Posts Tagged ‘Madrid’

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene ii)

Years ago my brother Theo in London sent me some links to a famous butcher in Dorset called Balson, which happens to be the oldest business in England. No, I do not have any relation to the Balson family of Dorset. There is also an American author called Balson, and a few other Balsons around. Nope, no relation.

One of the hobbies my father picked up when he retired was genealogy. He set out to investigate his family’s origins, and he took it quite seriously. He took a course at the prestigious Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) and he proudly displayed his diploma and class picture on his home office wall.

He traveled around Spain visiting churches to gather data from birth, death and wedding certificates. He even went to Salt Lake City in Utah to research the Mormon genealogy vault / database where billions of family histories are stored – they denied him access. He still managed to research his family into the mid 18th Century before losing track. Not bad. His main findings were that the family originated in rural Lerida,

the area between Barcelona and Zaragoza. The original first name was Anton, which through the generations became Antonio – my grandad’s and uncle’s name. The family moved to Zaragoza by the 1800s and to Madrid by the early 20th Century, where my grandad settled and created a family.

So long story short: No butchers, no authors, but still an awesome family heritage.

You guessed it, things have gotten pretty busy again, enough to postpone my Summer Summary into November. Not that anything earth shattering happened over summer, but still, I enjoy writing and reminiscing about it.

Summer started with a bit of a rush. I only had one week between the doctoral hooding ceremony and the movers coming in to take my few possessions to Florida. They arrived on Tuesday and I drove through torrential rain into Naples in one long day. Wednesday we emptied the truck. Thursday I opened some boxes and did some paperwork at my new school, Seacrest Country Day. Friday I drove to Miami for a flight to Madrid. Saturday morning I arrived in Madrid in time to go to my nephew’s First Communion.

The month of June was spent in Madrid, visiting friends, walking around the city, going to my favorite gym, exploring great art exhibits, taking my niece and nephew to Bernabeu stadium – for their first time – to see the old glories of Real Madrid beat the old glories of Ajax Amsterdam. As much as I love all cities, Madrid is home, it is the city I know best, and she knows me.

It felt odd to go to Mallorca without my father, but we still managed to enjoy it. The beach, the pool with the children, siesta on the balcony, evening walks, the food, beautiful village church on Sundays, running in the pine forest with the Mediterranean in the background, great people at the hotel, watching the Euro cup with my nephew Jimmy, relaxing gin and tonics at night in the bar. The whole experience is very special.

July was in the country – more and more like suburbia each day – at La Navata, great friends, wood fired paellas, cigars and drinks with my sister at night, great little village church on Sundays, a lot of work on the garden, rural outdoor gym, long bicycle rides on my vintage mountain bike, classic bar for coffee in the morning, and as always, a couple of visits to El Escorial with my dear friend Patxi.

August 1 I was back in Florida and ready to start a new school year.

The moment we learn a skill or acquire any knowledge or wisdom it is our responsibility to share it with those younger than us. Not doing so would be a selfish waste of that skill, knowledge or wisdom. I came about mentoring by the same circuitous and unknown to me way as most things happen in my life.

My college years were incredibly constructive: I wrote a column for the school newspaper, I had the classical music program at the radio station, I was president of the International Club, I was International Student representative to the Student Government, and my senior year I was appointed Student Government representative to the Board of Trustees. I sat next to a sweet old man, who by means of his mystical powers, realized I badly needed some guidance in my life. Thus, unbeknown to me I had my first mentor. Jere Dykema was a quiet, sweet and brilliant lawyer and investment manager in Boston. The fact that he was a trustee at Bentley means he was also well connected and probably rich. After graduation I did an internship at the Societe de Banques Suisses in Geneva, and in September of 1987 I moved to New York hoping to get a job in Wall Street at the same time as the financial markets took one of their biggest hits in history, Black Monday. Somehow Jere Dykema stayed in touch with me throughout – this was before personal computers and the interweb. After eight fruitless, should I say, jobless months in NY, Jere put me in touch with an acquaintance from his squash club in Boston. That acquaintance was Eyk Van Otterloo, and the rest, as they say, is history: he made the mistake of offering me a job, and I moved back to my beloved Boston, where I would regularly meet Jere Dykema for lunch. That is when I realized the importance of mentoring.

After a few years I moved back to Madrid to work for a stockbroker. We soon received a young college graduate from Atlanta on a one year internship. Sure we became good friends to this day, but more importantly I could help him get his professional “sea legs”. From that point on there was always someone I could help out. When I started my company in 1994, one of my biggest responsibilities, but also pleasures was training, coaching and mentoring my team, I loved it. Becoming a teacher in the US also meant automatically becoming a mentor. Advising students is a great way of putting my 20 plus years of business experience and my 50 (soon plus) years of life experience to good use.

