Nicolas Torrens: Miami as Text 2023

Nicolas at Snowbird ski resort in Salt Lake City, Utah (Photo by Nicolas Torrens/CC BY 4.0)

Nicolas Torrens is a junior at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science with a minor in Psychology. Seeing technology as the culmination of humanity’s knowledge across all disciplines, he wants to use his eventual expertise for the improvement of the human condition, with particular interest in neuroscience and psychology. His hobbies include the consumption of media resulting from creative expression; books, movies, music; and activities that get him moving; exercise, sports, exploration of nature.

Italia Spring Encounter as Text

“Consider Your Origin”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University , January 27, 2023

The School of Athens by Raphael

As I continue my boundless journey of self-exploration, I find myself thinking constantly about how I got to where I am. Not just in the small scale —where my parents met or where they decided to settle down— but in the anthropological sense. Why are our education systems designed the way they are? Who decided that the current government system is the most optimal way? How did the fundamental aspects of my religion develop? History is an endless compounding of human innovation, leading up to this point. I am always amazed at the accomplishments of the great scientists and artists from the past, who without them, my reality would be completely different. Our current civilization can be said to be the summation of all their efforts.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite painting has been “The School of Athens” by Raphael. I was captivated by all the great figures, each of them having a rich history that I would read about in my spare time. The painting is definitely what I’m most looking forward to seeing. To actually see the painting in person instead of on a monitor will feel unreal. As I delved more into art history, Italy gained this allure of mysticism. The seat of one of the greatest empires ever, Rome, systems to optimize human connection was developed, which has influenced the governments worldwide. The epicenter of the Renaissance, ingenuity was demanded, but beauty was also required. The religion that I was born into, Catholicism, has the heights of its expression in Italy. I grew up very religious so going to Vatican City will connect me to my history. So many aspects of my upbringing seem to find its origins in Italy. It’s as they say, “all roads lead to Rome”.

I feel this kinship with Italy while never having been there, and I do admit that my understanding of its history is rather shallow. This class provides me with the perfect opportunity to really get immersed with the history and the culture. I am beyond excited at this opportunity, realizing how special it is to be able to spend a month in a foreign country, with a knowledgeable guide to show me around areas I would not know about otherwise and a group of students who also share the same love for new experiences. At the same time, I am nervous about my abilities to be on my own. Being a commuter to college, I haven’t needed to live on my own, especially not in a different country. How will I fare with the language differences? What will I be eating (cooking being one of my weakest areas)? Will I get lonely being far from home for such a long time? I haven’t tested myself to this extent, but I am optimistic, planning on staying for a few weeks after the program ends in Europe, to travel around and visit the many other historically dense countries. I never know when I’ll be in Europe again.

Ancient Rome as Text

“We’re Not So Different”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, February 12, 2023

The Death of Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme

I’ve always known that as a western culture, the United States derives much of its makeup and nature from Rome, but I never really realized the extent that Roman culture pervades throughout our national foundation. Professor Bailley gave a lecture highlighting some of the great American buildings and statues compared with their Roman inspiration and I have to say that it would be considered plagiarism if I tried to pass off a work so clearly imitative of another. All jokes aside I know that they were paying homage to their intellectual forefathers, it’s just comical how similar they are to each other. It goes to show how revolutionary their ideas were.

After watching HBO’s series Rome, I came away with a more informed idea of what day-to-day matters of a Roman citizen consisted of. I had a very barbaric view of what Roman life was like, thinking that after doing their necessary work for the day, the people of Rome would go to a brothel and drink themselves blind. I had never thought about how the upper class of Rome conducted their lives, being considerably more sophisticated than I thought. They would organize dinner parties, go to plays, and gossip about dire political matters. Their style of dressing seemed so refined that I started to think that maybe I was the barbaric one.

There were some ways of life depicted that I rather enjoyed. I understand that as it is a fabricated version of reality, some aspects are most likely romanticized and the regular violence is downplayed, but the passion that the Romans exhibited in whatever they did was contagious. They fought with vigor, argued with intensity, and were unabashed in their sexuality. I’m sure that our current society is superior in its tolerance of different people, but sometimes it feels that with cancel culture everyone is terrified of being ostracized, so they say whatever they think it politically correct instead of what’s actually on their mind. The Roman way of life was portrayed as free-spirited while today it feels like we’ve become civilized to the point of domestication. The Romans were unapologetic in their passions and sought to express what they believed were the correct virtues irregardless of what others thought. I admire that and want to incorporate their artistic way of life into my own.

