Letizia D’Avenia is a Junior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in psychology with a declared track in the Industrial-Organizational specialization and a certificate in Team Management. She has lived her entire life in the city of Milan, Italy, and after moving to Miami three years ago, she became involved in different organizations on campus, such as Roarthon and Omicron Delta Kappa. Some of her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, drinking boba tea and collecting pins from different locations around the world.
Photo by CLS advisor at Roarthon (CC by 4.0)
I volunteered for a student-run organization at FIU called Roarthon, a yearlong fundraising campaign ending in a 17 hour long event called Dance Marathon (where participants stand for 17 hours). This tradition started in 1991 thanks to a group of Indiana students, who founded “Dance Marathon” to honor Ryan White, a friend and student who passed away from HIV/AIDS. That small initiative became popular among campuses from the east to the west coast of North America. The money generated through this event benefits Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which is a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals across the nation. Since their creations, all the Dance Marathons combined have raised over $200 million that went towards the kids being treated at the hospital and their families. At FIU, Roarthon gives back to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (which is the local Children’s Miracle Network). This hospital history is based on children’s care and to ensure that no child would need to leave Florida to receive the best treatment possible for them (Nicklaus Children Hospital, 2022). After Roarthon was founded in 1997 at FIU, it has greatly contributed to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, raising over $1 million in cash donations and inviting a handful of “Miracle Families” every year to experience the marathon with the students.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Roarthon (CC by 4.0)
I have always been someone who enjoys giving back to my community; whether it’d be a beach cleanup, volunteering at a shelter or participating in a philanthropic event. Therefore, when I heard about Roarthon, I decided to embark on this journey. I joined Roarthon in 2020 as a committee member, during the peak of the COVID outbreak, but I still had a phenomenal time and was able to aid in fundraising over $56,000 for the hospital. Seeing the impact that I had made in the past year as a committee member, I decided to apply for one of the director positions, to help plan the 2022 Dance Marathon. As the Co-Morale Director, I was in charge of ensuring that throughout the 17 hours of the marathon, the participants were having fun and were feeling connected to the cause and engage with others. I was also in charge of a committee of about 15-20 people, and I helped them navigate their tasks and duties, while keeping a positive attitude and being a point of contact for all of them.
My freshman year of college I did not know anyone. I had just moved to Miami from Italy and I felt no sense of belonging. That was the time when I decided to join a sorority. In Italy, Greek life does not exist and I had no idea how much it would have changed my college experience. I decided to become a member of “Phi Mu”, and it is thanks to this organization that I found out about Roarthon. In fact, Phi Mu’s philanthropy is Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and members are strongly encouraged to participate, both in the Dance Marathon and as committee members, and that is why I decided to become part of it.
WHERE & WHAT
Photo by CLS advisor at Roarthon (CC by 4.0)
The marathon began April 9th, for me specifically at 8am. In fact, as a Roarthon member I had to arrive at the WRC (the FIU gym) to set up. After a long morning of preparations, the doors opened at 3pm, allowing the first participants to come in. The opening ceremony started at 5pm, and during that time we welcomed the Miracle Families, who walked towards the stage throughout the Miracle Path, and introduced themselves. Once the opening ceremony was done, we counted down “3,2,1…” and we all got up, ready to stand for the following 17 hours. The first hours passed by quickly. Between dancing, playing interactive games and chit chatting with people, I made it all the way to 11pm without feeling too fatigued. There were different theme hours throughout the event, and at 11pm “rave hour” began. The lights went out and we had neon sticks and bracelets, which allowed us to create the atmosphere of a fun party.
Photo by Roarthon Participant (CC by 4.0)
Once that concluded at around 1am, tiredness started hitting. However, as Co-Morale Director, I had to keep pushing, and thanks to the activities happening on stage such as Pitbull lip-sync battles, dance improvisations, and costume changes to match the different theme hours, I stayed awake for the entire night. At 5am we were served breakfast, and that is when I collapsed; I was so tired I started dreaming while half asleep on the table. Once I ate breakfast and took a shower, I realized that there were only a couple more hours to go, and I felt energized once more. Remembering what and who I was doing this for was a huge motivator in keeping me from sitting down. Additionally, being able to see the LifeFlight ambulance boosted my morale, since I had never seen how infants are transported when they are under critical conditions.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Roarthon in front of LifeLight (CC by 4.0)
Finally, closing ceremony approached, and listening to the testimony of a cancer patient made me realize that although I was in pain and exhausted, I was able to go home, rest and feel better, while ill patients are not able to do so, and many times they have to undergo treatments who will cause 10 times worse the pain I was feeling then. It definitely helped me put my experience into perspective. The total we ended up fundraising was $60,000, and once that total was revealed I cried tears of joy, I was so exhausted but satisfied and ecstatic for the outcome of the event. After more than 17 hours, April 10th, I was leaving the gym at 12pm and as soon as I went back home, I fell asleep.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Roarthon in front of LifeLight (CC by 4.0)
Overall, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. It definitely tested my endurance and commitment, but I am glad I did not give up and arrived at the finish line. I believe that every aspect of this Dance Marathon worked well, the food provided was exquisite, the activities were fun, and I made friendships that will last a long time, while making an impact on kids and their families. I am part of the future generations who will be able to change kids’ health, and it is my responsibility to partake in initiatives like these ones, because Kids Can’t Wait!
Letizia D’Avenia is a Junior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in psychology with a declared track in the Industrial-Organizational specialization and a certificate in Team Management. Her career goal is to help women in the workplace to feel confident in their abilities of leadership. She has lived her entire life in the city of Milan, Italy, and after moving to Miami three years ago, she became involved in different organizations on campus, such as Roarthon and Omicron Delta Kappa. Some of her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, drinking boba tea, and collecting pins from different locations around the world.
Map retrieved from Google Maps
Coconut Grove is an elongated neighborhood in Miami-Dade County, that faces the Biscayne Bay from Sunrise Point almost all the way to Brickell. The southern area meets with Sunrise Point, Sunrise Harbor and Coconut Grove Manor. Moving southwest, past the South Dixie Highway, and entering Coral Gables, the beautiful campus of University of Miami can be found in all its glory. Moving north, the city of Coral Gables basically occupies the entire area, the only border between the two neighborhoods is the US1, which causes a dramatic cut that basically limits the entirety of Coconut Grove. In the northernmost part, the tall skyscrapers of Brickell take over, giving tourists the stereotypical idea of Miami. Obviously, towards east the deep blue waters of Biscayne Bay are the only separation between the coast of Coconut Grove and the Key Biscayne island.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
The peculiarity of this neighborhood being bayside gives it a unique atmosphere, and when tourists arrive in this area they have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the ocean breeze while eating at a fancy restaurant. For being one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, the Grove is definitely up to times: it is home to the eclectic mix of different dining locations, such as Le Pain Quotidien and Monty’s, shops, hotels, businesses, such as Nikki Beachouse Boutique and Maya Hatcha and green areas, such as the Barnacle and Peacock Park. Due to its diversity, this area is usually frequented by people from all kinds of ages, since there is an activity to do for everyone. From a political standpoint, the neighborhood is run by the Coconut Grove Village Council, who eventually reports to mayor Francis Suarez, and they ensure that all issues and concerns from local residents are addressed, as well as develop initiatives for the community.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove at the Christ Episcopal Church (CC by 4.0)
Coconut Grove is the oldest permanent settlement in Miami-Dade. In fact, its history dates back to the late 1800s, when African-Bahamians migrated to the United States, specifically from the Bahamas and the Keys (The New Tropic, 2017). This is because of the Homestead Act, which attracted many people, both Bahamians and other settlers, since it promised 160 acres of land to anyone who remained in the region for five years, built a home and raised a crop (Roshan Nebhrajani, 2016). For a long time, all the settlers of this area lived in peace, black and white individuals would exist peacefully together, they’d all attend church collectively and have respect for one another. The houses that were being built at the time resemble the houses from the Keys since so many Bahamians inhabited that area, and they built properties with the same colors and architectural inspirations from where they had originally come from. After multiple people started settling in this area, the first post office was opened and it was named Cocoanut Grove. The person who named it was inspired by the few coconut trees that were planted in hopes of using the area as a coconut plantation. Obviously, this attempt failed shortly after but the name stuck to the village and became official during the annexation of the Grove to Miami, when Dr. David Fairchild, a world famous horticulturist, suggested keeping the name and removing the “a”. Following the post office, this area kept growing and developing, and in 1882 a hotel was established to welcome tourists, known as The Bay View Hotel (or Peacock Inn). This new establishment was in desperate need of more staff, and the owners Charles Peacock and his wife Isabelle started looking for workers in the Keys, where some Bahamians were still living and motivated them to come work at the hotel.
Photo retrieved from The New Tropic of the Bay View Hotel (CC by 4.0)
The first ever black employee of the Hotel and resident of the village was Mariah Brown in 1889, who was an important figure in helping populate Coconut Grove and aided in the influx of people in the area. Another influential black Bahamian of that period was Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, Sr. Originally, he had come as a chauffeur and a farm worker at industrialist James Deering’s magnificent winter estate, Villa Vizcaya. He eventually gained land through his work for Deering (he asked for land in exchange for his work) and started selling it to Bahamians that were migrating to the Grove, becoming a millionaire and a leader of this growing community. He helped in the purchase of the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, which is the above-ground cemetery where many early black Bahamian families were buried (Roshan Nebhrajani, 2016). Coconut Grove was annexed to the City of Miami against the citizens’ will in 1925, and that is when the atmosphere in the neighborhood was changed forever. The relationship between black and white people deteriorated and the division between West and East Coconut Grove became evident, to the point where the west’s development, which was populated for the majority by the Bahamians, drastically slowed down, while the east kept flourishing. This is a division that still exists today, where the eastern side is an affluent, arts-driven community with expensive waterfront real-estate and lavish hotels located where older homes once stood, while the western side is an example of how a disparity formed over the years still scars the people living there, where poverty and high crime rates are ordinary. Although this division still creates conflict, Coconut Grove kept blooming and growing in many aspects, and thanks to its parades, art festival, and Halloween parties, it has remained a celebratory neighborhood (Icoconutgrove, 2022). The way present and past history intertwine in the Grove gives it a unique atmosphere and still attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
Since Coconut Grove is part of the City of Miami, the official United States census did not include this area’s information. However, after researching for any information regarding the demographics, I was able to find a website that seemed accurate. The website “Niche” states that this neighborhood’s population is composed of approximately 21,493 individuals. About 51% of the residents are male, while 49% are women. The ethnic groups reflect the history of Coconut Grove since the three main groups present are white (42%), Hispanic (39%), and African-American (15%) community, followed by Asian (2%) and two or more races (1%) individuals. There are also many different age groups. Majority of the community falls within the 65+ years old (about 19%), and the 25-34 years old (16%) range. The 24-44, 45-54 and 55-64 years old ranges are all equivalent to about 13% of the residents. Lastly, young kids and teenagers correspond to 23% and those within the 18-24 years old are the smallest percentage, which is about only 4%. The median income for the residents of Coconut Grove is around $106,834, with about 34% of the population making more than 150k, 24% lying between the 75k-149k, 14% in the 45k-74k range and 27% below 44k.
Interview with Tristan
Tristan (Photo by courtesy of Tristan)
Please introduce yourself
Hi, my name is Tristan Trochu, I’ve lived in Coconut Grove for 17 years.
Do you enjoy living in a coconut grove? Why or why not?
I enjoy living in Coconut Grove as I find it to be the prettiest place to live In Miami. There’s a lot of fauna, parks and it’s right on the ocean. There’s also a lot to do, specifically within walking distance from where I live.
What is your favorite aspect of the neighborhood?
My favorite aspect is what I listed above. The area has a lot to do, it has a lot of marinas allowing you to go sailing and boating and also coco walks with a bunch of restaurants and bars.
If you could change anything about Coconut Grove, what would it be and why?
Honestly, I can’t think of anything I would change. Maybe making some of the roads bigger, as they do get really congested when there is heavy traffic, but overall I love living here.
What is your fondest memory that you have of this neighborhood?
My fondest memory would have to be either going sailing when I was younger or going to cocowalk with my family. We would walk to cocowalk for lunch and sometimes catch a movie at the theaters on weekends.
