By the numbers

Altercations: 1 with a parking valet at a Nashville hotel.
Animals: See full report on flora and fauna.
Gas tank fills: 32
Total miles: 4.745
Average Miles per Gallon: 59 (max 68, min 43)
Longest one day ride: 500 (Texarkana to Nashville)
Shortest one day ride: 15 (Durham to Chapel Hill)
Average daily ride: 279 miles
Average price per fill up: $10
Cheapest gas (premium, I pamper Rocinante): $3.43, in Boston.
Most expensive gas: Westport CT, $4.99
Total money spent on gas: $325
Total fuel gallons used: 83.89
Tickets (parking): 2 University of Alabama – they forgive the first one. NYC, for street cleaning.
Tickets (speeding): 0 thanks Rocinante
States visited: CT, NY, NJ, Del, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MI, LA, TX, Ark, Tenn, 15
Air filters: 2 Mississippi, Massachusetts
Oil change: 1 Houston
Lost: 3 bandanas (Houston), 1 toothbrush (New Orleans)

Final leg. NYC to Boston

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After another great breakfast with Mark, this time at the Popover Café, it was time for my departure. Not without first realizing that it was street cleaning day and that I had a $65 ticket waiting for me. I guess one ticket in 5000 miles is ok, I should not complain.

It was a beautiful day, so I enjoyed driving up Riverside drive up to the Bronx. From there the pleasant Merritt parkway all the way to New Haven. Once in Massachusetts it was back roads all the way home. A little bit like Dory in Finding Nemo, I was surprised every time I saw a Massachusetts license plate! In Framingham, at Paramount HD I stopped to say hi and for a final air filter change. The guys were great and after buying the filter, they replaced it for free. Thanks guys!

Finally after a mere four hours, 209 miles from NY I was home.

Pantaleon y las visitadoras.

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Mario Vargas Llosa’s Pantaleon y las visitadoras was the perfect book for the trip and I finished it today, a day short of the expected end of the trip. The epistolary style synched perfectly with my traveling and the humor lightened up my time. The book portrays Latin American corruption at its best. The fast paced tempo worked well for my reading intervals. Bravo!

When I was in Houston, David gave me his well read and well worn copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A book I have been wanting to read since it was recommended to me by an English teacher in high school. I started it on the subway today and I’m hooked. I feel like I could have written it if I knew how to write.

NYC revisited

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Mark treated me to a traditional Jewish breakfast (white fish, salmon, eggs, bagels, etc.) at Barney Greengrass. Then after helping him tidy up his apartment, I walked to Fordham to have lunch with my dear friend and old student, Catherine Keller, ’10. We had a great chat and a great meal at a traditional midtown diner. It’s so rewarding to see these kids mature and see their values and criteria grow  After dropping off Catherine it was off to Mark’s gallery in SoHo.

I finally had a decent espresso at The Roasting Plant across the street from Mark’s. After three weeks of American coffee, after three weeks of people thinking Starbucks makes a good espresso.

Dinner was at the übertrendy Barrio Chino a tiny Mexican place around the corner from Mark’s. Dessert was a chocolate coconut cookie thing from the coffee shop next door. And from there to his friend’s triplex attic apartment at the Ansonia, a grand Upper West side building where Babe Ruth lived. We had a lovely glass of wine and a nice chat.

Day 19 – U of Virginia, the victory of Neoclassicism, the best ride of my life part II, NYC

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After a fabulous breakfast at The White Spot, a culinary mecca in Charlottesville. I headed to the Spanish Dept. My first contact was with Zac, a supercool grad student who have me the “scoop” on UVA. After that I went to see Prof. Andrew Anderson. One would think that after visiting 11 universities I would have become more comfortable talking to these emminences grisses, but no, I choke up, blabber, stutter, and mumble like a kid in the headmaster’s office. Despite the fact that he was really nice, understanding and patient, considering I just walked into his office in what we used to denomonate in the business world a “cold call”.

The campus is really head and shoulders. The students super nice, an undergrad basically walked me to the Student Center, way out of her way. And Charlottesville is a village, but a really cool village.

From there I backtracked to the legendary Blue Ridge Mountains, to the historical Shenandoha National Park, to the epic Skyline drive, basically a road that runs over 100 miles on the crest of the mountains in the park. Breathtaking is a literal description of the ride. Throw in three deer conspiring against me by crossing the road in front of me and it becomes double breathtaking. It took me three hours to cover the 100 miles. Rocinante and  I where thrilled and loved this end of college visits treat.

From there it took an hour to DC, where due to rush hour traffic it took another hour to do a quarter of the ring road. Then it was a straight blast to Mark Miller’s Upper West Side apartment, where in his classic hospitable style I had a huge and delicious Greek salad waiting for me. Mark, you are the man!

