Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room…

…is a Dwight Yoakum Song.  Not one of my favorites but it has a catchy title.

Well, we’ve come full circle.  I AM alone in a hotel room in Madrid ready to catch my early flight back to the world.  There is a wedding reception going on outside my window and they apparently hired a flamenco band.  We’ll see how much sleep I get.  Toledo decided to have one of it’s city-wide parties last night and set up a stage with a I-don’t-know-what-you-call-that-music band blasting away into the wee hours.  I guess I will sleep when I get home.  My yard needs mowing, my dog needs walking and my wife, well I am looking forward to being where I really belong.  But HEY! What a blast, huh?

As the program picked up momentum my students and I all had many adjustments to make and I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to write more.  There was plenty of inspiration.  I will be rearranging this blog to make it more accessible to someone who might be thinking of studying in Toledo in the future and I will be adding a small assortment of the 2500+ pictures I have in the coming weeks.  So check back.  You or someone you love may become famous given the HUUuuuuge popularity of my ramblings.  I have posted some pix from the night after everyone left.  It was weird walking around a town which was celebrating the 30th anniversary of being named a World Heritage Site and not running into someone I know.  I remember the first time when I just couldn’t stand it any longer and snuck across Zocodover to McDonalds and didn’t WANT to run into anyone I know and be busted for cheating on the cultural immersion thing.  Sometimes you just NEED a french fry.

My hope is that everyone who came had half the great experience I had.  If so, then we shall put this one down in the success column.  From my perspective, the students changed a lot in a relatively short amount of time.  Quite a few of them have become some pretty impressive Spanish speakers and all are way ahead of where they were.  It was a hoot when we were somewhere with a guide who didn’t know us who would start to explain Mudejar architecture versus Gothic and the students would make it clear that their time was being wasted, they probably knew more than the guide thanks to Profesor David Calvo.  Or the time the guy pronounced “aljibe” not to the satisfaction of the students who corrected the native speaker.  These people really grew into their new life as people with some serious skills and knowledge and the confidence to use them.

The confidence, that is what I am most impressed and satisfied by.  People were doing things as a matter of course that back in January they found seriously intimidating.  For fourteen weeks I have watched a group of people work their way through challenges that I am sure will return benefits throughout their lives. It was my privilege to be there.

I will close with a heartfelt “Thank you” to my students for sharing this part of your lives with me and wish you continued adventures for decades to come.  Now you have a better idea of what is possible.  Never lose that.  The world is a place where YOU get to decide how to make it work for you.  Also, remember the thousands of kindnesses that complete strangers offered us so freely and do the same for others when opportunities occur.  There’s your real Final Exam.  Make this all mean something!

With Love and Great Respect,


It’s the Great Sardine Charlie Brown!

Every year since I’ve been teaching at Ohio University, students will ask me if I am going to celebrate Halloween with them on Court Street.  The answer is always “No!”.  “No way, not a chance, are you kidding me?, when monkeys fly out of my…”, you get the picture.  Invariably there are hurt feelings because I have such a low opinion of what for many will be the culminating social event of their life.  I try to explain, they always insist that I explain, and to soften the blow I say something to the effect of “I have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans…, I have been to the World Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, (¡Viva Terlingua!, by the way), …AND I have been to the State Fair of Texas, the largest State Fair on the planet.”  I just never thought that wading through hundreds of drunk students puking and being arrested had much appeal.  No matter how good an answer I think mine is, it is never enough.  Well, NEXT YEAR, I get to say, I’ve done Carnaval in Toledo!  This ought to shut anybody up.  Until you have been part of a parade of hundreds of people squeezed into narrow streets along with marching bands, drum corps, people wearing mourning clothes wailing at the top of their lungs and everybody, EVERYBODY, following a big sardine for two hours and several miles until reaching the river and laying the sardine to its eternal rest, accompanied by one of the best fireworks shows I’ve seen and immediately followed by a live merengue band, free roasted sardines for everybody (regular sized ones) and cheap beer, well, you just haven’t lived. Sorry Athens: Halloween, Palmer Fest,  etc. just can’t compete (and that’s okay).  I could fill a book on what I like about Athens but the various alcohol-fueled adolescent rites of passage won’t be in it.



