Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Miami Splendor

"Good idea coming here," my wife said to me after we completed our first brief visit to the pile shown above. It's a house dating back to the First World War that was built for the pleasure of a man who,as far as I can tell was a confirmed bachelor. There is no mention in the literature of a Mrs James Dearing, so what we have here is the product of the fevered imaginations of four men.Apparently the three designers, Messers Hoffman Suarez and Chalfin were charged by the Vice President of International Harvester with creating a villa that was to have appeared to have been lived in for 400 years but was actually constructed from scratch in two...The whole thing covered almost 200 acres on the shores of Biscayne Bay and included a farm modeled on an Italian village. All this extravagance lasted less than ten years for James Dearing who went to a better place (where, one wonders? He had Earthly homes in Chicago, New York Paris and here in pioneering Miami) in 1925.Nowadays $10 gets a Dade county residence inside the grounds, and it costs other plebs from elsewhere fully fifteen dollars. However one might consider it well worthwhile if rococo limestone is to your taste:Josh and Lisa appeared to find this place as fascinating as my wife and I did:For some people the Viscaya mansion, named for a Spanish province, is just another day at the office:In the literature this building is compared favorably to Hearst castle in California, which is not unreasonable given the emphasis on artistry and overly elaborate decorations. Personally I thought Viscaya looked quite a bit like the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina. However neither of the other famous mansions faces onto Biscayne Bay:And it just so happens that James Dearing's private suite of rooms, upstairs inside the mansion happened to overlook this "venetian yacht harbor" a location that Josh thought might be quite the spot to lounge on the balcony and smoke a large cigar, his recurring fantasy:The house apparently fell into some disrepair after the owner's death before it was opened to the public in 1953. Nowadays the place is quite magnificent and my pictures really don't do it justice. The place has to be seen, a magnificent courtyard in the center surrounded by a magnificent series of rooms decorated, over decorated perhaps for my taste with tapestries, paintings statuary and elaborate candelabras and chandeliers framed in gilt.Lisa told me that National Geographic rated the gardens as the best formal gardens in North America, which is high accolades indeed,though I have no clue how one rates such things. There's no doubt the gardens that remain (the vegetable farm has long since disappeared) are outstanding and beautifully maintained. Apparently they represent classical European gardens adapted to the sub tropics which seems reasonable enough to me. Villa D'Este outside Rome should feel the competition, I think:In the midst of this beauty we came across a wedding photographer doing his thing. We were quite surprised when the "groom" dashed past us, a child in an ill fitting man's suit. It seemed beyond his ability to have got the bride in the family way to have forced the issue of marriage on one so young...Until we figured this was a Latin quinceanera, the celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday to mark her accession to womanhood and all the responsibility that entails. Marriage would come later. Lisa started pondering what a young girl might do to top this event in this spectacular location when marriage in fact rears its head for her. "Can't do better than Viscaya," was the general sentiment. At which point the Latin inscription on the sundial comes into play:Accept the gifts of the hour joyfully and relinquish them stoically, which it should be noted is easier said than done in real life. In our world jet aircraft speed us on our way at six hundred miles per hour, a speed that makes it easy for us not to notice the jewels in our midst.I've known about this place for the better part of twenty years yet this was my first visit, thanks in part to too much jetting around. I hope it won't be my last.