On grilling

It might be our reptilian brains, our primal instincts, but few things taste as good as grilled foods. It does make sense: fire + food, no middleman, no fancy sauce, no nothing.

Now, I got the secret to buying great secondhand stuff from Spencer, a brilliant and wise old student of mine: You have to watch Craigslist like a hawk. And I did, patiently waiting and searching for the right barbeque. When it popped up, I snatched it up.

It is a baby gas Weber grill (Spirit II E-210), but it is all I need, and it fit my teacher’s budget. I know, of course the charcoal ones are far better, but to cook for one person, it is a bit of a production, so I confess to falling for the convenience of pressing a button and presto!

I invited my friend Manuel to dinner in order to properly inaugurate (for me) the grill. I rarely eat red meat, so when I do it is a treat. I went to the butcher in town, The Butcher and the Bar, and bought a pound of filet mignon from grass fed, Florida cows.

Of course, I washed and cleaned the grill as the obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive Virgo that I am, and we were ready to fire her up!

It did not disappoint. The steaks (and the asparagus we threw with them) came out perfectly. My main concern was that being a small grill it was not going to have the heat to sear the meat, but I was wrong (as usual) (see the photos). Since then, I have also done swordfish, and it has also been delicioso!

So, if you are in SW Florida and want to put some shrimp on the barbie, hit me up!

Film Club

One of the more rewarding aspects of being a teacher is the lasting relationships one makes with the students. Nowadays, thanks to social media this is really easy. I learned to cultivate these relationships from some of my old teachers, specially Prof. Aaron Nurick, who has been a friend and a mentor since I graduated from Bentley college in 1987!!

It is important not to be “friends” with the students during their studies, but once they graduate, then I will allow Facebook and Instagram connection.

At any rate, one such old student has invited me to a Film Club he has made with some other old students and friends. I am honored to be a part of this!!

We have an agreed on theme for the month, and about 4 films to view on that theme and then we meet on Discord, originally a gamer’s platform, but now a very complete meeting and group site! I prepare a bit of a charcuterie board and some vino and I join the meeting!

Members are as far away as Australia!

It is a pleasure revisiting old classics like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, or Almodovar’s Volver, but I also get a chance to see films that I would not otherwise see such as Mr. Nobody or Midsommar.

At this point we have done our first meeting on films with non-linear narratives, we are now exploring the use of color and by contrast our next theme is “noir”. I love this group and the club, maybe it should get a name…

Where are you on your journey? Richard Rohr (continued)

Spirituality and cigars, why not?

Where are you on your journey of self-fulfillment? Where are you on your journey of peace, inner and outer? Where are you on your journey of finding the real you? Not your things, your mind, or your TikTok likes, but your soul.

If you are on this journey, and I hope you are, and it is a journey, I hope that you pay attention to yourself, that you spend time alone cultivating, discovering yourself, call it what you will, your spirit, your soul. The first step on this long road usually comes about due to failure, breakage: a failed relationship, financial struggle, accidents, whatever. Without this fall, why would you need to rebuild? To re-calibrate? To question anything? Just go on your merry way with your ego, enjoy.

Otherwise, with every so-called failure, you release your ego; you embrace peace, you let go, you become more aware of your inner self. You rebuild and grow –and here is the catch- not necessarily stronger in the selfish way of thinking, but more vulnerable, wiser.

Why are you on such a metaphysical rant, Antonio? You might ask, and I am happy that you ask. You see, I have just read Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water and my mind has been expanded.

In his book, Rohr studies Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps from a spiritual perspective and re-frames your pre-conceived ideas of alcoholics!

The book is epigraphed by three quotes from three of my favorite guides:

“I did not come for the healthy, but for those who need a doctor.”

Jesus (Luke 5:31-32)

“Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.”

