Well my Naples adventure did not pan out as expected. So after two years I have moved to Princeton, New Jersey.

The root problem is that Naples has a very skewed demographic. Naples is the preferred spot for retired, wealthy, white (read conservative) Midwesterners (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa) to retire or semi-retire, so the population is them and the people who serve them. It is very difficult for a middle-aged, middle class, educated, single person to thrive. In fact, other than some fantastic colleagues, I did not make any friends in two years. And I am not a totally antisocial fellow: I go to church, volunteer, go to the gym, to yoga, to the Symphony, to the bar, the cigar lounge, coffee, I lived “Downtown”, etc.

So, yes, I am grossly generalizing, but at the end of the day that was my problem. I was not happy personally, professionally, socially, culturally. I was troubled by the lack of diversity and the normalization of this lack of diversity. To be fair, Naples sits on land stolen from the Everglades, the biggest sub-tropical jungle in the world, talk about environmental disasters! What it means is that it is very new, nobody lived there until the mass production of air conditioning in the middle of the 20th C, (although native Americans did live there). It does have a gorgeous beach, however, and I will miss running on it, in shorts, in the middle of January!

But enough of the griping and whining, that was the past.

I have accepted a position to teach French and Spanish at The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey. Mr. Hun, or rather, Prof. Hun was a professor of math at Princeton who dedicated his free time to helping and tutoring kids with math, (apparently including F. Scott Fitzgerald). He was so successful with his side gig that it became his main gig and he started a school in 1914. Princeton is like all good college towns a thriving, dynamic, diverse, young and restless town – 45 minutes from New York City!

I will be living on campus but not in a dorm, although I will have residential staff responsibilities, I will also coach the Girls Varsity Tennis team! I could not be more excited for this new chapter of my life. But first, Summer in Spain with the family: Finishing The Camino de Santiago that I started last summer, going to Mallorca with my nieces and nephew, and hanging out in the country.

 

The biggest collectors of Dalí where Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who founded the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg – the one in Florida, not the original one. My Spanish V class went on a field trip to visit it.

This year in  Spanish V we studied early 20th Century Peninsular literature and culture. It was an exciting course: we started with late 19th C. Naturalism, reading Emila Pardo Bazán’s short stories, and moved on to Miguel de Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir, a proto existentialist text. (To read more about Unamuno and Existentialism see my previous post about Existentialism and the Quijote), we saw Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, while studying and reading about Surrealism. We read Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry  and talked about the Second Spanish Republic and how that led to the Spanish Civil War.

Our visit to St. Petersburg was fun. We took a van for the two hour drive North (with the obligatory stop at Starbucks to start the road trip). Once there, the Museum had our visit very well prepared. We explored the galleries and the students each presented on a work they had studied and talked a bit about Dalí. Outside the museum we walked around the gardens and labyrinth. From there we went a couple of blocks to hip, thriving, Central Ave in Downtown St. Pete, where the students  ordered their lunch – in Spanish – at Red Mesa Mercado, a street side taquería. While the students enjoyed some free time to explore the area, I enjoyed a nice coffee, then we drove back to Seacrest.

The trip was a cultural and pedagogical success, we all learned about Dalí and discovered a little bit of wonderful St. Petersburg – the one in Florida, not the original one.


Every year, the Science Department at Seacrest organizes a collaboration with the University of Miami  Shark Research team to go on a shark tagging sortie. This year I joined them!

The day starts at 6:00 am driving a van full of students to Key Biscayne. If I had to define Miami with just one word it would be: Traffic. But we made it with time to stop at Starbucks for some breakfast.

The research vessel is a scuba boat (Diver’s Paradise of Key Biscayne) run by the great French/Cuban Captain Eric who moonlights as an Organizational Behavior Professor at FIU. The nuts and bolts of the tagging are simple. Ten “drum lines” are dropped with big chunks of tuna on the hooks, then you go back to check if the sharks have bitten. Sharks need to swim to breathe, so the hooks have an ingenious system to allow them to swim in circles before being tagged. The hook also has a timer so the scientists can know how long it’s been on the hook. Once on board the students have to take various measurements, check the nictitating membrane for stress and reflexes, clip a tiny skin sample from the fin to check the shark’s health and tag it! The grad students also take a blood sample. It is all very professional and humane, I was impressed. Students also study water samples for quality.

