Cáceres

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 

We are back in Valencia after a six-day stay in Extremadura. We were in Cáceres for four of those days attending the Spanish National Magic Convention and after the event we spent two more days doing some sightseeing in the towns of Trujillo and Mérida. It was our first visit to this part of Spain and we were glad on many counts to have spent almost a week there.

We started our journey of Wednesday, June 18th. The easy part of the trip was the Valencia – Madrid link on the AVE. It took us less than ninety minutes to reach the Atocha Station. From there we took a cab to the Chamartín Station where we boarded the Intercity train that would take us to Cáceres. Unfortunately, when I made the reservations I did not notice that the first stop on this train was the Atocha Station. Lesson learned. The trip lasted four hours and by the time we got to the hotel it was a little after 8:00. We unpacked and then went in search of a bite to eat. We discovered a tapería across the street from the hotel and we headed there.

As we approached we spotted an old friend of ours, MagoMigue, at a table with a number of friends of his. They invited us to join them and we did. We shared a number of plates, all of which were delicious. Another old friend of ours, Ramón Ríos, joined us towards the end of the meal. It was good to catch up with old friends.

The convention started on Thursday with a couple of lectures in the morning that dealt with close-up card magic. We opted to make our way to the Palacio de Congresos where most of the other events were to take place and to pick up our credentials. We saw a number of old friends and then decided to walk to the site where the lectures were being held. A few blocks away we stopped at a bar called Al Andalus and sat down for some liquid refreshment. We discovered that this bar takes the idea of a free tapa with your drink to the extreme. Shortly after our drinks were delivered we were presented with an enormous plate filled with French fries and steak tips. Our bill came to 4 Euros. We then understood why this place was so popular with the locals and the visiting magicians.

Feeling energized and well nourished we made our way to the Complejo Cultural San Francisco where the lectures were taking place. In spite of being told that it was close by the Palacio it wasn’t and that was one of the reasons that we walked closed to 8 miles on that day. The lectures were just about over and so we decided to take a look at the historic building that had been turned into a cultural complex. The building was originally a monastery and the architecture was fascinating. It was also our first opportunity to see many of the stork nests that abound in Extremadura.

We took a cab back to the Palacio so that we could join our friends, Ramón and Carlos for lunch. We ended up at Al Andalus again and lunch was a series of free tapas and the one dish we actually ordered. After lunch we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up a bit before the evening’s gala began.

Our hotel was the Hotel Extremadura, a four star hotel that was about a fifteen minute walk away from the epicenter of magical activity. Our 75 Euro per day hotel room included a very generous breakfast buffet. The hotel itself is a bit tired and monochromatic with excessive amounts of wood paneling. That being said, the beds were comfortable, the AC worked and the shower provided copious amounts of hot water. The hotel’s personnel were all very attentive.

We left the hotel in time to walk to the Palacio for the first evening gala that began at 10:00. It featured a duo born in Spain who currently live in Belgium. Doble Mandoble has won a number of awards for comedy magic and comedy magic was indeed part of their 90-minute presentation. There were many elements of acrobatics and mime in their act. A rubber chicken had a prominent part in the show and was used as a running gag. I could have done with less chicken and more magic. After the show we had a light snack with our friends, Carmen and Antonio, and we did some magic for the staff and that was greatly appreciated.

Friday morning we decided to visit the casco antiguo of Cáceres. We made our way to the Plaza Mayor and did a bit of exploration. We had a charming lunch at an asador in the plaza and when we finished we made our way to the Palacio for the second half of the stage magic competition. As is true with most competitions the quality of magic that we saw was quite variable. We were there to see on of Valencia’s magicians, G Alexander, compete. He has a new manipulation act and, to be perfectly honest, it knocked my socks off. Unfortunately the judges did not agree with me and although he was awarded third place I think he deserved a better fate.

The gala Friday night was dedicated to close-up magic and there was a large projection screen in place so that all of us who were seated in the theater could have a close-up view of the proceedings. The magic was outstanding, but the format left something to desire. Close-up magic, as its name implies, is meant to be done close up. No matter how close the camera comes, it is the camera that is close up and not the spectator. Nonetheless, we saw some incredible card magic performed by Miguel Ajo, José Que Soy Yo, Miguel Gómez and Dani DaOrtiz. There was a show and lecture by Juan Tamariz at midnight, but to be perfectly honest, although my spirit wanted to be present my body had other thoughts. I gave into my body’s demands and went back to the hotel and went to bed.

On Saturday we made it to the Palacio in time for Jeff McBride’s lecture. Jeff has been an important part of magic for the last 30 years. I have seen him perform a number of times in a number of different venues and he always entertains his audience. He has his own club in Las Vegas called the Wunderground and he frequently invites other magicians to perform there. His lecture was quite informative and I learned a number of valuable things from his presentation.

We had a lovely lunch at Eustaquio Blanco and then made our way back to the Palacio to see a presentation by our good friend, Juan Gurrea. Juan is an award-winning magician who has appeared in every venue where magic can be presented, including the circus. He received a standing ovation from his audience and, as always, it was well deserved.

Before we knew it, it was time for the evening gala. It featured Amelie who did an acrobatic act. It seemed out of place and perhaps would have been more enjoyable had it been placed between the magic of Yunque and Jeff McBride. Yunque had just returned from a two-month tour of Chine and he is probably the magician with the highest energy level I have ever seen. He manufactures his own magic and his ideas are amazing. Jeff McBride closed the show and he killed. There was some of everything in his presentation and he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.

After the gala we all enjoyed a non-stop parade of appetizers and drinks that were the preamble to the dinner. There was an abundance of jamón ibérico, chorizo, salchichón, cheeses, and foie. I think we were almost sated when we made our way upstairs for the remainder of the dinner. The Spaniards at our table were able to finish everything that was set before us. Susan and I were only able to finish half of the main course. The dinner was followed by the award ceremony and by the time that ceremony ended it was 2:30 in the morning.

We slept in Sunday morning and then made our way to the bus station for a forty-five minute ride to the town of Trujillo, the home of Francisco Pizarro. Like many small towns in Spain the Plaza Mayor is the hub of activity and that is indeed the case for Trujillo. A number of Trujillo’s children had had their first communion that Sunday and there were celebratory groups at the many restaurants the bordered the plaza. We sat down at one of the terraces and had a drink and then proceeded to board the little tourist train that took us up the hill to the castle that dominates the town. We made our way down on foot and got to appreciate several other historical features of the town.

Monday we were at the train station in time for the 12:15 train to Mérida. Mérida was where Roman legionnaires went to retire and it abounds with remains of the Roman occupation. The jewel in the crown is the Roman amphitheater that accommodated 16,000 spectators. Next to it is the theater that hosts a summer drama festival. After visiting the complex we hopped on yet another tourist train to get an idea of the other treasures that Mérida housed including the remnants of an aqueduct. Lunch followed our train trip.

After lunch we headed down the hill and saw the Temple of Diana and several other Roman ruins. Susan observed correctly that rather than being confined to just one area of the city the vestiges of Rome are found throughout the city. We caught the 6:00 o’clock train back to Cáceres. We had a light supper and then went back to our room to pack our bags.

Our Tuesday train trip was uneventful. We got off the train at Atocha and it was a mere five-minute walk to the area where the AVE trains depart. We had a quick bite and then boarded the train to Valencia. We were back home a little before 4:00. It certainly was an event-filled week and we are glad that we decided to attend the convention and explore a bit.

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Czech This Out!

Monday, May 26, 2014

We are back in Valencia. We arrived Saturday around 6:00. Our routing was Prague to Munich and Munich to Valencia. Both flights were uneventful and, to my surprise, Lufthansa offered free snacks, sandwiches and beverages including wine and beer. Additionally, at the gates in Munich there were a number of coffee machines that offered a variety of choices including hot chocolate. That was also a free service.

Yesterday was a very nice day weather-wise and so we decided to explore the Parque de la Cabecera that is at one end of the Turia. The Valencian zoo, Bioparc, is a bit beyond the park, but we did not get that far. The park features an artificial lake where one can rent a boat and there are a number of green spaces were groups of people were enjoying a Sunday picnic. We stopped at the cafeteria that overlooks the lake and had several tapas. We got there and back home via the metro. The park is two stops and a ten-minute walk away.

Our visit to Prague was even more than we hoped it would be. All of our friends had told us that Prague was a must visit and they were right. We were fortunate to have good weather for most of our stay. When we arrived last Monday it was raining quite energetically, but it stopped by the time we had picked up our suitcases and exited the terminal. There are two cab companies located within the airport that offer transportation to town. They are both authorized by the local government and the charge a fair price for the journey. The same companies offer a 20% discount on the return fare.

