The ultimate test of cerebral fitness*

It has been nine months since my last entry. In my defense, it has been a crazy year. I am at Miami International Airport and this is the first chance I have to write, it feels good.

You see, I was busy finishing and defending my doctoral dissertation, which was a very difficult but rewarding process.

As soon as classes started in the Fall I was having my twice weekly coffee with Irene, my director, to finish and fine tune each chapter. At the same time I was teaching two classes: Advanced Intermediate 204, a new class for me, and Intermediate 203, my “standard” class. Oh, and I had to write an academic article if I wanted to have any chance of applying for a university job. On top of all that I had to prepare my job search, but those items will have their own blog entries.

The work only got more intense in the spring. I was assigned an extra class from the regular Spring load of one section, this one teaching Advanced Spanish at the Gillings School of Public Health. I had to give up my volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as cutting down on the number of concerts and plays I went to (although I did not totally give that up).

April was when the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road. Finishing and editing my dissertation and going to job interviews. Spring Break was anything but break, driving to Charlotte and flying to Florida for job interviews.

But everything came to a head on April 8. That morning I spent two and a half hours locked up in a conference room with four of the professors on my committee, and Ana Rueda from the University of Kentucky looming over all of us, Skyping in on the massive screen, like a science fiction overlord, only much nicer and sweeter! I also had like ten spectators: old students, friends, including Mandey from Zog’s, my friendly librarians Teresa and Becky, and colleagues that came to give me moral support. Poor things, they had to endure my grilling session.

I passed. Walking out of the meeting, feeling exhilarated but exhausted and numb, I had a message on my phone. Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida – my top choice for work – had made me an offer while I was defending my dissertation. Coincidence? I think not.

After defending I thought things would slow down, wrong again. I still had to do edits on my dissertation, dress up as Don Quixote for a marathon reading celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death, chair a panel at our Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, teach and wrap up my four years in Carolina. My mom and my little sister came for my hooding ceremony and we had a blast. After that I moved to Florida and had only enough time to dump my boxes before heading back to Spain for my nephew’s First Communion, which explains why I am sitting at the airport now.

*with thanks to Murray Head from his song One Night in Bangkok

Summer recap and back to school

Well, it has certainly been a different summer, and I am happy to be back to my boring, monastic Chapel Hill lifestyle. When I was a child summers went on forever, but now they are like the weather in Boston, you blink, and its over.

Madrid was home base for the summer, although this year I rarely got out of the house other than to grab a coffee in the morning and around the block to the gym in the afternoon.

My ten days in Greece were my real break. Caught up with old friends, made new friends and enjoyed my beloved old Greece with its special sunlight, and sea, and food.

We passed July in the country house at La Navata where I spent the mornings on babysitting duty for one, two or all three of my sister’s children. We would walk down to the village to buy bread and the newspaper and to have a coffee – Cola Cao – chocolate milk for the kids. During the afternoons I would work on my dissertation, finishing chapter 3. There were a couple of excursions: one to El Paular Monastery and the nearby hills, and of course a couple of visits to El Escorial with my dear friend Paco.

Another highlight of the Summer was having my sister and her two oldest here in Chapel Hill for a fortnight! We had a blast! (see previous blog post).

And then I had my 50th birthday. Well, at least it was better than my 49th, this time I did not get arrested for speeding. To celebrate, I gave this old blog an upgrade! So now it is http://www.antonioyrocinante.com without ads or Wordpress’ promotions. But I must confess it was difficult to pass my first birthday without my father.

Classes started three weeks ago, so we are back to the grind. I am teaching a section of Spanish 204, Advanced Intermediate, the first non required class. Mostly students that want to major or minor in Spanish. It has 12 great students. The downside? Class is at 8:00 am. My other section is Spanish 300, which is Composition. Of course you can’t have a course where you only write, it is like the guys at the gym that have these explosive upper bodies but Tweety Bird legs, as my cousin Arnold would say, so I have to work on integrating all facets of language development into the class.

Start of school also means that I have to get going on my dissertation again. I am starting the fourth – and last chapter (I still have to write the intro and conclusion). I am very excited, but this also means that I will not have much time to blog.

My other project, as I have mentioned before is getting a job for next year, as this should be my last year at UNC. I hope to defend my dissertation in the Spring. As is normal, I have mixed feelings: Of course I want to finish and see what the next chapter in my narrative holds, but on the other hand I love Chapel Hill and UNC and my friends and colleagues here.