Just as an aside, I’ve injured my wrist and forearm and have been unable to write and type.  It will still be a few days before my fingers are back in full swing so please accept this very short installment on the tons of things which have been going on since last I wrote.  In addition to the picture above, I will post some more galleries to the right in the next little while.

Y’all, A’tall and the Southern Drawl

A’tall: (a form of “relaxed pronunciation” a linguistic term), regional variation on the standard English “at all”.  Ex: “That just don’t make a lick of sense.  It just don’t make no sense a’tall.”  –Tommy Lee Jones as Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow Call, Lonesome Dove, 1984.

Emily writes in her blog of the frustrating experience, despite speaking perfectly good Spanish, of a waiter or clerk recognizing that you’re “not from around here” and switching to their usually pretty minimal English.  We’ve all had this experience and, for the less confident, it comes across as at best patronizing, and at worst, a criticism of our Spanish.  Really it happens mostly with people in the service industry, waiters, store clerks, etc. who are only trying to be helpful thinking us to be someone who has memorized a couple of phrases and are in over our heads (the great majority of Americans abroad).  I can’t tell you how many times I have had this experience and in every case my Spanish is a lot better than their English.  But they persist.  It is even comical sometimes when I refuse to switch to English and most will then accept this and revert back to their native tongue.  The other day I was transacting with a guy who refused and kept on with his English, which was not good a’tall (see above), and I kept on in Spanish.  As Emily points out, it is not that we are making horrible mistakes.  It is our accent.  Period.  Until one has spent a really long time in-country, one’s accent will give him or her away every time.  There are other things like the routine interjections we make all the time.  Spaniards are always saying vale (Vah-lay).  Vale this, vale that, and vale the other.  It can mean “yes”, “okay”, “understand?” “all-righty then”, “I’m out of here”, “later (as in see you ~)”, and a few dozen other things we insert into our conversations as afterthoughts or sentence-enders.

So yesterday we all met with a group of beginning and intermediate English students, Spaniards and one Ukranian, and purposefully subjected ourselves to what is frustrating out on the street but a lot of fun when intended.  They spoke their English and we helped them out as needed and we spoke Spanish and got the occasional advice.  Like all parties where you have two groups who have never met, it was awkward for the first few minutes, but, with Leticia’s expertise in getting people talking, it turned out to be a lot of fun, instructive for all, and we’re going to meet again next Tuesday!  That’s not just the teacher’s idea but every one of our people that I spoke with today confirmed their enjoyment and desire to continue.  Before it was over many were exchanging their Facebook pages and whatever else they keep on their cell phones.

I got called over to one group who had told their conversation partners I-don’t-know-what about me and was asked to speak English so these people could hear my “southern” accent.  It’s a Texas accent, a point of pride, but I played along and started out with a good, “Howdy y’all.  Hower yooo dooin?  I was a fixin to talk to them folks over yonder but…” well, you get the idea.  After my little joke I spoke “normally” and then asked the Spaniards if they could hear the difference.  They were gracious and said “a little” but I’m not so sure.  It was an interesting idea but I doubt my students are able to discern a whole lot about the different Spanish accents they are hearing.  After many years of doing this, I can usually, USUALLY, distinguish between Spaniards, Mexicans, Argentines, and people from the Caribbean but that’s about it.  My native-speaker colleagues can nail a Spanish accent from just about anywhere but they’ve spent a lifetime learning the nuances just as we native English speakers have with southern, western, heartland, British, Australian, and other distinct accents and rhythmic variations on English.

The picture above features Anna “at work”.  I had a request some weeks back for a picture of her actually cracking a textbook and this is as close as I’ve come so far.  I am assured, however, that she IS working hard doing what she came to do as is everybody else.  We’re just really good at making it look so easy and fun!  There are a few more pictures in a gallery to the side.  Click on the first one to get an enlarged slideshow of the collection.

