August: Osage County, a 21st C. Bernarda Alba

August: Osage County British poster

I recently wrote about Federico García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba (you can read about it here). But since I had not written about film, or Film Club since March, here is an update.

This month for Film Club, we chose to do a deep dive on Meryl Streep. This is the first time we try this format as we normally pick a theme or genre, but it worked out well, I think. We saw (in chronological order) Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Julie and Julia, and August: Osage County.

Warning, only minor spoilers. In August, Streep plays Violet, a recently widowed, pill popping matriarch and mother of three women (played by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis who all do phenomenal jobs!). When the family arrive for the father’s funeral the drama unfolds, just like it does in Bernarda Alba… the hidden truths come out, old stories float up to the surface, rivalries are woken, and so on.

Just like with Bernarda, the action takes place mostly in the house, and in Summer. Both these factors add to the tension in both works. August deals with a larger cast which does an amazing job, but the brunt of the work falls on Streep and Roberts; to see both these heavyweights in the same frame is powerful and dramatic.

Of course one has to keep in mind that these works are almost a century apart, but the human drama, emotions, and feelings are the same.

The film is Tracy Lett’s adaptation of her own play and is intense, well crafted, and poetic.

If you want to see outstanding performances, specially from Streep and Roberts, this film is highly, highly recommended.

With my niece pre-show

Camino Primitivo Albergue Review

Recommended stages on the Primitivo

One of the key skills one must have in life is to master the art of cut and paste. This year I decided to share my opinion of the albergues I stayed at, so before putting them up on Google or whatever, here they are. I like to stay in public albergues whenever possible, but sometimes my daily stage did not finish at a village with a public albergue, so I stayed private. I only saw one parochial / church albergue housed in the monastery at Cornellana, but my daily stage did not stop there.

Oviedo

This albergue which is run by the Asociación de amigos del Camino Astur-Leonesa is housed in the old seminary. So basically, it is a plug and play albergue, the infrastructure is all there, all that is missing is the future priests cramming for their Theology exams! The rooms house 2 bunk beds and are equipped with lockers and a handy sink in which to brush your teeth! Oh, and it is right downtown, so you are literally steps away from the Cathedral and the old part of town, right where the Camino starts. I shared a room with Vicente from Valencia whom I would continue bumping into throughout my Camino.

The old seminary is now an albergue in Oviedo

Grado

The public albergue is run by volunteers of the International Fraternity of the Camino de Santiago and it is housed in the old horse auction building – which explains all the iron rings attached to the wall next to the building. But do not fret, it was remodeled in 2016. It was a great little albergue, and the volunteer hospitalario Guy was great!

La Espina – El cruce (Private)

This is as basic and as homey as it gets. It is run by Carmen who had a space above her tiny supermarket and opened an albergue! It has one room with 10 beds which I shared with three American teachers. The village is pretty basic, so it comes in handy that there is a supermarket below the albergue where you can buy groceries and make your own dinner! Apparently, this is a good place to stop if you are planning to take the “Hospitales” variant (which coincidentally I did).

Campiello – Casa Ricardo (Private)

This has to be one of the top albergues I have ever stayed in! it is a restored farmhouse with great facilities: kitchen, bathrooms, patio and a great restaurant/bar and supermarket on the other side of the road. The sleeping room is relatively big but with brand new bunks and exposed stone walls it offered a great night’s sleep.

Berducedo – Camino Primitivo (Private)

After the exhausting (but highly recommended Hospitales variant) I unfortunately skipped the municipal albergue (there had been rumors on the Camino that there was a lack of beds in Berducedo) to go to the private Camino Primitivo . Camino Primitivo was a horrible experience despite good facilities, a despicable albergue only focused on squeezing every last euro from the pilgrim. You cannot order a la carte for lunch, you have to order the full 20 Euro menu (which was good, but way more than what I wanted), when I had an issue with other pilgrims over the washer/drier they did nothing to help our situation and worst of all: they had just done a fly treatment and the whole albergue was full of dead flies -and they did nothing to clean them up. The owner was simply rude, so I refused to stay there for dinner and went to the lovely Araceli instead where I chatted with a bicycle pilgrim (if such a thing still exists) and had a great meal.