In the photofinishing industry I was again lucky to find wonderful advisors. Although Renaud lived in Paris, he still helped and advised me, and made sure I was ok. I loved working with him and knowing that he always had my best interest in mind.

Back in the States, strangely enough, an old university professor became my mentor. Twenty years after teaching me, and having stayed in contact all these years, Prof. Nurick and his wife Diane became friends, advisors, mentors. I still remember conversations and advice they gave me. Being a Tar Heel himself, Aaron Nurick wrote a letter of recommendation for me to UNC, I don’t know what sort of lies he wrote, but it worked, they accepted me!

At UNC, other than with my students, I had a couple of great mentoring opportunities. We had the chance of guiding the graduate students that came into the department after us. My first year I had the best possible mentor. Grant Gearhart took me out on nice long bicycle rides where he patiently explained the ropes of graduate school to me. As expected we became close friends. Starting my second year it was my turn to help an incoming student. The Newman Church also had a mentoring program, so I also got involved with that. I was paired with Mauricio and Simdi, they were both great. We would meet for a meal, mostly sushi at Akai Hana, my favorite place in Chapel Hill (actually Carrboro). Mauri graduated and Simdi and I continued our tradition of meeting for great meals and chats.

Part of the beauty of mentoring is that there are as many different styles of mentoring, as there are mentors. Some mentors are so subtle you do not realize you have been mentored until after the fact. This was the case with Dean Minetti who was such a presence during my college years, but I did not understand how he had helped me out until much later. Other cases might be more obvious, which was the case with my father.

As I am about to post this, I am happy to report that my new school, Seacrest Country Day School has a faculty mentoring program, and I am thrilled to have the awesome Patrick Duffy as my mentor.

I hope my help and guidance advice have been of some use to those I have shared them with over the years. I can’t wait to continue helping those younger than I.

Well, it has certainly been a different summer, and I am happy to be back to my boring, monastic Chapel Hill lifestyle. When I was a child summers went on forever, but now they are like the weather in Boston, you blink, and its over.

Madrid was home base for the summer, although this year I rarely got out of the house other than to grab a coffee in the morning and around the block to the gym in the afternoon.

My ten days in Greece were my real break. Caught up with old friends, made new friends and enjoyed my beloved old Greece with its special sunlight, and sea, and food.

We passed July in the country house at La Navata where I spent the mornings on babysitting duty for one, two or all three of my sister’s children. We would walk down to the village to buy bread and the newspaper and to have a coffee – Cola Cao – chocolate milk for the kids. During the afternoons I would work on my dissertation, finishing chapter 3. There were a couple of excursions: one to El Paular Monastery and the nearby hills, and of course a couple of visits to El Escorial with my dear friend Paco.

Another highlight of the Summer was having my sister and her two oldest here in Chapel Hill for a fortnight! We had a blast! (see previous blog post).

And then I had my 50th birthday. Well, at least it was better than my 49th, this time I did not get arrested for speeding. To celebrate, I gave this old blog an upgrade! So now it is http://www.antonioyrocinante.com without ads or Wordpress’ promotions. But I must confess it was difficult to pass my first birthday without my father.

Classes started three weeks ago, so we are back to the grind. I am teaching a section of Spanish 204, Advanced Intermediate, the first non required class. Mostly students that want to major or minor in Spanish. It has 12 great students. The downside? Class is at 8:00 am. My other section is Spanish 300, which is Composition. Of course you can’t have a course where you only write, it is like the guys at the gym that have these explosive upper bodies but Tweety Bird legs, as my cousin Arnold would say, so I have to work on integrating all facets of language development into the class.

Start of school also means that I have to get going on my dissertation again. I am starting the fourth – and last chapter (I still have to write the intro and conclusion). I am very excited, but this also means that I will not have much time to blog.

My other project, as I have mentioned before is getting a job for next year, as this should be my last year at UNC. I hope to defend my dissertation in the Spring. As is normal, I have mixed feelings: Of course I want to finish and see what the next chapter in my narrative holds, but on the other hand I love Chapel Hill and UNC and my friends and colleagues here.

So for now it is over and out from Chapel Hill.

WordPress upgrade

It looks like I have never dedicated a blog post to my love of cigars. Today I visited my favorite cigar shop in Madrid and realized it is time to change that.