Coconut Grove Playhouse
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This playhouse is one of the oldest landmarks of the neighborhood and for many residents, it holds a special meaning. Originally, this building was called the Player’s State Theater, it was envisioned by Irving Thomas and Fin Pierce and brought to life by architect Richard Kienhel. The place opened in 1927 and seated around 1,300 people (Save the Coconut Grove Playhouse, 2022). Additionally, the different floors had multiple functions, having storefronts on the ground floor, offices on the second floor and apartments on the third. The theater fits perfectly the environment of the area, thanks to its Rococo style and bright colors of the facade. One peculiar feature was the air conditioning system, making this one of the first buildings in the area with it. The Playhouse had to close during the Depression, but reopened shortly after, on October 3, 1930, with Ginger Rogers in “Queen High” & Harry Gribbon in “A Hollywood Star (Save the Coconut Grove Playhouse, 2022). During World War II, the theater was used as a training school for US Army Air Corps navigators, and after the war ended it was reopened in 1956, as the Coconut Grove Playhouse and it was Miami’s first live theater. In the following years, the Playhouse became one of the most popular theaters of Miami, hosting many famous plays and acts. The downfall happened in 2006, after the Playhouse was officially closed to the public, and due to poor governance, it is now in need of major restructuring work. There is a constant legal battle to tear this building down and to replace it with a retail/office complex and a small 300-seat auditorium (Save the Coconut Grove Playhouse, 2022). That has caused many activists to speak up on this issue and protest against the possible destruction of this antique and full-of-memories theater.
Charlotte Jane Memorial Park
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This Memorial Park is a cemetery dedicated to the first Bahamian settlers in the area, and because of this, it has a deep historical significance (Icoconutgrove, 2022). It was created in 1906 thanks to five of the most important Bahamians families, including Joseph Mayor, Daniel and Catherine Anderson (who founded the Christ Episcopal Church), and Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, the first black millionaire of Coconut Grove. They collectively decided to purchase the land for about $140,000, in order to move the previous cemetery, which had become too small for the fast-growing population of the neighborhood. This caused some controversy, and the Coconut Grove Colored Cemetery Association was formed to oversee this process (Icoconutgrove, 2022).
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This place is extremely unique, since the tombs are above ground and with different kinds of shapes and decorative motifs on them. Walking in between this sacred place and reading the names of the people who are resting in peace there is a raw experience and it definitely connects individuals to the history of the Bahamians. The Memorial Park is now located at 3575 South Douglas Road, Miami, FL 33231. Lastly, it is rumored that this cemetery was used in Michael’s Jackson’s icon “Thriller” music video, thus explaining the above-ground tombs and crypts shown while Jackson is walking around and singing.
Mariah Brown House
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
The story of Mariah Brown is a fascinating one. Born and raised in Eleuthera, Bahamas, she immigrated to Key Westin 1880, at the age of 29 with her three daughters. There, she worked as a laundress, until around 1889, when she decided to move to Coconut Grove to work at the Peacock Inn. After living at the hotel for some time, she was able to save money and buy her own land from Joseph Frow for only $50. Her house was built in 1890 on that land and it became the first home on Evangelist Street. The house is still standing thanks to the way it was built; in fact, Bahamians who had originally come from the Keys constructed their homes to combat the humidity and hot weather before air conditioning was invented and to also protect against heavy rain and strong winds. The houses built by the Bahamian settlers are now known as “Conch Houses”. These types of structures featured clapboard siding, foundation pears, high ceilings, porches and operable sash windows. Mariah Brown’s impact on her community lasted many years after her death in 1910, and her house is now part of the heart of the history of this neighborhood. It holds such importance that her house is listed in the Florida Black Heritage Trail as part of the Charles Avenue Historic District, and it was designated as a local historic site in 1995 by the City of Miami.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
“The simple and genuine life”- this was the motto of Ralph Middleton Munroe, the builder and owner of the Barnacle. Munroe was definitely a revolutionist for his time, as a sailor, naturalist and photographer, he cherished nature and adventures. Before permanently establishing himself in Coconut Grove, he visited the area twice. The first time was in 1877 for a pleasant vacation, away from the busy New York, where he and his wife Eva lived. The second time they visited was in 1881, after Eva was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. The doctor actually suggested the trip, hoping that the warm weather and the ocean air might help Eva feel better. Unfortunately, this was not the case and she passed away at their camp on the Miami river; bad news also came from New York, since right after Munroe’s return from the trip, he discovered his infant daughter had also died. He returned to South Miami shortly after, to visit his wife’s grave and aid the Peacocks in opening the first hotel of the area, the Peacock Inn. During that time, Munroe decided to purchase 40 acres of bayfront land in 1886 and one sailboat, named Kingfish. On the land, he originally built a boathouse, but after it was destroyed in 1926 due to a disastrous hurricane, he decided to construct a house with strong foundations and with doors in the front and the back designed to break during a storm, to allow wind and water to pass through and not destroy the entire house. While living in the boathouse, Munroe started designing a new bungalow, which would become his next residence in 1891, and that house would take the name of “Barnacle”, due to its roof which resembles the actual crustacean. A particular aspect of these houses is that Munroe used reclaimed wood, since he had a passion for boats and knew how to work the materials and use them to his own advantage. In 1894, Munroe’s life changed after the encounter with Miss Jessie Wirth, since they fell in love, got married, and had kids. Throughout their happy life, Munroe expanded the Barnacle to make more room for the entire family, which was composed of two kids, Patty and Wirth, Jessie’s sister Josephine, Jessie and himself. He was even able to lift the original structure and completed a whole new floor below it, making the house a two-story building.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Barnacle Park (the original photo was shown by the Tour Guide) (CC by 4.0)
Following the death of Munroe and his wife, Wirth inherited the house and went to live there with his wife Mary and his kids. At last, the Munroe’s family decided to sell the house to the state of Florida, and in 1973 it became a national park and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This park is one of the most popular green areas of Coconut Grove, due to its open view towards Biscayne Bay and the many recreational activities that are offered. Originally, these 9 acres were occupied by the first hotel ever, Bay View Inn (also known as Peacock inn). The owners, Charles and Isabella Peacock, allowed the hotel to be one of the first catering places of the community, and to honor their memory, the park was named after them. It is also crucial to remember that the hotel was able to exist and thrive thanks to the help of the Bahamian community, since many moved to Coconut Grove to be employed by the Peacock’s. In 2022, this park is extremely well equipped, with outdoor facilities such as a basketball court, softball field, soccer field, a playground and a large open multipurpose field and indoor facilities that include ping-pong and foosball. Additionally, there are five computer stations and free wifi available, making this an optimal place to conduct schoolwork while taking interactive breaks. Peacock Park is popular for its Boardwalk over the Bay, which is a great spot to feel the ocean breeze or participate in a yoga class with a stunning view of the Bay. Lastly, the park hosts musical performances every February, specifically on its open field during the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.
David Kennedy Park
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This is one of those parks where residents and tourists go to relax and enjoy some quiet time and exercise. It is located off of S. Bayshore Drive and it covers more than 20 acres of Bayfront Greenspace, where the abundant greenery and waterfront vistas create an ecstatic experience. There are many recreational activities that can be enjoyed in the park, such as tossing a frisbee, playing soccer or enjoying a picnic on the grass. Additionally, for those who are more oriented towards fitness, there are low-impact rubber asphalt running paths, various calisthenic exercise stations and a large outdoor resistance-based gym area. The David Kennedy Park is dog and kids friendly, making this one of the main green areas where families come to spend their sunny afternoons. The cherry on top is A.C.’s Icees frozen lemonade truck, a perfect place to buy refreshers while enjoying the warm and sunny weather of Miami.
Coconut Grove has multiple efficient ways to move both within and outside the neighborhood. Within the area, the majority of places are reachable by walking or using the bicycles provided by CitiBike Miami. This service is convenient since bikes can be rented by the hour (around $4,25 for 30 minutes) or by purchasing the membership, which is $15 for 30 days of unlimited 30-minute rides.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
For those who do not enjoy doing such prolonged physical activities, the trolley serves the purpose of easily transporting people around the Grove.
Photo retrieved from Coconut Grove website (CC by 4.0)
Freebee can also be an alternative, since it is a service that transports people around the city, completely free of charge. Lastly, the bus lines 22, 40 and 42 transport tourists and residents both around and outside of the neighborhood, making it even more accessible to move throughout the area. To move from the Grove to another neighborhood, the Metrorail is an efficient and effective way to visit Brickell and Downtown without having to pay for an Uber or for expensive parking. Both the Green and Orange line stop at the Coconut Grove station (closest to SW 27th Avenue), and although a ticket is required to utilize this service (with a fare of about $2.25), it is worth the price.
Picture retrieved from Google, Wikipedia (CC by 4.0)
Le Pain Quotidien
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Le Pain Quotidien in City of Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
The creator of this restaurant, Alain Coumont, rooted the concept of his menu in the “keep it simple” mentality. Originally from Belgium and born in a family of cooks, Alain specializes in simple dishes, rich in flavor due to the seasonal and local ingredients utilized as the core of each recipe. He is one of the first to master the concept of organic sourdough, which skyrockets his popularity and allows him to live his international dreams, opening his first American location in New York and in a couple of other locations in the United States, including the one in Coconut Grove (and the only one present in the Miami-Dade County area). This place is optimal if one is craving healthier dishes, or for vegan and vegetarian individuals. The concept of simplicity can be encountered throughout the entire menu, mainly plant-based and rich in greens and fibers. I recommend ordering an item from the salad section since the majority of the dishes contain beans, lentils and chickpeas, all great for general health. Additionally, soups are a specialty of the place as well, and they have conquered the hearts of the customers’ thanks to their creaminess and exquisite flavors.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Le Pain Quotidien in City of Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Konos of Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
The slogan of this location is “Gelato is Happiness”, and I have honestly been living by that simple sentence since I could remember. Being from Italy, gelato is one of my favorite treats of all time. I am one of those people who will eat it at any time in any season. Therefore, I had to find a great gelato place, and KONOS is exactly what I was looking for. Stefano Versace had the idea to open this place after talking to Italian friends who owned a gelateria in Urbino, and with hard work and dedication, he was able to duplicate the highlights of the uniqueness and quality that makes gelato so special here in Miami. This product is made fresh every day and they offer different gelato flavors, both fruity and creamy. I personally tried the mango flavor and the pistachio, which both surprised me with the amount of flavor they contained. The texture of the pistachio was heavenly, and it was the first time since I moved to Miami that I encountered such a similar flavor to actual Italian pistachio. They also had many options, such as coconut, chocolate, coffee, and I felt at home with the fact that they included Italian names of each flavor. Other than gelato, they also had many pastries and smoothies options, which I’d recommend trying. Overall, this place is optimal for a warm day right after a beach picnic!
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Konos of Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
Monty Trainer, the founder for Monty’s, had one dream: “Bringing a taste of the Keys to Coconut Grove”. He opened the restaurant in 1969, and since then it has become one of the most peculiar places in the neighborhood. This location is perfect to immerse yourself in a maritime environment since the patio faces the ocean. Since Monty wanted to embrace the Keys vibes, the restaurant is distributed in an extremely diverse way and it is inclusive for different kinds of atmospheres. The waterfront tiki hut setting allows you to absorb the salty air and enjoy a great meal with friends and family and the indoor space is perfect for both air-conditioned dining & events. Another unique characteristic of this place are the docks, which allow guests to arrive by boat, host a private event, fishing tournament, or waterfront wedding ceremony. The entertainment is also top-tier, with live music and happy hours. The food does not go below the high expectations: obviously, being a place close to the ocean, the main dishes contain all kinds of seafood. A unique feature of the restaurant is the rich raw bar, where a selection of ceviches and oysters is available. One of my favorites to order are the “Baja Shrimp Tacos”, with a side of “Corn on the Cob”. The salmon is also exquisite, with a side of mashed potatoes and broccoli to complement it. I’d suggest going with a group of friends to spend a night eating flavor seafood and dancing to live music.
Coconut Grove is an eccentric place, where all kinds of different shops can succeed and become a gem of the neighborhood. Midori Galleri is a perfect representation of this concept. Established around 1972, this place is renowned for its mesmerizing Asian cultural artifacts and works of art. Walking through the antique two-story building of the emporium has the same effect as walking through a museum, and that is why customers are completely taken aback by the amount of detail and uniqueness in the items that are being sold, and the history that there is behind them. This shop offers all kinds of different art, all from the Asian Culture. For example, many of the Screens sold are antique Japanese panels representing cultural celebrations or Japanese calligraphy. They also sell an extremely peculiar item, called Netsuke. Because the Kimonos do not have any pockets, in order to carry around items, men suspended the objects behind the sash (the one around the waist), and to avoid them falling they would attach a Netsuke, which had the function of a stopper positioned at the top of the sash. The word Natsuke in Japanese is written in two letters, which mean “root” and “attached”. Overall, this is the ideal place for collectors of these kinds of art and for those passionate about Asian culture.
