On Pizza

Disclaimer: Google recently had a pizza doodle which included a cute game, but I was planning this blog before that. Ok, now we can move on.

Like languages, pizza is a relatively modern variation of an ancient dish, basically jazzed up flatbreads that you can taste all around the Mediterranean basin: Coca in Spain, pita in Greece, etc. Of course, pizza wins the popularity contest due to Southern Italians immigrating everywhere and taking their recipes with them, grazie.

Growing up in Franco’s Spain, I was not exposed to pizza until high school in London, specifically Pizza on the Park on Hyde Park Corner (now closed and turned into a fancy hotel). It was love at first bite! American pizza during college was different, but still delicious, the most memorable one being Pizzeria Regina in Boston’s North End. Through the years, as I moved around, I discovered great pizza joints, Napoli in El Escorial, The Upper Crust in Boston, Italian Pizzeria (IP) in Chapel Hill -they also showed European football, which was a great plus!, and NAP in Madrid.

In my old age, my taste buds require simple, few, but delicious ingredients, (I have written before about the “Minder is meer” less is more adage) so nowadays I only eat Margherita pizza which should only have three ingredients plus the dough: mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce (which should have a bit of garlic), and basil (plus obviously olive oil and salt).

Due to its heavy New Yorker population, South Florida has decent pizza. Almost every week I meet my friend Manuel for some great pizza at County Line in Juno Beach. Here in Boynton, there is Pizza Rox which makes a textbook pizza and has a great selection of local beers, and Frankie’s. Recently I have also discovered my friend Arlene’s great pizza place in West Palm Beach, Pizza Al Fresco set in a lovely Spanish patio with awesome staff!

My pizza fever has been compounded by a guy called David Portnoy who does pizza reviews on the internet. I confess that I have gotten to the point where I can guess the points he is going to give the pizza he is reviewing before he does! Check out his pizza review app Onebite and one of his many reviews below!

The secrets to a great pizza are a screaming hot oven (800 F – 450 C), fluffy, airy dough so you get the bubble – you need the bubble! And simple, excellent ingredients. Enjoy.

What is your favorite pizza place? What are your thoughts on pizza? Let me know in the comments!

Bentley College (now University)

This blog was born with the start of my search for a PhD program, so that process and the subsequent studies were very well documented here. Eventually, a few months ago I wrote about my master’s experience at Simmons, but I have never written about my bachelor’s degree.

I was living in London when I had to choose university. I really wanted a small liberal arts school in New England to study Business (at the time I did not appreciate that liberal arts and business do not mix that well. That was a mistake, which I can write about in a later post). My final choice was Bentley College (now University), just outside Boston, and what an experience it was!

Bentley was the perfect space for me to bloom. I loved my management courses (not so much my accounting, finance, number courses in general) and I really developed my leadership skills, becoming President of the International Club, International Representative to the Student Government, and finally Student Government Representative to the Board of Trustees, where I met Jere Dykema, my first mentor. I also grew into my art appreciation, spending Saturdays at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and what little pocket money I had on Season Tickets to the Boston Ballet, DJing the Classical Music Program at the College radio station WBTY “Sunday Night at the Pops”, writing a weekly column in the Vanguard newspaper, playing soccer with the International Club, establishing the Model United Nations program, debating the Oxford Union, and generally just walking around, taking in the history, architecture, and vibe of all the different Boston neighborhoods.

But the most important part of my university days was the connections and friends I made. Most of my best friends to this day I met in college –you know who you are. I also made great relationships with professors, like Aaron Nurick who would become a mentor, and with administrators like the great Bob Minetti.

In conclusion, yes university is about education and learning, but more importantly, at least in my case, was to grow as a person and to make lifelong friends.

Simmons College (now University)

Simmons University acting as UMass Dartmouth

If you at all follow this blog, one of the best in the inter-web, you know I have lately been catching up on my film viewing.

