Welcome to Miami

Miami is fun. It is just that getting in and out is such a headache. But once you are there it is playful fun. The other day I had the chance to walk around, right before the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend.

South Beach might be the first thing we think of when we think of Miami; the Art Deco architecture, the amazing beach, the people. I testify to all of them.

If I had to define Miami, I would talk about the vibe, the throbbing energy, the vibrancy. It is a bold, loud, colorful place. The food options are improving constantly, better representing the cultural melting pot it is (haha pun intended).

Sure, if you walk around South Beach most of the folks are turistas, but, and here is one of Miami’s tricks: it is difficult to separate the turista from the local, granted part of it is because of the general lack of clothing one sees, but it also speaks to the diversity of the locals and their hedonist lifestyle.

A fairly unique feature of Miami is the “Ventanita” a window on the side of a restaurant, shop, or bar where you can order a coffee “cafecito”, a fruit juice, and in some cases a shake or a smoothy. These ubiquitous “ventanitas” allow you to have a quick coffee “sportello” style on the sidewalk or sitting at a nearby bench -so long as it is in the shade!

Other areas of Miami are more touristy like Bayfront and Bayside, but the beauty of Miami Beach is the mingling of folks. Enjoy!

Spanish teaching hack #752: using songs to memorize verbs

Most of what I know about teaching Spanish I learnt from Tracy years ago, and I am eternally grateful for that. One of those things is the importance of music in the classroom as a teaching tool. Sure, we learn songs and watch YouTube videos, but a lesser-known quality of music is as a mnemonic tool.

It is a well-known fact that irregular verbs in any language are difficult to memorize; there are so many! They are so hard! So, one way of helping to learn and memorize them is with songs, even if they are silly, basic melodies.

Here are a couple of examples of using basic melodies to help memorize irregular verbs: one is for the past tense preterit, and the other one for affirmative “tú” commands. Enjoy.

West Palm Beach, a celebration

Within the suburban wasteland that is South Florida, Palm Beach stands out as a beacon of civilization. Developed in the early 20th century by rich northerners who were scaping the cold and snow, it soon became the place for really rich folks to build winter homes (think Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Mar-a-Lago). If you were not rich enough to own a home you could always spend a few days at the iconic Breakers hotel. Nowadays, the Palm Beaches boast the Norton Museum which I have talked about already, and great dining venues.

I recently had the chance to explore Palm Beach at night. A colleague’s birthday was all it took to get three guys to go explore, improvise, and enjoy some drinks and a great dinner. Sure, there was some shop talk and some philosophy talk (they are both professors of philosophy, I am just an amateur) but mostly we just chatted and shared and enjoyed breaking bread together.

Pre-dinner drinks were had at the great rooftop Spruzzo bar atop the Ben hotel. The views were amazing, the drinks chilly, and the vibe great!

From there we walked around Clematis Street checking out the fun atmosphere, before settling down for dinner at Elisabetta’s Ristorante for a great Italian meal.

Overall, a fun time was had by all. I must say I was impressed by the cosmopolitan and sophisticated feel of West Palm Beach, I’ll be back.

Don Quixote, Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene, and madness vs. Existentialism

A good book and a good cigar

There are books that I re-read with certain regularity: The Old Man and the Sea, Voltaire’s Candide, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (you can read about that one here), Don Quixote only three times.

But I recently came across a book I had read as a teenager in the 80s and decided to revisit: Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote.

As you can see from the title -I will try not to spoil anything- in a fictional meta-reality, Monsignor Quixote deals with the adventures of a descendant of Don Quixote. There is a Rocinante and a Sancho. Greene converted to Catholicism at 22 in 1926 (you can read his bio here) and this novel deals precisely with -no spoilers- with religion, theology, and the Church in early ‘80s, post Franco Spanish society (It was published in 1982). The book is an easy, quick read, and, since I am always on the lookout for the far reaching effects of Don Quixote, I re-borrowed Monsignor Quixote (thanks Sue) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

My more faithful readers know that one of my research interests is the influence of Don Quixote on Existentialist philosophy. So my antennae are always poised to pick up on this theme. Monsignor Quixote does not disappoint! The references to the links between Don Quixote and Existentialism might have been written unknowingly by Greene, which I doubt, but they are there either way:

There is a heartfelt reference to Miguel de Unamuno who was a big fan of Don Quixote and a proto-Existentialist (read San Manuel Bueno, Mártir). This is an indication that Greene understands Cervantes.

There are explicit mentions of Monsignor Quixote acknowledging his existence, which is a big step in understanding who one is.

The novel deals with our doubts and beliefs, the Existential anguish that drove Kierkegaard (but not in those words), the father of Existentialism -which would make Cervantes the great-grandfather of Existentialism (read about that here).

Finally, as any alert reader would expect of a novel with the name Quixote in it, it talks of madness. Of course, folks -specially those who have not read the novel- often confuse Don Quixote’s drive and purpose with madness (which drives me mad). I will not elaborate but Don Quixote knows who he is, it is just that nobody understands what he is doing, so they call him mad. This leads me to my first and hopefully last political statement ever on this blog: Former President Trump was often called Quixotic, for whatever reason, and the people who labeled Trump like that have obviously never read, and/or never understood Cervantes’ novel!! A similar point is seen in the film Easy Rider when Jack Nicholson as George Hanson says:

Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.

I guess I could have written a more academic article about this book, and maybe I will, but for the time being, enjoy.

A good book and a good coffee

Which shoes to wear on the Camino

Shoes are arguably the most crucial element in your Camino kit. You are going to walk many hours a day for many days. The number one issue with pilgrims is blisters. You have been warned.

I am really excited to walk my third Camino this Summer, and I needed new shoes. For my first Camino I used Salomon XA Pros, and they were formidable I did the whole Camino with nary a blister (I might have gotten a couple of “hot spots” -pre-blisters- but never developed full blisters).

For my second Camino I chose the same shoe, only newer model in bright blue. Unfortunately, these did not perform as well as the first pair, and I ended up losing both my big toenails, twice (yes my toenails were cut very short, but wet feet in a steep downhill are going to slide). If you have never lost your toenails, it is not painful, but it is a bit of a nuisance, and they take almost a full year to grow back out.

This year I did my homework. I did a comparative spreadsheet checking out a few internet websites. (attached) –it is in no way comprehensive, or professional– it is just a few references from a few random running shoe websites. Once I had my ranking, the move was to find the best price, that is where the Palm Beach Outlets come into the picture. New Balance, Nike, and Asics all have shops there, and the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 came in as the best ranked at the best price. I “broke in” the Nikes during Easter break and loved them! I will give you a full report after my Camino…

Here are a few pointers on Camino shoe buying:

  • Unless you are doing the Camino in the Winter, you do NOT need boots. Most pilgrims walk in the warmer months, and you do not want your feet baking inside of boots.
  • I once met a very bright German pilgrim; PhD in math, an internet startup in Berlin in their fourth round of capitalization… but his feet looked like steak tartare from wearing Alpine hiking boots!!
  • On the other hand, you do not want to wear sneakers/running shoes/tennis. They are not designed to pound the ground for miles with a backpack on, and you will also soon develop blisters.
  • The ideal shoes are trail running/hiking shoes. They are designed for this kind of thing.
  • When you are at the shop, with the laces undone, inch your foot all the way forward, you should be able to put a finger between your heel and the shoe. This means that your shoe should be half a size to a full size bigger than your “normal” shoes. Your feet will expand when walking for hours every day.
  • Gore-Tex or no Gore-Tex? When it rains, your feet will eventually get wet, Gore-Tex or not. So, I opt for NO Gore-Tex, this way when it is not raining my feet will breathe, and when it rains, they will get wet either way. Remember if you are in the Gore-Tex club you are going to have to stop and take your shoes and socks off every so often to let them breathe a bit. A rhythm busting nuisance when you are walking.
  • Soles: the terrain you are going to walk on is going to differ vastly from long stretches on tarmac (yuck) to grassy fields, but most of your walking is on dirt tracks, so you do not need a super aggressive pattern (unless again, you are going to walk in the mud of winter)
  • Once you have your shoes, make sure you break them in. Try to walk at least a few miles with your new shoes in order to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
  • Your feet do most of the work on the Camino so make sure you take care of them! Remember to have your toenails cut very short.

A whole blog post could (and might) go into socks. For the time being remember wool and no stitching…

My first Passover Seder

Coming from fairly isolated early 70s Spain I was never exposed to Jewish culture until we moved to NY in the late 70s. I was fascinated, and have been since. Although many times there has been talk of me going to a Passover Seder it ended up never materializing. It finally happened when the Rabbi who teaches at my school hosted a Passover Seder.