Picture retrieved from Midori Galleri website (CC by 4.0)
The Maya Hatcha
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
According to one customer Anne: “This is my favorite boutique in Miami. It’s the funkiest store. The most comfortably beautiful clothes and the most chilled out proprietor!”. Established in 1968, this exotic little shop in Coconut Grove has pretty much remained true to its nature and mission: allow customers to find the most original pieces of ethnic clothing, handmade jewelry and all things spiritual. The owner of the place, Vivian Jordan, was originally born in Guatemala and because of her passion for ethnic goods and objects, she decided to open this store with her sister Sylvia. Since then, every inch of the store has been used to display the unique items: from masks obtained from Indonesia, Africa and Guatemala, to hats and fedoras, to home furniture, this store has anything that you might be looking for, both fashion and vintage wise. All the objects sold are also environmentally friendly, ensuring that each clothing piece is made of 100% cotton or natural fabrics. An example of this is the Kurta, and an embroidered unisex Indian shirt that comes in a variety of colors and sizes, which is made with cotton and voil. The colorful display definitely attracts many to visit the wonderful building, and almost 55 years later, Vivian still maintains the story with much positivity and enthusiasm, ready to help her customers with their questions.
Nikki Beachouse Boutique
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
This mother-daughter-owned boutique will fulfill everyone’s needs to find the perfect bikini for the upcoming summer season. Their dream of owning their own boutique store started in 2006 and became reality 14 years later, after establishing two physical locations and a successful online store. Born and raised between Los Angeles and South Florida, Nicole (or Nikki) mixes her products style between east and west coast, giving her bikinis a unique look, which attracts customers from both coasts. A heartwarming aspect of this business is the relationship between Nicole and her mom. In fact, according to Nicole, she is the “creative brain”, who is behind choosing different fabrics and designs, and her mom is the “rational brain”, since she is in charge of the logistical aspects of the business. Together with the rest of the team, they created a flexible brand, that is able to adjust to trends and give thorough customer service.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia in Coconut Grove (CC by 4.0)
Coconut Grove is definitely one of the most interesting neighborhoods to both visit and live in. It is important to cherish and respect the history of this place and show respect to the Bahamian culture, since they were the first established community in this area, and it is thanks to them if this neighborhood is so diverse and unique. An aspect of the Grove that I wish could be improved is the respect towards original buildings, such as the Playhouse and other historic landmarks. I wish that people would put more effort into preserving such historic buildings, instead of focusing on removing them for their own profit. This is a problem all over Miami, and I hope that our generation and the future ones will start understanding the importance of preserving and respecting such monumental testimonies of the past. Another issue of the neighborhood is the social and economical division between east and west and the disparity between these two areas due to racism (Alex Plasencia, 2011). As a neighborhood that preaches diversity and inclusion, I really wish I’d see these values more incorporated into the actions of the residents and legislators regarding this issue. On the other hand, an element that works perfectly is the cheerful and chill environment of the area. Walking down the street and enjoying the colorful buildings and aesthetically pleasing restaurants is definitely one of the signature characteristics of this place and what makes it a destination for many tourists visiting Miami. Another positive aspect is the many unique and eccentric boutiques, which help make the neighborhood so diverse and vibrant. Coconut Grove is beloved and cherished by many, and as John Sabastian said in his song “Coconut Grove ”: “The ocean breeze has cooled my mind, the salty days are hers and mine, just to do what we wanna”. Whenever one gets trapped in the stress and chaos of city life, Coconut Grove’s bayside is the perfect place to relax, recharge and reset.
Letizia D’Avenia is a Junior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in psychology with a declared track in the Industrial-Organizational specialization and a certificate in Team Management. Her career goal is to help women in the workplace to feel confident in their abilities of leadership. She has lived her entire life in the city of Milan, Italy, and after moving to Miami three years ago, she became involved in different organizations on campus. Some of her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, drinking boba tea and collecting pins from different locations around the world.
Map retrieved from Google Maps
The City of South Miami occupies an area of approximately 2.30 square miles in Miami-Dade County. The East side of this neighborhood borders Coral Gables, and on the south side, it confines with the green Village of Pinecrest. On the west and north side, South Miami shares its border with Glenvar Heights, a safe and small neighborhood. A peculiar aspect of the limits of this neighborhood is the irregular borders in the north area; this was because, in 1937, the city’s size was abruptly reduced, since many dissatisfied northern residents sued out of the city (due to debt and local dissension created in the city), and at that moment the linearity of the border was not taken into consideration. South Miami, also known as the “The City of Pleasant Living”, has a unique small-town atmosphere with different shops and restaurants for both tourists and locals to relax and enjoy their rest days. The mayor Philip Sally and the Commission (composed of five members) manage many aspects of the city and ensure its smooth functioning. The downtown area is where majority of the entertainment locations are present, such as the Sunset Drive Mall, which includes a movie theater and trendy restaurants such as Cracked, one of the food locations opened by Chef Adrianne, and Garcia Nevett, an artisanal chocolatier of Miami. The urban characteristics of this city are counterbalanced by green areas that can be found in the neighborhood, where children are able to play sports and adults can come together and de-stress. Parks such as Dante Fascell Park and Murray Park are two of the most famous ones.
It is known that Native Americans (especially Tequestas) had been living in the Miami area for years; however, the recorded history of South Miami began around the end of the 1800’. In fact, in 1897, W.A. Larkins, an early pioneer and founder of South Miami, brought his family into this area, started a small dairy and a year later established a post office. Additionally, once the Miami to Homestead extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1906 was completed (thanks to Henry Flagler), Larkins bought more land and established the first grocery and general supply store located in the area. An important factor that significantly shaped South Miami was the move of the U.S. Government post office to that location, and thanks to this the surrounding community was named Larkins in honor of its Postmaster. By 1917, the population growth and real estate value of the area drastically increased (a 10-acre tract was sold for $100,000), and in 1926 the first town council was established. The town council worked intensively, establishing a town seal and renting a building to be the town hall. They even purchased the first-ever fire truck of the town! Following these positive events, some issues started to arise. The hurricane of 1926 definitely left the Town damaged, and the citizens tried to ask Congress to void their income tax for that year, but with no success. Another unfortunate event occurred when Florida East Coast Railway station burned down, leaving the town without a station for many years. Due to these circumstances, the citizens wanted to change their “town” status to “city”, since they felt that by obtaining that title the State and Federal Governments would take them more seriously. Therefore, after barely a year, on June 24, 1927, the Florida Legislature approved the new charter (which was prepared by the Town of South Miami) and the City of South Miami was born. Additionally, with these new changes and development of the city comes discrimination against African-American citizens, who become confined into a part of the neighborhood called “Black City” (History of Miami, Youtube). The turbulent events of this newborn city had just started. In the following couple of years racism, financial problems, local dissension, and general dissatisfaction from its citizens created many issues in the city. This reached the point where to lessen municipal responsibilities, South Miami’s total area was reduced more than half in two different moments, downsizing it from 6 square miles to the current 2.30 square miles, hence the irregular borders in the northern part of the neighborhood. Following World War II, the city finally fixed the past issues and created an entirely new charter and form of government, which have led to how we know South Miami now, a growing and developing city that will most likely lead by example in the next millennium.
According to the 2019 census, the population estimate in the City of South Miami was about 11,911 people. There are about 7.2% individuals under the age of 5, 18.3% under 18 years old and 14% of people 65 years old or older; this implies that the remaining 60.5% of people range from 18 years old to 65. The female population is 48.2% and the male one is 51.8%. The ethnicity of South Miami is predominantly white (77.2%), with the African-American population being 13.2%, and the Asian one adding up to 5.2%. The population of Hispanic or Latino Origin is 54.7% and the non-Hispanic or Latino Origin are 25.5%. Regarding population characteristics, the number of Veterans (numbers recorded from 2015 to 2019) is 223 and the percentage of foreign people born in another country equals to 35.2. The median value of owner-occupied housing units (from 2015-2019) amounted to $569,300 with a median monthly owner cost (with mortgage) of $2,260 and without mortgage of $780. Lastly, the median household income from 2015 to 2019 was $62,067, and the person in poverty amounted to 14.1%.
Interview with Naama
Naama (photo courtesy of Naama)
Letizia: “Please introduce yourself”
Numa: “My name is Naama but I prefer to go by Numa, which is my nickname. I have been living in South Miami for two years now”
Letizia: “Why did you decide to live in the City of South Miami?”
Numa: “The main reason we decided to live here was the close proximity to both mine and my partner’s workplace”
Letizia: “What is your favourite aspect of the neighborhood?”
Numa: “Our favorite aspect of the city is the amount of greenery. Big old oak trees all around, we absolutely love it!”
Letizia: “If you could change anything about South Miami, what would it be and why?”
Numa: “I think this neighborhood is truly lovely, and I do not believe there should be any changes. I love it the way it is.”
Letizia: “What is your fondest memory that you have in this neighborhood?”
Numa: “Some of the fondest memories that I have here are the times spent in the beautiful parks of the community, such relaxing and beautiful times!”
St. John A.M.E
The Historic Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in the City of South Miami. Thanks to the generous donation of land from Elnora (Marshall Williamson’s wife), the church was formerly organized by the first pastor, Rev. F.W. Kinslow, in 1915 and took the name St. John A.M.E. Church. Since then, the community built around this religious location has flourished, creating a place where those living in the neighborhood (especially the black community) could freely express their religion and themselves. This church was highly impacted by the 1926 Hurricane, since the building was destroyed; however, it was rebuilt only one year after, in order for it to keep being a vital part of the neighborhood. As stated on St. Johns website: “Our goals are to administer to the physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional needs of our members and the community through Christian Ministries and community outreaches, and to serve and preserve our surrounding urban community for present and future generations through economic development and empowerment”. With these words in mind, it is easy to see how this Church has been so impactful and will remain relevant for many years.
Sunset Drive Mall
This Mall is one of the most diverse structures in the City of South Miami; with its large variety of shops, and its vast building (with spaces in the open-air as well), this is a place where many people that live in this neighborhood hang out at. The different food options inside and around the mall make this place a great location to eat delicious foods with friends and family. AMC also has a location here, adding another layer to all the entertainment of the mall. A unique aspect of the building is that the facade resembles the Art Deco features of the South Beach buildings, with orange pastel colors, curved edges, and a neon sign saying “Sunset Place”. In recent years however, the mall has been losing its popularity, and according to some, this might be due to a curse. In fact, at the time of the building construction many years ago, archaeological consultants had strongly advised against building on this property after groundbreaking unearthed interment mounds of a previously-unknown indigenous tribe. The building was strongly discouraged due to the high likelihood of an enduring curse, and by ignoring this idea the Sunset Drive Mall is now paying the consequences of it. Additionally, employees have reported hearing footsteps where no one had traversed, experienced feelings of emptiness and purposelessness when patrolling the western portions of the mall, and witnessed apparitions. Another explanation as to why the mall might be losing its popularity is due to the lack of other forms of entertainment (other than the AMC, shops and restaurants). The City of South Miami has declared that they will renovate the entire area in the next couple of years to make it a more popular location once again.
Doc Thomas House
While visiting this place, tourists and locals will discover a natural oasis in stark contrast to the concrete. The total area occupied by the house is of about 2.2 acres, which included the building itself and a vast garden, consisting of pine rockland and tropical hardwood hammock. The majestic house belonged to Arden Hayes Thomas and his widowed mother, Margaret. In fact, after they moved from Indiana to South Miami (Larkins at the time) and opened O. K. Drug Store (in 1926), they became popular and respected in the community and that is when the nickname “Doc” was attributed to Thomas (since he had become a pharmacist and helped many people). About a year after they moved, they decided to commission the building of the current Doc Thomas House. For many years the business was extremely fruitful, and after Margaret died, Thomas retired from being a pharmacist and spent the rest of his life gardening, socializing, traveling and managing his own food store. He never had kids, so once he died, the Tropical Audubon Society took formal possession of the property and now uses it as a meeting location for environmental groups, and as an educational and recreational open space for school students, scouts and area residents. This location has now been listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and earned Florida Heritage Site status in 2016.
Dante Fascell Park
This is one of the widest green areas present in the City of South Miami. This park is a gem in the southern part of the city, which is perfect for those who live both in South Miami and Pinecrest. Some of the most popular features include a basketball court, a playground, a pro beach volleyball court, a sculpture Garden and six clay tennis courts. This is the perfect area for kids to play different sports and to even have a field day, which is possible thanks to the two pavilions, one slightly larger with five picnic tables and the other one with three tables. Another popular characteristic of this park is the jogging trail, which is about 1,375 ft (.26 miles) long, a perfect length to walk an hyperactive dog or to run a quick morning jog.
In the City of South Miami, this 3.43-acre park is packed with picnic tables, which makes it a perfect location for a Sunday afternoon picnic. With multiple playgrounds, outdoor basketball courts, open field space, charcoal grills, and a baseball field, this park is another great option to come with friends and family to spend an active or relaxing day, enjoying the company of each other.
