La casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca is Spain’s greatest 20th C playwright (his poetry is also right up there). He is arguably one of the best in his business, period.

La casa de Bernarda Alba is the play I have read and seen the most. Teaching in Boston, every year I would drive my advanced students to New York city to see Repertorio Español‘s production. I have even seen a version done by illiterate Roma women, I also saw a bilingual production by UNC students while I taught and studied there.

The Teatro Español is the oldest running theatre in Europe (since 1583, 439 years ago!), so imagine my surprise when I found out that I was going to be in Madrid during a run of La Casa de Bernarda Alba! I wasted no time in buying tickets and inviting my girlfriend and my eldest niece.

The theatre is right downtown, in the middle of the aptly named Letras neighborhood (Barrio de las letras) because Cervantes and Lope de Vega and others lived there. My niece and I rode a rental scooter there and we met Celia at the theatre.

The presentation was top notch, possibly the best I’ve seen. But, like other times, the director took some liberties with the text, for example cutting out the maid and beggar woman characters, or cutting out dialogue, which I find insulting to the text and the author, grrr. The setting was very minimalist, basically the patio of Bernarda’s house.

After the play we went to dinner to my grandad’s favorite bar, the Viva Madrid, around the corner from the theatre.

It was a great evening, the show was amazing, and we all had a great time!

What is your favorite play? Tell us in the comments section.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a conference

One of the great benefits of being in Madrid for my Summer break is being able to attend all sorts of events that are difficult to find in South Florida.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a great series of conferences on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the brilliant Mexican Baroque writer (and musician, architect, scientist, and cook!), whom I studied a bit for my PhD at UNC.

The conference was hosted at the great Fundación Juan March (which I have already mentioned here) and the speaker was Esperanza López Parada, professor of Latin American literature at the Complutense University in Madrid.

The first lecture was on Sor Juana’s time, her life, and her writings in general. It is always interesting to learn new facts and perspectives on someone you have studied.

The second lecture focused on the poem Primero Sueño, and it included actor Beatriz Arguello reading the poem. The commentary and the reading were masterfully interwoven, making for an extremely rewarding experience!

López Parada cited my UNC professor (and PhD Committee Member Rosa Perelmuter, which was very moving for me). We even chatted a bit after the conference, which was a nice little plus.

Here is a video López Parada showed us of the adaptation into song of one of Sor Juana’s most famous poems: Hombres necios.

Thinking of the Camino

As the Summer approaches and I get closer to walking the Camino again, my excitement increases with every passing day. So what was my surprise during my Christmas break that the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid had an exhibit about the Camino!

I went with my old student Hikaru from Japan. The exhibit was very extensive with lots of photos, artifacts from musical instruments to books, including the first ever travel guide, the Codex Calixtinus!

One of my many surprises came when I saw a book about the Camino from my father’s teacher Walter Starkie. My dad had always spoken about Starkie’s scholarship with the Roma folks in Spain, but he never mentioned his passion for the Camino.

All in all it was a beautiful exhibit and now I am even more fired up for my pilgrimage this Summer, as I attempt the Camino Primitivo, the first pilgrimage done by King Alfonso II from Oviedo to Santiago…

You should have a side gig. Tonxo Tours as a (paying) hobby

Years ago, I read an article by the great psychiatrist (who in 1981, New York City Mayor Edward Koch appointed Director of psychiatric and prison health services of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest public general hospital system in the United States.*) Dr. Luis Rojas Marcos. At any rate, Rojas Marcos mentioned that in order to have a healthy, stable life you needed three equal pillars, briefly: a loving relationship, an enriching job, and a hobby that had nothing to do with the other two pillars.

Today I am going to focus on that third pillar, your hobby. In my case one of my hobbies is the tour company I set up years ago when I was trying to make ends meet in Spain. Fortunately, now I do have that enriching, enjoyable job, but I never stopped doing tours when I came to Spain. It is something I love doing: sharing my passion for the history, culture, food, etc. of Madrid.

As much as I love the countryside and the outdoors, I must confess I am a city boy. I have always been fascinated by the energy generated by cities. Some of my fondest memories are of walking around cities. Add to that the fact that I have been blessed to live in many different cities (Madrid, New York, London, Boston, Paris, Lausanne, Geneva, etc.) and you get a bit of a city geek.

Of course, it is quite different seeing a job from the outside to being on the inside. We all have an idea of what a certain job is like, only to realize that the day to day of that work is vastly different.

This is what happened to me during my first year as a tour guide. Yes, there is the excitement of meeting and working with different people every time and with sharing your passion for the city. The rest is very much like any old job. There is a lot of psychology and salesmanship involved in getting visitors on board with your tour. There is also a small percentage of customers that are not satisfied and nothing you do is going to make them change their minds.

As you do more and more tours the city shares more and more secrets. The night before a tour, you review the itinerary and your notes and books. Invariably, you learn something new that you can incorporate into the tour. It is a very enriching. I also enjoy questions and requests from the customers.

