My thoughts on Cecil, the lion

Caring about animals does not mean one cares less about humans. I deplore the killing of Cecil the lion (as well as the many atrocities perpetrated by humanity). The killing of that animal entails a context of obscene privilege. That someone is able to pay what could be the yearly salary of a working person to get someone to trick Cecil and viciously kill the big cat leaves a lot to wonder. That someone has the hubris to go on an “exotic” sojourn, pay ($55,000! as if just handing out change) to a “local” to get away with his abhorrent trophy killing demonstrates the unfortunate coming together of virtually every attitude that is wrong in this world.

The Path of the Turtle: A Retiro Park Chronicle

At 32º C, one should take a siesta if at all possible. Afterwards, however, the afternoon is still young since the sun does not set until after 21:00. The Madrid Book Fair is currently taking place and it is too hot to do the usual flâneuse-style city stroll. Succumbing to lethargy is not recommended though.

What to do? Hop on the metro at Rubén Darío and connect to Príncipe de Vergara at Núñez de Balboa.
All streets, all plazas, and all neighborhoods intuitively connect in Madrid. Before you know it, one of the many gates to Retiro Park appears and looks unequivocally welcoming.
Yes, it’s the Parque del Retiro on a hot June afternoon!

The trees promise some much needed shade. People of all ages walk around, jog, lie on the grass reading or half-asleep, and almost every other person is accompanied by a small and adoring canine. Terrazas here and there offer ice cream, granizados, personal pizzas, soda, and lots of cañas.
You take pause and sit on the ground. You quickly feel prompted to pick another path and see where it takes you.

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A pond nearby attracts the attention of tourists and locals. Pigeons meander as if they own the place. Ducks amble about in their charmingly clumsy way or rest by the water. Baby turtles reach out from under the water to breathe. A couple of geese are fed like royalty by some park visitors who stop to cater to them. Fish can be spotted doing what they do best: floating through life, immersed in refreshing water.
And then, one of the small turtles begins to roam at a noticeably faster pace than what you would expect a turtle to move. It is not afraid of people. It purposefully reaches the edge of the fence and crawls outwardly, trying to cross the path as if on a mission, maybe wanting to get to another pond.
Eleven humans observe with amusement and concern.
Eleven of us stop and watch the path of the turtle. We want to know if it will make it safely, but hesitation makes its appearance on the route of the picturesque reptile. Still flanked by humans, the turtle does not give up, but it looks like it wants to head back, slowly. One of the humans helps it by lifting it up and putting it back on the grassy area by the pond. The turtle starts making its way down to the water, but stops and tries to find another way, perhaps an incline with an easier slide into the water, to no avail.
The willful little turtle starts heading for the fence and tries to get to the other side again. The humans shout: “¡No, no, quédate ahí! No no, stay over there!”…
And the turtle daringly looks up at the humans. The Book Fair is just a few steps away, probably the equivalent of a mere kilometer in turtle steps.

Why can’t I partake in the literary feast?, thought the willful little turtle, perhaps.

Spain – The 7th Time

I’m back in Spain, for the 7th time in my life.

(It’s hard to “leave” this place once you have roamed its diverse landscapes.)

It was the first country I ever visited beyond Puerto Rico and the United States. And that first time was in 1992, in time for the Expo in Seville.
During that first trip, I went with family to three places: Seville, Puerto de Santa María/Cádiz and Madrid. And yes, there was a side trip from Madrid to the Valle de los Caídos. There was one place missing: Toledo. Since high school, I had always wanted to go there.
My second trip to Spain happened in 1993 when I enrolled in a study abroad summer program – yes, in Toledo! That was at the Fundación José Ortega y Gasset. As part of the program, we went to Segovia, Ávila, and of course, Madrid. I did pay another visit to Seville, since my uncle and my aunt were still living there. That summer, I also went to Paris and Lisbon.
My third trip to Spain was in 1994.
My fourth trip was in 1995, which added not just the Barcelona component to my map of explored cities, but also my second visit (since 1993) to France, plus new countries such as Switzerland and Italy.
My fifth trip happened in 1998, which brought Germany into the picture, and in terms of Spain, it also added Salamanca to the repertoire.
Ten years elapsed without visiting Spain. Too long! Churros con chocolate readings at the lowest levels…
I was back in 2008, with a short visit to the Puerto (visiting with family) to initiate the adventure, and a grand month-long stay in Madrid, that time leading a group. It was also my return to lovely Toledo.
And now, this is my 7th trip! In the first three days, I have already spent two days at the Puerto–with an afternoon in Cádiz–, 16 festive hours in Seville, before heading again to the railways that lead back to Madrid. 🙂
Seville is magical and integral to my personal evolution as a world traveler.

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Cádiz is everything from Old San Juan to Cartagena, Colombia.

