The assassination of character, the closing of The Parrot

Over the last few years, I have seen some of my favourite places close. This week The Parrot, my favourite bar in Naples, Florida, where I lived for two years was closed as the new landlord wanted to make the venue more upscale. Covid finished Ye Olde Waffle House on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill where I would regularly go for breakfast. Over the years, other favorite places have succumbed to landlord’s greediness, to developers plans, and so on.

The problem is not just that these amazing, authentic venues close, which is bad enough in and of itself. What comes after is even worse; an anodyne, generic, Instagram ready, boring venue with zero personality, with zero charisma, with zero vibes, overrated and overpriced.

What made these places special to begin with was not a specific décor (although that added character), or a basic but tasty menu, or as bob Seger would say Old Time Rock and Roll, it was, of course, the people, the staff. You made connections and eventually relationships just by going to the same place all the time. When you replace all that with a desire for profit, your employees are more concerned with results and policy than with getting to know you and serving you from the heart.

The result is a place that transmits no emotion, staff that has a limited range of interactions because they have been trained with a “corporate” mentality as opposed to a hospitality mentality. You see, when your only metric is profit, you lose humanity. Unfortunately, we are seeing the victory of greed, but at what price? The loss of community.

Meditation, the cosmic egg, and Kierkegaard

Rohr

It is difficult to pinpoint when I became interested in the intersection of spirituality, philosophy, and wellbeing. I know I was curious about these issues as a teenager, so I guess it has been a lifelong pursuit, adding ingredients into the mix as I learn and mature.

In 2012, thanks to the great Dr. Mulkern, I started reading Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan friar who has written over thirty books on religion and spirituality. I have mentioned him many times in this blog. You can subscribe to his brilliant and illuminating daily email by clicking here. A couple of years later my dear friend Paco introduced me to meditating, I have not stopped since –although I am bad at it, that is ok.

Briefly and roughly: 19th C Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (also often mentioned in these pages) proposes three stages of life: An ego driven, superficial youthful stage called the Aesthetic, the more mature ethical stage in which we worry about right and wrong, and finally the Religious, where we connect with our spiritual self. These are not supposed to be linear, although it makes sense if they are. Also, there are people who stay in one stage all their lives…

The “cosmic egg” appears in many different mythological traditions giving birth to the world, and/or the universe. Richard Rohr’s interpretation is of three eggs one inside the other, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. In his theory, the smallest egg, “My Story”, is a me centered, ego-driven narrative, which revolves around my status, my things, my Instagram followers, etc. you get the idea. The next bigger egg is “Our Story” which revolves around group mentality: my country, my religion, my football team, my race. Definitely, “Our Story” is a step up from “My Story”, but there are bigger and better things out there: “The Story” is the universal story that connects all of us, it is the transcendental stage where everything makes sense, it is the place of love, forgiveness. wisdom, listening, and understanding. It is what is. You can read his explanation here.

A couple of Rohr’s books

Interestingly, these three “eggs” or stories match Kierkegaard’s stages perfectly. The trick here is that to progress from one stage to the next the only way is through pain, through breakage, through loss and vulnerability (check out my post on vulnerability here). If you do not pay your dues, you might stay in your ego centered little universe your whole life. You have to be willing to suffer and listen to the pain to come out on the other side, wiser. This never-ending effort to transcend, to enlightenment, requires a very conscious effort which is where meditation, reading, religion, community, exercise, volunteering, even diet is important –but not the only- ingredients.

The Story is not limited to any one religion or denomination, and all healthy religions and even philosophies will be tellingit on some level. For example, forgiveness is one of the patterns that is always true. It always heals, whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Jewish, gay or straight, Black or white. There is no specifically Catholic or Indigenous way to feed the hungry or steward the earth. Love is love, even if the motivation and symbols might be different.

The complete cosmic egg is uniquely the work of God and healthy religion. Biblical tradition, at its best, honors and combines all three levels of story: personal journey as raw material, communal identity as school and training ground, and true transcendence as the integration and gathering place for all the parts together. We call it holiness, which is the ultimate form of wholeness.

Richard Rohr’s “Daily Meditation” 01-27-2021

Romance Studies Department Graduate Student Soccer!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last year a couple of our classmates organized a very informal indoor soccer scrimmage on Friday evenings. For some reason I took up the responsibility this year. I booked one of the outdoor fields and had a great time every Friday evening. We were blessed with great weather all through the Fall semester. Basically we allowed anyone who showed up to play. We had a 59 year old Colombian fellow, middle school kids, undergrads and grad students from other departments play, so we re-named our scrimmage: Romance Studies Community Soccer. By opening it up to the community we hope to provide and give back a little bit.

In the winter we moved our games indoor to one of the courts, and by the end of the year, we received official acknowledgement from the department’s Graduate Student Government to legitimize the position and I have passed the baton to a young fellow in the department who did not miss a single game!

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!