Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

The phenomenon of old mansions becoming museums is not a new one. A rich sod builds an incredible mansion and at some point, subsequent generations cannot afford the massive maintenance required and taxes imposed, so they sell it to a foundation or to the government who -if it is good enough- turn it into a museum, or the family turns it into a private museum and on top of that rent it for events, etc. This is the case of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. What is rare in this case is that there are very few historic homes in Florida. Rich folks like to hang out together so they can talk about their toys, so Newport Rhode Island, or New York’s Upper East Side or the North Shore of Long Island, remember The Great Gatsby? has a higher concentration of mansions or palazzos, as the Italians call them- than all of Florida put together. There are a number of reasons for this: First, the so called “robber barons” built their fortunes -and consequently their extravagant homes- in the 19th Century, but Southern Florida did not get a railroad until the 1920s. So you could say Florida missed the train. Other factors are the terrible weather, hurricanes, and humidity which would discourage most people from building down here.

An adventurous visionary was James Deering, heir to the International Harvester fortune who purchased a massive plot in Coconut Grove, South of Miami. Together with his artist/designer friend Paul Chalfin they traveled through Europe and Egypt buying everything they liked, and then built Villa Vizcaya to house everything.

As you can see from the photos: the building is in the Renaissance style with a large patio and gorgeous rooms. The gardens are spectacular, with grottos, formal gardens with local flora, etc. While there is no one particular item that makes you say wow, the aggregate is beautifully integrated. Probably due to the disgusting humidity in Florida, you will not find any master level painting. But there are plenty of nice sculptures, tapestries, furniture, and other decorative arts.

So, all in all, a wonderful, highly recommended visit.

Downtown Miami

I have been to Miami many times, but I had never been a tourist in Miami. That changed on Presidents Day. My goal is to discover Miami from a historical, chronological viewpoint. This meant starting from the mouth of Mayaimi river (now obviously Miami) where the Tequesta tribe lived. Nowadays that is the heart of old downtown, a gritty area dominated by 80’s vintage office and apartment buildings.

An oasis in this concrete jungle is the Gesú church. This beautiful Jesuit church sits where the original Jesuit mission was. It is the oldest in South Florida and is certainly worth the visit. Other spots to explore are Freedom tower, modeled after the Giralda, the old minaret, now bell tower of Seville’s Cathedral. It used to house the Miami News, but is now part of Miami-Dade College.

The main tourist trap, I mean attraction, is the Bayside Marina, mall, restaurants, etc. It is a sprawling, generic, commercial area, full of tourists, obviously. This is the spot to have a mediocre, overpriced meal, to go on a celebrity homes cruise, a motorboat cruise, or just a regular old “booze” cruise.

The American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, is also downtown, as is the Perez Art Museum if you are into Contemporary Art, the History Miami Museum, etc. Stay tuned for more chapters as we continue to explore Miami, layer by layer!

Meditation, the cosmic egg, and Kierkegaard

Rohr

It is difficult to pinpoint when I became interested in the intersection of spirituality, philosophy, and wellbeing. I know I was curious about these issues as a teenager, so I guess it has been a lifelong pursuit, adding ingredients into the mix as I learn and mature.

In 2012, thanks to the great Dr. Mulkern, I started reading Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan friar who has written over thirty books on religion and spirituality. I have mentioned him many times in this blog. You can subscribe to his brilliant and illuminating daily email by clicking here. A couple of years later my dear friend Paco introduced me to meditating, I have not stopped since –although I am bad at it, that is ok.

Briefly and roughly: 19th C Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (also often mentioned in these pages) proposes three stages of life: An ego driven, superficial youthful stage called the Aesthetic, the more mature ethical stage in which we worry about right and wrong, and finally the Religious, where we connect with our spiritual self. These are not supposed to be linear, although it makes sense if they are. Also, there are people who stay in one stage all their lives…

The “cosmic egg” appears in many different mythological traditions giving birth to the world, and/or the universe. Richard Rohr’s interpretation is of three eggs one inside the other, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. In his theory, the smallest egg, “My Story”, is a me centered, ego-driven narrative, which revolves around my status, my things, my Instagram followers, etc. you get the idea. The next bigger egg is “Our Story” which revolves around group mentality: my country, my religion, my football team, my race. Definitely, “Our Story” is a step up from “My Story”, but there are bigger and better things out there: “The Story” is the universal story that connects all of us, it is the transcendental stage where everything makes sense, it is the place of love, forgiveness. wisdom, listening, and understanding. It is what is. You can read his explanation here.

