Posts Tagged ‘Hemingway’

(There is a previous post on El Paular. This one is a bit more detailed and touches on different themes, most importantly, spirituality.)

Every trip to El Paular monastery is gift, a spiritual gift.

A few years ago, Jaime, my oldest childhood friend, took me to see what had been his first professional restoration job in the late 80s: the Monasterio de El Paular, nestled in the Guadarrama Mountains. Although many years had passed, he was still friends with the Abbot and with a few of the monks there. The drive was breathtaking; over the Navacerrada pass and down Cotos, not far from where Hemingway had based his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Brother Eulogio is getting old and frail, but his faith, his spirituality is still resolute. After working at the Vespa scooter factory in Madrid, he decided to become a monk at El Paular. He has been there for fifty odd years, since his 20s. We did not know what to expect, he had been in hospital for a stint.

The monastery has a long history dating back to medieval times. Apparently there was a hermit living there before the monastery was built by the Carthusian order in the 1300s. The placement could not be any more beautiful, between a crystalline stream and the mountains, with a huge vegetable garden and orchard. The energy flow, the calm and beauty would not have passed unaccounted for anyone, regardless of the era.

By my calculations, following the geographical clues, the Arcipreste de Hita’s Serranas section of the Libro de Buen Amor should pass by the Monastery, since he mentions Somosierra and Lozoya on his way to Segovia. There could not have been much of a place to pass other than the Monastery.

The first time I went to El Paular, the Abbot treated us to lunch with the brothers in the modern but humble, functional, refectory. The gorgeous original is only used for Christmas dinner, when they have many guests. It was then that I met brother Eulogio for the first time. I remember vividly his first question: “Do you have faith?” To which I mumbled/chuckled something to the effect of “I’m working on it”. Then he went off on a tirade on the state of modern faith, his thin, strong frame acting as an exclamation mark for his statements.

In 1779 Enlightenment writer Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos stayed at the Monastery for a retreat/convalescence writing what scholars consider the seed of Spanish Romantic poetry, the Epístola del Paular, which you can find at the end of the post…

After lunch Eulogio took Jaime and I for a walk on the huge fruit and vegetable garden. It is so big that they have hired a company to run and sell their produce, but only after the monks take what they need. During the walk, Eulogio referred repeatedly to feelings I had that needed answers to, he hit the spot on the need and importance of a “higher presence” in our lives – subtly connecting this need to the beauty around us. Eulogio looks like a closet Franciscan. From that visit, and that conversation I have always wanted to return to El Paular to continue my conversations with Eulogio. So every time Jaime mentions a visit, I jump at the opportunity.

The Church in Spain had so much power that for centuries it rivaled the government in its sway of the citizens. So in the 1800s Prime Minister Mendizabal took over and sold many, if not most of the Church’s properties, El Paular was abandoned, the massive Vicente Carducho paintings lining the cloister walls were grabbed by museums and collectors looking out for Mendizábal’s garage sales.

For years Eulogio’s job at the Monastery had been to handle the weddings that took place in the church. Only a couple of hours North of Madrid, it is an idyllic setting for a romantic wedding. However, Eulogio does not fit into the “cute” monk idea popularized by Hollywood. He would question the couples on their love, their reasons for marriage, their commitment.

During the Civil War, 1936 to 1939 the abandoned monastery served as a makeshift military barracks for troops. The graffiti left there was not painted over during the restoration process as it gives further historical context to the Monastery.

Last year we also made the drive to visit Eulogio, but we did not stay for lunch, as we wanted to ride and hike to explore the mountains surrounding the Monastery.

After the Civil War, General Franco, seeking to restore the Monastery, brought in some Benedictine monks who continue to this day. In the late 70s the government built a luxury hotel next door to the Monastery, profiting from the ideal location, the tourist influx, and the weddings that were held in the beautiful church of the Monastery. After changing hands a number of times between luxury hotel operators, it now rests abandoned.

