Skye Duke: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Versailles / Photograph taken by Olivia Guthrie / CC by 4.0

Skye Duke is a Junior at Florida International University, majoring in Criminal Justice and Disaster Management, with a certificate in Political Transition and Human Rights. She intends to pursue a career in human rights and humanitarian aid, and is interested in criminal justice reform. She was born in England and lived in Dubai for a short time. Having moved to Miami, then recently spending time studying in France and backpacking across Europe, travel along with the exploration of culture is a passion in which she now finds integral to life. When she’s not reading or gaming, she’s most likely consuming some other form of escapism, romanticizing the mundane and willing the fantastical into existence.

Downtown as Text

Downtown Miami / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To The Names That Shape the Skyline

By Skye Duke of FIU at Downtown Miami on October 31, 2022

Downtown Miami is a unique area, where a significant landscape of urbanisation meets the ocean in which Miami is known for. The area is just one of many that serves as a reminder that South Florida’s history is so deprived in the education of its residents, and yet so ingrained in the place. Upon walking around Downtown, there are three memorials that pay tribute to notable figures who have shaped the place to be as it is today.  

Downtown Miami / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

In considering the area of Downtown Miami, it is imperative to acknowledge potentially its most important figure. Julia Tuttle is known as the ‘Mother of Miami’ and can be attributed to founding the city. It was 1894, and Tuttle, a businesswoman (who sold oranges) and property owner in what is now known as Miami, sought to bring the railroad down Florida, to connect the now city to the rest of the country. When oranges became widely unobtainable due to weather, Tuttle won over the rich businessman responsible for extending the railroads. By sending a crate of her oranges, which did not undergo the harsh weather conditions tormenting the other parts of the country due to the unique climate of Miami, and giving up a piece of her land, the railroad was built! 

The rich businessman responsible for the extended railway is better known to history, his name now a well-known street in South Florida. Henry Flagler came to the area in 1878 and was involved in the incorporation of Miami. A statue of Flagler stands outside of the Dade County Courthouse. It cannot be argued that Henry Flagler brought about positive elements of the Miami that we know today… and yet he brought a lot of negatives too. Flagler can be blamed for the segregation of African Americans along with the formation of ‘Coloured Town’. He also demolished a Tequesta Burial Mound along with wreaking havoc on Miami’s environment by having his hostel’s sewage run into the Miami River. In my opinion, he is not a man that should be so glorified as to have his name on a major road that is utilised by a huge majority of the residents of the area daily. It is unfortunate that a man responsible for such actions has been chosen by history to be remembered in such a way, but very few know Tuttle’s name. A woman to thank for so much but known now to so few.   

The Major Dade Plaque brings another notable figure into the conversation when considering the historical importance of Downtown Miami. The plaque can be found on the Dade County Courthouse and explains the events which led to the naming of the county. In 1835, Major Francis Langhorne Dade, under the orders of the Federal Government, led his men in a move to defeat the Seminoles as they refused to surrender during the Second Seminole War. He was extremely unfamiliar with the area, and despite this, didn’t utilise his scouts as he wished to move faster. This proved to be a fatal flaw in his attack. Other than three men, the troops all died as they were ambushed by waiting Seminoles. This incident is referred to today as the Dade massacre and the county is named after a man defeated in battle. It is almost comical that a man who made such poor judgments in his role has received a tribute that is lasting to this day… and then disturbing when one considers a man involved in genocide and the mistreatment of Native Americans.

Downtown Miami / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

It is in knowing these facts, that Downtown becomes a living contradiction. The place is littered with politically charged stickers and posters. Advocating for change. Opposing the current social order. Demanding awareness. All of which concerning matters of political figures and legislative issues, both pertaining to a national scale. It struck me to see such posters across the street from a plaque memorialising Dade, and the statue of Flagler. I must wonder whether educational efforts would have activists in uproar over the glorification of those involved in suppressing the state’s former inhabitants.  

How do well educated activists oppose the present but do nothing in the face of a buried past? Or even on a more personal level, how do we as residents live with so little protest to names that immortalise such a dark past? At what point do we become complicit? There is a burden to being educated, as we are no longer able to sit in our ignorance.  Words have power, and so do names. I find it disturbing that certain name, that are related to such acts as Dade and Flagler, have been cemented in time, whilst names like Tuttle are barely whispered anymore. I will personally never hear the words Miami Dade County the same. But will speak of Tuttle, the Mother of Miami, proudly. 

Overtown as Text

Overtown / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To Protect and Preserve

By Skye Duke of FIU at Overtown on September 14, 2022

While walking the area of Overtown, I was struck by how little of Miami I have explored and how uneducated I am in its history. Walking around Downtown Miami introduced parts of the past regarding Flagler and his act of segregating the African American population of Miami. After having taken time to consider that, it felt extremely immersive to then visit the area of Overtown, where people found themselves forced to live under Flagler’s instructions. Despite this, the place now holds a rich past that serves as a celebration of black history in Miami. 

The Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one example of the historically important landmarks within Overtown (it is on the National Register of Historical Places). The church was founded in 1896 by Alex Lightburn, and destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane. The community came together in 1928 to build the church which stands today, completing it in 1943. In 1958 on the 12th of February, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, in an attempt to encourage voter registration.

If democracy is to win its rightful place throughout the world, millions of people, Negro and white, must stand before the world as examples of democracy in action, not as voteless victims of the denial and corruption of our heritage.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. needs little explanation as to his historical importance. His coming to the Greater Bethel Church highlights the fact the area held an important role in civil rights and political change. To stand in a place where one of the most important speakers in history and figures in the pursuit of civil rights spoke was a lot to take in. It reaffirms the importance of Overtown and all it now represents.

Lyric Theatre / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Another place located on the National Register of Historic places is the Lyric Theatre. During the time of segregation in Miami, many black artists were forced to relocate upon ending their performances in South Beach, unable to stay the night in the majority white owned districts. Therefore, while staying the night in Overtown, many performers ended their evenings by putting on an additional show, one that was more intimate and lively, in the Lyric Theatre. The theatre thrived during the 1930’s through 1940’s, and due to this NW 2nd Avenue coined the name Little Broadway. Along with concerts, the venue held Political meetings, boxing matches, and pageants, along with many other events. To this day, the theatre still puts on events, and symbolizes a period of incredible talent in the music community.

Roaming around the area, one is struck with the strength of the community and its residents. There is a sense of pride in those who call the place home, so much so that we ran into a man wearing head to toe Overtown merch. And yet despite housing many historically significant landmarks, the district also speaks to a prominent modern issue which is actively changing the community and burying its past by rebuilding a new Overtown.  

Gentrification is the act of attempting to add value to the area, and in theory looks to benefit the community by bringing in new businesses and improving residential buildings. In reality, gentrification preys upon minorities, and those in lower economic areas, breeding racial inequalities and leading to the mass displacement of communities. Overtown saw huge numbers of displacement when the highway was built in the 1960’s, and continues to experience such as homes are destroyed to house new shops and apartment complexes. The original residents cannot afford to stay in the areas due to a rising cost of living, developers are essentially forcing people out of the area so that they can tailor the demographic to suit their needs and industries. It is actively stripping the area of its culture, community, and the residents in which make the place so special. 

I understand that it’s important for areas to adapt, and there will always be incentive for economic and monetary gain. And yet, that does not justify what is occurring. Places like Overtown must be protected, not destroyed and whitewashed. It does a disservice to those of the past, along with those in the present who do not deserve to lose their homes in order for a new community to take advantage of potential economic profits. Gentrification can often fade and become a metaphorical economical issue. But exploring Overtown forces the concept to reshape, becoming more personal, as it ceases to be a faceless issue. 

I feel as though throughout my exploration of Miami I’ve taken a stance of protecting the past, not allowing it to fall through the cracks. To be buried. But Overtown must be protected in the present. It must not be lost to developers and gentrifiers. Its rich past along with its current community are hugely important to the diverse and special nature of Miami as whole.

Chicken Key as Text

Biscayne Bay / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To Change the Tides

By Skye Duke of FIU at Chicken Key on October 5, 2022

In Miami, I would argue that it is so easy to become disconnected, in a place that’s exterior often feels so superficial. And yet, it is places like Chicken Key, where the world of urbanisation and industrialization simply falls away. While I unfortunately did not get to attend this class’s lecture, and haven’t been able to visit Chicken Key itself, I have been fortunate to explore many small islands around the coast of Miami over the years. I have found no greater sense of serenity, as to when I get to be alone with sea on a kayak. It’s a grounding experience, as the water almost washes away the world around it, all the daily anxieties and stressors. 

One mile offshore and ¾ km from Paradise point, sits the island of Chicken Key. Formed by the ocean currents, the island is made up of quartz and limestone, and has an oolite mound, which differentiates it from being a usual sand key. In the 1940’s, Chicken Key came to be due to the dredging of a closeby canal, where deposited spoil elevated the island to three feet above sea levels. Removal efforts to combat the impacts of dredging occurred in 1996, and the island now better reflects its initial state.

Biscayne Bay / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

There is something about water that’s healing to be around and within. The ocean is this immovable force, permanent and unyielding, seemingly so unaffected by the world around it. Except, it’s not. Because as humanity has developed and innovation has occurred, we have mistreated it. We have let ourselves taint it, mark it, darken it. Places such as Chicken Key, and the surrounding small islands within Biscayne Bay, highlight the need to protect the gifts of nature we have been granted. 

Marine debris and hydrological changes severely threaten Biscyane bay. Plastics and other forms of waste are long lasting, and hugely disruptive and dangerous to ecosystems within the ocean. Dredged canals and coastal runoff are impacting the surrounding freshwater. The water quality is only deteriorating, and poor water management practices indicate minimal chance of change unless action is taken. Biscayne Bay’s seagrass has proven to be essential to marine life, and its prevalence is declining due to said problems. 

As someone who is majoring in disaster management, and has studied protocols that pertain to environmental factors that seek to preserve and protect an area during a crisis, I see the importance of action. In considering the state of Biscayne Bay, the importance of climate change activism only becomes more apparent. It is crucial that we force ourselves to become informed over the impacts of our actions, and the ways in which they are hurting the earth. We must apply changes to our daily choices, and think beyond ourselves.