What good laundry facilities look like

Castro – Albergue Juvenil de Castro

This restored schoolhouse run by a lesbian collective was a great acquittal of the Berducedo fiasco. These women were generous, funny, hospitable, and when I told them a sad story (they asked for it), affectionate. I loved it. They also had a simple but delicious “meal plan”: they had a refrigerated showcase full of prepared foods; if you order a small plate you can choose two foods and it costs 3 Euro, the big plate with up to three combinations, 5 Euro. It was freezing that evening, so I had a big plate of spaghetti Bolognese. I loved my stay there.

Vilardongo – O Piñeiral (Private)

Another private choice, but what a place! This is a luxury albergue with amazing facilities (at regular albergue cost) each bunk bed has a little curtain to separate it, and since the place did not fill up and nobody came above me, I had a bit of a private “suite” for the night –nice!! The food was excellent, and they even had a little room with a yoga mat, where I was able to do some much needed yoga.

Castroverde

This is a Xunta de Galicia (i.e., public) albergue and it was impressive! Modern installations in a minimalist setting. It even has a stream running through the back yard where I was able to dip my legs to rid them of 8 hours of hiking worth of inflammation! Public albergues lack kitchen equipment to encourage you to eat in the village which I did for lunch, but a classic tuna empanada (pie) was the perfect dinner, and it needed no cooking!

Guntín

This might be the smallest albergue in the Xunta’s portfolio, only 12 beds! It is so small; the bathroom and showers are in a modern annexed outhouse! This albergue is literally in the middle of a forest but fortunately there is a great private albergue, O Candido across the trail. The exposed wooden beams in the ceiling really made this a rustic experience!

Boente – Albergue Boente (Private)

Once you merge into the last 100 km of the French Way, there are plenty of albergues. Pro tip: if you are a seasoned pilgrim doing more than the last 100km, try to stagger your stages so you only walk with the turistas for a few hours in the morning. What I mean by stagger is that you do not sleep in the main recommended end-of-stage towns. By doing this, you get a few quiet hours in the morning (the day trippers don’t get up early) and quiet afternoon. Boente is 6 km away from Melide, and it is far away enough that I had the albergue all to myself!! It also had a tiny, freezing pool where I had a quick dip to remove inflammation.

Monte do Gozo

This is the largest albergue in the Xunta’s portfolio, only 5 km to Santiago. It has 400 beds in a number of pavilions that are opened as needed. They only had one opened when I arrived, exhausted from a 42 km day. It is a Xunta albergue, so it is fairly standard and basic. Since the Monte do Gozo is a massive complex with an open-air auditorium, a private hostel concession, etc., there is a big industrial brewery where I had a great meal -and a beer! Before hitting Santiago the next morning!

What I ❤ about Mallorca

Yes, I have written about Mallorca before, but I just love it, and I am blessed that I get to spend a few days there every Summer.

My family has been going on and off to Mallorca since the late seventies. We always go to the same small beach, and lately to the same hotel.

For me there are three key things that I love about Mallorca:

There is nothing particularly special about the beach, it is a small beach. But it does have a peculiarity: there is an island in the middle of the bay, the cala, which is reachable by a small wooden bridge. The island is mostly taken up by an excellent restaurant. There are a few rocks which you can jump off from. You can also swim to the island, climb the rocks, and jump off. This is my favorite moment of the year; the moment my feet leave the rock and the seconds it takes to reach the water. Bliss.

Mallorca is endowed with plenty of Mediterranean pines. I love going for a run in the forest breathing the wonderful scent. There is an observation tower (many were built during the 15th and 16th centuries to spot and warn of the many pirates that roamed those waters) on a hill next to the beach, and that is my objective, run to the tower and back. The views, the smell, the air, the deafening sound of the cicadas all make for a memorable run.

The third item is a food which you can only really taste in Mallorca (you can buy them elsewhere, but the taste is not the same). The Enseimada.

What are the things that make your special place special? Leave a comment below!