My thirst for Eulogio’s spiritual wisdom comes from my realization in 2010 of the powerful inter-connectedness of the universe, of which we are as much a part of as a blade of grass, as a distant star. But to get to that point one must let go of the ego, of that which we think we are, and simply be. Easier said than done. Richard Rohr explains it in the context of the ancient Greek word of self-emptying: “kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.”

This, of course, is not a new concept, it is embraced by Buddhism and Hinduism, and by early Christianity. 18th Century philosopher Kierkegaard wrote about the Three Stages of Life: the Aesthetic when our lives are dominated by the ego necessary to gain independence from our parents and establish ourselves in the world, everything is superficial. The Ethical where we concern ourselves with what is right and what is wrong, and finally – if we are lucky – and only through a process of “breaking” does one reach the Religious Stage where one realizes that our lives are a part of a much bigger, interconnected picture. Unfortunately for many people, they do not overcome the Aesthetic stage, refusing to release the ego and embrace the universe, the oneness.

This summer, Jaime and I made our pilgrimage to El Paular only a few days after I had finished my own Pilgrimage of The Camino de Santiago (see earlier posts) so I was primed and ready for conversing with Eulogio. He did not disappoint. As soon as we arrived, the Abbot invited us to stay for lunch in the garden. We had plenty of time to walk around the monastery and the garden and talk. And talk we did, about the importance of prayer, of meditation, of being in the presence of God, of a higher power, an energy.

After mid-day prayers at the chapel we headed for the garden where a wonderful meal awaited. I sat next to Eulogio and enjoyed his wisdom, wisecracks and complaints about the food!

El Paular does host visitors that want to spend time with the monks in retreat, so I am considering spending some time with them next time I am in Spain.

 

Epístola de Jovino a Anfriso escrita desde El Paular  (Epístola desde El Paular)

(Jovellanos)

Desde el oculto y venerable asilo,

do la virtud austera y penitente

vive ignorada, y del liviano mundo

huida, en santa soledad se esconde,

Jovino triste al venturoso Anfriso

salud en versos flébiles envía.

Salud le envía a Anfriso, al que inspirado

de las mantuanas Musas, tal vez suele

al grave son de su celeste canto

precipitar del viejo Manzanares

el curso perezoso, tal süave

suele ablandar con amorosa lira

la altiva condición de sus zagalas.

¡Pluguiera a Dios, oh Anfriso, que el cuitado

a quien no dio la suerte tal ventura

pudiese huir del mundo y sus peligros!

¡Pluguiera a Dios, pues ya con su barquilla

logró arribar a puerto tan seguro,

que esconderla supiera en este abrigo,

a tanta luz y ejemplos enseñado!

Huyera así la furia tempestuosa

de los contrarios vientos, los escollos

y las fieras borrascas, tantas veces

entre sustos y lágrimas corridas.

Así también del mundanal tumulto

lejos, y en estos montes guarecido,

alguna vez gozara del reposo,

que hoy desterrado de su pecho vive.

Mas, ¡ay de aquél que hasta en el santo asilo

de la virtud arrastra la cadena,

la pesada cadena, con que el mundo

oprime a sus esclavos! ¡Ay del triste

en cuyo oído suena con espanto,

por esta oculta soledad rompiendo,

de su señor el imperioso grito!

Busco en estas moradas silenciosas

el reposo y la paz que aquí se esconden,

y sólo encuentro la inquietud funesta

que mis sentidos y razón conturba.

Busco paz y reposo, pero en vano

los busco, oh caro Anfriso, que estos dones,

herencia santa que al partir del mundo

dejó Bruno en sus hijos vinculada,

nunca en profano corazón entraron,

ni a los parciales del placer se dieron.

Conozco bien que fuera de este asilo

sólo me guarda el mundo sinrazones,

vanos deseos, duros desengaños,

susto y dolor; empero todavía

a entrar en él no puedo resolverme.

No puedo resolverme, y despechado,

sigo el impulso del fatal destino,

que a muy más dura esclavitud me guía.

