Why a Ph.D.? (Revisited)

After the first year of my doctorate program, and with a couple of weeks of distance to reflect and let it all sink in, it is time to come up with some road markers, some conclusions:

The program is everything I was expecting for and much, much more.

I have learnt so much, I have “discovered” Medieval and 18th C. Spanish Lit. – where have I been hiding for my whole life? Part of the secret to my discovery has been having Profs. Domínguez, and Gómez-Castellano as my teachers. They are the real deal: knowledgeable, patient, encouraging, understanding, I could not have wished for better role models.

My colleagues are also top, top shelf, both in the Masters and Ph.D. programs, in Spanish French and Italian: Sam, Ruben, Thomas, Anne, Emily, Miguel, Zully, Andrew, Rob, Sarah, Drew, Massi, K-N, Martina, Gloria, et cetera, et cetera.

The other side of the coin, my teaching experience has also been out of sight. I have taught three fantastic classes of Intermediate level Spanish language, 203. I have been very impressed with my students, a great, diverse, fun, brilliant mix. It has been a thrill teaching – even at 8:00 am. We had great discussions, games, learning moments, fun and end of the term breakfasts at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, where the students ordered their breakfasts in Spanish!

Beyond the in-house academic powerhouses, I have met people I never expected to meet: David Gies – Jedi Master of 18th Century Spanish Lit. (UVA) and Ana Rueda, the grande dame of 18th Century Spanish Lit. (UK) (who I even had the chance to pick up at the airport and have a drink before a lecture!). I also met novelist and journalist Rosa Montero and Spanish choreographer and ex-dancer Nacho Duato, not bad for a village. And speaking of dance, I saw The Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham and Marie Chouinard dance companies, the Monteverdi and Cleveland Orchestras, heard Verdi’s Aida, and over a dozen different takes on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, et cetera, et cetera.

Yes, the first semester was mayhem, and yes the last week of the Spring semester was Hell, but all in all,Magnolias Ale and Ruben Sunrise going to class Sunrise going to class a very positive experience.

Hallowed Boards

Wollen GymOnly a bit intimidatingThe RockHallowed boardsIt only took me a year to build up the courage to go down to shoot some baskets at the old Woollen Gym. I go there often but I head straight for the swimming pool. This time, at the cage, instead of asking for a towel, I borrowed a basketball. First surprise: every ball has a name, it is written with a Sharpie marker. The one I got, “The Rock” just also happens to be the nickname I have for my little sister Rocio, Rocky, coincidence? I think not. Then into the huge gym. There are about 20 courts and most of them were full. I knew enough not to try to play with anyone, as I suck, and I have not played with any consistency since I left Spain in 2004. So I kept going until I got to the very far end where the last six courts were empty, enough for me to make a fool of myself without embarrassing myself – or the school, too much.

I played around for an hour, breaking into a sweat, thinking of and missing all the great people that have helped me and inspired me in this game, visualizing the UNC greats that might have played on that same court: Michael Jordan, Rasheed Wallace, et al. A great physical and emotional workout, or anabolic cardio as Stjepan would call it.

First year Ph.D. essays

As  promised, here are my essays from my first year of Ph.D. Warning, Caveat Emptor, Aviso a navegantes: These are ROUGH DRAFTS, BORRADORES, no edits, no corrections, unfiltered, organic, and full of impurities (errors), read at your own risk, you have been warned, these writings are not fit to publish (yet).

El prólogo a las Novelas amorosas y ejemplares de María de Zayas y Sotomayor

Torrente a XX Century Quixote

JORGE MANRIQUE y Alsonso de Cervantes

Early Modern Prologues


End of year excursion!

Kitty Hawk

Home of Maceo Parker

Home of Maceo Parker

A room with a view Fort Macon Fort Macon Beaufort cemetery Beaufort cemetery Beaufort cemetery Beaufort cemetery Our darling Maud God is love Beaufort cemetery

Notice the glove quickly melting on the exhaust!

Notice the glove quickly melting on the exhaust!

Blackbeard Ferry Cigar Time R's first boat ride! Leaving Cedar Point Prof. Dr. Thomas Ritter Von Spalter 18 15 Ocracoke beach 2nd ferry 10 9 7 View from Hatteras hotel! View from Hatteras room! Wright bros Kitty Hawk Kitty Hawk

After a grueling end of the semester and academic year, Rocinante and I needed a cleansing walkabout. So hit the road! Tuesday May 14 after a great meeting with my thesis director and packing up, I headed East. Getting out of the Triangle (the area composed by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) is unpleasant because of all the “urban” traffic – at least by North Carolina standards. But we soon cleared Raleigh and were on our way on secondary roads. I was wearing a long sleeve T-shirt, but the temperature was just low for only that. A light windbreaker I brought along for it’s space and weight saving proved useless as it bubbled up and flapped like an amateur’s sail on a boat, so I was cursing my wardrobe choice when lo and behold I passed a Harley dealership, which was part of a huge outlet mall in Smithfield, where Ava Gardner was born! Fortunately I could buy nothing in the outlets as there is no space on Rocinante’s back pack! With a graduate student’s budget and not needing a full jacket, I found a cheap, and unfortunately hideous denim jacket, that was exactly what I needed. While I was there I picked up a pair of gloves since both pairs I was carrying were old and broken. Thus, I resumed my ride in comfort and warmth!

