Posts Tagged ‘UNC Chapel Hill’

April 23rd marked the 400 anniversary of Cervantes’ death. UNC had two great events to celebrate, and as a Cervantes and Quixote fan I am very happy and proud to have participated in both.

The 22nd Annual Carolina Conference for Romance Studies hosted the “I Am Quixote Festival” panel… and I was asked to be the chair! Needless to say, I was thrilled to be asked and I jumped at the opportunity.

Given the importance of this 400 anniversary the conference room was packed, and the panel was filmed. The panelists were Alexandra Veronica Combs from UNC-Wilmington who presented on “The Heroines of the Quixote who Challenged Narrative Structures”, our own Colleen McAlister, who presented on “Violence and Fame in the Quijote: Corporeal Manifestations of the Search for Identity”, and finally, University of Texas at San Antonio professor Santiago Daydí-Tolson, presenting on “The Contrasting Diets of Don Quixote and Sancho”. They were all awesome and great sports to boot. I must confess I was as proud as a schoolboy when my Dissertation Director, Irene, came to the event. In case things got out of hand, I picked up a copy of the Riquer edition of the Quijote.

One of the main responsibilities of a panel chair is keeping the panelists from exceeding the time limits. This is always a delicate matter that can – if the panelist ignores the time limits – result in awkward situations. The problem is that it is also difficult for the chair to elegantly interrupt the panelist to let them know that they are running long. Of course part of the problem with this is the culture of these events where the panelists just sit there and read their papers, it would be much more interesting and fun if they just talked about their research! But that is not something I am going to change regardless of how wildly popular my blog is. I thought long and hard about how I was going to deal with my panelists if they ran long. The solution came from football (soccer if you are American). I bought a yellow and a red piece of paper and cut them down to card size. The first warning when the panelist was approaching the time limit I would slide the yellow card under their noses, sorry, eyes. If they still kept going, We would pull the red card, just like in football!! Fortunately, or unfortunately my panelists stayed well within their allotted time and I didn’t have to use my revolutionary new technique.

The second event was a marathon reading of Don Quixote. For this event my whole class signed up to read (ok, I bribed them with a free class period – but it was well worth it – and they all read in Spanish, in front of an audience). You can see them all read on the attached video, my bit is at 5:08:50. For this event I sourced a real suit of armor from a great theater costume shop in Raleigh and wore bits and pieces as Don Quixote, it was a great way to promote the event and it was a lot fun. As luck would have it I read the hilarious bit where Sancho is tossed in a blanket at an inn while his master looks on from outside the inn’s wall. I was – as I always am – reminded of how funny, brilliant, clever and well written this book is, and how fresh it remains at 400 years old.

Now, if you have not done so already, go read Don Quixote, the first modern novel, it makes a great summer read, extra points if you read it in Spanish.

Don Quixote Marathon reading at UNC


Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait VI (1953)

In my four years in Chapel Hill, I have mentioned it in passing and I have written about my girlfriend Melanie de Forbin-Gardanne by Jean-Louis Le Barbier but I have not dedicated a blog entry to one of my favorite spots. The Ackland Art Museum. That needs to change.


My Sunday morning ritual

I discovered the Ackland in 2012 when I went to visit UNC during my Spring break from BB&N. I remember walking upstairs and coming face to face with some Goya prints from the Caprichos series. My mind was blown. Those prints let me know that Chapel Hill might look like a southern college town, but that it has some cultural weight. It was a deciding factor in my going to UNC.


El sueño de la razón produce monstruos. Goya

Once school started, I discovered that walking home after Sunday mass I passed the museum. My Sunday morning routine was set: church, coffee and reading across the street at the beautiful Carolina Inn, and then walk to the museum, walk around and sit and read with Melanie. I know I am going to miss my Sundays in Chapel Hill.


My girlfriend for the last four years, I’m gonna miss you Melanie!

This year was a bit special, the museum had an exchange loan with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and we had Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait VI, based on Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X. It was a pleasure to enjoy it all year long. The painting reminded me of Pierre Boulez sur incises that the Ensemble Intercontemporain performed at Memorial Hall. The piece is one, total and complete, but you have to use your imagination to “fill in the blanks”. The blurriness of the Bacon painting is also very tactile, like it was smudged. Another thought on the painting is that it is the real portrait of Pope Innocent X, it is what Velazquez would have painted if he could really represent the guy he was painting: a shifty, double faced, shrewd politician, a warmonger pope with a mistress – that might be why Bacon paints his own bedframe in the background of the painting.

For four years I have taken all my classes to the museum. We see the Spanish and Hispanic art (Picasso, Carducho, the Goyas, one of Korda’s original Che prints, etc.), I also took my French class when I taught French, and there is a wealth of French artists in the Ackland. When I was my Dissertation director’s Graduate Research Assistant for her 18th C. literature class I organized a class at the museum, and they set up some of those Goya prints in a special classroom they have. It was a great experience.