This park specifically focuses on different sports programming. This is the perfect green area for both children and adults to engage in sporting activities. Palmer park offers a variety of interesting and inclusive programs, such as the adult softball leagues, youth baseball leagues, softball tournaments, youth tackle football, cheerleading, soccer (adult and youth) and adult kickball. It is important to have such parks in one’s neighborhood, since it gives the chance to basically everyone to engage in their passions in designated spaces, created for exactly this purpose. In the park, they obviously have all of the fields required to play these sports, so that once an individual is engaging in one of the programs, reaching the field is convenient.
Like the majority of Miami neighborhoods, the City of South Miami has their own freebee service, which picks up and drops off people anywhere within the boundaries of the city. It is a free, green and easy service that allows different citizens to move quickly from one location to the other.
Another great transportation system is provided by the metrorail, which has a stop at the South Miami Station. Although a ticket is required to utilize this service (with a fare of about $2.25), the metrorail reaches the majority of the most popular locations in the city. Additionally, there are also different buses that traverse the neighborhood, and the fare is similar to the metrorail. An aspect that I find important about the buses is that the majority of them have a ramp for disabled people to be able to get on the bus without assistance, which I think is extremely important because it allows inclusivity and acceptance towards everyone in the neighborhood.
Chef Adrianna Calvo always had the passion for cooking since she was a little girl. After countless years of experiences in different kitchens and with multiple chefs, she decided to open a restaurant that would reflect her culinary vision. Her idea was to deliver an extremely flavourful menu composed of free-range, organic, locally-sourced, and sustainable ingredients. According to the chef: “Where there is flavor, there is MAXIMUM flavor”, meaning that she looks for those ingredients that will bring the most amount of flavor in the dishes that are served. The menu is also vegan-friendly, a positive inclusive decision to ensure that everyone can try the particular dishes. As the italian I am, the burrata bar is a personal favorite; specifically, the burrata that is served with tomato onion jam and balsamic. The way the simple flavors mix with each other just creates an ecstatic flavor, that leaves an aftertaste of exotic and foreign
Root & Bone
Root & bone is located in the heart of South Miami. The modern look of the facade definitely tricks the clients into thinking that the interiors will also have a modern style to them; however, once entering the heavy glass doors, the Southern-inspired decor takes over. Its concrete floors that alternate with white tiles, the walls covered in light wood, and the teal booths with white details create the perfect atmosphere for the clients to enjoy the exquisite cuisine. The goal of the two chefs and founders of this restaurant, chefs Janine Booth & Jeff Mcinnis, was very simple: create a menu that was composed of fresh ingredients coming from earth (root) and composed the majority of the time with meat (bone). In fact, this restaurant is extremely popular in the neighborhood for its show-stopping fried chicken, which with its personality has won over many people in South Miami. In addition to the chicken, “Grandma Daisy’s Angel Biscuits” are a pleasant experience for the taste buds; accompanied by a honey butter sauce, this dish is a must-have at Root & Bone. Served warm, the sweet and salty flavor will make the customers leave the restaurant wanting to go back and have more.
The owners Larry Chi and his wife Barbara decided to name the restaurant Akashi because of its symbolic meaning; as a matter of fact, the Japanese word means “bright stone”, which symbolizes the idea of creating a gem in the sushi community. Additionally, Akashi is also the name of a city in Japan that is well known for its seafood, especially their snapper. A peculiar aspect of this restaurant is that originally, all the chefs working there were all family members, who poured their passion and dedication into cooking the most delicious foods. After their establishment in South Miami in 1993, the restaurant has become one of the most popular sushi places in the neighborhood. The environment that they created in the restaurant is familiar and warm, and patrons always feel at peace while eating tasteful sushi dishes. Unfortunately, due to Covid I have not been able to eat inside the restaurant; however, my family and I order takeaway at least once a week. The menu contains a large variety of Japanese specialties, raw and cooked. A personal favorite is the “Jennifer Roll”, which combines crab salad rolls topped with salmon slices. Additionally, the “South Beach” roll uses the same ingredients but adds spicy mayo, that leaves a gentle tingly flavor once finishing the dish. For those who do not enjoy raw fish, the “tempura and teriyaki dinners” will be the perfect options to experience this cuisine in all of its flavors.
Susan and Isabel Garcia Nevett are two sisters from Venezuela with one passion: chocolate. After spending more than a decade perfecting their chocolatier skills (first in Venezuela and then in France), they decided to open a shop in South Miami, infusing their fine chocolate with the flavors of this exotic city. Since their opening in the Miami location, the Garcia Nevett sisters have won over hundreds of chocolate lovers, thanks to their award winning chocolates and sweet creations. The secret behind this spectacular chocolate recipe is simple: their products are made with 100% Venezuelan chocolate and original recipes inspired both by their childhoods and local Florida ingredients. One of their newer products that will get you addicted is the Chocolate Mousse. The creamy and sweet flavor that is released in the mouth after only one spoonful is an indescribable experience, completely out of the ordinary. I suggest eating the mousse with caramel toppings, to add crunchiness and saltiness. The last product that they just launched is the Advent Calendar, all made with their own artigianal chocolates; such a thoughtful and yummy gift for someone that celebrates the Advent period! Overall, this place is definitely unique and adds new and fresh expectations to the current businesses opening in South Miami.
After working as a hairstylist in LA for many years, Ashley Keenan decided she wanted to open her own salon here in Miami and provide her clients with the many skills she has learned throughout her entire career. She specializes in low-maintenance hair-coloring in her minimalistic and ordinated hair salon. Ashley’s desire with her salon is to not focus on the volume of the clientele but on the experience that each client will be getting during one of her hair cutting or coloring sessions. She works alongside her talented team composed of Brittany Papa, Ashley Marley, and Melissa Martinez, and together they ensure that the clientele attending the salon will undergo the best service possible. I have a really complicated hair texture, and Ashley has always been able to cut my hair that makes them effortlessly beautiful. She has also focused on my curls and helped me revive them after years of coloring them. Her care for the service does not go unnoticed, and she is definitely my go to for any hair services.
Schneider Eye Center
Since 1995, the eye care services provided by this center are extensive and professional: from eye exams, contact lenses and lasik consultations, this is the perfect place to assess your eye health. Dr. Schneider and his team are determined to constantly stay updated with the latest developments in eye care, prescription lenses, and advances in contact lens technology. This way, once the visit is finished, they can help you understand what is the best plan for you and your eyesight. Additionally, they have glasses in the office from a variety of different brands; therefore, the clients are able to be visited and pick up glasses, a real convenience. They also understand that eye care can be expensive and they have in place different plans and flexible payment options to ensure the clients get great service for a reasonable price.
Overall, the neighborhood of South Miami is an exquisite place to visit and live in. Although the history of the City was definitely troublesome and difficult, the city as we know it now has flourished and is one of the best areas of Miami. With its plentiful businesses, old and new, and its green areas, South Miami is destined to lead by example many other areas in Miami. One aspect of the neighborhood that I wish could be improved is the greenery; although there is a lot, I believe that the City could do even more to become greener. On the official website of the City of South Miami, I did see that the city has plans and intentions to fulfill this idea and I am thrilled to see what is to come. Additionally, renovating the downtown area has also been discussed plenty, and I know that by doing so people will be increasingly interested in visiting this area. I also wish the City of South Miami could improve the transportation system, since I believe it could be more interconnected with other neighborhoods, especially Coconut Grove and Brickell. In conclusion, through its ups and downs, this neighborhood has offered a safe and enjoyable environment, and it will continue to do so for a long time.
“Schneider Eye Center – Optometry in South Miami, FL US :: About Us.” Schneider Eye Center – Optometry in South Miami, FL US :: About Us Schneider Eye Center – Optometry in South Miami, FL US, http://www.schneidereyecenter.com/about-us.html.
Letizia D’Avenia is a Junior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in psychology with a declared track in the Industrial-Organizational specialization. She has lived her entire life in the city of Milan, Italy, and after moving to Miami three years ago, she became involved in different organizations on campus. Some of her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, drinking boba tea and collecting pins from different locations around the world.
I was able to partake in the clean up of Chicken Key, a small island about a mile off the shore of the Deering Estate, an historic site that belonged to Charles Deering until 1986, when it was purchased by the State of Florida, and added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Chicken Key constitutes one of the eight ecosystems present at the Deering Estate, and is a crucial habitat for the local flora and fauna. Unfortunately, this island is in the way of currents that bring polluting agents and debris, harming its entire ecosystem.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC BY 4.0)
This volunteer opportunity was presented to me through the FIU Honors College class “Miami in Miami”, taught by Professor John William Bailly. The class is structured in order for the students to explore different parts of Miami and become knowledgeable of its history, its culture and environmental topics. The area of Biscayne Bay is slowly deteriorating due to different polluting agents, putting at risk the organisms living in it. Although my major is psychology, the fight for environmental change is a cause that I am spirited about. I was raised in Italy, where the Mediterranean sea is one of the most popular vacation destinations. I spent countless summers swimming in the crystal sea of Sicily, learning to love its natural beauty and its secrets. Becoming older has allowed me to truly grasp the danger that global pollution is and will cause to the oceans worldwide, and I am dedicated to investing as much time and energy as I can to make a change.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC BY 4.0)
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key (CC BY 4.0)
I already knew what this opportunity entailed, since I had already participated in a Chicken Key clean up; however the peacefulness of the island is always a pleasure, and getting away from the loudness of the city is a breath of fresh air. The fish swimming away from the canoes, a bird staring at me from a far away tree and hermit crabs crawling around remind me about the many organisms living on Earth, and how important it is to respect them. It was also interesting to compare my current classmates to the ones in my previous class; the first time I came to Chicken Key, it was our last class and we had plenty of chances to get to know each other, so joking and splashing around felt natural. This semester, this excursion was our third one and the shyness and awkwardness could definitely be felt in the atmosphere. However being on a deserted island for more than three hours will most definitely bring you closer to the people you have around, and I was able to form new friendships and connections.
WHERE & WHAT
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key (CC BY 4.0)
It was a sunny Wednesday, and my day started on a canoe, fighting against the strong winds and almost getting stuck in the mangroves. I proposed the idea to Professor Bailly to explore the mangroves opening like the semester prior. However, I did not realize that on the present day, the tide was much higher, and instead of having a clear tunnel, the branches of the mangroves were face-level, meaning that we had to basically bend into the canoe to avoid spiderwebs and crabs on our face. After what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the island. I was thrilled to start working and after eating a tuna sandwich, I grabbed three bags and started collecting trash. This semester we used recyclable trash bags, an environmentally-friendly option to avoid producing even more waste. Nevertheless, these bags were much smaller, forcing me to return to the canoes and change bags more frequently. From the previous clean-up, I learned that the majority of the trash is deeper into the island; therefore, I hiked for a solid ten minutes and I reached an isolated part of Chicken Key. Some of my strangest findings were unopened baby formula, a fancy bottle of liquor and a brand new golf ball. After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to land. The returning journey was not as exhausting, and me and my canoe partner were able to rest. Once we got back to the shore, we loaded a truck with all the trash bags and emptied them out in the dumpster on the Deering Estate property. While driving back home, I realized how this excursion is always eye opening, since no matter how much trash we pick up, there is constantly new debris that gets deposited on the island on a daily basis. The real effort that needs to be done is to eradicate the issue of pollution at its root by using reusable plastic and recycling correctly, instead of picking up the tons of plastic that has already been thrown away.
Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key (CC BY 4.0)
By doing the excursion to Chicken Key, you never know fully what is going to happen. There is always that suspense of what great sea creatures you might encounter or how powerful the current might be that day.
An aspect of the clean up that I wish worked better and was not as tedious is the action of canoeing to the island. My arms usually feel too sore to even hold the plastic bags open once we start the cleaning process. The canoes’ space is limited, allowing the different clean-up groups to only be able to load an overall small amount of bags compared to the immense quantity of debris on the island. The feeling of hopelessness while cleaning up all that trash and seeing how much more there is that I will not be able to take back with me always takes a strong emotional toll. Noticing the small plastic pieces becomes even more painful, since no matter how many are picked up, by digging a little further in the algae there will always be more. The smaller the plastic, the more harm it does, since it becomes easier to swallow for all animals, and causes them to die of starvation or asphyxiation from choking on it.
During these excursions, what works amazingly is the awareness brought to each one of us: seeing in front of our eyes how much garbage is brought to this island is definitely a wake up call, it makes this “abstract” idea of global pollution extremely real. Furthermore, the empowering feeling of knowing that I was making a change in the world made me want to continue picking up trash, no matter how tired I was. Being connected to a healthy and clean environment is so important for the human race to be alive, and my generation needs to be the one actively fighting for a change, because if we do not, the situation will become disastrous and the world as we know it today will never exist again.
