On Bow ties

No, I did not always wear a bow tie.

Before I started my professional career I had a bow tie, a single bow tie gifted to me by an old girlfriend who bought it in Barneys, the real Barneys on 19th St. only four blocks from my Chelsea apartment where I lived while I looked for a job in Wall Street in 1987 (Hint: it did not happen, although I did get a great job in Boston a few months later).

I did not even know how to tie it. I had to walk over to Barneys twice before learning how to tie it by myself. Now I can tie it with my eyes closed – literally!

It took a few years for me to get a second bow tie, then a third, a fourth, you know how it goes. Eventually it became a bit of a trademark and developed as my “look”. In crowded conference halls, trade shows, and schools I was the bald guy with the bow tie. Of course, it helps that bow ties are characteristically academic, so wear a bow tie and automatically become more “academic”.

Nowadays I mostly wear bow ties for teaching. An old teacher trick is to have some sort of flamboyant item of clothing to guarantee that your students fixate on you as the most exciting thing to look at in the classroom -keep in mind that you can easily be replaced by a fly buzzing around the room! Surprisingly, this even works at the grad school level where I teach now.

Even the logo for Tonxo Tous, my moonlighting job as a tour guide in Spain is a bow tie!

Occasionally I will wear a regular tie to mix it up, and for my church ushering job on Sundays at mass, but otherwise it’s bow ties all the way!

So, if you are stuck with what to get me for Christmas, problem solved!

Tonxo Tours update

Here is a mysterious story for you…

If you follow my blog (thank you, I really appreciate it) you know I now have a deeply rewarding, full time job, which means that Tonxo Tours has become a bit of a side gig, which I can only indulge in during a few days at Christmas time and during Summer. I still love sharing my love for Spain, especially Madrid and its surroundings. I also get a kick out of promoting it. I love taking photos to put up on the Instagram (tonxotours) and I also love recording short videos explaining bits of Madrid which I also post to Insta and to the Tonxo Tours YouTube site. Here are a couple of my recent clips, and you can watch the rest here!

The videos are not great quality, in fact they are all home made with little to no edits, because I believe the story is what matters here, so unless you are a video snob, enjoy!

So, if you are in Spain for Christmas or Summer, hit me up and I would love to show you around!

Here is a quick one with a special guest: my niece!

The Proposition

I’ve been in Film Club for a few months and I love it! I have re-visited some oldies, seen some interesting new (for me) films, and a couple of films I did not particularly care for. But last month I saw a film I must write about.

The theme for June was Westerns: Fort Apache (1948), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Proposition (2005), and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Ignorant of me, I did not know there was such a genre as Australian Westerns like The Proposition. As the opening credits ran and I saw it was written by Nick Cave, I mentioned it to my dear friend Theo who knows Cave and his work well. His comment: “It’s a grim tale.”

Grim indeed, but at the same time deeply mesmerizing. The photography is married to the soundtrack in a way I have not noticed in most films. Another of the Film Club member’s opinion was “hypnotic”. Yes, there was one scene I could not bare watch, but the overall work is masterful, intelligent, and beautiful despite the violence.

Without spoilers, the plot weaves family, colonization and the Aborigines, morality (the key element I found in the films I saw) and the concept of justice.

The brilliant cast includes Guy Pierce, John Hurt with a stellar performance (and the only hilarious stingers of the film) and a spiritual death, and a perfectly cast Emily Watson who knocks it out of the park as an English rose.

So, if you have not seen this jewel and do not mind some (ok, a lot of) violence, make this movie the next one you see. You are welcome.

Arthur Burns: Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

A few (blissful) days in Mallorca

Although last year we anchored overnight in the wild and gorgeous Es Trenc bay, I missed Mallorca; the intense smell of pine trees, the deafening song of thousands of cicadas, the mesmerizing Mediterranean, the unexplainable beauty of the light, the deliciousness of the food, and the quiet night sky.

This year I managed to join my family for a few days in the same cala -small bay- we have been going to since I was a child. It is very comforting to know the area, the folks at the restaurants, and the hotel staff.

The beach is small, but it has silk soft white sand and crystal-clear water. The defining characteristic of this spot is an island in the middle of the tiny bay which hosts a great little restaurant which specializes, obviously, in fish. This island has a rock jutting into the sea where you can jump from. Every day we swim over to the rock and jump, it is possibly the best moment of the year for me. The feeling of absolute freedom for the second that I am in the air.