A couple of Rohr’s books

Interestingly, these three “eggs” or stories match Kierkegaard’s stages perfectly. The trick here is that to progress from one stage to the next the only way is through pain, through breakage, through loss and vulnerability (check out my post on vulnerability here). If you do not pay your dues, you might stay in your ego centered little universe your whole life. You have to be willing to suffer and listen to the pain to come out on the other side, wiser. This never-ending effort to transcend, to enlightenment, requires a very conscious effort which is where meditation, reading, religion, community, exercise, volunteering, even diet is important –but not the only- ingredients.

The Story is not limited to any one religion or denomination, and all healthy religions and even philosophies will be tellingit on some level. For example, forgiveness is one of the patterns that is always true. It always heals, whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Jewish, gay or straight, Black or white. There is no specifically Catholic or Indigenous way to feed the hungry or steward the earth. Love is love, even if the motivation and symbols might be different.

The complete cosmic egg is uniquely the work of God and healthy religion. Biblical tradition, at its best, honors and combines all three levels of story: personal journey as raw material, communal identity as school and training ground, and true transcendence as the integration and gathering place for all the parts together. We call it holiness, which is the ultimate form of wholeness.

Richard Rohr’s “Daily Meditation” 01-27-2021

Film news (revisiting Iñárritu and Tarantino, and discovering Penn)

PC: The Top 100 Project

PC: The Top 100 Project

After many years of not watching any films, I am slowly catching up on my film viewing. This Christmas break was particularly fruitful in that respect.

When I thought of writing about my recent film experiences, I realized I have actually used this blog for a total of seven posts about the seventh art (my readers love my humor). Antonioyrocinante started in 2011 but my first film post is not until 2015 (which proves my film viewing drought). If you are so inclined, you are welcome to look up my posts on:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by brilliant ex-Monty Python Terry Gilliam

Almodovar

Wes Anderson’s Castello Cavalcanti (technically an ad for Prada)

Jojo Rabbit, a satire on Nazis

Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley

Casablanca

Wes (Anderson) and Woody (Allen)

My recent “discoveries” have been from some of my favorite auteurs and a new one!

I have been a fan of Alejandro Iñárritu since his 2000 Amores Perros and have not missed any of his films: 21 Grams, Babel, Rudo y Cursi, Biutiful, Birdman and The Revenant.

On the Tarantino front I am lagging a bit, not having seen his last two works The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). I did, however, recently view Inglourious Basterds and loved it! What I enjoy about Tarantino is the almost comic book graphic aspect. While Almodovar plays with color to imbue his films with texture and depth, Tarantino uses them to contrast the scene, which tend to be very dramatically framed – like they would be in a comic book. Other films like The 300, Sin City or some of the super hero genre use this comic book approach, but in these cases it is very much a literal use of comic book visuals.

From a narrative perspective Iñárritu tends to use overlapping and intersecting stories, whereas Tarantino bets for a more twisty turny story. Either way, the viewer is in for a roller coaster ride!

One key element all of these directors share – and I did mention it before on my Woody Allen post- is their abilities to squeeze the maximum out of their actors. For example: Tarantino with DiCaprio or Brad Pitt in Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, and Iñárritu with Michael Keaton or Javier Bardem in Birdman and Biutiful.

My recent discovery (although the movie dates back to 2007, sorry) has been Sean Penn as a director. It is not unusual for intelligent, restless actors to get behind the camera, and Penn is no exception. Into the Wild is a straightforward enough story with a proper beginning, middle and ending, but Penn does a great job of telling that story, creating suspense and emotion. Although I have not read Jon Krakauer’s book, Penn does a fine job of telling this story.

