Hannah Singh: Grand Tour 2022

“Adventures in Change” by Hannah Singh


Though it may be fair to be comfortable in the familiar, as we all are in one way or another, it is important to embrace change as it comes; It is truly a wasted effort to resist something that is completely unavoidable and always nearing closer. I have never been an individual that would shy away from a shift. In fact, I often find myself craving it, always looking for some way to console the insatiable hunger for a new adventure, in whatever form it may come. Not only was my grand tour of Italy certainly an unforgettable adventure, but it also gave me tangible evidence of the positive outcomes that can arise from change, even if that change seems negative for the time or for a particular group of people. When you live in the moment as I do, all you have are the pieces that you’ve collected thus far, which can make it difficult to see the bigger picture. Visiting these places, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice, and learning of the changes they experienced, as well as the impact these changes have had, has taught me that the pieces I gather do not have to be from my path alone, especially when we’re all part of the same picture.


A perfect first adventure on my grand tour, the legacy of Rome resonates through history for a multitude of reasons. One of these reasons, and perhaps the most generally known, is that it was a seemingly untouchable empire that eventually fell to the efforts of the Barbarians. But this is old news, I was aware of this long before I stepped foot onto Italian soil as it is not a niche piece of information. A massive change that certainly sent ripples in time but it is not what caused a shift in my perspective. 

During my time spent in Rome, I had the opportunity to explore the Roman Jewish Ghetto, otherwise known as the Ghetto di Roma, which was established in 1555. One of the oldest known ghettos outside of the Middle East, life in this area was defined by crushing poverty and suffocating restrictions placed upon Jewish individuals by the Papacy. From the lack of fresh water to the imposition of disease due to poor sanitation, a change was needed for the survival of those who resided within the ghetto. Although there were conflicting shifts of power for the Jewish Ghetto between the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Papal States were eventually permanently dissolved in 1870, which lifted the restrictions placed on Jewish individuals in Rome and they were then free to live outside of the ghetto and do as they pleased, free from the threat of religious persecution by the state. A change considered to be a major loss for the Catholic church, yet one that brought forth the freedom for thousands of those who had been trapped within the confines of the Jewish Ghetto. Now, the ghetto is brimming with life and is home to the largest synagogue in Rome, the Great Synagogue of Rome. 


My next adventure was characterized by the House of Medici and their inclination to indulge in the finer things in life, specifically their love of the arts. Florence is home to some of the greatest pieces of art and architecture in history and it is because of the patronage on part of the Medici family that works such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and David by Michelangelo. The Birth of Venus currently resides in the Uffizi Gallery, which was also sponsored by the Medici family and is home to hundreds of major artworks from the Renaissance. 

In 1492, the Medici family was exiled from Florence to Rome, a major shift in power and political influence for both states, which lasted until 1512. Although this change brought forth major unrest in Florence under the rule of Savonarola, along with a significant loss to the humanities due to the Burning of the Vanities, the Medici family continued to be a patron of the arts while they resided in Rome. The most notable of these patronages on part of the Medici family is the altar of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, a truly incredible and incomparable work of art that would not exist if the Medici family had not been exiled from Florence. The Medici family was eventually able to return to Florence, where many of the artists they repeatedly commissioned are buried, specifically within the Basilica di Santa Croce, a significant monument both architecturally and symbolically. 

Basilica di Santa Croce

Cinque Terre

My grandest adventure on this tour took place in Cinque Terre, an experience almost indescribable in fear of not providing it justice. Within the context of this grand tour, Cinque Terre was an outlier in several ways. Unlike the hustle of every other city I visited, time seemed to slow down and it was okay to take things slow, fully experiencing every step that was taken. The hike through the major path along the five towns, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an all-day event, beginning when the sun rose and ending as it set. Although I was not able to complete the hike due to time restraints, ending in Manarola, the oldest of the towns within Cinque Terre, I would not have changed the pace with which I experienced it. 

