A return to performing arts, a night at the opera

Good to enjoy performing arts again!!

Due to Covid, I had not been able to enjoy any performing arts for about two years. But l recently managed to go to the opera, so things are getting back to normal. While I have managed to go to museums and exhibits, most notably the Norton Museum of Art (click here for that blog post), I had not returned to the theatre, the symphony, a reading, a play, the ballet, the opera since just before Covid struck in 2020.

Although I know there are many performing arts venues in the West Palm Beach and Boca Raton areas, I have yet to explore them. But I recently saw that Opera Naples, my old opera, was doing Hansel and Gretel, I did not blink before buying my tickets!

You see, I need a lot of cultural and artistic stimulation, it paradoxically energizes and calms me at the same time. I have been enjoying concerts, plays, and operas since I was a teenager in London, so I must confess I am a bit of an addict.

Hansel and Gretel is obviously based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, and while it is quite grim, the music is amazing -as should be expected of Wagner´s student Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). Opera Naples has partnered with the Bower School of Music at Florida Gulf Coast University, so many of the roles were played by very talented college students, wow!

It was nice to see that Opera Naples has done some work to improve the venue, since it actually sits in an industrial estate in a bit of a dodgy area. It has created a new and bigger lobby, created a bar area and they even had a food truck for us!

Since I was in that neck of the woods, I took the opportunity to meet up with my old student Lukas to catch up with him. We had a lovely coffee on 5th Avenue and even walked to the beach to check it out. The Gulf side beaches are far nicer than the Atlantic side, obviously, they are Caribbean!

So overall, a wonderful day out and great to be slowly returning to the arts!

The triumph of the short story

Good things come in small packages, they say. In Spain we say: “lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno” the same thinking can be applied to the short story. If you can develop characters and plot in not too many pages instead of hundreds you might have what it takes.

Your end of apprenticeship project in the Middle Ages required you to do a miniature of whatever your craft was; If you were a carpentry apprentice you had to make a tiny piece of furniture. These pieces where far more difficult to make than a regular sized piece. Again, the same goes for short stories. Boiling down a full story to a few pages requires a craftmanship not all writers have.

Short stories are the reason I fell in love with Literature (yes, with capital L). My high school Spanish lit teacher Soledad Sprackling had me reading Borges, and García Márquez. Later on I devoured Poe, Hemingway, Cortázar, Cervantes’ Novelas Ejemplares, Rosario Castellanos, Fuentes, etc. etc.

I recently read back-to-back books of shorts stories and was surprised to see that I have never written about short stories in this blog.

Las guerras perdidas is by Oswaldo Estrada, a dear friend and professor at UNC. Unfortunately, I never took any of his courses since our research interests did not match. Regardless, we became good friends. Last year on a weekend trip to Chapel Hill he even hosted a tapas dinner for me. His bittersweet short stories about loss and pain are beautifully written, his prose is reminiscent of García Márquez “Y aunque te bañes y perfumes, siempre hueles a tristeza.” Estrada’s insight into the human condition is precise, but sweetly narrated, which makes for a wonderful read. Highly recommended, five stars, two thumbs up!

Chilean Benjamín Labatut writes Un verdor terrible (oh yes sorry, both books are in Spanish). Labatut focuses his stories on physicists and chemists, scientists and their discoveries during the first half of the XX C. These are deeply researched stories that mix fiction and history in unknown (to the reader) quantities. It makes for scary but rewarding reading, riveting.

If you like short stories and read Spanish, I recommend both of these books. You are welcome.

Please leave your comments and recommendations below!

Camino Francés vs Camino del Norte, which is better? My opinion

As soon as people find out I have done the full Camino Francés AND the Camino del Norte they always ask the obvious question: which is better? Well, here are my thoughts.

Like everything else in life, it is all about your personal tastes, the purpose of your Camino, etc.

The French way has more varied terrain, switching every few days. You get the Pyrenees on day one, then the rolling hills of Navarra, blending into the vineyards of La Rioja, eventually you get to the agricultural hills of Burgos, before hitting the plains of the plateau of Palencia and Leon before arriving at the hills of El Bierzo and the ancient Celtic hills of Galicia. The North or Coastal route on the other hand is amazing beach after amazing beach, and amazing forest after amazing forest, oh, and the only flat bits are the beaches, the rest of the time you are going up or down, which makes this route much tougher physically, but extremely rewarding as you are never more than a day or two away from the sea.

Also since this was the predominant trail in the late Middle Ages, the French way has a lot of history and a powerful spiritual charge, every chapel, every church, and cathedral just has this literally awesome, moving presence. By contrast, the Northern trail was abandoned in favor of the Francés as the Moors were driven out of the peninsula so, in fact, you are walking a much newer trail without so much of the spiritual aspect.

Food is probably better on the North route, as you partake from the bounty of the lush, green countryside and the ocean. This does not mean that the French way is bad, it just does not pass-through San Sebastian, arguably the best food per square foot in the world!!