It is easy to cling to ignorance, to pass the issue onto the next generation. For we will not be of those who will truly feel the implications of this issue. But it will be our children, and those who come after us. And we will have failed them. It is in seeing natural islands covered in human made debris that must prompt us to act. I stand by that as humans, we must leave behind more than we take. And currently, our legacy will be one of destruction, and devaluing what must be protected. Nature is indefensible against the actions of humans. We must step up, and be better.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Gardens / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To View the World in a New Light

By Skye Duke of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on October 19, 2022

The beauty of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens cannot be expressed enough. The grounds are extravagant and overwhelming. Every design choice and every feature screams wealth and thought out intent. The place is designed to draw you in, offering a peak of the villa through the trees from the top of a downward path, which is lined with water features. Your legs move on their own – eager to enter what feels like a brand new world, somewhere far from its surrounding city of Miami. 

I find that experiences change the way we view the world around us. I think of life to be painted in different hues, that change over time and depend on where you are in life and your relationship with the world around you. I adopted a fairly cynical stance last time I visited Vizcaya, viewing it in a somewhat dark and shadowed light. Though I found it to be beautiful and understood its value, I was caught up in debating the need for such opulence. I could not think beyond the fact it was built upon the backs of marginalised individuals who were taken advantage of by a social structure that is now so outdated and condemnable.

Vizcaya Museum / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

For context, James Deering began construction of Vizcaya in 1912. He was a wealthy businessman, who made his money from a harvester company. Alongside his designer Paul Chalfin, he sought to build an estate in which encapsulated his wealth, and would become his winter home, a place in which he was able to indulge in hedonism and his bachelor lifestyle. Over the years of construction, Vizcaya saw at least 1000 people employed. At this time, Miami was racially segregated and construction efforts took advantage of this, hiring Bahamians and providing poor work conditions and little compensation. Vizcaya is a show of wealth that does not coincide with the treatment of those crucial to its existence. The place also somewhat erases the history of the area, with no mention of its original inhabitants (the Tequesta), nor any acknowledgment of the people who built it, favouring European culture. 

I have since undergone experiences that have changed the way I interact with the world around me. I now understand that we cannot project modern standards onto the past. I am even more passionate about the fact that injustices must be brought to light, but I no longer believe that they need to stain all that remains, but can also serve to strengthen its significance. Places such as Vizcaya now represent how beauty can exist among a turbulent and problematic past. Studying in France, discussing the horrors of history whilst also touring what I now consider to be some of the most beautiful and impactful places in the world, has put things into perspective. Therefore this time, once again visiting and standing on the grounds, I believe that I saw Vizcaya through a brighter hue, despite the weather being overcast and rainy.

Vizcaya Museum / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

What I would give to have a library with a ‘hidden’ door leading to rooms with imported ceilings and harps owned by Marie Antionette. To live in a place where secrets lie in the marble that isn’t marble and the lion in which seems all too happy to be there. Vizcaya is a place of intrigue, where you roam in the hopes to simply get a glimpse into the minds of those who crafted and created what is now a portal into a different world. The building displays a style that is heavily influenced by Europe, so much so that the observer feels as though they have been whisked away to Italy upon walking down the path. With a Mediterranean architectural style and the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, Vizcaya is truly like no other place in Miami. Though its influence can be felt far and wide throughout the area. 

It is in acknowledging the good and bad of Vizcaya, that it becomes extremely nuanced… which I would argue only adds to its intrigue. It is rare that a place with such nuance stands the test of time, and the scrutiny of modern standards. Unfortunately, Vizacays past is somewhat buried and withheld from its visitors. I would be interested to see the grounds and those involved in its running embrace the past, and strive to reflect all aspects of how it came to be. We have a responsibility to acknowledge the past. It need not taint the present but stand so that events do not get downplayed or swept under the rug. 

That being said, Vizcaya has become one of my favourite places in Miami. Its power of teleportation is magical, and I can’t wait to go back once again and feel its charm. 

South Beach as Text

South Beach / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To Imprint on One’s Mind

By Skye Duke of FIU at South Beach on October 2, 2022

Before I moved to Miami, my family and I visited for a week to determine if it would be a good fit. I knew even on the flight over that the trip didn’t matter. That week wasn’t going to change anything, I was trapped in my fate of leaving behind everything I had ever known and loved. We stayed in a hotel on South Beach, had the quintessential vacation that was split up with school visits and mundane moving prep. My parents went on and on about South Beach and living a life in the sun. How could we ask for more? 

I didn’t realize until recently that the reason I’ve always hated South Beach is because I associate it with the resentment in which I held toward the move. A place that so many feel intense happiness in is one that forces me to feel the weight of loss and hollowness that came with leaving behind England. I’ve found over the years that I don’t hate Miami as much as ‘teenage me’ wanted to (in fact it is one of the most unique places I have had the fortune to live in). But South Beach, the symbol of Miami life, has become the unfortunate victim at which I’ve thrown my distaste and words of resentment.  

There is something so profound about the connections we form to places. How individualistic and emotionally charged these links can be. And I think, putting aside my cynical outlook of the place, that that’s perhaps what’s so compelling about South Beach. I have never met anybody who doesn’t hold strong feelings towards the place, good and bad. I’d say my own perception is constantly shifting, between sincere appreciation and awe to apprehensive resentment. 

Colony Hotel / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

South Beach is greatly unique in its vast array of tourists, high energy restaurants and the eccentric architecture. The 2.7 square miles of South Beach are made up of character, colorful and exciting, with nonstop activity. It is no wonder why people flood from all around the world to come to South Beach. To be surrounded by such an environment leaves an impact. The Art Deco style of architecture is now ingrained in the global perception and identity of South Beach. Inspired by what was considered to be a glimpse into the future, playing on the shapes of machinery, the style of Art Deco is like no other. The style gained popularity following World War I, and boasts sleek, linear distinctive designs influenced by Mesopotamian and Mesoamerican styles. Glass brick, eyebrows, three stories and neon. When one sees the style it is unlikely any place but South Beach comes to mind.

Originally developed by Carl Fisher, South Beach as we know it today was always intended to be a tourist attraction. That is not to say nothing existed before its development. South Beach of the past was one of nature, so far away from the materialistic essence of the current landscape. The barrier island was covered in mangroves, and the home to a plethora of marine life. Evidence shows proof of human inhabitants dating back to 10,000 years… though the process of urbanization has seemingly stripped the area of its important history, not acknowledging the past inhabitants such as the Tequesta and Seminoles. A CVS has a plaque noting that an important scene in Scarface was filmed there, but there is little to no indication of the beach’s past pertaining to segregation. There is a large Jewish population on South Beach, and tourists roam the area with no idea of its dark past ridden with anti-semitic rhetoric and behaviors. A picture perfect place that has erased its past in order to more effectively profit off of uneducated tourists.

When considering the marvels of South Beach along with the negative elements, it becomes a contradiction of itself. I always joke about the sun shining brighter over the strip of land. Perhaps that allows for the shadows to be cast further, where the important truths about its past are able to easily hide from the light. South Beach reminds me that it is okay to have complex and nuanced relationships with my surroundings. That I can feel a certain way about a place, but still manage to appreciate it for its uniqueness and beauty. 

Deering Estate as Text

Deering Estate / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To Walk in the Footsteps of History

By Skye Duke of FIU at Deering Estate on November 16, 2022

Even as I fought off the hordes of mosquitoes and battled through the webs of Lord of the Rings sized spiders, I was overwhelmed by the peace granted by  the Deering Estate. I found I could breathe easier, so immersed by the surrounding nature. Life for me is a constant battle of finding things to soothe my anxiety, something I have found to have been intensified upon moving to Miami. And yet the Deering Estate, the two times I have visited, has served as such a deep remedy, bringing forth a clear head and a light chest. The Deering Estate serves as an instant reminder that human beings were never meant to be so disconnected from nature. Our brains were never meant to be so absorbed in technology, our bodies trapped inside and cut off from the land in which we inhabit. Deering Estate, a place in which our geographical ancestors are so heavily ingrained within, is an intense reminder of the need for our generation to connect with nature and our surroundings. 

The Deering Estate is so unlike its surrounding area and state. With eight ecosystems, walking through the area provides an experience like no other in Miami. The early 20 century estate owned by Charles Deering brings about examples of architectural history, whilst the ground and lands offer archaeological and environmental findings, dating back to 100,000 years ago. The Deering Estate Nature Preserve is the home to various sites and many species that one does not simply encounter in city life. The Cutler Creek Bridge is an example of such, connecting fresh water to Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. It is occasionally visited by otters, objectively the cutest animals to grace planet earth (absolutely no bias here!). 

Cutler Creek Bridge / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The Crashed Airplane site is an exciting part of the exploration that is venturing around the grounds of Deering Estate. To wade through knee high water surrounded by mangroves is already an abnormal experience, but to do so next to a crashed place is somewhat surreal – straight out of a movie. The plane crashed in the 1990’s and is said to have been carrying cocaine. It was abandoned upon the incident as those involved fled with their ‘precious’ cargo. Over time, people have scavenged the plane for parts, but it still sits among the mangroves, so at odds with its natural surroundings. 

The Cutler Fossil Site at Deering Estate has seen the discovery of fossils such as Pleistocene beasts. It is around 16 feet above sea level, and is considered a watering hole. Surrounded by layers of limestone, the site is protected due to its elevation and surroundings. Bones from dire wolves, camera and saber-toothed tigers have been uncovered in the site. To be so close to Miami, the bustling activity of city life, and to be able to visit the site of bones dating back to the Ice Age, it truly is a privilege. Humans have inhabited Florida for around 10,000 years, and to get to connect with the past so physically as to climb into archeological sites is an opportunity so few people get. 

The Deering Estate facilitates not only a meaningful way of connecting to nature but also the past. It shines a light on pieces of Miami’s history, such as the inhabitants of the Tequesta, in which so few of the current residents are aware. In the perfect blend of preserving the past but also making it accessible to the present, Deering Estate is truly a remarkable and important landmark in Miami that all should take the time to visit. I for one hold my visits as fond memories, constantly yearning to go back and trade the Miami I know, with that that is preserved within the Deering Estate.

Rubell Museum as Text

Rubell Museum / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

To the Butterflies

By Skye Duke of FIU at the Rubell Museum on November 23, 2022

Don and Mera Rubell, renowned collectors, started collecting art 54 years ago. What started as a passion funded by weekly installments has now led to an expansive collection filling multiple museums. The Rubells collection is made up of 7,200 works, created by a wide range of diverse and talented artists. The Rubells moved to Miami 29 years ago, and have seen the area artistically shift. The family established their art foundation in Wynwood in 1993, the exhibit playing an integral role in enabling the accessibility of contemporary art to the public. The Rubell Museum in Miami is located in Allapattah, in an industrial building with 53,000 square feet dedicated purely to their gallery. In October, 2022 the Rubells opened a new museum in Washington DC. Both of which primarily showcase contemporary art.