I recently watched Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon, about the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. Without spoilers, one of the bombers is a student at UMass Dartmouth, and when they show a panorama shot of the university, it is not UMass Dartmouth at all, (According to Imdb, UMass Dartmouth did not allow filming on its campus) it is my beloved Simmons College (now University) where I got my Masters!! And I realized I had never written about that experience on my blog.

My teaching adventure started by being a substitute teacher at Newburyport School District in 2005. I got my first real job teaching at Milton High School in the Fall of 2006. The school was rough, I had a lot to learn in a tough environment. Fortunately, I had a great boss who supported me, she recommended that if I wanted to pursue a career in teaching I should get a master’s degree. So I did my research: Only a few universities had evening programs for Spanish: Boston College, Boston University and Simmons. Guess which one had the best value and was closest to home?

Going back to school -as a student- was a bit daunting, something I had not done in exactly 20 years, but I was committed and loved the idea of learning in an academic setting. I loved my teachers; they were outstanding, tough but caring. My learning curve was steep, but I enjoyed every minute! Surprisingly, I thrived, I loved it. I was lucky to study Don Quixote and Golden Age literature under Louise Cohen, Spanish film with Dolores Pelaez-Benitez, Latin American lit with Raquel Halty and Modern Latin American lit with Danisa Bonacic. I must confess it was the first time in my life I saw As, never mind straight As! I looked forward to class, I did my research and wrote my essays with enthusiasm.

My cohort was a blast: Paul, Corrinne, Andrea, Laura, John, even the undergrads were nice, I am still in touch with them thanks to social media!

Photo Cred. Andrea

Simmons campus is small, but it is a proper campus, right in the middle of Boston, next to The Museum of Fine Arts and next door to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where Simmons students have free access. I would often arrive early to have a walk around the museum! The library had been recently renovated and was a great place to work and study before class. Simmons Library Science program is considered one of the best in the country. They also have a full Olympic pool where I would sometimes swim.

Although I loved every class and every teacher, I was particularly fond of Louise Cohen and her amazing mastery of Don Quixote and Golden Age Literature. It was for her class that I wrote about Don Quixote being the grandfather of Existentialist philosophy, which you can read in this blog by clicking here.

You might ask, “wait a minute, isn’t Simmons a women only college?”. The answer is yes, but only for undergrad programs, my MA was co-ed.

Prof. Halty was the department chair would host our cohort for dinner in her beautiful Weston home during the Christmas holidays. After my graduation I stayed in touch with my professors. Prof. Halty became my mentor in helping me get into a PhD program, she was also incredibly supportive during my breakdown.

In conclusion, Simmons College was a fantastic experience for me. A small school in the heart of Boston, with top level professors, great colleagues, and amazing facilities.

New England (the region) and Manchester by the Sea (the film)

Yes, I know it was released in 2016. So I am a little late on my movie viewing, OK? I recently watched Manchester by the Sea and loved it. It is a deeply human story set on the North Shore of Boston, in winter, an area I know and adore.

I first fell in love with New England when I moved to Boston for college in 1983. I fell in love with the Fall, with Boston, with the picture-perfect towns all around, with Walden Pond and Cape Cod, the Berkshires, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, lobster rolls, clam chowder, Dunkin Donuts, pretty much everything. After college I got the opportunity to work in Boston for a couple of years. I lived in a tiny apartment in the Back Bay and worked on the waterfront in the financial district. It was then that I really had a chance to further explore and discover. With a group of friends, the infamous Boston Gourmet Society, we would spend Summer weekends at the beach in Maine, and Winters skiing in Sugarloaf, renting a ski chalet for the season.

In 2005 I went back, and with added maturity, I really got to appreciate New England. We lived in Newburyport and Milton. Then I moved back to old Back Bay in Boston, I worked in those places and then Natick, and Cambridge and enjoyed it thoroughly. Loved the history, the food, the culture, yes, even the people!