Otherwise, it is a quiet time. We enjoy an amazing breakfast spread, we hang out at the beach all morning with a quick mid-morning break for a cortado* at the beach bar, we have a jump in the hotel pool before a pool-side lunch, a little siesta, a workout at the gym or a run in the hills, and hanging out at the pool for the rest of the afternoon until we mobilize for a nice dinner at a local restaurant (this year we spotted Chelsea forward Timo Werner and retired German mid-fielder Bastian Schweinsteiger at our favorite Italian joint!). We have travelled the island many times before, so we do not feel an urging need to explore, just to chill and hang out. I cannot wait for next year!

* Cortado, which means “cut” is an espresso with a dollop of milk to “cut” the acidity of the coffee.

Wait for it…

Summer Adventures, Camino de Santiago (#2)

My last Camino de Santiago had to be cut just short of finishing because of time constraints. After a fallow Covid year, I was rearing to get back on the Camino, the Camino del Norte, following the North Shore of Spain until it turns Southwest towards Santiago de Compostela. That turn inland is just where I finished in 2019.

I picked up just where I left off, on the ria (fjord) that separates Asturias from Galicia on the latter side, Ribadeo. A cute town with a nice marina and old buildings ranging from Medieval to Modernist – these were financed by “indianos” folks that made it big after emigrating to America, mostly Cuba, and returning full of cash. Since I could not find the right transportation to get there, I ended up driving myself. I shared the ride on BlablaCar to help me with the cost of my gas guzzler old Land Rover Discovery.

The first day was, like the next four, rainy, but I was so happy to be walking again. It meant wearing a poncho that keeps the rain out but somehow also gets you all wet inside. I have not figured out if the moisture is sweat from wearing a plastic sheet over you, or water that gets in. But I refuse to spend over 200 € for a real rain jacket. I try to keep my Camino as close to the Medieval pilgrims who would have done it, at least as close as I can get in the XXI C.

Breakfast at the albergue was a rare treat: tortilla, good coffee and fresh squeezed OJ. My guide recommended pushing 34km to Mondoñedo for the quality of the Albergue and the town. Although it was a bit of a challenge for my first day, it was worth it. I only met four other pilgrims along the way. Before Mondoñedo is Lourenzá which is a nice village which has an amazing monastery! The albergue in Mondoñedo, as the guide promised, was awesome and I even had space to do some post hike yoga! When I sat down at the cathedral for mass, seeing as I was a pilgrim, I was asked by the sacristan if I wanted to read the first reading and the Psalm. What an honor! Of course I accepted although I was wearing my long sleeve T-shirt, shorts, and after hike flipflops! (I always wear long sleeve T-shirts to protect me from the sun and to keep me warm, as the case might be)

One of the reasons I walk the Camino is to honor and remember my dad, who always talked of doing it. So I always make sure that I am walking on June 20, his birthday. On that day, he walks especially close to me.

Day two is still raining and starts with a brutal two-hour climb -fortunately on good ground. Eventually it stops raining and I walk through ancient, magical forests for hours, without seeing a single pilgrim all day (except a German couple at the only café on the Camino). Vilalba, my destination, is quiet as it is Sunday evening when I arrive. I go to the evening mass and dine at the only place open in town.

Day three is, as I said before, rainy. But a pilgrim churns on regardless. I finally meet a genuinely nice pilgrim from Gerona, and we chat for a while.

One of the rewards of the Camino is seeing interesting architecture, mostly churches, but also occasionally homes or other buildings. During this stage, I walk to a gorgeous early Gothic church in the middle of a forest, by a river, San Esteve (see photos). Albergue Witericus at the end of the day is an old, restored farmhouse in the middle of a forest. I spend the rest of the rainy evening there, chatting with the wonderful innkeepers, reading, and writing my diary, dining the vegetable soup from their garden and an omelet from their chicken’s eggs!

Day four starts dry but soon changes to pouring rain. The Camino crosses the cute village of Miraz with its manorial tower, and 18th C. church and then climbs into the hills. This day also hits the highest point of the Camino del Norte in Galicia, a mere 700 mts (2.300ft). I finally meet the fellow that keeps overtaking me as he is doing the Camino running!! He is a lovely chap and stops to walk with me for a while. I end my day at Sobrado with its amazing Cistercian monastery which still operates with fourteen monks -one of them a brit! I obviously stay for very mystical Vespers with them, before dinner at a local restaurant.

Day five is finally sunny. Cold but sunny, so there is an extra spring in my step. At Arzúa I connect with the Camino Francés, which carries a stream of people. Fortunately, after clearing the village there is no one for the rest of the day. My final albergue is a lovely, restored old house and there is only me and a fellow from Honduras. The only attraction in the village is a bar decorated fully with empty beer bottles! I am the only customer there and spend over an hour chatting with the owner about politics, and the meaning of life, extremely rewarding.