During my visit to the Rubell Museum, my group had the privilege to meet Mera Rubell, whose passion for art and the vision of the collection was infectious. During the conversation, Mera mentioned an analogy referring to butterflies. That life is all about finding the butterflies, the unexpected beautiful moments that seek us out when we least expect it. I thought, what a beautiful sentiment to consider before immersing oneself into a museum full of politically and socially prominent art. How something unexpected can strike a deep chord within your soul. How universally similar but unique the human experience is –  the intimate feeling of being moved by another person’s creation. To watch and observe these moments in others as they experience its impact too. 

Rubell Museum / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The importance of contemporary art cannot be stated enough. It often portrays an insightful depiction of the time in which it was created. Like all forms of art, the pieces differ greatly, sometimes more literal, sometimes abstract. The art form has aesthetic value, along with providing an expressive outlet for the creator. Though personally, what draws me to contemporary art is that it forces one into not only contemplation regarding the world, but deep introspection into oneself. It can be thought provoking, can provide commentary on the world and prominent issues. I think it also facilitates connection between artists and others, how one’s story can be spread, voices amplified. In today’s day and age, even in the modern world, there are deep systematic issues. Art is an important facet in the pursuit to bring said issues to light. Contemporary art is so impactful, because even in the calmest of pieces, it can be loud. 

An exhibit that really emphasizes the impact of contemporary art at the Rubell Museum are the two immersive rooms created by Yayoi Kusama. Both rooms utilize mirrors, creating a feeling that can only be described as infinite. The first room is called ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Lets Survive Forever’ and was created in 2017. With hundreds of mirrored balls framing the floor and hanging, the room is captivating. The other room is called ‘Where the Lights in My Heart go”, created in 2016. Mirrored all around with specs of light peeking through into the otherwise dark room. This room feels celestial, as though upon entry one is whisked away to the stars. These rooms are so special due to how overwhelming they are to view. The rooms elicit such intense reactions as one is completely encompassed within the environment of the art. The mirrors draw the viewers in, so that they too are a part of the piece. 

“Rubell” / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

One piece that stuck out to me was the mattress hanging near the entrance. Created by Kaari Upson, the piece is titled ‘Rubells’ and made out of silicone, spandex and fiberglass, and created by Kaari Upson in 2014. Without having gotten the chance to hear Mera speak, I would have simply considered the piece to be abstract and not given too much thought into its meaning. But, there lies the fun of contemporary art – the insignificant tends to be significant. To hear the firsthand account as to the commission and creation of the piece was extremely interesting. Intended to be a portrait of Don and Mera, the mattress serves as a raw depiction of their fifty plus years of marriage, the passage of time and the significance a mattress might play in such a partnership. It is such a unique depiction, and really made me consider the way life can be depicted through such abstract but fitting means.  

Upon leaving the museum, I found myself absorbed in the metaphor of the butterflies. I have a habit of avoidance, I spend so much time immersed into books and other means of escapism. I felt inspired by my experience at the Rubell Museum. Moved to not shut myself off from the butterflies, the moments in life that are raw and beautiful but unassuming. I want to romanticize my own life, instead of those within the pages. If people can summon the courage to be so honest, to strip their souls so bare in the form of art – I want to take that and force myself to be braver in life. To seek out the butterflies. 

Skye Duke: Paris 2022

Metro Line 1 / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Over Under Paris: Line 1

By Skye Duke of Florida International University, in Paris during July 2022

1. Charles de Gaulle-Etoile

Arc de Triomphe / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

When using metro line 1, it often feels as though it was built with the intention of catering to the average tourist in Paris. This stop leads straight up to the Arc de Triomph, arguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. This metro stop enforces the accessibility in which the metro system grants, as it puts the user directly where they intend to go.

Built in 1806 for Napoleon, the monument serves as celebration of Frances victories. The artistic mind behind it was architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin. It was inspired by the Arc of Titus, in a neoclassical style. The monument took 30 years to build, and has the names of victories and generals involved inscribed on it. Notably, in 1921, an unnamed soldier who fought in World War 1 was buried beneath the Arch. An eternal flame, that is relit everyday, burns in tribute to all those soldiers who were left unidentified following World War I and II. I was personally not aware that the monument is now a memorial for these wars though I have seen various images of the Arc de Triomphe surrounded by Nazi symbolism during the time period. The monument proves that a place is not defined by its past and the rhetoric of those who intend to cause harm. The monument is still effective in celebrating the achievements of France, proven by the millions that visit from far and wide.

2. George V

This metro stop brings you right into the centre of Champs Elysees, coming out right next to Louis Vuitton. The metro stop was opened in the 1900, and was renamed in 1920 in order to acknowledge the efforts of the UK during World War 1, George V being the King at the time. The original name being Alma station, originating from a battle with a similar name. This area is where the Tour de France concludes its race, along with hosting the military parade on Bastille day. It is one of the most famous commercial roads in the world, perfect for shopping and taking in the bustling atmosphere of Paris. This strip of Paris is somewhat at odds with its surroundings. The Arc de Triomphe visible all the way down serving as a relic of the past, conflicting with the superficial and modern nature of the district. I consider whether the thousands in which flood down the street to spend obscene amounts of money in designer stores fully understand the historical significance of the area, as their eyes occasionally drift over the monument commissioned by Napoleon.

3. Tuileries

Dante and Virgil / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The Jardin des Tuileries are beautiful, located right next to where the Tuileries metro stop surfaces. Entering the gardens feels almost as though one leaves Paris. Within the gardens sits the Musee de l’Orangerie, which is also extremely close to another stop on line one called Concorde. The art museum is known for its collection of Monet pieces, one of which being the famous Water Lilies. Pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and Rousseau can all be found in the museum, making it a popular and important attraction for art lovers. 

The Musee d’Orsay was perhaps one of my favorite places we went during the trip. I unfortunately missed the class due to covid but was given the opportunity to attend on an Over Under day. The art museum is located in a perfect position in relation to its proximity to the Tuileries, only a ten minute walk away from the metro stop. In this museum, I discovered my new favorite painting of all time, titled Dante and Virgil. Painted by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1850, the painting is raw and dark. I have not been able to stop thinking about it.

That being said, I left both museums with a new love for impressionism (and Monet). I have always thought the style to be beautiful and impressive, but I do tend to feel drawn to art that displays blatant passion, where emotions drip from the paintings. And yet I also have a fixation of things with hidden truths, where an outward appearance conceals whats below the surface. Impressionism and its nuanced social and political connotations are as intriguing as the artistic skills are impressive. I recently did a project on Oscar Wilde, who argued that politics have no place in art. That art exists for the purpose of being art. I did find a lot of what he said profound when reading through some of his work, and his writing was often beautiful. But I vehemently disagree with his stance in aestheticism. I think that art can be beautiful in its simplicity but context, intentional meaning in which relates to society, can only enrich art, instead of devaluing it.

4. Louvre Rivoli

This is a stop where you know where you are instantly. The museum’s experience starts from the moment you look out the window, before the doors even open. The darkly lit but moody ambience prepares one for the overwhelming art that you are about to be immersed into. The Louvre is famous globally, and it is easy to understand why. 

As someone who is completely obsessed with Greek mythology, to see statues of the gods that I have grown up learning about and spent my life consumed by, all of which were crafted in a different time, was an amazing experience. The statue of Nike is not only beautiful but a piece of art that I have talked about for years. That in a sense sums up the experience of entering and exploring the Louvre museum – seeing world famous pieces of art that you have spent your life learning about and seeing… and being expected to remain calm and composed. 

The Louvre houses over 30,000 pieces of art, and on a daily basis has around 15,000 visitors, and I’d wager that every single one of them flocks to see the Mona Lisa. The painting is indeed worth the visit and I do not intend to diminish its significance. Yet, it does amuse me that perhaps one of the smallest paintings in the whole museum is the most famous… and that leads me to consider the process of an art piece becoming immortalised by history. Humans choose which pieces become famous, which pieces stand the test of time.

Art, or the process of viewing it, is somewhat of a humbling experience. To look upon a piece of the world, a remnant of the creator’s time and mind. To feel their emotions, to see their souls bared in such a brave way. That they had the courage to put paint to canvas, to let everything of themselves pour out into the world. I find that I don’t let myself release enough of myself, for fear that the world simply doesn’t care. I wonder if these revered artists trembled as they shared their work? Wonder if they doubted themselves, thought silence, or in their cases an absence of work was better than being vulnerable. I find passion in writing. But I don’t share it with the world often. I ponder, after having seen so much incredible art, what the world would have been had Leonardo da Vinci let insecurity win when bringing the Mona Lisa into the world. The Louvre inspired me, in ways that I can’t begin to express. But I will leave Paris with a new will to write, and to live with much less fear of the world.

5. Chatelet

Perhaps one of the most surprising stops, in regard to impact, was Chatalet, though not for any reasons one may assume. Of course, the stop was our point of intersection for line one and line four which was potentially our most used line as it was at the university, and the surrounding area hosted a plethora of stores and shopping places. It was a Uyghurs protest that caught my attention. There were dozens of people chanting in uniform against the horrific situation, and not a single person was paying them any attention.

Last year I attended a forum held by the Human Rights Foundation, where some of the most prominent activists were present and spoke on various human rights issues. It was during this that I truly learnt of the atrocities that are occurring in China. It is disturbing that this human rights issue is not widely known, or considered. I left feeling complicit in my ignorance… and had a certificate in human rights and political transition added to my major by the next day.

This protest truly forced me to consider the Eurocentric nature of outrage in regard to human rights issues. The Ukrainian flag has (rightfully) been all over France, the country’s display of solidarity. Whilst my point by no means seeks to undermine Ukraine’s situation and the importance of aiding and addressing the current affairs, there are issues I find with the dismissal of other severe conflicts. I have seen people on the streets collecting money for Ukraine, I have seen flags and posters to raise awareness. And yet, this protest did not grasp any sympathy or attention from those around them, and I do believe it to be due to a lack of understanding the severity of the issue – this is all because of a lack of awareness and effort in offering aid. 

6. Hotel de Ville

Paris City Hall / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The stop named Hotel de Ville was the home to City Hall. The neo-renaissance building itself is impressive, the landmark becoming so much more so when considering that it symbolises the deep well of history in regard to France and its politics. Revered as being at the forefront of human rights, the French Revolution is of the most impactful in regard to such broad scale change. The building has housed the city council since 1357. Outside the hall stands a display which expresses the importance of standing up for human rights, and presents three prominent activists, Dennis Mukwege, Loujain Al Hathloul and Nasrin Sotoudeh. The pursuit and process of prioritising human rights feels fundamental to the foundations of the country, as it is built upon a revolution in which demanded equality and justice for all.

