Hurricane María–The flashback

A lot has been said and written on hurricane María and our experience of it and our experience of its aftermath.

Today, exactly one year after its passage, let me commemorate it and all the students who with me have stepped through such a hard time.

Today we watched hare at Sagrado the premiére of my friend Sonia Fritz’s documentary Después de María. Las 2 orillas (After Maria. The Two Shores). Of course I–and all the public within the theater–was moved. Impossible to retain the wave of emotions whil the images passed by. But they were not images of wind and rain and water and debris. Those we know too well: In fact, more or less at this very moment one year ago I was working with my neighbors to clean up our street, just hours after the hurricane left us.

Sonia’s film was of people, instead. People choosing to resist and rebuild here (farmers, students, parents, teachers…) and people who moved to Florida (or other parts of the US, mainly). It was reported that over 130,000 people left our island for the mainland.

She focused her research into the economic and social dimension of the hurricane aftermath and its consequences. Two things stand out (beyond the emotion and the beautiful impactful photography):

The infantilization reported by a newswoman that has been used so pervasively by governments and power structures, as exemplified by the Boston’s mayor, who reportedly said, more or less

…terrible… but we’re working hard to help support statehood.

Whoa. The very infantilization as seen in so many environments, from cinema to food to education. Infantilization produced by a colonial state of affairs. Wait a minute: all this was said by the reporter during a panel following the film.

The second important stuff was said by economist Dr. Juan Lara, who reports that, as huge amounts of money are finally coming in for reconstruction, Puerto Rico’s econonomy is booming forward and escaping the collapse of the previous ten years. But that growth will continue for four of five years, until the funds get injected. If we don’t rebuild a better country, the oppportunity will be lost and we’ll find ourselves in dire straits.

So, that’s it, the three magic messages of the day. But there’s more: Alan Levine stepped forward and began the #care4sagrado initiative, whereby people from all over the world sent our students postcards of hope. Parisa Mehran was one of those extraordinary voices that responded with grace. My students and colleagues were moved by those gestures of solidarity. Thanks you again. And then how do I forget Alan and myself beginning our award-winning podcast, the Puerto Rico Connection? Its first episode was recorded from the students center at Sagrado, when we still worked off a generator.

The last point is coming here, and is a tribute to my August 2017 students who suffered the consequences of Maria in classes under tents, without power. I had a few of them who needed over three hour of destroyed roads to get here.

Here they are, as I published at year’s end on this blog. Let’s toast to their well being, but for me, they were exemplar citizens.

The Class of María

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Nerdy Web Travels with #inf103

I love maps (especially borderline places) and I can’t pass an opportunity to share that with students, especially since we’re studying the details of search on the Web. So, after checking Google Maps and its wondrous capacity to generate and share maps and itineraries, I let my adventurous spirit take over (live during class and in full color).

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This is why we ended up exploring the magic of Diomede islands, those two small islets just in the middle of the Bering Strait. Students were intrigued since they–like most–ignored all about them. So, one is Russian (the western isle, bigger) and is unpopulated; while the North American one (the eastern isle, mush smaller) has one tiny village which apparently has a small population of permanent residents, and a school.

Somebody swam between the two, and there is no cold (war or whatever) that separates both beyond the coldness of the sea. Such are the travels of the Web-brave.

The Bering strait is just 85 km long (some 50 miles) and of course there have been proposals to build a tunnel or bridge over it. However, as this screenshot from Google shows, people do ask weird or impossible questions:

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Can you drive from Alaska to Russia?

For this post I did a screencast of the Google Maps zooming in and out (with Screencast-o-matic’s Web-based Screen Recorder), producing one MP4 video file. I converted the MP4 into an animated GIF through Ezgif which also optimized the final file.

All images are screenshots taken by moi.


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The Great Beauty of Teaching

clip-miseriaNoblita[Totò in Miseria e nobiltà, 1954]

It’s a new semester, and I began anew my teaching activity. With pride and mostly with a high joy that comes from the attitudes, smiles and interest from my students.

