Xoriguer

Chapter I

Otto is a hilarious and chatty Cuban rugby player who defected to Spain during a tournament tour in the 90’s. He ended up being a barman in the hotel in Mallorca where we go every Summer (see previous posts).

Chapter II

Years ago, wild mint grew in the garden of my mom’s country house. My sister and I put it to good use making Mojitos during the Summer months when we were at the house. One Summer the mint disappeared, maybe due to the desertification of Spain because of climate change. Ever resourceful (and lazy) we switched to easy Gin and Tonics for our nightcaps on the porch, where we chatted and reminisced.

Chapter III

In 1701 the Hapsburg king of Spain, Charles II, had no children. This brought about, a massive war of Succession between the Hapsburg loyalists and those who wanted the French Bourbons to take over the Spanish crown. Just about every country in Europe got involved one way or another. Britain took advantage of the mess to take over Gibraltar (which they still hold) and the Mediterranean Balearic island of Menorca, which they returned to Spain eventually. Before leaving, they stole the recipe for a sauce made by whipping eggs and olive oil (and garlic). The sauce, Mahonesa, is called after the city where it was developed, the capital city of Menorca: Mahón. The linguistically challenged Brits changed Mahonesa to Mayonnaise. To get even, some enterprising locals copied the formula for the spirit the British sailors and their Dutch friends where distilling: Jenever in Dutch, Gin for the Brits. That stolen formula would become Xoriguer Gin, to this day made in Mahón. (There is another version of the story in which the French General Richelieu, copied the recipe when he liberated Menorca from the Brits, but it does not have the same poetic justice for our purpose)

Rich with juniper berry flavor, this is not a subtle gin. These are Mediterranean smells and flavors, not a randomly chosen “floral and botanical bouquet with hints of cucumber” for some 50 Euro bottle of ultra-premium gin. Xoriguer is like taking a walk on a Mediterranean island.

Xoriguer is a small family run distillery, so good luck finding it in most shops. In fact, I only know three bars in Madrid that serve it (and believe me, I know more than three bars in Madrid). One is Bar el 32 in Lavapies, Del Diego, which as I have mentioned before is a temple of spirits. The Del Diego brothers make a light and airy Xoriguer Gin Gimlet which just transports you to Menorca. And miraculously, Marcelino in La Navata (see previous post).

Chapter IV

A few years ago, Otto introduced me to Xoriguer, made just one island over. I fell in love (with the gin, not with Otto, although I do love him, but in a different way).

Note: Always drink moderately and responsibly.

Sailing

My stints at sailing have been admittedly few and far between. I loved learning to sail during Summer Camp on Lake Geneva. That feeling of freedom, of you and the wind. After that I remember taking out a Hobbie Cat during my honey-moon, going out on my father in law’s lovely motorboat on Lake Winnipesaukee, and going out on friend’s boats once in a while after that. But when a dear friend invited me to crew his sailing boat from Valencia to a Greek island, I jumped at the opportunity.

The boat

The boat

Spain was still easing out of the Coronavirus quarantine restrictions when I took the train to Valencia. The boat was not ready yet, so I spent a week in Valencia, visiting old friends -even an old student, who I was able to see at her Opera recital!, walking about and helping to get the boat ready for sailing. (See previous post)

Skippering

Skippering

Finally, the boat was ready, Manolo our third man jumped abroad, and we sailed out. The crew was super nice Captain Jose, and Manuel, a good friend of his and a solid sailor, which left me as the lowest on the boat’s hierarchy. But those of you who know me know that I am a sucker for a challenge and always open to learning, specially if it is something as fascinating as sailing.

Full moon during night watch

Full moon during night watch

The boat is a 2006 20 mt German built Hanse that the owner has extensively tricked out. It is a beautiful combination of high-tech and old-world. Each of us gets our own en-suite berth. There is an island kitchen, big, flat screen TV, full bar, etc, etc, etc., oh and super-important: a state-of-the-art Nespresso machine!