What also differentiates Cinque Terre from the other major locations on this tour is that it is the only one that has successfully been able to resist change. Unlike Rome, Florence, and Venice, Cinque Terre has done little to modernize itself alongside society, remaining true to its historical roots thanks to the locals’ resilience. In a rare instance of successfully resisting change, Cinque Terre has retained an ability to create change within those who are lucky enough to visit.


The final adventure on my grand tour took place in a city known for being in a perpetual state of change due to its geographical location. Venice is a city unlike any other, requiring consistent maintenance due to the annual flooding and the salt saturation within the limestone at the base of the buildings throughout the city. Despite the near-constant state of deterioration, Venice is still strongly afloat atop the lagoon and is championed for the creation of many things, such as glass blowing, the modern window, and, thanks to their historically strong mercantilism, capitalism. 

 The Republic of Venice was able to develop a thriving system of trade in part due to their authority over the waters that surround the city, which was aided by their mastery of quickly and efficiently building ships. In the sestieri of Castello lies the Arsenale, what was previously the largest naval complex in Europe and was known for building ships in as little as one day while it was in use, a skill infamous enough that it was mentioned in Dante’s Inferno: 

“As in the Arsenal of the Venetians

Boils in winter the tenacious pitch

To smear their unsound vessels over again

For sail they cannot; and instead thereof

One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks

The ribs of that which many a voyage has made

One hammers at the prow, one at the stern

This one makes oars and that one cordage twists

Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen…” 

Although the Republic of Venice had a strong naval force, the republic eventually fell to Napoleonic rule in 1797, which led to the dissolution of the Arsenale. Under the rule of Napoleon, the use of this area was transformed into what is now the Biennale Gardens, now used to hold La Biennale di Venezia, which I was able to attend and was my personal highlight of the trip. This year’s exhibition is titled The Milk of Dreams and, coincidentally, thematically focused on the metamorphoses we experience with the Earth, with technology, and within ourselves, an experience catalyzed by a change that occurred hundreds of years prior. 

Venice Pavilion, Biennale Arte 2022


I can say with the utmost certainty that the person I was before my adventures in Italy is not the same as the person that writes this now. Unlike Cinque Terre, I was not resistant to the change, but rather welcoming and encouraging. In every city, every day, I was a new me. Born in the year of the snake, I was shedding the skin I had worn the day before and warming myself under the Tuscan sun. And the changes I saw paved my way onto other paths, picking up more and more pieces as I went along. Every day I get closer to seeing that bigger picture, the final mosaic of the Italian adventure. 

Hannah Singh: Italia America 2022

Roman Poetry and Literature: A Lasting Legacy

What is life without art? Is it even imaginable? Art has come to take on countless forms, always changing, ever shifting, infinitely present. Poetry and literature are art forms that are often overlooked and under appreciated, especially by those who would not consider themselves patrons of the arts. I suppose this is understandable, to a certain extent. For some reason, some people simply do not enjoy reading; However, that is not to say that this form of artistic expression is not something that is still consumed and appreciated by many. In the United States, the average individual spends just over twenty minutes per day reading, which, given the economic structure of our society, is a considerable amount (1). Much like many other aspects of our society, many works of English/American poetry and literature can be traced back to Ancient Roman society, drawing inspiration from both the stories and the style.

“As wave is driven by wave

And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,

So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,

Always, for ever and new. What was before

Is left behind; what never was is now;

And every passing moment is renewed.”

Ovid, Metamorphoses


Although ancient Roman society is to thank for many aspects of modern American society, it is important to note that the Romans were not completely original with their early strides in poetry and literature. Many early works of Roman poetry and literature drew inspiration from that of the Greeks, who were recognized by the Romans as being more literarily advanced in comparison (2). Because of this, the Greeks and their literary works became the foundation of Roman textual art. This began as a process of translation of Greek literature into Latin, the language of ancient Rome. An early instance of was the translation of the Odyssey from Greek to Latin, done by Lucius Livius Andronicus, a Greek slave that went on to become the founder of ancient Roman epic poetry and drama (3).