Carl Jung, letter to Bill Wilson (1961)

And

“These are the only genuine ideas, the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”

José Ortega y Gasset

The first step is the hardest to take: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Most of the time our ego blinds us to our problems. This is why many times only a violent awakening will make us reach for much needed help. That is the first step, realizing you have a problem, it is much easier to dismiss it than to deal with it, and its roots…

Rohr analyzes every step in detail weaving spirituality into each rung of the ladder. It is an illuminating book that everybody should read. Yes, you too.

We all have our addictions our sins, it does not have to be alcohol or drugs –although many times it is. Rohr sees how “breakage” and coming out of it is deeply healing and spiritual. In Japan, when they break a plate or a bowl many times they glue it back together with gold covered adhesive, making the piece much more valuable. They call it Kintsugi, and it makes for beautiful, unique pieces!

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Enjoying mi reading

A good cup of coffee (continued)

Yes, I talk about coffee a lot, and not because I am addicted to the stimulants, in fact during recent fasts, (for colonoscopy prep and for Lenten Fridays) I lived fine without it. And I only normally only have one cup a day. A standard 16oz size, not the Big Gulp Americans drown in. Well, lucky for me I have found a great coffee place in my neighborhood in what is otherwise the suburban wasteland of Southern Florida.

Common Grounds is a great little place despite its common name. The grounds are not Common, since they are single origin, fair trade, organic, all the feel-good stuff, but it makes for a tasty cup. The place is cute with real vintage furniture, a piano you can write on -it gets painted over when it is full-, and friendly, skilled staff. I have yet to try their pastries, but they do look tasty!!

Just as important as the coffee, the time you take to enjoy it, the space, the ceremony, your relationship with the barista, all make up your sensory and spiritual experience. Something that is normally mostly lacking in the big chain coffee shops.

The best company I can find nowadays here is a good book, as you can appreciate from the photos.

So, there you have it, if you are ever around Boynton Beach, hit me up, otherwise head over to Common Grounds!

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Taking advantage of my Spring Break, the other day I went with a dear friend to explore Jonathan Dickinson State Park. It is about 45 minutes North of Boynton Beach, but definitely worth the trip.

Since this is a massive park, you can camp, RV, mountain bike, canoe, kayak, etc. But my friend and I just hiked. There are many trails available, but they are all fairly similar in that the vegetation, landscape, etc. is mostly: low pine flatwoods. Although there are also cypress swamps, mangroves, saw palmetto, etc. It made for a wonderful and refreshing as the Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, forest bath, which the Germans call Waldeinsamkeit, although that refers more to the pleasant feeling you get in nature. So more of a resulting sensation than the actual forest bath itself.

The surprisingly beautiful Loxahatchee River crosses the Park. Surprising because it is unexpected and beautiful. There is a little beach for campers to swim, and you can kayak or canoe. If you are lazy there is a little boat that will give you a ride up and down the river!

One must pay attention when hiking to catch little things that would otherwise pass unobserved, like Pink Sundew carnivore flowers, or hawks flying, or a gorgeous woodpecker. We also spotted a nice Gopher tortoise and a copperhead snake (this one was dead, as it had gotten run over as it tried to escape the controlled burning… out of the fire and under the wheel, as the old saying goes…)

Jonathan Dickinson Park, so called for the fellow shipwrecked on Jupiter Island a few miles away from the Park in 1696, also boasts the highest “mountain” in South Florida, Hobe Mountain, complete with its observation tower. It is in fact, an 86-foot sand dune!! Admittedly, the views from the top are cool, since you can see the sea, the Intracoastal, and the massive park. The rangers were doing some controlled burning, which burns dead leaves and brush, but does not kill the bigger trees or saw palmettos.

We also saw the ruins of Camp Murphy, a military radio “school” during WWII.

Tacos

Strangely enough, I rarely write about food, which happens to be one of my favorite things! Well, we’ll try to fix it…

As an old family member used to say: “I will eat anything that does not eat me first”, so I´ll eat pretty much anything – except maybe that Corsican cheese with the maggots (it does explain Napoleon being Corsican, though). At any rate, one of life’s simple pleasures is street food.

