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

The Chapel Hill arts scene season ’14-’15

Yes, I know I repeat myself all the time, but one of the main reasons I love Chapel Hill is the thriving cultural scene. There is always something culturally stimulating going on. Being at a concert, a play, a ballet, is a great break from the day-to-day but at the same time a very enriching experience, which I believe leaves an almost invisible sediment at the bottom of your soul, mind, heart. This sediment, like in a good wine adds to the richness and flavor of the wine. Among other events this year I went to:

  • The Pittsburgh Symphony playing Mahler 1 symphony.
  • Benjamin Britten’s Japanese Noh theatre inspired Curlew River
  • Unavoidably in December, the Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker
  • The Maarinsky Orchestra playing Prokofiev
  • Kronos Quarter with my dear friend and composer James Brown. This concert included a very nice question and answer period post concert.
  • Brian Blade, a brilliant jazz drummer with my dear friend and cigar aficionado Jedd.
  • Britten’s War Requiem
  • Pierre Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich playing Pierre Boulez on dueling pianos!
  • Martha Graham Dance Company
  • The Monteverdi Orchestra playing the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting. One of the most amazing shows I have ever seen!
  • The North Carolina Symphony playing Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. A great and hopeful hymn that represents the beauty that is America.
  • Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure played by a small company in the local movie theatre!
  • UNC Opera’s hilarious rendering of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus
  • UNC Baroque Ensemble’s Fall and Spring concerts with the great Professor Wissick leading.

Unfortunately my Spring was so busy that I did not manage to go to any of the Playmakers Spring productions.

And this does not include lectures, readings, exhibits, nor any of all the more alternative goings on, in which I choose not to participate, one must set limits. All in all an extremely fulfilling year that had me thinking, feeling, laughing and crying.

On teaching French

Since I arrived at UNC, every time I bumped into the Director of French Studies – which was often because she is a keen supporter of the North Carolina Symphony which I also follow (although not as keenly), I would always offer my services to her as a French teacher. Little did I know that one day she would offer me to teach a section of French 105, French for High Beginners, i.e. students that have had previous exposure to French but are too rusty to go into intermediate level.

I cannot lie, my French grammar – which was never my strong suit to begin with – was, was, hmm, rusty. But my course coordinator who also happens to be my desk neighbor in our office had fantastic Power Point presentations covering the grammar.

French came to me later in life. I started taking classes in high school in London, which were complemented with great summers at the International Teen Camp in Lausanne in French Switzerland. I continued taking classes during university and spent those summers working in Paris, Bordeaux, Lausanne and Geneva, taking classes in the evenings and immersing myself.

After that I worked for a stint for a French stockbroker in Madrid, and tried to practice as much as possible with friends and work colleagues.

More recently, for my studies I have loved revisiting Montesquieu, Voltaire and other 18th C French authors.

So my speaking and reading are fine, but I struggle with the writing, due to the grammar, so teaching was not a total shock, and I compensated with total immersion from the music video to welcome the class to using only French all the way to the end of the session. The mix of students was as good as anyone could ask for. From quiet and shy overachievers, to frat bros, (to continue perpetuating stereotypes) to the whole demographic. I believe this always makes for more enriching classes. Our classroom in the Urban Planning Department building was nice and cozy and coincidentally had a massive wall sized reproduction of an antique map of Paris!

French Class outdoors

French Class outdoors

Three years down, one to go (hopefully)

Within the last month I finished my third year of my PhD studies and Chapter 2 of my dissertation, so I finally got to updating my poor abandoned blog, only to have the Greek internet swallow the blog post I have been writing for the last 10 days (more on that later), as if it were a multi-billion Euro loan from the European Central Bank. So, back to the old drawing board.

My sixth semester has been very intense. All semesters are intense, but in different ways. This was my first semester dedicated 100% to writing my dissertation and it was a new dynamic for me. I find writing, especially in the academic style very difficult, every sentence is a challenge, and then it gets corrected by my director and sent back for retooling. So it feels like one step forward two steps back. But eventually every page gets cleared after a few drafts, so it is very rewarding to make progress.

My volunteering has also been very exciting. The volunteer coordinator at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill asked me to participate in their Annual fundraising gala, this year the theme was Disney’s Aladdin… and I was Jafar! They were nice enough to let me keep the costume so I re-used it for the Romance Studies end of the year party, which this year was themed as “Happily ever after” i.e. your favorite storybook character.