That being said, whilst the country feels fairly progressive and safe, there are certain elements that forces one to quickly remember the reality that France, like all countries, bears the burden of modern life and the threats that come with it. One cannot enter City Hall, as it is a functioning government building, but they can enter the tourist information centre which is a part of the opulent building. To enter, your bag must be checked and there are metal detectors to walk through. All to get some pamphlets and buy some souvenirs. The stark reality of terrorism in the modern world is reminded through even the smallest elements such as this. Frances anti terrorism tactics are peppered throughout the city, in the armed forces strolling under the Eiffel Tower and the security measures in museums along with tourism heavy areas.

7. Saint Paul

Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

This stop is named after a church right by where it surfaces, Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. Its beautiful, built using the baroque style in the 17th century under, funded by Louis XIII. This church is notable in that it is first in the shift to completely abandon the gothic style utilised in churches. It is a Catholic church, which I thought was interesting as the surrounding area was once the Jewish Quarter. This stop brings access to the district of Le Marais, which from my exploration has a plethora of cute tourist catering cafes and shops. Whilst it was busy, full of tourists, the cobblestone feel, along with the old buildings and tucked away courtyards made the area of my favourites. It is of the oldest districts in Paris and the Jewish population settled there in 13th century. Additionally, Victor Hugo once lived here, a famous novelist known for writing works such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

8. Bastille

July Column / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Bastille is a fairly significant stop in regard to history. The statue known as the July Column serves as a monument of the Revolution of 1830, which sought to rid Charles X of his thrown, after it had been reestablished following the initial French Revolution. It is huge and forces one to consider the history of France and the importance of its revolutions. It is impactful, standing on the grounds in which Bastille prison once stood, knowing the significance of the French Revolution and the events which occurred. The statue sits right next to Opera Bastille, an opera house. And across from both lived a group of homeless people.

To see two things so grand, surrounded by a camp of homeless people was jarring. A statue that can be associated with an emphasis on human rights and a better life for all, beside those abandoned by society.

It is easy to analyse the changes that have occurred, and claim Paris to be the blueprint in rights – but it is equally as important to acknowledge that Paris is still facing modern issues, where equality and justice is denied to certain groups. The Storming of the Bastille was an integral part of Revolution, which ultimately brought about the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and it is a stark contrast to be stood on the grounds of a place that now represents these ideals whilst next to those that society often deems less than. 

9. Gare de Lyon

In leaving Paris to go to Brussels, it became apparent that the appeal of transportation in France exceeds that of the metro but also includes the ease in which moving between European countries hold. This metro stop is conveniently connected to the main train station and the RER. Entering the station named Gare de Lyon left me with the feeling of France opening up before my eyes. The station was built in 1855, and is divided into three halls. 101 million pass through the station a year, highlighting its significance in travel. The station is considered a historical monument, and is known for its architecture and clock tower. The accessibility of transportation in this country allows makes the world feel small, in the sense that you can really go anywhere. A couple minutes away is Quai de Bercy Bus Station, which equally makes leaving the country doable.

10. Chateau de Vincennes 

Chateau de Vincennes / Photograph taken by Olivia Guthrie / CC by 4.0

As someone who has spent their life obsessing over the genre of high fantasy, walking up to Chateau de Vincennes whisked me away to a different place. The Keep itself felt reminiscent of Game of Thrones, the medieval stone, winding staircases, cobblestone corridors. The Sun King’s presence is felt in the Chateau. Whilst it was built originally to be a hunting lodge, like Versailles, the place was built up and developed to suit the stylistic demands of the court. Louis VIX himself had design influence, having spent time adding to the Chateau before deciding Versailles to be the home of the court. The fact can be easily determined by the Versailles-like feel of the buildings surrounding the Keep. 

It was an interesting contrast to walk the halls of a 14th century Keep and look out down onto modern scaffolding – these two things so at odds with each other, competing for a place in time. It is places like this that astound me as to the permanence in which certain historical places manage to hold. I wonder if time is cruel or kind to its victims, is a place not better preserved if it were left in its time? Does a place of the past still belong solely to that period when modernity has claimed it so? 

I have contemplated this throughout the trip, as I have been so awed by what we’ve seen. I cannot help but consider what other wonders once existed but were simply claimed by time. These places serve almost as a reminder of the past but also all that’s been lost.

References

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Arc de Triomphe – Paris Tourist Office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71396/Arc-de-Triomphe

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Hôtel de Ville de Paris – paris tourist office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71544/Hotel-de-Ville-de-Paris

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis du Marais – Paris tourist office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71949/%C3%89glise-Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis-du-Marais

Gare de Lyon – Paris Tourist Office. en.parisinfo.com. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://en.parisinfo.com/transport/73400/Gare-de-Lyon

Skye Duke: France as Text 2022

Lyon as Text

Montluc Prison / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Echoes of the Past

By Skye Duke of FIU at Montluc Prison on July 8, 2022

Montluc Prison in Lyon, France holds an important part of histroy, an active part of World War 2 and the Nazis attempt to crack down on the French resistance. The prison was built in 1921, and though it experienced periods of closure, was only permanently shut in 2009, and is now open to tours. It housed political prisoners, French resistant fighters, and those being persecuted due to the Nazi regime. The prison fell under the control of the Vichy government and became a key tool to enforce their regime. Vichy France was in collaboration with Nazi Germany, and the prison saw many of those arrested by the Gestapo in the area.

Many of France’s most important activists and resistant fighters can be linked to this prison. As one roams the cells in which the Memorial National Prison of Montluc has open to visitors, they are greeted with the photographs of just a few of the many people that were arrested and forced to spend time in the prison. Over 15,000 people were imprisoned in Montluc alone. Historians, businessmen, physicians, writers – resistance fighters. Those who had important but seemingly mundane jobs, heroes forged in war. The halls of the prison almost echo the individual prisoners’ stories, demanding attention. Reminding all those that walk through that their lives are just as important now as they were back then.

The sky is black, the earth is black. Hard is the frost, heavy is my heart. Sad expiatory victims fueled by hatred and resentment. We are waiting.

Denyse Clairouin

I was particularly struck by a photo of a woman named Denyse Clairouin, and the plaque next to it, which displayed a poem she had written. Denyse was a writer, a translator and an eventual resistance member, enabling liaisons and serving as the assistant to Jean Biche. Her ultimate role in the resistance was Deputy Head of the Mithridate Network, where she was crucial in organizing command in the area of Lyon. She was arrested for denunciation in 1943 and died in 1945 after being deported. 

After absorbing so many stories like Denyse’s, I was struck with an overwhelming urge to take action. I have spent the last few weeks feeling such intense anger and resentment towards the United States, a country in which I don’t even hold citizenship for. The supreme court’s decision regarding overturning Roe v Wade has left me shocked to my core, confused as to how such a superpower of a country can so blatantly violate human rights. It is in my belief that in injustice and turmoil, a person’s true self is revealed. I am hugely passionate about writing – and when I try, I do believe I can produce somewhat passable prose. And yet, I am silent. I believe that the world does not need my voice, I expect to be swallowed into the abyss, simply a voice among the many. To see writers condemned for taking a stand, actively fighting for their cause utilizing writing, I feel ashamed. In myself, in my generation, in the United States government. How could the world undergo such atrocities and still allow for human rights to be stripped and violated? How can I sit back and believe that I myself have no ability to strike change – at what point do I become complicit?

It would be delusional, to believe that I would have risen along those resistant fighters. I cannot begin to fathom their choices. And yet I feel this immense anger at the state of America, and my mind cannot help but cling onto the resentment. And I know that this feeling is fighting to put into tangible action. I by no means liken the United States’ current political climate to that of World War 2, but I strongly believe that the recent actions of the supreme court indicate a new wave of changes that will continue to encroach upon and violate the most basic human rights. And it disturbs me that the world has not learnt from the atrocities which occurred during World War 2. That people continue to be dehumanized by those in power, legislature being implemented on bodies, on those who simply want to live their lives with autonomy. 

I felt moved by Montluc prison, and inspired. Whilst the prison presents a period of vast atrocities, poor conditions, blatant violations of rights, and was for the most part a sobering experience, I left with the resolution to use my voice, to acknowledge my place in the world. I often feel powerless, living in a country without a citizen status – being passionate about political issues and yet not being able to vote. But so many of those imprisoned lived their lives with such meaning during a time of absolute repression. I hope that I along with so many others can learn from them, and move to strike change in our own time.

References

Historique. Accueil du site. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.memorial-montluc.fr/lieu/historique 

Izieu as Text

The Maison d’Izieu / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Remember, They Were Happy

By Skye Duke of FIU at The Maison d’Izieu on July 10, 2022

The region of Izieu is breathtaking. Stepping off of the bus and finding yourself surrounded by vast views of rolling mountains, endless greenery and the not too far off crystal blue water of a lake is an experience that lingers in one’s mind. There is a sense of serenity to the area, where the world falls still.

The school itself is unassuming, dated but not out of place. It fits with the nature, a figment of both the present and the past.

It is easy, to feel so fully immersed in the area, and yet be so unaware of the well of truth which rests merely behind the veil of the present. 

In 1944, under the orders of Klaus Barbie (known as “The Butcher of Lyon”, and the leader of the Lyon Gestapo ), forty four children and seven teachers were arrested by the Gestapo. The Maison d’Izieu served as a safe haven, for Jewish children to seek refuge from the brutal realities of war. Sent by their parents, the children lived happily within the school, playing in the green grass, learning and living in the peaceful environment. Barbie’s actions led to the deaths of all those arrested as they faced deportation, taken to concentration camps and murdered.

After the war, Barbie was held accountable and this act was ultimately deemed to be a crime against humanity, the first ever convicted in France. The incident was mentioned before the International Tribunal in Nuremberg, and Barbie was sentenced to death on two different occasions in 1952 and 1954, though he was not present and was ultimately taken into custody in 1983. He was sentenced in 1987 and died in prison in 1991.

The Maison d’Izieu / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Upon researching Klaus Barbie, I found that the atrocities that occurred with these forty four children and seven teachers is often reduced to a single sentence. A passing remark. One of many despicable incidents that occurred under his orders. The Memorial in which marks this act of brutality challenges this. History can be desensitizing. Often requiring a detached and analytical approach, in dates and facts. The Maison d’Izieu forces the observer to feel. Through presenting the childrens artwork, hanging their portraits, and displaying their letters, Barbie’s actions are no longer diminished but condemned in the fullest vigor.