Taking a break in Mallorca

Taking a break in Mallorca

We sailed out of Valencia on motor power since there was not enough wind to fill the sails. I was surprised to see Ibiza only a few ours out of Valencia. We sailed on, I got the 1:30 to 4:00 am watch, unexpectedly it passed by in a rush as I explored the gorgeous night sky, meditated, and of course did my watch duties: making sure we didn’t crash with anyone, keeping an eye out for icebergs and making use of that Nespresso machine.

Quiet waters

Quiet waters

I awoke as we approached my beloved and very familiar Mallorca. My heart filled with memories of my youth and family. (See previous posts about Mallorca). I waved bye-bye to my favorite island only to face a rough head wind on the crossing to Sardinia. We were under full sail, but we were slamming 3 mt waves with no prospect of stopping any time soon, so we did a 180 and headed back to the shelter of Mallorca. Our resourceful Captain wisely picked a cove right on the South-East corner of the island so we would be ready to head to Sardinia as soon as the wind changed direction. A little down-time from the buffeting wind was welcome, as was a first swim and a quiet dinner.

On course for the Messina Straight

On course for the Messina Straight

The forecast did not change, so we stayed put another day. We hit the beach on an inflatable kayak which would rip a valve as we arrived on the beach. We stayed for a gorgeous local seafood stew lunch “Caldereta” plus a few cocktails to celebrate Manuel’s 50th birthday. The punctured kayak barely got us back to the boat!

Smoking Mount Etna

Smoking Mount Etna

As beautiful as that cove was, we had to get moving. Instead of risking the continued headwinds on the crossing to Sardinia, we decided to go around the North of Sardinia where the winds were much friendlier.

We had nasty headwinds all the way to Sardinia so before crossing the treacherous -but beautiful north shore we stopped for the night in another gorgeous cove. We arrived too late for a swim, but we did enjoy a nice plate of spaghetti al pesto.

Lighthouse through binoculars

Lighthouse through binoculars

The next day we were running low on fuel, so we stopped to refuel and to rest before the long haul to Sicily. During the way I was allowed to steer for the first time. While re-fueling I managed to run ashore to throw out the trash and to the supermarket where I purchased some overpriced ice, bananas, oranges, and strawberries.

The ice was critical for our sunset chill-out sessions where the crew (not the captain) would enjoy a gin-tonic listening to some nice tunes while enjoying the sunset.

Every sunset is beautiful

Every sunset is beautiful

From there we continued sailing for a couple of days to the narrow straight of Messina that separates mainland Italy from Sicily. Coming out of that channel we were welcomed by a great aft wind that pushed us nicely to Riposto, right under smoking Etna volcano! The nice marina folks allowed us to park for a couple of hours after refueling so we could do some grocery shopping. We passed by the pretty and well-balanced town square with its church and town hall, we did our grocery shopping and still had time for a quick cup of espresso before boarding. I had not been to Italy since 2004, so that brief stop was wonderful, and the cup of coffee one of the best I can remember (see previous post).

The full coffee experience in Sicily

The full coffee experience in Sicily

From there it was a straight shot to Greece, where our first stop was Methoni with its Medieval, then Venetian, then Ottoman, then on and on octagonal tower. My dear friend Miguel de Cervantes was held captive there after being captured after the Battle of Lepanto and before being taken to Algiers where he would spend a total of five years.

The Venetian-Ottoman tower in Methoni

The Venetian-Ottoman tower in Methoni

From there we sailed around the Peloponnese stopping again at the amazing isthmus at Simos beach on Elafonisos. Our final day was an easy sail to the charming island of Spetses.

Isola Molara off the coast of Cerdegna

Isola Molara off the coast of Cerdegna

Although I started this adventure quite worried about my lack of “real” sailing skills, my colleagues were patient and amazing, teaching me everything they could about this beautiful craft and art that is sailing. So by journey’s end I was participating actively on all maneuvers!

The crew

The crew

During my pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago (see previous posts) I have learnt that spending over ten days outdoors in nature naturally resents your mind and soul. This was no different, if anything it was even better as there are fewer distractions on the ocean: just the sound of the wind, the horizon, the stars at night, even dolphins came to swim with us for a while! It was an experience like no other I have ever had, and I hope to do it again soon. Now that it is over, I miss the camaraderie of the boat, the constant reading of the wind, even the night watches!