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Madrid is home – one of many…

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…unless I go to Toledo…THAT is home (too)…

Madison, Wisconsin

The syrupy not-two-sweet flavor of a peach iced tea at Espresso Royale,
the unique combination of spices in a veggie strudel special at Kabul,
the absoluteness of an iced soy chai at Fair Trade Coffeehouse…
The chirping of modern-day former dinosaurs as amblers go by,
the budding of spring in that green as green as grass,
the casual stroll on a summer morning, light dresses in full bloom…
On State Street, the Capitol approaching in tandem with Bascom Hill,
storefront by storefront, old and rare books, and bright candy,
bikes by the bagels, buses from the lakes…
Views of those worlds, touching the sky,
leaves and laughter, a place forever after
another day, finding home
another day being home.

Classroom Time: My UW Story

For many outside of academia, it seems as if the only work professors do is when they stand in front of a group to teach a class. But then again, we not only have a teaching role—as in the K-12 model most people are accustomed to, and which requires a whole different preparation—but we are also scholars. Just like the M.D., J.D., and D.V.M. candidate, a PhD recipient attends the commencement ceremony for the professional degrees. Being a university professor involves: teaching, research in the area of specialization, service, mentoring, and more, including the intensive preparation of graduate school.
With the news recently that the University of Wisconsin System may be about to receive the largest budget cuts in its history, some politicians have suggested “more classroom time” for professors, which demonstrates a general lack of understanding of what does our profession entail. This is why, as a Madison alumni and current faculty member at UW-Milwaukee, I want to tell my story.
I began my trajectory as a Teaching Assistant of Spanish at UW-Madison in 1997, when I started the Master’s program. At the time, Madison was the only Big 10 institution that did not offer tuition remission, meaning that every month our take-home pay for teaching a daily section for which we were fully responsible for was $60. Thankfully, the efforts of the Teaching Assistants Association to bring Madison up to par with the Big 10 were successful. I should mention that in language courses, TAs are not “assistants” who guide the discussion session for a professor’s class; TAs in languages prepare their lessons, teach daily in a highly interactive pace, do their own grading, and as they get trained over their first semester, write their own quizzes and exams.
Why would anyone agree to this at such pay, one may ask in retrospect or from a detached perspective. Well, because we had been admitted to a top graduate program in our field, one with international recognition and one with a most solid foundation for scholars in the making. We were informed that we would receive 33% of a certain yearly amount every month.
As years went by, news about pay cuts were, and have continued to be, the order of the day. In the early aughts, TAs were working without a contract because the state legislature would not recognize what had been negotiated in good faith. Still, they (we) were putting in valuable classroom hours. Throughout the years, many of us worked other part-time jobs to accompany our teaching and our immersion in graduate studies as a way to make ends meet. Also, many of us, with a 9-month pay that would cover rent only partially, had to take student loans if we were to complete our educational goals.
When I completed my preliminary exams and became a dissertator, I also became a lecturer, which meant that I was not represented by the TAA anymore. At the time, I also became a part-time faculty member at the Madison Area Technical College. I would have 2 intermediate-level language courses at UW-Madison, and then two first-year language sequence classes in the evening at MATC for a grand total of 16 credits in one semester. Combined, that was more than a full-time professorial job at a teaching-oriented institution. That was a lot of classroom time, to say the least. This allowed me to bring in about $2000 a month in net pay. MATC only paid for hours of instruction for part-time faculty.
As it is the product of years of reading, investigating, writing, fine-tuning of research, critical, and professional skills, the dissertation took several years to complete, as it does in most cases. In 2006, I earned my PhD and switched gears from graduate student to the professorial mode. Aside from the sustained opposition from political forces to strengthen the university, I had made Madison my home and was fond of Wisconsin and wanted to stay in the area. Luckily, there was a tenure-track position right up my alley at UW-Milwaukee, for which I was delighted to receive the offer and accept it.
This is now my eighth year at UWM. Certainly, I can attest to what professors do with their time. We teach, which means that we: envision courses, write the syllabus, assess and choose materials for them, read primary and critical sources for our lectures, grade compositions and exams, evaluate projects and proposals, advise and mentor students, and write letters of recommendation for them. We also work on our scholarly research, which requires: reading more primary and critical sources, outline arguments for articles and books, write academic presentations, attend conferences, edit and revise texts, review our peers, and whenever possible, integrate our research with our instruction, deciding on what is appropriate for the undergraduate at the graduate level. Also, we participate in numerous departmental, divisional, and campus-wide committees (some of which we chair) organize symposia, evaluate a student’s skills for a study abroad program, serve as major professors for graduate students and members of thesis committees, and so on.
And let me be clear: I am not complaining about my job and the many responsibilities it implies. We welcome hard work because we know it very well since our graduate school years. But just because we are dedicated to our job and like it, does not mean our work should be devalued due to a lack of understanding about the profession and scholarly life and/or be underpaid and undermined by misguided ideas about what education, instruction, and training represent.
Classroom time is vital. It is core to the learning process, but it necessarily requires what goes on behind the scenes: the years of preparation to earn the degree that allows one to be a university professor, the on-going professional development and scholarly production that allows one to remain on the profession, as well as the planning, grading, and evaluating that takes time, dedication, and patience as instructors.
In my years at UWM, merit pay has become virtually non-existent. We were furloughed for a couple of years, and then Act 10 was implemented in 2011 making our take-home pay remain stagnant. In this light, this is a major labor issue as well as an educational and professional one in scope. UWM is the only research-oriented public institution in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.
The UW System cannot afford more unprecedented cuts that would be detrimental to its core mission and its social, cultural and economic impact on the state. We already have the Wisconsin Idea. Let’s honor it.