A mystical experience on the Camino

The only good thing about the A Pociña de Muñíz albergue when I stopped for breakfast was that while they ripped me off with a 2 Euro filtered coffee when their real coffee machine sat idle right there, was that they recommended that I take the Soutomeride variant that goes through an ancient forest and by an equally ancient church instead of by the “main” Camino.

So there I was, still fairly early in the morning, walking and meditating as I entered this age-old forest with 350-year-old chestnuts, among long ago ruined buildings covered with every plant imaginable that I arrived at the back of the aforementioned church of San Salvador de Soutomerille. I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of four pre-Romanesque horseshoe windows. Never had I seen such beautiful, old windows on a building, in what appeared a semi abandoned church in the middle of an enchanted forest.

But wait. At that moment as I approached the church taking a picture of the window, I heard an angelical voice coming from inside.

What is going on? How can this old church that probably does not even have electricity, in the middle of a forest have music? Do they have some sort of record player? Spotify? And the voice, it is angelical, and the music, sounds like Hildegard von Bingen. I am mystified, baffled, confused, and ecstatic all at the same time. The singing stops and I slowly walk around the tiny church. There, by the door is Ingrid, a German pilgrim and amateur singer who was singing through a broken panel on the door to check out the acoustics. A very human and perfectly reasonable occurrence, but for me it was a mystical experience.

You do not believe my story? Turn up the volume and watch the video below…

BTW if Ingrid or anybody that knows German pilgrim, amateur singer Ingrid reads this please leave a comment below!

Camino de Santiago #3, the Camino Primitivo

The Camino Primitivo is not only the original Camino, but also the most intense. Yes, it is half the distance of the other “main” Caminos, The Francés and the Norte, but what it lacks in length, it makes up plenty in beauty, ruggedness, physicality, and authenticity.

As you know I had been planning this Camino since I finished the North route last year. It did not disappoint. Here is the story:

Around the year 800, a hermit in Galicia called Paio (or Pelagius) was guided by lights and angels to St. James’ tomb. After telling his local bishop, king Alfonso II “El casto” went to check out what the fuss was about, thereby creating the first pilgrimage. As the Reconquista developed, new routes were established leading to the North and eventually the Francés route, which is today the most popular.

So, I took a train to Oviedo, the ancient capital of Spain during the Moorish occupation. It is a high-speed train only halfway, as the mountains that separate the plateau from the shore has not been breached by the high-speed line yet, making it is a five-hour journey. I arrived in Oviedo just in time to run to the albergue -an old seminary- before it closed!

I shared room with Vicente, a retiree from Valencia whom I would continue to bump into well into the Camino.

Downtown Oviedo is lovely, clean, and full of sculptures! It is so cool! The walk out of town was pleasant enough, and soon you are in the middle of the countryside in total pilgrim mode. The first day is an easy 24Km to Grado, where I had been years ago with my Land Rover. A dip in the frigid river quickly got rid of the day’s hiking inflammation. The albergue is an old horse brokerage house, and there is a cute town square with restaurants and a working church where the priest is happy to give me a pilgrim’s blessing.

The second day brings the first important climbs of the pilgrimage. With hot temperatures and sun, the last climb took a toll, but fortunately I would not have to tackle it first thing next morning.

The next five days are a thing of beauty. I chose the Hospitales variant which takes you up over the tree line for a day of ridging 1000 mts over sea level. Amazing, you do not even miss the cafés! The following three or four days are just as impressive: natural, rugged, and fairly uncivilized. although without the altitude,

About halfway through you cross the grassy paths of Asturias to the dense forests of Galicia. After the city of Lugo with its amazing Roman walls, you have a day of a lot of asphalt, although the views are lovely, your feet pay the price. Then you have a final day of hillside living, before merging into the popular Camino Francés with all the “tourists” doing just the last 100 km (62 miles) to say they have done the Camino. So, the last three days are crowded and rainy on top of that.

But nothing compares to arriving at the plaza del Obradoiro and standing in front of the Cathedral. For me it was 310 km (200 miles) in 11 days.

The Cathedral has been totally renovated and I could finally go down to the crypt to see the tomb of St. James third time is the charm –it had been closed for restoration all my previous times. Lunch was at the amazing Santiago market, where I had the best hake I have ever tasted. With no train spots available that day, a flight to Madrid that afternoon ended my adventure.