The memorial is heartbreaking. It is brutal. It is important. To look at the children’s faces in the pictures displayed. To take in the teachers. To see their faces, to humanize them. To view them as beings who were not nameless but children who had the rest of their lives stolen from them. The memorial enforces that we must not allow for their lives to be further stolen by refusing to acknowledge the brutality. The severity. Their truth should not be withheld simply because the world cannot digest its intense truth. 

To be surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Izieu is jarring. The overwhelming connection to nature compels you to be taken back in time, to acknowledge the landscape that these young children found themselves within. Not only the house but the scenery serving as a preservation of their lives. The places they played, learnt… lived. The museum director offered in parting remarks, “Remember it as a place where children were happy.” And it is a bittersweet thought. Because the children did indeed live happy lives, and should such a place of beauty and childhood joy be tainted so? Does that not further the harm in which Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo caused through their horrific actions? The crimes against humanity that occurred there must forever be remembered for the atrocities that they were, but it must also be remembered that the school provided years of safety, comfort and happiness for the children victimized by a war they had sought to escape. 

References

Trying after the War. Maison d’Izieu. (2022, February 28). Retrieved from https://www.memorializieu.eu/en/history/justice-from-nuremberg-to-the-hague-trying-criminals/ 

Paris as Text

Saint-Chapelle / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Blurred Lines

By Skye Duke of FIU at Saint-Chapelle on July 4, 2022

Sainte-Chapelle is potentially one of the most famous historical sites in the world, ventured from a far to simply glimpse at the stained glass windows. The Chapel is no longer considered a church due to the events of the French Revolution and is now run by the ‘Centre des Monuments Nationaux’. The opulent piece of history symbolizes so much more than a popular tourist attraction, indicating France’s interesting past pertaining to the intersection of church and state. Both entities having legitimized one another at a point in time, then later a whole revolution being born in the pursuit separate them.

Sainte-Chapelle was built in the thirteenth century, by King Louis IX, with the intention to house the Crown of Thorns and other religious relics. Interestingly, the relics were moved, the Crown of Thorns being moved to Notre Dame and fortunately surviving the recent fire. The chapel is an example of gothic architecture. In the lower chapel, decorative L’s can be seen lining the column, highlighting that while the church was built with the intention to glorify god, it also appeals to the ego of a king, who intends to associate himself with divinity. The stained glass depicts the bible, both the old and new testament, along with the process of relics finding their way to Sainte-Chapelle. The imagery of viewing scenes of Christ, understanding it was intended to depict and immortalize Louis IX, is powerful, when considering a subject such as the separation of church and state – and in this case the lack of it. It is interesting that this subject was a core issue of the French Revolution, and yet churches such as Sainte-Chapelle are still revered and heavily related to France’s identity, when it has evolved and implemented severe structural changes.  

As someone who isn’t religious, it has been particularly interesting learning about the history of France and the intersection of church and state, with an outsider’s perspective. It is in my opinion that unlike the way in which the two entities lent legitimacy to one another, religion (though it is important to note it is more so those wielding it) is beginning to undermine the state in the US. The process of democracy, the rule of the people, is being restricted instead of enabled through structures such as the Supreme Court. 

Saint-Chapelle / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Whilst standing in the chapel and engaging in a conversation pertaining to the ways in which Louis IX utilized religion to bolster his own authority, I was informed by a classmate that six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic. It is in assertions like that that I begin to understand why such abuses of authority are occuring. There is little diversity in ideology, in a political structure which determines the lives of every single individual living within the country. In a democracy, those in power must reflect those they serve. 

The recent Supreme Court case that deemed a school teacher able to lead students in prayer was one that was viewed as granting religious freedom. And yet had the religion of the teacher differed, the outcome would not have been the same. Ideology that is viewed as yielding freedom to many, can be seen as oppressive and non inclusive. The United States is now a country that has determined it applicable to be able to control what I do with my body, utilizing Supreme Court powers. An argument that is often founded in religious ideology and rhetoric. The court has also recently ruled that religious schools are to be awarded the same funding as private schools – therefore the state is now putting money into the enforcement of religion.

Perhaps this is the application of my own somewhat cynical views in regard to the subject of religion, but I do believe that there is a correlation between the overexertion of governmental authority in recent times and religious ideology within those in power. I ponder how an all powerful entity is able to serve the people in an unbiased manner and provide full justice, when humans inherently act upon their belief systems. Whilst their actions ensure that their own values are being upheld and carried out, the Supreme Court along with the fundamental key elements of democracy within America are not aligning with the will of the people. Though, I understand that I do not speak for the country as a whole but those who also hold my own beliefs. Therefore as I criticize a lack of impartiality, I realize I do not hold myself to the same standard. 

Proving my point. 

How can justice be ensured when politics can never truly be objective? How can equality be granted, when there will always be people who feel slighted? Democracy is the rule of the people, but people act on beliefs, values, of which are often founded in religion. The separation of church and state is crucial in my belief, and yet I also see that it is truly impossible in practicality. France had a revolution in order to ensure that their country was structured so that the church was not involved in matters of the state. It is places such as Sainte-Chapelle which represent a time before this, that prompts deep and significant reflection on the declining nature of America.

References 

Centre Des Monuments Nationaux. (n.d.). Sainte Chapelle. Retrieved from http://www.sainte-chapelle.fr/en/

Versailles as Text

Versailles / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The Price of Beauty

By Skye Duke of FIU at Versailles on July 3, 2022

It is hard to fathom that the Palace of Versailles was once a hunting lodge. The walls drip in gold, the ceilings alone displaying art that even the Louvre would envy. Every inch, fit for a king. It is easy to be swept away, taken to a different time. To long to skip through the halls, envisioning opulent gowns, violins… to live out the fantasies of a life so foreign to that of modern day. 

Prompted in an attempt to get away from the turbulence of court life in Paris and to reassert control, Louis XIV moved the government in 1682. He relocated the court to Versailles and embarked on a quest to make it the finest palace in the world. The building was clearly crafted to impress, to present an outward image of grandeur, in an attempt to strengthen the perception of France… and to appease Louis XIV’s (the Sun Kings) ego. Utilizing the help of architects from all over the world, Versailles today serves as the culmination of some of the greatest artistic minds, the palace is notably one of the greatest examples of the baroque style.

I spend a lot of time immersed in fiction. I love fantasy worlds, full of dragons, sword fighting, kings and queens… and grand palaces. Therefore, it was as though I had entered one of my beloved books when it stepped through the doors. The palace of Versailles caters towards those who long to romanticize life. Yet, I also find myself drawn to the sinister truths when presented with beauty. Whilst it served (as it still does) as a great source of luxury, it did present heavy implications to the French people, and France’s political landscape in regard to the structure of its monarchy.

Versailles / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Louis XIV had a problem with overspending. While people can now walk the halls and appreciate his choices, we do so with a level of disconnection, due to the fact we as tourists do not feel the weight of his actions. The people at the time felt it, in taxation which severely impacted the lower classes way of life. Louis XIV drained the royal money reserves through the expansion of Versailles along with mobilization efforts for various conflicts. Here marked the beginning of what would have been rather strong resentment from the French people toward Versailles, as they watched the gold covered building be funded as they starved.

Versailles played a key role in the French Revolution. The king at the time, Louis XVI, was arguably poor in his role, and much of the dissent toward him brewed from his disconnect to those he ruled. It could be argued that had he not resided in Versailles, which is so far from the core population he served, he might have been a better ruler, forced to act instead of withdraw. Had Louis XIV never moved to Versailles, never set it up as a political stronghold, France today might have looked very different. In 1789, Louis XVI, along with his wife Marie-Antoinette and their children, fled Versailles in the night. Tension had been brewing as the revolution took off. However, the royals were intercepted and ultimately died, this marking a turning point in the changes of France’s government structure. Versailles, a place that was intended to strengthen the monarchy, saw its downfall.

I find it incredibly interesting that Versailles might be one of the most visited places in France, and yet I’m sure so few know truly of its significance. I find myself drawn to places, stories, people that hold beautiful exteriors but host more nuanced truths within. It is so compelling that what served as a figment of a time before the revolution, before basic human rights and freedoms, can stand the test of time and still offer the world so much. I believe that the darker truths don’t devalue beauty but offer it depth, somehow enriching it. Perhaps, had Versailles simply been a pretty palace, it might have felt hollow. But standing in the halls is an impactful experience, because it is a direct connection to the past, to a time where the world was so different and yet still valued art and pretty things.

Normandy as Text

John Ray / Retrieved from Memoire & Database

John Ray: To Leave Behind More Than One Takes

By Skye Duke of FIU on July 24, 2022

John Ray is a prime example of the many heroic soldiers laid to rest in the Normandy American Cemetery. He was born on the 15th of August, 1922 in Gretna, Louisiana. He was a Sergeant in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 82nd Airborne division. In 1942, he enlisted alongside his brother, taking after their father who had served in World War 1. When Ray learnt of the opportunity to jump out of planes and earn $50 more a month, he enlisted in the Paratrooper infantry. John Ray had enlisted under the pretense that he would only be serving for a year. The events of Pearl Harbor changed this. He met his beloved wife when he went home due to the death of his mother. They got married in 1934 and were married for a week before he had to once again leave.

“Don’t worry. I am doing my job with the guys I trained with. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have a job to do and we will finish it together.”

John Ray, in a letter to his Wife

 On the 6th of June 1944, in a tactical move that was a part of Operation Overload on D-Day, paratroopers were deployed to take back two bridges that surrounded the town Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Ray being among those to jump in. Due to poor visibility, the planes flew off course and the paratroopers were forced to land within the German occupied town. Two paratroopers by the names of Ken Russell and John Steele, found their parachutes caught on surrounding buildings, leaving them stuck hanging. As John Ray landed, he was shot multiple times in the stomach by a German Soldier, these injuries were fatal. Despite the gravity of these wounds, Ray continued to fight, shooting the soldier who had turned and believed him to be dead. This action saved the lives of the two soldiers who were stuck hanging, whom the German soldier had turned his gun on.

Ken Russel freed himself and John Steele played dead, later being taken prisoner – the pair both ultimately escaping and surviving. John Ray’s selfless actions, in the face of his own impending mortality shows the sheer strength and bravery in which so many soldiers were forced to display during a time of vast atrocities. His life, an ultimate sacrifice to the victory of a bigger cause, can be attributed to the survival of both men caught in their parachutes.

John Ray’s Gravestone / Retrieved from Airborne in Normandy

The date of John Ray’s death is varied throughout sources. In fact, until recent years, 2015 I believe, his headstone in Normandy American Cemetery listed an inaccurate date due to the wrongful account of a soldier in the field with Ray, who believed him to have died the day in which he sustained his fatal wounds. It has now been ascertained that he died from his wounds on the 13th of June, 1944. His wife, Paula, did not learn of his heroic actions until 1998.