We stayed at the Sheraton that is located in Charles Square. It is a modern hotel with all the amenities that one has come to expect from Sheraton. We were upgraded to a junior suite that was located between the second and third floor. There was a second suite next door and both suited were well separated from the rooms on the second and third floors. That meant that we heard almost no noise during our stay at the hotel. All personnel in the hotel spoke English, so communication was never a problem. English is widely spoken in Prague and there were only one or two occasions, when we were lost and looking for directions that we ran into people who did not speak English.

Charles Square was a good choice because it was equidistant between the old town and the river. It took a good twenty-minute walk to get to either and it meant that we would get in good mileage during our stay. All told we logged forty-two miles during our stay. In addition to exploring the city on foot, we took a city tour in an open car. Susan and I were the only passengers and, in addition to a tour of old town we also made it to Prague Castle. We also took a forty-five minute trip on one of the many boats that ply the river. We basically toured the inner basin of the river and that was fine with us.

The food options in Prague are diverse. In additional to traditional Czech cuisine there are no lack of Italian, French and Asian restaurants. Pizza is everywhere and at one point I would have sworn that there were more Italian restaurants in Prague than in Rome. We saw one or two burrito places, but no Mexican restaurants per se. There are no Spanish restaurants, although we did discover a store that featured Spanish products. There is a Bodeguita en Medio in Prague that specializes in Cuban food. There is a branch in Puerto Vallarta, as well as the original in Havana. America is well represented in terms of numbers rather than quality of cuisine. Many of the chains are there – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Hooters. Finding good wine is not problematic in upscale dining sites and the beer is legendary. Espresso is ever-present and that was good news especially in the morning.

Tourism was booming last week and we saw droves of people who came from all over. There were a number of Asian tour groups, and a goodly number of visitors from English speaking and Spanish speaking countries. I heard very little French in the spaces we frequented. There were a lot of college students. Old Town Square attracts multitudes that wish to see the Astronomical Clock and its tower that offers a 360-degree view of the city. The Jewish Quarter is relatively close by. There is a cluster of synagogues and museums that start with the New Old Synagogue and the other buildings are literally steps away. The Spanish Synagogue is about ten minutes away from the others and the Jerusalem Synagogue was in the opposite direction of where we were and we saved that visit for another day.

Prague’s Jewish population today numbers some seven thousand. Sixty thousand Jews died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps. Here is a link that will provide you with more information. http://www.kennesaw.edu/holocaustmemorials/terezin.shtml It should be noted that on the back of the ticket that admits you to the Jewish sites there are a number of icons that prohibit a number of things like pets, food, flash photography and those icons appear on the back of tickets to other tourist sites. However, there is one icon that appears only on the ticket of admission to the Jewish sites and that icon is NO GUNS. In some ways things have not changed very much.

The Charles Bridge sees thousands of tourists every day and the river way offers a number of places where one can rent a boat, take a cruise or simply dine and watch the world float by. The bridge and the river were perfect setting for photography and Susan took many daytime and nighttime shots. You will get to see some of them at the end of this post, as well as on Facebook.

The economy of Prague appears to be booming. As already noted, tourists abound. There is a great deal of construction going on both private and governmental. The public transportation system is excellent and is always crowded. There is a metro, as well as trams or streetcars, as I call them. One has to be wary of taxis because there are a number of gypsy cabs that charge exorbitant prices and you have no recourse except to pay those exorbitant prices. The good news is that there are other cabs that are regulated by the city and metered. We used AAA Taxis all of the time.

There is no lack of places to shop especially if you want a souvenir or Bavarian crystal. What impressed me were the number of bookstores including one called The Palace of Books that was two stories high and seemed to go on forever. Prague is a modern city that has everything today’s traveler might need. It is a city that will accommodate most any budget and one can spend as much or as little as he or she cares to. Prague is definitely on our return visit list, but the return visit will have to wait until we make it to some of the other cities on our list.

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Foxcroft Memories

Saturday, May 10, 2014

 

It really comes as no surprise that Foxcroft is on my mind. Given the fact that the school celebrated its 100th anniversary a few weeks ago and the daily posts from former students, my Foxcroft memories are alive and well. I have no doubt whatsoever that Foxcroft was a very important stop on my lifelong journey and, ironically, it was an experience that almost never happened.

In the spring of 1972 I was an instructor at Buffalo State teaching both Italian and Spanish. I was working on my Doctorate, but was a long ways away from finishing it given my involvement with students during what was the Vietnam era. I received a letter telling me that I was not to be granted tenure and that the main reason was my lack of a PhD and the abundance of candidates with one on the market. The academic year 1972-73 was to be my last one and in the course of that year I needed to find a new job.