Lucius Livius Andronicus (284 BC-204 BC)

 Roman literature originated formally towards the end of the third century BCE, with the works of the playwright Plautus being some of the earliest recorded within this civilization (2). Despite ancient Roman literature being founded in the works of the Greeks, the Romans would soon develop a rich culture of poetry and literature of their own. Not only did they develop their own particular style of textual art, but they did so successfully enough that their works would come to influence later works within the romantic languages throughout history. 

No man is wise enough by himself.


Major Figures

The time period between 70 BCE and 14 CE is coined as The Golden Age of Roman poetry. Latin literature flourished during this time, producing many prominent Roman writers such as Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid (2).

Publius Vergilius Maro or Virgil was a Roman poet who was best known for his work titled The Aeneid, despite it being unfinished. During his lifetime, he was renowned as the Romans greatest poet. His work depicts an image of a romanticized version of ancient Rome, detailing the ideal of civilizing the rest of the world alongside the Romans (4).

Virgil (70 BCE-19BCE)

Sextus Propertius, regarded as ancient Rome’s greatest elegiac poet, is most widely known for his book of poems titled Elegies. Thematically, his works mainly centered around love, the inspiration being drawn from his experiences with his lovers. However, later in life, he also explored philosophical and religious themes in his works (5).

Sextus Propertius (55 BCE~16 BCE)

Publius Ovidius Naro or Ovid is perhaps the most famous Roman poet to be produced during this era, having made major technical accomplishments in his lyrical poetry. He was met with major success with his first work, titled Amores, which was composed of elegiac couplets and detailed a love affair. However, he was later exiled by Augustus, who was not a fan of his work, particularly his final project, Metamorphoses (6).

Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE)

Lasting Influences

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)

Roman poetry and literature has come to be embedded in Western culture. Today, you could walk into nearly any bookstore or library and find both the works of Roman poets and works that have drawn inspiration from Roman poets. History has shown that the Roman poets have been a major influence to other historical writers, one of which is William Shakespeare. His plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra drew inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (7). Both of these plays are common required readings within the American education system and have received on screen adaptations. 

“In the make-up of human beings, intelligence counts for more than our hands, and that is our true strength.”

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Shakespeare is not the only major literary figure that came to be inspired by the life and the works of ancient Rome. Dante Alighieri was also majorly inspired by this era of Roman history, with his works consistently referencing its past. Paradise Lost by John Milton was also inspired by Roman poetry, particularly The Aeneid by Virgil, for which he refers to as a “father work”. This epic poem is also a common required reading within the American education system.


If there is one thing I have learned by studying the Romans, it is that by examining the past, we can understand the present and move forward to shape the future. It is my own personal belief that art, particularly poetry and literature, can ignite something in all of us. The Romans knew this and now their words are stamped into history, and they continue to resonate through the words of others, mine included.

“Do the gods light this fire in our hearts or does each man’s mad desire become his god?”

Virgil, The Aeneid

Works Cited

  1. Statista. Reading habits in the U.S. – statistics & facts. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/topics/3928/reading-habits-in-the-us/#dossierKeyfigures
  2. L. Wasson, Donald. “Roman Literature”. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.worldhistory.org/Roman_Literature/
  3. Britannica. Lucius Livius Andronicus. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lucius-Livius-Andronicus
  4. Britannica. Virgil. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Virgil
  5. Britannica. Sextus Propertius. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sextus-Propertius
  6. Britannica. Ovid. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ovid-Roman-poet/Works
  7. Marrison, Richard. “Roman literature and how does it influence today?”. Retrieved from: https://www.kspatriot.org/index.php/articles/60-guest-authors/702-roman-literature-and-how-does-it-influence-today.html

Hannah Singh: Italia as Text 2022

Rome as Text

“We Rise, We Return” By Hannah Singh 

From this Earth, we rise, and to the Earth, we will always return. To feel the stone beneath your fingertips, the stone that was once touched, placed there, by the Romans, to be transported to an ancient world-a truly indescribable feeling. 