If you think about it, Abraham is credited with spousing a monotheistic religion, making Judaism the root, the origins of Western culture (Abraham is in fact, key in all three modern monotheistic religions (Abramahic religions) as Islam recognizes him as the prophet Ibrahim). Judaism threads a rich tapestry in Western thought and civilization, it deserves our attention, appreciation, and in my case last Thursday, enjoyment!

Rabi Laurence Kotok is a bit of a rock star of rabis: Rabi of a temple for years, scholar, Air Force Chaplain, author, and professor, and his Spanish is quite good! He guided us through the Seder, explaining every step, singing The Ballad of the Four Sons and Chad Gadya, everything. It does take a while before you eat, but it is worth it, it is a very enriching experience which references the history of the Jews.

I can’t wait for my next Passover Seder!

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.

A much-needed return to music, and on the importance of mentoring

As I have mentioned ad nauseam, I learned how to be a mentor to old students from my professor Aaron Nurick, who has been keeping an eye on me for over thirty years, which at this point makes him more of a friend than a mentor.

Bill is one of my old students who invited me to Film Club (you can read about that here), and who as an accomplished violist, invited me to his recent concert in Miami. I would like to think that I am a bit of a mentor to him.

The Sphinx Virtuosi is an orchestra formed by minority Black and Latino musicians. Their concert equally featuring Black and Latino composers was glorious. Granted, I had not been to a live concert since before Covid, over two years ago, but it was still divine.

Driving to Miami is an odious experience, there is always traffic no matter what time you go. And if there is no traffic, there is construction, which inevitably leads to traffic, so there is no avoiding the frustration of sitting in a car at standstill.

But once I parked and I was walking around, all my tension washed away. The concert was at the Frank Gehry designed New World Center in Miami Beach, which, while not as whimsical as say, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, it is still very cool and has a breathtaking rooftop garden.

The concert itself was a refreshing mix of melodic Latin tunes like Alberto Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings and the haunting Andrea Casarrubios’ SEVEN in honor of the fallen first responders during the first Covid outbreak in New York City (SEVEN references the time folks would clap from their windows to celebrate the first responders). This was a mournful concerto for solo cello played beautifully by Tommy Mesa -another old student at Walnut Hill! (See clip below).

After the concert we walked to a great Peruvian restaurant where we had a long chat over excellent food and beers. I cannot wait for my next concert, nor to see more of my old students!

On developing your own sartorial style – secrets will be revealed!

If you know me personally in any professional capacity you know I normally wear suits and more often than not, bow ties. This is the story of my sartorial journey. Warning, secrets will be revealed:

My dad was a banking executive, which meant that he always wore a suit. My uncle was a tailor, but not a regular tailor… he was the tailor for the king of Spain (king Juan Carlos), other celebrities, American businessmen, etc. I remember as a child my uncle coming home to measure my dad and to go over cloth samples with him. Fast forward a few years when we lived in London in the 80s, where my dad discovered the most beautiful English shirts from Jermyn St., eventually I would get those shirts handed down, they would be a little worn, but what did I care? I was in university.

The first piece I got from my uncle, López Herbón was right after college, when I “inherited” one of my dad’s tweed jackets, I still have it and I still wear it, although I had to put elbow patches on it. After that there was a slow, steady drip of hand me downs and other presents. My first full present from my uncle was a tuxedo, something a customer had left in the shop after trading it in. Unfortunately, that tuxedo was stolen from my Boston apartment while I was on a fishing trip with my friend Matthew (but that is a different story). My uncle promptly got me another tux! This one in a rich dark blue which I still wear!

When my uncle died a few years ago, he bequeathed me a bunch of his suits. A few years later my dad also passed leaving behind many, many suits. I am slowly getting them all fitted.

Around the time I was graduating from university I dated a girl who was going to a nearby university (Tufts, I met her during a Spring Break trip to St, Kitts with the aforementioned Matthew, but that is also another story). she gave me a bow tie from Barneys New York (when Barney’s was on 17th St.). I struggled to learn how to tie them but eventually I got into it (you can read about that here).

The English shirts eventually and sadly passed away, nowadays most are made in China but sold at Jermyn St. prices. Nowadays I have developed a falcon’s eye at thrift shops to find quality shirts at academia salary friendly prices, the trick is to be patient and not to settle, you can find Brooks Brothers and other fine brands in your exact size for a few bucks!

That is the foundation of my professional look. As an entrepreneur in Madrid, where bow ties are rare, I stuck out like a sore thumb – a good thing, if you want to promote your brand! Now in academia I fit the stereotype of a professor, either way, it is my look, and I like it!