Engaging Knowledge

On December 11, 2014, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson presented his Science lecture to a sold out house at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. The crowd was composed of all age groups, a variety of ethnicities, and lovers of knowledge.
Tyson, who is also the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, proved that humor, story-telling, and science can be astutely combined for a though-provoking lecture filled with wonder. Lauded for his role in Cosmos (2014) and his ease with the audience, on several occasions the crowd burst in applause, especially when Tyson remarked that people who deny science should not be making political decisions about science-related matters.
He prefaced the lecture by saying he is not a performer/artist/musician, but the astrophysicist indeed knows the art of bringing knowledge from different subject areas together in order to convey the message. From linguistic references to Arabic, to economic contexts, to personal anecdotes, and to expositions of scientific breakthroughs, the evening was like a semester-long seminar in Arts and Sciences condensed into a couple of inspiring hours.

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Perhaps the most poignant aspect brought forth by Tyson was the contextual presentation of a great civilization with a myriad of mathematical, scientific, and technological breakthroughs–the Arabic world that gave name to numerous stars–and the impact of fundamentalistic interpretations of religious texts. While Tyson did not refer to it as such, he was driving the point across that today, that the United States–and any other country and/or culture, for that matter–should not devalue science. Proper regard for scientific truths is not only prestigious for a civilization, but also, global/planetary survival may very well depend on it.
Toward the end of the lecture, Tyson quoted Carl Sagan’s engaging words about our only home in the universe: planet Earth.

And now U2’s “Beautiful Day” is playing in my head: “…see the world in green and blue/ see China right in front of you/ see the canyons broken by clouds…”.

2014

Time to close the book on 2014. Ending the year still sick, so I guess there is nothing left but to heal. This year led me through awesome trails, let’s hope the next brings amazing and beautiful surprises. Cheers!

Nancy Finds What She’s Looking For…

It was 1997, the summer when I was moving from Minneapolis to Madison, and the one for which the Pop album became the unofficial soundtrack. I recall a voice on the radio saying U2 were playing in the Cities some time in October, when I would already be living in Wisconsin. But I would not just give up. I had to go see the band live.
I joined the U2 online forum, WIRE, and quickly added my first post: “Madison; who is going?” soon after getting a ticket for the July 25th show at Camp Randall. As the date neared, I became acquainted with fellow fans, some of them veterans at concert-going, and some like me, who would be going to see the band for the first time ever.
The day before the show, I woke up with abdominal pain. Almost convinced that this would put a damp on my concert-going plans, I went to the clinic at the University of Minnesota to get checked. Thankfully, it was nothing serious.
Right after the appointment, I went over to Dinkytown to grab lunch at Subway. And, as soon as I took my first bite, “Where the Streets Have No Name” came on the sound system.
The next morning, the sign was even clearer; the song that was playing as soon as I turned on the radio–“One”–made me feel as if, indeed, this was a major event in my life. Even if I was slightly concerned about the weird pain from the day before, I was ready to go to the Greyhound terminal, take the early bus to Madison, and go meet with people from the online fan forum I had exchanged emails with over the preceding couple of weeks.
I spent most of the bus ride listening to my Zooropa tape. Upon arriving in Madison, I met with fellow fans and new acquaintances. But when it was showtime, I was there, on my own, surrounded by thousands of people, most of them faithful U2 fans. At that point, I was 22 years old and I had been a fan for ten years.
The concert did not disappoint; quite the contrary. The performance became a spiritual experience for me, and not in a cliché way. I had been at concerts for other major acts before, but this one was what my young adult self needed and deeply connected with at the time. There was the spectacle with grand music and it was absolutely fun. If I gazed over to my left, I could see Van Hise Hall, the UW-Madison building where I would soon be working as a T.A. and be a Master’s degree student.
Could I have asked for a better campus event to introduce me to Madison and graduate school?!
The finest moment of the concert arrived during the rendition of the first song I hard heard that morning when I woke up in my apartment in Minneapolis–“One,” which happens to be one of my favorites for its amazing lyricism. Being able to enjoy it live felt like a transformational experience, as if all my chakras lined up nicely–musical Reiki?–and in a new way. I remember being there, at Camp Randall, that July 25th, 1997 evening, not worrying about the pain from the day before,listening to the band play this song and thinking to myself: “OK, the universe makes sense…”. It was an #unforgettablegig that I remember fondly now that I have seen U2 play in several venues and tours.

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The next morning, I read the show’s review on the Wisconsin State Journal, while sipping iced tea at a café on State Street. I bought a copy of the paper so I could keep the clipping on my U2 memento album. That same morning, I headed back to Minneapolis via Greyhound, very satisfied with my first campus event. 😉