I place my palm to the stone, feet planted in the dirt under the aqueducts on the Appian Way, and I see the world around me change, shifting out of place. As if the curtain of time slips past me, revealing an ancient world I can learn about but will never truly know. To be stuck in this exact moment in time is both a curse and a blessing. To have missed their era of acceptance, of non-judgment, of openness, yet be spared of their atrocities. Both the best and the worst of humanity, only the remnants left before me. 

I am constantly reminded that every moment is fleeting and nothing is guaranteed. For thousands of years, the Roman Empire thrived, conquered, created, yet they too fell to the trials of time. But I sit here in the ruins, I see their magnificent structures crumbling before my eyes, I see the flowers growing from the crevasses in stone, and I am reminded that life continues on. Life has continued beyond the fall of the Romans, who believed they were invincible, and life will continue beyond me, who has made peace with the fact that I am not. From this Earth, we have all risen, and to this Earth, we can all return. 

Pompeii as Text

“Equal in the End” by Hannah Singh

A city in ruins, frozen in time. What was once home to thousands is now a time capsule of sudden and all encompassing tragedy. 79 A.D., the 24th of August, the day Mount Vesuvius erupted, laying a thick blanket of ash on those who resided below. 

Upon stepping foot into the remains, the rocks and rubble crunching beneath my feet. My eyes take in the scene before me, wide and consuming. I scan my surroundings, the fallen city leaving little room for distraction. The sky on this day is clear, nearly cloudless, save for a single culmination of water vapors resting atop the volcano. A soft adornment for a catalyst of destruction. 

Led by our humorous guide, we trek on through a previously bustling city of life, now a home to ghosts and tourists. I think it is easy to forget that these places, these ruins, were once home to many. It may be easier on the mental to separate oneself from these situations; to forget that there was once a community of women, men, children, families, enemies, lovers, friends, fellow travelers…but I do not feel this way. 

I believe that, despite the tragedy of Pompeii, it is important to be reminded that nothing is guaranteed, regardless of race, class, or gender. Pompeii was a city of the upper class, a particular lifestyle, a home to the wealthy. But nature is truly the great equalizer of humanity. No amount of money can save us from the wrath of the true Mother of all. A tragic and comforting truth, that of which Pompeii embodies. 

Assisi as Text

“The Hills Have Flowers” by Hannah Singh

The rolling hills of Assisi can change a person, I believe; at least that was the case for me. Up and down and back up again, I walked, my surroundings incomparable to anything I had yet experienced in Italy thus far. Assisi is a small town in the region of Umbria, known for their wine (as the owner of a small cellar informed me), with a population of just over 25,000. Small, quiet, yet still full of life, both human and not. 

I walk up the hills, the smell of lavender, roses, and wildflowers drifting through the air alongside myself. The flowers in Assisi are truly in abundance, every street, every home featuring pots of roses or flowers naturally growing alongside the brick. The flowers are important to those who reside in Assisi and were a true treat for me, joy spilling from my smile with each passing petal. It is incredibly clear that the residents of Assisi put forth a great and genuine effort to care for these flowers, their large bloom and vibrant color evidence enough. 

This should not come as a surprise though, as Italy’s patron Saint Francis was born in Assisi. Not only did he dedicate his life to Christ and spreading his word, leaving behind all Earthly indulgences, he also set the precedent for western environmentalism. His love for Christ became a clear and direct translation for his love of the Earth and all of god’s creations. Despite my own personal aversion to organized religion, his sermon to the birds resonated with me deeply. It takes a true lover of all creatures to do such a thing and, although I am no preacher, I often find myself in similar conversations. St. Francis set this standard for loving the Earth and all of its creatures and Assisi is a genuine reflection of that. A naturalist’s heaven. 

