A return to performing arts, a night at the opera

Good to enjoy performing arts again!!

Due to Covid, I had not been able to enjoy any performing arts for about two years. But l recently managed to go to the opera, so things are getting back to normal. While I have managed to go to museums and exhibits, most notably the Norton Museum of Art (click here for that blog post), I had not returned to the theatre, the symphony, a reading, a play, the ballet, the opera since just before Covid struck in 2020.

Although I know there are many performing arts venues in the West Palm Beach and Boca Raton areas, I have yet to explore them. But I recently saw that Opera Naples, my old opera, was doing Hansel and Gretel, I did not blink before buying my tickets!

You see, I need a lot of cultural and artistic stimulation, it paradoxically energizes and calms me at the same time. I have been enjoying concerts, plays, and operas since I was a teenager in London, so I must confess I am a bit of an addict.

Hansel and Gretel is obviously based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, and while it is quite grim, the music is amazing -as should be expected of Wagner´s student Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). Opera Naples has partnered with the Bower School of Music at Florida Gulf Coast University, so many of the roles were played by very talented college students, wow!

It was nice to see that Opera Naples has done some work to improve the venue, since it actually sits in an industrial estate in a bit of a dodgy area. It has created a new and bigger lobby, created a bar area and they even had a food truck for us!

Since I was in that neck of the woods, I took the opportunity to meet up with my old student Lukas to catch up with him. We had a lovely coffee on 5th Avenue and even walked to the beach to check it out. The Gulf side beaches are far nicer than the Atlantic side, obviously, they are Caribbean!

So overall, a wonderful day out and great to be slowly returning to the arts!

The triumph of the short story

Good things come in small packages, they say. In Spain we say: “lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno” the same thinking can be applied to the short story. If you can develop characters and plot in not too many pages instead of hundreds you might have what it takes.

Your end of apprenticeship project in the Middle Ages required you to do a miniature of whatever your craft was; If you were a carpentry apprentice you had to make a tiny piece of furniture. These pieces where far more difficult to make than a regular sized piece. Again, the same goes for short stories. Boiling down a full story to a few pages requires a craftmanship not all writers have.

Short stories are the reason I fell in love with Literature (yes, with capital L). My high school Spanish lit teacher Soledad Sprackling had me reading Borges, and García Márquez. Later on I devoured Poe, Hemingway, Cortázar, Cervantes’ Novelas Ejemplares, Rosario Castellanos, Fuentes, etc. etc.

I recently read back-to-back books of shorts stories and was surprised to see that I have never written about short stories in this blog.

Las guerras perdidas is by Oswaldo Estrada, a dear friend and professor at UNC. Unfortunately, I never took any of his courses since our research interests did not match. Regardless, we became good friends. Last year on a weekend trip to Chapel Hill he even hosted a tapas dinner for me. His bittersweet short stories about loss and pain are beautifully written, his prose is reminiscent of García Márquez “Y aunque te bañes y perfumes, siempre hueles a tristeza.” Estrada’s insight into the human condition is precise, but sweetly narrated, which makes for a wonderful read. Highly recommended, five stars, two thumbs up!

Chilean Benjamín Labatut writes Un verdor terrible (oh yes sorry, both books are in Spanish). Labatut focuses his stories on physicists and chemists, scientists and their discoveries during the first half of the XX C. These are deeply researched stories that mix fiction and history in unknown (to the reader) quantities. It makes for scary but rewarding reading, riveting.

If you like short stories and read Spanish, I recommend both of these books. You are welcome.

Please leave your comments and recommendations below!

Camino Francés vs Camino del Norte, which is better? My opinion

As soon as people find out I have done the full Camino Francés AND the Camino del Norte they always ask the obvious question: which is better? Well, here are my thoughts.

Like everything else in life, it is all about your personal tastes, the purpose of your Camino, etc.

The French way has more varied terrain, switching every few days. You get the Pyrenees on day one, then the rolling hills of Navarra, blending into the vineyards of La Rioja, eventually you get to the agricultural hills of Burgos, before hitting the plains of the plateau of Palencia and Leon before arriving at the hills of El Bierzo and the ancient Celtic hills of Galicia. The North or Coastal route on the other hand is amazing beach after amazing beach, and amazing forest after amazing forest, oh, and the only flat bits are the beaches, the rest of the time you are going up or down, which makes this route much tougher physically, but extremely rewarding as you are never more than a day or two away from the sea.