Sigo su fiero impulso, y llevo siempre

por todas partes los pesados grillos,

que de la ansiada libertad me privan.

De afán y angustia el pecho traspasado,

pido a la muda soledad consuelo

y con dolientes quejas la importuno.

Salgo al ameno valle, subo al monte,

sigo del claro río las corrientes,

busco la fresca y deleitosa sombra,

corro por todas partes, y no encuentro

en parte alguna la quietud perdida.

¡Ay, Anfriso, qué escenas a mis ojos,

cansados de llorar, presenta el cielo!

Rodeado de frondosos y altos montes

se extiende un valle, que de mil delicias

con sabia mano ornó Naturaleza.

Pártele en dos mitades, despeñado

de las vecinas rocas, el Lozoya,

por su pesca famoso y dulces aguas.

Del claro río sobre el verde margen

crecen frondosos álamos, que al cielo

ya erguidos , alzan las plateadas copas,

o ya sobre las aguas encorvados,

en mil figuras miran con asombro

su forma en los cristales retratada.

De la siniestra orilla un bosque ombrío

hasta la falda del vecino monte

se extiende, tan ameno y delicioso,

que le hubiera juzgado el gentilismo

morada de algún dios, o a los misterios

de las silvanas dríadas guardado.

Aquí encamino mis inciertos pasos,

y en su recinto ombrío y silencioso,

mansión la más conforme para un triste,

entro a pensar en mi cruel destino.

La grata soledad, la dulce sombra,

el aire blando y el silencio mudo

mi desventura y mi dolor adulan .

No alcanza aquí del padre de las luces

el rayo acechador, ni su reflejo

viene a cubrir de confusión el rostro

de un infeliz en su dolor sumido.

El canto de las aves no interrumpe

aquí tampoco la quietud de un triste,

pues sólo de la viuda tortolilla

se oye tal vez el lastimero arrullo,

tal vez el melancólico trinado

de la angustiada y dulce Filomena.

Con blando impulso el céfiro süave,

las copas de los árboles moviendo,

recrea el alma con el manso ruido;

mientras al dulce soplo desprendidas

las agostadas hojas, revolando,

bajan en lentos círculos al suelo;

cúbrenle en torno, y la frondosa pompa

que al árbol adornara en primavera,

yace marchita, y muestra los rigores

del abrasado estío y seco otoño.

¡Así también de juventud lozana

pasan, oh Anfriso, las livianas dichas!

Un soplo de inconstancia, de fastidio

o de capricho femenil las tala

y lleva por el aire, cual las hojas

de los frondosos árboles caídas.

Ciegos empero y tras su vana sombra

de contino exhalados, en pos de ellas

corremos hasta hallar el precipicio,

do nuestro error y su ilusión nos guían.

Volamos en pos de ellas, como suele

volar a la dulzura del reclamo

incauto el pajarillo. Entre las hojas

el preparado visco le detiene;

lucha cautivo por huir, y en vano,

porque un traidor, que en asechanza atisba,

con mano infiel la libertad le roba

y a muerte le condena, o cárcel dura.

¡Ah, dichoso el mortal de cuyos ojos

un pronto desengaño corrió el velo

de la ciega ilusión! ¡Una y mil veces

dichoso el solitario penitente,

que, triunfando del mundo y de sí mismo,

vive en la soledad libre y contento!

Unido a Dios por medio de la santa

contemplación, le goza ya en la tierra,

y retirado en su tranquilo albergue,

observa reflexivo los milagros

de la naturaleza, sin que nunca

turben el susto ni el dolor su pecho.

Regálanle las aves con su canto

mientras la aurora sale refulgente

a cubrir de alegría y luz el mundo.

Nácele siempre el sol claro y brillante,

y nunca a él levanta conturbados

sus ojos, ora en el oriente raye,

ora del cielo a la mitad subiendo

en pompa guíe el reluciente carro,

ora con tibia luz, más perezoso,

su faz esconda en los vecinos montes.