PS: If you are a sailing aficionado our trip from Valencia to Spetses was about 1300 Nautical miles, about 1500 land miles and about 2400 km…

Farewell Florida, hello Princeton

 

Well my Naples adventure did not pan out as expected. So after two years I have moved to Princeton, New Jersey.

The root problem is that Naples has a very skewed demographic. Naples is the preferred spot for retired, wealthy, white (read conservative) Midwesterners (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa) to retire or semi-retire, so the population is them and the people who serve them. It is very difficult for a middle-aged, middle class, educated, single person to thrive. In fact, other than some fantastic colleagues, I did not make any friends in two years. And I am not a totally antisocial fellow: I go to church, volunteer, go to the gym, to yoga, to the Symphony, to the bar, the cigar lounge, coffee, I lived “Downtown”, etc.

So, yes, I am grossly generalizing, but at the end of the day that was my problem. I was not happy personally, professionally, socially, culturally. I was troubled by the lack of diversity and the normalization of this lack of diversity. To be fair, Naples sits on land stolen from the Everglades, the biggest sub-tropical jungle in the world, talk about environmental disasters! What it means is that it is very new, nobody lived there until the mass production of air conditioning in the middle of the 20th C, (although native Americans did live there). It does have a gorgeous beach, however, and I will miss running on it, in shorts, in the middle of January!

But enough of the griping and whining, that was the past.

I have accepted a position to teach French and Spanish at The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey. Mr. Hun, or rather, Prof. Hun was a professor of math at Princeton who dedicated his free time to helping and tutoring kids with math, (apparently including F. Scott Fitzgerald). He was so successful with his side gig that it became his main gig and he started a school in 1914. Princeton is like all good college towns a thriving, dynamic, diverse, young and restless town – 45 minutes from New York City!

I will be living on campus but not in a dorm, although I will have residential staff responsibilities, I will also coach the Girls Varsity Tennis team! I could not be more excited for this new chapter of my life. But first, Summer in Spain with the family: Finishing The Camino de Santiago that I started last summer, going to Mallorca with my nieces and nephew, and hanging out in the country.

(Belated) Summer Summary

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.

Wes and Woody

I’m waiting for my Thesis Director to go over my most recent dissertation scribbles, so I take a rare break from writing my dissertation… to write my blog!

Back in the short period between my prospectus (see previous posts) and starting my dissertation, before Christmas, I actually had time to watch a few of films, and I loved them both.

Wes Anderson has been one of my favorites since his Rushmore (1998). I love how he weaves a narrative with all these eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters. His latest is The Grand Budapest Hotel, about the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in an old school grand hotel somewhere in Mitteleuropa. The humor is woven into the narrative, sometimes with a big old slapstick brush, sometimes with a nuanced, detailed, subtle touch, and of course the whole spectrum in between. I have been known – back in the day, to have gotten kicked out of movie theaters for laughing when nobody else laughed, because I caught some tiny wink of humor. Wes Anderson keeps doing that for me time and again. Although nowadays I fortunately do not get kicked out of theaters.

When we were kids I remember spending summers at a place like that, the Gran Hotel Camp de Mar (which is now a gaudy monstrosity). Talk about old school. I even remember when one of the guests died and it was all hush-hush, but not really. So it really struck a chord with me, remembering the grand old dining room, the old furniture, everything.

Within the arc that is the narrative of the story, every detail of every scene is perfect. Every character, every costume, every prop, every line, you name it, it is perfect. Which of course contrasts beautifully with the eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters.

Wes Anderson is, of course, building on the shoulders of giants, particularly those of Woody Allen. I did get all caught up on his three latest movies (that is how behind I was on my movie watching): Midnight in Paris (2011), From Rome with Love (2012), and Blue Jasmine (2013).

