Mardi Gras, Lent, and Turning to the Mystics

Lent is the perfect time to fine tune your spirituality, it is a great nudge to get us to do something, even if you do not have a great spiritual conviction and you just do something out of peer pressure, “everybody is doing something”. Maybe you operate backwards: do something now and your heart will react after the fact, whatever it takes, Lent is a good time to go beyond Instagram and Tik Tok and to explore your standing in the world, beyond your physical presence.

Most of the message and importance of Lent is lost on just giving up chocolate or alcohol or swearing. While this might be good and you might lose a pound or two, it is not the reason why we fast or stop swearing. The idea is to get closer to God which really means getting closer to each other. Who knows, push a little bit beyond your comfort zone, you might even develop new habits!

This year for Lent I am writing a letter to someone every day. Friends, family, even people that I might not have been in touch with for a while. They might not be deep, meaningful letters, but just a note to say “hello” and update folks. I am also giving up Instagram, to regain the half an hour (ok forty five minutes) of seeing people do stuff that does not enrich me one bit. Whatever you do, good luck!

Of course, the great kickoff party for Lent is Mardi Gras -in New Orleans, but Carnival in Brazil and in other Latin and European countries. This of course is a vestige of the Roman Bacchanalia and Carnivals. We had a great Mardi Gras dinner at school, prepared by Chef Philippe, our great chef, and his team!

The school band played some Mardi Gras classics, with a special collaboration by the Bayou Boys! It was a great evening.

If like me, you are in constant pursuit for atonement and you are still hungry for more enlightenment. I have discovered a great podcast, now that podcasts are so hip, on the Mystics and their thinking, their world: Turning to the Mystics is done by the CAC, Center for Action and Contemplation and introduces the listeners to different mystics and their philosophies. I am hooked and highly recommend it!

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.

On the importance and beauty of blogging

The lonely work of blogging

The lonely work of blogging

Blogging has been a fantastic tool for me, an outlet, and a hobby. What started as an academic adventure blog about riding my motorcycle (RIP) to visit universities for my PhD, morphed into a bit of everything blog: Musings on academia, random essays/articles, personal anecdotes, still the odd travel piece, my favorite things (restaurants, bars, cigars!), and personal notes. In fact, my most read items are my essay on Existentialism in Don Quixote and my dad’s obituary.

My students always appear shocked when I tell them about my blog. Which is surprising because they are super connected. In fact everybody should blog. You see, Instagram (follow me at tonxob) is only visual, Tweeter is limited, and old Facebook, well, we all know the shortcomings of FB. Blogging on the other hands requires a bit more thinking, planning, writing, it forces you to write – at least try – coherent thought and how to express it.

I recently found an old blog post from a professor at the LSE about precisely this issue. So here it is, click here to read more. Here is a bit of a tease…

A good proportion of the people I have come across may be brilliant in their field, but when it comes to using the interwebs, tend to sound like the querulous 1960s judge asking ‘What is a Beatle?’ (‘I don’t twitter’). Much of life is spent within the hallowed paywalls of academic journals (when I pointed out that no-one outside academia reads them, the baffled response seemed to be along the lines of ‘and your point is?’).

Here is the address if you prefer to cut and paste:

An antidote to futility: Why academics (and students) should take blogging / social media seriously

There are a few blog platforms to use. I have used WORDPRESS from the beginning and I love it! you can have your blog for free. Come on and join the club!