Posts Tagged ‘family’

And so, fourteen years after leaving Spain, I return home to my beloved Madrid. My exile is over. There are two main reasons to explain my homecoming: a personal and a professional:

The first is family. My mom is 85 years old and not getting any younger, health issues start popping up with more and more frequency, her hearing is diminishing. So I decided to be with her. She lives in a big old apartment downtown and it is wonderful to have breakfast with her, help her with the cleaning and maintenance of the apartment and hang out with her throughout the day. My sister lives nearby with her three great kids who are growing up so fast (13, 11 and 7). Last week I went to my nephew’s soccer game and it was marvelous to see him score two goals. My oldest niece and god-daughter is just starting her teenage years and I am happy to be here to support her. As for the little one, the other day she was dropped off at home with an eye infection that kept her away from school, so I took her with me for my coffee and errands and we had a blast!

Just like family there are friends, old friends, real friends, friends that I have missed, friends that listen, that help you, that make you laugh, friends that are not afraid to call you out. And last, but not least, as the great late Robin Williams as psychologist Sean says to Will (Matt Damon) in the awesome Good Will Hunting: “I gotta see about a girl.”

The second and also important reason is a professional one, a pedagogical one. Over the years I have gotten tired of the narrow American definition of success, and of teaching in schools that thrive and endorse this way of life implicitly and explicitly. I have been fortunate to teach at schools like Seacrest and Walnut Hill, where the emphasis was much more on the humanistic development of the child. Even “pressure cooker” schools like Buckingham Browne and Nichols in Boston had a solid notion of a quality of life not necessarily related to money or the rat race. I believe that everybody in a school, (and in any community for that matter) students and teachers, benefit from playing, from hanging out, from conversation. Maybe as I get older I value quiet, and time, I believe in the beauty of conversation, of enjoying a chat and a coffee. We have the scientific evidence that happiness is not based on your SAT scores.

So I grabbed my bag and came home.

 

 

Maria's First Communion!

Maria’s First Communion!

It's all their fault!!

It’s all their fault!!

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

"Uptown" Madrid

“Uptown” Madrid

Alfredo's Barbacoa

Alfredo’s Barbacoa

Niece and Nephew

Niece and Nephew

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Madrid. It has been intense, full of family: my sister was here from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and my niece had her first communion. Being home also means that my way of life is totally different and I also have a physical and temporal distance from the end of the academic year at Carolina.

My way of life is different in that I go from living a fairly monastic life alone, dedicated to reading, to a life full of family and friends. The food is fortunately different and better, the coffee and the wine are far better, and I live in downtown Madrid as opposed to downtown Chapel Hill, which, as much as I love it, is a glorified village. Last Sunday was my niece (and goddaughter’s) first communion, and we had a very nice celebratory lunch with all the family. As I was at the buffet serving myself, a very nice lady in her horseback riding gear (the lunch was at a riding club) introduced herself. She was my ex-wife’s old massage therapist from when we used to live in Madrid ten years ago! It was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, so I just chuckled to myself and carried on. I have also visited with family, taken my nieces and nephew out to lunch to Alfredo’s Barbacoa, my favorite burger joint. I have had lunch with dear friends and enjoyed some brief escapes around town, including my favorite bar Del Diego, and some favorite book stores.

Although my exams are over, I now have to prepare the prospectus for my thesis, which means… more reading, this time in my specialization area as I formulate the core of my thesis. When I arrived, I already had books waiting for me that I had ordered to be delivered here for the summer, I also had a chance to renew my library card. My library is a bit special as it is the National Library which is only a twenty-minute walk from here. It is the equivalent of the Library of Congress, only older. I have the privilege of walking over every morning and reading original 18th C manuscripts! Speaking of bumping into people, the other day at the library I shared a reading desk with Margaret Greer, a Professor of Golden Age Spanish Lit. at Duke. Unfortunately I was not wearing my Carolina blue, although we did have a nice chat – yes, we whispered. I am excited and looking forward to making some progress on the prospectus front so I can have a rough draft by the end of the summer…

Reviewing my teaching of this past year, (see previous blog post) my dear friend John Jenner: philosopher, connoisseur, MMA fighter, bon vivant, gourmet and gourmand explained it best when he valued my being pushed out of my comfort zone in order to do precisely this, to revisit my teaching. You gotta love friends that tell it like it is!

