Almodóvar

 

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I can’t believe that in 182 posts and almost ten years of writing this blog I have never dedicated a post to Pedro Almodóvar (although I have mentioned him a couple of times). Forgive me, and let me change that.

Pedro Almodóvar is indubitably Spain’s best know director. He has won two Oscars (I think that is double what any other Spanish artist has – but don’t believe me 100%), has had a handful of nominations, a bunch of Goyas (Spain’s Oscars), his breakout film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was made into a Broadway musical, etc. etc. But more important than his fame or awards is the quality of his films. You see, Almodóvar has an instantly recognizable way of telling a story -and what stories they are! I believe part of his success lies in how Baroque his narratives are, and how they key right into our psyche. Along the story, Almodóvar layers his personal punctuation marks: a colorful palette, a stylish, kitsch decor, perfect locations, and a cast he squeezes the best out of, some of them repeatedly, like Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas or Carmen Maura. In that respect he is a bit like Woody Allen -another one of my favorites- in that they really get the most out of the actors, and that, I believe, is the sign of a great director. Then there are his quirks: every movie has a signature song that marks it, his brother Agustín always gets a bit part, so you are always on the lookout for that. This, by the way, is something Hitchcock also did -insert himself in his movies, which I think is what inspired Almodóvar. Finally he sprinkles a touch of post modernism and surrealism here and there, just to keep the viewer on edge.

I do not have a single favorite Almodóvar film, I have a few. Both Volver and Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) stand out. Both of these are staples of my Advanced classes, as many of my students will testify. I just watched Almodóvar’s 21st film (which was what prompted me to write this) Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory). It is good, all his films are good, but not the best. So, although it received an Oscar nomination, it was not really up to snuff. I will not divulge any spoilers this time (you are welcome), only to say that it is, or at least it feels, autobiographical. 

Most of Almodóvar’s films take place in and around Madrid, with a few of exceptions. Todo sobre mi madre splits between Madrid and Barcelona, Volver, like the name implies takes us to a village in La Mancha not unlike the one Almodóvar is from, La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) takes place in the countryside of Toledo, Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces) takes a turn in the Canary Islands, and a few other exceptions. Madrid is part of the story, it becomes another character. This is something Woody Allen also does with New York, blending it into the narrative.

Also interesting is to see Almodóvar’s evolution as a filmmaker. His first film Pepi, Lucy, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom) coincides with the birth of La Movida which was an artistic/cultural reaction to 40 years of dictatorship. La Movida was a radical pendulum swing for Spain, it was an over the top celebration of freedom, and Almodóvar hits the note with a raw, sexual, low budget film that captures the Zeitgeist of the time. His current films on the other hand have the sleek look of the bottomless budget of a Hollywood darling.

If you are already an Almodóvar fan, tell me your favorite film of his -and why- in the comments. If you are a newbie grab one, any one, of his films and enjoy!

 

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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One good thing about the Covid-19 lock down is being able to catch up on things you were meaning to do. I will not come up with Differential Calculus like Newton did during the Black Death plague of 1665, but not because I am horrible at math, but because Newton already invented Differential Calculus!

At any rate, I had been wanting to write about a film I saw last year at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the artsy film theater in Madrid, and I finally found the ticket stub to remind me. If you consider that the film took 29 years to make, a year to write about it is not so bad!

The film is The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Terry Gilliam. If the name sounds familiar it is because he used to be in Monty Python, remember them? At any rate, the film started filming in 1999, but the lead had a herniated disk on his first day of filming, then the set flooded… So, Gilliam had to duke it out with the insurance, then try to find new financing, then casting, etc. It finally premiered in 2018.

The film is not an adaptation of Don Quixote, it takes the characters and the story and riffs on them to create a brilliant Byzantine, Postmodern, surreal, Baroque work, drenched in Chiaroscuro.

But the plot is not the only asset of the film, the shifting narratives and narrators are accompanied at all times by a great cast led by Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, and a numerous international cast and crew. The set and locations are straight out of the novel, there is no denying you are in La Mancha, and you can feel it, and smell it, and taste it.

I do recommend the film, with the caveat that it is not for everyone. If you are looking for a logical, linear story, this is not for you, otherwise: enjoy!

Letting go of the Ego, the second half of life: Wayne Dyer and The Shift

My dear friend Felipe recommended I see The Shift and I finally had the time to see it!

It is a film by Dwane Wyer who was a motivational speaker or a Coach, really a self help guru, although marketed like a spiritual guide, since that is what sells. Although the message is strong, based on Lao Tzu, San Francis of Assisi, or Jung, he dilutes it with some of his new age, self help gibberish like the Quantum moment and things like that, which I understand as a way to explain his thinking.