A new course I’ve been working on of late is the new Italian Cinema and Culture (, a trip (yeah) in this fantastic territory of the Italian peninsula and its regions as seen through the lenses of its cinema. We’ll explore titles from just after WWII and jump to Naples’ mafia wars; we’ll go from Rossellini and Antonioni to the Giallo of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And more. But that’s it for today, because today we watched The Great Beauty, the extraordinary film from Paolo Sorrentino (2013). Yes, the same Sorrentino of The Young Pope that aired on HBO.

Students appreciated it. Next Wednesday (Monday is Veteran’s Day here) we’ll host an in-class video critique and dialogue on the movie.

Here’s the semester-full gallery of movies we’ll hopefully watch: Programma.

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The graceful world of Giulia Pex

I reconnect again, after the long summer pause. Admittedly, I got a bit tired of social networks and all. My travels to Italy and my closeness to my mother during that time helped me see a nice perspective. I could not post, period. And I visited a blogger friend!

Anyhow, I’ll talk later about the traveling. Now I just want to go ahead and just publish a little bit of things I like. I begin with this.

The graceful world of Giulia Pex. I saw her work on a Corriere della Sera double page from the la Lettura supplement.

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~ je est un autre #illustration #graphicnovel

A post shared by Giulia Pex (@giuliapex) on

With this one I hope to inaugurate a new category/thread of posts here, the shorts.

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Teaching, Learning–and Studying: The Road Less Traveled.

A book review on reminds me of a singular issue in the teaching & learning community: Studying, the road less traveled. In it, studying is compared to a sort of rebel passion.

Studying is disappearing, writes Paola Mastrocola, author of the essay “La passione ribelle” (The Rebel Passion), while she “tells about the importance of the long hours spent reading and of the need to disconnect and go back to thinking”. she concludes that today book reading is “revolutionary”.

In her pamphlet she seems to denounce the “disappearance of studying: teachers don’t study any longer”, and so do politicians and even researchers. She hardly considers school a temple of study but a temple of study-fiction instead.

Perhaps Mastrocola equates too much the verb “to study” with studying on books, but if we take it metaphorically and replace “book” with “written text”, then we may arrive at similar conclusions.

I have been studying the disappearance of the verb to study in English usage in the popular media. Substituted by the much more appealing now–learning. Why do our colleges and higher ed institutions talk so much about learning but not –almost never– about studying? Because learning happens, period. It may be facilitated, guided, inspired, structured, formal or informal, but it is an act without agency on the student’s part. Studying, on the other hand, cannot be informal, because in order to study you need to want to do it. Volition is a crucial part of the act of studying. And it’s easier to deal with non-volition, in school. The fact that you may learn, provided you study well, is a corollary hardly appearing in higher education parlance. It’s easier to assess learners’ learning than to educate students to studying. And most importantly, we omit teaching students it’s their responsibility, they need to own their own learning.

I think there needs to be a resurgence of a willingness to sit down (metaphorically), concentrate yourself, immerse yourself, surrender yourself to something, which is not at all easy to do. Reading may be the first step, but one needs to considered all media that allow one to be alone with oneself. And that is a lot of people. Social learning happens even when one thinks for himself, or meditates, or lingers on a passage, be it a formula or a complex literary formulation.

Surely, studying has more aspects than just reading or mindfully watching media. One is creating stuff, and the other is solving problems, and still another is lab research/work. Creating is however a very important part of studying, one higher ed students are not usually encouraged to pursue. Especially writing is a creation process at the very core of studying, in my opinion. The Web and its tools allow for free creation and make thus a fantastic environment to inspire studying and learning. Why then academic use of the Web is often limited to closed structures that operate as isles unconnected to the main land and encourage consumption and little creation?

Our institutions of learning ought to reflect more on such issues. But they choose to talk about teaching and learning instead of “teaching, studying and learning”. This is a bit of a manipulation on youngsters. So people believe that by coming into a classroom they will magically learn. Sure, they always do learn something, but they think that’s probably enough: they’ll likely just check “the material” when test time comes. Students only have their name to remind them they are those who study.

[Featured mage: Flickr photo by Michael Hall. CC-Licensed BY-NC-SA.]

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