On the way up into the hills, brimming with flowers, we paused at a cafe. I ordered an espresso and as I waited, I noticed a quote on the wall. Unfortunately, I am not well versed in the Italian language, but once I noticed it’s origin, I had a strong feeling that I knew what it said. It read as follows: 

“La decisione piu’ coraggosia che puoi prendere ogni giorno e’ quella di essere di buon umore”


And how could you not be in a good mood in a place like Assisi? 

Florence as Text

“Insanity Feeds the Art” by Hannah Singh

To be an artist, and a good one at that, requires more than just skill. Anyone can paint a picture, write a sentence, or sketch a doodle, but it takes a particular type of person to take their own personal depth and transform it into the craft. As Roman Payne wrote in his novel Rooftop Soliloquy, “All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art”. 

Born and buried in Florence, Michaelangelo is a perfect example of how being at least slightly unhinged is excellent food for the craft. Although he is one of the most renowned and accomplished artists of the renaissance, he was not known as a pleasant individual and lived a very solitary life; he did not enjoy being around others and the feeling was mutual due to both his brash demeanor and his poor hygiene. 

Despite his inability to properly interact and connect with others, he is responsible for creating some of the most widely recognizable works of art from the renaissance, one of which being his sculpture David, which currently stands tall in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. Based on the biblical David, this statue was originally placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, with his head turned towards Rome as a signifier of both the battle between David and Goliath as well as Florence’s own personal victories. Although the detail is fantastically impressive in its entirety, the true marvel of this statue was Michaelangelo’s ability to capture the thoroughly human expression on the face of David, one of both doubt and determination, his gaze utterly piercing. 

In spite of the fact that David is one of Michaelangelo’s most renowned works, and for good reason, my personal favorite of his works is the Tomb of Lorenzo de’Medici residing in the Cappelle Medicee in Florence. This tomb depicts the personification of dawn, dusk, day, and night, an allegory for our journey through life and a representation for human mortality.

Towards the end of his path in artistry, Michaelangelo stopped completing his works, which can be seen in the statues of this tomb. As the sun set on his own life, he felt that he had wasted his it in his dedication to the craft. The insanity of an artist is truly a double edged sword, a sacrificial cut for the benefit of humanity. As a member of humanity, as someone who is currently reaping those benefits by viewing his art, I thank you for your madness and your melancholy, Michaelangelo. 

Siena as Text

“It’s Not Just a Phase, Mom” by Hannah Singh

Stendhal Syndrome: “A psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion, and even hallucinations, allegedly occurring when individuals become exposed to objects, artworks, or phenomena of great beauty and antiquity”. 

Although Stendhal Syndrome is a disorder unique to Florence, I personally felt a degree of this rare condition while taking in the gothic art and architecture found in the city of Siena. My symptoms began upon walking into the Cattedrale di Siena, an amalgamation of different architectural eras on its shell, yet clearly and gloriously gothic once inside. Consecrated i’m 1215, this cathedral has the central components that categorize gothic architecture, from the stained glass windows, to the painted arches, all the way to the overall ornateness of the design as a whole. 

Despite my craving to spend hours within the cathedral, the tour of gothic tuscany continued on to an incomplete yet marvelous collection of works by an artist revered as both a major contributor to the gothic style as well as one of the greatest Italian painters of the Middle Ages: Duccio. Although gothic art is notoriously flat in composition, Duccio was able to create the illusion of depth in many of his artworks, as seen on the knee of Mary in the painting Madonna and Child on the Throne and in the doorway of the Cattedrale di Siena in the painting Temptation on the Temple Ducci, which was truly revolutionary in this era and went on to inspire much of the depth found in the works of the renaissance. 

Madonna and Child on the Throne by Duccio
Temptation on the Temple Ducci by Duccio

Although there is a clear distinction in the emphasis on worldly beauties, with the technical skill in texture and lighting also more apparent in the latter era, it should be noted that gothic art, specifically that of Duccio, sets itself apart in creativity. While much of the art from the renaissance is based on things directly before the artist, whether that be models or objects, the art found in the gothic era focuses on abstract things, scenes that are purely conceptual, which requires both creativity and technical skill.

