Tonxo Tours

 

 

 

Well, I guess the first thing I must do is apologize to my followers for a very long silence. Soon you will know the reason. As you might know, about a year a ago I returned home to Spain after many – thirteen to be precise – years in the US. With a clean slate, I decided to start a business that had been on the back burner for years: I have become a personal tour guide, creating bespoke tours of Spain under the name Tonxo Tours.

Showing people Spain is my life calling. I am passionate about sharing my culture, history, language. After showing Spain to all sorts of folks for years, I have decided to start Tonxo Tours and make my joie de vivre available to all! I have been toying with this idea since the late 90s, so it is about time to get going, don’t you think?

Most tour companies boast about their team of specialists, well, I am that specialist. I have been giving tours of Madrid and of Spain since my twenties. I have worked with British rock bands, schools and universities, foundations, executives from all over the world, even the Monaco Olympic Sailing Team, I would love to show you around!

After twenty odd years in the business world and thirteen teaching in high schools and universities in the US, it is time for me to do what I do best, which is to share my passion for Spain.

Why has it taken so long you might ask? My life has been marked by a peripatetic lifestyle, moving to New York when I was ten and then to London, Boston, Paris, Bordeaux, Geneva, Lausanne, Chapel Hill, Naples Fl., and so forth to over eleven cities. Cities became my friends. I loved discovering what made each one unique ̶-how they got their personality. I spent my time in museums, cafés, theaters, concerts, operas, ballets, all of which unavoidably infused me with a love for the arts. Sharing my love and knowledge of cities and their cultures soon became a venue to express myself. As a teenager I gave tours of Madrid and London to friends and family, something I continue to do and enjoy, which has led me to create Tonxo Tours. My experience and passion radiate on the street: Explaining Spanish history, architecture, food, music, sometimes all of them at the same time!!

When I started thinking about setting up a tour company I was aware of the tremendous competition in the market. Just in Madrid you can jump on a sightseeing bus and casually check out the city while chomping on some churros, you can take a Segway tour, there are a bunch of tapas tours, there are free tours, you can get a tour on a tuk tuk, a golf cart, an antique car, even in a pink Rolls Royce! In contrast to that, my philosophy is simple: a no gimmick, quality driven, discreet – yet fun – bespoke tour that will cater to what you want to experience, see, taste and hear, not the other way around.

I can arrange exquisite lodgings, extraordinary experiences, delicious food and drink,

with only one purpose: creating unforgettable memories.

But why would anyone choose Tonxo Tours? you might ask. Here’s a few more reasons:

  1. I am a native, a local, born and bred here, but with the advantage that I have lived abroad many years. I have dual citizenship USA / Spain, offering me a perspective unattainable to most.
  2. Passion: I love sharing my culture, my history, my food, my architecture, art, music, dance, etc. This drives me.
  3. Experience: I have been doing this for years with friends, colleagues, schools, universities, foundations, etc. From 1994 to 2004 I had my own company (but that is a different story) which took me to every city and town in Spain at least a couple of times a year, more for the big cities. So I really know Spain like the back of my hand.
  4. DNA: My grandad worked for the British and American embassies, often times driving dignitaries around – he even got a medal from from Queen Elisabeth (but that’s a different story). My dad was restless. We would go on excursions every time he got bored – which was often – He was also a Spanish history buff which rubbed off on me, so I have been reading Spanish history and literature since I was a youth, which eventually led me to get a PhD in Spanish literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (again, different story).

I received my undergraduate degree in business. I specialized in management, the human part; what motivates people? What makes them tick? I used these skills in my first jobs in finance, photography and management before using them to run my own business for ten years, importing and selling industrial machinery in Spain and consulting for European companies wanting to expand into Latin America. I moved back to the US, where I started teaching in 2005, and although I was making a fraction of the money I used to make, I felt much happier and more fulfilled. In the meantime I got a Master’s and then a PhD in Spanish Literature from UNC. Returning home to Spain allows me to indulge in my true vocation. I am able to apply my many skills developed and honed over the years. So don’t over think it, contact me and I’ll be happy to show you around!