The thing is, one has to focus on the little pleasures of life, the little things that give one some respite from this mad, mad world we have created. A decent cup of coffee or tea sitting down reading, writing, chatting with a friend/s or contemplating, not a gallon coffee when you are running around or working like some crazy Americans I see. A little walk somewhere that lets you breathe. Chocolate, a nice drink, a while with friends, sport, many things can be a recess.

One of those occasional pleasures for me is a good cigar. I have enjoyed cigars since my first job after college, around 1988, when I could finally afford some nice things. My first cigars where bought at L.J. Peretti in Boston, but when I came to Spain and discovered Cubans that was the end of non Cuban cigars, unless one was under duress, as one sometimes is.

Montecristo Nº 4 is my standard smoke. Ideal in most circumstances and one of the best balanced cigars you can smoke. Special occasions require different choices. For example the bullfight requires a longer smoke. An after breakfast smoke requires a softer touch, and so on. A lot also depends on what you are going to have with it, rum? Brandy? Cognac? Bourbon? Wine? Coffee? Decisions, decisions.

When I returned to Boston in 2005 I was blessed to find Gloucester Street Cigars. José was a true gentleman. That was my little escape place. When I moved to downtown Boston they held the spare set of keys to my apartment! We also did two phenomenal cigar night fundraisers for Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, raising well over $3000.

Now in Chapel Hill I am fortunate to have a small porch on which to enjoy a good smoke. I have corrupted my dear friend Jedd to join me in my cigar smoking pleasure, to the point that he has become quite an aficionado and even has a nice cigar cabinet where he sells cigars at Zog’s. This might be a case where the teacher surpasses the master!

Like any good hobby, cigars takes time. They must be kept in perfect conditions. Then there is the lighting ceremony in order to get an even start, and then enjoy. Very important, when you are finished never extinguish, squash, crush, or in any way tamper with the dignity of the cigar in its last moments. Just let it quietly drift away. Anything else will burn the precious oils and make the cigar furious and it will stink (literally).

Now that the US and Cuba are normalizing relations I can go to my favorite and Madrid’s best cigar store (which must make it a top place worldwide) on calle Barquillo to stock up until Christmas break!

If you enjoy cigars and want to learn more I definitely recommend Gabriel Cabrera Infante’s Holy Smoke a hilarious history, guide and manual for cigar smokers.

Rocinante does not like my cigar smoking, after all it is tricky to concentrate on two things that require attention at the same time. So I have to wait until a break in the riding to enjoy a smoke.

What am I smoking now? When I visited Greece, my dear friend Alfonso gave me a box of Trinidad Fundadores, a smooth Laguito cigar!

What are the best three reasons for being a teacher? June, July and August. Well that is the joke anyway. The last few years I have spent June in Madrid, doing research, hanging out with friends, walking about, and spending time with my family. This year besides my holidays in Greece, I spent most of my time at home with my dad. I did manage to go out for a quick coffee, to buy bread and the newspaper in the morning, and in the afternoon to the gym – with someone always staying to hang out with my dad.

One evening one of my old students from Buckingham Browne and Nichols was in town, I could not resist sharing my beloved city with him, showing him around, eating tapas at El Espejo and finishing a long evening walk at my favorite bar, Del Diego.

So I did not have a very social month, basically just working on my dissertation and hanging out and doing home stuff. Still, it was very enriching for lack of a better word. Once my father passed we came to La Navata, to the country house.

Many personal obituaries start by mentioning a favorite memory, or a first memory they have of the departed. This, besides being personal, offers the opportunity for a funny or intimate story or anecdote. On the other hand, professional (read press) obituaries focus on the achievements of the departed.

For my father I am throwing out both styles and let’s see what we get. Part of the reason for this is that I do not have a specific memory, or a funny memory, or a first memory. Well, I have many and not one of them particularly sticks out. Nor do I have a list of achievements for him. He did not discover penicillin, nor the theory of relativity, nor did he invent the light bulb. But from humble beginnings he worked hard to bring up a family.

The secret of his success is due to the vision of his father (my grandfather) Antonio, who sent him to the British School in Madrid, meaning that my father was a rara avis: an English speaking Spaniard in the post civil war, Franco ruled Spain of the 50s.

A couple of times I have heard the cute remark about how the important thing on gravestones is the little dash that separates the birthdate from the date of death. Duh.

