Archive for June, 2014

Even if you do not realize it, if you have ever listened to the radio, you have heard Van Morrison. This was my case until one winter afternoon in the early nineties, relaxing on the patio of a slope-side coffee shop in Sugarloaf Maine, where the Boston Gourmet Society had a ski chalet, that I paid attention and realized I was listening to Van Morrison, Moondance, of course. I bought that CD and listened to it endlessly. One summer I was alone in the country house at La Navata (see previous posts) it was all I listened to.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Right after breaking up with my first wife, I was on a business trip to a convention in Las Vegas. Bored at the thought of spending a whole weekend alone in the city of sin, I called a friend in San Francisco and I was on a plane. The weekend was fantastic as I had not seen my friend in years and had not been to San Francisco in even more years. She had Van’s Wavelength CD in her little BMW, and that was all we listened to all week-end long as we tooled around the city.

As soon as I got back to Madrid I bought that CD and listened to it over and over again. Then I bought another and another until I had the whole Van Morrison discography – over 40 CDs. In fact I listened exclusively to Van Morrison for eight full months straight. I did not realize it at the time, but it was therapeutic for me. One summer morning when I woke up and played a Rolling Stones CD, I knew I was on the mend!

Van Morrison, The lion of Belfast, has been in the business since he was 17. He plays a bunch of instruments, and more importantly he is credited with being the first to bring jazz influences like the double bass, brass sections, etc. to pop. His Astral Weeks is considered one of most influential records in contemporary music. He plays and tours around the world constantly and is not  afraid to work with top, top talent like Brian Kennedy, Georgie Fame or Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis.

Personally I love Van’s intimate personal meaning, on some songs deep spirituality that connects with my soul in a way no other music does. Four of the six CDs in my car are Van (the other two are baroque and opera if you must know). I have had the privilege of seeing Van play a few times and they were very moving experiences.

It would be silly to try to say what songs are my favorites as they change with my moods and where I am in my life. A song I might have listened to hundreds of times without paying much attention might all of a sudden catch me. Songs that I had obsessed about in the past might come back to me. I might re-visit certain songs, or even certain parts of certain songs.

This clip is a song I have been listening to over and over recently. One of Van’s recurring themes is that of healing and this song pretty much sums it all up. I hope you like it.

One of the things I love about being a teacher is that once students graduate some of them become friends and mentees. This is the case of Jacob Virgil who, having graduated from UNC was backpacking around Europe when he contacted me to tell me he was in town. It has been four years since I gave a good tour of Madrid, and it was very cathartic. Visiting old favorite haunts, seeing old friends and acquaintances: eating roast chicken at Sidras Mingo by the river, having chocolate con churros at San Ginés, drinking bone dry sherry at Torre del Oro, it all brought back many memories and tears to my heart.

The highlight of this visit was taking Jacob to the bullfight. It was a Monday afternoon fight, so I managed to get excellent seats, the reason being, that as a Monday fight, the bullfighters were on the younger side, not that the bulls were any better. But still, the afternoon was beautiful. I lit up a fabulous Montecristo Petit Edmundo from my friend José at Estanco Barquillo and enjoyed the event. I walked Jacob back to his hotel, stopping for some great tapas at Estay in the Barrio de Salamanca district.

The Biblical Jacob dreamt of a stairway to heaven. This XXI C. Jacob didn’t bring that ladder, but he nonetheless helped me in my healing process. Which was totally unexpected – as it should be. Walking around with him, visiting old haunts and especially the bullfight, helped me renew and cleanse myself. Apparently we were even given a close up shot on TV, proof, if any was needed, that they were good seats!

Montecristo

Montecristo

Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro

A young fighter

A young fighter

Bulls, friends, cigars

Bulls, friends, cigars

With my nephew Jimmy

With my nephew Jimmy

Victor working hard

Victor working hard

The Valencia Crew

The Valencia Crew

Blessed with friends

Blessed with friends

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Meta Photo

Meta Photo

My über trendy sister’s boyfriend, told me about Alfredo’s in the mid-eighties but I never got to go until 1990 when I moved back to Madrid from Boston. I would have lunch there with my office mates every Friday: “Fridays is Freddy’s” was our war cry. These lunches would include Alfredo’s legendary burgers and a lot of beer and bourbon. Needless to say Friday afternoons back at the office were not very productive. That was my first contact with Alfredo, and as Rick would tell Chief Inspector Renault in Casablanca: it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Alfredo, an American living in Madrid and me, a Spaniard that had grown up in America.