How does it compare to the other Caminos? Well, the obvious facts are that while shorter, it is indeed more intense, beautiful, natural, and rugged. I loved every step of it, even the hard climbs and descents.

La casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca is Spain’s greatest 20th C playwright (his poetry is also right up there). He is arguably one of the best in his business, period.

La casa de Bernarda Alba is the play I have read and seen the most. Teaching in Boston, every year I would drive my advanced students to New York city to see Repertorio Español‘s production. I have even seen a version done by illiterate Roma women, I also saw a bilingual production by UNC students while I taught and studied there.

The Teatro Español is the oldest running theatre in Europe (since 1583, 439 years ago!), so imagine my surprise when I found out that I was going to be in Madrid during a run of La Casa de Bernarda Alba! I wasted no time in buying tickets and inviting my girlfriend and my eldest niece.

The theatre is right downtown, in the middle of the aptly named Letras neighborhood (Barrio de las letras) because Cervantes and Lope de Vega and others lived there. My niece and I rode a rental scooter there and we met Celia at the theatre.

The presentation was top notch, possibly the best I’ve seen. But, like other times, the director took some liberties with the text, for example cutting out the maid and beggar woman characters, or cutting out dialogue, which I find insulting to the text and the author, grrr. The setting was very minimalist, basically the patio of Bernarda’s house.

After the play we went to dinner to my grandad’s favorite bar, the Viva Madrid, around the corner from the theatre.

It was a great evening, the show was amazing, and we all had a great time!

What is your favorite play? Tell us in the comments section.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a conference

One of the great benefits of being in Madrid for my Summer break is being able to attend all sorts of events that are difficult to find in South Florida.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a great series of conferences on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the brilliant Mexican Baroque writer (and musician, architect, scientist, and cook!), whom I studied a bit for my PhD at UNC.

The conference was hosted at the great Fundación Juan March (which I have already mentioned here) and the speaker was Esperanza López Parada, professor of Latin American literature at the Complutense University in Madrid.

The first lecture was on Sor Juana’s time, her life, and her writings in general. It is always interesting to learn new facts and perspectives on someone you have studied.

The second lecture focused on the poem Primero Sueño, and it included actor Beatriz Arguello reading the poem. The commentary and the reading were masterfully interwoven, making for an extremely rewarding experience!

López Parada cited my UNC professor (and PhD Committee Member Rosa Perelmuter, which was very moving for me). We even chatted a bit after the conference, which was a nice little plus.

Here is a video López Parada showed us of the adaptation into song of one of Sor Juana’s most famous poems: Hombres necios.

The best present ever, Rome.

Confession time: I had never been to Rome before last week when my girlfriend invited me for a few days. I had been to Milan, Lake Cuomo, and Sicily, I spent a lot of time for work in Florence. But I had never been to Rome.

My mind was blown. The absolute beauty, even in the apparent anarchy and chaos of traffic, mopeds, rental scooters, and tourists. Every little piazza, every big piazza, every sculpture, every cobble stone street, one is surrounded by inebriating beauty.

We stayed at a cute and quirky hotel on Largo de Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was assassinated, and although Celia had been there before, she was still game to walk all over town to the Pantheon, Forum, Jewish neighborhood, Piazza Venezia, Colosseum, Trastevere, Isola Tiberina, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Trevi, Villa Borghese, the Vatican, St. Peter’s, Piazza del Popolo, Castel St. Angelo, and church after church, you name it, we saw it!

We had delicious meals: my first real carbonara, my first real Jewish artichokes, amazing! Excellent coffee, great wines, an Aperol Spritz when evening started, lick your fingers pastries and gelato, you get the idea.

Two memorable experiences were seeing Velazquez’s Inocencio X at the Doria Pamphili Gallery and Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s. Although I was a bit disappointed in the Sistine Chapel: the crowds and the noise make it difficult to enjoy, if on top of that the Vatican cops are yelling “Silenzio!!” and “Move along!!” on their megaphones, then the moment is totally lost, sad.