Picasso print

After four years, I got to know the staff, the security personnel, the student employees, they could not be a nicer group of people! Professional, attentive, kind, funny, just great. I have always been a fan of the smaller, more intimate museums like the Sorolla or the Lazaro Galdiano in Madrid, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston or the Frick in New York, so now the Ackland joins that list!

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During my four years at UNC I have taught a great bunch of students, Carolina’s finest indeed. Every single one of them had a great talent: I have finally understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, thanks to a student who made a presentation on it – in Spanish! I have taught students that had full time jobs, students that were in every kind of club and activity imaginable. And I have taught many athletes: Rowers, Soccer players, Track and Field stars, Baseball players, female Rugby players, Swimmers, Football players – it is very rewarding when star wide receiver Mack Hollins stops you (not the other way around) on Franklin Street to say hi and catch up! -, and Softball players.

I taught a few Softball players my first year at UNC, and those girls probably told other incoming players, so throughout my four years I’ve had a few take Spanish with me. Walking across campus one day this Spring, I bumped into Lauren Fuller and Erin Satterfield, those girls are like sisters, and they asked me if I would – as their favorite teacher – throw the first pitch in the senior recognition game.

Confession time, I have never played, never mind pitch softball, so I watched a few Youtube tutorial videos, those girls are good. Then on March 25 I rode Rocinante down to the softball stadium. Those girls think of everything, I even had a parking spot reserved with my name on it!

All the seniors’ favorite teachers pitched at the same time. It was very nice, even a bit emotional, which would be a nice excuse to explain why my ball is now one of the moons of Jupiter, that’s how high I sent it. After that, I stayed to watch the game against Florida State. Although I do not know the rules, it was very exciting to see all my students play. What an honor to have been a small part of their Carolina experience and to be so generously rewarded!

It has been nine months since my last entry. In my defense, it has been a crazy year. I am at Miami International Airport and this is the first chance I have to write, it feels good.

You see, I was busy finishing and defending my doctoral dissertation, which was a very difficult but rewarding process.

As soon as classes started in the Fall I was having my twice weekly coffee with Irene, my director, to finish and fine tune each chapter. At the same time I was teaching two classes: Advanced Intermediate 204, a new class for me, and Intermediate 203, my “standard” class. Oh, and I had to write an academic article if I wanted to have any chance of applying for a university job. On top of all that I had to prepare my job search, but those items will have their own blog entries.

The work only got more intense in the spring. I was assigned an extra class from the regular Spring load of one section, this one teaching Advanced Spanish at the Gillings School of Public Health. I had to give up my volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as cutting down on the number of concerts and plays I went to (although I did not totally give that up).

April was when the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road. Finishing and editing my dissertation and going to job interviews. Spring Break was anything but break, driving to Charlotte and flying to Florida for job interviews.

But everything came to a head on April 8. That morning I spent two and a half hours locked up in a conference room with four of the professors on my committee, and Ana Rueda from the University of Kentucky looming over all of us, Skyping in on the massive screen, like a science fiction overlord, only much nicer and sweeter! I also had like ten spectators: old students, friends, including Mandey from Zog’s, my friendly librarians Teresa and Becky, and colleagues that came to give me moral support. Poor things, they had to endure my grilling session.

I passed. Walking out of the meeting, feeling exhilarated but exhausted and numb, I had a message on my phone. Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida – my top choice for work – had made me an offer while I was defending my dissertation. Coincidence? I think not.

After defending I thought things would slow down, wrong again. I still had to do edits on my dissertation, dress up as Don Quixote for a marathon reading celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death, chair a panel at our Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, teach and wrap up my four years in Carolina. My mom and my little sister came for my hooding ceremony and we had a blast. After that I moved to Florida and had only enough time to dump my boxes before heading back to Spain for my nephew’s First Communion, which explains why I am sitting at the airport now.

*with thanks to Murray Head from his song One Night in Bangkok

Snow in UNC

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Last week was very snowy in North Carolina, we had two days off due to the snow. Here is a pretty video of the campus in the snow. Fortunately it does not show people slipping or cars sliding. People in New England will laugh at this “dusting”, but we enjoyed it – and it allowed me to finish the first chapter of my dissertation, at least a rough draft. Enjoy.

For those of you not familiar with the oldest public university in the US, here is a short clip of what Autumn looks like (sorry its a bit late). PS: At minute 1:52 you can see, on the left, the grey spire of the church across the street from your Chapel Hill home. Enjoy!

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!



Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro

A young fighter

A young fighter

Bulls, friends, cigars

Bulls, friends, cigars