Alfredo’s Barbacoa is an authentic – and by that I mean authentic, burger joint in Madrid. The burgers are from the best Northern Spanish cows, (the awesome steaks come from American Heifers bred in Denmark), the meat is cooked on an oak charcoal grill, and that makes all the difference. The coleslaw is a touch sweet and even hard-core Alabamians swear by it. There is Miller and Bud, (and Jack and SoCo), the decor is full on Americana, with the odd Spanish reference thrown in for reality’s sake. The TV is always showing rodeo shows, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks or nowadays Taylor Swift. The dining public goes from the prince of Spain and the odd assorted celeb, to full Spanish families for weekend lunches, working lunch executives, Americans that treasure Alfredo’s like the gem it is, all sorts of party groups and of course the die- hards.

With time I got to know Alfredo’s family, all the wait staff, the cooks, everybody. When I moved to my bachelor pad in the mid-nineties I lived literally around the block from Alfredo’s so it almost became my dining room. Some nights when the joint would close Alfredo and I would go out and hit the bars, fortunately we occasionally still do!

My relationship continues with Alfredo, his son-in-law Victor and the rest of the family and staff: I would host most of my company’s important meals there including client and vendor meetings, even my dealer convention was hosted there. Tracy and I held our Spanish wedding party there, we even dressed up in our wedding outfits! My little sister Rocky hosted a dinner with all my friends the first Christmas that I came back after a year in Boston. My friends from Valencia always go there for a meal when they are in town. I hosted University alumni reunions. I always took my students there when they good homesick of American food.  And of course I go there as often as I can, alone or with friends. Last week I treated my sister and her lovely family!

So Alfredo and his (now) three restaurants are an important part of my life in Madrid, it is my favorite restaurant, my go to restaurant and more importantly I feel like family there.

You might ask: All this talk of PhD blah, blah, blah is very nice, but what have you really learnt in two years of school?

Academically I have learnt about Medieval Spanish Literature, about medieval authors distancing themselves and their work from the divine works. In Spain the Libro de buen amor is key in playing with the divine and the more human aspects of life. I have learnt about colonial authors like Juan del Valle y Caviedes or Mateo Rosas de Oquendo, even Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz criticizing the Spanish abuses in Latin America using satire. And I have learnt about the massive changes that came along in the 18th Century and how books were agents and mirrors of this change. I have learnt about the evolution of literature, how so much of our literature is basically founded on ancient Greek and Roman literature (and to a lesser extent to Middle Eastern and Asian / Indian literature). I have learnt to connect many dots in literature, but I still have so, so much to learn, which is another thing I have learnt!

Ha, not bad for eight lines! Let me know if you want to know more I will be happy to oblige and bore you for hours!

On other levels I have learnt to be more discerning and critical in my reading, to read more “between the lines”, to interpret, to be more critical of my reading. This is very enriching.

I am in awe of my professors: Irene Gómez Castellano, Frank Domínguez and Rosa Perelmuter, their knowledge of their fields, the breadth of their knowledge, their generosity with their knowledge and time. I have been blessed to work with them and I hope someday to be a little bit like them.

Overall I have spent over two years of my life preparing for this exam, reading every moment that I have been able to: during breaks in concerts and plays, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, at the Harley Davidson dealership, at my bar Zog’s, in every library and corner of the university, at the Carolina Inn after Sunday mass, at the Ackland Museum (after the Carolina Inn), on my porch – smoking cigars, at Five Guys eating a burger, at my coffee shop (the Daily Grind at the Student Stores, expensive and slow, but a superior cup of coffee and the staff is great!) etc., etc., etc. Passing these exams is the highlight of my career so far.

Keep Calm and Read

Keep Calm and Read

Graham Memorial

Graham Memorial

 

Carolina Inn

Carolina Inn

Harley dealership

Harley dealership

Wilson Library

Wilson Library

Porch

Porch

 

Some Coffee Shop

Some Coffee Shop

Five Guys

Five Guys

Zog´s

Zog´s