And what better example of street food than tacos? Of course, there is street food everywhere there are streets, so I remember fish and chips growing up in London, crêpes in France during my summer internships, hot dogs and pretzels in New York, churros in Madrid, Dholl Puri (curried yellow split-pea flatbreads) in Mauritius, etc. etc.

My first visit to Mexico was for work in 1993, and I can testify that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Many tacos later, in Naples I was blessed (a word I hate to use because we are all blessed, we just don’t see it or do not want to see it) to have Taquería San Julian. While not a stand, but a “real” -if humble- sit down joint, it made exceptional tacos. In fact I took my students there to order their lunch in Spanish as the oral component of their final exams!

Florida, unfortunately, does not have a rich heritage of street food. In fact, it does not have much heritage at all. The native Seminole population is limited to a handful of casinos, and until the late 18th C. nothing much happened here. What about fried alligator? A handful of “native” Floridians will shout. Well, when was the last time you saw a fried alligator stand on a street corner? Fortunately, enterprising Mexican immigrants have filled that vacuum with delicious tacos!

In a providential twist, there is a great taco trailer that parks -literally- around the corner from my house. So, guess where I end up when I am in a rush, or feeling lazy, or just craving tacos?

Although I have had tacos at Michelin starred restaurants (Punto MX in Madrid) and they were delicious (and expensive), tacos are meant to be eaten on the street (Florida does not really have sidewalks so one must eat in the car).

In conclusion: Thank God for tacos!

Russian literature quiz

Match the titles of the books with their corresponding first line.

  1. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  2. Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.
  3. On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.
  4. Towards the end of November, during a thaw, at nine o’clock one morning, a train on the Warsaw and Petersburg railway was approaching the latter city at full speed.
  5. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste, I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a man’s soul and faith.
  6. In the big building of the Law Courts, during a break in hearing the case of the Molinsky’s, the members and the prosecutor met in Ivan Yegorovich Shehek’s office, and the conversation turned on the celebrated Krasovski case.
  7. It was a wonderful night, such a night as is only possible when we are young, dear reader.
  1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights
  2. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  3. Mikhail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita (trick question, this is the opening of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, which is based on this book)
  4. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
  5. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  6. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  7. Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ylich

Answers: 1-B, 2-E, 3-F, 4-D, 5-C, 6-G, 7-A

How did you do? As you can see this is a thorough test of your knowledge of Russian literature. In reality, it is a test of my knowledge (or lack thereof) of Russian literature, since these are the only books by Russian authors that I have read.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Having said this and confessed my weak literacy in this deep ocean of work, I love what little I have read of Russian literature. In fact, at one point, I naively fancied doing my PhD in Comparative Lit. studying Spanish and Russian. Granted, this thought only lasted until I realized there was no way I was going to learn Russian in any level required to pursue a PhD, so… about 15 seconds (yes, I am a bit slow).

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

One of the many reasons I love Russian Literature are the many links to my beloved Don Quixote. While this is not unusual, think of Moby Dick, Madame Bovary, and authors like Unamuno, Graham Greene, Foucault, and now even Salman Rushdie! Dostoevsky is clearly and heavily influenced by The Knight of Sad Countenance. Oh by the way, if you this will not be a profound, critical literary analysis, just my chaotic ramblings, sorry.

“No one’s fate is of any interest to you except your own.”

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

My first dip into Russian literature was, predictably, War and Peace which blew my mind. The intricacy of the descriptions, the narrative arc, the character development, the whole package! Tolstoy puts you in 19th C. Russia, down to the smells, the samovar ritual, the clothes, the temperatures, etc.

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Then came The Death of Ivan Ylich and my mind was blown even further. Here was all the richness of War and Peace, but in a short story. Crime and Punishment came in 2007, and at this point there was little of my mind that had not been blown to smithereens! In my opinion this is a psychological thriller at its best! If Tolstoy puts you in Russia, Dostoevsky puts you inside Raskolnikov’s mind!