U Tenn, more great riding, the cleansing power of riding in turns, Davy Crockett and earthquakes.

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Rocinante slept in the hotel’s garage, lucky her. Breakfast was one of the best ones of the trip at Pete’s! University of Tennessee seems like a great place and I had a great chat with Prof. Nuria Cruz-Cámara. It looks like the especialist in Siglo de Oro is retiring soon, so I must keep an eye on that situation.

From there it was back on the road. I took a detour to explore the mythical Smoky Mountains for some awesome riding. When you are riding in the turns it requires 100% of your concentration. You need to see where the turn is going, your speed and banking have to be in synch with the turn. Too slow and it’s boring, too fast and you hurt yourself. So there is a sweet spot. While you are there you can’t be thinking about the layers of narration in Don Quixote.

There I am, on the zone, linking the turns, enjoying the riding, climbing into the Smoky Mountains, when right there is the biggest baked bean factory, I’ve ever seen. Bush baked beans, amazing! I stopped to check out the museum and gift shop. After a deer mom and her baby decided to cross the road right in front of me I returned to the highway, for the rest of the day. Lunch was at Davy Crockett’s birthplace! Delicious pulled pork sandwich. They had a TV going with Fox news going nuts over an earthquake somewhere in Virginia. I love the alarmism. A few miles down the road I actually had to stop for a siesta. Riding through Virginia was impressive, hills and mountains all around for hours and hours, it actually is a bit of a strange feeling, somewhat disquieting.

With no humidity, it cooled down in the evening. I put on my jacket and even my baclava. The last hour approaching Charlottesville was freezing, I had to alternate hugging the engine with my hands for warmth.

I finally made it to University of Virginia. It is beautiful, Jefferson designed the campus which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I’m excited about my meeting tomorrow, but sad it is my last visit.

The best ride of my life. Day 17, Leg 11 Vanderbilt, Nashville to Knoxville.

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Chatting with Liliana, the wonderful coordinator of the Spanish Dept. I fell in love with the Vanderbilt PhD program. Then I met a couple of professors and I love the vibe. Lisie  Michel, Walnut Hill ’09 being the wonderful, sweet, great girl that she is treated me to a coffee and a tour of the campus, which is beautiful. It was great catching up with her.

After 36 long, boring hours in Nashville I was happy to get out of town.

Now, the ideal time to go on a road trip, as we learn in the classic, highly informative, almost documentary movie Animal House is when one’s situation is desperate, but one is not ready to give up (“Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Asks John Belushi). A more politically correct way would be in Van Morrison’s words, during a “period of transition”. So there I am, and I am leaving Nashville, after over two weeks on the road, it hits me, what the Greeks call a catharsis, and I am terribly sad about all the changes in my life. An hour out of town I stop at a truck rest area and call my brother Theo in London, and he expertly and on his easy way calms me down. Some chocolate and water, a full tank of gas and I’m recovered for what is the best ride of my life.

About an hour out of Nashville I go off the highway and into the back roads. These are the ancient, rolling hills of Tennessee. Farms, and forests and crops and ponds and valleys and hills. Sometimes I thought I was in Switzerland, others it was very evident I was in rural Tennessee. There was a disproportionate number of bikers on the road, proving that I was on the right road, I did not want it to end. But then I arrived in Knoxville and I fell on love with it! I can’t wait to visit the school tomorrow!

Day 16 Off. Nashville

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We had thunderstorms all night. I got up early and went down the street to have a coffee with my friend Karen who was dropping off her daughter at Vanderbilt. After (a free) breakfast back at the hotel I went to a fantastic mass at the Nashville cathedral of the Incarnation. It is a great and beautiful church, there was great music from the organ and trumpet and a singer with an angelical voice. Of course the theme today was: “The ways of the Lord are inexcrutable”. The cathedral sits back to back with Vanderbilt so I went for a nice walk around the beautiful campus full of grand old trees while I had a long conversation with my brother Theo in London.

Nashville has a full scale reproduction of the Parthenon, making the city “the Athens of the South”. I went to check it out. Still, I prefer the original.

Making the most of my hotel deal I had a great workout in the gym and a dip in the pool, before doing my homework for my new school BB&N, about “digital natives”. Then it was time for laundry and ironing while watching old movies on TV.

I walked to downtown Nashville: 95% tourist trap, 5% kitschy cool. I did have a decent burger at Mojo’s and an ice cream (chocolate if you don’t know me that well) at Mike’s.  Two miles walk back later I was at the hotel. I’m happy Rocinante got a rest today, I love that bike.