The political landscape portrayed in the series confirmed many of my suspicions about people who hold positions of power. Regardless of the era, humans will have their own agenda and show preferential treatment to those who will help them achieve them. Evolutionary it makes sense; because, as social creatures, cooperation is essential, so the person who can juggle different alliances and knows how to manipulate or coerce others into joining their cause will be successful. The Romans knew this about human nature so they established the senate to prevent one person’s agenda from overpowering the national agenda of prosperity for its citizens. Nevertheless, the resolute megalomania in Julius Caesar allowed him to circumvent these safe guards and establish a dictatorship, leading to his eventual assassination. Is violence always necessary in times of disagreement? It makes me wonder if it would ever be possible to establish a benevolent government that works for the interests of all its citizens and shows no preferential treatment for any internal agendas. What would this utopia look like?

Historic Miami as Text


By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, February 25, 2023

I have to admit that being a native of Miami for 21 years, I am a bit embarrassed about my obvious lack of knowledge regarding its founding and the little cultural nuggets scattered throughout. Professor Bailey assuaged my feeling of ignorance by condemning the school system for its incompetence in educating its inhabitants of the not so pretty origins of Miami’s founding, but still, I consider myself a curious person and a truth seeker, and it never occurred to me to research the history of my hometown. I guess once you live in a place for so long you acquire an undeserved feeling of knowledgeableness when in actuality it is just familiarity. On this walking lecture I was exposed to information that has been known for hundreds of years but for me it felt like I was discovering it for the first time, kind of like Ponce De León “discovering” America.

For this off campus lecture I decided to take the metrorail to government center, to fully immerse myself in the infrastructure of Miami. I had taken the metrorail as a kid before with my mom to go to doctor’s appointments. This was before the metro was renovated and I was always terrified, because of the smell and unsightliness of the individual train cars and also because of the homeless people we would have to walk past. I didn’t really understand the anguish associated with homelessness that I know now, but even then I felt uncomfortable being near them. That was my first exposure to poverty and the reality of gross inequality of wealth distribution. I would beg my mom if we could just drive there but she never gave in. Going on my own I felt a sense of nostalgia, of life coming full circle because here I was now, alone where I used to experience so much fear, with the confidence in myself to feel autonomous. I know that I am still ridiculously young but I felt grown up in that moment. I was pleasantly surprised at how modern and clean the train cars looked and could feel the force of time and urbanization.

Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen (Photo by Nicolas Torrens/CC BY 4.0)

Towards the beginning of the walk, we came across the Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels. At first I did not know what to make of it, but Professor Bailley’s brief explanation made sense. The sculpture was meant to represent of Miami’s order deriving itself from all its chaos. With so many nationalities living in Miami, any assortment of languages, foods, music, and religions can be found. It is at first glance the city appears orderless, too many different identities that it would not have its own identity. But that is exactly what makes Miami unique, and solidifies its character. In Miami you can immediately identify its personality, what type of city it is, and you prepare to be surprised at every corner.

Throughout the rest of the walk I was constantly exposed to new information that I would have never guessed. Miami being founded by woman, Julia Tuttle, and that Dade county is named after a general who lost a battle miserably. This has inspired me to take more responsibility in my education of history. Learning more about Miami has deepened the personal connection I feel to it as my home and I am excited to learn more about it.

Italia America as Text

“All the World’s a Stage”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, March 12, 2023

While watching the Oscars I can’t help but be in awe at the evolution of theater, since the Oscars is the present-day culmination of the importance of entertainment in our lives. It is the most prestigious award given for films, and millions tune in to see if their favorite film wins. This distinct form of entertainment, that combines music, dance, and storytelling has been constantly evolving, from the live performances in the ancient theaters of the Roman Empire, to current day cinema that can be seen as an evolved form of theater that uses technology to capture the best live performance possible, to be replayed forever. 

