Posts Tagged ‘naples’

I bought Rocinante brand new at Boston Harley Davidson in the spring of 2006. We had moved to the US a year earlier and I had no life, I hated my job teaching at a rough public school, had no friends, was still mourning the loss of my company that I had to close down in Spain, and so on. I have been riding since I was 14, so I figured a motorcycle would be a good hobby and maybe even a way to put some adventure in my life and our marriage. Well, the second part did not work out, but Rocinante saved my life. All of a sudden I had something to look forward to, something to tinker with, and something that offered me a great feeling of freedom and adventure. I rode to school every morning, even when it was only a couple of miles away.

My decision was easy, living in the US I wanted an American bike, that meant a Harley-Davidson. But I still wanted a quick, agile, not expensive bike, not a big, fat, expensive couch. The choice was clear, a Sportster.

Rocinante as a name came easy: I love Don Quixote, and his horse was Rocinante.

In the summer of 2011 I rode from Boston to Austin, Texas and back visiting universities for my PhD. It was that trip that gave birth to this blog, so you just have to scroll back to read all about that amazing, life changing adventure.

Rocinante and I moved to North Carolina in 2012, and we explored that state. We checked out the beautiful Carolina shore, it was Rocinante’s first time on a ferry!! Then we moved to Florida, we only managed one quick excursion to Miami, but we had so many more planned.

On September 25 returning home from school, an 80-year-old lady turned her white Lexus SUV left into my green light without seeing me and I crashed into her. I flew and rolled. Fortunately the accident happened near the EMT station, so they put me in an ambulance and took me to hospital in a jiffy! I suffered a shattered pelvis, with its accompanying trauma, and a broken thumb and annular finger. I spent three days in the hospital. Of course my mom got on the first flight out of Madrid. As I write this I have three pins holding my thumb together, while the pelvis and finger heal on their own. With time, I will recuperate.

Rocinante on the other hand will not. Her front fork was destroyed to the point where repair would be more expensive than the value of the bike.

Those are the facts. The emotions on the other hand cannot be easily put on a blog post. Even if I was just going to make a quick market run for a baguette, the anticipation of riding was exciting. We loved making week-end lunch runs, normally to Five Guys. The longer the ride the more exciting the anticipation. Riding to school every day in Florida was a blessing; a way to really wake up on the way there, and a way to leave it all behind on the way home. Longer excursions left me with a deep sense of relaxation. You see, on a bike you are 100% immersed: you hear, smell, feel, see everything, something that can never happen in the air-conditioned, music filled cocoon of a car. Not only are you immersed but you are 100% engaged with the bike, the road, the surroundings, the traffic. I saw Joyce Wheeler approach the light, it was the fact that she slowed down and stopped before turning left that signaled to me that she had seen me. I fell for the most popular motorcycle accident like a stupid rookie.

I will miss Rocinante, I miss her every day, every day that I have to drive to school, to pick up some ice-cream. I miss the engine rumbling, I miss patting the gas tank like Don Quixote would have done on Rocinante’s side. I hope to get a new Sportster as soon as I can. Although no bike will replace the 11 years of emotions on Rocinante.

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Every time I heard the name Irma mentioned in September, I thought of one of my father’s favorite films, Irma La Douce (1963) by the great Billy Wilder with the equally greats Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. Of course, every time I had to realize we were not talking about the film.

I have lived in the US on and off for many years and survived snow blizzards in New England, and the occasional storm that would make it all the way up to New York or Boston, even North Carolina, but I had never lived through a tropical storm proper. Enter Irma.

A needed skill in the US is the capacity to parse the always fear mongering news. One needs to develop highly critical thinking in order to live a reasonably fear free life in this country of killer bees, zombies, or swamp things. Admittedly, this is difficult when a Category 5 hurricane is thundering it’s way to your town. Irma destroyed Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles, but it took about a week to skirt Puerto Rico, Hispaniola. and Cuba. So I did not know what to expect.

Then there is the cone of possible trajectories, this is the cornucopia shape that stems from where the storm is. The West Coast of Florida featured prominently on most of those “cones”. Fear was creeping in. Tuesday before the expected landing of the storm on Florida, school announced closing thursday and friday so families could evacuate. But on wednesday the school population had significantly thinned out as people started their exodus.

All along I planned to stay home. I live on a second floor apartment, how bad could it be?

The days before the storm where a mix of utterly quiet and busy preparation. I stocked enough food to feed a Cavalry Division, but I also went on quiet walks on the empty beach and around what looked and felt like a ghost town.

The Saturday of Irmageddon* arrived and I was busy preparing the apartment for the strike.

There was also the storm surge to consider. Storm surge is not quite a tsunami, but apparently the water level of the ocean, and in our case the “bay” rises. All along the rise had been maxed out at 10 feet. Armed with a tape measure I measured the height of my apartment relative to the ground, 10 feet, I was fine. What was not fine was that a. The fantastic sliding doors/windows of the apartment did not have storm shutters – or any kind of shutters – and b. They were now saying up to 15 feet storm surge. Florida being as flat as flat can be, I figured that if the ocean surged by 15 feet and I am less than a mile from the beach I would surely get hit. But wait, the “Bay” side of the apartment is literally only a few feet away.