Simmons College (now University)

Simmons University acting as UMass Dartmouth

If you at all follow this blog, one of the best in the inter-web, you know I have lately been catching up on my film viewing.

I recently watched Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon, about the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. Without spoilers, one of the bombers is a student at UMass Dartmouth, and when they show a panorama shot of the university, it is not UMass Dartmouth at all, (According to Imdb, UMass Dartmouth did not allow filming on its campus) it is my beloved Simmons College (now University) where I got my Masters!! And I realized I had never written about that experience on my blog.

My teaching adventure started by being a substitute teacher at Newburyport School District in 2005. I got my first real job teaching at Milton High School in the Fall of 2006. The school was rough, I had a lot to learn in a tough environment. Fortunately, I had a great boss who supported me, she recommended that if I wanted to pursue a career in teaching I should get a master’s degree. So I did my research: Only a few universities had evening programs for Spanish: Boston College, Boston University and Simmons. Guess which one had the best value and was closest to home?

Going back to school -as a student- was a bit daunting, something I had not done in exactly 20 years, but I was committed and loved the idea of learning in an academic setting. I loved my teachers; they were outstanding, tough but caring. My learning curve was steep, but I enjoyed every minute! Surprisingly, I thrived, I loved it. I was lucky to study Don Quixote and Golden Age literature under Louise Cohen, Spanish film with Dolores Pelaez-Benitez, Latin American lit with Raquel Halty and Modern Latin American lit with Danisa Bonacic. I must confess it was the first time in my life I saw As, never mind straight As! I looked forward to class, I did my research and wrote my essays with enthusiasm.

My cohort was a blast: Paul, Corrinne, Andrea, Laura, John, even the undergrads were nice, I am still in touch with them thanks to social media!

Photo Cred. Andrea

Simmons campus is small, but it is a proper campus, right in the middle of Boston, next to The Museum of Fine Arts and next door to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where Simmons students have free access. I would often arrive early to have a walk around the museum! The library had been recently renovated and was a great place to work and study before class. Simmons Library Science program is considered one of the best in the country. They also have a full Olympic pool where I would sometimes swim.

Although I loved every class and every teacher, I was particularly fond of Louise Cohen and her amazing mastery of Don Quixote and Golden Age Literature. It was for her class that I wrote about Don Quixote being the grandfather of Existentialist philosophy, which you can read in this blog by clicking here.

You might ask, “wait a minute, isn’t Simmons a women only college?”. The answer is yes, but only for undergrad programs, my MA was co-ed.

Prof. Halty was the department chair would host our cohort for dinner in her beautiful Weston home during the Christmas holidays. After my graduation I stayed in touch with my professors. Prof. Halty became my mentor in helping me get into a PhD program, she was also incredibly supportive during my breakdown.

In conclusion, Simmons College was a fantastic experience for me. A small school in the heart of Boston, with top level professors, great colleagues, and amazing facilities.

New England (the region) and Manchester by the Sea (the film)

Yes, I know it was released in 2016. So I am a little late on my movie viewing, OK? I recently watched Manchester by the Sea and loved it. It is a deeply human story set on the North Shore of Boston, in winter, an area I know and adore.

I first fell in love with New England when I moved to Boston for college in 1983. I fell in love with the Fall, with Boston, with the picture-perfect towns all around, with Walden Pond and Cape Cod, the Berkshires, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, lobster rolls, clam chowder, Dunkin Donuts, pretty much everything. After college I got the opportunity to work in Boston for a couple of years. I lived in a tiny apartment in the Back Bay and worked on the waterfront in the financial district. It was then that I really had a chance to further explore and discover. With a group of friends, the infamous Boston Gourmet Society, we would spend Summer weekends at the beach in Maine, and Winters skiing in Sugarloaf, renting a ski chalet for the season.

In 2005 I went back, and with added maturity, I really got to appreciate New England. We lived in Newburyport and Milton. Then I moved back to old Back Bay in Boston, I worked in those places and then Natick, and Cambridge and enjoyed it thoroughly. Loved the history, the food, the culture, yes, even the people!

