrastructure simply could not exist. The printing press also allowed for the spread of information to be far easier, and it allowed regular people to access complex ideas. It also allowed them to question government and religious institutions since they were no longer their only source of news and knowledge. This expansion of thinking and acting far beyond the influences of the churches and governments allowed for creative scientists and philosophers to make incredible leaps. Galileo for example discovered the earth was not the center of the solar system. Though this was an incredible scientific discovery it meant more for the philosophy of all of humanity. The discovery made us reevaluate the idea that we are the center of the universe which powers of the time and the general population unquestioningly believed before.  

With the shift in these grand ideas also came fantastic poetry and art. I particularly connected with Dante from our readings in class. Dante came from the renaissance era and created the most influential comedy of all time. The writings depict hell, limbo and heaven and modern religion’s ideas of hell come from this writing. Dante’s Divine Comedy changed the way I view my own human experiences and showed me how different our ethical issues are in modern times. Though it is a religious book in nature it also gave criticism to the church and powers of the time. The art style of humanism and its focus on the human form forces the style to pop out to me more than of any other time. The focus on detailing and perfection of each muscles curves on the human body is beautiful. The focus on realism on the human body gave way to advances in art and even medicine. Still one of the most famous works of all time is da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

My major is Finance, and the renaissance effected my major more than I could ever have possibly imagined. Double entry bookkeeping was created during the time and every single financial report in the modern world today is built by this fundamental idea in accounting. The sayings “cooking the books” come back to a book full of double entries that made it easier to keep tracks of revenues and costs. The Renaissance also gave way to creating independent art. The Medici family who so happened to also create the largest bank of the world at the time were also the first people to allow modern art as we see it today. Before the Medici family writers, artists, and poets were only funded by the government and religious institutions. Private funding coming from people like the family allowed for artists to be freer in their expression including critique of the government and religion which coincided with the new ideas of thinking and questioning the powers that exist well. This created a perfect storm for radical free thinking during the renaissance.

Deering Estate as Text

Miami is a fantastically large and busy city; it never really sleeps, and the party is just starting as most people go to bed. From nightlife to construction the city is mostly loud, busy and full. Sometimes of peace are spent at home, early in the morning listening to the hum of a nearby air conditioner blasting away the heat and humidity. Deering Estate is a breath of fresh natural air in the massive concrete jungle of our city. It is difficult to describe just how different this relatively small estate is in comparison to the rest of the city. Its forests are older than any other nature in the rest of South Florida and are a transportation to Miami before humanity. Near the Deering Estate house, we find remnants of humanity that date as far back as 10,000 years. That dates back far beyond the pyramids or any great ancient city we imagine.

What makes this place so unique is also what makes it economically a mistake. The use of the land that would create the most income is condos and luxurious shops. The area of Palmetto Bay that Deering is surrounded by is successful suburbia. Just the land of the estate is almost invaluable as it can theoretically provide as much value as three or four city blocks worth of housing. It’s pristine condition and old age were no accident though; Charles Deering bought and kept this land from being developed on. Many years after he was able to enjoy the land to it’s fullest it landed in the hands of the state and they have done an incredible job maintain the area. The work of the naturalists and conservationists also educates the public about the fantastic diversity around them.

Photo taken by George Coba CC by 4.0

Nowhere else in the world have I experienced walking through three distinct and very different biomes on a 15-minute hike. The experience of trekking through deep forest with my peers is something that is just impossible to forget. Though Miami does still have some forests nearby nothing feels quite the same as going deep off trail to discover animal and human remains as well as sources of freshwater used for many millennia. Those biomes in that configuration are simply impossible to find or replicate anywhere else. Given that, the animals in the area are quite a marvel as well. From rare turtles to native butterflies that are impossible to find elsewhere Deering Estate has it all.
On each of these hikes, the hum of car engines, sight of buildings and touch of humanity is invisible. As a native Miamian I’ve never experienced real silence in the city except for a select few state parks. The peace and silence of the area absolutely must be preserved at all costs. Silence as a human experience becomes further and harder to reach the more, we build, having somewhere like Deering Estate near Miami is invaluable. Once again, I thank the naturalists and city who still allow this place to exist and thrive as an oasis of nature for humanity.

Departure as Text

I am excited to finally get going on this trip Italia! I’ve planned every article of clothing I’m going to take, for cold, hot and everything in between. I have my flight bought and Italian shows downloaded for my long flight of thousands of miles to Europe. This semester’s class has been the greatest appetizer in the world for what will be a life changing experience in every way.

 This semester of learning the region’s great history has made me look forward to finally seeing the legendary stories of the Roman Empire right in front of my eyes from the very steps Julius Caesar stood on when he was murdered to seeing Pompeii and its ashes in my own hands. The history of Roma, Firenze, Venezia all sound like tall tales made for children yet as incredibly exciting and unbelievable as they are they are real. Seeing those locations with my own two eyes and being able to touch the walls the characters of these stories touched millennia ago will be an incredibly surreal feeling.

 I’m fantastically motivated to see the grand tour from the perspective we could see in our own city of Miami. Though we got to explore great and fantastic places like Deering and Vizcaya estate, oftentimes the most amazing buildings were built on the backs of grossly mistreated people. Roma and Italia are absolutely no exception the architectural masterpieces of the Roman empire were also built by mistreated people. The Roman empire used slaves at the time, and it is important to remember that among all the beauty of the buildings and region around us we will need to remember to drop the romanticism and view it with our academically critical eye.  

When I imagine Italia now, I see great mountains and cities full of stories in every alleyway, each spot covering history from could be millennia ago. Throughout the program I expect to hear and learn many new stories of the Romans contextualized within the very steps I will be walking myself. I will most be looking forward to visiting Cinque Terre, the beautiful coastal villa full of cliffs and colorful homes. It is also the location of our twenty-mile hike which will allow for exploration of nature like no other.

Image by Blandine Schillinger from Pixabay

This trip will be a fantastic one no matter which way I slice it. The Italian country hosts a great deal of cultural, artistic and natural beauty I will get to explore with a group of fantastic people that I have met throughout this semester. To bring my emotion down to one word as I prepare to finally embark on this journey would be the word inflamed. The fire has begun to burn in my heart and the only thing that will satisfy it is finally seeing the Italian Alps as I fly into the country, exploring Cinque Terre and seeing the great architectural masterpieces littered everywhere throughout the country. I’ve never gone to the other side of the world, but this will be the best place to start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: