A return to academia, the Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, returning to UNC.

Although I consider myself more of a teacher than a scholar, I do enjoy research and writing. Also, I get to do my research at my pace and not at the breakneck pace demanded by the research universities.

If you are an old timer of this blog, you know that my PhD dissertation was on the early works of 18th C. Francisco de Isla, before he wrote his best-selling Fray Gerundio. This time I focused on Isla´s first writings after the Gerundio, still up to his old crafty rhetorical tricks and double plays. Right after selling out the first edition of the Gerundio overnight, the head of the Carmelites denounced the book to the Inquisition, Isla´s defense of his novel is the Apologia por la Historia de Fray Gerundio, and that is what my paper is on.

And it was accepted at the Carolina Conference on Romance Studies. So, with the generous support of my school, off I went to present my research at my alma mater.

Chapel Hill will always have a special place in my heart. The four years that I lived there studying for my PhD were very enriching, even though I was teaching and getting my doctorate at the same time. I loved the University, my classses, the town, the community, my colleagues and professors, my volunteering, the lot.

So without the Covid restrictions of last October’s lightning visit (read about that here) I was able to see old colleagues and classmates, to spend time with Irene, my dissertation director, to have a long conversation with my old spiritual director Fr. Bill, to have a great catch up with my favorite librarian, Teresa, to revisit the Ackland museum, to go to mass, to have a meal at Imbibe and a drink at Zog’s with Mandey the owner, to enjoy a cigar with my brilliant friend Jedd, to buy too much UNC gear, to walk around campus, to enjoy a YOPO frozen yogurt, and basically to walk and soak it all in. It was so comforting, it felt like coming home.

The Ackland Art Museum

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Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait VI (1953)

In my four years in Chapel Hill, I have mentioned it in passing and I have written about my girlfriend Melanie de Forbin-Gardanne by Jean-Louis Le Barbier but I have not dedicated a blog entry to one of my favorite spots. The Ackland Art Museum. That needs to change.

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My Sunday morning ritual

I discovered the Ackland in 2012 when I went to visit UNC during my Spring break from BB&N. I remember walking upstairs and coming face to face with some Goya prints from the Caprichos series. My mind was blown. Those prints let me know that Chapel Hill might look like a southern college town, but that it has some cultural weight. It was a deciding factor in my going to UNC.

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El sueño de la razón produce monstruos. Goya

Once school started, I discovered that walking home after Sunday mass I passed the museum. My Sunday morning routine was set: church, coffee and reading across the street at the beautiful Carolina Inn, and then walk to the museum, walk around and sit and read with Melanie. I know I am going to miss my Sundays in Chapel Hill.

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My girlfriend for the last four years, I’m gonna miss you Melanie!

This year was a bit special, the museum had an exchange loan with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and we had Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait VI, based on Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X. It was a pleasure to enjoy it all year long. The painting reminded me of Pierre Boulez sur incises that the Ensemble Intercontemporain performed at Memorial Hall. The piece is one, total and complete, but you have to use your imagination to “fill in the blanks”. The blurriness of the Bacon painting is also very tactile, like it was smudged. Another thought on the painting is that it is the real portrait of Pope Innocent X, it is what Velazquez would have painted if he could really represent the guy he was painting: a shifty, double faced, shrewd politician, a warmonger pope with a mistress – that might be why Bacon paints his own bedframe in the background of the painting.

For four years I have taken all my classes to the museum. We see the Spanish and Hispanic art (Picasso, Carducho, the Goyas, one of Korda’s original Che prints, etc.), I also took my French class when I taught French, and there is a wealth of French artists in the Ackland. When I was my Dissertation director’s Graduate Research Assistant for her 18th C. literature class I organized a class at the museum, and they set up some of those Goya prints in a special classroom they have. It was a great experience.

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Picasso print

After four years, I got to know the staff, the security personnel, the student employees, they could not be a nicer group of people! Professional, attentive, kind, funny, just great. I have always been a fan of the smaller, more intimate museums like the Sorolla or the Lazaro Galdiano in Madrid, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston or the Frick in New York, so now the Ackland joins that list!

At last an update!

Well, I wanted to update the blog during Thanksgiving but was so busy with work, the turkey came and went without me blogging, blah.

You see, this is my first chance to update my blog this term. This has been because it has been a crazy semester. By a scheduling error I was made to take 4 courses instead of the standard 3. This has made life more difficult than it had to be, or should be for my first semester.

Medieval Spanish was fantastic! Professor Frank Dominguez is the Man, he waltzes into class and lectures, rather chats nonstop for 75 minutes on Medieval anything, but of course mostly literature. He knows everything, he literally wrote the book on Medieval Spanish literature. He is open to questions and he knows the answer. Even when we go off topic he continues to know everything. During office hours he is always available and incredibly helpful and humble. I am really enjoying this class. Dominguez early on saw how I was always looking for the evolution into the Renaissance at every point, and now we joke about it in class at any opportunity.

In Old Spanish we are learning about how Spanish evolved and how it went to America and then how it evolved in America. We do research and a different group presents on their research every week.

I also took Film Theory, which had very little to do with a Romance Language course.

Italian is fantastic, unfortunately with my other classes I do not have the time to devote to memorizing all the details that learning a new language entail. The class is mostly undergrads and the professor Katie-Nicole is great, so I look forward to the class although I wish I had time to prepare more. I have great classmates: Stjepan is a smart and funny Croatian American from Long Island and Maddie is a brilliant and hilarious Musicology PhD candidate.

All this leaves me with literally no time. The first week of school I went to a women’s soccer game and after I felt so guilty about wasting time that I have not returned to any more games because I have to be studying. Basically I have about 500 pages of reading per week, plus presentations and writing.

Chapel Hill is wonderful. It is a quaint little town, but thanks to the university it is a thriving quaint little town. I have a little routine and I love it. I can go hide in the museum if I want and just stare at the Goya prints or any other great painting. Or I can go to the botanical garden. There are good coffee and sweets, necessities for anyplace I live. There are many places to read and study, of course, I can’t tell you where they are.

There is an excellent, friendly dive bar to soak, the Zog, where the team: Mandey, Jedd and James take care of me and we can talk about silliness, or Borges or music or whatever.

I can and do walk to church every Sunday, and after mass I cross the street to the Carolina Inn for a cup of coffee and to read.

I can walk anywhere and I do. The cinema is $4.00, although I have only been to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, when it came out in the summer.

My life is very monotonous and I love it! I study and work out, little else. My colleagues are great but they are much younger so I do not hang out with them a lot. I like my little life.

In summary, I cannot wait for next semester where I hope to have a little bit more time to enjoy, to reflect and digest what I am doing. It looks like I will be taking Women in the Golden Age, XVIII Century Peninsular novel and a directed study with Frank Dominguez on narrative in the middle ages, pre-Golden Age!

So it is now time to morph this blog into a more academic place to reflect what I am doing, so I will post some of my work in case anybody needs help falling asleep. I will post stuff as I handed it in – this will give the reader a realistic, raw quality of reading.