Cate Blanchett (who was also brilliant in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004) nails her Jasmine. The film really got me thinking about how we delude ourselves, and how we see people around us that fool themselves to amazing depths and do not want to acknowledge it. From Rome with Love was fun, and I was happy to see Allen reprise Penelope Cruz in this film. But it was Midnight in Paris that I enjoyed the most. The magic of 1920s Paris in the 21st Century, Owen Wilson, who is also in the Grand Hotel Budapest (Adrien Brody is also in both). Maybe it is because I lived in Paris for a summer and inevitably fell in love with the city, maybe because it has one of Woody Allen’s best narratives in a while. Whatever, it was magic.

Summer Summary

Well, I have been so busy writing my thesis prospectus all summer that I have not had time to update this old blog! But the prospectus (the first draft at any rate) is now well on its way after my Thesis Director recommended some corrections today at the Daily Grind Café. But now back to my summer.

The month of June I was in Madrid going to the Biblioteca Nacional every day and getting some phenomenal research accomplished. Some highlights of June were: celebrating my father’s birthday, going to Alfredo’s new place (see previous post), going to Pedro Espina’s new restaurant Soy to say hi to my old friend and Spain’s best sushi chef, my old student Jacob’s visit to Madrid (see previous post), and pretty much every moment spent in the city enjoying the smells and sounds and tapas and sights.

In July I went with my family to our beloved Mediterranean island of Mallorca. As you can read in other year’s posts it is a great time. Very low-key: great breakfasts, beach, poolside lunch, siesta, workout, pool time, nice Mediterranean dinner, a lovely evening walk, and a drink and some reading for me, repeat. This year around my nieces and nephew were one year older, so more fun, and we had the World Cup to follow – despite Spain’s early departure we enjoyed all the underdog teams putting in great performances! Unfortunately we were only in Mallorca for a couple of weeks.

Back in the mainland we went straight to my parent’s house in the countryside (see previous posts about La Navata). If Mallorca is low-key, this is even more low-key, my routine here is a pre-breakfast swim to wake up, breakfast on the porch, walking to the village for bread, newspapers and to have my coffee in the old café, helping my niece and nephew with their Summer homework, (which this year included reading Le Petit Prince with my niece!), hanging out, lunch and siesta, punching out a page of my prospectus, working out, swimming, dinner and drinks, cigars and chatting – or reading, if nobody is around for conversation. The only routine breakers are driving my mom to the market, going to church on Sundays, and occasionally hanging out with old friends. One of these traditional outings is dinner at El Escorial with Paco Navarro. We walk around, eat, enjoy a coffee and then walk around some more. It is one of my favorite outings and one we have not missed in years!

Then my sister asked me to go hang out with her and her kids in the North Shore of Spain while her husband stayed working in Madrid. I took the train – and the harbor taxi, and had a wonderful week with them. They stay in this old manor house in this cute old village and the only choices they have to make is which beach to go to and which restaurant to have lunch at! Paradise.

The last week I was in Spain I received a request from my Medieval Literature Professor to take a photo of a painting in the cathedral at Toledo. I jumped at the opportunity and I spent a wonderful day alone walking around the old imperial city. I had not been to “the Jerusalem of the West” (for the Jewish, Arab and Christian cultures that thrived in the city) in four years and it was wonderful to slip into the many churches and museums alone with no schedule. I had a nice lunch and a coffee overlooking the Tajo River. It was a very healing experience. I don’t think the photo Prof. Domínguez asked me for came out very well, but still, the excursion was worth it for me.

But by August 5 I was back in old Chapel Hill wrapping up my prospectus and settling down… And now I am back in school teaching two sections of intermediate Spanish 203 and happy to be in my quiet monastic life.

Dad's birthday lunch!

Dad’s birthday lunch!

Breakfast w Jimmy

Breakfast w Jimmy

Chiringuito Camp de Mar

Chiringuito Camp de Mar

20140629_211219 Camp de Mar

Always reading

Reading in Santander

Dinner at El Escorial OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the photographer's dog!

With the photographer’s dog!

Camp de Mar

Walking back from the beach

Walking back from the beach

Harbor taxi!

Harbor taxi!

Lunch?

