Why you should read 19th century novels; Victor Hugo´s Notre-Dame de Paris.

From the time of the ancient Greeks until the 15th century, the preferred format for literature was poetry; epic poetry, sonnets, pastourelles, so on. By the 15th century theatre took hold as the preeminent platform for writing; the different characters able to portray different points of view, and the fact that you did not need to know how to read to follow along, helped. The dominant format of the Enlightenment was the essay as we scrambled to put “order” into the world. And although my dear Cervantes basically “invented” the novel in 1600 (the word novella comes from the Italian, but these were not long narratives), this format did not fully flourish until the 19th century, and boy did it flourish!

A couple of factors that drove the popularity of the novel was that the printing press and paper making technology was well advanced, as well as the fact that many more people knew how to read.

The result are long, intricate novels with great character descriptions and narrative arches -Dickens, great philosophical dialogues –Dostoevsky, detailed historical dramas -Tolstoy. In fact, most European countries saw a great spike in novels in the 19th Century.

In Spain, Leopoldo Alas “Clarín” and Benito Pérez Galdós stand out. In France, Alexandre Dumas, Flaubert, Verne, and today’s featured author, Hugo among many others marked the 19th C. In Germany, Goethe led the Romantic movement! In Ireland, Joyce, Wilde, and Stoker represent. In Russia Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are most famous, (click here for Russian lit) but not the only ones (Pushkin and Turnegev are in that list). In England, the list is too long to write down, but let’s just say: Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll, Doyle, and of course, Dickens.

All this to say that I just read Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris written in 1833, and I have loved it! It is beautifully crafted, amazing, evil, charming, funny, stupid, great characters with, of course, Quasimodo being grotesque but with a beautiful heart. The Cathedral itself is very much a character in the novel, as Hugo was advocating for the preservation of Gothic architecture in a time when old buildings were being torn down to build new ones. The story fits more into the Romantic movement that the later Realist movement, what with all the darkness and gargoyles. I read a French edition that my sister gifted me for Christmas last year, sorry I am running a bit behind on my reading list.

Confession time: I have not seen the Disney version so I cannot judge how faithfully it represents the book, but hey, it is a Disney film. There is also a ballet, a musical, an old film, etc.

Now go read some 19th c. novels!!! You are welcome.

Public Service Announcement (PSA): Wear a hat and sunscreen (and a shirt)!!

The spot comes off

 “Out, damned spot”

Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Shakespeare

As they say: with great power comes great responsibility, since I have the powerful platform that is my blog, it is my job to tell you to wear a hat and sunscreen when the sun is out – and sometimes also when it is cloudy – oh, and a shirt.

You see, I recently noticed a not very nice looking spot on my schnoz, snout, smeller, horn, sneezer, nose. It grew and grew to the point where I had to do something about it.

I sent a photo to my sister who has a dear friend dermatologist Dra. Isabel Aldanondo, who told me it could be actinic keratosis, which can turn into cancer, and should get it looked at Stateside…

So, I searched for a dermatologist close to home and booked an appointment.

Dr. Nielsen is one of the nicest doctors I can remember dealing with. He listens, he explains things, he manages the small talk, and then he grabbed his ice gun and froze my spot: let it go, let it go, and it went – well, after falling off, getting a crust and have that fall off, and finally healing! I recommend Dr. Nielsen without reservations, he and his staff are professional, attentive, courteous, gentle and just overall nice.

In conclusion: use sunscreen, wear a hat, and when possible a shirt, and check your body for weird looking new spots.

You are welcome.

Soccer vs football vs fútbol, Major League Soccer, a night at the Miami Inter game.

Soccer, football, fútbol has always been played in the US, it was just never popular like baseball, American football, basketball or hockey, it was a college sport, like volleyball. Much has been written about this, but my reasoning on why soccer never became popular in the US reflects American isolation and provincialism.

The US was for decades self sufficient, it lacked the necessary international flow of goods and ideas to be on equal terms with the rest of the world. America did not so much trade as buy (or take, depending on the country) what they needed. Examples of this might be not using the metric system, not participating in WWI (until later), not joining the League of Nations (until later), etc. Sure, there were millions of immigrants, but their first concern was to assimilate into the local population as fast as possible; forgetting their language and adopting local “traditions” and way of life as a means of achieving the “American Dream”.

Only in the latter part of the 20th C until now, have many of those cultural barriers fallen and the US has (begrudgingly?)  opened up to the world. Maybe the new waves of immigrants were more reluctant to drop their heritage upon stepping on US soil, clearly technology has broken many walls, and so on.