My last day is sad as this Camino has been noticeably short for me, but I get to celebrate it with an amazing breakfast on the trail. I enjoy walking alone, meditating, breathing the fresh air. As we approach Santiago, the concentration of pilgrims increases, but that is part of the Camino. My last coffee stop is the same as when I finished the Camino Francés in 2018, the cortado is just as delicious as I remembered.

Tired of albergues and ready to fulfil one of my Camino dreams, I book my overnight in Santiago at the Parador. This luxury hotel is housed in the original, medieval “Hospital de peregrinos” which yes, was a hospital, but also served as a hostel for those who could not afford where to stay in Santiago. In fact it is technically the oldest hotel in the world. I celebrate my arrival in Santiago with a long, long bath. And only after did I venture for a meal, a walk and eventually mass in the recently restored cathedral that houses the remains of St. James.

In conclusion, I wish my walk would have been longer, but again, family obligations kept me from extending my walk to Finisterre. Otherwise, I love the spiritual journey of self-discovery that is the Camino, walking in nature for days on end, meeting interesting people with their stories, seeing amazing architecture that spans almost a thousand years, and eating great food. But do not get me wrong, the Camino is not a walk in the park, it requires you to walk for miles on end every day. My average this outing was 31.6 km per day (that’s close to 20 miles a day). You start the day with boundless energy, but the last couple of hours of an eight-hour day, day after day are a difficult slog that tests your mental and physical endurance.

Teacher of English certification

Although I have taught Spanish, French and English for years, I felt that my teaching of English needed some TLC (Tender Loving Care), so I signed up for a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language certification course.

I did some research and found a great program at the University of Toronto Institute for Studies in Education. They have various Teacher of English as a Foreign Language certification courses, designed for different regions like Korea, China, or the Middle East, so the training is specific for those learners. Since I do not foresee working in those countries just yet, I just signed up for the plain vanilla course. Technically it is for teaching English abroad, but at the end of the day you have to teach to the people who want and need to learn regardless of where they might be. Geography is not an issue. Of course, living in a target language country makes it easier for the learner to immerse in the language and culture, but that is about it.

The program is well set up with a solid introduction to the English language, history, grammar, and then on to language learning theory, classroom management, assessments, etc. It is a very neat course and I highly recommend it. After sixteen years teaching, a lot of the material was review, which was still good for me to have. It was also good to explore some of the language learning theories that I only knew from hearsay like, for example, Jim Cummins BICS and CALP (Basic interpersonal communication skills versus Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). It is difficult to organize such a generic course especially for me since I am currently teaching graduate school. But overall, I highly recommend it!

Stuff one finds on the beach.

As my faithful readers know, my community service this year was cleaning the beach every Sunday afternoon. It was extremely rewarding to help, and at the same time to walk for an hour and to meditate while enjoying the beautiful beach and weather. A three in one: community service, meditation, and exercise.

During the Winter months, the strong winds (I guess) blew in all kinds of trash, sometimes in the course of an hour I had to empty my big bucket (you know, the 5-gallon blue buckets) up to three times! Now in the warmer months there was remarkably less trash. Anyway, that was my highly scientific (not) guess.

Fortunately, I am not the only one on beach cleaning duty, I do bump occasionally into other people cleaning up. The town also has 4 buckets available at the entrance to the beach if you want to grab one and clean up.

On top of all that there is a bit of a treasure hunter thrill, and a fun component to what you find or might find. Here is an incomplete list of things I have found:

  • Bottle tops – this is the most popular trash on the beach ☹
  • Plastic forks and spoons – really people?
  • Bottles – mostly plastic but also glass. All sorts of bottles: drinks, shampoo, oil, you name it…
  • Bits of plastic – from tiny to huge and in all colors. You cannot even tell what they used to be a part of.
  • Flip flops – every Sunday at least one! Usually, barnacle incrusted.
  • Cigarette lighters
  • Deflated balloon
  • Hammerhead shark – dead
  • Comb – I picked it up, not because I needed it.
  • Eyeglasses – no glass and broken, but I do not need them.
  • Lure – with a massive hook I gave it to a dude fishing.
  • Dog Tag – Palm Beach.
  • Part of a propeller – someone surely missed it…
  • Etc. Etc.

Oh, and make sure you do not step on the Portuguese Man-O-War… or their deadly, long tentacles.