My work during my first stay in Boston was in the financial sector, but on the second round, as a teacher and coach I got to visit schools for soccer, tennis, and fencing all over the Boston area, including Concord, Newport Rhode Island and Exeter New Hampshire! It was beautiful to see the seasons and the foliage, the towns, the forests, and the seashore.

The film Manchester by the Sea takes place during the bleak New England Winter, where everything is frozen, even the ground! Casey Affleck (not the sexy one, the one that can act) nails his performance. It is a tough, emotional film but I highly recommend it. For me it was a double whammy. As an emotional person, I really connected with the plot, and the photography of New England, specially of the North Shore, really drove home the film for me.

So, there you have it, two recommendations in one blog post: New England (the region) and Manchester by the Sea (the beautiful town AND the film). Enjoy.

The pros and cons of multiculturalism

Moving from NYC to Boston 1988

We first moved to New York In 1977, I was 12. From there we moved to London in 1979, from there to college in Boston in 1983, and so on for back and forth between the US and Europe. As I recently wrote in my “Diversity Statement” for a job application:

I have had the privilege of growing up in multicultural and multiracial environments, cities, and schools: New York City, London, Paris, Madrid, Boston, etc., so since childhood I have been bathed in diversity: cultural, racial, religious, sexual, socioeconomic, etc. On top of that I have had the privilege of traveling widely.

So, while being multicultural is definitely an enriching experience, it does have its drawbacks: The first one is that you no longer “fit” into any particular “set” culture, you become a bit of an outsider whenever you are in an environment of population that is “born and bred” in a place.  The second and more insidious aspect is that you might no longer meet certain legal or bureaucratic requirements to say, work in a place.

This is what happened to me when I returned to Spain in 2018. My US degrees (Including a PhD) are not recognized in Spain to work as a teacher. Furthermore, to get all my paperwork approved and transferred and certified and triple stamped would have taken years. Besides the paperwork, there is a mentality issue. Teachers in Spain are generally not a respected, appreciated, and certainly not well remunerated part of the population. There are historical and social reasons for that, but I will leave them for another post.

Long story short: I have returned to work in the US as Assistant Professor of Spanish and Assistant Director of the Language Department at Saint Vincent de Paul, a major seminary in Boynton Beach Florida! This was not an easy decision, leaving everything behind for a job, but I could no longer live in a country that refused to acknowledge me professionally.

Desperate Literature (or interesting bookstores and libraries)

I fell in love with literature at the American School in London with a couple of great teachers: Soledad Sprackling for Spanish Literature and James McGovern for English. But I did not fall in love with books until college.

At Bentley University I discovered the Bowles Reading Room which had beautiful books. It was glassed in from the rest of the library and every day I went there to do my homework but would invariably end up looking at the wonderful books. I loved that room so much that at the end of my studies, I donated a book about Spain to the Collection. (I contacted the librarians who got me this rare photo of the Reading Room for this post, thanks!).

Bowles Reading Room 1992 (After I graduated) (PC: Bentley Archives)

Bowles Reading Room 1992 (After I graduated) (PC: Bentley Archives)

But I would have to wait until after college to have enough disposable income to buy books, which, living in Boston, was very easy. Some days on my lunch break I would sneak to Goodspeed’s to look for treasures. Such is my love for books and literature, that years later, I ended up getting a PhD in Spanish Literature! (see previous posts)

Speaking of UNC, one of the highlights are the libraries. Plural. The old library is the Wilson Library (which is featured prominently in Robin Williams’ great film Patch Adams). I spent hours studying in this library and a couple of times studying very old books in the Rare Book Collection. The big, modern library is the Davis Library with its 7 million books. There, I soon made best friends with the Spanish book librarians Teresa and Becky. I would walk to their office deep in the heart of the library and talk books, (and gossip). This library is as close to the Borges idea of a library as I have ever been: massive and repetitive, but with a soul.