Susan was teaching at Buffalo Seminary, a private all girls school that, in spite of its name, had no religious affiliation. Back then the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) published a list of vacancies. There were a number of opportunities at boarding schools, which was an unknown world to me. The process was at times puzzling because I would get a letter saying there was no vacancy and Susan would get a letter from the same school saying there was a vacancy. We finally figured out that the successful candidate would also serve as a dorm mother and that certainly left me out of the picture.

I had applied to Foxcroft in February and had heard nothing in return. The position was still open in April and I had heard nothing. Then came a phone call in May from Bob Leipheimer who was the Assistant Head back then. He invited us to come to Virginia and visit Foxcroft. We made our plane reservations and the following week we landed at Dulles.

I believe we stayed with my brother and sister-in-law who were living in Silver Spring. I still remember the drive to the school. We made use of the Dulles Access Road and did the turnaround when we got to the airport and took the first exit. We traveled along Route 50 where there was the occasional house and a Dart Drug Plaza. We found Route 626 and began the torturous drive up the hill until we arrived at the gates of Foxcroft.

We parked outside of Brick House and gave our name to the receptionist and were invited to wait in the sitting room until Bob Leipheimer would come and meet us. So there we sat in this very colonial and very formal sitting room. Susan and I looked at each other and exchanged glances that said that this was not the place for us. It was way too formal for who we were back then. Susan said, “I feel like I should be wearing white gloves.” We were quite uncomfortable, to say the least.

Our spirits brightened when we met Bob Leipheimer and he accompanies us to his office that was decorated with Danish Modern furniture. In the course of our discussion he explained that the reticence to get in touch with us had to do with the housing situation and not my qualifications for the job. The only available housing for the 1973-74 school year was Dillon Apartment, which was still in the process of construction. The school did not know if we would be willing to accept a two -bedroom apartment as our residence. It turned out to be a non-issue.

We later met with Alex Uhle, who was the Headmaster at that time. After a tour of the campus we met with Diana Dearth, who was the Chair of the Language Department and the last item on our agenda was a meeting with a student committee. I remember Carla Somoza asking me searching questions about my teaching methodology. At the end of the day we had a very good impression of Foxcroft and the feeling was mutual because shortly thereafter a contract came in the mail.

We arrived on campus in late August and moved into our new apartment. We actually lived in four different spaces on campus. After a year in Dillon Apartment we moved to Applegate Cottage. Our next move was to one of the two brick houses on the road to the dump, which we affectionately called the dump house. Our last move was to Lodge where we spent the last three of our ten Foxcroft years.

There was a number of new faculty that year, as you can see from the attached photo. Larry Achilles was still teaching English, Adelaide Winstead was teaching art, Frosty was teaching history and the Hems were teaching math and art history respectively. I was to teach four Spanish classes and Susan was contracted to teach one. That one class magically expanded to three once the school year began. In 1973 enrollment in French far outnumbered enrollment in Spanish, but that would change gradually until Spanish students outnumbered French students.

I enjoyed all my classes, but my favorite was the class in AP Spanish Literature. It gave me the chance to work with our native Spanish speakers and I think they enjoyed our frequent philosophical discussions as much as I did. In addition to the new experience of teaching at the high school level, I, like all other faculty members, became an advisor. I recall many lengthy discussions that were both serious and fun. Popcorn was the snack of choice for those visitors who frequented our home after study hall. Many of my students, advisees and acquaintances are Facebook friends today and, needless to say, I enjoy keeping up with the events in their lives.

Mini-Term was already in existence our first year and Mini-Term in France was one of the offerings. I remember offering a class in beginning guitar and I am sure I taught something else on the afternoons. At one point in time we were called into Bob Leipheimer’s office and he told us that Foxcroft wanted us to set up a Mini-Term in Spain program and that the school was going to send us to Spain, all expenses paid, to investigate possible locations for the program. That turned out to be one of many life-changing experiences for us courtesy of Foxcroft.

Susan and I had never been to Spain and if the school had not sent us I really have no idea when we would have made our first visit. I think that it is safe to say that if we had not made that first visit on the school’s dime and subsequent visits as chaperones for the a number of Foxcroft young women, we probably would not be living in Spain today. During that summer we paid a visit to Madrid, Zaragoza, Barcelona and Granada and decided that Madrid was the most logical site for the program and that there would be a travel component. That summer I met Alberto Sampere, the founder and director of the Estudio Internacional Sampere and for the past forty years the Estudio has always hosted student groups that I have led and the Sampere children and grandchildren have remained fast friends for all those years.

