Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

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.

 

 

One of the things I love about being a teacher is that once students graduate some of them become friends and mentees. This is the case of Jacob Virgil who, having graduated from UNC was backpacking around Europe when he contacted me to tell me he was in town. It has been four years since I gave a good tour of Madrid, and it was very cathartic. Visiting old favorite haunts, seeing old friends and acquaintances: eating roast chicken at Sidras Mingo by the river, having chocolate con churros at San Ginés, drinking bone dry sherry at Torre del Oro, it all brought back many memories and tears to my heart.

The highlight of this visit was taking Jacob to the bullfight. It was a Monday afternoon fight, so I managed to get excellent seats, the reason being, that as a Monday fight, the bullfighters were on the younger side, not that the bulls were any better. But still, the afternoon was beautiful. I lit up a fabulous Montecristo Petit Edmundo from my friend José at Estanco Barquillo and enjoyed the event. I walked Jacob back to his hotel, stopping for some great tapas at Estay in the Barrio de Salamanca district.

The Biblical Jacob dreamt of a stairway to heaven. This XXI C. Jacob didn’t bring that ladder, but he nonetheless helped me in my healing process. Which was totally unexpected – as it should be. Walking around with him, visiting old haunts and especially the bullfight, helped me renew and cleanse myself. Apparently we were even given a close up shot on TV, proof, if any was needed, that they were good seats!

Montecristo

Montecristo

Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro

A young fighter

A young fighter

Bulls, friends, cigars

Bulls, friends, cigars

Graham Memorial, a great place to read.

Graham Memorial, a great place to read.

Wilson Library Reading Room

Wilson Library Reading Room

On the porch

On the porch

Even in the Harley dealership

Even in the Harley dealership

Spring

Spring

 

Five Guys

Five Guys

And just like that my second year at UNC is finished. As with last year, the academic schedule is so demanding that I did not have time to blog. This semester has had one theme and one theme only. My PhD qualifying exams. Every week since last semester I read, and read, and read. Every week I met with my incredibly patient professors to go over the readings, chat, and be quizzed. Spring Break was dedicated to reading, Martin Luther King Day was dedicated to reading. Although I have been reading for this exam for over the last two years, the pace for the last three months was intense, I read non-stop January, February, March and halfway through April.

For the oral exam, you are in a conference room with your three professors sitting around you. The first, very pointed question about the prologue of the Libro del Buen Amor threw me off kilter. I bungled through it best I could and from there the exam became a bit more conversational between the four of us. At some points during the exam, the three professors would get into a discussion about this or that, and I must admit it was really exciting to see them spar at such a level, it was very inspiring. My exam was at noon, right after I taught my Spanish for Business class. I had time to eat a sandwich and to make espresso for myself – and to treat my committee to, which was nice. After being grilled for almost two hours – although it feels much longer, I passed my orals.

A week later, Holy Thursday in the afternoon, I received my written exam. In this exam each professor gives you two questions and you choose one question for each. Then you write, write, write for that afternoon and the next two days straight. It is grueling. Trying to coherently put on paper everything you have learnt over two years in sixty hours. Basically you eat, sleep and write and write and write.

Surprisingly and fortunately I passed both oral and written exams, with a rare High Pass on my Medieval written exam! The sense of depletion after the exams must be somewhat similar to post-partum depression. The shifting of gears, the changing of tempo, of lifestyle, is very peculiar as the pressure to read – although not entirely gone, not for at least two more years – is lifted and you have time to look around, smell the roses, watch a movie, take more time doing things that you have rushed over the last two years, like going to the gym, or even eating.

I did manage to squeeze in some great concerts: Wynton Marsalis, the Israel Philharmonic, the North Carolina Symphony, András Schiff played Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Yefim Bronfman’s Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2, The English Concert Orchestra played Handel’s Theodora, The Carolina Ballet performed the obligatory Nutcracker, I saw Shakespeare’s Tempest, Mary Zimmerman’s hilarious Metamorphoses – both with a pool cut out in the proscenium!, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and it’s sequel Buoso’s Ghost by Michael Ching both performed by UNC Opera, all the UNC Baroque ensemble’s recitals. With the UNC Gearhead Club I went to see a Porsche exhibit at the Raleigh Museum of Art, that was fun.

The gearheads

The gearheads

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With my limited graduate student budget I only managed to discover a couple of new restaurants: a sushi place in Raleigh, an Indian place and Al’s Burger Joint, both in Chapel Hill. Another highlight was when my course coordinator gave me tickets for the Greek Festival in Raleigh, great food!

Other than those occasional outings my life was limited to working, the library, the gym, church, and the supermarket.

That is about it for my academic year. I received half a Summer Research Grant in order to do some research in Spain, so I will spend some time in musty Spanish libraries…

Here is the visible part of my work this year: the reading list

bibliografia firmada

 

Reading is hard work, you just can't see it!