So for now it is over and out from Chapel Hill.

WordPress upgrade

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!!!…

Wes and Woody

I’m waiting for my Thesis Director to go over my most recent dissertation scribbles, so I take a rare break from writing my dissertation… to write my blog!

Back in the short period between my prospectus (see previous posts) and starting my dissertation, before Christmas, I actually had time to watch a few of films, and I loved them both.

Wes Anderson has been one of my favorites since his Rushmore (1998). I love how he weaves a narrative with all these eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters. His latest is The Grand Budapest Hotel, about the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in an old school grand hotel somewhere in Mitteleuropa. The humor is woven into the narrative, sometimes with a big old slapstick brush, sometimes with a nuanced, detailed, subtle touch, and of course the whole spectrum in between. I have been known – back in the day, to have gotten kicked out of movie theaters for laughing when nobody else laughed, because I caught some tiny wink of humor. Wes Anderson keeps doing that for me time and again. Although nowadays I fortunately do not get kicked out of theaters.

When we were kids I remember spending summers at a place like that, the Gran Hotel Camp de Mar (which is now a gaudy monstrosity). Talk about old school. I even remember when one of the guests died and it was all hush-hush, but not really. So it really struck a chord with me, remembering the grand old dining room, the old furniture, everything.

Within the arc that is the narrative of the story, every detail of every scene is perfect. Every character, every costume, every prop, every line, you name it, it is perfect. Which of course contrasts beautifully with the eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters.

Wes Anderson is, of course, building on the shoulders of giants, particularly those of Woody Allen. I did get all caught up on his three latest movies (that is how behind I was on my movie watching): Midnight in Paris (2011), From Rome with Love (2012), and Blue Jasmine (2013).

Cate Blanchett (who was also brilliant in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004) nails her Jasmine. The film really got me thinking about how we delude ourselves, and how we see people around us that fool themselves to amazing depths and do not want to acknowledge it. From Rome with Love was fun, and I was happy to see Allen reprise Penelope Cruz in this film. But it was Midnight in Paris that I enjoyed the most. The magic of 1920s Paris in the 21st Century, Owen Wilson, who is also in the Grand Hotel Budapest (Adrien Brody is also in both). Maybe it is because I lived in Paris for a summer and inevitably fell in love with the city, maybe because it has one of Woody Allen’s best narratives in a while. Whatever, it was magic.

Wrapping up another semester, #5

Part of the problem with being an eternal optimist is that one always thinks things are going to be easier than they are. This last semester is a good example. The semester started off uphill, with me losing my washer and dryer (see previous post), getting a speeding ticket, and more importantly having to finesse my doctoral committee and getting my prospectus approved.

The exam was on November 7. You can read my previous post about it, but is was at the same time a grueling yet highly enriching experience. That afternoon I celebrated by playing soccer with my colleagues (more on that later) and then by going to see Benjamin Britten’s opera, Curlew River, inspired by the Japanese Noh theater (more on that also later). And of course, after all that by having a drink (or two) at my favorite bar, Zog’s.

After passing my exam I slumped into a bit of a post prospectus depression. My next goal is defending my dissertation, but that is not planned until the Spring of 2016. So all of a sudden I was without an immediate goal. This required some getting used to. I could finally, after three years, watch movies (more on that later), or enjoy dead time. That first Saturday I celebrated with a glorious breakfast at my favorite breakfast place Ye Olde Waffle Shop, and waltzing around Chapel Hill as if I owned it. Stopping at this store and that, hanging out at the old bookstore, and the museum.

As always teaching is my passion and this semester did not disappoint. I taught two sections of Intermediate Spanish 203, one of them in the Philosophy building. This allowed me to enjoy their philosophical bathroom graffiti.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so I soon changed my rhythm and got busy. I talked strategy with my professors to attack the dissertation, Prof. González Espitia named me to be a grad student editor of the department´s literary journal Hispanófila, and I started to prepare my dissertation by re-visiting the first four works of my beloved Padre Isla.

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Reading Lists – and the exam that follows…

Reading is hard work, you just can't see it!

Reading is hard work, you just can’t see it!

