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For a few years, since 2010 to be precise, I have been actively seeking inner peace, not just talking about it with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other staring at a sunset. It is only with breakage that one slowly lets go of the ego and matures through Kierkegaard’s three stages that we have seen before (the aesthetic, the ethic and the spiritual). With my divorce and the life changes brought about by that trauma, I started seeking solace and understanding. My first, basically subconscious moves were to exercise, to work with a therapist (the amazing Dr. Nemser), I went to church on Sunday – and have not missed a Sunday since (maybe a couple but only for reasons of force majeure), and volunteering. I started reading Scripture every night, then I got hooked on Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, I tried to find inspiring readings, revisiting Tolstoy’s The death of Ivan Illich, Milton, Jalics, etc. With time I started meditating, then I started yoga, then came walking the pilgrimage to Santiago…

Little by little I started realizing in my body, mind and spirit that all these things were connected, that working with one affected the other two. Yoga, even weightlifting quieted my mind, meditating relaxed my body and spirit. Breathing helped me stretch during yoga. I realized that while we are made up of many different things, we are in fact one totality of being with a single energy.

I started yoga lessons in North Carolina about six years ago. It was the perfect thing for saturdays after friday night soccer games. And just like that I was hooked. I normally find a gym or a studio that has lessons, but in a pinch I use an app called Down Dog which is very scalable!

For meditation, I usually wait until the end of the day so I have nothing left to do that day. Or I parcel out a time to mediate. I sit and breathe, focussing on my breathing for twenty minutes. I use a great app called Insight timer where I can time myself, take courses, dial into guided meditations – and it keeps track of your progress!

Then I started using these techniques with my athletes when I coached, most recently and successfully the tennis players at the Hun School. Yoga on days in between games, a bit of meditation before games, it all translated to happier, less injured, more understanding players.

Volunteering has been a key factor in my recent growth and maturity. First at Community Servings in Boston cooking for sick, homebound families. In Chapel Hill I volunteered every monday night for four years at the Ronald McDonald House. In Naples I helped out the St. Vincent de Paul charities. Now in Madrid I’m helping at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the La Paz Hospital in Madrid, for families with premature babies.

My second pilgrimage to Santiago I really focused on walking, meditating, stopping at churches for contemplation, doing yoga after the day’s walk. It really was magical, and I noticed a holistic improvement!

Healing is a long process that there is no way to rush. Acceptance, gratitude, patience, forgiveness, compassion, perspective, humility, understanding, generosity, none of these knock on your door overnight. One must consciously work at healing, it is slowly working for me, give it a try!

 

And so, fourteen years after leaving Spain, I return home to my beloved Madrid. My exile is over. There are two main reasons to explain my homecoming: a personal and a professional:

The first is family. My mom is 85 years old and not getting any younger, health issues start popping up with more and more frequency, her hearing is diminishing. So I decided to be with her. She lives in a big old apartment downtown and it is wonderful to have breakfast with her, help her with the cleaning and maintenance of the apartment and hang out with her throughout the day. My sister lives nearby with her three great kids who are growing up so fast (13, 11 and 7). Last week I went to my nephew’s soccer game and it was marvelous to see him score two goals. My oldest niece and god-daughter is just starting her teenage years and I am happy to be here to support her. As for the little one, the other day she was dropped off at home with an eye infection that kept her away from school, so I took her with me for my coffee and errands and we had a blast!

Just like family there are friends, old friends, real friends, friends that I have missed, friends that listen, that help you, that make you laugh, friends that are not afraid to call you out. And last, but not least, as the great late Robin Williams as psychologist Sean says to Will (Matt Damon) in the awesome Good Will Hunting: “I gotta see about a girl.”

The second and also important reason is a professional one, a pedagogical one. Over the years I have gotten tired of the narrow American definition of success, and of teaching in schools that thrive and endorse this way of life implicitly and explicitly. I have been fortunate to teach at schools like Seacrest and Walnut Hill, where the emphasis was much more on the humanistic development of the child. Even “pressure cooker” schools like Buckingham Browne and Nichols in Boston had a solid notion of a quality of life not necessarily related to money or the rat race. I believe that everybody in a school, (and in any community for that matter) students and teachers, benefit from playing, from hanging out, from conversation. Maybe as I get older I value quiet, and time, I believe in the beauty of conversation, of enjoying a chat and a coffee. We have the scientific evidence that happiness is not based on your SAT scores.

So I grabbed my bag and came home.

 

 

 

Not to be too much of a hedonist here, but in the world we live in, sometimes it is better to enjoy a nice wine than to try to change people who do not want to change. So let us talk about wine.

My dad enjoyed a good glass of wine. He knew many growers and vintners, so growing up I was spoiled by trying wonderful wines. Having said that, they were mostly solid, serious, dry, old school Riojas and the occasional Ribera del Duero, ok and a glass of bone dry sherry before lunch, oh, and nice Champagne at celebrations!