Also since this was the predominant trail in the late Middle Ages, the French way has a lot of history and a powerful spiritual charge, every chapel, every church, and cathedral just has this literally awesome, moving presence. By contrast, the Northern trail was abandoned in favor of the Francés as the Moors were driven out of the peninsula so, in fact, you are walking a much newer trail without so much of the spiritual aspect.

Food is probably better on the North route, as you partake from the bounty of the lush, green countryside and the ocean. This does not mean that the French way is bad, it just does not pass-through San Sebastian, arguably the best food per square foot in the world!!

North Coast of Spain is very green. Why? Because it rains a lot! So, if you commit to the North way, make sure you are prepared mentally and physically to deal with rain, sometimes for days… The French way on the other hand tends to be much drier.

Finally, depending on when you are doing it, the French way can become a bit crowded, while the North route has consistently less traffic.

If you are more into exploring cities and towns, both ways offer great stops, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santander on the North, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos or León on the French way.

So, in the end it boils down to what you want from your Camino. If you are looking for tradition and spirituality, go with the French way, if you prefer breathtaking views and more of a physical challenge, go North.

Have you done both Caminos? Leave your thoughts in the comments!!

On Sushi, Soy, Pedro Espina, and Akai Hana

Sushi is without a doubt one of my favorite foods. The pure, clean flavors, the simplicity of presentation, the ceremony, the whole package just makes for an amazing meal and experience.

I was not introduced to sushi until after college in 1987. Fortunately, I had a very urbane girlfriend in New York City at the time who taught me how to eat sushi, all the rituals, and all the basics. I was hooked (ha-ha).

A few years later when my dear friend Alfonso would come to Madrid, the two of us and my sister would walk over to Suntory -yes part of the Japanese whisky company- to have dinner at the sushi bar. We eventually became quite friendly with the Chef, Pedro, who eventually informed us of his starting his own restaurant. Tsunami was amazing! Near my home, we would walk over when Alfonso stayed with us. Here Pedro ran the show with his Japanese, kimono wearing wife, Tamayo.

Pedro is a fascinating fellow who lived in Japan for years, learning the craft of sushi. He is also a world class boxer, although now he mainly coaches his daughter.

A few years later Pedro suffered a rare health issue and he had to close his restaurant. After some time, maybe even years, he opened another restaurant, Soy. This time there was no fanfare, the restaurant, which does not even have a sign outside is on a quiet, residential street. It is a tiny, intimate space with five tables and a tiny bar counter reserved for last minute friends without reservations (guilty as charged). Here Pedro does not really work with a menu -although one exists. You sit down and he feeds you amazing, delicious, gorgeous dishes. It is now a bit cliché to say so, but this is a culinary experience like few others.

The result of knowing Pedro for almost thirty years now, is that I have become a sushi snob. So I do not really eat a lot of sushi other than at Pedro’s.

Fortunately for me, Chapel Hill (ok, Carrboro) has a tiny, extremely good sushi restaurant, Akai Hana. Although I was on a tight student/teaching fellow budget while I was getting my PhD, I would occasionally splurge at Akai Hana. They made a quail egg shot that was an explosion of flavor in your mouth like you have never experienced!

In the suburban wasteland that is Florida, I have not yet tried a sushi place. If you know of an authentic, good quality sushi place in Palm Beach County, please let me know in the comments, I will be eternally grateful!

Summer reading recap

Confession time: I have a problem that started around high school, I cannot stop reading. I read anywhere, anytime. I have books and magazines strategically placed around the house: the dining room table, the bathroom, bedside table, etc.

My summer reading was -as usual- an eclectic mix of books, here are some reviews:

Ramón del Valle Inclán Luces de Bohemia. I am a bit ashamed to disclose that I have a PhD in Spanish Literature and I had never read this (to my defense, my specialty was 18th C. literature, and my sub-specialties were Colonial Satire and Medieval Spanish Satire). I was surprised how fresh this book felt. Although it was written in the 1920s it might just as well have been written today. It is a satirical but profound glimpse of Spain at that time. It also introduces the concept of “esperpento” which offers a distorted and grotesque view of the world which paradoxically acts as a corrective lens to better appreciate the situation.