I was pondering all this when a good friend called. She had not put plywood to protect her windows and now needed tools and help to protect her windows. We cut a deal: I would help her out and then stay at her place with her parents and her daughter to pass the storm, as she lives further inland.

With limited tools and with the storm and darkness encroaching, we had to improvise a patchwork quilt of plywood pieces to fit each window, . We finished late, exhausted and soaked by the rain.

Sunday started easy enough, some rain, easy breakfast, and then power blinked and left. It was time for the main show, and what a show it was! She howled and ripped and roared for a few hours. It felt like when you are standing on the platform at a station and a train blows by you: same noise, same rush, same wind, same feeling of getting sucked into the void.

And then the eye came. It was surreal. Quiet. Peaceful. We ventured outside, the yard was flooded, the whole street was flooded, leaves, branches, trees strewn everywhere.

The second part of the storm was not half as bad as the first. Apparently, the storm had picked up some dry air which was breaking it up, causing its eventual disintegration.

Monday morning arrived sunny, warm, quiet and calm. A friend came in his massive SUV to check on us and he gave me a ride back home. The devastation was everywhere: flooding, fallen trees by the hundreds, roofs ripped off of buildings like the top of a can of sardines, debris everywhere, signs, including every single street sign ripped out of the ground.

My apartment had only a trickle of water that had come in through the old sliding doors. Not bad at all. That same afternoon power came back, maybe too soon. With everything being wet, very wet, when the power came back on, the water must have caused some sort of short circuit. I was walking outside my apartment to pick up Rocinante from the municipal parking lot, when I smelled the acrid smoke of burning metal. When I finally discovered the smoke coming out of the electric closet I called 911. Within minutes the firemen where able to keep the fire from spreading. Phew!!

The destruction from the storm was overwhelming: trees, roofs, signs, trailers, if Irma could move it, she did. The first wave of street cleanup happened within the first couple of days after the storm. Today a month and a day after the storm, Naples has electricity and water, but the cleanup is going to take well into 2018.

 

 

* Vinnie Monzone

After two days of faculty meetings and an apparently endless number of  year-end parties I can finally say my academic year is over, and what a year it has been. Granted, the first year at any job is always going to be hard. Add to that coaching two varsity level sports, editing my dissertation for publishing, a new town, a new state, and more importantly a new climate zone – Sub Tropical, and it was quite an experience.

Naples is the southernmost town on the West Coast, the Gulf Coast of Florida. The city did not really develop until the second half of the XX C with the advent of air conditioning. To this day it is still very much a resort town which booms in size from December to May with rich northerners, mostly from the Mid-West spending the “season” here. They have beautiful homes and cars, go to overrated and overpriced restaurants, and play golf, lots of golf. There are 80 golf courses in Naples, apparently the highest concentration of golf courses per capita in the US. The beach, did I mention there is a beach? The beach is miles of silky while sand, and since it is protected by the Gulf, it has quiet waters with small waves. It is a beautiful town with palm lined streets and gorgeous homes. The municipal tennis courts around the corner from my apartment have decadent clay surfaces. There are cute coffee shops, bars, cigar bars, and even some interesting restaurants. Half an hour driving and you are in the Everglades, the world’s largest Sub-Tropical jungle, infested with alligators, Florida panthers, etc.

In my June 2016 post The Job Search Part II, looking for jobs in secondary schools, I write how what attracted me to Naples was Seacrest’s educational philosophy. With time I will reflect on my teaching experience, on coaching girl’s varsity soccer and tennis, on living in Naples and so many other thoughts that I need to marinate.

The way the weather breaks down is that June to September is hot, humid, rainy and stormy. But the rest of the year it is “Endless Summer” always the perfect weather to enjoy the outdoors. I enjoyed riding my bicycle, running, walking on the beach, as well as riding Rocinante to work every day.

One of the highlights of my first year here has been discovering Artis Naples. Artis Naples is the home of the Baker Museum, a cute, little museum with some interesting pieces, and of the Naples Philharmonic and their fantastic concert hall. One of my fears coming to this remote corner of the world was that I was not going to find the cultural stimulation I had in Boston, Madrid or Chapel Hill. I was mostly wrong. Someone had told me that if I wanted to enjoy any culture I had to drive two hours across Alligator Alley to Miami, when in fact, groups like Miami City Ballet, or the Vienna Philharmonic come to Naples!

The season started with some nice amuse-bouche chamber music concerts in the museum. But the real season started with Elgar’s moving  Cello Concerto. After that it was Grimaud playing Brahms, Joshua Bell playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Opera Naples performing Turandot in the Fall and The Magic Flute in the Spring, Handel’s Messiah, Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, Abbado conducting Beethoven and Wagner, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the ballet Giselle –which is one of my favorites. Some concerts, like Anne-Sophie Mutter I had to miss due to coaching. Fortunately the folks at Artis are very nice and you can call in and change your tickets if you need.