Tonight we go on our first nighttime tour with the theme of “Toledo misterioso”.  I put another gallery below the first that has some pictures of some of the streets we will be walking.  It has rained some this morning and is supposed to rain and drizzle a little more late afternoon.  With all the streets wet and shiny, lit by antique streetlights spaced pretty far apart, this should be a lot of fun and the perfect atmosphere for some good ghost stories.  A city with hundreds and hundreds of structures built by Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and then medieval Christians has just got to have a couple of ghosts about.  Let’s see what we can scare up!  (Now that WAS a pun!  See previous blog.)

If you really would like a quick link at a previous blog, pardon my conceit, you can go there quickly using my Table of Contents in the right margin cleverly entitled “Alternative Facts”  (hee hee).

On Democracy, Art, and the Herding of Cats

Better than a thousand hollow words is one that brings peace. – Buddha, 4th-5th century BC from somewhere in eastern India, probably. (Insightful)

Brevity is the soul of wit. – William Shakespeare, late 16th century(ish) from London, maybe. (Instructive)

Hey!!!! – Keith Woodall, 28 January, 2017, yelled at the top of his lungs from the middle of a large crowd in the Museum District, Madrid, Spain.  (Not really appreciated much by dozens of startled people)

The plan, the one that worked so well until it didn’t, was that our guide, Professor María Natividad Simal Ávila, (Nati, thankfully), would lead everyone through the busy streets of the nation’s capital. Hannah Grace would float around in the middle, and I would bring up the rear keeping everyone together and moving.  On cattle drives they call this “riding-” or “pulling drag” and it’s the job they always give to the new guy. Behind any herd of cattle there is always a lot of dust and, you know, aroma.  Besides, it’s always more fun being up front.  This plan took us past monuments and palaces, intersections and roundabouts, one protest demonstration, one awesome string quintet, and a thousand interesting shops and delicacies.  It came up short toward the end of our day when we left the museum and headed for our reservation at a restaurant about half a mile away.

So anyways, everybody…, well almost, …were all seated and impatiently waiting to be served while Nati and I went back to the Gran Vía, really cool boulevard, with Maggie and her cell-phone link to our two strays (more trail drive lingo, I have a theme).  One person had stopped to buy some art from a street artist (this is the critical moment I missed) and another …, well, I don’t know why she stopped, but anyways, here is where the great plan began to unravel.  Apparently, the artist, wanting to give those who appreciate his art more value for their euro, insisted on personalizing said art for the client, thus throwing off the quite logical “great plan” of the client to keep the group in sight during what surely wouldn’t take that long. Except that it did.  Okay, fast-forwarding to the point where we had figured out how to untangle this thing, it got more complicated because Maggie and the person on the other end of the cell connection were convinced that the problem was resolved (it wasn’t) because they could both see the “water” and we must be near linking up.  THIS IS A REALLY LONG AVENUE WITH ONE OR TWO HISTORIC AND BREATHTAKING FOUNTAINS AT EVERY INTERSECTION!  Fill in the gaps in my story with whichever cartoon of Road Runner / Wile Coyote or Three Stooges episode you liked best.  It all worked out fine in the end and everybody kept their sense of humor.  Well not the ones already seated at tables wanting to eat, but, as they say in the third grade, “Too bad, so sad!”.  Oh and there were a few grumpy types who apparently take offense at some guy yelling “hey” and jumping up and down waving a black spiral notebook in the air.  Go figure.

Cherita King, back at Global Opportunities at Ohio University, had forwarded me information the night before about a protest march that was scheduled to occur at about the halfway point of our planned route.  Some people had recently been given prison sentences for their role in a protest three years ago where some were injured. There are many who believe their sentences unjust.  Nati and I worked out an alternate route for us that would take us away from the march given that the US embassy was advising all Americans to avoid the area (this is routine for any protest).  If this sounds scary just think about what takes place in Washington, D.C. on any given day.  That’s all it was, a healthy democracy going about the work of respecting the right of freedom of expression.  The march got started late apparently and we wound up skirting the tail end of it.  Nati took our group in another direction while I “supervised” the journalists in our group who managed to slow their pace enough to get a few pictures.  It was all very orderly, both the march and our group, and our new path steered us right to an ice cream parlor where we wore out the wrist on the scooping hand of the poor lady who doesn’t usually have 31 people show up at the same time (not a pun, there really were 31 of us and this was not some lame attempt on my part to evoke 31 flavors)!  The biggest problem I had from the protest detour was getting the students to quit asking for the free samples of all the exotic flavors.  Places to be, things to do!