A critical factor of the Camino de Santiago is weight. The library of the albergue in Roncesvalles (the first stop of the Camino Francés) is full of Bibles that pilgrims with the intention of reading have “donated” because of its excessive weight and bulk. This year I carried Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows which is a beautiful study of Japanese aesthetics and culture, a gorgeous essay on the philosophy of traditional Japanese interior design.

Back in Madrid I read Henri Brunel’s The Most Beautiful Zen Stories – The original is in French, and I do not think there is an English translation. The book, as the title explains has short and sweet stories, but always with a bit of a sting – a question, maybe, unanswerable, at the end.

My beach reading was a gift from my dear friend Paco Navarro: Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing (Alles umsonst in the original German). A story about a family during the last days of WWII in Germany. A great read about family dynamics, history, the human condition, and war.

Back in my mom’s country house I dug into another war, this time the Spanish Civil War, from the hand of dear friend Monica Moreno, who writes about love and family during that fratricidal war in Otoño y nueces. Her first adult novel after a handful of YA books, is well documented and intimate. Get it on Amazon here!

Back in Florida I explored Velazquez’s masterpiece painting Las Meninas through Néstor Luján’s Los espejos paralelos, which brings the painting to life through each of the characters, including the dog! Luján takes us to the dark hallways of Madrid’s old Alcazar palace, life in the court of Philip IV, and Madrid. A delightful read –specially if you are a fan of Velazquez and Las Meninas!

My last book before Fall was Richard Rohr’s The Divine dance which reflects on the deep spirituality of the Trinity and how love flows through the universe and us!

So there are a few reading recommendations in case you needed any, you are welcome.

Saudade in Aramaic, multiculturalism, and meditation

About a year ago I wrote about the pros and cons of multiculturalism (you can read that blog here), it mostly dealt with the professional difficulties I have in Spain with my US professional and academic qualifications. Today I would like to explore the concept of home for multicultural folks.

One of the issues many multiculturals face is that we live far from our native home. In my case, I work in the U.S., but my family and friends are still all in Spain. This makes for a difficult concept of what to call home.

These thoughts came to mind the other day catching up on Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation (if you are not already subscribed, I could not recommend it more, click here) and he was talking about Dr. Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic translation of The Sermon on the Mount. Douglas-Klotz explains how:

Lawile can mean “mourners” (as translated from the Greek), but in Aramaic it also carries the sense of those who long deeply for something to occur, those troubled or in emotional turmoil, or those who are weak and in want from such longing. Netbayun can mean “comforted,” but also connotes being returned from wandering, united inside by love, feeling an inner continuity, or seeing the arrival of (literally, the face of) what one longs for.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz (Richard Rohr Daily Meditation Sat. July 24, 2021)

These words led me to the Portuguese and Galego concept of Saudade and the Galego concept of Morriña, which also convey a deep longing. You see, when I am in the US I miss Spain, but after a while of being in Spain, I miss my work in the US. There it is in simple words, not much that can be done about it, although Richard Rohr does recommend this beautiful exercise:

When in emotional turmoil—or unable to clearly feel any emotion—experiment in this fashion: breathe in while feeling the word lawile (lay-wee-ley) [longing]; breathe out while feeling the word netbayun (net-bah-yoon) [loving]. Embrace all of what you feel and allow all emotions to wash through as though you were standing under a gentle waterfall. Follow this flow back to its source and find there the spring from which all emotion arises. At this source, consider what emotion has meaning for the moment, what action or nonaction is important now.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz (Richard Rohr Daily Meditation Sat. July 24, 2021)

The assassination of character, the closing of The Parrot

Over the last few years, I have seen some of my favourite places close. This week The Parrot, my favourite bar in Naples, Florida, where I lived for two years was closed as the new landlord wanted to make the venue more upscale. Covid finished Ye Olde Waffle House on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill where I would regularly go for breakfast. Over the years, other favorite places have succumbed to landlord’s greediness, to developers plans, and so on.

The problem is not just that these amazing, authentic venues close, which is bad enough in and of itself. What comes after is even worse; an anodyne, generic, Instagram ready, boring venue with zero personality, with zero charisma, with zero vibes, overrated and overpriced.