On top of that the museum has a free late night on the last Wednesday of the month, so you can just go walk around, something I did most months!

A lesser known cultural gem in Naples is Opera Naples. They operate out of a refurbished warehouse in a bit sketchy industrial area of town. The artistic director is Ramon Tebar one of those wunderkinds who was conducting orchestras at 12 years old. He is a hot-shot from Valencia, another reason to love him! On top of the two operas performed at Artis, they did a few events at their home. Master classes and recitals with mezzo-soprano Renata Scotto, recitals by Gregory Kunde…

Sadly, there does not appear to be much more to choose from beyond this. The locals seem more interested in the size of their homes and their cars to be really culturally restless. Also, since the town lacks a university there are not many young people. There seems to be mostly families with young children or older folks, but little age diversity.

With my busy schedule, I had little time to explore the area, so that is one of the many things I am looking forward to.

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Teaching at Seacrest Country Day School

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Here is a clip of me teaching (circa 2010)

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.

Despite being Rocinante’s 10th birthday, it has not been her best year. We can blame my PhD for that. For the last four years I basically only had time to ride to Trader Joe’s for some groceries, or for a quick ride (about half an hour each way) to lunch in beautiful Hillsborough or Saxapahaw, although mostly we would just ride to Five Guys just outside Chapel Hill. The only trip we made was to explore the North Carolina seashore, at the end of my first year at UNC in the spring of 2013. After that, between my dad getting sick and the pressure of my studies, there were no more long rides.

Although we would have loved to ride down to our new home in Naples, Florida, there was no money for the logistics, nor the time, if I was to make it to my nephew’s first communion in Madrid. Rocinante just rode inside a truck with the rest of my few belongings.

But we have great plans for our new life in Florida. Starting with a leisurely exploration of the Keys, a trip I have wanted to take for years, ending in Hemingway’s home in Key West. Then there is the West Coast and the East Coast, even “the panhandle” to explore. All very exciting.

The winter of 2006 was a tough one for me: I was still dealing with having closed my company in Madrid, with moving to the US, with not making friends. I was struggling with my first year teaching at a public school, and I was looking forward to Tracy getting well after her long sickness. I have been riding since I was 14, so getting a motorbike seemed like a worthwhile hobby to get me out of that slump

. I did a lot of research, made a few visits to Boston Harley Davidson, and had a massive tiff with Tracy. Ten years later I can safely say Rocinante saved my life.

So hopefully Rocinante will forgive me for my neglect over the last four years.

Since I had taught high school for seven years before embarking on my PhD., I knew I loved working with that age group and in my heart of hearts I understood I was to go back to teaching them.

Back in 2011, in case I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program, I contacted Southern Teachers Agency to help me look for teaching jobs in the South. I loved working with them, although I did get into UNC. So this time around I contacted them again, and I could not be happier with how they worked with me to find the perfect job. In fact, Southern Teachers was the only venue I used to seriously look for a job teaching secondary school Spanish.

Things took off right from the time I signed up with them. I did a very promising Skype interview in November with a boy’s boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. During Christmas break, an all girls school in Chattanooga Tennessee booked me to go interview with them as soon as I got back stateside, which I did. They put me up in a beautiful hotel in downtown Chattanooga, and the morning of the interview I was picked up by the head of facilities,  which I found a very telling gesture. Unfortunately, things did not pan out that well later, as I was pretty much abandoned halfway through lunch to walk myself out of the school, disappointing. In January, Southern Teachers held a job fair in Washington DC, which coincided with me having to do some paperwork at the Spanish Consulate (that story is for a different blog entry). During this fair I met and spoke with many schools all over the South, but my most rewarding conversation was with a school in Florida. Our pedagogical ideologies clicked right in place, I was very impressed that there was a school that was not obsessed with AP exams, “we tolerate them” was their precise wording, preferred not working with textbooks, and so on. My cup of tea precisely.

As winter progressed I had many phone and Skype interviews, I also had to take days off to go interview at schools. This, besides requiring a lot of time, was unneeded in many cases, like when I had to teach a sample class at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina only to not be hired because “I did not use technology”. Of course this was what they call a “tablet school” where every student has a tablet and thus they are slaves, victims, to the technology. It did not help that they had given me a really bad unit to teach, with very little “meat” and a bunch of vocab – which I am against, vocab is hard to memorize and easy to forget. I was a bit disappointed at first that they rejected me, but when I realized that the best teachers in history: Socrates, Plato, and Jesus only had a stick in the sand as technology, I realized it was not me who was in the wrong. The plus side of these school visits was that I got to visit many places I did not know: Chattanooga Tennessee, Charlotte (twice), Asheville NC, and eventually Naples Florida, for that school I had been so impressed with at the job fair.

During my dissertation defense, after many interviews, and with a few offers on the table, Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida left me a message with an offer. Against all prognostications, that was where, surprisingly, my heart had been since that original chat in January.