On the importance of first lines.

You might not know this, but first lines are really important, first lines in writing specially. I recently had an opportunity to expound on this at a Language Dept. workshop at school.

We started by talking about how skillful writing hacks your brain so that you might not know your brain has been hacked. We showed a few examples of great first sentences -of course, there are many, many more. (Try to figure out the author and book, answers below – don’t cheat!). (We played a similar game on this blog on my post about Russian Literature, check it out here.)

  1. “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.”
  2. “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.”
  3. “Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way.”
  4. “Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.”
  5. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
  6. “Lees ese anuncio: una oferta de esa naturaleza no se hace todos los días.”
  7. “Call me Ishmael.”

We had a good time going over those sentences and what made them good first sentences. Then we looked at how to write good sentences in general and especially for academic writing. The hands-on part of the workshop involved the students writing a sentence each until we had a first paragraph!

We had a good time and I hope the students left understanding the importance of first sentences!


  1. The Book Thief. Markus Zusak
  2. Don Quijote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes
  3. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  4. Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez
  5. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  6. Aura, Carlos Fuentes
  7. Moby Dick. Herman Melville

Andrea Bocelli and pay no attention to the opera snobs!

Contrary to widespread belief, I do not consider myself an opera snob. Yes, I love opera, and I can appreciate some of the technical aspects of the art, but I do not have the ear, nor the training and knowledge to be too critical.

So when my dear friend Arlene invited me to see Andrea Bocelli last week, I embraced the warmth of his voice and the feeling he puts into his singing, without concerning myself too much about his voice wavering on the long high notes as his critics say. Straight from work I picked Arlene up and we drove through the detestable Miami traffic to the venue.

Very astutely, Bocelli played on February 14th to a full ice hockey stadium (the ice had been taken out, to be clear), the FLA Arena outside Miami, home of the Panthers. He sang his signature mix of opera arias: Brindisi from La Traviata, Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, La donna è mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto, O soave fanciulla from Puccini’s La Boheme  and so on, with the grand finale being the obligatory and wonderful Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot.

Bocelli peppered his concert with his famous pop songs like Time to Say Goodbye and Vivo per lei. He also sang old classics like Somos novios and Bésame mucho. The concert featured many guest artists besides a full orchestra and chorus: a jazz singer, a soprano, a violinist and wonderful dancers, even his wife accompanied him on a song!

All in all, it was a great concert worth listening to, regardless of what the opera snobs say!

Jazz, Branford Marsalis, and the saxophone

My dad loved Jazz, every road trip we did I was in charge of the playlist; a bunch of jazz cassettes. Since his passing in 2015 I have not really re-visited the genre, it still hurts.

But the other day I got an offer I could not refuse: an invitation to see Branford Marsalis, in Miami.

My mind was blown to smithereens in the Summer of 1985, when Sting released his first “solo” album; The Dream of the Blue Turtles, heavily Jazz influenced, and featuring Marsalis’ saxophone. I was already a fan of Sting from The Police (drummer Stewart Copeland went to the same school as me in London a few years before me), but now I was turned onto Marsalis.

The first and only time I got to see Marsalis was with his New Orleans buddy Harry Connick Jr. in New York City in the late 80’s. I still remember that concert!

Last Tuesday. My old student –and Cine Forum founder– Will, invited a Peabody Conservatory friend and me to see Marsalis play the works of James Reese Europe. A musician who fought in World War I, only to be stabbed to death upon his return to the US by a drummer in Boston, such is life.

Marsalis only played a handful of numbers, but it was beautiful and well worth it. Will, Michelle and I enjoyed a nice dinner at El Chalán, a walk around South Beach, the concert, and a farewell drink at the Royal Palm Hotel where Will was staying. A perfect evening.

Speaking of Cine Forum, this month we are watching Taxi Blues, Ida, and Stilyagi (Hipsters) all  Russian (Ida is Polish) and all feature the saxophone as a central character, what a coincidence!

Oh, by the way, Branford has a brother Wynton, who is possibly the most amazing trumpet player you can listen to!!

Shabbat Shalom! An evening of celebration at Temple Beth El

When did my fascination with world religions start? I don’t really know, but I love learning about other faiths. It was a blessing to have worked with my dear friend Kamel from Egypt who taught me so much about Islam, and about Hinduism through my yoga teacher, Paritosh.

I did not knowingly have a Jewish friend until high school, and since then I have been intrigued by their culture and history. Last year I finally got to experience a Seder dinner, and last Friday I was generously invited to Shabbat services at temple Beth El in Boca Raton. What an experience!

One of our professors, Rabbi Larry Kotok, arranged for a group of students and faculty to visit Temple Beth El for Shabbat, I signed up right away. The Senior Rabbi, Dan Levin gave us a briefing before the service. It was a special service since it was Shabbat Shirah, a musical celebration of the separation of the Red Sea. Singer Elana Arian was brought in from New York to lead the celebrations and she did not disappoint.

The Temple has been recently renovated, and it is beautiful, very, very well done. It is very “homey”, beautifully carpeted, with nooks for chatting, a great bookshelf called Soaring Wisdom, a cute little gift shop, there is even a sculpture attributed to Salvador Dalí.

The whole thing was so beautiful, I must confess a couple of times during the service I was overcome with emotions. After the service, we were invited to a great BBQ dinner in the patio, we chatted with some members of the congregation before saying good-bye.