Hi! My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a junior attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in Psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity, I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department and I am a research assistant for the Power Women & Relationships lab. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. I am also very passionate about the environment. I am excited to take this class for a full year and learn more in detail about Miami.
Downtown as Text
“Unheard voices” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Downtown Miami
The first time I participated in this class my attention was taken by many different more superficial aspects. It was the first class that I was taking in person since the pandemic had started, and I had never explored downtown in such a way. For the whole day, I focused on absorbing all the information I possibly could, without truly envisioning what I was being told. This time instead, I was able to almost see the main characters of the stories that were being narrated, and I centered my attention to the auditory stimuli around me to try and immerse myself in the past. The crunchy sound our shoes made while walking in the concrete slightly covered in dead brown leaves, since fall is slowly overtaking the long summer days. While passing below the highway that caused many lower-income families to lose their homes to make space for it, the loud monotone noise produced by tires on concrete invades the environment around us, making it almost impossible to hear what my friend is saying right next to me. My imagination is able to truly express itself once we arrive at Lummus park in front of Fort Dallas and the William Wagner’s House. Although both of these buildings have been relocated, in between their walls they still have trapped stories, emotions and voices of those times. By touching the stones of Fort Dallas, I close my eyes and I can hear the grunts and groans of the slaves building their own slave quarters. I can hear the scared whispers and the noise produced by one stone being put on another. This almost resembles the sound of a bullet being fired, and after I turn my head to the side, I hear general Dade falling to the ground, victim of his own hubris by thinking that the Seminoles were weak enough to be easily defeated.
However, although Miami’s history is filled with saddening and angry noises as the ones I mentioned above, it is also filled with many joyful sounds. The soft voice of Julia Tuddle and Mary Brickell eco around downtown. The claps of excitement once the railroad was being inaugurated. As we walk to the Freedom Tower, I imagine the relieved and tired cries from Cuban immigrants, which after surviving a long and exhausting journey are finally being welcomed in the United States. All these sounds are what makes Miami unique, with the good and the bad. It is important to understand both the joyful memories and the unfair saddening memories, because only through knowledge and having an understanding of history can we ensure that certain mistakes are never repeated again. Miami is considered the city of sounds, of adventure and of hope, but not many know about the decades of slavery and unjust treatment of people. And although overall Miami produces a beautiful symphony of exciting sounds, by listening closely to every single instrument, out of tune notes will always be heard, no matter how hard the other instruments try to cover them.
Overtown as Text
“Knowledge is Power” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Overtown Miami
The metrorail is a moving melting pot, where everyday hundreds of people come together for completely unrelated reasons other than being transported from a part of the city to another. As I sat next to the window on my way to class, I observed individuals going in and out of the sliding doors. The metrorail passes many different stops, which all have different stories from the past that still affect entire neighborhoods today; however, these stories are not usually told and are slowly beginning to vanish. Our role as students and learners is to remember these stories and this class helps us in doing so, by exploring different realities and engaging with local communities. The focus of the day was exploring Overtown, and each one of us was able to learn many of the struggles that the black community in that neighborhood had to go through. First they were segregated to Overtown during the Jim Crow era, then I-95 was built right next to two important churches (Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church), essentially forcing the people living in the area to move out and disrupting local businesses.
We were able to speak to representatives of these churches, such as Linda Rodgers and Alberta Godfrey, who explained how much the building of this highway drastically damaged the neighborhood’s equilibrium and how racism still affects the community everyday. Standing in the majestic building that is Mount Zion, we learned that on the pulpit that was right in front of us, Martin Luther King delivered one of his most important speeches.
By hearing these stories from people of the community who are still hurt and suffering from all these unjust treatments, it is clear how society is focused on the single profit and not its impact on entire communities. In contrast to our serious and formal visit to Overtown, while walking in the neighborhood of Hialeah, we explored the majestic and rich Hialeah Park, which was used as a horse racing field and it is now a casino. As I sit next to the window on my way back, I think of how Miami has such deep discrepancies, where the people living in Overtown are not even sure how long they will be able to live in their homes and attend their churches, while in Hialeah, people come together to gamble their money away. It is our duty to always dig deeper and become knowledgeable about all of Miami’s stories, even the ones that hurt, even the ones that make people’s blood burn.
Vizcaya as Text
“The Superficial” by Letizia D’Avenia in Vizcaya
I look at my reflection in the water fountains that limit the road to reach the majestic villa. According to Arabic culture, fountains have a spiritual meaning and are supposed to be flat and clear enough to see the reflection of the sky. It enables faithful people to feel closer to their God, and they are seen almost as a sacred symbol. James Deering, the owner of Vizcaya and brother to Charles Deering, was an extravagant man. He was very superficial, too captivated by his obsession for his own self and his popularity to truly care about anything else. He wanted Vizcaya to be a villa with European details, not caring about their symbols and history. An example of this is the arch found in the garden in front of the house. Usually, arches were built to celebrate a military victory, and although he had never had one, he still demanded to have an arch built on his property. He did not have children, but insisted that in his studio paintings of kids were present. He wanted to have a painting covering the pipes of the organ, and decided to cut a famous original painting in half, so that he would be able to access the pipes if necessary. He wanted the most luxurious objects in his house, anything to impress his guests when they would come visit. He had one of the first phone booths, one of the first fridge and vacuum, expensive carpets and even an organ (which he did not even know how to play). He was one of the first “typical Miamians”, obsessed with superficial luxurious objects and not too concerned with what was going outside of his perimeter. Next to the Villa, a huge garden extends and basically covers the rest of the property. Walking between the bushes felt like being in a movie directed in France in the 1800’. The colorful flowers and the different fountains and ponds made the entire place even more magical. I believe that it is important to visit historical places in Miami, so we can all understand better where we come from and why certain aspects of our culture are the way they are. This visit was helpful to give me a better insight into why the culture in Miami is like this, and how people in the past helped to shape how our society is today.
South Beach as Text
“A Jump in the Past” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Miami Beach
It was a windy day, and the clouds in the sky looked like cotton candy, as I was walking down the South Point Pier in South Beach. The ocean below us was crashing angrily on the gray rocks, and the noise of seagulls filled the air. The sun was reflecting on my skin, and I truly regretted not bringing sunglasses. It is definitely unimaginable to think that this entire area, many years ago, was completely populated by mangrove forests, infested by mosquitoes and almost impenetrable. After Fisher discovered this strip of land and decided to make it a getaway spot for himself and his rich friends, Miami Beach is now one of the most visited places in the world. Foreigners come from all over, just to bathe in the warm waters of Miami Beach, while staring at the skyscrapers that occupy the majority of the view. We started walking along the road that takes to Ocean Drive, while learning about the history of Fisher Island. In fact, Fisher bought the island from Dana Dorsey, South Florida’s first African American millionaire. We also learned about the extreme segregation that came after Fisher arrived, and how a place that was multiracial was completely disrupted. African-Americans could not access any beach, and could not even stay overnight in the South Beach area unless they had a valid “permit” to do so.
Arriving at Ocean Drive created a change of scenery. The Art Deco buildings were now taking up all the space with their intense personalities. The pastel highlights and neon signs definitely made me momentarily forget that it is currently the year 2021, and I thought we had just entered a black and white movie in the early twentieth century. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon, there was almost no one walking the street, and we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the history these buildings have. Our excursion ended in the majestic Jewish Museum of Florida, where we were able to learn about Jewish history, which is a topic I knew almost nothing about. At the end of every class, I am always able to learn new aspects of Miami that I had no idea had such an impactful action into shaping how Miami looks like today. I am looking forward to being able to keep learning and growing my knowledge regarding important topics.
Deering Estate as Text
“Skyscrapers and Trees” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Deering Estate
I am always amazed at the contrast between urban and rural in Miami. One moment you are in the 8am rush hour on the US1, and a couple of minutes later you are immersed by nature, in the middle of different ecosystems exploring secret and sacred places. Our excursion on Wednesday morning started at Deering estate, walking through the thick vegetation to reach the Paleo-Indian archeological site. This is an extremely peculiar place since it is where they found many fossils, which some are believed to belong to Paleo-Indians themselves. Climbing inside the hole made me feel vulnerable since I was in a position of disadvantage and from the top, anyone could easily attack me, with no way for me to defend myself. I could only think of how saddening it would be for an animal to be stuck into a natural trap, and eventually dying of starvation or being attacked by another animal. After exploring this incredible place of history, we went back to the open area to visit Deering’s old house, where we discovered his extensive secret wine collection.
For the second part of the day, we reimmersed ourselves into the untouched vegetations and explored the same trails the Techestas had walked on hundreds of years ago. We were able to hold the same tools they used to survive and we saw the burial mountain site. This was a special place, the energy that was in the air was solemn and we all showed respect to their traditions and to this sacred location. It was an honor to learn about the Techests culture and costumes. Knowledge is power and ensuring that as many people know about the first individuals that lived on this land helps to not forget. Through this class, I became knowledgeable about the native individuals that populated this land, a topic that is usually not discussed and almost hidden as if hiding what has happened will cancel the mistakes of the past. These kinds of excursions help me to reconnect with our history and nature, which is a crucial part of becoming a rounded individual, who has general respect for rural and cultural aspects of the world we live in.
Untitled Art Fair as Text
“Worldwide” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Untitled Art Fair
Untitled Art’s environment is one of a kind. The diversity of both people and artworks attracts thousands of visitors every year, and there is no better place than Miami Beach to host this type of event. Facing the beautiful and unique Art Deco buildings, the heart of the Fair is located under a white extensive tent that occupies a significant space on the sandy beach. After walking in, someone can easily sense that the atmosphere is ecstatic. The loud noise coming from hundreds of people talking is overwhelmingly refreshing, after months of quarantine due to the Covid-19 pandemic where the only noise many were exposed to was the sound of their own house’s air conditioning. The white walls that surround us allow me to clearly see the different artwork presented upon us. An aspect of the Fair I admired was the commitment to have as many international artists and galleries as possible; each booth had a tag with the name of the gallery and where it was from, which aided the visitors to see the variety of locations in a singular place. The range of artists was impressive.
Specifically, two particular booths left a strong mark on my memory. Gallery Kò, which brought four Nigerian artists’ work to show internationally, giving them a visibility that is rare to obtain. Their artwork definitely challenged different cultural narratives and social practices, and it left the viewer with a sense of dividing unity. Due to the originality of such works, I was not surprised to learn that all five works that were hung on the wall had been purchased. The second artist I was impacted by was Arleene Correa Valencia, a young Mexican artist that in her art expressed the pain and the suffering immigrants go through while trying to cross the border to help their children to have more opportunities in life. The way she used technology to portray such a significant struggle was astonishing, and hearing Arleene share her story of how she got to the United States gave even a more emotional connection to the artwork.
Untitled definitely gave me a broader perspective of what contemporary art truly stands for; a way in which people can express their stories, their beliefs and they can challenge our own perception of how we see reality. The best way to understand this type of art is to completely immerse yourself in it and to demolish your preconceived schemas of what your belief of an “artwork” is. Only by doing this, one can grasp what each artist wants to project from their work, and by visiting Untitled, my own perception of reality has now slightly shifted and I feel more open to less ordinary experiences.
Everglades as Text
“Another dimension” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in the Everglades
It was a sunny day in the Everglades, and the soft wind delightfully welcomed us to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, our meeting point. Having done slough slogging last year, the nervousness of the first time was completely substituted by overwhelming excitement. Shortly after everyone arrived, we were introduced to our knowledgeable park rangers who guided and educated us on the history and uniqueness of this environment. In fact, the Everglades used to occupy a drastically more extensive area of South Florida, and then human development damaged it to the point where a restoration plan had to be created to avoid this environment from almost completely disappearing. This place is so unique that it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site. Additionally, understanding the flora and the fauna of this ecosystem is extremely interesting; we encountered curious crows investigating whether or not there was food being left behind, different species of fish living in one singular water hole, an owl, and even a gator resting in its water hole! The first few seconds of the slough are always the roughest part: as soon as I placed my feet in the water, the gelid grip paralyzed my feet and shivers ran down my spine. It is January after all, and this is the price to pay to avoid mosquitoes and the wet season. I got used to the cold feeling fairly quickly, and I started looking around.