My work during my first stay in Boston was in the financial sector, but on the second round, as a teacher and coach I got to visit schools for soccer, tennis, and fencing all over the Boston area, including Concord, Newport Rhode Island and Exeter New Hampshire! It was beautiful to see the seasons and the foliage, the towns, the forests, and the seashore.

The film Manchester by the Sea takes place during the bleak New England Winter, where everything is frozen, even the ground! Casey Affleck (not the sexy one, the one that can act) nails his performance. It is a tough, emotional film but I highly recommend it. For me it was a double whammy. As an emotional person, I really connected with the plot, and the photography of New England, specially of the North Shore, really drove home the film for me.

So, there you have it, two recommendations in one blog post: New England (the region) and Manchester by the Sea (the beautiful town AND the film). Enjoy.

Nature in my Southern Florida neighborhood

If you have at all followed this blog, you know how important nature is for me. Although I am a city boy, I grew up spending every weekend and Summer in the country. I still crave nature and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I have written before about the benefits of “forest bathing”, “Shinrin Yoku”. Although Boynton Beach is a suburban wasteland, there are a few great places to connect with nature.

The first and most obvious is the beach! I am lucky to live close enough to the beach that I can go for a run or if conditions are right, an open water swim about once a week. It makes my workout into a meditation; the sea clears your mind! I also go to the beach for my weekly “volunteering” shift where I walk and clean, mostly plastics, but also papers, old flip flops, etc. from the shore.

On the opposite, Western edge of town is the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge which consist of two parts, a mile boardwalk in Florida subtropical forest, and massive swamp that you can walk next to, or canoe on. Here you can see a lot of Florida wildlife: gators, deer, and plenty of birds.

Finally, a few blocks from home I have the Seacrest Scrub Natural Area which is a small park mostly hosting Gopher turtles. This little park is perfect for a quick walk to clear your mind, meditate or just wander.

So I can’t complain as far as outdoor venues is concerned.

10 years (almost), 200 posts, 100 likes

This was the start of a beautiful friendship (with Rocinante, not with the salesguy)

Time flies when you are having fun, as the saying goes. This blog, that started as a travel log for my motorcycle trip visiting grad schools for my PhD is hitting some important milestones:

First, we have posted over 200 posts, so that is something. That coincides with our upcoming 10th anniversary (it will be on July 31, but still, I am ahead of my time on everything except the rent), which translates to 20 posts a year, so about one every couple of weeks on average. Sorry I am a bit of a nerd.

100 likes means that every other one of my posts gets a like. Hey, I will take it!

My tops posts are the one on Don Quixote and his influence on Existentialist philosophy, and my dad’s eulogy.

Thank you to my readers for making this possible.

Enjoy my first and most recent photos posted on AntonioyRocinante

On minimalism

For the last few years, I have been trying to consciously deepen my spirituality. I have focused on my body – mind – soul connection, if you follow this blog (thank you), you will have already read about my retreats and my constant search for deeper meaning in life.

Well, one of the aspects of this process has to do with stuff, yes stuff – we have too much. For years, I have thought about my stuff, my belongings, clothes, furniture, accessories, gadgets, etc., and my attachment to them. In 2018 I got rid of many things when I moved back to Spain from the US, bringing with me only two suitcases and having only a couple of boxes –and two bicycles. This was not as traumatic as I thought it would be, and quite frankly I do not remember most of what I left behind. Now back in the US I am very conscious of how to go about starting, basically from scratch, since this time I only brought with me the two suitcases, no boxes, not even the bicycles!

Minder is meer. Mies van der Rohe

After four months I still do not have a sofa. Yes, I did buy a bed at Ikea, I am not sleeping on the floor just yet…. One of the many criteria about investing in new things is: Is it sustainable? My dining room table is from the Habitat for Humanity Store which means it is recycled and I helped others in my purchase.

Free of stuff I find it easier to focus, I am reading much more, I have not needed to hire a cleaning lady, I just sweep the floors once a week. Life is much, much easier! If you do some quick research you will find that the happiest people on the planet happen to be the Buddhist monks, further investigation will reveal that they only personally own about 8 things (something like 2 robes, 2 towels, a shaving blade, a bowl, a belt, and needle and thread). Obviously, I own many more things than a Buddhist monk, but a, there is a goal, and b, the important bit is being very conscious about your possessions.