North Coast of Spain is very green. Why? Because it rains a lot! So, if you commit to the North way, make sure you are prepared mentally and physically to deal with rain, sometimes for days… The French way on the other hand tends to be much drier.

Finally, depending on when you are doing it, the French way can become a bit crowded, while the North route has consistently less traffic.

If you are more into exploring cities and towns, both ways offer great stops, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santander on the North, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos or León on the French way.

So, in the end it boils down to what you want from your Camino. If you are looking for tradition and spirituality, go with the French way, if you prefer breathtaking views and more of a physical challenge, go North.

Have you done both Caminos? Leave your thoughts in the comments!!

On Sushi, Soy, Pedro Espina, and Akai Hana

Sushi is without a doubt one of my favorite foods. The pure, clean flavors, the simplicity of presentation, the ceremony, the whole package just makes for an amazing meal and experience.

I was not introduced to sushi until after college in 1987. Fortunately, I had a very urbane girlfriend in New York City at the time who taught me how to eat sushi, all the rituals, and all the basics. I was hooked (ha-ha).

A few years later when my dear friend Alfonso would come to Madrid, the two of us and my sister would walk over to Suntory -yes part of the Japanese whisky company- to have dinner at the sushi bar. We eventually became quite friendly with the Chef, Pedro, who eventually informed us of his starting his own restaurant. Tsunami was amazing! Near my home, we would walk over when Alfonso stayed with us. Here Pedro ran the show with his Japanese, kimono wearing wife, Tamayo.

Pedro is a fascinating fellow who lived in Japan for years, learning the craft of sushi. He is also a world class boxer, although now he mainly coaches his daughter.

A few years later Pedro suffered a rare health issue and he had to close his restaurant. After some time, maybe even years, he opened another restaurant, Soy. This time there was no fanfare, the restaurant, which does not even have a sign outside is on a quiet, residential street. It is a tiny, intimate space with five tables and a tiny bar counter reserved for last minute friends without reservations (guilty as charged). Here Pedro does not really work with a menu -although one exists. You sit down and he feeds you amazing, delicious, gorgeous dishes. It is now a bit cliché to say so, but this is a culinary experience like few others.

The result of knowing Pedro for almost thirty years now, is that I have become a sushi snob. So I do not really eat a lot of sushi other than at Pedro’s.

Fortunately for me, Chapel Hill (ok, Carrboro) has a tiny, extremely good sushi restaurant, Akai Hana. Although I was on a tight student/teaching fellow budget while I was getting my PhD, I would occasionally splurge at Akai Hana. They made a quail egg shot that was an explosion of flavor in your mouth like you have never experienced!

In the suburban wasteland that is Florida, I have not yet tried a sushi place. If you know of an authentic, good quality sushi place in Palm Beach County, please let me know in the comments, I will be eternally grateful!

Libraries (continued)

I have the privilege of working on a beautiful campus. There is a pond smack in the middle, there are a couple of gazebos for meditating, there is a beautiful chapel (arguably the most beautiful building in Boynton Beach), there is even a tree swing! There is also a beautiful library. It is not a massive library, it is rather quaint by university standards but still, it is a lovely library.

This is where it gets interesting: In order to get to my office, you have to go through or around the library, through is the much faster route.

So not only do I walk by the periodicals section where I can -at a glance- look at the new magazines coming in, then I lower my blood pressure by walking through the peaceful, quiet stacks, and right before getting to my office, there is a shelf with free books that the library no longer wants. This is my perdition.

I wrote about libraries and bookstores recently (ok, a year and a half is recently for dinosaurs like me), but that was before I had to work next to the goodie room that is the “Free books” shelves outside my office!

Over the months I have collected many varied books. My most recent find – and the detonator for this blog – was a first edition 1944 Divine Comedy with drawings by William Blake. Last year a retired history professor went into an assisted living facility, and he donated his whole library! It was chock-full of great books of which I got a good number of. And since my office is next door to these books, I always have first choice. In fact, sometimes I have even help the librarian stack the free books as he rolls them out!

La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty) 2013

La Grande Belleza

Thanks to Film Club, I am seeing many more films now than I have in years . Having said that, I really do not want to make antonioyrocinante into a film blog, there are enough of those already.

But I just saw La Grande Belleza, (yes it is a 2013 film, I am a bit slow) and I have to tell you about it – beware, there might be spoilers.

This is an exquisite film, as beautiful as Rome, the city where it is filmed: exuberant, colorful, rich, fun… but there is a gaping void in it, a melancholy, sad void represented by protagonist Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella.

You see, all the beauty in the world is sterile, meaningless without love, without a deep spiritual connection. Director Sorrentino is not subtle about this: The film opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night

Traveling is very useful: it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.

To drive home that point, the opening scene combines ethereal views of Rome combined with David Lang’s otherworldly song I lie. The fact that the song is in Yiddish should lead you to the great spiritual journeys of Israel, of Job. Life is nothing if not a spiritual journey to yourself, to the divine in you, to your Grande Belleza, Namaste.