The first year at any new position is a year of adjustment. It takes a full year to begin to understand the rhythm of a workplace. I remember Mary Lou Leipheimer counseling me to take it a bit easy and not to volunteer so much because I would be totally exhausted before Thanksgiving. That certainly was not the last good piece of advice she gave me. With Mini-Term over and having had a refreshing Spring Break life was just humming along. All that was to change when Alex Uhle stood up at Morning Meeting, which was held in the Fox-Hound Auditorium then, and announced that the following year would be his last at Foxcroft. It was obvious that more changes were to come.

My sharpest memory of Alex Uhle’s last year was being called into his office because he needed to discuss something with me. I did a mental check trying to see if I could figure out what I had done wrong, but nothing came to mind. When the time came for our meeting, I must confess that I nervously walked into his office. After asking how I was doing, he asked, “Am I correct that you play a little tennis?” In truth I did, although I was not very good. I had been playing only a few years and had never had a lesson. When I answered in the affirmative he replied, “That’s good because I would like you to coach tennis this year.” I was not really in any position to say no and so in the spring of that year Lee Lockhart and I became good friends as he drove us hither and yon for a series of away matches.

According to Alex Uhle the tennis team had not had a winning season in a long time. I was sure that, with my lack of experience, I would see to it that the tradition continued. However, that was not to be. We had some very strong players that year all of whom had been playing for a number of years. In terms of stroke production, form and style there was really nothing that I could teach them. Where I thought I could help was making their mental game a bit more solid so that they could be very focused in hopes of causing their opponent to become less focused and less confident. I just did a drawer search for a photo of the team to help me remember names, but the photo has gotten lost in the shuffle.

I remember that a redhead named Stewart Chapman was our best singles player and some of her teammates were Pammy Washburn, Story Jones, Eleanor Rhangos and Jan Zaccanini. We played a total of 13 teams that year and we ended the season at home. Going into that match the team had a record of 5 and 6 with 1 tie. We had to wait until the last match was done and the good news was we won the match and the tennis team had one of its best seasons ever. And that was the first and last time I ever coached an athletic team.

Alex Uhle’s successor was Coit Johnson. It was Coit who moved Morning Meeting to the library Audrey Bruce Currier Library and that was a move that helped increase school spirit because now everyone could see everyone else and the feeling was different than sitting in a theater setting. A new year, a new boss meant that we were all in for a year of change. When Coit Johnson suffered a stroke the winds of change were to blow stronger than anyone had ever anticipated.

Bob Leipheimer was to take over as Acting Head and we were all asked to step up our game and do more than was expected of us so that things could run as smoothly as possible. It was about this time that I became the school’s liaison for the A Better Chance Program and the students they sent to Foxcroft. That afforded me the chance to get to know Jimmy Williams, as well as the chance to get to know some very exceptional women of color. Every single one of them earned my admiration for not only surviving, but also thriving in a setting that was nothing like all their previous experiences.

It was also a time when my relationship with our international students became formalized. At the time we had students from South America, Central America, Mexico, Japan and Thailand. We also had a goodly number of Aramco students who were getting their first taste of schooling in the United States. As I mentioned before, a number of these students were in my AP Lit class, but there were also many who were not. I remember Hiruko Ishii who came to Foxcroft speaking almost no English and I remember Susan teaching her English. It was the first time I heard anyone voice the frustration of a second language learner living abroad. Haruko said that here greatest frustration was that she did not have the vocabulary to talk about her feelings.

I remember a trip we all took to Charlottesville at the invitation of Anne McGuire who was a trustee at that time. We all piled onto a bus and had an outstanding day. My other memory is when we performed at Covert on what must have been a Parents Weekend. We sang “Dona Nobis Pacem” and I still get chills when I think of those beautiful voices raised in song.

That summer the school sent me to the Northfield Mount Hermon Counseling Institute run by Stanley King and a number of others from the Harvard School of Mental Health. It was a weeklong intensive experience where we learned how to listen since good listening is the essential part of a relationship that one has with an advisee. The goal was not to make us mini-psychologists. Truth be told, good listening is a crucial part of any relationship. All people have stories to tell and all of us want to and need to know that we are being heard. I returned to Foxcroft that September as a much better advisor and my good listening skills have been part and parcel of my set of behaviors ever since. I am a good listener and people trust in me to the point that they will tell me their stories.