“Beauty will save the world”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

A couple of years later my dear friend Irina recommended Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and I was just flabbergasted, bowled over, dumfounded. This is deep, funny, magical, wonderful reading.

Anna Karenina, I found more personal than War and Peace, it struck a chord in my heart, not only in my mind. Basically, a similar narrative arc, character development, etc. of War and Peace, but from a much more intimate, psychological perspective.

And now, I just started Dostoevsky’s The idiot. The start is promising, to begin with, there is a narrator interrupting the narrative. I love it and will keep you posted (if I have any brain left to write).

PS: I did not forget Chekhov. But as we say in Spain, that is flour from another sack…

Please leave any comments and recommendations below!!

On yoga and enlightenment

Like most people, I had heard a lot about yoga, my dear friend Paco used to practice in the 90s! So, on a whim I signed up for a class at my gym. That was in Chapel Hill about seven years ago, and I loved it! Since then, I have tried to have a weekly practice, usually at my gym, first in Chapel Hill, then in Naples and eventually Madrid. During the Camino de Santiago, if there was a patch of grass after a day of walking, I would do some rough poses (a flow would be an overstatement). A tiny village I stopped at even had a little, hippie yoga studio, Project Brigid, and they had a marvelous class under the trees, by a gurgling stream, bliss.

During the lock down I used the Down Dog app, which is rather good, even in the free section, but like everything digital and remote, it does not come close to an in-person class.

Back in Florida, my gym is not doing group classes, so, missing yoga terribly I did some research and found a studio down the road: Anuttara Yoga.

This place is amazing, they have a huge patio and garden where they have classes. Classes have an attendance limit, we are all separated and apparently, they have invested in some state-of-the-art ventilation system. This is difficult to know because the room is hot, ridiculously hot.

Granted these are my first classes in a real yoga studio, as opposed to a gym, but I love the vibe. Obviously, unlike your local gym, a yoga studio is on a whole different level. While I am not a granola eating vegan flower child, I have nothing but respect for those who are, and I do love the philosophy, and the aesthetic.

Classes are an hour and half! In the aforementioned heated room. Did I say room? I meant oven. Although I have been practicing for seven years, I still consider myself a beginner. That, and I am as stiff as a brick, so I really struggle with my flexibility. My particular class is 45 minutes of Hatha yoga –traditional, engaging poses, breathing, etc. and 45 minutes Raja yoga. Contrary to Hatha, Raja is dis-engagement, holding your poses for longer periods, on the ground as opposed to standing up, it is almost meditative, if the feeling of almost ripping your muscles allows you to concentrate on your breathing, that is. The first couple of classes were tough, but with practice, I am focusing on my breathing and making the experience almost meditative.

For me, yoga is another step towards enlightenment, another part of the puzzle to improve, to be a more forgiving, more patient, wiser person. Technically yoga is the intersection of body, mind, and soul. I am working on it…

Norton Museum of Art

The other day I finally had a chance to visit the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. I was thinking I was going to visit a small museum with a couple of obligatory Impressionists, a couple of Cubist pieces, maybe a few pieces from between the wars, plus some modern random stuff. Well, as usual, I was wrong!

To begin with, the museum is quite large – much larger than say, the Baker Museum in Naples. It consists of a three-floor modern building (designed by Foster) attached to the Art Deco original, plus a sweet garden with a nice modern sculpture collection.

After the necessary Covid protocols: temperature and hand sanitizing, I paid the steep $18 fee (plus $5 for parking). My museum viewing strategy, started years ago (possibly induced by the Guggenheim in NYC) is to take the elevator to the top floor and then work my way down. What was my surprise when I landed on the third floor and I saw a couple of massive 17th and 18th C. portraits! (The first painting you come to is an early 20th C. Orientalist, but probably because it was the only one of the genre there and they did not know where to put it). The third floor has a surprising collection of 16th to 18th C. paintings including Rubens and Tiepolo, and some sculptures, including a gorgeous Spanish wood carved Virgin Mary.