Reading is hard work, you just can’t see it!

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Patxi at the old and used book fair at El Escorial

Many of my followers have asked me about the reading lists for my Ph.D. and what is all the fuss about. So here is a brief description: I have finished my first year of the Ph.D. program where I had to take classes. This year, is devoted to preparing for my Ph.D. exam which should be in the Spring of ’14. The exam is based on three reading lists. My first list is XVIII Century Spanish satire, where I have to read about 20 or 30 books of primary reading and another 20 or 30 of theory and critical reading on the topic. My thesis director, the wonderful and extremely patient Prof. Irene Gómez Castellano will guide me with the reading. My secondary or complementary list is on Medieval Spanish satire with the same amount of reading. Prof. Domínguez, the generous and equally patient God of Medieval Spanish literature (seriously, he wrote the book on  it!) will help me with that.  And the final list has to be a transatlantic one. American lit. students have to study a Peninsular topic and vice versa, so I will be reading Colonial lit. with the extremely knowledgeable, razor-sharp but funny Prof. Perelmuter. The exam consists of a morning oral exam with the three reading tutors and a weekend written section with a question for each list. Passing that exam would make me All But Dissertation (ABD) and I have two years to research and write my dissertation.

So I have spent most of my summer (and my summer money) reading and finding books that will fit my reading list. I have toiled in used book stores around Spain breathing musty, old books. I have found some gems, and some that I could not afford, original prints and such. Many of the books I need have long  been out of print, and finding them is a bit of a hit or miss game. I found a handful of books a couple of days before departing Spain at the annual old and used book fair in El Escorial! By the end of the summer I had fifty-four books – enough that I had to fill a second suitcase, albeit a small one. All these are a bit less than a third of the books I need. If I add some books that I already have, I might have, at best, less than half of the material I need to read by April/May… will keep you posted. For now, it is time to get back to reading!

Olive trees in Antequera

Olive trees in Antequera

With Catherine

With Catherine

Snails

Snails

Backlit snails

Backlit snails

Cathedral

Cathedral

Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Casa San Juan de Dios

Casa San Juan de Dios

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Old Granada

Old Granada

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Sierra Nevada in the back

Sierra Nevada in the back

The last time I jumped on a train in Spain for some alone time was in 2010. A lot has happened since and I needed some time to be alone and enjoy this beautiful country. So I booked train tickets and I set off to Granada, the enchanted Moorish city of the South, home of Federico García Lorca, final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabel, inspiration for Washington Irving´s Tales of the Alhambra, and home to Europe´s Southernmost ski station, Sierra Nevada.

Some of the more noticeable changes in Spain in the last twenty years have been in infrastructure: Highways and railroads. Long gone are those creaky, smelly, shaking, trains, replaced by smooth, clean, and fast ones. The award winning Talgo technology – whereby the train “swings” in the turns allowing for a speedier, smoother ride now run on the high speed train rails. While not technically high speed, they do run quite fast. Making the Madrid to Granada trip in four hours where before eight would have been normal!

I love trains. I love enjoying the view while reading, listening to music or enjoying a nice cup of coffee. I love seeing the changes in the countryside as we speed along: now vines, now olive trees, now hills and rocky ridges. Tired and lazy I jumped into a cab for the five minute ride to the hotel. Right downtown, next to the beautiful Renaissance cathedral and the old Moorish town. The hotel, a 1920’s tile covered building has an old indoor patio.

I met up for dinner with Catherine Keller, a dear old student from my Walnut Hill days who is spending her summer in Granada with her Fordham University program. We went to the classic old Café Sevilla where we enjoyed great tapas and raciones – sharing plates. Including salmorejo (a concentrated type of gazpacho), and caracoles – snails!

Saturday morning, after a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, I hit the used book stores in the old part of town, and… Bingo! I found a trove of books that I needed for my reading list for my Ph.D. exam next Spring. The morning flew by while my bag grew heavier with books. Lunch was – as it should be – a leisurely affair, including, after coffee, a nice cigar and a Tanqueray Tonic while I continued reading my dear Fray Gerundioˡ. After a siesta it was time for vespers, as I knew I would not have time for mass on Sunday. I showed up at the beautiful Santa Ana church a while before mass, only to find that a wedding was finishing. It was all very beautiful, they had hired a four horse carriage, and the flowers in the church were delightful.

For dinner I met up with Catherine and Jenny – who I had seen in Madrid a few weeks ago, but was visiting Granada with her Mount Holyoke program from Valencia. So we had a mini Walnut Hill, 2010 Spain trip reunion with a lot of laughs.

Sunday morning, refreshed from my visit to old Granada, and with my bag a few pounds heavier, I jumped on the train back to Madrid.