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!

My girlfriend

The first times I saw Mélanie I must confess I did not pay much attention to her. In my defense I must say that I was in a bit of a rush and that in that very room was Francis, yes, the Saint Francis, done by my old friend Vicente Carducho. Nearby was Aesop, no, not Velazquez’s Aesop, but a version by my old Boston buddy John Singer Sargent, even Picasso was there. Ok it was a silly dish with a Centaur, which he probably whipped up between a swim at the beach and lunch at Vallauris, but still. But what really captivated me was my granddad’s old paisan Francisco, yes Francisco de Goya, he was upstairs in a couple of his Caprichos prints. Imagine finding Goya in a village in the middle of North Carolina, my mind was blown and I fell in love with Chapel Hill and with the Ackland Museum. My story with Mélanie came later.

Mélanie and I were formally introduced by a common acquaintance, a curator in the museum, in the Winter of 2013. After that I quickly grew to like her. We started seeing each other every Sunday. I would go to mass, then I would grab a coffee at the Carolina Inn and do some reading, and then I would go see her for a while. That was over two and a half years ago and we are still going strong. Our secret? when I am not reading to her, I monopolize the conversation.

After visiting Melanie just about every Sunday for the last few years – except during summer, I can tell you a few things about her: She is French, if you must know, from the South of France, Provence. She is a Marquise, so less than a duchess or a princess, but more than a countess or a baroness. This means that she is not the first French noblewoman I fall in love with, but that is a different story and it was a long time ago. At any rate, she is 30, she has been 30 since I met her, in fact, she has been thirty since 1789 when she was painted. Not a single wrinkle, that’s French beauty for you. Yes she is rich, check out that dress, that is heavy silk, with a stoat or ermine trim! She is artistic. Can’t you see her blue drawing paper? Where do you think the word blueprints comes from? Yes she loves to write, see the stylus in her hand? although the artist forgot to paint in an inkwell or bottle, or was he trying to tell us something? Hmmm. She is religious, her sash and medal means she belongs to a religious order, you know, for the nobility. She is wise, see the statue of Athena, or is it Minerva? never mind. Some people say she is married, but I don’t see no ring – and wedding rings have been around since the ancient Egyptians and Celts – go listen to Beyoncé.

Her full name is Mélanie de Forbin-Gardanne, Marquise de Villeneuve-Flayosc. Some call her Madame, maybe because she is nobility, but to that I say read the previous paragraph. Being noble and rich goes hand in hand with being a bit of a celebrity, even if she does not like it one bit. So besides the gossip that goes with being 18th C French nobility, and the painting, and being a “Grand Lady”, writer Allan Gurganus wrote a bit of a story about her, which, by the way is totally ficticious!!!

But enough of this superficial silly talk. Mélanie has a heart of gold. She was extremely well educated, she loves the arts and culture, and philosophy. Therein lies the problem. The Estates-General has just met in Versailles, ending up in a tennis court after Louis XVI kicked them out of the Grands Salles, where they were meeting. Heads are about to roll, many heads, literally. If you look closely, Mélanie has a longing in her gaze, her eyes are almost watery. She could care less about the painting and the painter, and the dress and the furniture. She has read Kant and Hobbes and Locke and Voltaire. She knows we can have a better world, but these Enlightenment thinkers full of Reason are forgetting a small detail: love. My Mélanie knows we can, and should, have a better world with everything that entails. When I go see her on Sundays she tells me all this, just with her eyes.

I can’t wait for next Sunday to go see Mélanie.

Family holiday in Chapel Hill

This year I had the privilege of ending my summer holiday by inviting my younger sister and her two oldest kids to spend a few days with me in Chapel Hill. It was fantastic! We all flew at the end of July into North Carolina only to find that the battery had died on old Helmut. So the next day, after a delicious breakfast at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe and jump starting the car, we headed out to Audi Cary where they lent us a wonderful Q5 for the day while they changed the battery!

We drove to Raleigh where we visited Ray Price Harley Davidson, with its great drag racing museum. Then we went to downtown where we visited the Museum of Natural Sciences and had lunch at the Museum of History.

During our ten days here we went to church, visited every corner of campus, the Basketball Museum, the Planetarium, the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Wilson Library, the Ackland Museum, Hillsborough with its fantastic Matthew´s chocolates and Ayr Mount plantation, we even went to Duke (shhhh!!) and Durham.

They met some of my favorite people from Chapel Hill: my classmate, office mate, and little sister (in the absence of my real little sister) Alejandra who picked us up at the airport, Patrick my mailman, the folks at Ye Olde Waffle Shop, Missy Julian Fox, the folks at the Ronald McDonald House, Father Bill and Adam at church, the folks at Trader Joe’s, even the High Priest, Professor Frank Dominguez.

The culinary experience was just as awesome, we went to Five Guys, Suttons, Maple View farm for ice cream, Buns for their grilled salmon sandwich, Mellow Mushroom for Pizza, Top of the Hill, Akai Hana for sushi, and the highlight being North Carolina barbecue.

Other highlights were when we played soccer on one of the soccer fields, or when we set up the big screen digital projector home theater to watch Disney’s Alexander and Annie, volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill, visiting the Mall (and the outlet mall), Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and of course Walmart, which Jimmy loved.

We had a blast. My niece, infused by the entrepreneurial spirit of the land set up a table on the street to sell her hand-made bracelets. Unfortunately, living in a dead-end street in August meant that she did not have many costumers – although she did manage a couple of sales, the proceeds of which she donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill!

