Please notice that for the first time in about a year, the above title doesn’t use the word “Retrospective.” We actually went out yesterday and spent time at a museum. Since it was largely outdoors – gorgeous gardens! – and people in the few rooms were both masked and distanced, we felt comfortable.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is located in Miami, in the upscale neighborhood known as Coconut Grove. It is a National Historic Landmark, and is the former Italian villa-style estate of the cofounder of International Harvester, James Deering. Located on Biscayne Bay, construction took place between 1914 and 1922. It has been the filming location for about a dozen movies, and is where President Ronald Reagan hosted Pope John Paul II in 1987 on his trip to Miami.
The estate feels a lot like Hearst Castle on the central California coast, albeit much smaller and with direct ocean access. The first several photos are the first areas you encounter upon entering the property. The third is very interesting…running down both sides of the main driveway is a descending water/pool system that culminates in three or four pools along the way.
Upon entering the home, you are greeted by the statue that is fronted by purple orchids. The photo after that is just behind this statue, and is the center axis of the home: a large airy glass-ceilinged atrium filled with fountains, statues, and greenery. It is off this main atrium that you walk the porticos in the next photo, and all around the edges of the house are the living areas. The upstairs bedrooms, with views to the bay, and surrounding the atrium, are being renovated, and access was prohibited for now.
You can see maritime motifs throughout, with a ship in stained glass and another hanging in the main entrance hall just off the bay. Very interesting is that the property’s breakwater was designed as a ship, with a walkway in the middle of it leading up to the home. After that is shown the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, rumored to have only been used once by Deering himself, although his family used it for decades. There is an unusual ceiling mural inside of an underwater fantasy, one of two in existence by artist Robert Chanler. In 1992 and 2005, hurricanes submerged the grotto and mural, making for a challenge in preserving this valuable artwork.
The gardens are extensive, with many statues, fountains, mazes, and varieties of ferns, trees, and flowers. There is a wild swamp area, with a sign warning of alligators. That made us hurry to the next place! The four-tiered waterfall is most impressive, leading up to yet another level of gardens. The two birds you see drinking from the fountain are glossy ibises. Their long sharp beaks would be frightening if they were digging into your skin, but as we passed them, they flew away from us!
The young woman in red was being photographed all over the estate. At first we thought she would be part of a performance, but it seems that this was part of her Quinceanara celebration, her 15th birthday. The photos following the lady in red are of the estate living spaces, including a music room as well as a small pipe organ in another room. Each room has windows to the outdoors, but as you can see, are kept dim to preserve the textiles and objects from a century ago. We liked the last two, a strong arm holding a torch, and the sea god, Neptune, looking like he is worrying about his “hair” getting mussed!
All in all, an amazing day, if only because it was a small taste of getting back to normal and doing something touristy. It was hot, 82 degrees F but “feeling like” 86. It isn’t yet April, but the steamy and humid weather has returned! There were a “good” number of people visiting Vizcaya, but it wasn’t wall-to-wall visitors. Most everybody followed the signage about masks being required, even outdoors. People avoided getting too close to one another. We chatted with some Chinese teenage students going to school in Illinois (a word they said carefully and were clearly pleased to be pronouncing for us) after volunteering to take their photos. It felt like a life that was somewhat back to normal, and after a year, that was a very good thing.