Helping at church, on being an usher

One of the resources I leveraged years ago when I went through a rough crisis was going to church. While the church had always been there, I never really had a spiritual connection to it. Then I started going regularly, enjoying the time to recollect myself, the ceremony, the silences, begging for forgiveness, etc. and hopefully, if I was lucky a good lesson in the form of a sermon, these however are understandably rare.

The first church I went to during this crisis was St. Elizabeth in Milton, outside of Boston. I only went there for a couple of weeks and I spent most of the time (ok, all the time) crying. From there I went to Our Lady of Victories in Boston, which unfortunately has now closed. One day one of the Marist brothers who ran the church asked me to help during mass. I explained that I was not worthy of helping but they insisted. My first job was ringing the little altar bells before Consecration and Communion, then I started reading. Then I moved to North Carolina where I was warmly welcomed by the UNC Newman parish and Franciscan Brother Bill of whom I have written a lot about before here.

St. Ann’s in Naples was my home for a couple of years. Here in Madrid, I went to cute, tiny Our Lady of Lourdes for a while, and to the Jesuits for a few years, but my official parish and the one I have been going to for many years is San Fermín de los Navarros, which is basically across the street and where both my sisters got married. Like in Boston, the Pastor after seeing that I was a bit of a regular asked me to read, and I do so humbly and with pride.

Cut to the chase, after a few times at St. Marks in in Boynton Beach, I was approached by an usher and asked if I wanted to join their crew. I had never really thought about it, but I am happy to serve. The team is a fun, hodgepodge collection of characters, Christine who recruited me is, of course, the boss, the usher coordinator. I have to wear black pants, a white jacket, white shirt, and a tie. Yes, I look a waiter but since I am snob, I prefer to think I look like a sommelier. Since I did not have a white jacket, they lent me one… until I found a vintage one that I much preferred. The job is easy enough: be charming and welcome everyone as they come in, once mass has started guide the late comers to socially distanced seating, manage the Communion flow, at the end open the doors and say “goodbye”, then clean up bulletins left in the pews and put the collection in a bag. Easy peasy.

In conclusion, no job is too simple, too easy. Every honest job is honorable. I am happy to serve and to be useful.

The Walker Cup

Once in a while, on Friday after school a few elements will align and I actually stop at the Smoke Inn, my cigar lounge for a celebratory cigar, a “Happy Hour” as it were, a necessary attitude adjustment hour.

So there I am, enjoying a cigar and a libation, out on the porch, reading my book, and the TV is showing the opening ceremony of the Walker Cup, which happens to be at the Seminole Country Club which is a couple of blocks away from my friend Manuel’s house in Juno Beach. Since he is a golf fan and I am a good friend, I send him a photo telling him about it.

Sunday comes around and Manuel sends me a message that he is at the tournament and that I should go. I do, and we had a great time!

The Walker Cup is a competition between US and English (and Irish) amateur players i.e.: university guys (and it is only guys). We enjoyed watching a few holes, we savored a refreshment and overall, just had a good time! (Oh, and the Yanks won)

First year back Stateside

A year ago I was locked up in Madrid, teaching a few classes on line, obviously Tonxo Tours was paused indefinitely. So I started looking for gigs around the world. As fate would have it, I ended up back in my beloved (not) Florida. Well at least the East coast of Florida which, having a bit more history than the West coast is a bit more diverse…

So, as I review the year, what are my main observations and conclusions:

I love my school! Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary. We get students from North Carolina down to the Caribbean, and I get to teach them Spanish and English in a beautiful campus with great colleagues!

Despite Covid issues like having to wear a mask to class, it still beat Zoom classes where students are sitting on their beds, getting up to brew a cup of tea…

I have worked hard at building my community by building relationships at school, volunteering as an usher at my church (wait for a blog post on that), and trying to socialize –although that boils down to me going to my cigar lounge once in a while.

Speaking of fate, I was lucky to find out that my friend from my schooldays in London, Manuel Andrés lives a couple of towns North of me in Juno Beach! We basically saw each other every week-end for pizza, barbecue, or trips to Ikea. Last weekend we crashed the Walker Cup which took place next door to him (watch for another blog post on that).

I have moved so many times –about 20- in my life, that I now have a fairly established routine: find a nearby church, gym, and yoga studio, bar, coffee shop, cigar shop/lounge, community service, breakfast restaurant, Trader Joe’s, etc. Of course it is tricky to check all the boxes, so there is a bit of give and take. For example, I do not really go to the bar much anymore, but I do have the beach to go running, swimming and walking/meditating, so it compensates.

All in all, it has been a positive year and it has flown by! Now I only have a handful of meetings, some paperwork and I am off to Spain, stay tuned!