Even though the gothic era only lasted from, roughly, the 12th to the 14th century, with the renaissance following afterwards, life has a way of being incredibly circular and nothing is ever just a phase. This becomes evident in the 20th century with the rejection of realism and the reintroduction of abstractionism. An excellent example of this can be found in the works of Pablo Picasso in the mid to late 1900s. His painting titled Guernica, which includes a Madonna in its massive composition, perfectly encapsulates the return of the use of both creativity and technical skill. Although the works following the both the gothic and renaissance eras are inspiring in their own ways, when analyzing the historical significance of the context behind this particular work, it could certainly entice symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome upon viewing if one is lucky to get to catch the chance. 

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome

Cinque Terre as Text

“Take a Hike!” By Hannah Singh

Resilience. That is the word that comes to my mind when I look back on the short time I was able to spend in Cinque Terre. Consisting of five towns nestled into the hillsides, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, resilience is what has kept the authenticity of this area not only alive but flourishing, well beyond their hardships and the pressures to assimilate to modernity. 

Walking along the rocks of the Mediterranean, breathing in the salty air, and taking in the vibrancy of the towns, it’s as clear as the water surrounding it that Cinque Terre is a true point of reflection and it is exactly because of their resilience that it has remained that way. From the pillaging from pirates in their early history to the tragic mudslide in 2011, Cinque Terre and its people have remained bright and welcoming of others through the tests of time. 

I was able to test my own resilience by hiking through the trail that connects each of the five towns, a trek that is two millennia in age and certainly not a leisurely stroll. Despite the intensity, hiking through this UNESCO World Heritage site comes with incredible views that make every step worth it. The trail from Corniglia to Manarola was certainly the most challenging, with the first portion of the hike being a sharp incline in direct sunlight for at least forty-five minutes, but it had, by far, the most payoff in both the breathtaking view and sheer satisfaction of making it to the top. As I stood at the top of the mountain, midway through the trail connecting the two towns, looking out at the water, at the terraces trickling down the mountainside, I learned the resilience that lies within Cinque Terre.

Venezia as Text

“Diving Into The Milk of Dreams” By Hannah Singh

It’s true that Venice is a city unlike any other, unforgettable and incomparable in many ways. Even more unforgettable and incomparable than the city as a whole, though, was this year’s exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams, which I explored in its entirety. This year was the 59th international arte exhibition, featuring hundreds of artists from over eighty countries across the globe. The theme of the exhibition was one that I resonated with deeply, as it questioned the concept of human metamorphosis, our relationship with technology, and our relationship with the Earth. 

Although there were countless curations that I found to be truly superb, there are two particular exhibitions that have taken up a considerable amount of space within my brain and I find myself stepping back into them both consciously and subconsciously. The first of the two was the exhibition from Belgium, titled The Name of the Game by Francis Alÿs. This installation was centered around children at play, how they play, and their resilient attitudes within countries of conflict. In my opinion, this was the only installation that successfully utilized the addition of a live video feature, and, even as someone who is never particularly inclined to cry in situations involving emotion, I was nearly brought to tears upon viewing. Though the video aspect was moving on its own, the small paintings that lined the walls were an excellent addition in encapsulating the message by providing still scenes of the lives of children within countries plagued by violence.

The second of the two installations that linger in my thoughts came from Denmark, titled We Walked the Earth by Uffe Isolotto, which genuinely took my breath away upon entering the pavilion. This installation takes place in a barn, centered around a small family of centaurs. The sheer size and hyperrealism of these sculptures were enough to leave me in awe and understanding the message makes it an even more impressive feat. With one sculpture hanging from the ceiling in a tragic death and the other lying on the floor after bringing hope into the world through the form of a new life, this installation questions what we are willing to leave behind and what we can bring forward with us, a dichotomy of tragedy and hope. Incredibly haunting and striking, this exhibition accomplishes exactly what it was meant to, as I now question who I was before and what exactly I am willing to become. 

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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