Okay, that’s the “herd of cats” thing and the “democracy” thing.  Needing to wrap this up I’ll just say this about the Prado: Wow!  What can one say about a beautiful palace the length of a city block and two stories high, filled with some of the most powerful, beautiful, inspirational, stirring, impassioned, soul-wrenching and soul-enriching works ever created by human hands?  Wow! Actually, I don’t really like that word in this context, it sounds coarse and inadequate, but, for the life of me, I can’t think of one that expresses what I feel.  I’m going back to spend more time before I leave and I heard others in the group say the same.

The picture above doesn’t really need any explanation except to mention that I have a picture of me sitting in the exact same place in 1995.  In that older version I am alone and smiling, very content with myself and the moment. It was my first trip to Europe.  For me, this new version will be about my “return to the scene of the crime” only this time with a tired and merry band of travelers.  Way cool!

If you look closely at their hands you can see that we had just passed a Starbucks.  You can take them off the farm but…

P.S.  Look at their hands again.  Which one is holding anything that might be “art”?  I’m not naming names!  You know what they say, “What happens in Madrid…”.

Bucket Lists

Well I didn’t win the lottery before we came but, if I had, I was going to 1) upgrade my camera equipment, and 2) upgrade to first class on the flight.  I probably had a few other ideas but I forget.  In any case I hope you will forgive me the quality of some of the pictures posted at the bottom of the page (Not that photos can come close to being there.  If you don’t believe me just google the Cathedral and see if the professionals have done much better).  Cathedrals are solemn places and lit accordingly.  I wanted more people pictures but the low light and long shutter speeds left me with a bunch of blurry people.  Students are very bad about moving around too much except when they are falling asleep during class.  Hopefully the pictures will give you an idea of our visit to the Cathedral.  Our guide was Professor David Calvo from the University here who is teaching one of our classes.  Everybody seems to like him a lot and I have to say that from my perspective he is a very good teacher.  He knows how to keep the students focused, strike just the right balance between a lot of interesting detail and too much detail, all the while speaking Spanish and asking questions in a way that everyone is able to follow him.

We were there a couple of hours at the end of the day and STILL didn’t have time to climb the tower.  Doing that and flying first class will just have to remain on my bucket list.  Kylie was bummed out because they wouldn’t let her go down into the catacombs.  Guess she gets to start her own bucket list but, when I was last in the Cathedral in Granada, you could climb down into the most interesting “basement” I have ever seen.  Hint: It’s where they bury all the Cardinals, Archbishops and the occasional Saint.  We’ll do that in March!

A longboat of screaming Vikings, …

…. swinging their axes and hurling great stones, would have a long day trying to get through my front door.  It’s 3 ½ inches of solid wood with a steel bolt that extends four inches into a steel clasp.  I wish I had one of these at home.  If everyone had a door like this there would be much less crime.  Not that I’ve seen any evidence of crime here.  The professors at the University joke that this is a city of old people and they don’t have the energy for such.  Whatever the reason, it’s a good place to bring people to study.  I met a nice woman while walking to work this morning who needed directions to exactly where I was going.  I get asked directions once or twice a day and usually know where to find what they’re looking for but describing how to get there in this crazy maze of streets is another thing.  I navigate by up or down.  If you can find a plaza, the wider view will include at least one tall bell tower, usually two or three, and you can tell which way you need to go if you’ve been paying attention to the varied architecture.  As we walked the hill she told me about where she lives, Estremadura the land of the conquistadores,  and insisted I not leave Spain without seeing the most beautiful valley in the world.  I’m sold!  She seemed like she knew her valleys.