Foxcroft underwrote another summer experience that was a turning point in both Susan’s life and my life. While attending a language convention we struck up a conversation with representatives from The School of International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. SIT was the degree-granting arm of The Experience in International Living and in addition to a Masters program offered summer workshops. As I recall, we took classes there for two summers. It was there we were introduced to methodologies such as The Silent Way and Counsel Learning. The term “student centered education” had not been invented yet, but that is what was at the heart of those two methodologies. When we returned after the first summer we asked permission from the administration to radically change the way we taught Spanish. They said yes and desks were pushed aside and the floor became our workspace. Cuisenaire Rods, newsprint and a tape recorder replaced textbooks to a certain degree.

The last experience that Foxcroft financed for us was a weeklong seminar put on by the Society for International Education and Research (SIETAR). It was held at Georgetown University and its focus was helping us to work with foreign students or those who were about to leave the US for an in-country experience. As a result of that conference, the direction of Susan’s life changed. Soon thereafter she was to leave teaching to become a trainer for Americans who were getting ready to spend significant time in Saudi Arabia working on a joint project of the Saudi Government and the department of the Navy.

I have fond memories of the Dining Hall experience. I remember Mr. Frank who ran the place and I can still see Johnny’s face as clear as can be. I remember Sara Thompson and Miss Sally. Most of all I remember the opportunity to sit with students and share the events of their day. There were those times we sat with other faculty and that allowed us to catch up on what was going on in their lives. One of the selling points for a boarding school is the fact that you have instant community and that meant that Rachel had a group of friends who played in the room off of the dining hall. I know that was an important part of her growth as a person. My favorite Dining Hall story has to do with an encounter at Sunday brunch between Kirsten McBride and Rachel. Rachel was all enthused about being a Fox and included in Fox activities. When Kirsten and her parents showed up for brunch, Rachel rushed to her and breathlessly asked, “Are you a Fox or a Hound?” Kirsten thought it over for a minute and then replied, “Neither. I’m a Christian!

I added to my acting experiences while at Foxcroft. Hilary Deely snagged me early on to appear in a production of To Blush Unseen. The good news is that it allowed me to tell people that I had appeared on stage with Stephanie Zimbalist. I also recall being in a production of The Boyfriend and my last appearance on the Foxcroft stage was in Guys and Dolls in which Wendy Mingst starred as Adelaide. One Mini-Term I worked with Eric VanderVoort in a production of Godspelland Angus Thuermer convinced me to appear in the Middleburg Players production of The Good Doctor.

Mr Mac did a term or two as Interim Head until Coit Johnson returned. Dick Wheeler came to campus as an Interim Head and was eventually named Headmaster. Dick asked me to take on more administrative responsibilities and I accepted. When my ninth year at Foxcroft came to an end, I knew in my heart it was time to move on. Susan and Rachel were ready to move on, too. As a family we decided that our next stop would be California and that is where I lived out the rest of my teaching life.

There is one more thing that I did take away from my Foxcroft experience and that was my friendship with Biff Smith. It was Biff who introduced me to the world of magic and he played the role of my teacher during the years he taught at Foxcroft. Little did I suspect that magic would play such an important role in my future.

When people ask what I took away from my Foxcroft experience I tell them that in addition to good friends, I got to experience Spain a number of times. I became a better teacher, I became a better listener, I was introduced to magic and I developed a taste for the finer things in life. I would not be who I am today without my Foxcroft experience and I like to think that Foxcroft would not be what it is today had I not shared ten years of my life with it.

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Rachel’s In The House!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rachel arrived Monday night at 10:00. Her plane was delayed because other connecting flights were running a bit behind schedule. Either way, it was no big deal. We cabbed home and chatted for a couple of hours before we retired for the evening.

Our activity of the day on Tuesday was a concert at the Palau de Música featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The main attraction for us was Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra”, which is one of Susan’s favorites. Julia Fischer playing Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor. Op. 64” was breathtakingly amazing. She thrilled the audience by favoring us with two encores. The orchestra also played an encore by Turina, which, needless to say, thrilled the Spanish audience. On our way home we stopped at Aquarium and had a libation or two. All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening.

Yesterday I spent most of the day waiting for a package that never arrived. It was from DeliKosher and contained a number of items that Rachel needed for her stay here. That being the case, Susan and Rachel explored the city a bit and tried out a vegetarian restaurant in the Carmen. Since Rachel is glucose intolerant they really had very few choices for her. We had dinner at home and Rachel and I played Monument Valley, an iTunes app. Truth be told, I watched while she played. It was fun just spending the time together.