I was initially drawn to John Ray’s story, as my dad was a paratrooper. He too joined up with the intention of serving for only a short time. In regard to a far more personal connection, I resonated with Ray’s story on a deep and emotional level. I personally live life with the one thought of “leaving behind more than I’ve taken” at the forefront of all of my decisions. My degree is split into three fields, all of which intersect with the intent of helping people. The level of selflessness and action in John Ray’s story struck me – I was both inspired and moved. At the intent to continue to help those around him, after being struck by what would have obviously been fatal wounds. In the face of death, John Ray fought to continue to preserve the lives around him. It is honorable and so incredibly heroic. 

My short adult life has been preoccupied with one day somehow making the world a better place. And yet, I cannot say that I would not have cowered and given into the fears in which those wounds would have incited. I would like to believe I would have had the courage and willpower to save those two paratroopers, but I don’t know that I would have. 

It is in that thought that the weight and importance of John Ray’s actions wear on me. He is only one of many who were placed in horrific situations and acted in a manner in which saved so many.

Not only did John Ray leave behind more than he took, but he created a legacy which represents a fight for humanity, even after having seen the worst of it. A fight of perseverance and sacrifice, rooted in selflessness and strength.

I hope to one day be able to say I have lived life with even just an ounce of the selflessness in which John Ray displayed during his final moments. I will carry the weight of his actions around with me for the rest of my life, inspired, remembering, and using his example to leave behind more than I take.

References:

Airborne in normandy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.airborneinnormandy.com/ray_file.htm 

Tirlemont, C. (n.d.). Ray John P – 505 PIR 82 AD. Mémoire & Database. Retrieved from https://www.database-memoire.eu/prive/fr/normandy-tous-soldats/53-colleville-r-fr/4790-ray-john-p-505-pir-82-ad 

Père Lachaise as Text

Oscar Wilde’s grave in Pere Lachaise / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Oscar Wilde: Owning One’s Sin

By Skye Duke of FIU at Pere Lachaise on July 29, 2022

“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit”

Oscar Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde is a well known poet, novelist and playwright. He was born in 1854, in Dublin and though his life was short, he cemented himself in history as an important figure in both literature and the pursuit to achieve LGBTQ rights. He was well educated, having attended Trinity College and Oxford. He is often attributed with injecting modern ideals into British society, following a period of the harsh confines in the way of Victorian society. He explored politics and socialism in his writings, often offering criticism of capitalism and the ways in which it hindered creativity. That being said, he believed art should not hold politics or agendas – that art is art, and it must not be convoluted by topics that detract from it. He was a prominent figure in the aesthetic movement in art, which held this view point. I find a lot of his writing to be powerful, and yet I’m not sure I always agree with all of his stances. I think that his work itself is inherently a contradiction of the aesthetics movement – his writing is undeniably a form of art, and yet he called for political reform and challenged the social order. He is quite cynical about love, and many other concepts, and I find that it is in those statements that I agree with him the most.

Whilst an abundance of quotes regarding Wildes’ distaste for marriage can be found, he did ultimately marry and have two children. But, it was in 1891 that Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas and they began their affair. This relationship saw Wilde begin to explore the world of which he called “depravity”. Douglas’s father, learning of their relationship, launched a homophobic assult on Oscar Wilde. Wilde attempted to sue him for defamation, but ultimately the trial backfired, as evidence from postitutes were uncovered and Wildes sexual deviancy became known. He was arrested for gross indecency. His wit and charisma saw him escape persecution in the first trial, but upon retrial, he was sentenced to two years in prison in 1895. Upon release, he fled to France to escape further persecution due to his romantic relations. He lived with Douglas for some time, until their families threatened their funds and they had to separate. In the year 1900, at the age of 46, Wilde died due to meningitis, saying the famous phrase, “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” in his final moments. Oscar Wilde is remembered to history for both his talent in writing but also the way the world so unfairly condemned him for being gay. To consume his writing, is to face the life of a man who lived in luxury and a life of privilege and yet was convicted for living his truth. Convicted for something about himself that was so pure and unfairly judged. 

I have personally found a lot of strength in writing, and in an ideal world I would pursue a life surrounding it. Whilst my personal definition of being a writer often relates to being able to romanticize life in a way that makes living more bearable, that fosters escapism, Oscar Wilde’s writing is often brutal and harsh in the way that it forces the reader to acknowledge reality under his lense.

He writes a lot about love, art, and beauty, but also sin and depravity and the way life is enriched by these themes. I think it’s fair to say that this arises as his life’s story of one of being ostracized for who he loved. Things that we don’t deem today to be sins, were acts that saw him imprisoned. I believe that he internalized the hate and vitriol, and took back his power by weaponizing the concept of sin and pleasure, claiming them to be ingrained in life itself.  

I think the biggest connection one can have with a writer or any artist, is to leave inspired, or influenced. 

In Oscar Wilde’s words, “ to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul”.

So taking into account love, beauty and sin, as I worked to develop my connection, I felt inspired to write something utilizing these themes, as I myself am bisexual and found it a powerful and diffuclt experience to put myself in his shoes. I cannot fathom being held legally liable for simply the way I was born, and spending my whole life being surrounded by the rhetoric that love, something so pure, is made up entirely of sin. I thought the best way to honor a writer who so greatly expressed the importance of creativity was to let his influence guide my own work. I also realized that I haven’t really ever written anything under a sapphic lense. 

So in tribute to Oscar Wilde: this is me owning “my sin”:

Behind her eyes

I saw heaven in disguise

tasting like sin

and marshmallow skies

.

She held hell in her palms

fire burnt in her veins

and I knew in this insanity

for the first time I was sane

.

And if I could ever be 

the source of those flames

I’d thank the devil himself

before I’d try to refrain

.

Because a soul like hers 

wasn’t meant to be touched

but admired from afar

and envied from above

.

I’m in love.

.

And if who I love 

is deemed a sin

bind my hands

and bring me in

paint me red 

condemn my soul

but love is love

and I am whole.

.

References:

BBC. (n.d.). History – historic figures: Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilde_oscar.shtml 

Wilde, O. (2022). The Picture of Dorian Gray. Union Square & Co. 

Skye Duke: Declaration 2022

Camille Desmoulins: A Little Ink to Fuel the Fire of Revolution

Portrait of Camille Desmoulins, 1790

“I shall die in the belief that to make France free, republican and prosperous, a little ink would have sufficed – and only one guillotine.” ~ Camille Desmoulins

Revolution may be sparked by passion, ignited by action, and lit ablaze by the revolutionaries offering their lives to their causes. Yet the foundation of such movements, the kindling that leads to the flame is the words. Without the words, action is an empty sentiment, void of meaning and intention. To speak into the silence and object injustice is difficult when the world is unwilling to listen. But in times of turbulence, words may just catch the wind and spread like wildfire. 

Without the press, referred to as the Fourth Estate during the 19th century, the revolution would have looked very different, and it could be surmised that the changes that followed may have never occurred. The widespread dissemination of radical political ideology set the stage for significant structural change within France, bringing forth a new age emphasizing the rights and freedoms in which many now understand to be natural human rights. Through analyzing the lives of the radical writers active during the French Revolution, the contemporary climate of journalism in conflict and human rights issues can be better understood.

Inked in History 

Lucie Simplice Camille Benoist Desmoulins, better known to history as Camille Desmoulins, was a prominent journalist and political figure during the French Revolution. Born March 2nd 1760, Desmoulins went on to attend the College Louis le Grand where he studied alongside and befriended Maximilien Robespierre, who would ultimately be responsible for his demise. Desmoulins pursued a career in law, having been proficient in literature and politics during his education. Though being admitted to the bar in 1785, this career was short-lived, as he had a stutter and a notably fiery temper which led to Desmoulins spending a period of time in severe poverty. Seeking a new path, he embraced his passion for writing and political affairs. 

When the revolution broke out, Desmoulins became a crowd orator, rallying the people to move against the oppressive rule of the loyalists. Desmoulins success in speaking was not deterred by his stutter, in fact in heated times he was able to speak passionately and compellingly, due to his complete devotion to his cause. Camille Desmoulins first gained political fame on 12th July 1789, in a public scene where he mounted a table in Cafe du Foy, many patrons being prominent political dissenters, and called the people to action, speaking of his concern pertaining to the potential for imminent violence against dissidents. When the attack on the Hotel des Invalides occurred in response to his words, Desmoulins was among those who armed themselves to move on Bastille. 

Following the storming of the Bastille, Desmoulins released “La France Libre” to the public, a pamphlet that the printers originally refused to publish. The pamphlet, title translating to “Free France”, did much to garner public interest as Desmoulins wrote about the importance of a democratic government and denounced the rule of monarchy. He published “Discours de la lanterne aux Parisiens’ in the September of 1789, writing in support of the Revolutionary National Assembly and the ideology which worked to bring down the Ancien Regime. From this publication, Demoulins became known as the “Procureur-general de la lanterne”. He then created a newspaper only months later titled “Les Révolutions de France et de Brabant” which was now extremely specific in its criticisms, targeting policies and the King, aggressive in expressing the paramount need to hold those in power accountable and to implement structural reforms. The newspaper’s success enabled Desmoulins to progress from severe poverty to a life of fame. 

The Jacobin Club by Louis Blanc

The Ideals Off Page and in Practice

Desmoulins, alongside many prominent radical ideologists such as Danton and Saint-Just, was a member of the Jacobin Club, which was eventually led by his childhood friend Robespierre. Founded in 1789, the political club fought to establish power to the people, aligning with Desmoulins beliefs as he strived to ensure liberty, justice, equality, and reason for all. They worked to bring an end to the reign of the King and to build the French Republic upon republican ideals. The club was split into two factions, Desmoulin sitting with the Mountain (Montagnards), which was arguably more radical and held control of the club. The Girondists, more moderate in ideals, were the other faction, the two often finding themselves at odds with one another despite their common goal. The Mountain promoted violence, the Reign of Terror very much so coming to be due to their rhetoric and actions.

Striving for absolute societal change, the Jacobin Club was working towards a strong central government that diverted power from the long-reigning monarchy and handed it to the people. While the group is now considered controversial in its use of violence, the ideals that the actions sought to grant were not as condemnable, prioritizing equality and freedoms for the groups having faced long-lived injustice. They wanted free trade with a market economy. Their new republic was to be secular and built upon nationalistic ideology. As a member of the group, Desmoulins was a strong advocate for all of these ideals. He was at one point the Secretary-General to Danton, a was a part of the historic vote to execute Louis XVI.  