To be honest, the film is not really that good: predictable, bad acting, etc. But, it is filmed in Asilomar, a wonderful location in Monterey, California, and what is really important here is not the film per se, but the message.

The Shift talks about changing your life from the first half of life to the second half of life. This is something I have written about before, what Kierkegaard called the three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Dyer simplifies them to two, which skips a step, but that’s okay. The gist is to lose the ego to become a spiritual being. How? you ask, well by giving, by realizing that the world is not about you and the best way to do that is by selflessly giving what you have, but preferably your time, your knowledge, your patience, your care, in short by loving. Love is the answer.

As youths and adolescents we need a lot of ego to become independent, to become who we think we are. Once you have reached that stage the ego is useless, more of a hindrance than a help. Unfortunately most people do not lose that me, me, me until sometimes just before they die (I recently mentioned this in a post about the book The Grace in Dying). A good way to work on this is to quiet the mind, to meditate, to stop and listen. This is difficult but rewarding. Give it a try!

The film begins with this quote from Carl Jung which is basically the whole precept of the film, sorry, not sorry, for the spoiler:

“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” ― Carl Gustav Jung

 

 

Your friendly neighborhood kiosk

Over the last few months, my friendly neighborhood kiosk closed and was eventually removed. This was heartbreaking.

Cities are living organisms that have evolved over centuries and have developed tools to make life easy, efficient, and enjoyable. The neighborhood kiosk plays (played?) a key part in this mechanism. Not only can you buy any newspaper, local, national, regional or international, you can get any magazine, books, any everyday necessity: chewing gum, tissues, postcards, water and sodas, cigarettes (come on, this is Europe), and all sorts of assorted knick knacks, but more importantly your friendly neighborhood kiosk owner knows everything about the area and every inhabitant in a mile radius!!

A funny anecdote: Hola magazine, the flagship and doyen of gossip magazines, has their offices in our block. In fact, Doña Mercedes, the owner, used to live next door (she died last year), and every Wednesday when the magazine came out she did not grab one from the pile in the office, she would go down to the kiosk and buy one from Yuste!

While I am overall positive about technology, I am not a reader of on-line newspapers. When you read a newspaper, you have to look at every page so you see what is going on internationally, nationally, locally, sports, culture, you even have to pass the obituaries. And if an article catches your eye, you read it. On-line newspapers do not give you that kind of thoroughness. You click on what catches your eye, but you are missing a lot of stuff you normally would not skip on a paper newspaper. Go ahead, call me old fashioned, but on any given day if you “read” an on-line newspaper and I read a paper one, I bet you I have seen -and likely read- more than you.

Our kiosk was inaugurated in 1965, the year I was born! and was run by the Yuste family since! They were friends. Over the last few years they complained about the loss of sales since fewer and fewer people bought newspapers -and I live in an old folks neighborhood! Stopping for a newspaper means having a bit of a chat, checking in, sharing a joke, commenting on the news, or whatever. Yuste once had me run to the bank to deposit a check for him!

At any rate, tired of not making ends meet and with aggravating health issues. The Yuste family finally closed their kiosk this Winter. A few weeks after closing a truck came and dismantled it. A few days later they paved over the site. Another victim of technology.

Paco runs the kiosk up the street in the Plaza de Chamberí, he seems like a nice fellow.

Castello Cavalcanti

 

Surfing the Interweb as one does during these times of Covid, I found this 7 minute jewel from Wes Anderson. As some of my followers know, I am a big fan of Anderson. His films have a great story, which is beautifully told. In this case the premise of the story is simple enough to be told in 7 minutes, so the key is the how it is told, and Anderson is a master in this technique… (click here to see my other Wes Anderson review)

Ah, but the film is a 2013 advert for Italian fashion house Prada, I can hear the purists mumble. Ok, sure, but that does not detract an ounce from the quality of the film. In fact you have to pay attention to even notice the ad part of the film.

Jason Schwartzman is the leading (only) actor, but the setting, the references, the music, the secondary actors, etc. are rich, very rich, so if you are a film buff, pay attention.

So there you have it, a 7 minute bagatelle from one of our best living auteurs. You are welcome.

I could strangle that little twerp by the way. My mechanic, he’s actually my brother in law Gus. Screwed the steering wheel in backwards! Where am I?

Tonxo Tours first birthday!

As we sit in our quarantine, as I sit at home, Tonxo Tours has quietly turned one year old! So it is only befitting that I write a quick report on our first year of existence – Although it already existed informally and for many of my friends and friend’s friends who had gotten a tour from me.

