Archive for December, 2014

Madrid, like most cities, has a cadre of writers that have historically portrayed it. From Quevedo, to Moratín, to Pérez Galdós or Unamuno. I understand them well. I have often said – and I’m sure I’m not being original here – that cities are like people, with their quirks and ugly bits. Madrid never disappoints. In fact, I would say that just walking around the city is one of my favorite pastimes. And I always discover something new.

These last few years when I come to visit I like to spend most of my time with my parents, so I do not get out much. They – like the rest of us – are not getting any younger. But when my childhood friend Jaime, who is in the art restoration business calls to say he has access to the top of the Alfonso XII monument in the Retiro Park in Madrid, you go.

It was a clear, brisk winter morning in Madrid, the highest capital in Europe at about 646 meters (2,119 feet) above sea level. I walked down the Castellana, the main boulevard, the backbone of Madrid to the park. When I got to the monument, miraculously, there was no one there, extremely rare, as it is normally filled with tourists, romantic couples, Cannabis salesmen, etc. it would soon fill up, even with a professional photo shoot of a rather pretty model, as they tend to be.

This amazing sculptural set was made of a very soft stone that is literally falling apart. Some colleagues of my friend Jaime have been charged with researching how to restore it. When Jaime showed up we climbed up and up, a dark metal staircase to the very top, just under the statue of King Alfonso XII who reigned Spain from 1874 to 1885. There are some small windows as you stand under the bronze base of the statue, you can actually see the wickets that hold the king’s horse’s legs! Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words here are some photos to save me some writing.

After this amazing experience Jaime and I walked across the park to the nearby Prado museum for a coffee. Jaime did part of his training there, so he is obviously very familiar with it. I had not been there in five years, so going back was a very cathartic experience for me. At one point Jaime stood staring at Tiziano’s huge portrait of Carlos V on horseback. When I pressed Jaime to tell me what he was so profoundly looking at, he laconically replied “Hmmm, it looks like there might be some humidity damage on that corner.” Occupational hazards of hanging out with an art restoration expert! So we had a lovely coffee catching up, walked a bit around the museum and walked around the city. I must say, a morning does not get much better than that. Gracias Jaime.

One of the many things I love about living in Chapel Hill is the amazing cultural scene. One really has to pick and choose what events to go as there is always so much going on. Most events are free or $10 as a student. Since this is one of my few indulgences, I enjoy preparing my evening around the event, which always ends with a decompression session at Zog’s and debriefing with the amazing musician / composer  and rock star bartender James Brown. This semester I have enjoyed:

Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performing Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1

The NC Symphony performing

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto with an amazing Di Wu on the piano

A Bach evening

Brahms Violin concerto #77

The UNC Symphony’s

Beethoven Symphony No. 2

The Baroque ensemble with the amazing, charming and funny Prof. Wissick doing a mostly Germanic repertoire.

The UNC Opera doing Shakespeare inspired bits

The UNC Playmakers theatre did Into the Woods and A Midsummer night’s dream in back to back performances

The “amateur” theatre group did Dracula, which was brilliant and funny!

And of course no season is complete without The Nutcracker, the NC Ballet’s performance.

Since I choose to go to all these concerts I do not go to rock, pop, jazz, etc. concerts of which there are, of course, even more. I hear about them from my students that go to see groups like Corporate Herpes and so on. Hmm, not for me any more. Although I do feel bad that I have not yet partaken in the experience of going to some of the more popular venues for those kind of gigs. Who knows, I might let my hair down someday (joke) and go!!!

I am already excited for next term’s performances, which include UNC Opera doing Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Britten’s War Requiem, Martha Graham, Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, and who knows what else, I can’t wait…

The best time of the week for me is Mondays from 6 to 9 pm when I volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. I love my team: evening manager Michelle, night manager Antoinette, volunteer chair masseur Bill, and my shift partner, the Batman to my Robin, the Ginger Rogers to my Fred Astaire, the Ying to my Yang, etc., Margaret! There are also the Therapy Dogs with their owners and the different dinner groups that cook for the families.

The first question people ask me when I tell them I volunteer at the House is what do I do there. Well, on a typical evening there are families to welcome and check into and out of the house, there are rooms to set up for incoming families, there is always tidying up to do, vacuuming, helping out volunteer dinner groups, cleaning the kitchen and dining room if the dinner group has not done so, I also manage the ADP Sorority volunteer girls that come in to help out – they are great! I am also the official announcer of dinner on the PA. I do this in English and Spanish for our Hispanic families and I occasionally throw in the accent of whatever geographic area dinner is from! I am also the official receptionist for the people who bake goods for the house, mostly high school kids that get Community Service hours. A big part of that job is making sure the quality of the baked goods is up to the high standards of the House. Another part of my job is just to hang out and be there. Sometimes you chat with members of the families because they need to talk, so you listen to their stories.

You see, we get so caught up in our lives and we think our lives suck and we bitch and complain. When you listen to a parent whose kid is in the hospital for whatever reason, or you get the privilege to actually hang out with the kid, and you realize that maybe my life is not so bad. It is not unusual, when I finish my shift for me to leave the house crying. So if the weather allows I prefer to ride Rocinante to the House so my tears dry in the wind.

Speaking of Rocinante. The other day was a quiet evening in the house (some rooms were closed for renovations), and the House had just launched a fundraising campaign selling Ronald McDonald socks. The campaign asks those who purchase socks to take an “interesting” photo with them and post them on the House’s internet site. So we wheeled old Rocinante into the House to take our pictures with the socks on. Good times!!

Then there is the annual volunteer recognition brunch in which we celebrate the volunteers that have been there since forever and have worked literally thousands of hours, amazing!

So now you know where to find me on a Monday evening. Come on down and I will show you around.

Part of the problem with being an eternal optimist is that one always thinks things are going to be easier than they are. This last semester is a good example. The semester started off uphill, with me losing my washer and dryer (see previous post), getting a speeding ticket, and more importantly having to finesse my doctoral committee and getting my prospectus approved.

The exam was on November 7. You can read my previous post about it, but is was at the same time a grueling yet highly enriching experience. That afternoon I celebrated by playing soccer with my colleagues (more on that later) and then by going to see Benjamin Britten’s opera, Curlew River, inspired by the Japanese Noh theater (more on that also later). And of course, after all that by having a drink (or two) at my favorite bar, Zog’s.

After passing my exam I slumped into a bit of a post prospectus depression. My next goal is defending my dissertation, but that is not planned until the Spring of 2016. So all of a sudden I was without an immediate goal. This required some getting used to. I could finally, after three years, watch movies (more on that later), or enjoy dead time. That first Saturday I celebrated with a glorious breakfast at my favorite breakfast place Ye Olde Waffle Shop, and waltzing around Chapel Hill as if I owned it. Stopping at this store and that, hanging out at the old bookstore, and the museum.

As always teaching is my passion and this semester did not disappoint. I taught two sections of Intermediate Spanish 203, one of them in the Philosophy building. This allowed me to enjoy their philosophical bathroom graffiti.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so I soon changed my rhythm and got busy. I talked strategy with my professors to attack the dissertation, Prof. González Espitia named me to be a grad student editor of the department´s literary journal Hispanófila, and I started to prepare my dissertation by re-visiting the first four works of my beloved Padre Isla.

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