So I come by my hobby honestly. I started enjoying a glass, ok, or a bottle, seriously in college. I learnt a lot from my french classmates and other budding enthusiasts, but, like most, could not enjoy a solid bottle for pecuniary reasons. That is until I got my first job after university and then things got serious. My palate was used to those heavy, dry Riojas, so when one of my summers in university I went on an internship to Bordeaux I was baffled by the awesome flavor of those much lighter wines – that is why Bordeaux used to be called Claret (for clear). Through time I slowly discovered more and more wine regions and could, never mind identify, but more importantly, enjoy different wines.

As I got older I fell in love with different regions, producers, even specific bottles. Here are some of my faves:

Any “old school” Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva: Marques de Caceres, Ygay, Muga, CUNE, Marques de Riscal… It is a long list, but if I had to pick a couple, they might be Remirez de Ganuza and LAN.

With the Ribera del Duero I am a bit more picky. Real Riberas have very high tannins and only the older, aged, wines have “tamed” those tannins. So my favorites there are Alejandro Fernandez’s Pesquera Reserva – this was a long love of mine. (It’s little brother Condado de Haza is pretty good as well).

I have been lucky to meet and visit a few growers myself, and that makes all the difference, as you get a much better understanding of the wine making process, the land – terroir, the whole shebang!

One such visit was to the Marques de Griñon in Toledo. He is a lovely fellow and clearly loves each and every single grape he grows! While there I tasted his Syrah (Shiraz, you say potato…) and it was love, sorry, taste at first sight! While I have enjoyed many great Syrahs over the years, that one was a spectacular moment.

Another love story might be with Pinot Noir, but not just any Pinot. You see I was never really impressed with this grape, until one good day not too long ago I had a California Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and it changed my life: light, but packing a whole lot of deliciousness. These are normally tricky (and expensive) to find, as the region is quite small, so good luck!

This summer while doing the Camino de Santiago I crossed the Bierzo region, which until recently was only known in Spain. Well, some of those wines really blew my mind!!

But my fave non-Spanish wine region is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, yes I know I am not very original, but I love the full bodied goodness of these guys!!

Given a choice I drink red, but if I have to pick a white, it usually is an Albariño, followed by a Verdejo, after that I’m not all that interested.

There you have it, a short but sweet list of my favorite wines, without getting all pedantic with technical bits, but still making myself a wine snob/nerd.

Years ago, while getting my PhD, I promised I would upload my writings for my courses. Well, I did not fully keep my promise… But I am going to fix it, little by little.

You see, I recently came across an unpublished article I wrote about one of my favorite films: Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley. It is a disgusting film and I love it.

Torrente poster

As my habitual readers will know, my writings were not peer-reviewed, so they are fairly raw and rough. But do let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

So there you have it, I hope you enjoy the article!

Click here: Torrente a XX Century Quixote

Oh, and here is the trailer (for the full 5 film package – although the article is only about the first film)

 

 

 

 

First off I must apologize for my long silence. Life has been a bit crazy lately and I promise to explain soon. In the meantime I really want to bring this video to light.

While the pendulum of history continues its inexorable swings, it never moves back to the same place. I say this because I am confident, hopeful that the world is slowly becoming a better place. If you are quiet for a moment and tune out the nonsense and the screaming, there are plenty of signs we might be on the mend. But I am not here today to list everything I find encouraging on our planet, just to highlight this wonderful video.

You see, I was chatting with the bright and talented teaching fellow Andrea at work the other day about being open to love and to life and she mentioned this Ted Talk.

Of course, one of my spiritual guides Richard Rohr (see previous post about his teachings) also talks about vulnerability. Here he mentions it in the face of trauma:

It was in this process that I came upon what I call the axial moment in which our most intimate experience of who we are turns, as on a hidden axis of love, down through the pain into a qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place. It is in the midst of this turning that we discover the qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place is actually the abyss-like, loving presence of God, welling up and giving itself in and as the intimate interiority of our healing journey.”

I am not going to ramble on and on about it, I am just going to leave it here and you can watch it. Let me know your thoughts on the comments area. Enjoy!!

Last year I wrote some notes and advice for pilgrims. Here are some more picked up from round II:

Take care of your whole body, not just your feet. Last year I was hyper focused on my feet, to the point where I disregarded the rest of my body. This year I paid much more attention:

  1. Yoga: I tried to do yoga most evenings. I looked for a patch of grass and then free styled or used the Down Dog app on my phone. In Herrerias I even found a yoga class taught by Esther, a wonderful Dutch girl. It was in a clearing in some trees with a stream running by. It was by far the best yoga lesson I have ever had!! The stretching is wonderful and resets the body.
  2. Ice baths or equivalent: I was lucky to find ice-cold rivers and streams to dip in after my walks. This is critical to bring down whole body inflammation after all day hiking. I found this deeply restorative as well as refreshing. In worse case, a cold shower will also help bring down any possible inflammation.
  3. Liquids, liquids, liquids (preferably not alcoholic). I did not do a bad job on this last year, but this year I made sure to crank it up! Make sure that you keep a solid supply of water, especially if doing the Camino in the summer. I had a stretch one afternoon where I could not find an albergue, it was very hot and I was tempted to not fill my bottle. I’m glad I did, as it took a while to get to the next water source.