I had missed the white trees surrounding me on the way to the cypress dome. The quietness of the place was loud in my ears, and for the first time in a couple months, I was able to reconnect with nature, which is one of my favorite core aspects of this class. I touched the trees around me and heard the noise the water made every step I took. Entering the cypress dune felt like entering another dimension, full of unknown and green. We saw a bard owl, who was curious of us just as much as we were of it, and it stared at us with wide black eyes. Lastly, we visited the sleepy gator in the gator hole, which concluded this out-of-the-ordinary excursion with an extraordinary touch. Seeing the gator in its natural habitat was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and made me realize how grateful I was to have taken this class again. We continued our afternoon in the Anhinga Trail, where we spotted other birds and three more gators, who were enjoying the hot sun calmly. The day ended at Robert is Here, with a strawberry coconut smoothie in my hand and a heart full of memories that will last a lifetime.
Coral Gables as Text
“The Unchangeable Stories” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Coral Gables
The history of Miami has definitely many aspects of it that might not be as bright and colorful as this city seems to be. Certain events feel uncomfortable to people, and many try to change the story to make it not as terrible, not as devastating. Truth is, the stories that have happened over the past years are unchangeable; and no matter how much it looks hidden, the truth always reveals itself eventually. It is important to remember the real facts of what truly happened and not a romanticized version of them, by thoroughly researching and studying the history of this place. Individuals such as George Merrick, founder, and mastermind behind Coral Gables, was a creative man with a very sophisticated and distinct mindset about how he wanted the neighborhood to be; however, he was an unscrupulous individual, who to obtain what he wanted was willing to do anything. He “hired” Bohemians to do the majority of the construction work, and mistreated them to the point that once the project was completed and the city was built, they were not able to live there.
Walking through the streets of Coral Gables always feels like a luxurious experience: fancy restaurants and shops are prevalent in the area and the different smells enhance the feeling of richness that is in the area. The buildings are unique to the neighborhood, majestic houses and Mediterranean revival style are prevalent throughout the city. My favorite part of this excursion was exploring the Biltmore. The decorations completely captured my eyes, and the green roof of the cortile is still very vivid in my memory and the extensive pool brought back childhood memories of summers in Italy swimming in similar crystal clear waters. Although my senses were captured by all the stimuli around me, the mysterious history surrounding this hotel is still prevalent today, making it an even more intriguing place than it already is.
Overall, Coral Gables is an outstanding city and one of the most popular neighborhoods of South Florida, and being able to dig deeper into its history was extremely educational and enlightening.
River of Grass as Text
“The Clouds’ Reflection” by Letizia D’Avenia from FIU at Everglades
The clouds are staring at me while I slowly make my way through the water of the Everglades. Today’s excursion is a self-reflective one, where I am able to shut off the chaotic and fast-paced Miami life and observe what is around me. Specifically, I am thinking about the thousands of adorable tadpoles, who were mindlessly swimming in dirty puddles on the road leading to the river of grass, and about the story my professor just narrated to us. “One day, a man who had his job and career in a crowded city, hears a loud noise and glasses shattering; he throws himself on the ground and survives the enormous explosion that had just happened. Everyone and everything around him just gets blown away. He decides to go back to his family, and after a train ride, he reunites with them. A couple of days later, he hears another explosion, that once again blows again everything and everyone; he miraculously survives, but his entire family dies. The two cities that were completely blown away were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The question is the following: is he the luckiest or unluckiest man alive”. After deeply reflecting on this question, I personally believe that he is the unluckiest man alive. This is because I enjoy sharing life with the people I love and I couldn’t imagine losing everything so suddenly; obviously, I survived, but at what cost? I will spend the rest of my life mourning my loved ones, I would probably experience severe PTSD from such traumatic events; additionally, I would have to find another job and career and basically build my life from zero, which is possible but will come with much suffering and resentment towards myself for being the only one who survived and could move on. I would also spend many years trying to get justice for what happened (probably without any success), and I would not be able to reproduce to avoid extreme deformations and diseases in my children. Overall, I would probably miserably survive for the rest of my life, until I’d finally pass away, after an existence filled with guilt and sorrow.
While analyzing and rationalizing this question, we walked up to an abandoned house in the middle of the river of grass; we were all stunned to find the walls still up and almost intact, and the window frame was resistant enough for us to be able to use it as a step to reach the top part of the wall, which was wide enough for us to sit on. While I was sitting there, I took a moment to observe the horizon surrounding us, and how life in the Everglades would have looked like. Endless sunsets and sunrise, just water and nature.
Overall, this was one of my favorite excursions, since I was able to reflect on different questions regarding life while exploring the natural world around me, which is full of unknown surprises and astonishing views.
“Nowhere better than this place” or “Somewhere better than this place”? That is the question that has been haunting me since our excursion at the De la Cruz collection. This specific art piece was created by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and it genuinely was one of my favorite pieces of the collection. The more I explore modern and contemporary art in this class, the more I am starting to become passionate about it; this type of art always leaves me with questions, making me reevaluate my morals and beliefs just through a simple concept, such as this one. I deeply reflected on why picking between the two questions sent me in such a crisis. Based on the kind of person that I am, I have a hard time grounding myself throughout my day; I always think that if I just was “somewhere else” all my problems would magically disappear and I would instantly and constantly be happy. Thus, if I followed this thought process, I would lean more towards “Somewhere better than this place”. However, after many years of therapy, self-reflection and understanding, I know that picking “Nowhere better than this place” would be a wiser choice. If I am able to truly embody this mentality, I know that my life would become a little brighter. I would work to make my daily life a little better, ensuring that every day includes aspects that I am passionate about, instead of daydreaming about an imaginary place where everything and everyone is perfect.
Throughout the visit at the De la Cruz collection, we were also able to meet Rosa De la Cruz, who welcomed us to her and her husband’s collection. I was honored to meet such an inspiring woman, and being able to walk through the art pieces made me realize how much passion and care there was in curating the collection. The detail-oriented atmosphere is a typical characteristic of the Design District, where every corner is accurately decorated. The colorful buildings welcome tourists and locals, with expensive stores and little cafes, and by strolling through the streets I felt like maybe, really, there was nowhere better than this place.
Coconut Grove as Text
“The failed coconut plantation” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Coconut Grove
The original name of this eccentric neighborhood comes from a gentleman who had first acquired this land and wanted to make it a coconut plantation. The project failed for a variety of reasons; however, the name stayed, giving the city a unique sense of mysteriousness. Coconut Grove is one of the oldest areas of Miami, and was originally populated by Bohemians, who gave it the Keys-like houses and colors. Unfortunately, today there are not many original historic sites, since the majority of them were demolished or abandoned, but throughout our excursion, we were lucky to see landmarks such as Maria Brown’s house and the Bohemians cemetery. Walking down the streets felt like strolling through the Keys; bright colors such as green and blue were prevalent, which creates a unique atmosphere. I was also astonished to think that not even 200 years ago this strip of land was inhabited by Bohemians, who were walking almost exactly through those roads.
One aspect of the neighborhood that I enjoyed was the many green areas, such as the Barnacle Historic Park. Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of Coconut Grove’s most interesting and influential pioneers, was the individual who built this house in honor of his second wife. It is impressive to think that this location was so well-built that it survived many hurricanes, even the most ferocious ones (it is probably due to its structure, which is boat-like and is able to sustain strong winds and water pressure). Despite the mysterious and distinctive history, this neighborhood is now popular amongst Miami citizens, and the streets are populated by expensive shops and boutiques, as well as bars and restaurants.
Key Biscayne as Text
“Where the Ocean Meets the Sky” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Key Biscayne
Imagine being surrounded by pitch-black darkness, hungry and exhausted, and finally seeing the bright yellow light coming from a tall tower, the lighthouse. This is a sensation that many fugitive slaves experienced running away from a life as prisoners to finally find freedom. In fact, this specific location was utilized as a meeting point for fugitives to remain safe from slavery, and they usually lived among the indigenous tribes in the area, such as the Seminoles. This is just one of the unspoken layers of the history of Key Biscayne and Bill Baggs. Throughout the years, the island underwent many tragic events, such as hurricanes, invasion of exotic species (especially Australian Pines) and the Seminoles wars (which caused the lighthouse to be burned and damaged). It is important to know the history of this place to be aware of why this island is crucial in the course of the development of Miami, and to also respect it and develop appreciation for it; in fact, when someone becomes knowledgeable of the origins of a place, it becomes even more important for them. A concrete example of this is “The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park restoration project”.
After hurricane Andrew, a group of workers and volunteers who deeply cared about the island, worked tirelessly to restore the native vegetation types present in Key Biscayne and it is thanks to them if today tourists can enjoy the sandy beaches and the nature trails. Doing service work for a couple of hours and being informed about the history of Key Biscayne made me appreciate this place in a deeper way, making me susceptible to honoring it to the best of my abilities. Walking the stairs of the lighthouse and admiring the view from the balcony at the top made me reflect on how, out of all the eras I could have been born in, I am here in 2022, and I need to ensure that wherever I am I do my part in keeping an open mind and always doing what is just, both in the social and natural environment, one clean up or service project at a time. I owe it to the past and future generations.
My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity and I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department. I like to describe myself as an “artistic” person. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries.
Map retrieved from Google Maps
The Village of Pinecrest expands on an area of 7.5 miles in the southeastern part of Miami-Dade County. In the north it borders the City of South Miami, in the east the City of Coral Gables, in the south the Village of Palmetto Bay, and US-1 and unincorporated Miami-Dade County to the west (Village of Pinecrest). This neighborhood is mainly a residential and rural area, with some main roads but for the majority smaller roads that take residents to their homes. There are different green areas, such as the Pinecrest Garden and the Coral Pine Park, where people can go to take walks or just relax. Closer to the South Dixie you can find more of an urban landscape, with many shopping centers and services. Additionally, through the Village you can encounter many religious buildings, such as the Epiphany Catholic Church, St Louis Catholic Church and Crossbridge Church.
The history of the Village of Pinecrest is definitely unusual. After Harry Flagler used the US1 and the Southwest 102 Street as a staging area during the construction of the Overseas Railroad to the Florida Keys, the area kept slowly growing. However, in 1930, this place became extremely popular thanks to the first tourist attractions established in the Miami vicinity – Parrot Jungle and Gardens. It is exactly what it sounds like: a garden full of tropical birds where tourists could go to interact with them. Parrot Jungle was founded exactly in 1936 by Franz and Louise Scherr. The idea came to life because Scherr, (who was an immigrant from Austria, a former U.S. Army private and contractor, and a farm owner in Homestead, Florida), had the idea of building an attraction where birds would “fly free” (Pinecrest Gardens). In order for this to become reality, Franz Scherr rented 20 acres of hammock land for a monthly fee of $25. His dream became true, and after the park opened it became internationally famous, attracting more than 10.000 visitors by the end of the first year of operation (Pinecrest Garden). This attracted thousands of people, and Pinecrest started growing rapidly. During the 1950s and 1960s more houses were built in a ranch style which would be setting the foundation for the neighborhood’s rural landscape. Finally, in 1996, thanks to the movement led by residents Evelyn Langlieb Greer and Gary Matzner, the Village of Pinecrest was officially incorporated.
Today, the Village of Pinecrest is nationally recognized as a Tree City USA, a Playful City USA and a Community of Respect and in 2011, the South Florida Business Journal recognized Pinecrest as one of the ten best places in Florida for “quality of life” (Village of Pinecrest).
According to the 2019 census, the population in the Village of Pinecrest was 19,555. The ethnic group is made up of people who are mostly white, which are about 87.7%. Of this percentage, not Hispanic or Latino are 43.1%, while 45.5% are Hispanic or Latino. The Village of Pinecrest also includes an Asian community of about 6.3% and Black or African American take up about 1.8%. Those who indicated Two or More Races add up to 2.6% and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander are 0.1%. There is no American Indian and Alaska Native community. The age of the population is almost evenly distributed, with 25.8% of individuals under 18 years old, and 15.6% of over 65 years old. The female population is 48.9%, and the male population is 51.5%. The median household income (in 2019 dollars) over the past 12 months is $156,875. The poverty rate stands at 6.1%.
Interview with Lucia Scarsi
How long have you lived in Pinecrest?
I’ve lived in Pinecrest since my family immigrated to the US in 2001 so 20 years.
What is your favorite thing about Pinecrest?
Favorite thing is how beautiful it is. When I think of pinecrest I think about beautiful green trees and bromeliads. It’s a beautiful place to live in.
What is your least favorite thing about Pinecrest?
Least favorite thing personally is how obsessed the local government is with maintaining this prestige image of the perfect neighborhood. This has stopped many helpful infrastructure projects to get people better access to things like wifi. It’s irritating to say the least.
If you could change something about Pinecrest, what would it be and why?
If I could change one thing about Pinecrest it would be how accessible it is for people to live here. This neighborhood is a wonderful place to grow up and I wish more people could experience the childhood I had. Maybe more affordable housing could help others get a similar experience.