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Many of my followers have asked me about the reading lists for my Ph.D. and what is all the fuss about. So here is a brief description: I have finished my first year of the Ph.D. program where I had to take classes. This year, is devoted to preparing for my Ph.D. exam which should be in the Spring of ’14. The exam is based on three reading lists. My first list is XVIII Century Spanish satire, where I have to read about 20 or 30 books of primary reading and another 20 or 30 of theory and critical reading on the topic. My thesis director, the wonderful and extremely patient Prof. Irene Gómez Castellano will guide me with the reading. My secondary or complementary list is on Medieval Spanish satire with the same amount of reading. Prof. Domínguez, the generous and equally patient God of Medieval Spanish literature (seriously, he wrote the book on  it!) will help me with that.  And the final list has to be a transatlantic one. American lit. students have to study a Peninsular topic and vice versa, so I will be reading Colonial lit. with the extremely knowledgeable, razor-sharp but funny Prof. Perelmuter. The exam consists of a morning oral exam with the three reading tutors and a weekend written section with a question for each list. Passing that exam would make me All But Dissertation (ABD) and I have two years to research and write my dissertation.

So I have spent most of my summer (and my summer money) reading and finding books that will fit my reading list. I have toiled in used book stores around Spain breathing musty, old books. I have found some gems, and some that I could not afford, original prints and such. Many of the books I need have long  been out of print, and finding them is a bit of a hit or miss game. I found a handful of books a couple of days before departing Spain at the annual old and used book fair in El Escorial! By the end of the summer I had fifty-four books – enough that I had to fill a second suitcase, albeit a small one. All these are a bit less than a third of the books I need. If I add some books that I already have, I might have, at best, less than half of the material I need to read by April/May… will keep you posted. For now, it is time to get back to reading!

Granada

Olive trees in Antequera

Olive trees in Antequera

With Catherine

With Catherine

Snails

Snails

Backlit snails

Backlit snails

Cathedral

Cathedral

Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Casa San Juan de Dios

Casa San Juan de Dios

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Old Granada

Old Granada

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Sierra Nevada in the back

Sierra Nevada in the back

The last time I jumped on a train in Spain for some alone time was in 2010. A lot has happened since and I needed some time to be alone and enjoy this beautiful country. So I booked train tickets and I set off to Granada, the enchanted Moorish city of the South, home of Federico García Lorca, final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabel, inspiration for Washington Irving´s Tales of the Alhambra, and home to Europe´s Southernmost ski station, Sierra Nevada.

Some of the more noticeable changes in Spain in the last twenty years have been in infrastructure: Highways and railroads. Long gone are those creaky, smelly, shaking, trains, replaced by smooth, clean, and fast ones. The award winning Talgo technology – whereby the train “swings” in the turns allowing for a speedier, smoother ride now run on the high speed train rails. While not technically high speed, they do run quite fast. Making the Madrid to Granada trip in four hours where before eight would have been normal!

I love trains. I love enjoying the view while reading, listening to music or enjoying a nice cup of coffee. I love seeing the changes in the countryside as we speed along: now vines, now olive trees, now hills and rocky ridges. Tired and lazy I jumped into a cab for the five minute ride to the hotel. Right downtown, next to the beautiful Renaissance cathedral and the old Moorish town. The hotel, a 1920’s tile covered building has an old indoor patio.

I met up for dinner with Catherine Keller, a dear old student from my Walnut Hill days who is spending her summer in Granada with her Fordham University program. We went to the classic old Café Sevilla where we enjoyed great tapas and raciones – sharing plates. Including salmorejo (a concentrated type of gazpacho), and caracoles – snails!

Saturday morning, after a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, I hit the used book stores in the old part of town, and… Bingo! I found a trove of books that I needed for my reading list for my Ph.D. exam next Spring. The morning flew by while my bag grew heavier with books. Lunch was – as it should be – a leisurely affair, including, after coffee, a nice cigar and a Tanqueray Tonic while I continued reading my dear Fray Gerundioˡ. After a siesta it was time for vespers, as I knew I would not have time for mass on Sunday. I showed up at the beautiful Santa Ana church a while before mass, only to find that a wedding was finishing. It was all very beautiful, they had hired a four horse carriage, and the flowers in the church were delightful.

For dinner I met up with Catherine and Jenny – who I had seen in Madrid a few weeks ago, but was visiting Granada with her Mount Holyoke program from Valencia. So we had a mini Walnut Hill, 2010 Spain trip reunion with a lot of laughs.

Sunday morning, refreshed from my visit to old Granada, and with my bag a few pounds heavier, I jumped on the train back to Madrid.