Besides your body, listen to your soul. The early morning hours are usually quiet and mostly without people. This is a perfect time to meditate. I use an old rosary to help me match my breath with my pace and a mantra. One morning I managed a solid 45 minutes, a record of conscious meditation for me. It was one of the most cleansing and spiritual experiences I have ever had.

But the best lesson to share is to start walking.

Since I ended my Camino last year I was itching to get back to my pilgrimage. It did not disappoint. Exactly a year to the day, I boarded a bus to Astorga, the city where I finished last year. Four hours later, I arrived. I did not want to spend the night in a place that only had sad memories and heartbreak for me. So I walked to Murias, the first village out. It was a gorgeous evening walk on one of the longest days of the year. I passed by the obligatory tiny chapel and yellow arrows. The small Albergue was a repurposed, old, one classroom schoolhouse. Just about everyone inside was already dozing. But I walked to the local restaurant for a quiet dinner with a glass of wine. Then crawled into bed after a quick shower.

My Camino proper started, like last year, on my Dad’s birthday. It is a tiny, silly way for me to honor him and to celebrate with him, walking with his old walking stick. Right out of Murias there is a small detour to one of the prettiest villages in Spain: Castrillo de los Polvazares. An ancient, untouched stone village. Stone homes, stone streets, stone church, stone everything. I made the detour because I remember driving there with my father in his massive Mercedes and being so awestruck by the beauty of the village. My morning walk is always my favorite. The dew on my legs, the silence, loneliness, the cool.

The path was a slow but steady climb to the second highest peak of the route, past Rabanal del Camino, where I stopped to chat with a Benedictine Monk in his monastery, and Foncebadon, to Cruz de Fierro, the site of an ancient Roman temple. It is a tiny iron cross on a massive wooden post. Pilgrims are supposed to drop off a stone picked up at the base, but with the accumulation of stones, they are now suggesting leaving flowers. I had a pebble I had been carrying since Navarra.

After cresting for five odd km. the descent is very technical, putting a lot of pressure on feet, shins, and knees. I was out of the Maragateria area and into El Bierzo, a previously forgotten region of Spain that is now on the map since their wines became noticed some years ago. I eventually stopped at Acebo a lovely village of stone homes with slate roofs.

There are three basic types of albergues a pilgrim can stay in. The municipal or public ones, the parochial or church affiliated ones and private ones. I normally chose my albergues in this order. In Acebo the options were parochial or private, I stayed at the parochial, run by a wonderful American couple that had left the US because of President Trump (they can hardly be blamed).

My walk the next morning led me by a wonderful 18th C. altar in one of the tiny chapels along the way. I always stop and chat with the attendant, while I get my official stamp to prove my visit, which I will need in Santiago. Breakfast was at the gorgeous village of Molinaseca. And the walk continues past fields and vineyards to Cacabelos. The Albergue at Cacabelos is paradise for me. It is set up along the inside wall of an 18th C. neoclassical church, right up my alley! The next day I end up at Herrerias, the base of the third highest climb of the route. There is only a couple of private albergues and the one I choose is super cute. The bedroom only has 8 beds so it is very quiet. There is a neo-Hippy project next door called Project Brigid where they do music workshops, and they lend you their kitchen. I signed up for their yoga class in a small clearing, surrounded by high trees, next to a lovely stream. It was by far the best yoga session of my life.

The climb to Cebreiro is the third highest in the Camino, but in the early morning, it is a breeze. A stop at the great bar El Arbol in La Faba provides great fuel to keep climbing. The view of the hills of Galicia from the top is awesome and the town of Cebreiro is really cute, with a fantastic, intimate church where I spend some time. I keep walking downhill to Triacastelas. The albergue is in rooms of four. I room with a Mexican girl, a South African fellow and Go from Japan, who will become my new friend.

I walk to the Benedictine Monastery at Samos in one gorgeous chestnut tree forest crisscrossing  gurgling streams. At Sarria I enjoy a wonderful empanada, the local pie, stuffed with tuna. The Camino now is a bit more crowded with busses full of “pilgrims” who only walk the last 100 km. in order to earn the coveted Compostela, the traditional forgiveness of sins for doing the Camino. These mostly Spanish folks can afford to do the walk with only a day pack – or just some water – as their bus will carry their kit from village to village. I must confess it does distract from the purity of the Camino, but they must be equally accepted as they are also pilgrims, even if all they are wearing is a bikini and a water bottle, as I saw one girl doing.

Galicia is a magical region of Spain, it’s ancient hills covered with chestnut and eucalyptus forests, streams and tiny agricultural plots. The food is delicious and the people are wonderful. My last two days’ walk is in the company of awesome Aussie Bec and our Japanese friend Go. After a good night’s sleep at a gorgeous little hotel, the walk into Santiago is an easy 9 km, just in time for the Pilgrim’s mass with the fabled Botafumeiro incense burner that somehow uncorks all my emotions as it swings across the naves of the cathedral. I only have time to get my Compostela before jumping on a train home, I’ve got a busy summer ahead!