Our only plan for today is to go to Jimmy Glass this evening to listen to a little jazz. Alberto Sanz is playing and he is one of our favorite pianists.10294436_10152019576197553_7982543167263396684_n 10300096_10152019245132553_8088232107110159208_n

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Workshop – Magic and Creativity

Monday, April 28, 2014

It is yet another día festivo here in Valencia that follows close on the heels of the long weekend generated by the events of Semana Santa. Today’s día festivo is the one of the two celebrated this week. Thursday, May 1, is Labor Day so, once again, just about everything will be closed.

We have had a series of sunny days with temperatures in the high 70’s and low 80’s. It has been a bit windy, but that appears to be the new normal here in Valencia. The streets are filled with natives and tourists taking advantage of the lovely weather and the spring crop of fruits and vegetables are on display in the Mercado Central. The price of locally grown strawberries and tomatoes is ridiculously low. At one stand four pounds of fresh tomatoes were prices at the equivalent of $2.00. The added advantage is that the tomatoes and the strawberries taste like real tomatoes and strawberries.

This past weekend Susan and I attended a two-day fourteen-hour workshop focused on the presentation of magic. Our teacher was Miguel Muñoz, a prize winning Spanish magician who has had a variety of performing experiences that include circus, magic and theater. Miguel seemed like a familiar face when I met him Saturday morning and it turns out that I saw him perform at The Magic Castle during Spanish Week of 2011. He did an impressive routine that involved contact juggling that was magical in that clear crystal balls kept appearing and disappearing.

Each day’s activity consisted of two sessions. The morning session began at 11:00 and lasted until 2:00 when we broke for lunch. We resumed at 4:30 and ended our sessions a little before 7:00. In addition to Susan and myself, the other participants were Gioco, Pepe, Sofi, Oscar and Magnolo. We dealt with a variety of topics and did a number of exercises that taxed our creativity and our improvisational skills. We did not learn any effects. We focused on those elements and techniques that one can use to make their effects unique and unlike those of other magicians. Topics included focus and concentration, use of space and texture, movement and pauses, status, relaxation and tension and making clear and unencumbered the magic moments of a performance. The sessions were quite draining because of the physical, mental and emotional energy that were expended during each session.

Lunch on Saturday was at Carosel and yesterday’s restaurant of choice was La Fórcola. Our conversation during lunch was very animated and, of course, was focused on magic, although not necessarily on the elements of the workshop. We did learn to be in the moment, to be aware of what our body is doing and that the body is an important element in the presentation and creation of magic. We also learned that less is more and that the magical experience is not created by the effect itself but rather by the magician who performs the effect and truly involves his audience in the magic experience always remembering that magic when it happens, happens in the mind and imagination of the spectator. The money spent on this workshop was much more valuable than any DVD or effect that is on the market. We took steps in learning how to be unique performers and not copycats who all do the same effects in the same way with the same presentation.

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Even More Reasons to Like Valencia

Monday, April 7, 2014

There are many reasons why we like Valencia and I have mentioned many of them before. The Mercado Central is a treasure and the fact that it is only a block away makes it even more attractive. The weather is rather ideal with over 300 sunny days a year. The city itself is rather compact and you can walk just about anywhere. If it’s too late or too far there is an excellent and affordable public transportation system. We are on the Mediterranean and the beach is a 20-minute bus ride away. Because it is a city of one million inhabitants you can find just about everything that you might need to make your life easier or more complete. However, Valencia’s best selling points are the people that you meet in going about your business.

Last week I had occasion to visit the main post office. I had purchased a pair of sneakers and I had cleverly ordered the wrong size, so I needed to mail them back. They had come in a large plastic envelope that was unusable once opened so I hoped to find a similar envelope or box at the post office in which I could place the rather large shoebox. The post office functions with a number system with a different numeration for the different types of transactions that can be performed there. I pressed the appropriate button and out popped my number. No sooner did I have it clutched in my hot little hand when that number was called. I quickly approached counter number 8.

I showed the clerk the box and asked if she had an envelope in which it would fit. The box was too big for the largest envelope she had. She then suggested brown wrapping paper as the best solution and produced a little kit that contained wrapping paper, tape and stickers. My immediate reaction was to look at the package and think that I would need to return home to have Susan wrap it for me because when it comes to wrapping anything I am an absolute disaster. The clerk proceeded to open the package, extract one of the two pieces of wrapping paper and handed me the remainder of the kit for another use another day. She then proceeded to wrap the package for me.