Other highlights of the year to which I will dedicate blog posts were:

Being a Graduate Research Consultant for my Thesis Director’s undergraduate literature class.

A plethora of cultural events: music, ballet, theater…

The French Department had me teach French for High Beginners. It was a challenge but also great fun.

I was the Department’s soccer coordinator for the year, or as I re-worked it: The Romance Studies Sports and Wellness Coordinator.

This Spring I presented at a conference at the University of Maryland and at our own home grown Carolina Conference on Romance Studies.

All this and more will be coming your way soon, so stay tuned!!!…

My little pleasures

One of the many things I love about living in Chapel Hill is the amazing cultural scene. One really has to pick and choose what events to go as there is always so much going on. Most events are free or $10 as a student. Since this is one of my few indulgences, I enjoy preparing my evening around the event, which always ends with a decompression session at Zog’s and debriefing with the amazing musician / composer  and rock star bartender James Brown. This semester I have enjoyed:

Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performing Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1

The NC Symphony performing

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto with an amazing Di Wu on the piano

A Bach evening

Brahms Violin concerto #77

The UNC Symphony’s

Beethoven Symphony No. 2

The Baroque ensemble with the amazing, charming and funny Prof. Wissick doing a mostly Germanic repertoire.

The UNC Opera doing Shakespeare inspired bits

The UNC Playmakers theatre did Into the Woods and A Midsummer night’s dream in back to back performances

The “amateur” theatre group did Dracula, which was brilliant and funny!

And of course no season is complete without The Nutcracker, the NC Ballet’s performance.

Since I choose to go to all these concerts I do not go to rock, pop, jazz, etc. concerts of which there are, of course, even more. I hear about them from my students that go to see groups like Corporate Herpes and so on. Hmm, not for me any more. Although I do feel bad that I have not yet partaken in the experience of going to some of the more popular venues for those kind of gigs. Who knows, I might let my hair down someday (joke) and go!!!

I am already excited for next term’s performances, which include UNC Opera doing Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Britten’s War Requiem, Martha Graham, Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, and who knows what else, I can’t wait…

Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill

The best time of the week for me is Mondays from 6 to 9 pm when I volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. I love my team: evening manager Michelle, night manager Antoinette, volunteer chair masseur Bill, and my shift partner, the Batman to my Robin, the Ginger Rogers to my Fred Astaire, the Ying to my Yang, etc., Margaret! There are also the Therapy Dogs with their owners and the different dinner groups that cook for the families.

The first question people ask me when I tell them I volunteer at the House is what do I do there. Well, on a typical evening there are families to welcome and check into and out of the house, there are rooms to set up for incoming families, there is always tidying up to do, vacuuming, helping out volunteer dinner groups, cleaning the kitchen and dining room if the dinner group has not done so, I also manage the ADP Sorority volunteer girls that come in to help out – they are great! I am also the official announcer of dinner on the PA. I do this in English and Spanish for our Hispanic families and I occasionally throw in the accent of whatever geographic area dinner is from! I am also the official receptionist for the people who bake goods for the house, mostly high school kids that get Community Service hours. A big part of that job is making sure the quality of the baked goods is up to the high standards of the House. Another part of my job is just to hang out and be there. Sometimes you chat with members of the families because they need to talk, so you listen to their stories.

You see, we get so caught up in our lives and we think our lives suck and we bitch and complain. When you listen to a parent whose kid is in the hospital for whatever reason, or you get the privilege to actually hang out with the kid, and you realize that maybe my life is not so bad. It is not unusual, when I finish my shift for me to leave the house crying. So if the weather allows I prefer to ride Rocinante to the House so my tears dry in the wind.

Speaking of Rocinante. The other day was a quiet evening in the house (some rooms were closed for renovations), and the House had just launched a fundraising campaign selling Ronald McDonald socks. The campaign asks those who purchase socks to take an “interesting” photo with them and post them on the House’s internet site. So we wheeled old Rocinante into the House to take our pictures with the socks on. Good times!!

Then there is the annual volunteer recognition brunch in which we celebrate the volunteers that have been there since forever and have worked literally thousands of hours, amazing!

So now you know where to find me on a Monday evening. Come on down and I will show you around.