But enough of my ramblings. The other day I was invited to the opening game of Inter Miami against Montreal. Some of my students generously offered tickets to a couple of us football loving teachers. The excursion was led by the Jesus Youth students; what a great bunch of generous, kind people.

One of the reasons Inter Miami is famous is because the president and one of the shareholders is David Beckham, husband of “Posh Spice” Victoria Beckham, and one of football’s great players, who like many greats played his golden years at Real Madrid. My sister Rocky was the first person to interview him when he arrived in Madrid in 2003!

We had a blast. Inter Miami still does not have a permanent stadium, playing out of a temporary facility, the AutoNation DRV PNK stadium. The beauty of a small stadium is how close everyone is to the field, it feels very intimate and enjoyable. Oh, Miami won 2-0.

Teaching outside the classroom

The way we teach is outdated. We get students into a room, fill their brains with knowledge, test them on that knowledge, and when they do that successfully, we put a funny hat on their heads and send them into the world. Yes, we have improved a lot over the last half century, but our basics are still based on medieval educational systems.

Which is one of the reasons I love coaching. Of course one cannot teach subject content in sports, but there are many, many human qualities we can teach on the field: participation, selflessness, hard work, teamwork, communication, leadership, observation, sacrifice, and on and on.

The first lesson is to show up for practice -early, so you can get ready and settled in. The more you show up to practice -and early- the more chances you have of starting on game day, even if there are more skillful players than you but who do not show up consistently nor on time for practice.

Time and again we see less skillful but more united teams will beat more skillful teams that does not pass or communicate as well.

Another valuable lesson is the importance of practice. Musicians and the military understand this concept and execute it very well; the more you practice the better you get. Good athletes also understand how importance repetition is.

A few weeks ago, we won our home game against our Miami rivals. Although our opponents played their hearts out, we played selflessly and communicating, passing the ball and trusting each other, it was a pleasure to see the guys play. Go Shepherds!!

Photo Credit Dylan McKay

On the importance of first lines.

You might not know this, but first lines are really important, first lines in writing specially. I recently had an opportunity to expound on this at a Language Dept. workshop at school.

We started by talking about how skillful writing hacks your brain so that you might not know your brain has been hacked. We showed a few examples of great first sentences -of course, there are many, many more. (Try to figure out the author and book, answers below – don’t cheat!). (We played a similar game on this blog on my post about Russian Literature, check it out here.)

  1. “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.”
  2. “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.”
  3. “Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way.”
  4. “Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.”
  5. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
  6. “Lees ese anuncio: una oferta de esa naturaleza no se hace todos los días.”
  7. “Call me Ishmael.”

We had a good time going over those sentences and what made them good first sentences. Then we looked at how to write good sentences in general and especially for academic writing. The hands-on part of the workshop involved the students writing a sentence each until we had a first paragraph!

We had a good time and I hope the students left understanding the importance of first sentences!


  1. The Book Thief. Markus Zusak
  2. Don Quijote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes
  3. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  4. Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez
  5. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  6. Aura, Carlos Fuentes
  7. Moby Dick. Herman Melville

Andrea Bocelli and pay no attention to the opera snobs!

Contrary to widespread belief, I do not consider myself an opera snob. Yes, I love opera, and I can appreciate some of the technical aspects of the art, but I do not have the ear, nor the training and knowledge to be too critical.

So when my dear friend Arlene invited me to see Andrea Bocelli last week, I embraced the warmth of his voice and the feeling he puts into his singing, without concerning myself too much about his voice wavering on the long high notes as his critics say. Straight from work I picked Arlene up and we drove through the detestable Miami traffic to the venue.

Very astutely, Bocelli played on February 14th to a full ice hockey stadium (the ice had been taken out, to be clear), the FLA Arena outside Miami, home of the Panthers. He sang his signature mix of opera arias: Brindisi from La Traviata, Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, La donna è mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto, O soave fanciulla from Puccini’s La Boheme  and so on, with the grand finale being the obligatory and wonderful Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot.

Bocelli peppered his concert with his famous pop songs like Time to Say Goodbye and Vivo per lei. He also sang old classics like Somos novios and Bésame mucho. The concert featured many guest artists besides a full orchestra and chorus: a jazz singer, a soprano, a violinist and wonderful dancers, even his wife accompanied him on a song!

All in all, it was a great concert worth listening to, regardless of what the opera snobs say!

Jazz, Branford Marsalis, and the saxophone

My dad loved Jazz, every road trip we did I was in charge of the playlist; a bunch of jazz cassettes. Since his passing in 2015 I have not really re-visited the genre, it still hurts.

But the other day I got an offer I could not refuse: an invitation to see Branford Marsalis, in Miami.