I traveled through Estremadura once, not the north where her valley is, but the other part.  It reminded me of West Texas with its mountains and dry, rolling grasslands.  Where Texas would have barbed-wire fences, Estremadura had stone walls hugging the curves of the hills.  It is the only place I’ve ever been where we had to stop the car and let a flock of sheep go by.  Another time, …maybe.

Tomorrow we go on a guided tour of the great Cathedral and what used to be a mosque before the Reconquista.  I’m looking forward to watching the faces of those students who have never been in a European Cathedral when they step through the door.  There is just no way of describing the sensation of standing in such a huge and tall indoor space whose very architecture guides your eyes ever upward.  I extracted a promise from the professor who is taking us that we will make time to climb the great towers (those who want to —-ME!).  This weekend we take our first trip to Madrid where we will visit the Royal Palace of the current Monarchs, the main plaza, and the Prado, one of the premier art museums of the world.

Oh yeah, I took the picture above sneaking into the bull-fighting arena.  There were two men working in there and they left a door open.  They yelled something at me and I waved, took a couple of pictures and skittered out.

Speaking of yelling, I was leaving one of the University cafeterias today after a meeting and could hear someone yelling in the plaza and a decent crowd yelling back.  It all sounded a little revolutionary so I peeked around the corner and there was a crowd assembled in a circle with a man in the middle exhorting them to action.  It would have been worrisome if not for the fact that the ringleader was dressed like someone out of the Bible and was waving a Shepard’s crook.  I recognized his words and the words of the crowd from a book I read in grad school about a little town that revolted against the injustices that the nobility were forcing on them.  Apparently, it was some drama group, street theater, but I wonder what the Chinese tourists thought of it all as they walked by.  They probably hadn’t read the book.  Some looked like they wished they were on the other side of a big thick door with a long steel bolt.

The Barcelona Four…

…are not in this picture.  The Barcelona Four decided to spend the weekend in, well, Barcelona.  An awesome idea!  Fantastic!  Outstanding in all respects but one!   They did not tell ME!  Barcelona is a marvelous city and about as far away as you can get from Toledo and still be in Spain.  I’m not going to micromanage these people, they are adults, but the University and their parents , especially their parents I’m pretty sure, like to think that I am keeping tabs on things. I’m not naming names, they know who they are, but forevermore they will be the Barcelona Four to me.

Long weekends are great, except when they’re not, so I  wanted to touch base with everyone today and make sure that all is well.  We all went to one of their hangouts and had a coffee and pastry and I got to hear some stories.  It was everything I needed to get a full night’s sleep tonight!  Almost everyone has at least one story about having to work themselves past a communication problem or some weird encounter in a restaurant or store.  I learned where you can get the “best hamburger in town” but, being from the land of THE best hamburgers in the WORLD, Texas, my jury is still out until I have one myself.  These hamburgers will get their day in court muy pronto.  Did you check out Mary’s shades in the picture?  Aren’t those great?!  If you click on the pictures you get a larger version.  That’s one of Spain’s military academies in the background.  On occasion there are some loud booming sounds coming from their general direction.  There’s also a guy in town who sets off what must be a pretty good firecracker when his teams score a goal.  He either has a lot of teams or his TEAM is very good!

Anyways, some couldn’t come for coffee and some came late because their host families were having other family and friends over and making a big deal about the day.  This is the best way to meet good people and get invited to see and do new things.  I’m happy that everyone else is happy and making friends and getting out and speaking lots of Spanish and are being taught many local customs by their families and a hundred things I was told over coffee.  What a great time!  Just so they show up in class Tuesday morning with their homework done and ready to do some work and EARN that college credit that costs so much.

I think I did a good job in choosing the group, even the Barcelona Four, and everything is looking up from my perspective.  I gave control of the Facebook page to Hannah Grace yesterday and she is setting it up so that the students will be posting a lot of their pictures there.  I’ll probably lose a big chunk of my audience to someone else doing a better job at my own web page.  It’s all good!  I will have more pictures and commentary here, as I go, so, for a comprehensive take on what we are up to, check in on both from time to time as well as the other blogs.  I have yet another good one I want to link to but, again, there is some technical issue and my IT department has been slow to respond.  It may have something to do with having a two month old, first baby ruling the roost so I’ll just be patient.  In the meantime you might check out what Lucas Reilly has been up to at:


He is about to graduate with a degree in photojournalism, if I decide to pass him in his classes here :), and has good stuff.

