A much-needed return to music, and on the importance of mentoring

As I have mentioned ad nauseam, I learned how to be a mentor to old students from my professor Aaron Nurick, who has been keeping an eye on me for over thirty years, which at this point makes him more of a friend than a mentor.

Bill is one of my old students who invited me to Film Club (you can read about that here), and who as an accomplished violist, invited me to his recent concert in Miami. I would like to think that I am a bit of a mentor to him.

The Sphinx Virtuosi is an orchestra formed by minority Black and Latino musicians. Their concert equally featuring Black and Latino composers was glorious. Granted, I had not been to a live concert since before Covid, over two years ago, but it was still divine.

Driving to Miami is an odious experience, there is always traffic no matter what time you go. And if there is no traffic, there is construction, which inevitably leads to traffic, so there is no avoiding the frustration of sitting in a car at standstill.

But once I parked and I was walking around, all my tension washed away. The concert was at the Frank Gehry designed New World Center in Miami Beach, which, while not as whimsical as say, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, it is still very cool and has a breathtaking rooftop garden.

The concert itself was a refreshing mix of melodic Latin tunes like Alberto Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings and the haunting Andrea Casarrubios’ SEVEN in honor of the fallen first responders during the first Covid outbreak in New York City (SEVEN references the time folks would clap from their windows to celebrate the first responders). This was a mournful concerto for solo cello played beautifully by Tommy Mesa -another old student at Walnut Hill! (See clip below).

After the concert we walked to a great Peruvian restaurant where we had a long chat over excellent food and beers. I cannot wait for my next concert, nor to see more of my old students!

On developing your own sartorial style – secrets will be revealed!

If you know me personally in any professional capacity you know I normally wear suits and more often than not, bow ties. This is the story of my sartorial journey. Warning, secrets will be revealed:

My dad was a banking executive, which meant that he always wore a suit. My uncle was a tailor, but not a regular tailor… he was the tailor for the king of Spain (king Juan Carlos), other celebrities, American businessmen, etc. I remember as a child my uncle coming home to measure my dad and to go over cloth samples with him. Fast forward a few years when we lived in London in the 80s, where my dad discovered the most beautiful English shirts from Jermyn St., eventually I would get those shirts handed down, they would be a little worn, but what did I care? I was in university.

The first piece I got from my uncle, López Herbón was right after college, when I “inherited” one of my dad’s tweed jackets, I still have it and I still wear it, although I had to put elbow patches on it. After that there was a slow, steady drip of hand me downs and other presents. My first full present from my uncle was a tuxedo, something a customer had left in the shop after trading it in. Unfortunately, that tuxedo was stolen from my Boston apartment while I was on a fishing trip with my friend Matthew (but that is a different story). My uncle promptly got me another tux! This one in a rich dark blue which I still wear!

When my uncle died a few years ago, he bequeathed me a bunch of his suits. A few years later my dad also passed leaving behind many, many suits. I am slowly getting them all fitted.

Around the time I was graduating from university I dated a girl who was going to a nearby university (Tufts, I met her during a Spring Break trip to St, Kitts with the aforementioned Matthew, but that is also another story). she gave me a bow tie from Barneys New York (when Barney’s was on 17th St.). I struggled to learn how to tie them but eventually I got into it (you can read about that here).

The English shirts eventually and sadly passed away, nowadays most are made in China but sold at Jermyn St. prices. Nowadays I have developed a falcon’s eye at thrift shops to find quality shirts at academia salary friendly prices, the trick is to be patient and not to settle, you can find Brooks Brothers and other fine brands in your exact size for a few bucks!

That is the foundation of my professional look. As an entrepreneur in Madrid, where bow ties are rare, I stuck out like a sore thumb – a good thing, if you want to promote your brand! Now in academia I fit the stereotype of a professor, either way, it is my look, and I like it!

Happy birthday Film Club!

The (mostly) honorable members of Film Club

Time flies when you are having fun! Our first year of Film Club has indeed flown by.

I have mentioned Film Club before (here), and it obviously merits a birthday post.

The club was started by one of my old students who then recruited three other guys: a genius film savant in Australia, another old student and exquisitely insightful film critic, and myself. The main component I bring to the table is my old age, which brings a lot of these films to life for these guys. Keep in mind that this is a totally amateur club, so while the guys are brilliant, none of us has formal training other than maybe a college course in film. So our approach is fairly naïf, even when we might do some homework researching the films we have seen.

The mechanics of the Club are fairly straightforward: we decide on a theme or genre for the month, the films are uploaded to our Discord platform and then we have an Internet meeting and talk about the films.

We have watched a total of forty-eight films, some have blown my mind like The Proposition and La Grande Bellezza which both merited their own blog posts. Many I have already seen, but I do not mind re-visiting. Some have been hilarious like The Castle, and some I frankly did not care for like Mr. Nobody, or Upstream Color, and that is ok, there is something wrong if you like every film you watch.