Since in the US it is basically impossible to live without a car (except if you live in one of the few real downtowns) I bought a 2017 VW Golf. Possibly the best value for money in automobiles. As I stubbornly hold on to my vanity and ego, I did make sure it is a manual gearbox, because as everybody knows, if you drive stick you are a better person (or at least a cooler one).

The other day I saw a documentary about minimalism, based on a recent popular book, it reinforced everything I have been considering for the last few years. When I followed up on the documentary, I realized there is a whole movement dedicated to de-cluttering one’s life, simplifying, minimizing, tiny homes, etc. etc. I guess I am not as cutting edge as I thought I was, but at least it is good to know.

I used to have an empty cardboard wine bottle box and I would fill it with stuff that I no longer needed, clothes I no longer wore, books I had read and so on, and when it was full I would take it to the thrift shop and grab another empty box to start all over again!

There are many advantages to living with less stuff: you have more time to do things you would not do if you had a lot of things. For me, it is reading, I am reading a lot these days. Living with less means you save a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on buying things, duh. You also have more clarity, literally and figuratively.

In conclusion, I recommend you think about your things, what do you really need? and start a cleansing process, or call it a curating process and you might feel better about it. I think you will appreciate it. Have any thoughts or ideas? Let me know in the comments, thanks!

Lightning visit to Chapel Hill

Since graduating in 2016 I had not been to Chapel Hill, and I was dying to go soak it up. So a few weekends ago I jumped in my car and drove off to my beloved Alma mater in North Carolina.

After stopping for the night at a roadside motel in Florence S. Carolina, I arrived in Chapel Hill in time for lunch. I walked across the ghostly campus to see my dear friend Mandey at her restaurant, Imbibe. She did not know I was coming and was very surprised to see me! She fed me a gorgeous pork belly sandwich!! I was happy to see they had successfully transitioned to a delivery and pick up restaurant! Unfortunately, the upstairs bar, Zogs, my second home in Chapel Hill was closed due to Covid. From there I walked down Franklin Street, across town, enjoying the energy and the community, something that I dearly miss in nameless, faceless Florida. I am glad to report that The Yogurt Pump is still serving (from a window) the best frozen yogurt in the world. My old friend Jedd has opened a cigar shop (World Headquarters Cigars) and I enjoyed catching up with him for a while. My next stop was the Student Store!! Where I overspent on UNC gear, although truth be said, it was mostly presents for family. I took the long way back, stopping to meditate at the Arboretum.

Confession time: The Catholic church at UNC, The Newman Center, is across the street from the Carolina Inn, the quintessential Southern hotel. From my first days in North Carolina, after church on Sundays I would go across the street to the Carolina Inn, get a coffee and sit in the lobby to read. Once, when my sister came to visit, she stayed at the Inn and had an amazing experience! So, at last I bit the bullet and stayed at the Inn, I was dying to, and it did not disappoint!

I had socially distanced dinner with a handful of dear old professors: Cristina, Oswaldo, and Irene. My heart was overjoyed with happiness to spend time with them.

Sunday morning, after a perfectly Southern breakfast –including grits! I crossed the street to church. Mass is normally being held outdoors on the parking lot during Covid, but due to the rain, mass was cancelled and the ceremony was going to be livestreamed from inside. At the beginning they did not want to let me into the building, but when I identified Father Bill, they did. Seeing Father Bill was a more moving experience than I expected. Mass, with only a handful of parishioners, mostly undergrads, was simple and beautiful. After mass we could not abide by the rules anymore and Father Bill and I fell into a heartfelt, teary (for me) hug.

After sadly checking out of the Carolina Inn, I drove to Irene’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it was, full of good food, laughter, memories, conversation, and needless to say: gossip! After that, it was a sad, lonely, and rainy drive back to Florida, stopping to sleep in Savannah Georgia.

Now I can’t wait to go back and see all the folks I missed in this lightning visit (you know who you are), and to go to mi favorite places that were closed for safety’s sake. As Terminator would say: “I’ll be back”.