Let me know when you are going to be in Spain and what you want to do and see. I will personally take care of you, if you just want to spend a few hours walking around old Madrid or if you want to spend two weeks exploring Spain, I will be happy to set it all up.

If you want to know more about me, you can read check out this blog about my random thoughts, travels, and whathaveyous.  You can check out my website tonxotours.com and/or my Instagram: tonxotours

Return to culture (at last)

One of the massive pluses of living in a major world capital is the amazing cultural offering one has access to. I really needed this cultural stimulation. The problem with the word culture is that it has been made to sound elitist, refined, distant from the people, the stuff Frazier and Niles Crane did, but in truth it is just beauty, beauty created by man – and woman of course! The least important bit is if we call it culture, art, or whatever.

I have been lucky to live in major cities where I became a cultural junkie: London (where it all started for me), Paris, Boston, New York, even Chapel Hill – a college town, but obviously with a thriving cultural scene. Unfortunately Naples only had a couple of cultural outlets (which I squeezed every last drop from), and in NJ I didn’t get a chance to explore although of course the heavy stuff was in NYC…

In the less than three months back in Madrid I have been lucky to experience:

  • A brilliant piano recital by local piano star Luis Fernández Pérez playing Händel, Scarlatti, Rameau, and Bach. For free at the Fundación Juan March.
  • A play/recital of Federico García Lorca’s poetry by stage icon Nuria Espert.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s eerily prescient play Nekrassov (1955) about the “fake news”.
  • A gorgeous version of The Nutcracker by the prestigious Compañía Nacional de Danza and the Teatro Real house orchestra!
  • Visits to the Sorolla museum, the Museo del Romanticismo, and a score of art exhibits including “Rediscovering the Mediterranean” at the Fundación Mapfre with paintings and sculptures from the XIX and early XX Centuries.
  • After fourteen years I again became a member of the Amigos del Prado, which allows me free entry to the Prado, avoiding the queues. I have, of course, already gone twice!
  • Seeing a couple of concerts in bars around town by chance.
  • Never mind being surrounded by amazing architecture.

Et cetera, et cetera, down to awesome street musicians and performers! And this is with limited time and money. The cultural menu is, in fact, overwhelming, but I am happy to nibble and enjoy!

Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.

Jawaharlal Nehru

 

San Silvestre Vallecana

The San Silvestre Vellecana race has been going every New Year’s eve since 1964 – that’s one year before I was born! I ran it in 2015 with my cousin and again a few days ago. It is not the oldest race, longest or anything like that, but it might be the funnest.

My story with the San Silvestre started with my grandfather who every evening of December 31 always said he was going to the race when in fact he was just going to the corner taverna for a drink or two. My dad continued the joke but he didn’t even go to the bar, he just said he was going to the San Silvestre only to go sit on the couch and watch TV. So when he passed in 2015 I committed to running it, simply so I could say I was going to the San Silvestre and actually run the stupid thing!! And I did, and it was great fun. My cousin Alex is a talented athlete so running it with him was fun and competitive at the same time.

Then I forgot about it until I started training again after my motorcycle accident in 2017 – when I promised myself I would run the San Silvestre again.

The recovery from the shattered pelvis was very slow and painful, but I slowly added the miles, finally running 10 kms in training at the Retiro Park when I got back to Madrid in the fall. I am happy with the results which, while not impressive, are ok. I ran a 1:06 with a 6:39 pace which put me in the middle of the pack finishing in position 20.872. Keep in mind that there were 42.000 of us, so there was a lot of traffic slowing things down. In fact as the crowd thinned I was able to speed up!

According to Wikipedia, this 10K race is based upon the Saint Silvester Road Race, a Brazilian race (held since 1925) which spawned numerous other New Year’s Eve races. It starts at the Real Madrid Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and finishes at the Rayo Vallecano Stadium, across town. Along the way it passes right by my mom’s house, so every year -even when I’m not racing, we take a walk to check it out. The Pro race held after us amateurs is a thing of beauty as those folks blister the streets in 26 odd minutes. Maybe next year…

Museo del Romanticismo

In past posts I have written about the Museo Sorolla and the Lázaro Galdiano, Two of my favorite museums in Madrid. Today’s turn is for the Museo del Romanticismo, another unknown jewel of the Madrid museum offerings.