Our first specimen was a small blacknose shark, caught near Stiltsville – a series of houses on the water built during prohibition – you guessed it – on stilts, where folks would drink and party. You have to love American hypocrisy! Some are still strong enough to host raves.

The day goes on checking lines, dropping lines, hanging out on the boat, chatting with the U Miami grad students, Eric the Captain, students, and other teachers. It is fantastic to spend a school day where the classroom is the boat!

Then we caught a nurse shark. These are fascinating! Out of the water they breathe on the water they have in their system making a “suckling” noise that gives them their name, their skin feels like sandpaper, and their color is also unique.

After a long day on the boat we hit Miami traffic again to cross Alligator Alley back to Naples. Yuck.

As an educator, this is the kind of experience we always want for our students, where they are participating, helping graduate students work on their research. This is not a sterile classroom experiment, this is field research to study shark stress levels, ecosystem impact, shark immunology, etc. this is real life!

Notes and fun facts: The majority of sharks are under 5 feet long,  you can purchase shark research swag here: https://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/shop

 

 

My first film review was in high school in London in the early 80s for Casablanca. It is my favorite movie because it has all the ingredients I love in the perfect quantities: simple but effective plot, suspense, love, even humor, great cast – Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre… great music, great script, it is full of memorable quotes and one liners. It is all around awesome.

As some of you know I do not own a TV, but I do like my movies, so I have a big screen and projector set up with surround sound. You see, I am an old fashioned old man and I still watch DVDs.  I love watching movies, although I don’t get to see as many as I would like.

It took me over a year of watching Craig’s List like a hawk until I found a decent digital projector that fit my meager teacher salary. In fact it was my last long excursion on Rocinante before the accident. I rode to Venice (Florida) to pick it up. It so happened that my acquisition of a projector coincided with the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, so I celebrated it by watching it a couple of times!

In case you have not seen it yet, go see it.

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”

“…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”

“...I was misinformed.”

 

 

 

Over the years I have mentioned Richard Rohr in different posts, at different lengths, but I had never dedicated a full post to him and his teachings, vamos!

I was introduced to Richard Rohr’s daily emails in 2012 by my therapist in Chapel Hill. I was immediately hooked on his wisdom and totally identified with his belief that we are all part of the same universe, we are made of the same material as plants and rocks and stardust therefore we are one with the universe. This overarching thought then breaks down into various themes such as the importance of the third element in the Trinity as Dark Matter braiding everything together. Or the importance of less is more, of cleansing, minimalism, or self emptying – Kenosis in ancient Greek.

Rohr’s daily email is a refreshing spiritual cleanse, a daily reboot button, a wake up call, a metaphysical slap on the face, and I love it. While more spiritual than religious, Rohr is solidly based on scripture and specially the mystics like Teresa of Avila or Juan de la Cruz. What he presents is a deep understanding of God and love in it’s simple, purest form, devoid of politics, dogmas, or centuries of misunderstanding.

The goal is simple: eliminate the ego. The path is somewhat harder: it requires self examination, meditation, living in the now, the present, realizing that we do not need stuff, power, etc. I could go on and on about Richard Rohr, the impact he has had on my life, but it might be better if I leave you with a quote. One could almost take any from his texts as they are all filled with awesome wisdom, but for now this:

I am convinced that “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is ignorant killing, and as we see today, we are destroying the world through our ignorance. We need to recognize our own personal and structural violence. The death instinct always comes from people who are unconscious, unaware, and indeed do not know what they are doing. Now we can hear Jesus on the cross and know why he said, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). When we love, we do know what we are doing! Love, if it is actually love, is always a highly conscious act. We do evil when we slip into unconsciousness.

I am writing this only a few days before Christmas, so consider this my message of hope and love to you. For my present you can sign up to for Rohr’s free Daily Meditation. Enjoy.