During my studies at UNC, one summer I got a Fellowship to do research at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. What an experience! To get to the rare book collection you have to pass not one, but two security checks, you cannot bring in any pens, books, phones, etc. Books there are treated with the care and reverence one would expect of -in my case- over two hundred year old books. I spent every morning that summer reading most of Francisco de Isla’s first editions, manuscripts, and other pieces attributed to him but not his. That experience is one of the highlights of my academic career. (Their coffee shop in the basement was also excellent – and subsidized! but that is for another post)

Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

After UNC I moved to Southern Florida, which is a wasteland for books -must be the humidity. But, in 2016 I did read this great article in Vanity Fair, (to which I have subscribed and read every issue from cover to cover since around 2006) about this magical book store in Santorini called Atlantis Books.

Fast forward to 2018 when my dear friend Matthew came to visit me in Madrid. He stayed at a hotel in the old part of town. One evening after I dropped him off, around the corner from the hotel, on narrow Campomanes street, I bumped into Desperate Literature. I was ecstatic! What a discovery, what a find! A tiny bookstore, but filled with books mostly in English, with a few in Spanish and French for good measure. It was a tiny paradise, an oasis of… books!

Books in time of Covid

Books in time of Covid

I soon found out that this bookshop is part of Atlantis Books which I had read about in that Vanity Fair article. It all fit in, a collection of magical bookstores.

During this Covid-19 pandemic I found out they were sending books to folks. I ordered one and I was able to make use of my workout time to ride my bicycle to pick it up.

In conclusion: support your local -hopefully quirky- bookstores, and read.

 

Simmons College

 

Over the years and the blog posts I have often mentioned Simmons College in passing, but I have never devoted a whole post to a place that changed my life. About time…:

What finally prompted me to write this post is that one of my students from Seacrest, has been accepted to Simmons to play volleyball. This made me remember my great experience there, which, of course, I have shared with my student. I must confess, I am a little jealous.

After my first couple of years of teaching I got the bug (and the recommendation from administrators) to go back to school. I enjoyed teaching Spanish and I had always loved literature, so I looked for part-time, evening Master’s programs in Spanish Literature in the Boston area. The pickings where slim: Boston College, Boston University, and a small all women’s college with a co-ed graduate program: Simmons College. An Excel spreadsheet that compared the practical, academic and economic aspects of embarking on such a project soon followed, and Simmons won. I visited, I applied and was accepted!

My first class on Siglo de Oro literature blew me away. Despite the fact that I had no clue what I was doing, I was warmly welcomed into the fold by Professor Louise Cohen, who would become a phenomenal mentor and would eventually inspire me to continue my studies in the field. Being a student again, taught me a lot about being a teacher. Although juggling teaching and learning was a lot of work, I really enjoyed the experience and loved every course I took. Plus, I made a handful of awesome friends.

On the rare days that I arrived early, Simmons has an agreement with the museum next door: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where students got in for free, so I would spend a while walking around or reading in the beautiful patio. Or I would grab a nice coffee from Simmon’s little coffee shop. Or I would hang out in their state of the art library (their Library Science program is one of the best around). A few times I went to their swimming pool, although once they unknowingly guided me to the women’s locker room where, after my swim, I walked into a woman changing, ooops.

My last course was on Don Quixote, again with the fantastic Prof. Cohen, sort of a full circle kind of thing. I loved it, wrote one of my favorite papers ever (see previous blog post) and by May of 2009 graduated.

A couple of years later, when I went to talk to my professors about life and PhD programs, Louise Cohen and program Director Raquel Halty were alarmed at my extreme weight loss. Prof. Halty even took me to her beautiful Wellesley home to feed me and counsel me. I will never forget their caring.

Lauren Mackler, career and life coach

So there I was, having just closed my company and sold our beautiful apartment in Madrid overlooking the Retiro Park. Just moved back to Boston and struggling in my new career as a teacher in a tough public school. Reading the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine one day, there was an article about career recycling, reinventing yourself, blah, blah, blah. The “more info” bullets had a couple of career coaches names. So I called one of them.

