First year back Stateside

A year ago I was locked up in Madrid, teaching a few classes on line, obviously Tonxo Tours was paused indefinitely. So I started looking for gigs around the world. As fate would have it, I ended up back in my beloved (not) Florida. Well at least the East coast of Florida which, having a bit more history than the West coast is a bit more diverse…

So, as I review the year, what are my main observations and conclusions:

I love my school! Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary. We get students from North Carolina down to the Caribbean, and I get to teach them Spanish and English in a beautiful campus with great colleagues!

Despite Covid issues like having to wear a mask to class, it still beat Zoom classes where students are sitting on their beds, getting up to brew a cup of tea…

I have worked hard at building my community by building relationships at school, volunteering as an usher at my church (wait for a blog post on that), and trying to socialize –although that boils down to me going to my cigar lounge once in a while.

Speaking of fate, I was lucky to find out that my friend from my schooldays in London, Manuel Andrés lives a couple of towns North of me in Juno Beach! We basically saw each other every week-end for pizza, barbecue, or trips to Ikea. Last weekend we crashed the Walker Cup which took place next door to him (watch for another blog post on that).

I have moved so many times –about 20- in my life, that I now have a fairly established routine: find a nearby church, gym, and yoga studio, bar, coffee shop, cigar shop/lounge, community service, breakfast restaurant, Trader Joe’s, etc. Of course it is tricky to check all the boxes, so there is a bit of give and take. For example, I do not really go to the bar much anymore, but I do have the beach to go running, swimming and walking/meditating, so it compensates.

All in all, it has been a positive year and it has flown by! Now I only have a handful of meetings, some paperwork and I am off to Spain, stay tuned!

A good cup of coffee

Of course I have mentioned coffee many times before in this blog, but I have never dedicated a post to it. About bloody time, some of you might say.

As my friend Theo would say I am a bit of a late bloomer, at least on the coffee front, maybe because I did not hit my teenage years in Madrid but in London in the 80’s where a good cup of coffee was as unheard of as a sunny day. Ditto for university in Boston later that same decade. Although I do remember some memorable coffees in the Italian North End where a few cafés knew how to pull a solid espresso!

When I finally got back to Spain in the early 90’s, still young -mind you- then the coffee consumption crept in unannounced. You see, in Spain at mid morning everybody takes a coffee break, who was I not to enjoy a cup? Thus an addiction began.

I do not drink a lot of coffee, preferring to focus on quality over quantity. Normally it is just one a day, mid morning. While travelling, it will be at least a couple, one with breakfast and one mid morning. If I have lunch out, I might have an espresso to finish.

During my PhD, I would meet with my awesome Thesis Advisor a couple of times a week to go over my progress at UNC’s now defunct The Daily Grind, where they knew our orders by heart. Those coffees remain in my memory as some of the most enriching ever.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

– T.S. Eliot

Relative to the rest of Europe, Spain does not have the best coffee. You see after our Civil War (1936 to 39) we had a rough famine through the 40’s while the rest of Europe was in WWII. We were lucky to be included in the Marshall Plan that helped us out. We had a scarcity of coffee so it was over roasted to increase flavor. Folks also drank chicory instead of coffee since this grows naturally in Spain and was widely available and much cheaper. Sometimes they mixed coffee and chicory (in proportions depending on what you could afford). A final trick was to add caramel to the coffee, again to push the flavor. All this means is that we got used to bad coffee, torrefacto. Nowadays this is not so much the case except if you go to a remote village where they still like it “old” style.

Another great coffee moment is Sunday after church, where I do not have any time limit on my coffee. In Florida I would go to Bad Ass Coffee next to St. Ann’s, although eventually I moved to The Brick for the more comfy sofas to read on. Here in Madrid I go to the wonderful Pancomido Café where the girls know me enough to prepare my coffee when they see me walking in!

More important than the coffee itself might be the coffee time: a time of reflection, or reading, or of company, and conversation. The ceremony of coffee whether at home, or at a coffee shop is also equally important; taking the time to enjoy a coffee alone or with a friend.

 

My Madrid

Defensor del pueblo

Defensor del pueblo

La unión y el fenix

La unión y el fenix

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Angel caido

Angel caido

Café en el retiro

Café en el retiro

Castellana

Castellana

20140101_194322 20140101_202347 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith all the reading I have to do I only took ten days to visit my family in Madrid this Winter Break. I was happily busy with my parents, sisters, nieces and nephew, but a couple of times I managed to sneak out and walk around my Madrid, absorbing every sight, smell, sound and feeling. I love this city. While every city is unique in its personality and character, Madrid seems even more unique. This might be due to the fact that for centuries Madrid, although the capital of Spain since around 1561 was extremely isolated. It is not only the highest capital in Europe (667 m, 2,188 ft. above sea level), it is also terrifically well protected, surrounded as it is by mountains. It is also in the middle of nowhere. No harbor, no navigable river, sitting in the middle of a massive plateau. Unless you needed to visit the king, you really had no reason to go to Madrid. The name Castille does not come in vain. Of course it has Arab influences, and every type of cultural imprint since the Middle Ages, most notably the French influence of the Bourbon dynasty starting in 1713. So Madrid is a village in La Mancha, never mind the more or less 6 million inhabitants. But it is my home town.

But, what is a city but a collection of people at any given moment? Madrid is where you can find Medieval feudal noblemen (and their wannabes) – “Hello? We are in the 21st Century!” You want to shout as you shake them by their tweed lapels, to tattooed hipsters brewing their own beer and roasting their own coffee. You can find ladies dressed in couture next to punks who think we are still in the 80s. From Ferraris to ancient Seat 600s. From Arab inspired chickpea “cocido” stew to frozen yogurt, from blistering heat to snow and ice, Babies and old relics walking side by side, in the summer months this happens into well entered the night. It is these contrasts that make me love Madrid. In winter you can still find old ladies selling roasted chestnuts next to glossy shop windows, or a Chinese owned convenience store selling “bocadillos de chorizo” late, late at night.

Although most morning were devoted to walks with my dad, one morning I took my niece and nephew to the Retiro park where María roller skated while Jimmy skateboarded. It was chilly and we stopped for Cola-Cao – the Spanish brand of hot cocoa – and coffee in one of the bars around the park, it was a blast!

And the neighborhoods. I chat with my coffee shop owner (Felix) with my newspaper kiosk owner (Yague), with my cigar expert (José), with concierges, with the lottery sales lady, with shopkeepers I have known since I was a boy, with neighbors, with the bank employees, even the local cops.

A heartbreaking aspect of these visits is that I do not have enough time to visit everyone I would like to see. It is a delicate knit of family time, friend time, and some me time. I was lucky to visit with some friends and family, to walk around a bit and to catch a couple of interesting art exhibits near my parents’ home.

Although my visit to Madrid was short this time, I still had time to refresh and renew my love for this city I love so much.