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36 hours in Chapel Hill according to the New York Times

I am very disappointed in the New York Times because I subscribed for the print edition last year for my birthday and they never in 10 days beyond the normal start date got their act together to deliver a single issue, so I cancelled.

Forgive and forget.

For years the New York Times has been writing this travel article about “36 hours in wherever”. Since they recently did Chapel Hill, I magnanimously share it.

Unfortunately or fortunately I do not frequent any of the dining / drinking establishments featured. They are a bit trendy, hipster, overpriced or simply out of my little way(s). As a cranky and grumpy old man I stick to my venues that I have written about on this blog.

At any rate, enjoy a bit of my village:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/travel/what-to-do-in-36-hours-in-chapel-hill-carrboro.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2F36-hours&_r=0

What have I learnt in my PhD so far?

You might ask: All this talk of PhD blah, blah, blah is very nice, but what have you really learnt in two years of school?

Academically I have learnt about Medieval Spanish Literature, about medieval authors distancing themselves and their work from the divine works. In Spain the Libro de buen amor is key in playing with the divine and the more human aspects of life. I have learnt about colonial authors like Juan del Valle y Caviedes or Mateo Rosas de Oquendo, even Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz criticizing the Spanish abuses in Latin America using satire. And I have learnt about the massive changes that came along in the 18th Century and how books were agents and mirrors of this change. I have learnt about the evolution of literature, how so much of our literature is basically founded on ancient Greek and Roman literature (and to a lesser extent to Middle Eastern and Asian / Indian literature). I have learnt to connect many dots in literature, but I still have so, so much to learn, which is another thing I have learnt!

Ha, not bad for eight lines! Let me know if you want to know more I will be happy to oblige and bore you for hours!

On other levels I have learnt to be more discerning and critical in my reading, to read more “between the lines”, to interpret, to be more critical of my reading. This is very enriching.

I am in awe of my professors: Irene Gómez Castellano, Frank Domínguez and Rosa Perelmuter, their knowledge of their fields, the breadth of their knowledge, their generosity with their knowledge and time. I have been blessed to work with them and I hope someday to be a little bit like them.

Overall I have spent over two years of my life preparing for this exam, reading every moment that I have been able to: during breaks in concerts and plays, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, at the Harley Davidson dealership, at my bar Zog’s, in every library and corner of the university, at the Carolina Inn after Sunday mass, at the Ackland Museum (after the Carolina Inn), on my porch – smoking cigars, at Five Guys eating a burger, at my coffee shop (the Daily Grind at the Student Stores, expensive and slow, but a superior cup of coffee and the staff is great!) etc., etc., etc. Passing these exams is the highlight of my career so far.

Keep Calm and Read

Keep Calm and Read

Graham Memorial

Graham Memorial

 

Carolina Inn

Carolina Inn

Harley dealership

Harley dealership

Wilson Library

Wilson Library

Porch

Porch

 

Some Coffee Shop

Some Coffee Shop

Five Guys

Five Guys

Zog´s

Zog´s

My Chapel Hill

Sushi!

Sushi!

The Carducho (or Carducci)

The Carducho (or Carducci)

The arboretum

The arboretum

The Carolina Inn

The Carolina Inn

(delicious) Taco Truck

(delicious) Taco Truck

Did I mention Gelato?

Did I mention Gelato?

Mandey of Zog's w a broken finger

Mandey of Zog’s w a broken finger

The pool in the theatre!

The pool in the theatre!

Older posts might mention this, so please excuse my old age and incipient dementia. I want to tell you about Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, I tell people, is a village, a thriving, dynamic, diverse village, but a village nonetheless. It has the advantages of a village: everything is walking distance from everywhere, it is easy to make relationships, safety, $4 movies at the main street (Franklin St.) Varsity movie theatre, all this translates to community. On the other hand there is a thriving cultural scene. Just this semester I have seen: Wynton Marsalis with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Andras Schiff playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, L-E-V an Israeli modern dance company, Shakespeare’s Tempest and Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, both with a swimming pool built into the proscenium!, opera (UNC’s The Orpheus Diaries), an early modern Spanish, French and Italian concert, with period instruments! And of course the, for me obligatory Nutcracker ballet. If that was not enough, I have gone to a couple of fascinating conferences by top presenters, for example, one on Baroque Spanish Literature. And then there are always gigs at Zog’s, my favorite bar, that range from reggae to punk to New Orleans Jazz. Given my constant need for stimulation, Chapel Hill delivers. An example of how Chapel Hill fits me like a glove might be Sunday mornings. After my breakfast and coffee I walk to church which is always a rich a rewarding experience with the wise and funny Monsignor Wall. After mass I cross the street to The Carolina Inn, where I enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the cozy living room where I do some reading. Then I walk up the street to the Ackland Art Museum where I sit down in front of a painting to do some more reading. In fact I always sit down in front of the same painting: Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc, a sweet 18th Century lady with whom I like to converse about the goings on in the Enlightenment. Finally, it is home for lunch, or if it is nice weather for a nice Rocinante ride to search for a nice lunch.

On another level, I have state of the art fitness facilities: gym, swimming pool, basketball courts, etc. There are nice restaurants, cafés and shops (being realistic, and keeping in mind that we are not in New York City). There is a planetarium and an arboretum, there are world class libraries. Best of all, I am so busy reading and working that what little time (and money) I have to spend, I know will be good!

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.