My first memories of giving tours was as a teenager living in London, whenever friends or families of my dad’s work came to town I was often asked to take them to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham palace. At that time I also took a lot of tours of museums, palaces, etc., so obviously that must have left some valuable residues. In university I started showing Madrid and Spain to my friends who came to visit. One friend showed up with English Rock groups who we would take out during their visits. A friend once showed up with the Monaco Olympic Sailing Team for me to show them around a bit! Then, living in New York and Boston I continued showing people around those cities. With experience and learning, every tour became better and better. Fast forward a couple of decades and many tours of Madrid, Barcelona, Boston and New York later, and I finally made Tonxo Tours a reality. As they say: turn your hobby into your work and you will not have to work again.

This first year has been the expected mix of wins and frustrations. I must admit the wins and the rewards have far outweighed the frustrations. I was lucky to start off right away finding a couple of sources of business: a couple of Internet platforms and a local transport company whose customers ask for tours. I created a homemade website and logo with my trademark bow tie, and I was in business. In my first year I have shown Madrid to over 200 people. My most popular tour has been Old Madrid, I have shown the Prado Museum a few times, the Royal Palace, a handful of other museums, and I have also gone out of town to El Escorial, La Granja and Segovia. I developed a game to play when children come on the tour. I have used the same game adding activities as a university orientation team-building game which I did with my uni, the European School of Economics. I did a tour with a woman in a wheelchair (she had broken her foot doing the Camino de Santiago), I have done tours in minivans and buses with 50 people,  one customer with a chain of pastry shops in Belgium wanted to see the pastry shops in old Madrid, that was fun-and tasty! I have done tours in Spanish, English and French, and I have even done a couple of tours in Italian, which, with only one semester of training, was tough (see the video below for proof). The experience has been so much fun and so rewarding!

Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 I have had to cancel a handful of tours I had booked.

And I have learnt. What a learning curve! Like many things, being a tour guide involves psychology, salesmanship and, of course, knowing your stuff. I cannot wait for many more tours and many more years!

Please spread the word! My favorite and best marketing tool is word of mouth!!

Feel free to share my web www.tonxotours.com and Instagram and Facebook tonxotours

 

Books, books, books

Some of the books I had lying around

Some of the books I had lying around

Locked up at home during the Coronavirus quarantine, I get to read a lot, which got me thinking of books This blog exists because of books. You see, I started this blog to report my Harley-Davidson trip visiting universities across the South for my PhD in Spanish Literature, that is: books. Yes, I am addicted to books. Having said that, I am a slow reader. So, while I enjoy books, I do not devour books like some folks do. Anyway let’s start at the beginning:

My first blurry memories of reading are of Enid Blyton, I guess like millions of children. Fortunately in high school, I had the privilege of being taught by Mrs. Soledad Sprackling. And my mind exploded with what she had me read: Borges, Neruda, Lorca, et al. That was it, I was hooked. In college my super cultured friend Silvia Velez introduced me to Gabriel García Márquez and my mind exploded again! It has been a series of explosions since.

Luckily I can read in Spanish, English and French and find it very frustrating when I cannot read every book in the original language it was written in. In fact, when I was twirling about with the idea of getting my PhD, I wanted to study comparative lit Spanish / Russian, but there was no way I was going to learn that level of Russian in a hurry, so that was the end of that thought. Miguel de Unamuno, one of my literary heroes actually learnt Danish so he could read Kierkegaard, bastard.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books with only number 1 in a clear position – all the rest vary according to the day you ask me:

  1. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote. I have only read it three times, once with the amazing Prof. Louise Cohen. She shared with me her passion for this book, which I have written about in previous posts.
  2. Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Montecristo. Love, adventure, revenge, massive wealth, what’s not to like?
  3. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina / War and Peace / Death of Ivan Ilyich. Tough call on this one…
  4. Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. It takes a foreigner to describe Spain with such precision. High School is also where I got hooked on Hemingway.
  5. Gabriel García Marquez – Cien Años de Soledad (But really any by him). Of course, nowadays, I keep thinking of Love in the Times of Cholera
  6. Voltaire – Candide. Possibly the best satire ever written?
  7. Miguel de Unamuno – San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Proto-existentialism at its best!
  8. Mikhail Bulgakov – Master and Margarita. Or as the Rollings Stones interpreted it: Sympathy for the Devil
  9. Francisco de Isla – His early works. After all, I am the leading authority on the subject…

Of course, there are many, many more, but I don’t want to bore you, dear reader, any more.

Interestingly, my last read was. The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh which was recommended to me (like so many more) by my dear friend Patxi. It is about the spiritual journey of death, and how the best approach to death is meditation. I started reading it before the massive Covid outbreak and it has helped me digest the numbers in the news. I loved it. My next read, to celebrate the centenary of Benito Perez Galdos’ death will be Trafalgar, about the battle of the same name, not the square in London.