The Barcelona Four are currently on the bus back and I’m pretty sure we’ll have some new adventures to talk about in a day or two.

Not My First Rodeo

What an awesome walk to “work” this morning!  Up and down narrow, cobble-stoned streets with the Cathedral’s bells ringing and all the doves cooing from the balconies and rooftops.  I’m pretty sure they are pigeons but after a long discussion with the ESTO director, well, she used the Spanish word for dove and I explained about my ideas of pigeons versus doves but she wouldn’t be swayed.  Why is it there is never a good ornithologist around when you need one?  Whatever the heck they are, they really added to the morning.  The sun was just coming up and golden against all the stone buildings and, …and I don’t know.  The morning just seemed custom made for a great beginning.

Being “not my first rodeo”, I understood a little better than some of the students that I was only half-sure of where I was supposed to be and left early enough to feel my way around the buildings where the majority of classrooms are.  The University bought up several blocks of centuries-old churches, a monastery and a convent and restored them into a beautiful, interconnected complex of patios, classrooms, the main library and I don’t know what else.  The photo above is of all of us with Dr. Juana María Blanco Fernandez, the Director of Academics, in front of my very first classroom in Spain (the door on the right).  A couple of people got there late this morning, I guess this WAS their first rodeo, and someone would get an “I’m lost” text and someone would go out and find them.  It all worked out just fine.  I have grilled a lot of the students and have been told some stories.  Yesterday had many thinking themselves lost at some point in their wanderings, a couple of people were “locked-out” of their homes (really just one of those tricky-lock things) and, I don’t know if one student even knows this, but his “mom” got worried that he hadn’t made it home at some point and was already calling Leticia at home before sending out the cavalry to find him.  Leticia says it really wasn’t that late but the host families sometimes over-worry, especially on the first day.  I’m not going to rat out the offenders.  Nobody did anything that isn’t expected as we get settled.  When I studied abroad in Mexico a hundred years ago, I had one of those tricky-lock moments.  It was aggravated by the fact that across the street was a bus stop full of waiting people having a good time watching the gringo who couldn’t even open his own front door.  It’s hard to preserve one’s Joe Cool image in these situations.

I think we’re off to a good start!

The best laid plans…

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley – Robert Burns 1785

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – Charles Dickens 1859

I’ve got a little black book with my poems in.
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb in.
When I’m a good dog, they sometimes throw me a bone in. – Pink Floyd 1979

So while I was last writing about metaphorical storms, real storms were headed for the same airports as the students.  It was a long day but now everyone is where they’re supposed to be and classes begin in a few hours.  The flight I most expected to be delayed, Chicago, got here right on time.  Almost everyone else got here late.  There was nothing to do but sit or stand next to the exit and scan every face that came through the door.  Finally, after almost four hours of waiting, Mara, Emma and Helena came rolling through with their big luggage and tired smiles.  It was, for me, a lot of fun to see my people finally begin to arrive and describe their ordeals in Spanish.  Maggie, from the Chicago flight, slipped through while we were yukking it up and, according to her, looked at a hundred bald guys before she finally saw my bald head walking by.  She cracks me up!  How she knows that I won’t freak out and give her an F on everything, I don’t know.  I need to start wearing ties or something.

After collecting everybody from Terminal 4 that was going to be there for a while, we went to Terminal 1 and found that bunch standing under a big “Lost and Found” sign.  You just can’t plan something so perfect!  Someone in the group has a good sense of irony.  I hope someone got a picture.

