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”.

The “new” volunteering

Volunteering is one of my favorite things to do. I find that helping others, however indirectly it might be, is one of the most rewarding endeavors one can aspire to.

I started volunteering after my breakup in 2010 in Boston. Community Servings cooks and delivers food to homebound families (due to illness) all over the Boston area. Spending my Saturday mornings chopping carrots -or whatever else needed to be done- was the best therapy. And I made great friends in my “squad”.

In Chapel Hill I spent four years volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House. The house hosts families of hospitalized children, free of charge, as long as the child is hospitalized. Monday evenings from 6 to 9 were spent cleaning the kitchen, cleaning, and preparing rooms for families, welcoming families and showing them around, vacuuming, sorting soda can tabs (the aluminum is well payed), whatever needed doing. I cherish the friendships I made in the house during these years.

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

Naples Florida is a bit off the beaten track, so my volunteering took a two-pronged approach: Every Saturday I sorted stuff at the Saint Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Shop and then took it out to the showroom floor. I also helped at Champions for Learning, helping low income students get into college! This was extremely rewarding, as I helped students with their college essays or interview questions. The smiles on their faces when we made a sentence work or when they figured out an interview question were all I needed to fill my heart with joy.

Back in Spain I volunteered at the Ronald McDonald Prenatal Family Room at the La Paz Hospital keeping the room in tip top shape -and baking brownies for the families! I also volunteered at my local Caritas Chapter warehouse, sorting donated books, furniture, and electronics for low income families. I quickly integrated with the team and the hours passed quickly sorting and helping folks out.

Baking brownies for the Ronald McDonald Family Room

Then Covid struck and I moved back to Florida. Although there might be volunteering possibilities out there, I am cautious. At the same time, I miss the camaraderie, the rewarding feeling of helping others.

Fortunately, I live near the beach where I go for open water swims every week (weather, rip currents, and surf conditions permitting), so the other day I grabbed a bag and went for a walk picking up trash. I spent an hour and a half walking, meditating, and retrieving plastics (mostly), all sorts of bottles, 2 flip flops (different), bits of rope, bottle tops, and random trash. While it was a lonesome project, I did clean up the beach ever so slightly, and I got some exercise and meditation done, so I will be repeating this socially distanced volunteering again soon!! (next time I will take a bucket since the plastic bag did not like the wind).

The pros and cons of multiculturalism

Moving from NYC to Boston 1988

We first moved to New York In 1977, I was 12. From there we moved to London in 1979, from there to college in Boston in 1983, and so on for back and forth between the US and Europe. As I recently wrote in my “Diversity Statement” for a job application:

I have had the privilege of growing up in multicultural and multiracial environments, cities, and schools: New York City, London, Paris, Madrid, Boston, etc., so since childhood I have been bathed in diversity: cultural, racial, religious, sexual, socioeconomic, etc. On top of that I have had the privilege of traveling widely.

So, while being multicultural is definitely an enriching experience, it does have its drawbacks: The first one is that you no longer “fit” into any particular “set” culture, you become a bit of an outsider whenever you are in an environment of population that is “born and bred” in a place.  The second and more insidious aspect is that you might no longer meet certain legal or bureaucratic requirements to say, work in a place.

This is what happened to me when I returned to Spain in 2018. My US degrees (Including a PhD) are not recognized in Spain to work as a teacher. Furthermore, to get all my paperwork approved and transferred and certified and triple stamped would have taken years. Besides the paperwork, there is a mentality issue. Teachers in Spain are generally not a respected, appreciated, and certainly not well remunerated part of the population. There are historical and social reasons for that, but I will leave them for another post.

Long story short: I have returned to work in the US as Assistant Professor of Spanish and Assistant Director of the Language Department at Saint Vincent de Paul, a major seminary in Boynton Beach Florida! This was not an easy decision, leaving everything behind for a job, but I could no longer live in a country that refused to acknowledge me professionally.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Although I have a few editions, the other day I picked up a nice, used copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is one of my favorite books/poems of all time. I think it all started in the early 80s when we were living in London. My mom hired an Iranian English teacher to teach her English. I rarely saw her. I would come home from school and she would be in class with my mom. But one holiday she came to visit us in my parents’ country house outside Madrid. As a gift she brought a kilo of pistachios -which to this day I love, and a beautiful edition of the Rubaiyat.

I immediately fell in love with that book, it had an illustrated cardboard cover and beautiful illustrations. Every page had the verses in the original (more on that later) Persian or Farsi, English, and French. Right after college I purchased my first copy, and I would read it occasionally. For the last few years, I read it almost every Summer! This is not so strange, as there are several books I read and have read multiple times: Voltaire’s Candide and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea are examples.

At any rate, the book is not without controversy: About the original text, about authorship, about religious interpretations, and about the translations. I have no academic interest in the text, I just enjoy the poetry. I love the flow of the verses, the circularity of the themes, the imagery. It is ancient Persian but feels totally modern. It is an appeal to stop and smell the roses, something that we so often forget to do. Take for example:

I sent my Soul through the Invisible

Some letter of that After-life to spell:

And by and by my Soul return’d to me,

And asnwer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”

While I do not consider myself an Epicurean or a Hedonist in the modern interpretation of the words, I do enjoy small pleasures in life – which is much closer to the original thought of Epicurean philosophy, to enjoy modest pleasures from tranquility. Thus, I love a good cup of coffee or glass of wine, a well-prepared meal, a well rolled cigar, a piece of music or any art. That, I believe is the message of the Rubaiyat: to enjoy the moment that is life.

Let me know what you think of the Rubaiyat in the comments section.