What made these places special to begin with was not a specific décor (although that added character), or a basic but tasty menu, or as bob Seger would say Old Time Rock and Roll, it was, of course, the people, the staff. You made connections and eventually relationships just by going to the same place all the time. When you replace all that with a desire for profit, your employees are more concerned with results and policy than with getting to know you and serving you from the heart.

The result is a place that transmits no emotion, staff that has a limited range of interactions because they have been trained with a “corporate” mentality as opposed to a hospitality mentality. You see, when your only metric is profit, you lose humanity. Unfortunately, we are seeing the victory of greed, but at what price? The loss of community.

Libraries (continued)

I have the privilege of working on a beautiful campus. There is a pond smack in the middle, there are a couple of gazebos for meditating, there is a beautiful chapel (arguably the most beautiful building in Boynton Beach), there is even a tree swing! There is also a beautiful library. It is not a massive library, it is rather quaint by university standards but still, it is a lovely library.

This is where it gets interesting: In order to get to my office, you have to go through or around the library, through is the much faster route.

So not only do I walk by the periodicals section where I can -at a glance- look at the new magazines coming in, then I lower my blood pressure by walking through the peaceful, quiet stacks, and right before getting to my office, there is a shelf with free books that the library no longer wants. This is my perdition.

I wrote about libraries and bookstores recently (ok, a year and a half is recently for dinosaurs like me), but that was before I had to work next to the goodie room that is the “Free books” shelves outside my office!

Over the months I have collected many varied books. My most recent find – and the detonator for this blog – was a first edition 1944 Divine Comedy with drawings by William Blake. Last year a retired history professor went into an assisted living facility, and he donated his whole library! It was chock-full of great books of which I got a good number of. And since my office is next door to these books, I always have first choice. In fact, sometimes I have even help the librarian stack the free books as he rolls them out!

Bentley College (now University)

This blog was born with the start of my search for a PhD program, so that process and the subsequent studies were very well documented here. Eventually, a few months ago I wrote about my master’s experience at Simmons, but I have never written about my bachelor’s degree.

I was living in London when I had to choose university. I really wanted a small liberal arts school in New England to study Business (at the time I did not appreciate that liberal arts and business do not mix that well. That was a mistake, which I can write about in a later post). My final choice was Bentley College (now University), just outside Boston, and what an experience it was!

Bentley was the perfect space for me to bloom. I loved my management courses (not so much my accounting, finance, number courses in general) and I really developed my leadership skills, becoming President of the International Club, International Representative to the Student Government, and finally Student Government Representative to the Board of Trustees, where I met Jere Dykema, my first mentor. I also grew into my art appreciation, spending Saturdays at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and what little pocket money I had on Season Tickets to the Boston Ballet, DJing the Classical Music Program at the College radio station WBTY “Sunday Night at the Pops”, writing a weekly column in the Vanguard newspaper, playing soccer with the International Club, establishing the Model United Nations program, debating the Oxford Union, and generally just walking around, taking in the history, architecture, and vibe of all the different Boston neighborhoods.

But the most important part of my university days was the connections and friends I made. Most of my best friends to this day I met in college –you know who you are. I also made great relationships with professors, like Aaron Nurick who would become a mentor, and with administrators like the great Bob Minetti.

In conclusion, yes university is about education and learning, but more importantly, at least in my case, was to grow as a person and to make lifelong friends.

La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty) 2013

La Grande Belleza

Thanks to Film Club, I am seeing many more films now than I have in years . Having said that, I really do not want to make antonioyrocinante into a film blog, there are enough of those already.

But I just saw La Grande Belleza, (yes it is a 2013 film, I am a bit slow) and I have to tell you about it – beware, there might be spoilers.

This is an exquisite film, as beautiful as Rome, the city where it is filmed: exuberant, colorful, rich, fun… but there is a gaping void in it, a melancholy, sad void represented by protagonist Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella.

You see, all the beauty in the world is sterile, meaningless without love, without a deep spiritual connection. Director Sorrentino is not subtle about this: The film opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night

Traveling is very useful: it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.

To drive home that point, the opening scene combines ethereal views of Rome combined with David Lang’s otherworldly song I lie. The fact that the song is in Yiddish should lead you to the great spiritual journeys of Israel, of Job. Life is nothing if not a spiritual journey to yourself, to the divine in you, to your Grande Belleza, Namaste.

Let’s stop there. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or go see the film and then let me know.