My previous life in the photo business

My previous life in the photo business

It was Lauren Mackler. We agreed to (I think) a twelve session program and she kicked my ass (figuratively). We went back to my core values, my upbringing, my education, my deep needs and professional desires. She wrote everything down on big sheets of paper. We did the Myers Briggs test – and a bunch of others – surprise, my ideal job is teacher (only after preacher which is pretty similar).

We worked in the nicely done basement of her house, really well and hard for the whole program, she is tough and had me in tears a few times. I learnt so much about myself: where I really wanted to be in the future, where I could and would work best, etc. etc. I still have all her notes and occasionally go over them with colleagues who are a bit lost professionally.

Ten years later and Lauren has done very well for herself: published a book, spoken at the Harvard Business School, on TV and become a bit of a celebrity in the coaching business, good for her! As for myself, I am happy I worked with her and that she helped me unleash my potential. Did we expect me to be getting a PhD in 18th C. Spanish literature at UNC? Well no, but that is beside the point. The point is that she is a great coach and I am happy to recommend her if you need any sort of career help.

PS: This blog is totally independent, and I only write what I feel like writing!

Alfredo’s Barbacoa

With my nephew Jimmy

With my nephew Jimmy

Victor working hard

Victor working hard

The Valencia Crew

The Valencia Crew

Blessed with friends

Blessed with friends

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Meta Photo

Meta Photo

My über trendy sister’s boyfriend, told me about Alfredo’s in the mid-eighties but I never got to go until 1990 when I moved back to Madrid from Boston. I would have lunch there with my office mates every Friday: “Fridays is Freddy’s” was our war cry. These lunches would include Alfredo’s legendary burgers and a lot of beer and bourbon. Needless to say Friday afternoons back at the office were not very productive. That was my first contact with Alfredo, and as Rick would tell Chief Inspector Renault in Casablanca: it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Alfredo, an American living in Madrid and me, a Spaniard that had grown up in America.

Alfredo’s Barbacoa is an authentic – and by that I mean authentic, burger joint in Madrid. The burgers are from the best Northern Spanish cows, (the awesome steaks come from American Heifers bred in Denmark), the meat is cooked on an oak charcoal grill, and that makes all the difference. The coleslaw is a touch sweet and even hard-core Alabamians swear by it. There is Miller and Bud, (and Jack and SoCo), the decor is full on Americana, with the odd Spanish reference thrown in for reality’s sake. The TV is always showing rodeo shows, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks or nowadays Taylor Swift. The dining public goes from the prince of Spain and the odd assorted celeb, to full Spanish families for weekend lunches, working lunch executives, Americans that treasure Alfredo’s like the gem it is, all sorts of party groups and of course the die- hards.

With time I got to know Alfredo’s family, all the wait staff, the cooks, everybody. When I moved to my bachelor pad in the mid-nineties I lived literally around the block from Alfredo’s so it almost became my dining room. Some nights when the joint would close Alfredo and I would go out and hit the bars, fortunately we occasionally still do!

My relationship continues with Alfredo, his son-in-law Victor and the rest of the family and staff: I would host most of my company’s important meals there including client and vendor meetings, even my dealer convention was hosted there. Tracy and I held our Spanish wedding party there, we even dressed up in our wedding outfits! My little sister Rocky hosted a dinner with all my friends the first Christmas that I came back after a year in Boston. My friends from Valencia always go there for a meal when they are in town. I hosted University alumni reunions. I always took my students there when they got homesick of American food. And of course I go there as often as I can, alone or with friends. Last week I treated my sister and her lovely family!

So Alfredo and his (now) three restaurants are an important part of my life in Madrid, it is my favorite restaurant, my go to restaurant and more importantly I feel like family there.