Fortunately for us locals,  most tourists are pressed for time and just rush through the Prado and by Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia. They rarely venture any further to discover other really rewarding pearls of art and history, at most they will check out the Thyssen (major works of minor artists and minor works of major artists), thus completing what is known as the Art Triangle (all three museums are a stone’s throw from each other).

But beyond that trio, there are plenty of other, obviously much smaller, museums.

The Museo del Romanticismo is housed in an old XIX C. palazzo in a quiet neighbourhood, in a small street. No fireworks here. The fireworks are inside as the museum is chock-full of art, furniture and objets, even King Fernando VII’s toilet! (as one would expect, it is a very nice piece in wood and velvet, with the poop going to a key locked drawer – we don’t want anybody stealing royal poop!). But the real treasure is a huge Goya painting in the tiny chapel (oratorio). Other pieces include the gun journalist Larra used to kill himself, and much, much more. To finish the visit is the obligatory cute gift shop and an even cuter café with garden seating in good weather!

This year I had a chance to go with my nephew Jimmy. We had a nice stroll and got to see a temporary exhibition on Rafael Tegeo, possibly Spain’s favorite XIX C portrait painter.

Del Diego or everybody needs a Public house, a local.

A few years ago, while living in Chapel Hill I wrote about my favorite bar in town, the mythical Zog’s with the equally mythical crew of Mandey, James and Rob. Today we travel to this side of the ocean to talk about my favorite watering hole in this town, which, while totally different from Zog’s on the outside, has very similar DNA.

I am talking about the mythical Del Diego, with the equally mythical crew of David and Fernando. While Zog’s was a dive – and proud of it, Del Diego is as sophisticated a joint as you are going to find: sleek and minimalist -late XX C. interesting minimalism, not XXI C. boring minimalist. So what do they have in common? An authentic connection with their customers, a genuine pride in their craft – cocktails, and a keen sense of humor!

Fernando Del Diego opened his eponymous bar in 1992 with his two sons, the aforementioned Fernando Jr. and David. I saw a brief writeup in the Iberia magazine during a flight and took note; it did not disappoint, serious cocktails in a friendly atmosphere within a cool setting. I loved it, and it soon became my favorite spot (as life has moved me around I have had to pick local joints (The Parkway Pub in Boston – OK, Revere), Zog’s in Chapel Hill, and The Parrot in Naples) but I always returned to Del Diego.

The cocktail scene in Madrid was led since the ’30s by Museo Chicote, where Hemingway, Ava Gardener and hip bullfighters and locals drank like thirsty camels. Years later,  right behind Chicote sprung Cock, some say it used to be Chicote’s back room, where Franco’s people quenched their thirst out of the limelight. From that school, Fernando set up his own joint making an interesting triangle – all three bars are on the same block!

Originally I did not have a set drink, the guys were always handy to make whatever I was in the mood for. For a while -before The Big Lebowski- I had a White Russian, but then I quickly set on their Manhattan. I rarely went in the warm summer months, so I did not have a set summer drink, the Manhattan being relatively heavy for warmer weather. That was until I recently discovered an old Spanish gin from the once British island of Menorca: Xoriguer. And now I am obsessed and can’t wait for Summer to have a thirst quenching Gin Gimlet!

Del Diego is an obligatory stop when I’m in the area, or I’m with friends, or showing folks around. They are always kind, and polite, and fun.

Don Fernando passed a few years ago, but his two boys are doing a great job keeping the joint rolling; I am really proud of them.

“I drink to make other people more interesting.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Homecoming

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.

 

 

Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley

Years ago, while getting my PhD, I promised I would upload my writings for my courses. Well, I did not fully keep my promise… But I am going to fix it, little by little.

You see, I recently came across an unpublished article I wrote about one of my favorite films: Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley. It is a disgusting film and I love it.

Torrente poster

As my habitual readers will know, my writings were not peer-reviewed, so they are fairly raw and rough. But do let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

So there you have it, I hope you enjoy the article!

Click here: Torrente a XX Century Quixote

Oh, and here is the trailer (for the full 5 film package – although the article is only about the first film)