Theater originated in Greece with Athenian tragedies but it was under the Romans where it developed extensively. After a plague spread through Rome in 364 BC, the Romans interpreted it as the God’s being dissatisfied with their current method of giving offerings. They added theatrical games and dancing to their offering ceremonies to please them. This can be seen as the origins of Roman theater, with the ceremonies starting to be performed as an organized show as opposed to only as an offering ceremony. It developed to include the written stories played out by actors that we know today. The Romans used it to explore all facets of human nature, in a way where it was safe for audience members to experience certain emotions without the consequences associated with it. Themes such as religion, sexuality, and political systems were addressed by the great playwrights of the time such as Livius Adronicus and Plautus, often acting as commentary on the current society. The will of the gods was played out by human actors so as to be easily understood by the audience. The same is true for modern day plays and movies. Martin Scorcese’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, is a religious film about the life of Jesus Christ which serves as a strong source of inspiration for believers in Christianity. Seeing these characters play out their lives in front of us lets us relate to them and internalize the messages that the writers want to impart.

Roman Mosaic depicting theatrical masks of tragedy and comedy.

Just the architecture of the Roman theater should be reminiscent if you’ve ever been to a play. The structure of theaters, originating from Greece, and imitated by the Romans has stood the test of time. Even movie theaters follow a similar structure, with the seats facing the screen. This structure is so popular that Roman style theaters can be found all around the world. In Roman times, the theaters would be named by the person who made the largest contribution to the building of it, useful as a propaganda tool to increase public opinion. Important officials would often make an appearance at the theater, sitting the zones reserved for higher status people to maintain their public image with the people of lower class, similar to how people attend the Oscars as a status symbol.

As an avid consumer of modern cinematography, I have to acknowledge the immense role that Roman theater played in elevating the medium of entertainment to be considered a worthy art form. 

Klar, Laura S. “Theater and Amphitheater in the Roman World.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)

Vizcaya as Text

“Hedonistic Haven”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, March 19, 2023

James Deering seems like an interesting person who I would have loved to be friends with. Not because he was filthy rich, but because his outlook on life seems like one of beauty and enjoyment, not taking it too seriously while enjoying himself with the finer things life has to offer. He did not concern himself with coming across as humble, apparent by his grandiose estate, and rather cared for achieving the highest standard of aestheticism that his money could buy. We can now share in the fruits of his labor by visiting the Vizcaya museum, a pleasing spectacle to the eye, and imagine what it would have been like to see James Deering, always indulging in either whiskey or a cigarette.

The size of the estate was remarkable. After getting off the metro rail stop and crossing the pedestrian bridge, I was met with a long, winding pathway that led to the entrance of the estate. It was when I saw the moat that I began to understand the extent of the estate, originally thinking that it was going to be a larger than average house with ample land for whatever farming was needed. I thought “There must be some seriously valuable items in the estate if it was necessary to build a moat.” I was right of course, James Deering was not one for commonplace items.

Bacchus at the West Entrance Loggia (Photo by Nicolas Torrens/CC BY 4.0)

We entered the west entrance loggia and were met with a statue of Bacchus, the hedonistic Roman god of wine, ecstasy, and theatre. A fitting patron for the estate — filled to the brim with aesthetic, sensorial pleasure inducing artifacts — and eventually for the city it resides in, Miami being a party central of the world. The tropical flora surrounding all the meditarranean architecture made a striking contrast that blended well, the strong shapes of the architecture representing stability and power, and the flowing greenery representing the free-spirited nature of pleasure.

Continuing to the library, it was funny to see that James Deering had installed a wall of fake books which served as a fake door. Professor Bailly quipped that in Vizcaya, just like Miami, giving off an appearance that is greater than reality is important. James Deering thought that if he had to have a secret door, he might as well cover it with a bunch of fake books, killing two birds with one stone. He gets to accentuate his aura of intellectuality and also can hide his secret door, using the fake books that he was not going to read anyways.

Walking to the last part of the tour, we are met with a refreshing breeze. The shoreline has a magnificent view of Biscayne Bay, with a barge situated right in front of you. Standing there, I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, looking at the view of the water and occasionally turning back to look at the estate. A perfect mix of nature and artistic beauty, James Deering accomplished what he set out to do, a place where you can appreciate the wonders of human ingenuity while always respecting the natural world.

