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.

 

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Every time I heard the name Irma mentioned in September, I thought of one of my father’s favorite films, Irma La Douce (1963) by the great Billy Wilder with the equally greats Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. Of course, every time I had to realize we were not talking about the film.

I have lived in the US on and off for many years and survived snow blizzards in New England, and the occasional storm that would make it all the way up to New York or Boston, even North Carolina, but I had never lived through a tropical storm proper. Enter Irma.

A needed skill in the US is the capacity to parse the always fear mongering news. One needs to develop highly critical thinking in order to live a reasonably fear free life in this country of killer bees, zombies, or swamp things. Admittedly, this is difficult when a Category 5 hurricane is thundering it’s way to your town. Irma destroyed Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles, but it took about a week to skirt Puerto Rico, Hispaniola. and Cuba. So I did not know what to expect.

Then there is the cone of possible trajectories, this is the cornucopia shape that stems from where the storm is. The West Coast of Florida featured prominently on most of those “cones”. Fear was creeping in. Tuesday before the expected landing of the storm on Florida, school announced closing thursday and friday so families could evacuate. But on wednesday the school population had significantly thinned out as people started their exodus.

All along I planned to stay home. I live on a second floor apartment, how bad could it be?

The days before the storm where a mix of utterly quiet and busy preparation. I stocked enough food to feed a Cavalry Division, but I also went on quiet walks on the empty beach and around what looked and felt like a ghost town.

The Saturday of Irmageddon* arrived and I was busy preparing the apartment for the strike.

There was also the storm surge to consider. Storm surge is not quite a tsunami, but apparently the water level of the ocean, and in our case the “bay” rises. All along the rise had been maxed out at 10 feet. Armed with a tape measure I measured the height of my apartment relative to the ground, 10 feet, I was fine. What was not fine was that a. The fantastic sliding doors/windows of the apartment did not have storm shutters – or any kind of shutters – and b. They were now saying up to 15 feet storm surge. Florida being as flat as flat can be, I figured that if the ocean surged by 15 feet and I am less than a mile from the beach I would surely get hit. But wait, the “Bay” side of the apartment is literally only a few feet away.

I was pondering all this when a good friend called. She had not put plywood to protect her windows and now needed tools and help to protect her windows. We cut a deal: I would help her out and then stay at her place with her parents and her daughter to pass the storm, as she lives further inland.

With limited tools and with the storm and darkness encroaching, we had to improvise a patchwork quilt of plywood pieces to fit each window, . We finished late, exhausted and soaked by the rain.

Sunday started easy enough, some rain, easy breakfast, and then power blinked and left. It was time for the main show, and what a show it was! She howled and ripped and roared for a few hours. It felt like when you are standing on the platform at a station and a train blows by you: same noise, same rush, same wind, same feeling of getting sucked into the void.

And then the eye came. It was surreal. Quiet. Peaceful. We ventured outside, the yard was flooded, the whole street was flooded, leaves, branches, trees strewn everywhere.

The second part of the storm was not half as bad as the first. Apparently, the storm had picked up some dry air which was breaking it up, causing its eventual disintegration.

Monday morning arrived sunny, warm, quiet and calm. A friend came in his massive SUV to check on us and he gave me a ride back home. The devastation was everywhere: flooding, fallen trees by the hundreds, roofs ripped off of buildings like the top of a can of sardines, debris everywhere, signs, including every single street sign ripped out of the ground.

My apartment had only a trickle of water that had come in through the old sliding doors. Not bad at all. That same afternoon power came back, maybe too soon. With everything being wet, very wet, when the power came back on, the water must have caused some sort of short circuit. I was walking outside my apartment to pick up Rocinante from the municipal parking lot, when I smelled the acrid smoke of burning metal. When I finally discovered the smoke coming out of the electric closet I called 911. Within minutes the firemen where able to keep the fire from spreading. Phew!!

The destruction from the storm was overwhelming: trees, roofs, signs, trailers, if Irma could move it, she did. The first wave of street cleanup happened within the first couple of days after the storm. Today a month and a day after the storm, Naples has electricity and water, but the cleanup is going to take well into 2018.

 

 

* Vinnie Monzone

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene ii)

Years ago my brother Theo in London sent me some links to a famous butcher in Dorset called Balson, which happens to be the oldest business in England. No, I do not have any relation to the Balson family of Dorset. There is also an American author called Balson, and a few other Balsons around. Nope, no relation.

One of the hobbies my father picked up when he retired was genealogy. He set out to investigate his family’s origins, and he took it quite seriously. He took a course at the prestigious Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) and he proudly displayed his diploma and class picture on his home office wall.

He traveled around Spain visiting churches to gather data from birth, death and wedding certificates. He even went to Salt Lake City in Utah to research the Mormon genealogy vault / database where billions of family histories are stored – they denied him access. He still managed to research his family into the mid 18th Century before losing track. Not bad. His main findings were that the family originated in rural Lerida,

the area between Barcelona and Zaragoza. The original first name was Anton, which through the generations became Antonio – my grandad’s and uncle’s name. The family moved to Zaragoza by the 1800s and to Madrid by the early 20th Century, where my grandad settled and created a family.

So long story short: No butchers, no authors, but still an awesome family heritage.

A few years ago I wrote about the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, a hidden gem in the big city. A small, personal sized museum, which proves that there is no relationship between size and quality. A few blocks away is another such gem, the Museo Lázaro Galdiano. I re-visited it recently with my sister.

Hidden in plain sight, in the middle of busy Calle Serrano, better known for its shopping than for museums (although the Archeological museum is down the street). The museum in housed, as you might have guessed, in what used to be Lázaro Galdiano’s house. It is a big house, a huge house. In Spanish we call it a palacete, in English, you borrow the Italian word palazzo, at any rate, it is big. And it is full of wonderful art. From ancient Greek and Roman nick knacks to Goya and Velazquez paintings. Each gorgeous room is full of wonderful pieces: medieval art, paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Murillo, jewelry, weapons, ceramics, furniture, sculptures, etc. The house itself is a work of art, beautiful wooden floors, painted ceilings, central staircase, and gardens. It also has the obligatory gift shop, and a research library.

My sister Rocky and I were pleasantly surprised that here and there were pieces of modern, contemporary art. Call us old-fashioned, but in general, in contrast to the art surrounding it, the modern pieces did not measure up.

Finally, the museum publishes Goya, a serious art/academic magazine. Of course, my dear friend and Dissertation Director, Irene Gómez Castellano, has published an article in it.

While the lines at the Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofia are discouragingly long, you can generally just walk straight into the Lázaro Galdiano, and walk around at your own leasurely pace, and definitely get your money’s worth. When you finish, you are on glamorous Calle Serrano, and you can stroll to get a coffee or a meal!