Walking to class on a Fall morning

Walking to class on a Fall morning

I love my morning walk to class

I love my morning walk to class

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

my usual view

my usual view

The old well

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

After another grueling, and hectic semester at UNC I can finally update my blog! I had not expected my third semester to be so crazy, but things got busy right from the start. I taught two classes: Intermediate Spanish, which I had already taught three times, so that was not a problem, and Spanish for Business which was my first time but it was a high performance class, I loved teaching that class. The students were sharp as tacks, fun and had excellent Spanish! Although I technically did not have to take any classes, I chose to take a Medieval Spanish literature class with the amazing Prof. Dominguez, what a blast! I am so happy I have taken three classes with Dominguez, I have learnt so much. What kept me on my toes all semester was getting my reading list approved for my Ph.D. exam. What I thought was going to be a one week deal turned out to take the full semester. The way it works is I have to prepare a list of books (and scholarly articles) with both primary, source readings and secondary, critique and theory for each of the three topics I have decided to study. My three reading “tutors” that are going to examine me pushed me hard to have the best list possible. In the process I learnt a lot about what and how I had to prepare. Although my list was not finally approved until December, that did not stop me from continuing reading and reading material that either had already been approved or that I knew would be on the list. I am happy to say that the semester is over and I am writing this from the boarding lounge at Philadelphia airport as I await my flight home to Madrid where I will spend ten short days visiting my family.

What have I been reading you ask? Well, besides material for the Medieval lit class, I have been reading 18th Century Spanish satire and colonial satire, all the while keeping in mind the Medieval cornerstones being laid… All good stuff, fascinating, and I love connecting the dots and being able to ask deeper questions and figure them out. It all reminds me of a summer night on the Greek Islands a long time ago when I asked my dear friend George Dangas why he was studying medicine. His answer “in order to be a student forever” is now my guiding light and what a pleasure it is to be a student again. To lose the “know it all” attitude that is needed in the business world where I spent all my previous life. To be open and vulnerable to learning is very rewarding as you are allowing all these waves – in the form of books, conversations and classes to wash up on your shore daily.

My family used to go on holidays to Galicia, the Northwest coast of Spain. Atlantic water temperature and Atlantic waves. When my little sister Rocky was born we decided to switch our holidays to Mallorca island on the Mediterranean, where we found a little “cala”, inlet on the south shore of the island. Warm, beautiful, tranquil, crystal clear water.  We have been coming to the same place for the last forty odd years, Camp de Mar. First we stayed at the “Gran Hotel”, old world style and panache, real furniture, “sit down dinner”, even a springboard on the beautiful pool! Unfortunately, after falling into disrepair it was razed and turned into a gaudy monstrosity.  So we rotated through a series of rental homes until in the early 00s we found the Dorint. A resort built on what used to be an old farm where we used to go on nice summer evening walks eating the carobs off the ground. Some of my fondest memories are of excursions around the island, walking the old streets of the capital, Palma de Mallorca, with it’s beautiful squares and Gothic cathedral. I loved coming to the island when I had my own business and customers to visit. For many years when I had the money I rented a rag top Jeep to drive around the island and to go to the village to pick up freshly made ensaimadas, the local pastries, enjoying the sun and wind in my face and hair (I had hair then).

For the last few years my parents have been bringing their grandkids on holidays here. The rest of us come and go as time and money allow! I have been able to come for the last three years and I love it.

There is something magical about these islands. The light, the sea, the warm, dry days and nights, the intoxicating sweet smell of night. Not surprisingly it is, and has been home to Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, Chopin and George Sand, Agatha Christie, Rubén Dario, Joan Miró, and more recently Michael  Douglas, Claudia Schiffer, and of course Rafa Nadal.