Cuando en las claras noches cuidadoso

vuelve desde los santos ejercicios,

la plateada luna en lo más alto

del cielo mueve la luciente rueda

con augusto silencio; y recreando

con blando resplandor su humilde vista,

eleva su razón, y la dispone

a contemplar la alteza y la inefable

gloria del Padre y Criador del mundo.

Libre de los cuidados enojosos,

que en los palacios y dorados techos

nos turban de contino, y entregado

a la inefable y justa Providencia,

si al breve sueño alguna pausa pide

de sus santas tareas, obediente

viene a cerrar sus párpados el sueño

con mano amiga, y de su lado ahuyenta

el susto y las fantasmas de la noche.

¡Oh suerte venturosa, a los amigos

de la virtud guardada! ¡Oh dicha, nunca

de los tristes mundanos conocida!

¡O monte impenetrable! ¡Oh bosque ombrío!

¡Oh valle deleitoso! ¡Oh solitaria

taciturna mansión! ¡Oh quién, del alto

y proceloso mar del mundo huyendo

a vuestra eterna calma, aquí seguro

vivir pudiera siempre, y escondido!

Tales cosas revuelvo en mi memoria,

en esta triste soledad sumido.

Llega en tanto la noche y con su manto

cobija el ancho mundo. Vuelvo entonces

a los medrosos claustros. De una escasa

luz el distante y pálido reflejo

guía por ellos mis inciertos pasos;

y en medio del horror y del silencio,

¡oh fuerza del ejemplo portentosa!,

mi corazón palpita, en mi cabeza

se erizan los cabellos, se estremecen

mis carnes y discurre por mis nervios

un súbito rigor que los embarga.

Parece que oigo que del centro oscuro

sale una voz tremenda, que rompiendo

el eterno silencio, así me dice:

“Huye de aquí, profano, tú que llevas

de ideas mundanales lleno el pecho,

huye de esta morada, do se albergan

con la virtud humilde y silenciosa

sus escogidos; huye y no profanes

con tu planta sacrílega este asilo.”

De aviso tal al golpe confundido,

con paso vacilante voy cruzando

los pavorosos tránsitos, y llego

por fin a mi morada, donde ni hallo

el ansiado reposo, ni recobran

la suspirada calma mis sentidos.

Lleno de congojosos pensamientos

paso la triste y perezosa noche

en molesta vigilia , sin que llegue

a mis ojos el sueño, ni interrumpan

sus regalados bálsamos mi pena.

Vuelve por fin con la risueña aurora

la luz aborrecida, y en pos de ella

el claro día a publicar mi llanto

y dar nueva materia al dolor mío.

 

 

 

Despite being Rocinante’s 10th birthday, it has not been her best year. We can blame my PhD for that. For the last four years I basically only had time to ride to Trader Joe’s for some groceries, or for a quick ride (about half an hour each way) to lunch in beautiful Hillsborough or Saxapahaw, although mostly we would just ride to Five Guys just outside Chapel Hill. The only trip we made was to explore the North Carolina seashore, at the end of my first year at UNC in the spring of 2013. After that, between my dad getting sick and the pressure of my studies, there were no more long rides.

Although we would have loved to ride down to our new home in Naples, Florida, there was no money for the logistics, nor the time, if I was to make it to my nephew’s first communion in Madrid. Rocinante just rode inside a truck with the rest of my few belongings.

But we have great plans for our new life in Florida. Starting with a leisurely exploration of the Keys, a trip I have wanted to take for years, ending in Hemingway’s home in Key West. Then there is the West Coast and the East Coast, even “the panhandle” to explore. All very exciting.

The winter of 2006 was a tough one for me: I was still dealing with having closed my company in Madrid, with moving to the US, with not making friends. I was struggling with my first year teaching at a public school, and I was looking forward to Tracy getting well after her long sickness. I have been riding since I was 14, so getting a motorbike seemed like a worthwhile hobby to get me out of that slump

. I did a lot of research, made a few visits to Boston Harley Davidson, and had a massive tiff with Tracy. Ten years later I can safely say Rocinante saved my life.