My mind was blown to smithereens in the Summer of 1985, when Sting released his first “solo” album; The Dream of the Blue Turtles, heavily Jazz influenced, and featuring Marsalis’ saxophone. I was already a fan of Sting from The Police (drummer Stewart Copeland went to the same school as me in London a few years before me), but now I was turned onto Marsalis.

The first and only time I got to see Marsalis was with his New Orleans buddy Harry Connick Jr. in New York City in the late 80’s. I still remember that concert!

Last Tuesday. My old student –and Cine Forum founder– Will, invited a Peabody Conservatory friend and me to see Marsalis play the works of James Reese Europe. A musician who fought in World War I, only to be stabbed to death upon his return to the US by a drummer in Boston, such is life.

Marsalis only played a handful of numbers, but it was beautiful and well worth it. Will, Michelle and I enjoyed a nice dinner at El Chalán, a walk around South Beach, the concert, and a farewell drink at the Royal Palm Hotel where Will was staying. A perfect evening.

Speaking of Cine Forum, this month we are watching Taxi Blues, Ida, and Stilyagi (Hipsters) all  Russian (Ida is Polish) and all feature the saxophone as a central character, what a coincidence!

Oh, by the way, Branford has a brother Wynton, who is possibly the most amazing trumpet player you can listen to!!

Shabbat Shalom! An evening of celebration at Temple Beth El

When did my fascination with world religions start? I don’t really know, but I love learning about other faiths. It was a blessing to have worked with my dear friend Kamel from Egypt who taught me so much about Islam, and about Hinduism through my yoga teacher, Paritosh.

I did not knowingly have a Jewish friend until high school, and since then I have been intrigued by their culture and history. Last year I finally got to experience a Seder dinner, and last Friday I was generously invited to Shabbat services at temple Beth El in Boca Raton. What an experience!

One of our professors, Rabbi Larry Kotok, arranged for a group of students and faculty to visit Temple Beth El for Shabbat, I signed up right away. The Senior Rabbi, Dan Levin gave us a briefing before the service. It was a special service since it was Shabbat Shirah, a musical celebration of the separation of the Red Sea. Singer Elana Arian was brought in from New York to lead the celebrations and she did not disappoint.

The Temple has been recently renovated, and it is beautiful, very, very well done. It is very “homey”, beautifully carpeted, with nooks for chatting, a great bookshelf called Soaring Wisdom, a cute little gift shop, there is even a sculpture attributed to Salvador Dalí.

The whole thing was so beautiful, I must confess a couple of times during the service I was overcome with emotions. After the service, we were invited to a great BBQ dinner in the patio, we chatted with some members of the congregation before saying good-bye.

A Quiet Abiding: Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace

This world is driving us all crazy, it is polarized, violent, in a rush, inconsiderate, uneducated, younameit. But there are a few solutions, a few ways out. One is art. We need more art in our lives. Art makes us slow down, it makes us stop, stop and look, stop and listen, stop and touch, stop and smell, stop and taste.

Last Saturday, although I was just coming out of a massive cold, I went to see A Quiet Abiding: Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace from the n at my oasis of culture and art: the Norton Museum of Art.

I arrived at the same time as the Chinese Dragon show was about to start in the garden to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but I went straight upstairs to see this painting, which will be on show at the Norton for two years.

Little is known about Vrel other than he barely preceded Vermeer, in fact the painting has an air of Vermeer, but apparently it is the other way around Vermeer has an air of Vrel.

The painting is beautiful, simple, quiet, and alluring. You want to make some tea for the sick old lady, some chicken soup. There is a weak fire in the fireplace, and that flickering flame, a handful of tiny brushstrokes, makes the painting, brings it all together, it is amazing!! A little like the flowers in infanta Margarita Teresa de Austria’s dress in Velazquez’s Meninas.

If you are around Palm Beach up until December 15 2024, do not miss this painting. You are welcome.

A night at the theatre

One of the advantages of spending time in a city is being able to take public transport -or even walking- to a theatre.

Although I am a big fan of musical theatre, I’m sad to say that my last post about musicals was 11 years ago! In fact, it was my twelfth post in this blog, when I was invited to see Spiderman on Broadway. Fortunately, it was not my last show, but the last one I wrote about. So it is about time.

My Christmas gift this year was tickets to The Lion King. Celia and I walked down Madrid’s Gran Via, our Broadway, to the iconic Lope de Vega theatre. It was packed, and has been for years, not an available seat in the house.

The show was appropriately spectacular, with an amazing cast and orchestra. We enjoyed every number!

After the show we enjoyed a lovely cocktail at my favorite bar: Del Diego.