Our life here is very quiet. Wonderful breakfasts with local pastries, quiet beach, pool, siestas, and nice meals. I enjoy the gym, swimming, running on the local forested hills, evening walks with the family after dinner and the bar at night. But most of all I am getting a ton of reading done for my Ph.D. exams next spring! On Sundays I go to the village to the 1248 church for mass (granted it was pretty much re-done in 1703, but still).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA View from Andratx village Andratx village View from the Dorint Hotel OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Camp de Mar Beach SAMSUNG Dorint Hotel Camp de Mar Hotel entrance, Dorint

Besides the enriching experience of teaching, the other benefit of being a teacher is the holidays it comes with. No, we don’t make bank, but not even French government employees get our kind of time off. So after unwinding in Chapel Hill and going on a nice ride with Rocinante (see previous posts) I jumped “the pond” to visit my family in Madrid.

I know I am not original when I say that cities are like people, at least my relationship with them is similar. My relationship with Madrid is that of an old friend and lover. We know each other’s dirty little secrets, but we respect each other like the old friends we are. So coming to Madrid is always special.

One of the first visits I do is to Patxi Navarro. A dear, dear friend from my financial services days. We share a twenty three year friendship. Together we founded the Asociacion A. de Amantes del Escorial since we are both passionate about that monastery/palace/school/village. It is always great to catch up and hear about his life. Another obligatory meeting is with Andrea, another dear college friend who has been there through thick and thin, we had a nice lunch at a neighbourhood “menu” restaurant. A third key friend and one that deserves extra credit when I see him is Felipe Pérez de Madrid, “Pipe”, “The Pipe”, as he is from Valencia. We had a quick coffee in between trains for him, just enough to make sure everything is ok and have a quick laugh. Gracias amigo.

After a few days in town, I was blessed with the visit of Mark Miller and Matthieu, two of my dearest, closest and best friends. We went to university together, Matthieu was a groomsman in my first wedding and Best Man at my second wedding, where Mark was the usher. I had not seen Matthieu since celebrating New Year’s ’08 in NY when Mark, the most gracious and generous host, arranged a spectacular party. Since he is in NY I have had the chance to see Mark more regularly, but not since moving to Chapel Hill.

We spent three days together, eating, walking around the city, drinking, smoking cigars, eating, walking around the city, drinking and smoking cigars. We had paella, roast lamb, jamón, tortilla, garlic shrimp, lots of tapas, wine and coffee. We went to my favorite places, including Del Diego where we met comedian Leo Harlem! It was fantastic to catch up, to share some of the secrets of my old friend Madrid with some of my other old friends, to have a good laugh, good discussions, reminisce and talk about our futures.

Besides the enriching experience of teaching, another benefit of being a teacher is meeting students that eventually become friends. Two days after Mark and Matthieu left, I reunited with Jenny whom I had not seen in a year and a half. Since she graduated from Walnut Hill and I went to see her dance at Mount Holyoke. She is spending the summer in Valencia and came to Madrid for the weekend. We had burgers at my favorite restaurant in Madrid, Alfredos Barbacoa and it was great to catch up, have a good laugh, a good discussion, reminisce and talk about our futures.

My visits to Madrid are few, far between and shorter than I would like them to be, so I never get to see all my friends and family. But one morning coffee I always have is with my godmother Isabel, “Isita”, she is brilliant, funny and wonderful and her advice is always spot on, prejudice free and caring. I love her.

So in one week in Madrid: I reunited with the city, the oldest of friends, I reunited with old, university friends and with new friends – and with my godmother.

Tapa

Tapa

Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Tapas

Tapas

Comedian Leo Harlem

Comedian Leo Harlem

Fernando jr. and Fernando del Diego

Fernando jr. and Fernando del Diego

Del Diego

Del Diego

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Julieta en Alfredos

Julieta en Alfredos

Here is to friends, I salute you.

Photo creds: Mark Miller (except Julieta)