This Christmas break I had a chance to do a few tours. One with a French family group, another with my old university the European School of Economics where we combine a tour with orientation teambuilding activities, I also did a couple of Prado Museum tours, although big chunks of the museum where closed due to lack of staff due to Covid.

In conclusion, if you don’t already have one, you should find a hobby that you love, and if it leaves you some green, even better!!

ESE did a great Instagram video of the tour which you can see here:

*From his website https://luisrojasmarcos.com/biography/

Ad Reinhardt, the victory of minimalism

One of the wonderful things of being in Madrid is that many interesting places are walking distance from home. If they are a bit farther away, I can always jump on a rental scooter, on a little motorbike, or a bicycle, if it’s harsh weather I can take public transportation like buses or metro. In a worst-case scenario, I can rent a car per hours. My dinosaur Land Rover cannot be legally parked downtown.

Recently I walked to the Fundación Juan March, which I have talked about before in this blog to see a great exhibit on Ad Reinhardt, a groundbreaking abstract American painter. The exhibit was split into two distinct areas: an area of his paintings showing his evolution into the purest minimalism (see the photo of the red painting) where a monochromatic canvas has only the most subtle color variations, mesmerizing!

The other part covers Reinhardt’s career as an illustrator, teacher, activist, and designer.

He also coined some evident but necessary phrases like

Art is Art. Everything else is everything else

Ad Reindhardt

or

Art is too serious to be taken seriously

Ad Reindhardt

If you get a chance to see the exhibit in Madrid, go now. If Madrid is not an option go check out his paintings at the Museum Folkwang Essen, SFMOMA in San Francisco, and of course the New York MOMA and the Met.

Happy New Year! San Silvestre Vallecana, fitness and wellness

Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers and followers!

The San Silvestre was only ran by pros in 2020 due to Covid. This year the popular race was back on, and I ran it again!

For those of you who are new to my blog or to the San Silvestre, it is a 10 km race held on New Year’s Eve through all of downtown Madrid. It starts at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and ends at Rayo Vallecano Stadium. This was my fourth running, and I did my best time yet 1:02, not bad for an old man.

The race, at least the Popular race is a fun run with great atmosphere, plenty of costumes and jokes, and although this year there were far fewer runners and spectators, it was still fun.

The San Silvestre is usually my only competitive race of the year, I usually cannot be bothered to get up early for a race. But this one is in the evening, so I have no problem!

Running is only part of my fitness and wellness routine. I normally do strength training every other day and cardio on the other day. Cardio ideally is running -in Boynton Beach I am privileged enough to be able to actually run on the beach, as energy zapping as it is, and in Madrid I have the Retiro Park close enough to run there. If the weather does not allow or it is dark, I do static bike, or elliptical, or treadmill, or God-forbid Ergo machine (rowing).

But just as important as moving your body there are other, just as key factors to keep in mind: eating healthy, mindfulness / meditation, rest, and sleep. I try to keep all aspects of my wellbeing in balance and will continue to try to do so in 2022. You should as well! Let me know any questions in the comments below. Let’s get going in 2022!!

European School of Economics

The European School of Economics is a great little university. I had the privilege of teaching in their Madrid campus for two years from 2018 through 2020. Elio D’Anna, a visionary Italian founded the university with my kind of philosophy, that the student should actively own their learning process, which makes total sense, but it is not how most universities operate.

As I said, D’Anna is Italian, but the university is accredited in England, with campuses (campii?) in London, Milan, Rome, Florence, and Madrid. Students can rotate through the different cities during their studies.

Even more than the philosophy, I loved the small classes, which allowed me to tailor fit the program for my students. Most times, classes were small enough for us to meet at a local coffee shop. Outside of the sterile classroom walls, in a relaxed environment, students become more engaged and participative, and I would even wager better thinkers!

During my time there I taught all levels of Spanish. The students were actively interested in learning and inquisitive, they really engaged, which added to the immersion factor, meant that their Spanish really took off during their time in Madrid.

The school is really international, I had students from South Africa, Egypt, Botswana, all over Europe, Latin America, Japan, and of course local madrileños. The school has now moved to the quiet Retiro neighborhood, but when I taught there, it was in bustling Alonso Martinez Square!

For the beginning of my second year at ESE, I organized a tour/team building activity around Madrid. We organized different activities at the different stops of the tour. We all had a lot of fun and the students bonded and got to know each other!

Sure, a small university obviously has some drawbacks, but at the European School of Economics, the advantages far outweigh any other considerations, I loved my time there and would recommend it to anyone thinking of studying business in Europe!

On Sushi, Soy, Pedro Espina, and Akai Hana

Sushi is without a doubt one of my favorite foods. The pure, clean flavors, the simplicity of presentation, the ceremony, the whole package just makes for an amazing meal and experience.