The second floor is mostly Chinese art where I am quite lost. There are Shang, Ming, Jin, and Qing Dynasty pieces which are all gorgeous.

The ground floor is where the majority of the collection is. And what a great collection it is! (for a smaller, private museum in Florida). Sure, you have your unavoidable Cézanne, Miró, Picasso (sculpture and painting!) and Monet, but also rarer Gaugin, Brancusi, Gris and so forth. The American art collection is solid:  A couple of Georgia O´Keeffes, Norman Rockwell, an early Jackson Pollock, Calder, less known but highly influential Milton Avery, even a Man Ray chess set! The old and new buildings are seamlessly connected, so you do not really know what part of the building you are in, unless, like me, you stumble into the old patio, which is a beauty.

A big part of the ground floor is dedicated to Contemporary art and the usually massive installations they require (maybe to compensate for technique? – no, to be fair, I must confess my old fashioned taste and lack of knowledge on the Contemporary art front.)

The garden and sculpture collection are also delightful. Who knew that Keith Haring did sculpture? well at least one, it is here!

There is the de rigueur over-priced cafeteria, but it is spacious and modern, and the food is good. You can sit indoor (as soon as Covid allows) or outside.

So all-in-all a highly recommended visit if you happen to be an art lover in South East Florida.

On poetry

Although I started this blog years ago with some poetry: Frost’s The Road Not Taken and Cavafy’s Ithaka, I have not written as much about poetry as I should have, given how much I enjoy it, and compared to other arts. Sure, I recently wrote about Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, but that is still not enough for my liking. So here is an attempt to fix that.

My first conscious appreciation of poetry came in college with Pablo Neruda. To this day I am still moved by his words, and Tu Risa is still one of my favorite poems. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses is also right up there as well as the two poets mentioned at the beginning. But the list of favorite poets is a long one: Lorca, Bequer, Espronceda, Benedetti, Mistral, Pessoa, Milton, Manrique, Dante, EE Cummings, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Blake, Elizabeth Bishop, and on and on. But one does not have to go to the big guns to find poetry that will amaze you. Naïf, amateur or student writers can take you places you would not think. Sometimes poetry hits you when you least expect it: I was surprised and blown away by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman at Biden’s Inauguration. Quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro, euthanasia’s cause célèbre in 90s Spain also wrote some sweet lines. Check out this poem in the namesake movie:

For me, the beauty of poetry is the capacity it has to transport you in a few words, in a verse. Never mind words, Haikus only have seventeen syllables – three lines!! I love Haikus: although I knew and had read them before, I actually became a follower of Haiku poetry by reading, wait for it… Jack Kerouac’s book of Haikus! (although he does not always follow the 17-syllable rule), since then I have read and enjoyed Bashō, the master. I am in awe of poets since I cannot write my way out of a paper bag (thank you for reading this, it means a lot).

Years ago, at Walnut Hill School I got a glimpse, a backstage tour of the poetry world from the brilliant poet and teacher Daniel Bosch. I once invited him to my advanced Spanish class to talk about Neruda’s Veinte poemas de amor…, which we were studying at the time, and he blew our minds!! Daniel also wrote a hilarious poem when I got my citizenship: Song for a New American. To this day it is framed and on my wall!!

I write all this because I have just read …del amor hermoso by Chilean author and teacher Luis Correa-Díaz, and it is wonderful. His capacity to write about love, apparently in a playful manner, but not really. His poems are soaked in ecclesiastical vocabulary and structure which gives his writing an extra edge and throws you off the traditional expectation as a poetry reader. This is apparently three books in one, which again is a bit unsettling: where there originally three separate books? Is it all another manipulation of my expectations? Another old-fashioned trick, which still works is that he “found” the poems in a manila envelope, and the ones he did not find are “anonymous”. Never mind the trickery, the poems are lovely and they keep you reading and paying attention.