Overall, I am still in awe. My senses are still aglow with the beauty, tastes, and sounds. I can’t wait to go back, which I should because I dropped a coin in Trevi fountain.

My favorite? Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s, but that might merit its own blog post.

My favorite painting

The Prodigal Son, from my friend Irina

This might sound heretical coming from a Spaniard, but my favorite painting is not by Goya or Velazquez or Picasso or Murillo or Dalí or Miró, it is by Rembrandt (Leiden 1606 – Amsterdam 1669), and it is not even in a Spanish museum.

Unfortunately, I did not realize I was looking at what would be my favorite painting when I saw Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son when I was seventeen and visiting The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with a handful of school friends. I was probably more concerned with looking at pretty girls or wondering about the evening’s plan with cheap Soviet Vodka -ah yes, the year was 1983, with Leonidas Brezhnev in charge of the Soviet Union!

Not long after, my father gave me a book: The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons by Henri Nouwen and I was deeply moved. I understood the painting and it became my favorite. Nouwen, a priest (1932-1996), threads the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) with the painting, covering each detail, each character in Scripture and the painting.

The father’s hands gently placed on the boy’s back, the brother’s jealous, angry stare, the servant, the mother, even another person almost invisible in the background, the son’s broken sandals, the capes, everything has a purpose and a meaning. The painting, painted in Rembrandt’s last years, is as spiritual as they get. It asks for your meditation, it questions our behaviors as sons and daughters. You feel the weight of the father’s hands on your back, their warmth. The painting forgives you.

What was my surprise when I discovered that a poster of the painting hangs in my school’s library, right outside my office! I walk by it many times every day, and every day I am reminded of Rembrandt, of the Prodigal son, and of my trip to Russia many years ago.

Some of my other favorite paintings are Velazquez’s Meninas in the Prado, pretty much anything by Goya, Velazquez´s Inocencio X in the Doria Pamphili Gallery in Rome, every Sorolla painting, I’ve already mentioned Frida Kahlo in this blog, etc., etc., etc., the list goes on and on. But this one wins.

What is your favorite painting? Comment below, I would love to know!

Poster next to my office!

Mahler 5, New World Orchestra, and Michael Tilson Thomas

In a previous post I talked about Mahler’s Symphony Nº 5 (click here for that post). Well, I recently experienced it -one experiences more than listens to Mahler.

It had been about four years since I saw Mahler 5 at the Naples Philharmonic. I had also lived it with the great Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra years ago, but this was a whole other level:

The occasion was Michael Tilson Thomas “retirement” concert by his own New World Symphony. Now, some explanations:

Michael Tilson Thomas is a prodigy musician, Mahler savant, who founded the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami in 1987. He is just one of those visionary geniuses who overflow with talent. He conducted the whole symphony without the sheet music. In fact, his notebook was closed on his stand the whole time in a show of “I have the music, but I do not need it” it was hugely impressive to have around 68 minutes of music for many, many instruments memorized.

The New World Symphony is a place for brilliant young musicians to do a three or four-year fellowship performing lesser-known works, more adventurous programing, and just out there stuff, just do not call it Avant Garde!! This is an orchestra with personality. Every musician is an accomplished and talented artist who is not afraid to make his or her voice heard, it makes a massive difference when you listen to them.

As for Mahler 5, this is the most “Mahlerian” of his works. As I said before, one feels the whole spectrum of emotions on this symphony: from the funeral march that opens, the Adagietto which is arguably one of the loveliest love songs ever, victorious scherzos… it is a roller coaster of emotions.

Well, my dear friend and old student Bill invited me to Michael Tilson Thomas’ farewell concert featuring Gil Shaham playing Joseph Boulogne Concerto n. 9 in G major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8 (c. 1775) as an appetizer and then Mahler 5…

As an added bonus, another one of my old students, Margeaux was there playing the violin!! I had not seen her since she graduated high school twelve years ago. I caught up with her at the artists’ exit and managed to say hi and get a picture with her!!

What an amazing experience to see Mahler 5 with Michael Tilson Thomas and his New World Symphony, and with one of my old students in the orchestra! Memorable.