The Cordeliers Club was formed by Desmoulins and Danton in 1790, serving as a populist group that spoke for those often not represented along with holding accountable abuses of power occurring in the changing political landscape. The group actively spoke out and called into question the actions of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. The Insurrection of 31st Mary through 2nd June 1793 was a turning point for many of the radical politicians. Desmoulins shifted to far more moderate-leaning sentiments, following Danton as he formed a new group called the Indulgents. The group condemned the terror instituted by the Committee of Public Safety, believing it to be harmful to the Revolution. 

Une Exécution Capitale, Place de la Révolution by Pierre-Antoine Demachy, 1793

When the Ink Dried

Desmoulins work spoke a testament to his integrity, his ideals were unwavering as he lived and died for the France he envisioned. In a journal titled “Vieux Cordelier”, the writer spoke out against the Hebertist faction and held criticism for the Committee of Public Safety. He called for a shift in the radical state that had claimed what was to be the newly forming republic, denouncing the extremism and reign of terror. It was on March 31st 1794, that Desmoulins fate was signed and set in motion, in the form of an arrest warrant. Robespierre, despite having been a notable supporter of the writer, turned on his friend as he could no longer support Desmoulins condemnation of how the Committee sought to bring about a strong democracy. 

The following trial was completely politically driven, as Desmoulin along with other prominent Indulgents were accused of counter-revolutionary actions and corruption. The Revolutionary Tribunal refused witnesses and the accused were denied from defending themselves. Desmoulins was sentenced to death. In his final moments, Desmoulins wrote to his wife from the confines of prison, “I have dreamed of a Republic such as all the world would have adored. I could never have believed that men could be so ferocious and so unjust.” At the mere age of 34, on the 5th of April 1794, Camille Desmoulins was executed. In a short time, Camille Desmoulins went from lawyer to martyr. Like many, he never got to see France rise from the ashes, despite having spent his life sitting among the flames. 

The Stains of Revolution

By no means can it be claimed that Camille Desmoulins kicked off the Revolution, nor did he carry it and bear the burden alone. And yet, he can be attributed with fueling the fire and playing an integral role in instituting change. Even in the ashes, as the Revolution died down and a new France was built, Desmoulins remains a crucial part of the nation for which he lived for. His life’s work sits within the foundations of France’s democracy, and his identity will forever serve as a symbol of revolution. The legacy of Camille Desmoulins surpasses his achievements in life, and even the reach of France, as the journalistic move during the French Revolution can be traced back to from current day practices. The Fourth estate played a huge role in the development and shaping of the press in modern society. Desmoulins is now widely attributed as being the most influential pamphleteer during the Revolution. His engagement in politics can be related to the activist nature of many press outlets in today’s society. 

The Revolution saw journalism take a shift from socio-economic focused media to a press with an emphasis placed upon public opinion. Like today’s politicized nature of journalism, the Revolution utilized print media to circulate differing perspectives that were not promoted by those in power. Pamphlets and journals became the weapons in which revolutionary activists could wield, striking many. Following the Revolution, the press became uncensored and diverse, now openly able to express political ideology and representing a plethora of perspectives. The French Revolution largely fought for the freedom of speech and press, which is now a basic right enjoyed by many. That is not to say that the issues that arose during the revolutionary period aren’t still present. 

Concealing the Ink: Censorship  

France’s history of censorship proved to be a key issue throughout the Revolution, as activists felt the Loyalists’ clutches barring down on them in many ways. Printing Press’ required a royal license to operate. During the early revolutionary period, there were few printing presses, all of which spread pro-royalist propaganda. With the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 abolishing censorship, revolutionary writers gained traction, and yet there was still mass suppression of dissenters, along with regulations targeting radical republicans. Desmoulin felt the censorship in his own writing, his printing shop at one point being forcibly closed. In the short time before execution, the Jacobin Club attempted to remove Desmoulins from their group. Attempting to protect his friend, Robespierre suggested for “Vieux Cordelier” to be burnt instead – a public show of condemning the writing. Desmoulins did not stand for this blatant form of censorship. In a way, death was the final form of censorship committed against Desmoulins, as it was his beliefs and writing that condemned him to a sentence of silence.

In the pursuit to emphasize the importance of words and journalism, it is essential that the topic of censorship be considered. It is perhaps not until we find freedoms restricted that we feel their true value. Writing and words powered the French Revolution, censorship occurred as individuals identified the threat it posed – the power it held. History shows this in many forms. Even after achieving an uncensored and free press, France has still experienced periods of suppression, such as during World War 2. This period saw heavy German supervision, as the country was invaded and lost control to opposing forces. The French Revolution highlights the importance of speaking out when the world forces one’s mouth shut. Change was brought about by the voices which were amplified not by those in power but by the injustices dealt by them. 

Modern-day censorship within the press is an ongoing issue, in countries such as China, Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba. Censorship tends to come alongside other human rights violations, as it is an infringement upon one’s personal freedoms. The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “how a government censor often reflects the tension between projecting an image of democracy and ruthlessly suppressing dissent” (Bennett, 2015). These countries are each dealing with dictatorships, communism and authoritarian regimes – freedom of thought and press posing an intense threat as allowing for amplification of public opinion could dismantle the governments from within their own borders. This highlights the power of words, as even the harshest of regimes fear the will of the people, and this sentiment can be easily tied back to the social and political climate during the French Revolution. 

Contemporary Journalism in Conflict

A specific avenue of Journalism that is rooted in conflict and human rights issues is that that emanates from International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs). INGOs are a great example of the modern intersection of journalism and the pursuit of human rights during conflict, which Desmoulins spearheaded. These organizations work to institute change, bringing awareness to issues so that the distribution of resources and disseminating of information can occur. INGOs operate out of the realm of government, meaning they are not restricted by jurisdiction and can be on the ground offering relief in a much more immediate and practical way. INGOs have two different functional outlets: advocacy and operations. Meaning as much as they intend to inform, INGOs are also putting in the work, combatting the issues in which their journalist outlets bring to light. Well known examples of such entities include the Humans Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Rescue Committee.

Desmoulins proved that journalism has a place in politics, social issues, and the pursuit of human rights. He did not passively state the changes he wanted but was a part of the people taking action against the oppressive rule. He saw a future France that he wished to come to be, and stepped up to be involved in laying the building blocks. It is the actions of individuals such as Desmoulins that journalists hold the power they do now. Society now sees the power of words in every aspect of life. International non-governmental organizations, like Desmoulins and the other radical writers of the time, are challenging injustice. Journalism can be the stepping stone to action.

Power of Words

I am personally drawn to writers. It could be that I romanticize the process of putting pen to paper, and how it enables speech in a way that transcends one’s audible voice. I have always used writing as a coping mechanism, a way to reclaim control when I feel it slip through my fingers. I grasp at false realities to find strength in my own life, rooting myself in fiction. I believe that it is due to this that I see the power of Desmoulins actions on a more impactful scale. The writer embraced reality, even when it was dark and hard, and framed it in a way where those around him were forced to see and feel complicit in the need for change. It is easy to live in fiction, but to face the truth and be compelled to act – that takes courage and strength. 

His devotion to holding those in power accountable and his commitment to the pursuit of human rights inspires me in my own endeavors. Desmoulins grasped control during a time of great instability and held true to his convictions till the very end. His life has shaped the contemporary landscape of journalism and political change. I am hugely passionate about human rights issues that will require widespread support to be addressed and want to see a world that better embodies the ideals that Desmoulins himself strove towards. There is a misconception that the modern age has progressed enough to where basic human rights are guaranteed. Violations are widespread and continuous, requiring significant action. I aspire to be a part of something bigger than myself, playing a role in lasting change. The lives of individuals such as Camille Desmoulins encourage me to continue down a path pertaining to the protection of human rights and reminds me that no voice is too small.

Perhaps, one day, I’ll put pen to page and be involved in fueling the fire of change.

References

Portrait of Camille Desmoulins. 1790, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France. 

Blanc, Louis. The Jacobin Club

Demachy, Pierre Antoine. Une Exécution Capitale, Place De La Révolution. 1793. 

Bennett, Phillip, and Moises Naim. “21st-Century Censorship.” Columbia Journalism Review, Jan. 2015, https://archives.cjr.org/cover_story/21st_century_censorship.php. 

“Camille Desmoulins.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 Apr. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Camille-Desmoulins. 

History.com Editors. “French Revolution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution. 

Witsell, Haley. “Guided History.” Guided History Journalism of the French Revolution Comments, https://blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/moderneurope/haley-witsell/journalism-of-the-french-revolution/. 

Claretie, Jules. Camille Desmoulins and His Wife: Passages from the History of the Dantonists. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1876.

Skye Duke: Miami as Text 2022

Photograph taken by Tayjah Barrington / CC by 4.0

Skye Duke is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Criminal Justice and Disaster Management, with a certificate in Political Transition and Human Rights. She is passionate about criminal justice reform, specifically rehabilitative efforts and the prison system, and hopes to one day play a role in significant legislature change. She intends to pursue a career relating in some form to human rights and disaster relief efforts. When she’s not reading, she’s most likely consuming some other form of escapism, romanticizing the mundane and willing the fantastical into existence.

Deering as Text

The Deering Estate / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Unearthing the Roots

By Skye Duke of FIU at The Deering Estate on January 28, 2022

Visually, stepping into the Deering Estate is very much like entering a bubble. Where suddenly modern city life is whisked away, and your eyes are fighting to take in the vast expanse of ocean, the greenery, the houses in which seem stolen from a different time. Everything feels quiet, slower. There is a sense of calm that is so unique to a place situated so close to the lively city of Miami.

It is only once you begin to venture beneath the surface, to consider how the Deering Estate came to be as it is, that the calm becomes far more nuanced.

While the Deering Estate is serene and peaceful, there is a deep well of history that is loud, demanding, working to be heard. It moves beneath the earth. Sits within the foundations of the buildings. It sings along with the wind. The Deering Estate serves as a capsule of the past, offering an insight into how people shape the land. How history and nature intersect. The estate offers a raw glimpse into the way people can influence a landscape and the world around them for hundreds of years to come.

The Tequesta may have lived on the land that is now Miami back in 1513, but their presence is still strong at the Deering Estate. The tribe lived off the land, and their tools crafted out of shells can be uncovered in the Tequesta Midden. The Tequesta Cutler Burial mound is also hugely important. As the tribe were connected with the earth in life, their deaths remain tied to the soil. Twelve to eighteen Tequesta are buried in a circle, surrounding a tree dated back 400 to 600 years. The burial ground can be visibly observed from a platform designed to leave the mound undisturbed. The tribe is now extinct, there is no documentation of their language and formal education rarely acknowledges their existence. That is why taking the time to absorb the information that can be obtained from the Deering Estate is so hugely important. It holds a piece of history, remnants of a group of people that the earth is almost willing the world to remember.

