Archive for August, 2013

Reading is hard work, you just can't see it!

Reading is hard work, you just can’t see it!

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Many of my followers have asked me about the reading lists for my Ph.D. and what is all the fuss about. So here is a brief description: I have finished my first year of the Ph.D. program where I had to take classes. This year, is devoted to preparing for my Ph.D. exam which should be in the Spring of ’14. The exam is based on three reading lists. My first list is XVIII Century Spanish satire, where I have to read about 20 or 30 books of primary reading and another 20 or 30 of theory and critical reading on the topic. My thesis director, the wonderful and extremely patient Prof. Irene Gómez Castellano will guide me with the reading. My secondary or complementary list is on Medieval Spanish satire with the same amount of reading. Prof. Domínguez, the generous and equally patient God of Medieval Spanish literature (seriously, he wrote the book on  it!) will help me with that.  And the final list has to be a transatlantic one. American lit. students have to study a Peninsular topic and vice versa, so I will be reading Colonial lit. with the extremely knowledgeable, razor-sharp but funny Prof. Perelmuter. The exam consists of a morning oral exam with the three reading tutors and a weekend written section with a question for each list. Passing that exam would make me All But Dissertation (ABD) and I have two years to research and write my dissertation.

So I have spent most of my summer (and my summer money) reading and finding books that will fit my reading list. I have toiled in used book stores around Spain breathing musty, old books. I have found some gems, and some that I could not afford, original prints and such. Many of the books I need have long  been out of print, and finding them is a bit of a hit or miss game. I found a handful of books a couple of days before departing Spain at the annual old and used book fair in El Escorial! By the end of the summer I had fifty-four books – enough that I had to fill a second suitcase, albeit a small one. All these are a bit less than a third of the books I need. If I add some books that I already have, I might have, at best, less than half of the material I need to read by April/May… will keep you posted. For now, it is time to get back to reading!

Santander is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. It sits just about in the middle of the North Shore of the Iberian Peninsula. It has a beautiful bay, harbor, beaches and old town. I had not been there in ages and I went to spend a wonderful weekend and visit an old friend. My family has a bit of a history with the city as my dad worked for the local bank for many years. My visit coincided with the local festivities, so there was a great atmosphere. I had a great weekend, visiting the lighthouse, the old town, enjoying great meals and drinks and the great views of the bay, watching the boat taxi cross the bay, as well as all the other boats crisscrossing around.

El Faro

El Faro

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The sporting harbor

The sporting harbor

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El Barco Taxi - "La Pedreñera"

El Barco Taxi – “La Pedreñera”

Downtown

Downtown

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La Conveniente

La Conveniente

La Navata is a tiny village outside Madrid, near the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, where Hemingway’s For whom the Bell Tolls is set, the village is so small it is actually dependent of the bigger nearby village of Galapagar, home of Nobel Prize winning playwright Jacinto Benavente and of the current top bullfighter José Tomás. La Navata itself only has a train station, two bars, a kiosk, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a small supermarket, and an old, small, stone chapel, San Antonio de La Navata.

My parents bought a weekend/summer house here in 1974, when I was 9 years old. In the early 80’s we added the second floor. If I have a home, this is it. This is my “happy place” where I take my mind when I need to relax. This is where most of my childhood memories were made. This is where I learned to ride motorcycles and to drive – my granddad Antonio patiently guiding me round and round the dirt garden, before we put in grass, in La Petra, our old Citroen 2CV. This is where I made my first and oldest friends, where I learned the little tennis I play, where I have done most of my stargazing, reading, bicycle riding, gardening, hiking and barbeques, where I kissed a girl for the first time (quite sloppy if you must know), where I started tinkering with all things mechanical – although mostly motorbikes, where hiking and skiing trips started, and where great summer (and I guess also winter) parties were hosted.

I used to come here for the weekends in winter, reading by the blazing fireplace, and spending the summer in the pool, the garden and the porch, going indoors only when absolutely necessary.

La Navata is about a fifteen minute drive from El Escorial, built by Phillip II, it houses a palace, monastery, school, mausoleum for all the Haubsburg and most Spanish  Bourbon kings, and one of the most important – and beautiful  – libraries, in the world.  Growing up I spent a lot of time in this place, walking around the palace, gardens, surrounding hills, and the town. I still spend a lot of time here, specially with my friend Patxi, with whom I founded the Asociación A. de Amantes del Escorial in the early 90s.

In 1992 I got a job at a photo equipment supplier near here and I lived in La Navata for about a year. It was a lot of fun, living in this big old house alone, cooking, reading by the fire, and going into Madrid for the weekends doing a reverse weekend commute!

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El Escorial

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The view during a bicylce ride

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Caf’é con leche at the clasico Marcelino bar, at 10 am they have barely opened!

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Jacinto Benavente at Galapagar´s Plaza

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San Antonio de la Navata

Life in La Navata is very quiet. I start off with a refreshing wake-up swim in the pool, which makes breakfast a cool joy on the porch. Then there is a walk into the village to buy bread for the day, the newspapers and any other groceries, I stop at the bar for a nice café con leche. There are always chores and gardening and pool maintenance to be done before a pre lunch swim. After siesta things actually slow down even more in the heat of the afternoon and I can read, or hang out with the fam. Nowadays with my nephew and two nieces things are a bit more chaotic, but always fun. The afternoon swim is normally the longest one and then I have time to work out in my homemade gym, or run or go for a bicycle ride before dinner. After dinner we sit around, chat, enjoy a mojito made with old Cuban rum (which is unavailable in the US) and mint from the garden, or a gin tonic, or whatever we can  find, sometimes accompanied by a cigar.