Lunch?

at the Cinco calderas

at the Cinco calderas

Las cinco calderas

Las cinco calderas

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Mallorca

My family used to go on holidays to Galicia, the Northwest coast of Spain. Atlantic water temperature and Atlantic waves. When my little sister Rocky was born we decided to switch our holidays to Mallorca island on the Mediterranean, where we found a little “cala”, inlet on the south shore of the island. Warm, beautiful, tranquil, crystal clear water.  We have been coming to the same place for the last forty odd years, Camp de Mar. First we stayed at the “Gran Hotel”, old world style and panache, real furniture, “sit down dinner”, even a springboard on the beautiful pool! Unfortunately, after falling into disrepair it was razed and turned into a gaudy monstrosity.  So we rotated through a series of rental homes until in the early 00s we found the Dorint. A resort built on what used to be an old farm where we used to go on nice summer evening walks eating the carobs off the ground. Some of my fondest memories are of excursions around the island, walking the old streets of the capital, Palma de Mallorca, with it’s beautiful squares and Gothic cathedral. I loved coming to the island when I had my own business and customers to visit. For many years when I had the money I rented a rag top Jeep to drive around the island and to go to the village to pick up freshly made ensaimadas, the local pastries, enjoying the sun and wind in my face and hair (I had hair then).

For the last few years my parents have been bringing their grandkids on holidays here. The rest of us come and go as time and money allow! I have been able to come for the last three years and I love it.

There is something magical about these islands. The light, the sea, the warm, dry days and nights, the intoxicating sweet smell of night. Not surprisingly it is, and has been home to Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, Chopin and George Sand, Agatha Christie, Rubén Dario, Joan Miró, and more recently Michael  Douglas, Claudia Schiffer, and of course Rafa Nadal.

Our life here is very quiet. Wonderful breakfasts with local pastries, quiet beach, pool, siestas, and nice meals. I enjoy the gym, swimming, running on the local forested hills, evening walks with the family after dinner and the bar at night. But most of all I am getting a ton of reading done for my Ph.D. exams next spring! On Sundays I go to the village to the 1248 church for mass (granted it was pretty much re-done in 1703, but still).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA View from Andratx village Andratx village View from the Dorint Hotel OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Camp de Mar Beach SAMSUNG Dorint Hotel Camp de Mar Hotel entrance, Dorint

The countdown hits single digits (almost)

Slowly things fall into place. Finishing up at BB&N was bittersweet. The kids where amazing, we had farewell parties in all my classes and a great end of season dinner for the boys Varsity Tennis team. The nuts and bolts of closing up my life in Boston went smoothly enough. I know I am going to miss old Boston, but after a total of thirteen years there, I needed to move on.

Driving a 17 ft. truck with a two axle trailer with the car on it was a different story. Nobody had given me specific instructions on how to maneuver such a beast. So off I drove confidently in the rain through Connecticut. At a gas station somewhere in Upstate New York I got my trailer driving lesson: I thought I had cleared the pump when I felt a slight nudge on the rig. Surely enough I had cut the corner a bit close and the trailer had gotten caught on the pump. Nothing broken, no problem. I proceeded to maneuver myself into quite a tangle, the trailer facing Canada and the truck facing Mexico (you get the picture). Somewhere in that mess I snapped the pump handle off of the pump! I finally spotted the huge gas tank delivery truck parked on the far edge of the station and I walked in the rain to beg the driver for help. After analyzing the situation, he gave me the lesson I had wanted all along! It took a while to extricate myself from the mess but eventually got out with only the car slightly less scratched than my ego. The station manager was fine with the broken handle. I slept in New Jersey and safely made it to North Carolina the next day.

After unpacking at Friendly lane on a Friday I flew to Spain for the summer holidays with my family. I hung out in Madrid, went to my nieces baptism, went to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Mallorca and at my family’s house in the village of La Navata outside Madrid.

So this is what I have worked three years for, this is when the proverbial manure hits the fan, this is when the action starts. I can’t wait for orientation on the 13th and for classes to start on the 21st.  I’m taking Medieval literature, old Spanish grammar, film in culture and Italian for beginners – like in the movie. On the flip side, I still don’t know what I will be teaching.

This is what I’ve waited for, this is it.ImageImageImage