Would you ever want to live in another neighborhood in Miami other than Pinecrest? Why?
I honestly don’t think I would mind living in another place because Miami is so diverse but Pinecrest has my heart.
To this day, the original entrance of Parrot Jungle is still at Pinecrest Garden. In 1936, this building became the attraction’s signature structure. Originally, it was constructed of Dade County Pine and it had a palm-thatched roof patterned. However, in the 1940s, this kind of roof was replaced with clay tiles and the building was faced with natural coral rock. Unfortunately, it was damaged by a fire in 1994, but it was not completely destroyed and the Village of Pinecrest was able to acquire the Parrot Jungle site in 2003 and restored this historic building in 2008.
Another landmark of the Village of Pinecrest is the Whilden-Carrier Cottage, built in 1932. In the 1900s through 1930s, it was typical for pioneers who settled in rural Dade County to build these kinds of houses. This one in particular belonged to Carl Whilden, chief foreman at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. He and his family lived there from the Depression through the early 1970s, and the property included vegetable gardens, fruit trees, tropical specimens and native species.
Lastly, Old Cutler Road is definitely one of the most relevant landmarks. This road gets its name from the former town of Cutler, which was an old farming community (founded in the 1800s) by William Fuzzard. The name of the town comes from Dr. William Cutler, who was the one to encourage Fuzzard and others to settle down there. In 1883, Fuzzard and others decided to cut a road to reach Coconut Grove, and that is considered the first overland route between Coconut Grove and Cutler (The Historical Marker Database). In 1895 it was officially declared a public road. Today Old Cutler Road still proves a tangible reminder of the heritage of the Miami Area.
The first green space in Pinecrest that is extremely popular is the Pinecrest Garden. It is a beautiful and spacious garden, which is easily accessible (the ticket to enter is only about $5, and they usually have discounts). Once you are in, you can decide to walk around the park, since there is a trail that enables you to watch the flora and fauna. There are small ponds in which fish and turtles swim happily, and you can usually see birds flying around. There is also a spacious green open area, in which you can do picnics or bring children to play. Additionally, the Pinecrest Garden hosts many events in the outdoor arena, including concerts, theatre shows, musicals and choir performances. There are also seasonal events; for example, during winter time they put on a light show, they decorate the Garden with christmas ornaments and they play christmas music.
Coral Pine Park
This park is situated relatively close to the South Dixie Highway, and it consists of a nine acre space. Within the park, there are many facilities that enable individuals to conduct sports such as tennis (there are six lighted tennis courts), an all purpose field and a tot lot. Additionally, there is also a natural area, where people can relax, walk and pertain in whatever activity they like best (as long as they do not damage the area).
Evelyn Greer Park
This park is home for the Leslie Bowe Hall. Leslie Bowe was a relevant figure in the Village of Pinecrest and in the FIU Honors community. He served on the boards of several institutions including The Vizcayans, as President, FIU Honors College and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. He also served for two terms as a Council member for the Village of Pinecrest, where he has lived for more than 25 years (Miami Herald). The park consists of about ten acres with different fields for athletic purposes (such as baseball, softball and soccer). There are also batting cages, a tot lot, and Wi-Fi is available within a gazebo spot (“Village of Pinecrest”).
The Village of Pinecrest is very well connected. There is a 108 mile roadway network with a 28 mile sidewalk network. Additionally, there are major roads, such as Old Cutler and the US-1, which enable a fast transit in-and-out of the Village. There are three Miami-Dade Transit bus routes that pass through Pinecrest, specifically Routes 57, 136 and 73. Both Route 57 and Route 136 predominantly serve the southeastern and eastern sections of the Village, while Route 73 serves a short segment of SW 88th Street (Kendall Drive) between US 1 and SW 67th Avenue (Ludlam Road) (Pinecrest Transit Circulatory System). To facilitate transportation, the Village of Pinecrest has also created the “Pinecrest People Mover”, which is a free transit bus service connecting the Village’s neighborhoods and schools. It is a free service, easily accessible and reaches many areas of the neighbourhood. Another extremely useful service is the Pinecrest FREEBEE. It is a new green transportation service which offers free rides and connects the South Dade Transitway and Metrorail station. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 is momentarily inactive, but it will resume its activity soon.
Lastly, to connect Pinecrest with other parts of Miami, such as Coconut Grove or Brickell, there is a Metrorail station (Dadeland South). Although a ticket must be purchased to access this service, it is convenient. A result of all these services is that residents have the capability to decide which means of transportation they want to use, and they will most likely find one that is convenient for them, reducing their car use.
Captain Tavern is the place to be for all the seafood lovers. After it was opened in 1971 by Bill Bowers (“The Captain”), it has been one of the best places to eat in the Village of Pinecrest. It is a modest restaurant, with a recurring ocean theme. The place offers a warm and comfortable environment, where clients can enjoy their food and relax. My all time favorite is the King Crab Legs, they are tasty and juicy. In addition to the restaurant, they also have a fresh seafood market next door, where clients can shop.
As the true italian I am, as soon as I moved to Miami I started looking for an authentic Italian place, and I found the perfect place in Pinecrest. Anacapri is an italian restaurant and market, in which you can find many tasty italian dishes. It has a friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere, perfect to enjoy a night out either by yourself or with family or friends. I am a lover of the Anacapri Bruschetta and the Gnocchi Sorrento, they are some of my favourite dishes. I also shop there for food almost every week, since they have many products that I would buy in Italy (such as the Mutti, which is true italian tomato sauce, and Pan di Stelle biscuits and cream).
Saffron Indian Cuisine is one of the best indian restaurants in the area. This place does not offer plenty of indoor seating, and that ensures excellent service. The quality of the food is always exquisite, and you can tell that the ingredients are fresh and cooked with passion. I do not take spicy very well, so I usually try to go for dishes that have milk or yogurt in them (which decreases the spiciness). My favorite is the Goa Chicken Curry, because coconut milk mixed with curry creates a sweet flavor, and the chicken becomes so soft that it almost melts in your mouth. I usually order rice as well, to create a contrasting texture with the softness of the main course.
The first place ever that I went to after I moved to Pinecrest two years ago was the Pinecrest Farmers Market. Before COVID-19, every Sunday the local farmers would go with their stands at the Pinecrest Garden and they would sell their products. There were so many different varieties of products, from food to candles to plants to jewelry. It was always crowded, with families coming from the whole neighborhood to enjoy a great lunch in the outdoors. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they had to suspend the Farmers Market, then they turned it into into a “drive through”, where customers could stop at the vendor they wanted and purchase the products without leaving the vehicle, while only about a month ago it has finally moved back to its original walk-through set up, thought still respecting separation and limited capacity. Hence, there are not even half of the stands that used to be there before, and some of my favourites (a smoothie stand and a Greek food stand which used to serve fresh gyro pitas) have not been able to come back.
Pete’s Suniland Barber shop is one of the oldest tenants in the Suniland Shopping Center. The prices are competitive and the client care is a priority for this shop (Community Newspaper). This place is special because the barbers are focused on making sure that the clients are having a great experience, and once they become regulars, they are basically considered friends. It has gotten to the point where fathers who have been regulars for many years bring their sons who have just started growing hair. The community within this shop treats each other like a family, and whenever someone goes inside the shop they are greeted with an atmosphere of honesty, fun and goodwill (Community Newspaper).
Hirni’s Wayside Garden is the perfect place in case you need a last minute bouquet. Situated next to the Pinecrest Garden, this magical shop provides anything floreal, plants, and decorations. They have been a family owned business for about fifty years, and they work hard to provide the freshest flowers arrangements. They are also able to personalize their compositions, in case you have a special occasion you need flowers for, such as an anniversary, a birthday, or if you need to apologize for something you did. They are able to do both curbside pickup or delivery, which can come be really convenient due to the social distancing rules for COVID-19.
Overall, Pinecrest is a family friendly neighborhood, full of green and rural areas. It is easy to conduct outdoor hobbies such as walking, biking or running, thanks to the long and usually empty streets. The Pinecrest Garden is definitely one of the most fun green areas, since there is almost always something going on, whether it’s a show or an exhibition. An aspect of the Village of Pinecrest that works perfectly is the balance between nature and urban. In fact, the residential areas are usually surrounded by trees and plants, but the shopping centers are not even ten minutes away. Walgreens, CVS, Publix and other fundamental shops are all easily reachable, making this one of the strengths of Pinecrest. The means of transportation are also extremely convenient, enabling people to not use their car everywhere they go. The only aspect of this neighborhood that I think could be improved is to seriously work on the Cane Toads issue. Cane Toads are an invasive species that is poisonous to pets, especially if they try to bite or consume them. They are a hazard to the community and more measures to eliminate them should be created.
However, Pinecrest will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first place where I officially lived in the United States, and I have made so many unforgettable memories in the months that I have lived there.
My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, where I lived for the first 17 years of my life. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. I am excited to see where my journey in Miami will take me!
The specific institution which I volunteered for and which made the clean-up of Chicken Key Island possible, was the Deering Estate. The Deering Estate is an historical place, which preserves the estate of Charles Deering, Chicago industrialist, early preservationist, environmentalist, art collector, philanthropist and first chairman of the International Harvester Company (Deering Estate Foundation). Additionally, this is a place where the public can come in contact with nature and can get involved in different activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and yoga. Volunteering for such an institution has been an honor, and I am glad I was able to offer my day to clean up Chicken Key.
A topic that I am extremely passionate about is the environment. Growing up, all the people I have been surrounded with have taught me that the world is full of many other living forms, such as plants and animals, and we must respect them at all times. I participated in recycling campaigns (such as collecting bottle caps), and I have always been careful about my consumption of plastic. An experience that has made me even more sensitive about this topic was my environmental science class at FIU, where I learned on a deeper level how humans are the cause of pollution and destruction among many natural habitats. My heart was filled with worry and sadness, seeing all these images of innocent animals dying due to the consumption of plastic, and I decided that I wanted to make my part in cleaning up our world. With the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been hard for me to find volunteering opportunities in which I felt safe attending. This is why, when I discovered one of the activities in the “Discover Miami” class consisted in cleaning up Chicken Key (which is an island a little further away from the Deering Estate, in the middle of Biscayne Bay), I decided that I needed to take advantage of this. This island is specifically polluted because all the trash from Miami Beach is carried there, and with time it accumulates, creating hazards for its habitat.
I am grateful for the Honors College, because without being admitted into it, I would have probably never known about this amazing opportunity to make a difference. Additionally, this initiative could have never been possible without professor Bailly, who is committed to ensure that his students are able to create memories while doing activities that are meaningful, either to themselves (such as visiting museums and gaining new knowledge) or to the environment (such as cleaning up Chicken Key).
Where and What?
The way that the day of the clean-up was structured was functional and effective. The 9th of April, I met with my classmates at the Deering Estate around 10am. The weather for that day was phenomenal, around 70 degrees, moderately windy and sunny. The kayaks were already taken next to the shore, ready to be pushed in the water. We were all assigned a classmate to kayak with, and after we put our safety jackets on and loaded the kayaks with trash bags and water, we were ready to start this adventure. Before reaching the island, we stopped to enter a mangrove forest, which was mesmerising, since I had never been surrounded by mangroves, and the scenery that it creates it’s peculiar.
We continued to kayak for what seemed like an hour, and we finally reached the island. We pushed the kayaks on the sand, we tied them together (so they would not roll away), we grabbed our trash bags and we started collecting any objects that clearly did not belong there. I walked further down the beach and I reached a more isolated area, in which I found ropes, plenty of plastic caps, old plastic bottles and cans, plastic and glass pieces, and plastic buckets. The most interesting findings were a Gucci flip-flop, a decorated wooden frame (which looked like it belonged to a restaurant) and a broken Bacardi bottle. We actively cleaned up for about an hour and a half, and I personally filled up 3 trash bags. We then proceeded to relax for a bit, swimming around the island and chatting with each other.
Finally, around 3:15pm, we loaded our kayaks with the heavy full trash bags, and we started heading back to the land. Since the waves were pushing us towards the shore, we had the chance to just lay and relax, listening to the wind blowing and the birds chirping. Once we made it back, we loaded the bags on one truck and the kayaks on another one, and we all laid down on the grass, feeling rewarded by all the hard work that we conducted that day. Once we were all rested, we had a last briefing, in which we gave our feedback regarding the experience that we had just done.
This is proof of the service hours from the Honors College.