I was not introduced to sushi until after college in 1987. Fortunately, I had a very urbane girlfriend in New York City at the time who taught me how to eat sushi, all the rituals, and all the basics. I was hooked (ha-ha).

A few years later when my dear friend Alfonso would come to Madrid, the two of us and my sister would walk over to Suntory -yes part of the Japanese whisky company- to have dinner at the sushi bar. We eventually became quite friendly with the Chef, Pedro, who eventually informed us of his starting his own restaurant. Tsunami was amazing! Near my home, we would walk over when Alfonso stayed with us. Here Pedro ran the show with his Japanese, kimono wearing wife, Tamayo.

Pedro is a fascinating fellow who lived in Japan for years, learning the craft of sushi. He is also a world class boxer, although now he mainly coaches his daughter.

A few years later Pedro suffered a rare health issue and he had to close his restaurant. After some time, maybe even years, he opened another restaurant, Soy. This time there was no fanfare, the restaurant, which does not even have a sign outside is on a quiet, residential street. It is a tiny, intimate space with five tables and a tiny bar counter reserved for last minute friends without reservations (guilty as charged). Here Pedro does not really work with a menu -although one exists. You sit down and he feeds you amazing, delicious, gorgeous dishes. It is now a bit cliché to say so, but this is a culinary experience like few others.

The result of knowing Pedro for almost thirty years now, is that I have become a sushi snob. So I do not really eat a lot of sushi other than at Pedro’s.

Fortunately for me, Chapel Hill (ok, Carrboro) has a tiny, extremely good sushi restaurant, Akai Hana. Although I was on a tight student/teaching fellow budget while I was getting my PhD, I would occasionally splurge at Akai Hana. They made a quail egg shot that was an explosion of flavor in your mouth like you have never experienced!

In the suburban wasteland that is Florida, I have not yet tried a sushi place. If you know of an authentic, good quality sushi place in Palm Beach County, please let me know in the comments, I will be eternally grateful!

Tonxo Tours update

Here is a mysterious story for you…

If you follow my blog (thank you, I really appreciate it) you know I now have a deeply rewarding, full time job, which means that Tonxo Tours has become a bit of a side gig, which I can only indulge in during a few days at Christmas time and during Summer. I still love sharing my love for Spain, especially Madrid and its surroundings. I also get a kick out of promoting it. I love taking photos to put up on the Instagram (tonxotours) and I also love recording short videos explaining bits of Madrid which I also post to Insta and to the Tonxo Tours YouTube site. Here are a couple of my recent clips, and you can watch the rest here!

The videos are not great quality, in fact they are all home made with little to no edits, because I believe the story is what matters here, so unless you are a video snob, enjoy!

So, if you are in Spain for Christmas or Summer, hit me up and I would love to show you around!

Here is a quick one with a special guest: my niece!

Helping at church, on being an usher

One of the resources I leveraged years ago when I went through a rough crisis was going to church. While the church had always been there, I never really had a spiritual connection to it. Then I started going regularly, enjoying the time to recollect myself, the ceremony, the silences, begging for forgiveness, etc. and hopefully, if I was lucky a good lesson in the form of a sermon, these however are understandably rare.

The first church I went to during this crisis was St. Elizabeth in Milton, outside of Boston. I only went there for a couple of weeks and I spent most of the time (ok, all the time) crying. From there I went to Our Lady of Victories in Boston, which unfortunately has now closed. One day one of the Marist brothers who ran the church asked me to help during mass. I explained that I was not worthy of helping but they insisted. My first job was ringing the little altar bells before Consecration and Communion, then I started reading. Then I moved to North Carolina where I was warmly welcomed by the UNC Newman parish and Franciscan Brother Bill of whom I have written a lot about before here.

St. Ann’s in Naples was my home for a couple of years. Here in Madrid, I went to cute, tiny Our Lady of Lourdes for a while, and to the Jesuits for a few years, but my official parish and the one I have been going to for many years is San Fermín de los Navarros, which is basically across the street and where both my sisters got married. Like in Boston, the Pastor after seeing that I was a bit of a regular asked me to read, and I do so humbly and with pride.

Cut to the chase, after a few times at St. Marks in in Boynton Beach, I was approached by an usher and asked if I wanted to join their crew. I had never really thought about it, but I am happy to serve. The team is a fun, hodgepodge collection of characters, Christine who recruited me is, of course, the boss, the usher coordinator. I have to wear black pants, a white jacket, white shirt, and a tie. Yes, I look a waiter but since I am snob, I prefer to think I look like a sommelier. Since I did not have a white jacket, they lent me one… until I found a vintage one that I much preferred. The job is easy enough: be charming and welcome everyone as they come in, once mass has started guide the late comers to socially distanced seating, manage the Communion flow, at the end open the doors and say “goodbye”, then clean up bulletins left in the pews and put the collection in a bag. Easy peasy.

In conclusion, no job is too simple, too easy. Every honest job is honorable. I am happy to serve and to be useful.