“Europe in Florida” – by Debbie Ambrous

May, 2017All things French usually appears on this blog page with only an occasional foray into various themes and subjects.  I believe you will agree that Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is an enchanting, extravagant estate which could grace the shores of the Mediterranean and easily seem part of all things French.  Let’s take a peek inside and outside, but first, allow me to share a little background.

A few weeks ago husband Jim and I took the long way around Florida starting on the east coast and traveling down to Coconut Grove, Florida, our old neighborhood where we enjoyed living for fourteen years among the tropical foliage with peacocks squawking in the trees and strutting down the streets like they owned the neighborhood.   The architecture of the homes varied from small cottages to jaw-dropping gorgeous mansions, with styles ranging from Tudor to Mediterranean.  I loved the walks, bike rides and my personal nest in a wicker chair on the balcony surrounded by brilliant orchids and shaded by a massive flamboyant tree.  I miss my tree house perch and all that flowed around it, the sweet friends that we met and the Cuban food we learned to enjoy with them.  But that was far from the only cuisine we enjoyed since every type food imaginable is there to sample, including a favorite French restaurant, Le Bouchon, which has been described as “Paris in the Palms.”

We drove the streets of our old neighborhood and we found the beautiful homes and the lush gardens remained much the same, but to our disappointment we saw one of the most beautiful, a historic home had been razed to the ground, scraping the beautiful flowers that I admired so many times into a dead, brown heap.  We learned later that a multiplex will be built there, likely modern cube-like construction like several other homes that we saw, painted stark white.  I don’t disapprove of modern construction, but it would be a shame for this unique neighborhood to lose its ambiance.  I knew in advance that where we had lived was being remodeled; I hope for betterment and not any further spoiling of this special place.

Now, I will hush with my complaints and go on with my Europe in Florida theme to share the palatial home and gardens that was only a bike ride from my tree house perch in Coconut Grove.  We escorted friends and family as their personal tour guides many times.  Thanks to our lovely friends Alan and Cathi, we attended a special, lavish gala in the evening, with Vizcaya glittering at its best.  I don’t remember the circumstances but our attendance was a last-minute affair.  I was still working on my makeup and adjusting my long, flouncy organza skirt and silky top, both in midnight black, as Jim drove there and parked.  Nonetheless, I felt like a princess for the evening in the moonlight, strolling where real movie stars, billionaires, the Pope and Presidents stepped with their expensive, designer shoes.

Our visit was in the heat this time in mid-May, wearing cotton casual and in my case a sunhat for an exploration of the dream home and gardens brought to life by the industrialist, James Deering.  Deering enlisted 1,000 workers in 1914 to create this 70-plus room mansion and gardens.  Deering along with his design partner Paul Chalfin scoured Europe for furnishings, antiques and paintings. Gilded panels, carved mantels and fresco ceilings from Tuscany and France appear in the rooms, amazing visitors at every turn.

The Tea Room has sleek marble floors, reflecting a rainbow of light, beaming through stained glass doors, but on the day I visited a group of school students sat on the floor listening to the teacher.  So, I didn’t see the rainbow of color on the marble floors, but I hoped the students absorbed appreciation of what they were privileged to tour and would develop an outlook for conserving beauty like this in the Grove.

I loved all of it from the Breakfast Room with Chinese ceramics and Neapolitan seascapes on the walls to the kitchen with brilliant copper pans.  If you visit, be sure to see the small room with glass cabinets filled with French china.  I have a few pieces, but nothing like this stunning collection.

I must agree with other writers about the mansion and gardens who have said that any trip to Vizcaya would be incomplete without a tour of its Edenic grounds.  Since we visited in the mid-day heat, we searched for shady areas in the gardens.  The Formal Gardens are not unlike Versailles with the mesmerizing, geometric patterns, lush mazes and classical statues, but the unique features of Vizcaya shine through with tropical surroundings of palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone.

There is a hint of the Miami skyline from the water’s edge and at the highest elevation of the garden.  You will not forget that you are in Florida! 

We found another reminder of Florida in the creeping, crawling, big, ugly kind.  A large iguana was sunning at water’s edge, marking its territory as tourists clicked their cameras at the celebrity of the hour.

My favorite section in the garden is The David A. Klein Orchidarium where rows of vibrant Vandas and rare Cymbidiums dangle overhead.  Wind whipped the blooms when we were there, so it was difficult to get my photography accomplished without blurry images.  I saw people reaching and holding the blooms.  I am proud to say that I did not touch the orchids anymore than I touched the iguana!!We had lunch in the café on the grounds in a cozy setting.  We had Mahi-mahi with fries, and I couldn’t resist a Cuban coconut pastry.  Just for old times’ sake!  Such wonderful memories!

James Deering officially took residence in 1916 with an elaborate ceremony complete with gondolas, cannons and Deering’s friends dressed in Italian peasant costumes.  It is easy to envision this scene at the waterfront, minus the iguana, with gondolas bobbing in the bay and laughing guests celebrating in a grand style.  Deering lived there during the winter months until his death in 1925.  His stay and visit at Vizcaya was too short.  What a remarkable legacy he left behind!I hope you enjoyed our visit to Europe in Florida.  As you can imagine, there is a wealth of history to delve into if you so desire to search further on your own.  I have only tip-toed over the high spots.

Thank you for coming along with us.  Next time I should return to all things French, like usual, unless something special happens!  Take care and I do hope you are enjoying your summer.  I love hearing from you.  Just jot a line below to leave a comment on this story and share your thoughts along with other readers.

You can read more about Coconut Grove and France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days maybe in a personal nest like the retreat I had in Florida.

 

Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check out the book partially composed on this very balcony!

5 thoughts on ““Europe in Florida” – by Debbie Ambrous

    • Doris,
      Vizcaya is truly gorgeous. Young girls in bridal gowns or other colorful gowns add to the glamour of the mansion when they pose for photographers. It is a special place. I hope you are able to visit one day. All the best, Debbie

    • Vanissa,
      I’m glad you could see the comparison. I know you would enjoy visiting Vizcaya. I would suggest putting it on your list of special places for the future. All the best, Debbie

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