There you have it, some thoughts on reading and my some of my favorite books. Which are yours? What do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!!

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

Forest bathing – Shinrin-yoku

As we are confined to our homes during this Coronavirus crisis. One thing we can do is think of the future, of trips and adventures. Something I cannot wait to do is to enjoy a forest bath.

Last Summer walking a stretch of the Camino de Santiago with Satomi, a wonderful Japanese pilgrim, I learnt about Forest Baths. It means pretty much that, walking through a forest enjoying it and taking it all in. Use all your senses to touch trees, smell the air, listen to the sounds, see the trees, and the forest. It is a full body experience if you open yourself up to it.

The ever surprising Japanese culture came up with this concept of forest bathing in the 80’s and called it literally shinrin-yoku, forest bath. As rural areas emptied and urban areas grew. What began as a bit of marketing is now a wellness trend which has never stopped being there.

My discovery is not some obscure practice, even Time magazine has written about it, saying this in their May 2018 issue:

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

I have been lucky to enjoy many forest baths, even when I did not realize I was forest bathing. My last one being during my meditation retreat to El Paular Monastery (see previous posts). I am planning on forest baths as soon as this nightmare is over.

So there you have it. Get out and take a forest bath. You are welcome!

(For the more visually inclined here is a nice clip on forest bathing from CBS, enjoy)

 

Jojo Rabbit

As I write this the planet is in lockdown due to the Coronavirus – Covid 19 pandemic. So, since I am stuck at home, how about some blogging?

One good thing about being back in a big city like Madrid is the ease of going to the cinema. One can walk or easily take public transport to the many movie theaters. Recently (pre-pandemic obvs) I went to see JoJo Rabbit.

Spain has an outstanding film dubbing industry. All movies are very well dubbed. Fortunately, there is always the option of seeing non-Spanish language films in the original language with subtitles, these are called Versión Original. Whenever possible I go to the cinemas that only show VO films.

Without any spoilers, JoJo Rabbit is a film about Third Reich Germany as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who happens to have a very special secret friend: Adolf Hitler. This film does not fit into any category, it feels like an indie, it is a comedy, a drama, a coming of age, a war movie, etc. Labels do not do this film justice. To give you an idea of the eccentricity of the film, it ends with Bowie’s “Heroes” juxtaposed with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (The Book of Hours (I, 59):

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

I’m sure that some might read “Third Reich”, “Adolf Hitler”, “comedy” and automatically call the PC Patrol, just like they did with Borat. But you might miss the point that humor is an excellent tool to open eyes and hearts.

A couple of technical bits about the film: the only “star” is JoJo’s mom, Rosie, Scarlett Johansson. The film is directed by Kiwi Taika Waititi, who was inspired by Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies which his mom recommended. By the way, Waititi does the role of Hitler -as seen through a ten-year-old boy, and it is hilarious!

As my followers know, I am a big fan of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, and this film has a bit of both, it is colorful, insightful, and funny.

I could go on and on, but here is the trailer and now go out and see the film. You can thank me in the comments section!!

‘Love is the strongest thing in the world.’ – Rosie

Football from the stands (not the sideline, and not the pitch)

This is the first year in a long time that I am not coaching nor even playing football (soccer for the Philistines on the other side of the pond). Instead I get to see all my nephew’s games from the stands – and it is fun!

For fourteen years I coached soccer. One of the first schools I worked at (Milton Academy) needed an assistant Boys Varsity coach, having played more or less all my life I got the gig! Walnut Hill being an arts school did not have an athletic program, but that did not stop us from playing pickup on Friday afternoons, we had a blast. And we found out that future K Pop star Eddy Kim had a lovely touch! At Buckingham Browne and Nichols they needed a Girls Varsity Assistant coach, that changed my whole perspective on the sport. I had never payed much attention to girls soccer, but I quickly found out that they play as a team much more than the boys do. They pass the ball much more, and big plus, they look like they are listening to the coach!

At UNC I really had the football bug, so I organized the Romance Studies Community Soccer program to play on Friday afternoons. This was a great way of getting the grad students together with some undergrads and different folks that would join. It was good fun and occasionally a bit competitive which gave it a good edge!

At Seacrest Country Day in Naples Florida, I was honored to be the Head Girls Varsity coach. These girls worked super hard and we had a great two seasons, building a team. Since Seacrest is a small school, the sense of community is very big and I really felt embraced by the team. Occasionally I would step in to help out the boys’ team. One such time was the District final game which we won for the first time in history. What a thrill to have been on the sideline of that game!

Now back in the old country I  miss coaching, but every Saturday with my sister and sometimes my nieces I enjoy just watching my nephew play! It is all the fun, without the responsibilities, and, of course, I get to critique the coaches – and the players!! Vamos Chamar!!