Something else to keep in mind is how we label and put people in their little boxes. Yes my dad devoted most of his life to international banking, in fact he was an important cog in the Spanish international banking scene of the seventies and eighties. But that is not all of who he was. Yes was a keen motorist and loved cars and motorsports. Yes he was a keen fan of Apple computers, especially given his age. Yes he managed to track his family back to the mid eighteenth Century, but that is not who he was either. He loved jazz – although later in life he got to appreciating classical music more, so every Christmas I would record for him, originally a cassette tape and eventually CDs and finally USB sticks. He loved to read the newspaper which he did every day without fail. That is another trait I learned from him. He loved food and wine and would equally enjoy a cheese sandwich on a park bench as a Michelin starred meal.

He was a brave and decisive man who at a young age went to London to learn about foreign exchange. He lived with my mother across the street from Ashburton Grove, home of Arsenal Football club, but that did not make him an Arsenal fan, if anything he was a Real Madrid fan. After learning about foreign exchange in London, he started an upwards trajectory that would not stop until his retirement in the late 80s.

In the 70s he was offered to start the New York office of the bank. Being the elegant visionary that he was, he opened shop in the iconic Seagram Building on Park Avenue. We all packed up and left Madrid, I was twelve. It was a bit traumatic but I would eventually get the hang of moving back and forth, and it would become a way of life. After three years in New York came five in London and then back to Madrid, by then I had started my own nomadic way of life, going to college in Boston and working in France and Switzerland during the summers.

But back to Manuel. He had that kind of knack to be in the right place at the right time and looking good while doing it. Of course it did not hurt that his brother-in-law – my uncle and godfather – was a renowned tailor that made him all his suits!  BTW that is where I get my suit wearing custom, in case you were wondering. The other side of that coin was that unfortunately my dad travelled constantly, so we did miss him at home.

As a teenager up I remember blasting all around Europe in the big old Bismark at 130 miles per hour with any excuse. Eventually I would even be allowed to drive – that was fun.

My father retired in the late 80s and started all kinds of hobbies: playing with computers, taking a genealogy course to track his family tree, but most importantly spending time with friends, travelling with them and basically hanging out with all sorts of people. Manuel made friends easily, from all walks of life: artists, Bohemians, noblemen and gypsies, doormen and executives, everybody. About this time he became a part of the Boina club. The boina is the Spanish version of the French beret. This “club” basically consists of a bunch of guys meeting at a great basque restaurant for dinner and appointing 2 new members: a male and a female boinero who had to make an induction speech. This group had a fantastic network of contacts so the list of members is basically a who´s who of Madrid: writers, artists journalists, politicians, professors, you name it, of course my dad with his love of cars was the unofficial chauffeur of the group, picking up and dropping off the new members, this way he always got to hang out with them one on one!

For years every morning he would walk around the Retiro Park in Madrid, and he would often meet people there. Some of them became close friends. He walked every day until he no longer had the strength to walk out the door. The twelve years that I lived in Madrid, I always loved living overlooking the park so I had the light and could run and walk. Many weekend mornings I would bump into my dad walking and I would walk with him. Those walks were very special.

Possibly his biggest project after retirement was installing and improving the sprinkler system at the country house in La Navata. In fact, more of a hobby, it might have been his summertime obsession. I joked with him that he was like Enea Silvio Carrega, the hydraulics obsessed uncle in Italo Calvino’s story Il barone rampante. Fixing the sprinklers, changing water pumps, pumping water from one well to the other, tweaking the irrigation software. For this project he would enlist Mohammed, our local gardener to dig a ditch here, uncover a pipe here, make a hole here and so on. You would wake up on a hot summer morning and see chubby Mohammed trudging around the garden following my father who would be wearing his immaculate Panama hat overseeing the watering situation.

My father was diagnosed with an advanced pancreatic cancer in 2012. Thanks to the phenomenal staff at the Hospital Clínico San Carlos and specifically to Dr. Sastre, who managed to sneak him into the last spot at a clinical trial for a new pancreatic cancer drug manufactured by Celgene. This was a massive and miraculous success that increased my father’s life from an average of 5 to 9 months to three and a half years. These have been a tough three and a half years for Manuel as he struggled with his illness. The last few days, my mom, terribly stressed from being basically the sole caregiver all this time, took advantage of the fact that I was home from North Carolina to take some days off in Mallorca with her grandchildren. So I spent my father´s last week alone with him. Despite the fact that it was a tough situation for us, we had a very nice last bonding experience. We did not talk much, as by then he was spending most of his time sleeping. I slept on a bed next to him, to help him at night.

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Manuel died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of July 3 on his bed, surrounded by his family, like Don Quijote or Rodrigo Manrique.