Somewhere around 10 or 11 we had all but two.  Chris was on the plane with the longest delay and Kylie got to Lisbon too late for her connection and spent the day waiting in line for a different flight to Madrid.  She did a good job of it but I had to cut the bus loose to get everybody else to Toledo, to their families, and something to eat.  So I wandered around, slept some and read some for a few more hours until finally Kylie came through the door grinning and we took the train back.  It was a really long and anxious day until we got to Toledo and, consulting a list I had, we took a taxi from the train station to her family’s house.  There was a typo in the address and we had to guess at which button to push and while I was having a strange conversation with some poor woman who answered her intercom, “dad” and “sis” came walking up behind us.  They were waiting for us at the train station but we didn’t know that and they didn’t know what we looked like.

But anyways, what a great family!  They were super nice to Kylie and invited me to have dinner with them.  While mom was preparing dinner, dad took us in his car on a tour of Toledo where you get some really nice views like the one attached to this article.  I think that Toledo at night is the prettiest city I’ve ever seen.  No exaggeration.  Beautiful!  He took us to an old restored inn, a tapas bar now, with a roaring fire and really, really good olives.  We had something to drink, nice conversation and then went home to a real meal and more getting to know each other.  Good people!  Good food!  A really nice way to end a pretty stressful day.  It was great watching Kylie use her Spanish in her new home and I also enjoyed spending time with her all the way back to Toledo.

I hope that circumstances allow me to get to know my students better than I usually do on campus.  Months ago when I was interviewing candidates for the program, I allowed time for each student to ask me anything they wanted.  One of my questions to each of them had been “What one thing about the program interests you most?”  When I asked Mara if she had any questions for me, she returned my own question and caught me by surprise.  It is a complicated answer about wanting to work on something important to my sense of why I became a teacher in the first place.  In short, it is something personal and hard to explain in a few words.  As frustrating, tiring, and just plain long as today was, it is days like today that I’m looking for from the program.  Not the waiting part but the being in the right place at the right time when, out of the blue, something really special happens part.  As Pink Floyd says, sometimes life throws you a bone!

We’ll see what happens today when classes begin.

The Calm Before the Storm

I’m done with airports and trains for a while. I have a few things in the fridge, my clothes are in the closet and Willie is singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (from my laptop, I’m pretty sure he is nowhere near here). This has been one long day getting settled into my apartment in Toledo (the one in Spain) and right now is one of those moments that never last long enough. Thirteen months of ups and downs, 600+ hours of work, writing and answering 1500 e-mails, filling out forms and going to workshops and attending meetings on this, that and the other. Indulge me patting myself on the back and feeling pretty good right now. Tonight I sleep with a sense of satisfaction and peace that is way too rare. I can sleep-in tomorrow, go down the block to one of a dozen cafes and read the paper, drink a very good coffee and watch a Saturday morning unfold in a very special place.
The calm before the storm.
Tomorrow night I go back to Madrid and find a hotel near the airport so that I can get up with before the chickens to be standing at the gate when the first of twenty eight of my students comes off the planes.  They will be arriving on nine different airplanes arriving at three different terminals from 6:00 a.m until 8:45. Somehow I’ll get all of them and their luggage on the same bus with Hannah Grace and Leticia from the University here.  From there we will all go to Toledo, passing into the walled city through gates built centuries ago to keep out some very determined armies. In a medieval building on a narrow, cobble-stoned street, everyone will be met by their families and taken to their new home away from home to begin what should be the one semester of their academic career that they will most remember for the rest of their lives.

I like my apartment.  It has everything I need and many modern renovations.  I am fascinated that the structure was built in the 16th century.  I have exposed ceiling beams that were hand-carved and placed there some 500 years ago by people who could have never conceived  of some guy from across the ocean sitting beneath their work and communicating to potentially anyone on the planet with a little machine. I doubt they understood much about the idea of a planet (or an ocean).  I’ve read that in medieval times most Europeans never wandered more than five miles from their home.  I wonder though, when they were done with their work, if they had the time to pause for a moment and feel this good about all they had built.  If so, what was the storm after their calm?  There’s always more work to be done, the next step to be taken.  I doubt that they were as excited as I am about the next day’s labors.  And the next, and the next…
The calm of this evening is really, really nice but, by tomorrow evening, I will be ready for the real work to begin!  Let’s see what develops.