Here is the list. What do you think of these films? What themes of genres do you recommend we watch? Let me know your thoughts below!

Non-Linear Narratives

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. Mr. Nobody (2009)
  4. Biutiful (2010)
  5. Enemy (2013)

Light & Color

  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  • Volver (2006)
  • Midsommar (2019)

Film Noir

  1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  2. Chinatown (1974)
  3. LA Confidential (1997)
  4. Nightcrawler (2014)

Western

  1. Fort Apache (1948)
  2. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  3. The Proposition (2005)
  4. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The city as protagonist

  1. Wings of Desire (1987)
  2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  3. City of God (2002)
  4. La Grande Bellezza (2013)

Scandinavian +

  • Tangerines (2013)
  • The Square (2017)
  • Another Round (2020)

Family

  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • Belle Époque (1992)
  • The Squid and the Whale (2005)
  • Farewell Amor (2020)

Horror

  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Under the Shadow (2016)
  • Get Out (2017)

Light-Hearted

  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
  • Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  • The Castle (1997)
  • The Dinner Game (1998)

Christmas Time

  • Day of the Beast (1995)
  • Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
  • In Bruges (2008)
  • Carol (2015)

Sound Design

  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Upstream Color (2013)
  • Sound of Metal (2021)

Is there a film canon?

  • Duck Soup (1933)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • 8 1/2 (1963)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)

À propos, next month we are going to explore war in film…

Mardi Gras, Lent, and Turning to the Mystics

Lent is the perfect time to fine tune your spirituality, it is a great nudge to get us to do something, even if you do not have a great spiritual conviction and you just do something out of peer pressure, “everybody is doing something”. Maybe you operate backwards: do something now and your heart will react after the fact, whatever it takes, Lent is a good time to go beyond Instagram and Tik Tok and to explore your standing in the world, beyond your physical presence.

Most of the message and importance of Lent is lost on just giving up chocolate or alcohol or swearing. While this might be good and you might lose a pound or two, it is not the reason why we fast or stop swearing. The idea is to get closer to God which really means getting closer to each other. Who knows, push a little bit beyond your comfort zone, you might even develop new habits!

This year for Lent I am writing a letter to someone every day. Friends, family, even people that I might not have been in touch with for a while. They might not be deep, meaningful letters, but just a note to say “hello” and update folks. I am also giving up Instagram, to regain the half an hour (ok forty five minutes) of seeing people do stuff that does not enrich me one bit. Whatever you do, good luck!

Of course, the great kickoff party for Lent is Mardi Gras -in New Orleans, but Carnival in Brazil and in other Latin and European countries. This of course is a vestige of the Roman Bacchanalia and Carnivals. We had a great Mardi Gras dinner at school, prepared by Chef Philippe, our great chef, and his team!

The school band played some Mardi Gras classics, with a special collaboration by the Bayou Boys! It was a great evening.

If like me, you are in constant pursuit for atonement and you are still hungry for more enlightenment. I have discovered a great podcast, now that podcasts are so hip, on the Mystics and their thinking, their world: Turning to the Mystics is done by the CAC, Center for Action and Contemplation and introduces the listeners to different mystics and their philosophies. I am hooked and highly recommend it!

The best gym in the world?

While I have been to many gyms, I am not, in any way, a gym explorer, a gym connoisseur. In the fifteen years I have been going to gyms I might have gone to about a dozen or so gyms, not counting hotel gyms, since they are all mostly horrible –with a few exceptions like the Steigenberger Golf & Spa Resort Camp de Mar.

At any rate, the other day I drove over to Naples to celebrate my old student’s Lukas, birthday, and he treated me to workout at the gym where he works a couple of nights a week: Fountain X.

This might be the best gym in the world, what an experience. It has all top-of-the-line equipment, every person gets a power lifting rack, the whole floor is rubberized, many of the weight machines work with compressed air which hits your muscles different and avoids the metallic clanking you hear in gyms, it just feels amazing!

When you finish your workout there is a fridge with cool, peppermint infused towels to refresh yourself with, they were so invigorating and soothing at the same time. There is also a water and fizzy water fountain. Then there are individual infra-red saunas! There are post workout compression recovery “boots”, there is a body composition scanner, in short, all the bells and whistles.

I loved the workout, the “Zen” feeling, the peppermint infused towels, the personal sauna, but I think my favorite was the Molton Brown soap in the shower and body cream after the workout, yes, I am an old man, and the post workout is just as important as the workout itself. The haters will say that I have gone soft, that a smelly, moldy gym with rusty weights and posters of my cousin Arnold is more motivational, whatever, haters gonna hate.