So hopefully Rocinante will forgive me for my neglect over the last four years.

This has been a very difficult semester from a teaching standpoint. I feel that my teaching capacity, ability and integrity has been questioned. So looking over stuff that I have written about teaching, I found these thoughts that I wrote last year to apply for a teaching conference (I later found out it is basically only available to All But Dissertation candidates, so I have to wait). At any rate, here it is:

It took a mid-life crisis for me to realize that my true calling in life was teaching. That was nine years ago, and I have not looked back since. Teaching, I discovered, is my passion, my raison d’être. Although I recognized my enthusiasm for literature when I read Hemingway and Borges in high school, it took me twenty-two years to learn what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: To return to the classroom as a teacher and to devote myself to work in a field about which I feel so strongly.

Sharing is what motivates me. Sharing my knowledge, my culture, my language. My first full-time teaching experience was in a budget challenged district, where I confronted underperformance and violence. I had to press charges against one of my students for assault and battery (one of my dad’s journalist friends even wrote an article about the event – somewhat distorted, as journalists do), one of my best students was stabbed to death by her brother, who was then shot by the police instants before he tried to kill his other sister, dining room fights were de rigueur. Although I did not realize it at the time, these challenges, made me grow and mature. It was a baptism of fire of sorts and I was happy to pay my dues and earn my stripes. It also taught me what is really important as a teacher. From there I went to Walnut Hill, an independent upper school in suburban Boston (and the oldest independent arts high school in the US) where for five years I honed my craft and eventually led the Spanish Department. Before coming to UNC, seeking a challenge, I moved to Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, in Cambridge, an elite independent school with a rigorous curriculum. There I had the privilege of coaching soccer, fencing and tennis, of getting involved in Community Service, and even teaching a Senior Seminar on Spanish film.

In my first semester at UNC I found that teaching at the college level requires a more intense and in-depth approach. Due to their higher maturity and experience level, the students are more demanding academically. This calls for more preparation and sharp execution and delivery from the instructor. The students have a clear idea of what they want, they have been in school for over twelve years and our duty as educators is to deliver.

Hand in hand with good teaching, goes meaningful, practical, applied professional development. Ever since Walnut Hill sent me on a new teachers retreat organized by the Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE), I have been a strong supporter of learning and improving the craft. In this respect, my twenty years corporate and business experience came in handy, applying motivational techniques, mentoring and fostering teamwork. Another byproduct of my business experience is my devotion to Kaizen, the Japanese technique of continuous measurable improvement. In this vein, as a department in Walnut Hill, we mapped the full Modern Language curriculum, involved the students in year-end course improvement meetings, even held a Modern Language “Summit” inviting other academic and arts department heads as well as teachers from other schools to define and improve our department.

What little I know about being a good teacher I learnt from being a bad student. I was never a good student, so good teachers were very important in my schooldays. They marked my life, they made a difference. Going back to school as an adult for my Master’s and my PhD renewed my interest in teaching technique, what works and what does not.

Real learning happens from a place of wanting to learn, so a place of openness, of certain vulnerability. Getting the students to that place requires a relationship of trust, understanding and fairness, and that is what I build from day one in the classroom. First day of class I stand by the door – having memorized all students’ names from the roster photos – and greet by name and shake hands with every student. Then we go over the expectations for the class with a fine tooth comb, in English so there are no misunderstandings later. This avoids misunderstandings later on and sets the tone. From there comes a fine balance of fun and hard work. Showing up early to the classroom to chat with the students and set up a music video in Spanish for them as they walk into the room and settle down. At the end of the year when I informally ask them what they liked and disliked about the course, so many of them mention the Spanish music videos! Then there is the grammar. I always go over the grammar, which they should know by now, but just so I know that I have gone over it with them and they do not have the “oh I never learned that” line. And talking, everybody talks about what they are going to do over the weekends, and on Mondays everybody talks about what they did over the weekend. We talk and talk, about food, restaurants, sports, culture, whatever. Once we spent a whole class period talking about bullfighting, something that I am passionate about.