Stone House at The Deering Estate / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Charles Deering purchased the Deering Estate in 1916, and built Stone house in 1922. He bought it with the intention of being a self-sustaining homestead. The house was built with 18 inch poured concrete walls, utilizing features reminiscent of Mediterranean style with coffered ceilings and an Otis elevator. The house held secrets though, with a prohibition era wine cellar enabling Deering to cultivate an extensive collection of alcohol. In 1916, during the construction of the People’s Dock of the Deering Estate, four workers died and five were injured. These deaths can be attributed to the poor work conditions and the complete lack of urgency that was demonstrated when seeking help – this occurring most likely due to the fact this incident occurred during a period of racial segregation and the workers were African American and Afro-Bahamian.

From first glance, the Deering Estate serves as a beautiful retreat from the outside world. Once a person begins to consider what lies right beyond the surface, there is a great amount of history to unearth. It is important that we, as people who call Miami our home, continue to dig at the roots and to understand the world that existed before us.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Oh, to be Wealthy!

By Skye Duke of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on February 18, 2022

Decorative ceilings imported from Venice, gardens reminiscent to that of Versailles, fictional explorers, and a moat surrounding the grounds. To revel in luxury and salute the beauty of European culture, a celebration of all things Mediterranean, Neoclassical and Rococo. To stand within Vizcaya is to exist within a different time period.

Built in 1916, Vizcaya museum and gardens offers a glimpse into a past foreign to so many, and experienced by a privileged few. The grounds serve as a lasting symbol that is both at odds with the modern landscape of Miami, along with a historic representation of the values that are ever present in today’s social climate. The building itself bares no resemblance to the surrounding city, ornate and rooted in the past. Yet, it is clear that it was built with the purpose to promote frivolity, an ideal prominent in Miami’s current social culture.

James Deering, the brother of Deering Estates owner Charles Deering, built Vizcaya Village with the intent to have a comfortable home to live in upon retirement. That being said, Deering worked to promote a sense of hedonism within the villa, the luxurious design choices not negating the obvious attention placed upon indulgence and pleasure. Vizcaya is a testament to Deerings personal life and his personal values. Whilst it is clear the estate is built upon a general sense of grandeur, it is also easy to identify James Deerings ego in the smallest of elements within the design elements. In a panel of stained glass, the words “J’ai dit” are written, meaning “I have spoken”, which can be applied to James’ role in the existence and creation of Vizcaya. It also can be interpreted as Deering’s own initials.

Vizcaya / Photograph by Skye Duke

It cannot be denied that Paul Chaflin, the artistic director behind Vizcaya, is truly gifted, his eye for design evident in every detail. Drawing upon mediterranean architecture and various periodic styles, the villa is a visual culmination of artistic influences, all of which emphasize opulence and luxury. It is important to note that whilst his design choices bring forth elements identifiable in an array of styles and cultures, there is a sense of erasure in that Vizcaya does not exhibit any cultural elements of those who had inhabited the land before Deering, examples being the Tequesta, Seminole and Bahamian people. In fact, Vizcaya itself was built by Bahamian workers who at the time faced racial segregation and significantly poor work conditions. There is no acknowledgment of this in Vizcaya’s design along with its present day appearance.

Vizcaya village was established to be self-sufficient, requiring around 18 staff and 26 gardeners to maintain the grounds. With spaces for crops and livestock, along with a kitchen with fairly advanced appliances, the village functioned efficiently. Vizcaya opens up to Biscayne Bay, built with the ability to have boats approach and sit within calm water, protected from the harsh ocean due to a stone barge. At each turn within Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, there is a new view to marvel at, and it is truly a place of beauty.

Vizcaya Gardens / Photograph by Skye Duke

It is important that these places of grandeur and wealth exist, so that we may contemplate the heavy topics in which sit beneath the prosperity. Should each of us ever obtain such wealth, I wonder, would we throw it into a show of our earnings? What compels a person to feel such need to create a physical embodiment of their wealth? Was Deering motivated by a love of art and design or is wealth so fickle that it needs to be presented in a tangible form for it to be observed as valuable in the eyes of those peering in from afar?

I personally found Vizcaya absolutely beautiful, and struggled to comprehend the fact that for so long, I had lived a five minute drive from such a place. Despite all of the questions I previously posed, I cannot condemn James Deering for pouring his money into art and design and bringing a place like Vizcaya into the world. Perhaps more than anything, I envy his ability to build a moat around his home.

Downtown Miami as Text

Downtown Miami / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Built to Bury

By Skye Duke of FIU at Downtown Miami on March 11, 2022

To venture into Downtown Miami is to walk among the tourists, to dodge people rushing to work, and to stand among buildings that feel as though they reach the clouds. It takes the crazy and high energy that Miami is known for, and condenses it into a small area of constant movement. I lived in Downtown for a while and attended the Miami Dade College downtown campus. For a couple of years it was my home, and yet in the three hour time span of my most recent visit, I realized how little I knew of a place I had so deeply explored.

Fort Dallas / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

In a park where children play sits a building which at first glance seems so out of place. And in a sense, it is, as it serves as a remnant of a past in which the surrounding city seemingly works to erase. Located in Lummus Park, rests one of the only remaining buildings from the pioneer era in Miami. Utilized as slave quarters and then army barracks (Fort Dallas), the building can be dated back to 1844. Having lived in the area, I had no idea that this building existed, and it is likely that those nearby children are also unaware. This fact alone speaks to failures of this country’s education system, along with a pattern of consistent erasure and institutional racism.

I have lived in Miami for seven years, and yet at the age of twenty, I am learning for the first time about the events which touched the soil that I stand upon. I lived in a building where I could peer out of the window and see the Miami Circle, a Tequesta Midden, and I had no understanding of its significance. It’s another example of a historical landmark in which’ existence is barely acknowledged when it should be taught and discussed. It is perhaps out of shame that the government and entities of authority seek conceal and distance themselves from stains upon their nation. And yet they are becoming a part of a new problem, where children will grow up detached from the realities of their own history. 

A shocking revelation I have recently been made aware of is the fact the Whole Foods in Downtown is built upon human remains. It is difficult to understand how a large corporation got away with building upon a significant piece of history. I find it disturbing to know that I shopped for groceries there for so long, without knowledge of how the store came to be. Downtown Miami is a largely developed and constantly growing area, where buildings are constructed in the blink of an eye. And yet, one must consider with each addition, are we moving further away from the past, in a way where important truths are being forever buried? If our education system does not teach us to understand the past and how it intertwines with our surroundings, and we are quickly losing all physical representation, how do we preserve it?

It is potentially a sinister truth, that Downtown Miami serves as a symbol of the blatant repression and denial of the past, which speaks to a much larger issue at hand. This is a harsh thought to consider, as it requires the re-evaluation of all other aspects of our day to day life. If such actions like building upon a gravesite can be swept under the rug, what else is merely sitting below the surface, waiting to be unearthed? 

And are we complicit in our ignorance? 

South Beach as Text

South Beach / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Brightness Forged in the Dark

By Skye Duke of FIU at South Beach on April 1, 2022

It is not hard to understand why the tourists flood to South Beach, traveling from all around the world to have the chance to swim in the crystal blue water and to feel the white sand between their toes. The overly exaggerated perception of Miami, one built on the party/ vacation culture, can be traced back to this strip of land. A beach trip to South Beach entails astronomical parking fees, overpriced ice cream and tourists roaming as far as the eye can see. Despite my love for the ocean, I have always had a rather adverse opinion of the beach, often feeling suffocated by the endless crowds. Yet, upon diving deeper, considering the facts of the area, I’ve come to appreciate the South Beach as a whole much more… along with understanding that it is built upon a dark past that is practically erased from the present.

Park Central Hotel / Photograph by Skye Duke

South Beach stands out from all other beaches in Florida, not only due to its immense popularity but also the stylistic choices littered around. The most notable element of South Beach is its artistic style – Art Deco. Revered from a far and a source of the abundant tourism, the building styles create an environment that truly differs from the rest of Miami, which seems all too eager to make a shift towards the modernization of architecture. Ocean drive screams Art Deco, a style that originated in France, around the time of World War 1. It is not limited to buildings but fashion, furniture, jewelry and much more and utilizes geometrical and symmetrical designs. Park Central Hotel is a great example of this style, the architect being Henry Hohauser, a prominent figure in the Art Deco scene. The buildings are colorful and can be seen lit up by neon lights at night.

The Rainbow Crosswalk / Photograph by Skye Duke

Despite my distaste for the tourism centered vibe of South Beach, it cannot be denied that it does serve as a symbol of acceptance and love, encouraging people to embrace their truest selves. With that fact alone, I find myself warming up to the beach. Located on Ocean Drive, the Rainbow Crosswalk is a physical reflection of the way in which the area embraces those from all walks of life. The design is a part of a larger movement where cities work to promote inclusion and emphasize support for the LGBTQ+ community. This particular permanent crosswalk was revealed to the public in 2018, having been a temporary art installation since 2014. Whilst the design has changed over time, the sentiment has remained, and surrounded by drag clubs and the home to the annual Pride festival, South Beach has become a key location to celebrate our differences and the freedom to be ourselves.

Beneath the current colorful and bright nature of the beach, there is also a well of history that much like the other parts of Miami remains unspoken and unknown to the general public. The area has a dark history of significant segregation, so much so that people of color were banned from certain beaches. The land has been inhabited by a vast array of people, from the Tequesta, to the seminoles, Afro-Bahamians and African Americans, though today’s Ocean Drive does not reflect its vast past. It was the development of Miami, at the hands of Carl Fisher that prompted the area into such segregation. The area also holds a history of discrimination directed specifically at the Jewish community, also at brought on by Fisher along with Henry Flagler. Utilizing phraseology such as “Gentiles only”, Jews were discriminated against by businesses in the nineteenth century through the 1950’s.

In conclusion, whilst South Beach is colorful and preaches positivity and acceptance, it has not always been this way. Like all the other places we’ve visited recently, it is important that the past does not get buried to enable the present to flourish. It is as much of South Beach as the current hotels, bars and stores are. It is built into the foundations, merely feet beneath the sand that hundreds of people walk among every day. South Beach is to be enjoyed, but it is disturbing that so few people understand how it came to be.

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