If that were not enough, she even generated the label that would take the package to its destination. We chatted during the entire process and I discovered that she and her family were originally from Cadiz and when she was quite young the family had picked up and moved to Valencia. Andalusia has always been plagued by unemployment and it still is in modern times. Back then the only hope for the children of the poor was to be either a farmhand if you were a male or a servant if you were a woman. The move by the father was intended to give his children better opportunities in life. Blessed with a good education, my newfound friend performed well on the entrance test for post office workers and was originally assigned to Madrid. She was later able to transfer back to Valencia.

The conversation was not all one-sided. I shared with her how we ended up in Valencia and all the reasons for our move. I next paid for the kit and the appropriate postage for returning the package. When I walked out I did so with the feeling that this had been a one of a kind experience that never could have or would have happened in the rush, rush United States.

Yesterday another of Valencia’s positive attractions was on display. On a Sunday afternoon everyone gets out of their house and does whatever floats their boat. Sidewalk restaurants are filled with diners, the Turia is filled with walkers, bikers, soccer players, picnickers and young lovers and one needs to pick their way through the baby carriages that command most of the sidewalks. There is a two-month long festival of food and music that is taking place on the terrace of the MuVIM. It is called Espai Mediterrani and it is intended to be a taste of the Mediterranean just like its name says.

Yesterday’s performers were a small flamenco troupe consisting of a singer, a guitarist and a box player. The beer and the wine were flowing and the food choices included hand slice Serrano ham, a variety of cheeses, tabbouleh, falafel, pincho moruño, croquetas de bacalao and other goodies. There were about 200 people in attendance and the mood was festive. Susan was a busy taking photo, as you will see and I found a variety of ways to busy myself. The party ended at a little after four and there were other events that would take place later in the day. This was our major outing for the day and we spent the rest of Sunday at home.

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Summeresque

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Yesterday the temperature reached 85 degrees and a repeat performance is promised for today. It has been, for the most part a rather uneventful week in terms of activity outside of the home. I spent a good part of the week proofreading the last third of the publisher’s edit of Juan Tamariz’s revised and expanded version of The Magic Way. As I have mentioned in another post, I have done proofreading before, but at a less risky level. It was less risky because there were others involved at that level and all those corrections were applied to the original translation. Now I was working alone hoping to find wisps of mistakes before the book went to press. It was a challenging, but worthwhile, task.

Gurrea, Gioco and I took a field trip to the town of Alzira to visit Alzimagic in search of effects that we could add to our repertoire. We had an enjoyable visit with the owner, Paco de Cerca, and we did purchase a few items and that made everyone happy. When we returned to Valencia a little after 9:00, we stopped off at one of our usual watering holes and had a sandwich and a beer.

We received a message from Mike and Santi of the now defunct The Ginger Loft that they were taking over Mood Food for the next two weekends while Carlos was on vacation. We were hoping to have lunch with them yesterday but, as it turned out, they were only going to be open in the evening. That being the case, we decided to explore a bit.

Zahava had told Susan that Josep Quintana, former owner of Torrijos, a one star Michelin restaurant, had opened a new restaurant close by the Mercado de Colón. Rumor has it that the restaurant, owned by Quintana and his wife, closed because the couple divorced. Quintana then went on to open a small restaurant in the Russafa neighborhood, which has since changed hands. He next went off to Asia to do some consulting work and has returned to Valencia. The warmth of the sun enhanced the twenty-minute walk from our house and we found the restaurant rather easily.

The restaurant is has both a very attractive exterior and interior. There were only a few diners when we arrived a little after 3:00 and we were shown to a side table for two. Over a beer for me and a glass of wine for Susan we studied the menu. We decided on a couple of Croquetas Crujientes de Arroz al Horno, Ensaladilla “Quintana” con sorpresa de Mar. For her entrée Susan chose the Cochinillo Crujiente con Tartar de Mango, berros y calabaza and I opted for the Solomillo de Bonito con queso de cabra y berenjena a la llama. Dessert was a deconstructed version of a tarte tartin. Every dish was attractively presented and absolutely delicious. Our bill was a bit more than we usually spend. In addition to the dishes we sampled we also consumed a beer, three glasses of wine, a bottle of water and two coffees. The final damage was 85 Euros, which we felt was well worth the experience. We shall return another day.

After lunch we made our way to Cines Babel to see “The Hotel Budapest”. It was a fun flick and we enjoyed it. We took a cab back to the house and settled in for the evening. We watched another episode of Sherlock and before we knew it, it was 1:00 in the morning so we shut off the TV and the lights and went to sleep.

The last eightphotos are from Josep Quintana.  The others are from other adventures in the past ten days.

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