Let’s stop there. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or go see the film and then let me know.

Tonxo Tours update

Here is a mysterious story for you…

If you follow my blog (thank you, I really appreciate it) you know I now have a deeply rewarding, full time job, which means that Tonxo Tours has become a bit of a side gig, which I can only indulge in during a few days at Christmas time and during Summer. I still love sharing my love for Spain, especially Madrid and its surroundings. I also get a kick out of promoting it. I love taking photos to put up on the Instagram (tonxotours) and I also love recording short videos explaining bits of Madrid which I also post to Insta and to the Tonxo Tours YouTube site. Here are a couple of my recent clips, and you can watch the rest here!

The videos are not great quality, in fact they are all home made with little to no edits, because I believe the story is what matters here, so unless you are a video snob, enjoy!

So, if you are in Spain for Christmas or Summer, hit me up and I would love to show you around!

Here is a quick one with a special guest: my niece!

The Proposition

I’ve been in Film Club for a few months and I love it! I have re-visited some oldies, seen some interesting new (for me) films, and a couple of films I did not particularly care for. But last month I saw a film I must write about.

The theme for June was Westerns: Fort Apache (1948), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Proposition (2005), and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Ignorant of me, I did not know there was such a genre as Australian Westerns like The Proposition. As the opening credits ran and I saw it was written by Nick Cave, I mentioned it to my dear friend Theo who knows Cave and his work well. His comment: “It’s a grim tale.”

Grim indeed, but at the same time deeply mesmerizing. The photography is married to the soundtrack in a way I have not noticed in most films. Another of the Film Club member’s opinion was “hypnotic”. Yes, there was one scene I could not bare watch, but the overall work is masterful, intelligent, and beautiful despite the violence.

Without spoilers, the plot weaves family, colonization and the Aborigines, morality (the key element I found in the films I saw) and the concept of justice.

The brilliant cast includes Guy Pierce, John Hurt with a stellar performance (and the only hilarious stingers of the film) and a spiritual death, and a perfectly cast Emily Watson who knocks it out of the park as an English rose.

So, if you have not seen this jewel and do not mind some (ok, a lot of) violence, make this movie the next one you see. You are welcome.

Arthur Burns: Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

Stuff one finds on the beach.

As my faithful readers know, my community service this year was cleaning the beach every Sunday afternoon. It was extremely rewarding to help, and at the same time to walk for an hour and to meditate while enjoying the beautiful beach and weather. A three in one: community service, meditation, and exercise.

During the Winter months, the strong winds (I guess) blew in all kinds of trash, sometimes in the course of an hour I had to empty my big bucket (you know, the 5-gallon blue buckets) up to three times! Now in the warmer months there was remarkably less trash. Anyway, that was my highly scientific (not) guess.

Fortunately, I am not the only one on beach cleaning duty, I do bump occasionally into other people cleaning up. The town also has 4 buckets available at the entrance to the beach if you want to grab one and clean up.

On top of all that there is a bit of a treasure hunter thrill, and a fun component to what you find or might find. Here is an incomplete list of things I have found:

  • Bottle tops – this is the most popular trash on the beach ☹
  • Plastic forks and spoons – really people?
  • Bottles – mostly plastic but also glass. All sorts of bottles: drinks, shampoo, oil, you name it…
  • Bits of plastic – from tiny to huge and in all colors. You cannot even tell what they used to be a part of.
  • Flip flops – every Sunday at least one! Usually, barnacle incrusted.
  • Cigarette lighters
  • Deflated balloon
  • Hammerhead shark – dead
  • Comb – I picked it up, not because I needed it.
  • Eyeglasses – no glass and broken, but I do not need them.
  • Lure – with a massive hook I gave it to a dude fishing.
  • Dog Tag – Palm Beach.
  • Part of a propeller – someone surely missed it…
  • Etc. Etc.

Oh, and make sure you do not step on the Portuguese Man-O-War… or their deadly, long tentacles.

The Walker Cup

Once in a while, on Friday after school a few elements will align and I actually stop at the Smoke Inn, my cigar lounge for a celebratory cigar, a “Happy Hour” as it were, a necessary attitude adjustment hour.

So there I am, enjoying a cigar and a libation, out on the porch, reading my book, and the TV is showing the opening ceremony of the Walker Cup, which happens to be at the Seminole Country Club which is a couple of blocks away from my friend Manuel’s house in Juno Beach. Since he is a golf fan and I am a good friend, I send him a photo telling him about it.

Sunday comes around and Manuel sends me a message that he is at the tournament and that I should go. I do, and we had a great time!

The Walker Cup is a competition between US and English (and Irish) amateur players i.e.: university guys (and it is only guys). We enjoyed watching a few holes, we savored a refreshment and overall, just had a good time! (Oh, and the Yanks won)