Overall, I am satisfied with this community service activity. It has given me a much better understanding on how using plastic actually pollutes the environment. Although there are many initiatives to clean Chicken Key almost regularly, a lot of the plastic we found was old, and had probably been there for months or years. Additionally, trash from Miami Beach accumulates periodically and therefore it’s almost impossible to keep this island clean constantly. The fact that in three hours, fifteen students were able to fill out more than ten trash bags, really gave me an idea of how much pollution there is concentrated on that island. If everyone did their part and cared about the environment, we would be able to drastically reduce the amount of plastic we utilize and if we recycled it correctly, perhaps there would not be such issues. Another aspect of this day that worked extremely well was how I was able to strengthen my connection with nature. Living in a city, sometimes I forget that around us there is an entire world, filled with animals and plants, all coexisting peacefully. Being surrounded by nature really helped me to ground myself and to remember that there is so much more to life than just school. I do not believe there was anything that did not work, perhaps I wish we were able to collect more plastic from the island, but I believe that this though only gives me the motivation to go back to the next clean-up day.
Hi! My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity and I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department. I like to describe myself as an “artistic” person. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. Additionally, after taking an environmental science class during the fall semester, I became very passionate about this topic and I am planning on participating in different volunteering opportunities, such as beach clean-ups. I decided to take this class because I moved from Italy about one year and a half ago, and due to COVID-19 I have not had the opportunity to visit Miami as I wanted to.
Downtown Miami as Text
“Written in These Walls” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Downtown Miami.
“Today is the day”, I thought to myself while making the bed. It’s a windy day, but the sun is shining and smiling at me. As toast with orange jam and Philadelphia melts in my mouth, I start feeling anxiety kicking in. This would have been my first in-person class since the pandemic had started. I felt my skin slightly tingle and my lungs filled up with new fresh air. I breathed out my sudden wave of fear, I put my sneakers on and I started driving to the location. I parked and felt my nerves slightly loosen. I turned my car off as I let out a shaky breath. My feet felt light on the concrete, like all of a sudden I had wings attached to my ankles. I spotted my classmates awkwardly standing in a semi-circle in front of the escalators next to the Government Center. I slowly waved at them and I stopped a little behind the semi-circle. “A student is late” said the Teaching Assistant, fixing her mask and making eye contact with the professor. I am not sure what to do with my hands or eyes, so I pretend to look at my phone. Once the student meets us, we started walking.
Little did I know that during that walk that lasted for more than 2 hours, I would have learned about Miami’s deep institutionalised racism and how much it affected the quality of life of too many people. I forgot about the present and I dived into the past, and I learned about the Tequestas, Seminoles and runaway slaves, who all lived in Florida and were pushed down to the Everglades and forced to live there by the British. I learned about Flagler, who “convinced” 240 black voters to vote on July 28th, 1896, to create the city of Miami, and then he assigned them to live in Colored Town (the worst part of Miami at that time). I learned about Ponce de Leon, who started the contact between Tequestas and Europeans and General Dade, who was the general who led the army to fight the Seminoles out of Florida (and who was the first one killed during the clash). I learned about Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, two women who were crucial to the development of Miami. Our last stop was the Freedom Tower, which was the first place where Cuban Immigrants would be taken once they got to Florida and where the Pedro Pan children were brought. I sat on a bench on the first floor, staring at the image in front of me but not focusing on it. This building smells vintage, a mixture of wood and dust.
At the end of our excursion, I feel filled with unknown knowledge, with forbidden truth, which no one really talks about but that lives in the walls of Downtown. My heels tingle from walking 6 miles and I can feel my stomach growl in anger for food. But all I can do is just stare at the wall and let the stories that I learned that day sink in my brain, so that I will carry them with me and keep them alive till the end of my days.
Everglades as Text
“The Gators Hole” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Everglades
One of the reasons why I enrolled in this class was to experience Slough Slogging. The day finally came, and as I was walking down the long hallway of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, a shiver ran down my spine. I greeted my classmates, and after the skilled Park Ranger gave us detailed and important information about our excursion, we got into our cars to start this thrilling adventure. When we reached the spot where our walk would start, I wore my bright blue water shoes, I grabbed a long stick (which you use for balance), and we all got in a line to get in the muddy water. As soon as my feet came in contact with it, I felt the cold liquid infiltrate in my water shoes, soaking both my feet. As I kept walking in though, I understood why my professor had instructed us to buy these kinds of shoes: they were really tight to my feet and they did not retain water, enabling me to move freely and easily. After I got used to the sensation of the water hugging my legs, I started using my senses to experience the nature around me. I could feel the light rain on my hat, the smell of wet plants; I could hear the far away frogs croak and the birds chirping and all I could see were the cypresses surrounding and swallowing us.
The deeper we walked into the environment, the greener it became. I could see algae touching the water’s surface and brushing my uncovered ankles. At some point, I truly believed we had crossed some sort of portal and we were on another planet. I had only seen this kind of flora in movies, and being able to experience it in person felt unreal. The Ranger explained to us that the Everglades are a source of inspiration to many artists, since it is such a unique and peaceful place. We then reached a more open area, where there was grass and periphyton, a particular algae important for the overall ecosystem of the Everglades. While we were walking back towards our cars, we stopped to take some pictures and we passed by the Alligator Hole. Because during the dry season there is less water, the gators create deeper holes where they usually go to rest. When the wet season ends, the water levels rise again, causing these holes to become even deeper than they originally were. We all got back to the cars safely, and we drove to the Anhinga Trail, where we had lunch and walked around. We saw an alligator sunbathing and many different kinds of birds and fish.
As I drove back home, I felt at peace with myself and nature. That was a day I understood how powerful nature is and how important it is to protect it, otherwise places like the Everglades will have a hard time to exist as we know it.
Miami Beach as Text
Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)
“Blue Eyebrows” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Miami Beach
I looked at the time on my phone as I was frantically walking towards South Point Pier. “I am late” I thought to myself, while impatiently looking for the spot where the afternoon class was supposed to meet up. I finally saw my professor and, with my surprise, only one student, which made me feel less guilty of the sweet time I had taken to reach the location. As we waited for the rest of the students, I was able to admire the beauty of the view in front of me. I looked at the people on the beach, who were carelessly sunbathing, playing on the sand and swimming between the turquoise waves. Behind them, tall colourful skyscrapers took the rest of the landscape, creating this peculiar mixture of urban and rural, which is what Miami is known for.
The rest of my classmates finally arrived, and we started walking down the Pier, while the professor talked about the history of Miami, and the major figures that helped create it. We talked about the importance of the letters that Francisco Villareal left us. I learned that the original name of Miami Beach was “Ocean Beach”. We discussed how Carl Fisher was one of the people who saw a lot of potential in Miami Beach, and was the one who decided to create this “tropical” paradise for him and his northerner friends (by removing the majority of mangroves and any “unaesthetic” feature that he could find). Unfortunately, he was also the one that prohibited Black people from coming to Miami Beach, since “if you want to attract white wealthy northerners you do not want “blacks” on the beach”. Once Miami Beach developed and flourished, the division between white and black people widened even more. As we walked down Lincoln Road, I found myself surrounded by vivid buildings, with thick eyebrows and windows that seemed to be staring at me. I learned about the peculiar architecture styles that make Miami Beach such an attractive place for locals and tourists. We finished class at an H&M store, which was originally an old theater that was bought by the company and transformed into a unique location.
This class helped me see Miami Beach under a different eye. I have always thought of it as a fancy strip of land where people sunbathe. Being from Italy, I had the European picture of it. I never thought Miami Beach had so much history embedded in its sand and streets.
Deering Estate as Text
“Six Ecosystems” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at the Deering Estate
As we walked into the Deering Estate, it felt like we were leaving the busy world behind us, to enter a magic kingdom, who seemed to be inhabited by mystical creatures who survived off berries and sun. I moved my head back and forth, mesmerized by the tall trees and the sweet smell of flowers and spring. A butterfly passed by and settled down on a white table cloth. “It looks like there’s going to be a wedding!”, said our TA softly. I glanced at where she pointed and I saw numerous tables, which were being decorated with all kinds of ornaments. I smiled under my mask and kept following my classmates. Before starting our long hike, we stopped by our professor’s office, where he showed us the painting he is working on. The vibrant colors attracted my sight to it, and I let my eyes wander on the canvas for a couple minutes, before we left to start our hiking. We walked for about 3 hours, and we passed six ecosystems. Between salt marsh and tropical forest, we had the opportunity to explore these completely different habitats, and it felt like we were walking through different continents. It is unbelievable to think that in such a small strip of land there is so much flora and fauna.
Once we finished hiking, we had lunch and we hung out with the manatees, which are usual visitors of this place. In the last part of our excursion, we were able to visit Charles Deering’s house, which was filled with art and history. We were even able to see his massive wine collection.
It was the first time I was able to visit this place, and I am glad I had the opportunity to do it with such an amazing group of people. I will keep this little piece of paradise in mind and I cannot wait to go back and relax under the palm trees.
Vizcaya as Text
“The Hidden Spot” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Vizcaya.
There was peace and quiet at the entrance of Vizcaya. The open space in front of the ticket booth was wide, giving us enough space to social distance, as COVID-19 rules require. I could feel the warm sun on my skin, and a breeze of wind brushed my hair. We started walking down the main street, in between two fountains, until we reached the yard right in front of the house. There was a pond in the middle, which resembled the structure of a boat. There was also a triumph arch, which did not make a lot of sense, since James Deering (the owner of the house and the wealthiest man of Miami) was not a soldier; however, he liked this kind of “decoration”, and wanted one for himself as well. We walked up a couple steps and we entered the house. On a table, right in front of the door, there is a statue of Bacchus, the God of Wine and Ecstasy. He was purposely placed there, so that when Deering’s friends would walk inside the house, they would understand what the “vibe” was. Moving into the middle of the house, there was a spacious yard, decorated with all kinds of plants. Deering had a huge studio, a dining room, a “music” room, and different rooms with all different kinds of arts displayed for his guests to admire.
He was one of the first people to own a refrigerator, and in his kitchen he had a way to alert his servants where they needed to bring him food. After we finished exploring and learning about the inside space, we walked out, in his backyard. He had built a dock, so that his visitors (which usually came by boat), could leave their boats there. There was construction happening while we were visiting, so we were not able to reach some of the areas outside, but we were still able to walk in the majestic garden.
Thanks to professor Bailly, we were able to learn some secrets of this place, such as the little theatre stage and the hidden place in which Deering stored the wine that was brought for him. Although I had already been at Vizcaya, visiting it while actually learning about its history was extremely insightful, and I am glad I had the opportunity to acquire this knowledge.
Margulies Collection as Text
“Elevator Stares” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Margulies Collection
I have never been someone who enjoys contemporary art. I am a lover of Italian Renaissance and anything connected to it. I like to think of art as neat paintings and sculptures and the way in which artists create pieces which “lack” of organising principle has never attracted me. Therefore, as I was speeding towards the entrance of the museum, I was feeling hesitant and slightly annoyed. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by a smell of freshly laid plaster, the walls were a soft white color. The room felt empty, although there were many art pieces neatly exposed. I mentally prepared myself for two long boring hours, but little did I know what was to come. What I learned that day was that, in contemporary art, anything can be viewed as an artistic expression. One particular part of the exhibition that stuck with me was Magdalena Abakanowicz’s piece called “Hurma”. It consisted of 250 figures, with no head, just standing in the room all turned in the same direction. That creates an effect where you can almost feel them staring at you, and it overall felt fairly intimidating. Through this piece, the artist wanted to give the idea of “dehumanization”, since the pieces are in fact bodies, but they are empty and they all look the same.
I also learned that contemporary art can be engaging, such as Leandro Erlich’s piece “Elevator Pitch”. It consists of the structure of an elevator, which opens every few seconds and inside it’s projected people who stare at you. It made all of us chuckle. As I kept observing and interacting with the different parts of the exhibition, I realized that I was having fun. This feeling caught me by surprise. Usually, in museums I have always been expected to be “serious” in order to understand the true meaning of the paintings; but at Margulies Collection, I was having fun, I was laughing, I was interacting with the art and I was genuinely connecting with what the different artists wanted to transmit. It was in that moment that I realized how much I have misinterpreted contemporary art, and how much depth there is in each piece. We finished the visit in front of a sculpture from Will Ryman, which represented the “Last Supper”, but he depicted the disciples in a peculiar way, almost deformed, with big round eyes and disturbing features. Being raised catholic, I have always seen religious pictures as “holy”, perfect in the details and overall armonious and delicate, so this definitely left me perplexed and confused on how to feel. As professor Bailly was explaining this piece of art, he mentioned how it is almost impossible to expose this in a public area. That is because today’s society is “sensitive” regarding certain topics, and this religious representation would definitely create conflicting opinions. Some would be offended by the way in which such important religious figures are depicted, and others would be offended by the idea that a religious piece is being installed in a public place.
I believe that this last class of “Discover Miami” gave me something that I never thought I needed, an understanding of the true meaning of contemporary art.