As I neared the shore, the roads became smaller and smaller and the ride more and more beautiful, passing tiny towns like Kinston, birthplace of legendary sax player Maceo Parker. A beautiful ride through CroatanNational Forest marked the end of my ride as I crossed the Intracoastal Waterway into Emerald Isle where my old student and friend Anastasia Papanicolaou was waiting to take me to dinner. And what a dinner it was, fresh, fresh seafood at The Crab Shack. It was great to catch up and share a good laugh with Anastasia. She recommended a great Greek owned place for breakfast, and it was spot on! After a veggie omelet and delicious French toast I enjoyed a leisurely ride up to Fort Macon, a beautifully restored, tiny Civil War fort. Back on the mainland is gorgeous Beaufort, apart from a cute downtown, it has an alluring Neo-Gothic burial ground with all sorts of curious tombstones, it was a fascinating visit. A superb ride through Carteret island? peninsula? through the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge led me to Cedar Point. There is little in Cedar Point: a nice wooden sign (see photo), a convenience store, a post office and the ferry terminal. Since last Wednesday it also has my sunglasses which I must have dropped while taking a photo, actually a photo of Rocinante’s exhaust burning a hole through one of my brand new gloves that slid from the seat! At any rate, after a bad burrito from the convenience store I at least enjoyed a cigar waiting for the ferry to Ocracoke Island.

Waiting in line four other bikers showed up, and as is usual, we soon hit it off and became fast friends. Dr. Thomas Ritter Von Spalter was great! He got his PhD in German Lit in the 70s, taught high school for years and now works for the PA State Police, he is a member of the Blue Knights (the police bike club) and rides a 105 anniversary Electra Glide which he calls the “Duracell battery” for the two tone paint job, he went to school with Pele! We had a great chat and he is a great fellow.

Rocinante was excited for her first boat ride, and it did not disappoint. It was a sunny two and a half hour crossing into the cute village of Ocracoke, a 14 mile stretch of road with beach on either side led to… another ferry. This time a half hour ride into Hatteras. The ferry personnel saw me in line and found a spot for me, last one on board. The ride included a beautiful sunset, which also made the crossing a bit chilly. We arrived at Hatteras at night. I found a cheap room at the Breakwater, but my room was not made, so they upgraded me to a great room for the same price. They also have a great restaurant where I had a delicious seafood dinner.

Thursday was a beautiful ride all the way up the Outer Banks, miles and miles of great sunshine and beaches. The last highlight of the ride was stopping at Kitty Hawk for the Wright brothers memorial. What a great stop! I saw the place of the first real flight, a great explanation of that flight by a park ranger and I climbed the hill to where the brothers practiced with gliders. It was a very exciting experience. From there it was a beautiful, long, and sad trip back home to Chapel Hill.

The beauty of motorcycle riding is how each mile peels off a layer of accumulated “crud”, it cleanses you like a facial scrub. I know I have said this before, but it is just you and the bike, the engine drone, no radio, no music, no climate control, no cup holders, no snacks. You have to be alert and in the moment, looking down the road to see any changing conditions, scanning ahead at the sides of the road for whatever, concentrating on the turns, it requires total focus which means you cannot be thinking about too much else – without crashing. So it is a bit of a purge, each mile adds perspective, relativizes everything. As I write this it has been raining in Chapel Hill for the last three days and Rocinante is here next to me in my living room, a quiet companion who understands, and who has been there with me every moment.

Year one Ph.D.: Check

Well, that wraps up the first year of my Ph.D. program and of my course work. Now I “only” have to read until my eyes bleed for my exams next Spring. This semester was overall much better than the Winter term. I took three courses: Early Modern Spanish Women Writers, with Rosa Perelmuter – a luminary in the field, and an Independent Study on Medieval Narratives with the iconic Prof. Domínguez. For my third course I took 18th Century Spanish Lit. with Irene Gómez-Castellano – and it has changed my life. Not only did I learn about the Enlightenment (something that had been in the back of my mind since I read Voltaire’s Candide at the American School in London, and then reread often) and the Romantics, but I discovered Padre Isla, a fairly unknown Jesuit writer who wrote the “best seller” of the 18th Century: Fray Gerundio de Campazas. I also taught two sections of Spanish 203, an intermediate level class. I loved it! I had great kids and we had a great time, including the cockroach that climbed up a girl’s dress. Pobre Raquel!
The end of the term was extremely stressful. One is normally 100% occupied with schoolwork during the year, so having to take two exams, write three twenty page essays, give and correct about forty exams, plus all the end of the year wrap up stuff was beyond hectic. For a week I did not work out or shave! I hope that the first year of the Ph.D. program is the baptism by fire test, that it is the hardest to juggle all the work, because the end was no fun.
But it is over and with very positive results. Most importantly my dissertation seems to be coming into focus, writing about Padre Isla. My secondary/complementary writing list will be about Medieval satire with Prof, Domínguez and my Transatlantic list will be Colonial lit. with Rosa Perelmuter. This means that I have to come up with six reading lists. A primary reading list of twenty books for each list and about thirty secondary/theoretical lists for each topic. Total: give or take 150 books that I have to learn by next Spring to pass my exams, Gadzooks! Yikes!
Taking only three classes, I had time to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill on Monday nights, and I worked at the Clinical Skills Center at the UNC Hospitals

teaching medical students Spanish. Both of these side ventures are a lot of fun and very rewarding and very much needed to clear my head and do something else for a while that is not just studying.
Conclusion: Overall it has been an incredible year and I have learnt much more than I ever expected or hoped. I’ve met some very interesting people, discovered a new town, been more culturally active than I expected, forged some nice relationships and I am slowly rebuilding my life. I’m very happy to be doing this, I love UNC and Chapel Hill.