Renaissance as Text

“The Human Experience”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, April 9, 2023

My life has been influenced by the renaissance in an unquantifiable way, with much of the innovation that makes my day-to-day life easier being in some way affected by the renaissance, due to the improvements in the sciences that has led to exponential growth culminating to this current point of technological revolution. It was in this period of rebirth that an interest in classical art, literature and culture was rekindled, causing the spread of humanism throughout Europe. I find myself leaning towards these subjects in my search for meaning, as there seems to be an enigmatic wisdom behind these abstract creations and ideas.

Johannes Gutenber’s Printing Press

Computer science, my major, would most likely not exist without Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, inarguably one of the most impactful inventions in human history. It allowed for the spread of knowledge and ideas at an unprecedented rate, never seen before, that contributed to the vast innovation during the renaissance. Through the printing press, access to mathematical and scientific books were widely available, allowing scientists to build upon ideas from their predecessors. Without this, the development of computers, what some argue is the most influential and far-reaching invention, would not have been possible. With computers and the internet, Gutenberg’s mission of information spread has been improved upon and now almost all information that exists can be accessed through an internet connection. The implications of this cannot be overstated, and a new period of innovation due to this dissemination of information is contributing to the technological revolution, the effects of which we do not fully understand yet. I wonder if the people during the renaissance knew the extent of how their contributions were going to affect the world for generations to come.

Another product of the renaissance that I enjoy was the spread of humanism throughout Europe. Humanism proposes that each human has the capacity for achieving great things by focusing on their unique abilities and perspective. Through education, the individual can experience personal development that would be beneficial for the greater good of society, emphasizing virtues of integrity and compassion. It places the human, with its potential for creativity, responsibility, and achievement as the recipient for universal understanding. I find this philosophy optimistic and reasonable and it gives me hope for the future, knowing that if I continuously seek improvement through education and introspection, I will reach the most harmonious version of myself.

The renaissance was not without its problems though. There was a rise in merchant capitalism that created a new social class of wealthy merchant and bankers, and a more pronounced wealth inequality, increasing the poverty. This is similar to the economic system of the United States, with the same issues of wealth inequality, which originate from the renaissance. There was also an increase in the persecution of religious minorities in the Renaissance, affecting those who were not Catholic. This seems contrary to the humanistic ideals of compassion.

Italia Spring Departure as Text

“Unpredictable Growth”

By Nicolas Torrens of Florida International University, April 23, 2023

Just like that it’s the end of the semester. It feels unreal, time seems to be moving so fast lately. I remember thinking in the beginning of the semester, “before I know it, the semester will be over and I’ll be preparing to go to Italy”, and now that moment has come. The class was phenomenal, I’ve never had a class that was so hands on. We visited lots of places, with Professor Bailley giving walking lectures. It has acted as a preview to what our time in Italy will be like, and I can’t be more excited. This will not be a vacation filled with tourist attractions but will be a deep dive in the culture, an educational experience, visiting places that only people with a thorough understanding of Italy’s history bother to visit.

Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, Italy

I chose to enroll in this study abroad program because I wanted to widen my perspective on the world. After finishing the spring portion of the class, I feel that my perspective has widened, but I’ve also realized just how deep it all gets, only having seen the tip of the iceberg of human history and how it’s all connected. After reading the book on Brunelleschi’s dome, it is one of the spots I am most excited to visit now, knowing the history adds a different dimension to the experience, not purely visual but also a historical understanding of the importance of the building. I wish I would’ve spent more on time studying on my own about Italy’s history so that I could appreciate more fully the significance of all the historical sites that I will visit. There’s still a little time before I leave so I’m going to make the most of it.

Regarding my fears laid out in my first entry, I still harbor all of them. I feel grossly unprepared but that’s the fun of it. Tackling something that you don’t feel prepared for, trusting myself that I’ll be able to figure it out, it feels good that I have this confidence in myself. I know that the experience will be formative and the changes in my character will serve me for the rest of my life. Having gotten to know the students in my class, I feel more comfortable because I know that if I have any issues I can reach out to them for help.

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