So basically, as much as we want to implement scientific approaches to language learning and teaching, and to a certain extent we can, the basis of teaching has to come from an organic need/want/desire to learn. Our jobs as teachers revolve around making that need happen. The motivated student must be kept motivated while the unmotivated student has to be inspired to want to learn. That is best done through building a relationship, it will rarely come from a book, or from a lecture, it will happen from a relationship.

Putting my money where my mouth (pen/keyboard) is, here is a video of me teaching Spanish 203 an intermediate level in the Fall of 2012, my first semester at UNC. (Yes, I do have a FERPA release form signed by every student.)

La Navata is a tiny village outside Madrid, near the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, where Hemingway’s For whom the Bell Tolls is set, the village is so small it is actually dependent of the bigger nearby village of Galapagar, home of Nobel Prize winning playwright Jacinto Benavente and of the current top bullfighter José Tomás. La Navata itself only has a train station, two bars, a kiosk, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a small supermarket, and an old, small, stone chapel, San Antonio de La Navata.

My parents bought a weekend/summer house here in 1974, when I was 9 years old. In the early 80’s we added the second floor. If I have a home, this is it. This is my “happy place” where I take my mind when I need to relax. This is where most of my childhood memories were made. This is where I learned to ride motorcycles and to drive – my granddad Antonio patiently guiding me round and round the dirt garden, before we put in grass, in La Petra, our old Citroen 2CV. This is where I made my first and oldest friends, where I learned the little tennis I play, where I have done most of my stargazing, reading, bicycle riding, gardening, hiking and barbeques, where I kissed a girl for the first time (quite sloppy if you must know), where I started tinkering with all things mechanical – although mostly motorbikes, where hiking and skiing trips started, and where great summer (and I guess also winter) parties were hosted.

I used to come here for the weekends in winter, reading by the blazing fireplace, and spending the summer in the pool, the garden and the porch, going indoors only when absolutely necessary.

La Navata is about a fifteen minute drive from El Escorial, built by Phillip II, it houses a palace, monastery, school, mausoleum for all the Haubsburg and most Spanish  Bourbon kings, and one of the most important – and beautiful  – libraries, in the world.  Growing up I spent a lot of time in this place, walking around the palace, gardens, surrounding hills, and the town. I still spend a lot of time here, specially with my friend Patxi, with whom I founded the Asociación A. de Amantes del Escorial in the early 90s.

In 1992 I got a job at a photo equipment supplier near here and I lived in La Navata for about a year. It was a lot of fun, living in this big old house alone, cooking, reading by the fire, and going into Madrid for the weekends doing a reverse weekend commute!

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El Escorial

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The view during a bicylce ride

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Caf’é con leche at the clasico Marcelino bar, at 10 am they have barely opened!

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Jacinto Benavente at Galapagar´s Plaza

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San Antonio de la Navata

Life in La Navata is very quiet. I start off with a refreshing wake-up swim in the pool, which makes breakfast a cool joy on the porch. Then there is a walk into the village to buy bread for the day, the newspapers and any other groceries, I stop at the bar for a nice café con leche. There are always chores and gardening and pool maintenance to be done before a pre lunch swim. After siesta things actually slow down even more in the heat of the afternoon and I can read, or hang out with the fam. Nowadays with my nephew and two nieces things are a bit more chaotic, but always fun. The afternoon swim is normally the longest one and then I have time to work out in my homemade gym, or run or go for a bicycle ride before dinner. After dinner we sit around, chat, enjoy a mojito made with old Cuban rum (which is unavailable in the US) and mint from the garden, or a gin tonic, or whatever we can  find, sometimes accompanied by a cigar.