Baptism by fire, my first pro tour of Miami

My first professional tour of Miami was a baptism by fire, a jump in the deep end of the pool: eight hours, on E-bikes, and in French!! Fortunately, my customers were a lovely French couple.

Tours are generally booked for 4 or 8 hours (occasionally some folks book less or more). An 8-hour tour of Miami is a lot of time, considering there really is not much of cultural, historical, artistic value concentrated in a specific area of Miami. Sure, there is Art Deco, Little Havana, Little Haiti, Wynwood, and a bit Downtown, but how long do you need to spend in Brickell? In Coconut Grove? In Coral Gables walking -or cycling around? But an 8-hour tour of Miami for an inaugural tour was a lot to prepare for, but I did prepare. Having a few years of experience as a tour guide since I set up Tonxo Tours helped to plan the tour.

The E-bike factor was fun. We rented the bikes in Haulover park, which was a bit of a schlep from my customer’s hotel in Bayshore, but it allowed us to check out Haulover pass, and to ride all the way down to South Beach!

After South Beach we crossed over to Downtown where we saw Gesù Church, the oldest church in South Florida and the remains of the Tequesta village, which is sadly now a dog park next to the Miami river.

It was then that my customer’s E-bike lost power (something about a sensor), so although I had my trusty Swiss Army knife to try to tighten some screws, it was to no avail. We decided to ride back to Haulover.

Despite the technical issues, the tour was still a success, and the customers were happy. It was a long day for me, but it was worth it. If you are in Miami on a Saturday and want an insightful, interesting, and rewarding tour (on foot or bicycle)? Contact me, we will try to make it fun!!

You should read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The hype is real, The Brothers Karamazov is one of the best books ever written. For me it goes straight up in my list! It has the perfect combination of human behavior, philosophy, love (and lust), Russia, and much more, all beautifully written and woven together.

No spoilers, the book is about the three Karamazov brothers: Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei -Alyosha- and their father. There is also a half-brother, two women, servants, and many other characters who give the novel phenomenal depth and texture.

Ah, but it is a really long book! You exclaim. Well, yes, my edition is 776 pages, but look at them as an investment, or look at it as 7 books of 100 pages each, whatever just start reading. It took me four months, and it was time well spent.

My reference, my bar, is set at Don Quixote which was written 300 years before The Brothers Karamazov and for me, is still a better representation of human nature. But back to Dostoevsky:

This novel deals with the human condition from a deep philosophical and theological perspective, in doing so, Dostoevsky presents both sides of arguments. For example, in discussing the existence of God, Dostoevsky presents a profound argument against God with a brilliant story called The Grand Inquisitor and asking the age-old question “If God exists why do children die horrible deaths?” in the chapter “Rebellion”.  On the other hand, the author summons Voltaire’s quote “S’il n’existait pas Dieu, il faudrait l’inventer” (If God didn’t exist, we would have to invent him). Likewise for existentialism. Dostoevsky studies both sides of the argument at length: do we have free will and we exercise it? Or is everything destined to happen? Like Cervantes -and more importantly unlike Nietzsche- Dostoevsky proves that God exists, and that man decides his life. But you have to read all the way to the last word to get there!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

In his arguments, the author quotes Voltaire, the Book of Job, the Byronic hero, and hundreds of other references. The Devil also makes an appearance in what looks like a clear predecessor of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita almost a hundred years later.

As far as narrative techniques, Dostoevsky does not only imitate Cervantes, but he also leverages Cervantine techniques: His narrator’s intromissions are constant and hilarious:  at one point saying, “I am not a doctor…”, or “It could all serve as the plot for another story, for a different novel, which I do not even know that I shall ever undertake”. During the critical courtroom scene, arguably the climax of the story he writes: “The whole courtroom rose in turmoil, but I did not stay and listen. I remember only a few exclamations from the porch on the way out.” Very, very Cervantine.

There are a number of interpolated stories, which add to the reader’s understanding of the overall narrative. Some are stand alone and some weave in and out of the narrative, becoming part of the story.

In conclusion The Brothers Karamazov is one of the best novels ever written and you should read it. It will make you a more understanding person.

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

            

On Being a Real Madrid fan, a Madridista.

In case you did not know, I am a Real Madrid fan, a Madridista. I figured I would mention it now that we are starting the Champions League knock out stage. Our first game will be against Liverpool, whom we beat for the title in 2018 and 2022!! So, as much as I want to win, I have to be realistic and understand how hard it is to win back-to-back Champions League titles (or anything for that matter…).  But that, as you would expect, does not dampen one iota my love for Real Madrid.

My dad would occasionally take me to Bernabeu Stadium when I was a child to see games, and then whenever I could snag tickets I would go. So, I cannot say that I go to every game -something particularly difficult when one lives abroad- but I still consider myself a fan and try to go whenever possible. For a time, my sister worked at Marca, the biggest sport (read soccer) newspaper in Spain, and she would often end up with free tickets!

Lucky for me, my girlfriend Celia is also a fan, and if we cannot go to Bernabeu we watch important games at her local bar, La Bodeguita (worthy of it’s own blog…).

Real Madrid has won 14 Champions League titles, 35 league titles, etc., etc. But it is not about the victories, more about the impossible comebacks, the last-minute goals that get us those championships, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane, “Peđa” Mijatović, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale… every move of every goal engraved in our memory.

So now you know, other teams are good and even great, but none come close to Real Madrid.

Breakfast in West Palm Beach: Hive Bakery and Café

Those of you who follow this blog at all might know that it started as a way to chronicle my Harley-Davidson (RIP) ride from Boston to Austin, Texas and back looking for a PhD program in Spanish Literature in 2011. After the trip I just kept writing and writing. I write about anything that interests me in any way: Academics and education, literature, The Camino de Santiago, culture, cities, food, cigars, travel and adventure, etc. Today is restaurant review day:

I recently had the opportunity to have breakfast with a dear friend in West Palm Beach at Hive Bakery and Café.

The restaurant is on iconic Route 1 (South Dixie Highway) across the street from the Norton Museum (which I have written about a lot, click here). The whole block is owned and run by the same folks. They have a home decoration store and business, and a clothing store.

Hive sits on a nice corner and has the obligatory artsy design (with a beehive pattern, get it?). Inside it is warm, well lit, and airy, very pleasant, with all the de rigueur décor. Your eyes immediately catch the counter full of delicious looking pastries. This being 2022, and West Palm Beach, the food was healthy but delicious, you will not find greasy diner breakfast fare here. The coffee was top notch, well made with quality coffee. My pain au chocolat looked very elegant, crunchy on the outside, but it missed the buttery softness inside. The service was attentive and professional. It was a perfect experience.

So, what is wrong with this place? Nothing. And that is the problem: it has no character, no personality, no charm, it is all Instagram perfect, there is nothing exceptional, it is sterile. Critically, it has no narrative, or the narrative is boring. Everything was good but not remarkable. If I never go back, I will not miss it, I will not miss the food, the people, nothing. It seems to me that nowadays everything is designed to perfection, consultants develop the perfect menu, accountants establish the perfect everything to maximize revenues, everything is so impeccable that it is boring.

When I get the chance to go out, I will always choose a place that has something, usually a combination of extraordinary (not expensive) food, character, personality, history, sense of humor, great staff, or an indescribable factor that makes you want to come back again and again. Hive is not that place.