Richard Rohr

One of Rohr’s many books

I bought Rocinante brand new at Boston Harley Davidson in the spring of 2006. We had moved to the US a year earlier and I had no life, I hated my job teaching at a rough public school, had no friends, was still mourning the loss of my company that I had to close down in Spain, and so on. I have been riding since I was 14, so I figured a motorcycle would be a good hobby and maybe even a way to put some adventure in my life and our marriage. Well, the second part did not work out, but Rocinante saved my life. All of a sudden I had something to look forward to, something to tinker with, and something that offered me a great feeling of freedom and adventure. I rode to school every morning, even when it was only a couple of miles away.

My decision was easy, living in the US I wanted an American bike, that meant a Harley-Davidson. But I still wanted a quick, agile, not expensive bike, not a big, fat, expensive couch. The choice was clear, a Sportster.

Rocinante as a name came easy: I love Don Quixote, and his horse was Rocinante.

In the summer of 2011 I rode from Boston to Austin, Texas and back visiting universities for my PhD. It was that trip that gave birth to this blog, so you just have to scroll back to read all about that amazing, life changing adventure.

Rocinante and I moved to North Carolina in 2012, and we explored that state. We checked out the beautiful Carolina shore, it was Rocinante’s first time on a ferry!! Then we moved to Florida, we only managed one quick excursion to Miami, but we had so many more planned.

On September 25 returning home from school, an 80-year-old lady turned her white Lexus SUV left into my green light without seeing me and I crashed into her. I flew and rolled. Fortunately the accident happened near the EMT station, so they put me in an ambulance and took me to hospital in a jiffy! I suffered a shattered pelvis, with its accompanying trauma, and a broken thumb and annular finger. I spent three days in the hospital. Of course my mom got on the first flight out of Madrid. As I write this I have three pins holding my thumb together, while the pelvis and finger heal on their own. With time, I will recuperate.

Rocinante on the other hand will not. Her front fork was destroyed to the point where repair would be more expensive than the value of the bike.

Those are the facts. The emotions on the other hand cannot be easily put on a blog post. Even if I was just going to make a quick market run for a baguette, the anticipation of riding was exciting. We loved making week-end lunch runs, normally to Five Guys. The longer the ride the more exciting the anticipation. Riding to school every day in Florida was a blessing; a way to really wake up on the way there, and a way to leave it all behind on the way home. Longer excursions left me with a deep sense of relaxation. You see, on a bike you are 100% immersed: you hear, smell, feel, see everything, something that can never happen in the air-conditioned, music filled cocoon of a car. Not only are you immersed but you are 100% engaged with the bike, the road, the surroundings, the traffic. I saw Joyce Wheeler approach the light, it was the fact that she slowed down and stopped before turning left that signaled to me that she had seen me. I fell for the most popular motorcycle accident like a stupid rookie.

I will miss Rocinante, I miss her every day, every day that I have to drive to school, to pick up some ice-cream. I miss the engine rumbling, I miss patting the gas tank like Don Quixote would have done on Rocinante’s side. I hope to get a new Sportster as soon as I can. Although no bike will replace the 11 years of emotions on Rocinante.

Three months have passed since I finished my Camino for the year. I have had time to think and process my pilgrimage. In the meantime, a student from UNC interviewed me about my experience on The Camino, which helped me to vocalize my feelings about the experience.

My conclusion is that The Camino is what the world should be like. Pilgrims are generous,  considerate, and kind, we are all fairly equal, united in the task of walking to Santiago. Add to this the human and humane pace of walking, allowing you to talk to others, to enjoy the beautiful scenery, there are no unwanted interruptions, there is no need for technology. There are no hidden interests, we are all just walking and that is pretty much all there is to it. You can walk faster or slower, you can stop wherever you want. It really is a parallel world that is as much of a real world utopia as you can find.

I recently read this passage from Thomas Merton, a real modern-day mystic, and I immediately connected it to my Camino experience:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God . . . became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.

Unfortunately The Camino ends, and one returns to the world we have created. We return to noise and pollution, but even worse: to rude and aggressive people, to rushing, to everything we have constructed that separates us from peace, and beauty, and truth.