Tonxo Tours

 

 

 

Well, I guess the first thing I must do is apologize to my followers for a very long silence. Soon you will know the reason. As you might know, about a year a ago I returned home to Spain after many – thirteen to be precise – years in the US. With a clean slate, I decided to start a business that had been on the back burner for years: I have become a personal tour guide, creating bespoke tours of Spain under the name Tonxo Tours.

Showing people Spain is my life calling. I am passionate about sharing my culture, history, language. After showing Spain to all sorts of folks for years, I have decided to start Tonxo Tours and make my joie de vivre available to all! I have been toying with this idea since the late 90s, so it is about time to get going, don’t you think?

Most tour companies boast about their team of specialists, well, I am that specialist. I have been giving tours of Madrid and of Spain since my twenties. I have worked with British rock bands, schools and universities, foundations, executives from all over the world, even the Monaco Olympic Sailing Team, I would love to show you around!

After twenty odd years in the business world and thirteen teaching in high schools and universities in the US, it is time for me to do what I do best, which is to share my passion for Spain.

Why has it taken so long you might ask? My life has been marked by a peripatetic lifestyle, moving to New York when I was ten and then to London, Boston, Paris, Bordeaux, Geneva, Lausanne, Chapel Hill, Naples Fl., and so forth to over eleven cities. Cities became my friends. I loved discovering what made each one unique ̶-how they got their personality. I spent my time in museums, cafés, theaters, concerts, operas, ballets, all of which unavoidably infused me with a love for the arts. Sharing my love and knowledge of cities and their cultures soon became a venue to express myself. As a teenager I gave tours of Madrid and London to friends and family, something I continue to do and enjoy, which has led me to create Tonxo Tours. My experience and passion radiate on the street: Explaining Spanish history, architecture, food, music, sometimes all of them at the same time!!

When I started thinking about setting up a tour company I was aware of the tremendous competition in the market. Just in Madrid you can jump on a sightseeing bus and casually check out the city while chomping on some churros, you can take a Segway tour, there are a bunch of tapas tours, there are free tours, you can get a tour on a tuk tuk, a golf cart, an antique car, even in a pink Rolls Royce! In contrast to that, my philosophy is simple: a no gimmick, quality driven, discreet – yet fun – bespoke tour that will cater to what you want to experience, see, taste and hear, not the other way around.

I can arrange exquisite lodgings, extraordinary experiences, delicious food and drink,

with only one purpose: creating unforgettable memories.

But why would anyone choose Tonxo Tours? you might ask. Here’s a few more reasons:

  1. I am a native, a local, born and bred here, but with the advantage that I have lived abroad many years. I have dual citizenship USA / Spain, offering me a perspective unattainable to most.
  2. Passion: I love sharing my culture, my history, my food, my architecture, art, music, dance, etc. This drives me.
  3. Experience: I have been doing this for years with friends, colleagues, schools, universities, foundations, etc. From 1994 to 2004 I had my own company (but that is a different story) which took me to every city and town in Spain at least a couple of times a year, more for the big cities. So I really know Spain like the back of my hand.
  4. DNA: My grandad worked for the British and American embassies, often times driving dignitaries around – he even got a medal from from Queen Elisabeth (but that’s a different story). My dad was restless. We would go on excursions every time he got bored – which was often – He was also a Spanish history buff which rubbed off on me, so I have been reading Spanish history and literature since I was a youth, which eventually led me to get a PhD in Spanish literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (again, different story).

I received my undergraduate degree in business. I specialized in management, the human part; what motivates people? What makes them tick? I used these skills in my first jobs in finance, photography and management before using them to run my own business for ten years, importing and selling industrial machinery in Spain and consulting for European companies wanting to expand into Latin America. I moved back to the US, where I started teaching in 2005, and although I was making a fraction of the money I used to make, I felt much happier and more fulfilled. In the meantime I got a Master’s and then a PhD in Spanish Literature from UNC. Returning home to Spain allows me to indulge in my true vocation. I am able to apply my many skills developed and honed over the years. So don’t over think it, contact me and I’ll be happy to show you around!

Let me know when you are going to be in Spain and what you want to do and see. I will personally take care of you, if you just want to spend a few hours walking around old Madrid or if you want to spend two weeks exploring Spain, I will be happy to set it all up.

If you want to know more about me, you can read check out this blog about my random thoughts, travels, and whathaveyous.  You can check out my website tonxotours.com and/or my Instagram: tonxotours

Santiago de Compostela

One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that I can take a couple of days off when I can fit them in. So recently we escaped to Santiago de Compostela. I know this Northern jewel well, but last time I was there when I finished my Camino in June of 2018 I didn’t stick around and took the first train back to Madrid. This time we went for three days.

Santiago was built since Roman times mostly out of granite so if it rains and it gets dark the streets and the buildings take on a mystical glow, a very special shine. We were lucky it rained when we went!

Of course the main event is the Cathedral which has been there in one shape or form welcoming pilgrims since the Middle Ages, although the Romans already had a temple there. Other must sees include the square Plaza do Obradoiro (check out the live webcam!) that houses the Cathedral, town hall, parador and university, the awesome modernist market, the park, the contemporary art museum, the folk museum, and, of course, a bucket full of churches/monasteries. But really the best thing to do is to walk around the old town enjoying the atmosphere, the little shops, the bars and restaurants…

We were lucky to stay at the Parador, the original pilgrim’s hospital which is on the Cathedral square and is the oldest hotel in the world!

The other main attraction is food! Needless to say the seafood cannot get any fresher as Santiago is a few miles from the sea. The octopus, the barnacles, any fish is just perfect! There are two local wines to have: the crisp, seabreeze infused Albariño and the lesser known cousin Ribeiro made inland along the local rivers (thus the name).

The Cathedral was under extensive restoration efforts so we could not enjoy mass with the massive incense burner – the Botafumeiro, oh well, maybe next time.

Beauty vs Nihilism

Don Quixote and Sancho in their quest

Don Quixote and Sancho in their quest

I recently read two articles published one day apart that made me want to write about them.

The first one is a book review in ABC Cultural by Manuel Lucena Giraldo of Padre Ladrón de Guevara, a Jesuit who critiqued over 2.115 writers! Apparently they were all horrible, regardless of nationality: Pio Baroja, Rubén Darío, Victor Hugo, Flaubert… all “lead to the desolation and disconsolation of the soul”…

The second is a brief interview of Spanish author Luisgé Martín, this time from El Cultural de El Mundo who believes the world is going to hell in a handbasket, which of course is not a new concept. The idea goes back to the lacrimarum valle (valley of tears) of the early Christians.

What struck me about these two articles was the pessimism, the negativity. Now, I might not always be a ray of sunshine, but there must be some hope and/or reason for us to be here.

Aren’t you amazed at the energy in us? around us? everywhere? Coincidence? maybe, but it sure feels good to believe in something bigger, otherwise what is the point of the beauty around us? This takes me to the Ladrón de Guevara article: novelists, poets, artists all help us to see that energy, that beauty. While I confess that I have not read either author, and I do think that a contrarian view helps to add contrast to the picture, I do believe we cannot only think in black and white.

What I am driving at here is what Richard Rohr calls the “oneness”, that is you cannot have light without dark, life without death dry without wet, ying without yang, and so on.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

Carl Sagan

 

Return to culture (at last)

One of the massive pluses of living in a major world capital is the amazing cultural offering one has access to. I really needed this cultural stimulation. The problem with the word culture is that it has been made to sound elitist, refined, distant from the people, the stuff Frazier and Niles Crane did, but in truth it is just beauty, beauty created by man – and woman of course! The least important bit is if we call it culture, art, or whatever.

I have been lucky to live in major cities where I became a cultural junkie: London (where it all started for me), Paris, Boston, New York, even Chapel Hill – a college town, but obviously with a thriving cultural scene. Unfortunately Naples only had a couple of cultural outlets (which I squeezed every last drop from), and in NJ I didn’t get a chance to explore although of course the heavy stuff was in NYC…

In the less than three months back in Madrid I have been lucky to experience:

  • A brilliant piano recital by local piano star Luis Fernández Pérez playing Händel, Scarlatti, Rameau, and Bach. For free at the Fundación Juan March.
  • A play/recital of Federico García Lorca’s poetry by stage icon Nuria Espert.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s eerily prescient play Nekrassov (1955) about the “fake news”.
  • A gorgeous version of The Nutcracker by the prestigious Compañía Nacional de Danza and the Teatro Real house orchestra!
  • Visits to the Sorolla museum, the Museo del Romanticismo, and a score of art exhibits including “Rediscovering the Mediterranean” at the Fundación Mapfre with paintings and sculptures from the XIX and early XX Centuries.
  • After fourteen years I again became a member of the Amigos del Prado, which allows me free entry to the Prado, avoiding the queues. I have, of course, already gone twice!
  • Seeing a couple of concerts in bars around town by chance.
  • Never mind being surrounded by amazing architecture.

Et cetera, et cetera, down to awesome street musicians and performers! And this is with limited time and money. The cultural menu is, in fact, overwhelming, but I am happy to nibble and enjoy!

Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.

Jawaharlal Nehru

 

On the importance and beauty of blogging

The lonely work of blogging

The lonely work of blogging

Blogging has been a fantastic tool for me, an outlet, and a hobby. What started as an academic adventure blog about riding my motorcycle (RIP) to visit universities for my PhD, morphed into a bit of everything blog: Musings on academia, random essays/articles, personal anecdotes, still the odd travel piece, my favorite things (restaurants, bars, cigars!), and personal notes. In fact, my most read items are my essay on Existentialism in Don Quixote and my dad’s obituary.

My students always appear shocked when I tell them about my blog. Which is surprising because they are super connected. In fact everybody should blog. You see, Instagram (follow me at tonxob) is only visual, Tweeter is limited, and old Facebook, well, we all know the shortcomings of FB. Blogging on the other hands requires a bit more thinking, planning, writing, it forces you to write – at least try – coherent thought and how to express it.

I recently found an old blog post from a professor at the LSE about precisely this issue. So here it is, click here to read more. Here is a bit of a tease…

A good proportion of the people I have come across may be brilliant in their field, but when it comes to using the interwebs, tend to sound like the querulous 1960s judge asking ‘What is a Beatle?’ (‘I don’t twitter’). Much of life is spent within the hallowed paywalls of academic journals (when I pointed out that no-one outside academia reads them, the baffled response seemed to be along the lines of ‘and your point is?’).

Here is the address if you prefer to cut and paste:

An antidote to futility: Why academics (and students) should take blogging / social media seriously

There are a few blog platforms to use. I have used WORDPRESS from the beginning and I love it! you can have your blog for free. Come on and join the club!

 

 

Sevilla

It had been over fourteen years since I had been to Sevilla, but I recently managed a three-day getaway to that magic city by the Guadalquivir, and it never disappoints.

The reason for the trip was the various exhibits celebrating the 4th Centenary of native baroque artist Bartolome Murillo’s birth.

Back in 1992 Sevilla hosted the World Fair, called Expo ’92 coinciding with the 5th Centenary of Christopher Columbus departing on his little trip from that city along its navigable river. The Expo was a smashing hit. For it, Spain built its first high-speed train from Madrid, the AVE, which, reaching speeds of 300kph (186mph for those stubborn Imperialists) does Madrid – Seville in a nifty 2.5 hours! So obviously we took the train. Once there we stayed in a gorgeous loft overlooking the Archivo de Indias and the Cathedral with its amazing Arab Minaret turned bell tower, the Giralda.

Sevilla is a walking city, so that is what we did, walk around the park, by the river, along the old streets of the magical Santa Cruz neighbourhood, across the river into the Triana neighbourhood, peeking into the cute patios, checking out old palazzo Casa Pilatos, and the new “setas” designed to give shade to the main square on the hot summer days. Along the way we arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes which is hosting the main Murillo exhibition. To say it is breathtaking is an understatement. The museum has gathered Murillos from around the world so you can really go deep into Murillo’s craft, style, personality, and nuances. It blew my mind.

But besides Murillo, Seville has amazing food. We stopped at old hangouts like Morales, Las Teresas and el Rinconcillo where I used to go with customers and suppliers, and enjoyed the arab influenced tapas, the bounty of the nearby Atlantic and Mediterranean, and local specialties like garbanzos with spinach or ox tail, all washed down with lovely local white wines and sherries.

Something else that is abundant in Seville is churches. There are churches and convents and monasteries on every block and each one is worth stopping in. It might seem glib to say but most of these temples are Baroque, it can be a bit overwhelming to see such a profusion of decoration: angels and leaves and thingys. It looks like there is no space left without a decoration, and that was precisely the goal, in fact it has a name: horror vacui in latin, meaning fear of emptiness. A main reason for the wealth of baroque art is that Sevilla was the landing port for all the ships coming in from America, so a lot of the silver and gold did not make it out-of-town, if you get what I mean.

If you have been to Sevilla you know one could write for hours about it. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for?

 

 

San Silvestre Vallecana

The San Silvestre Vellecana race has been going every New Year’s eve since 1964 – that’s one year before I was born! I ran it in 2015 with my cousin and again a few days ago. It is not the oldest race, longest or anything like that, but it might be the funnest.

My story with the San Silvestre started with my grandfather who every evening of December 31 always said he was going to the race when in fact he was just going to the corner taverna for a drink or two. My dad continued the joke but he didn’t even go to the bar, he just said he was going to the San Silvestre only to go sit on the couch and watch TV. So when he passed in 2015 I committed to running it, simply so I could say I was going to the San Silvestre and actually run the stupid thing!! And I did, and it was great fun. My cousin Alex is a talented athlete so running it with him was fun and competitive at the same time.

Then I forgot about it until I started training again after my motorcycle accident in 2017 – when I promised myself I would run the San Silvestre again.

The recovery from the shattered pelvis was very slow and painful, but I slowly added the miles, finally running 10 kms in training at the Retiro Park when I got back to Madrid in the fall. I am happy with the results which, while not impressive, are ok. I ran a 1:06 with a 6:39 pace which put me in the middle of the pack finishing in position 20.872. Keep in mind that there were 42.000 of us, so there was a lot of traffic slowing things down. In fact as the crowd thinned I was able to speed up!

According to Wikipedia, this 10K race is based upon the Saint Silvester Road Race, a Brazilian race (held since 1925) which spawned numerous other New Year’s Eve races. It starts at the Real Madrid Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and finishes at the Rayo Vallecano Stadium, across town. Along the way it passes right by my mom’s house, so every year -even when I’m not racing, we take a walk to check it out. The Pro race held after us amateurs is a thing of beauty as those folks blister the streets in 26 odd minutes. Maybe next year…