Alice in Wonderland

Do you have any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?

As I once learned from a great philosopher, I should begin telling a story at the beginning and then stop when I reach the end. And so I will. I will try, that is.

I have always loved Lewis Carroll. I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass a couple times as an adult since there are so many allusions to his work in our culture. As a boy, I was only familiar with the works as cartoons, so they were a very interesting read when I grew up. Now, I have a strong urge to reread them when I have time.

So I went to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I have seen most of his films. Not that I’m crazy about Tim Burton, but I love Johnny Depp movies. So I went to see Johnny Depp’s Alice in Wonderland.   If Johnny Depp is in a movie, I will go out of my way to see it. Oh, yes, I’m also a huge fan of Helena Bonham Carter. When Sweeney Todd came out, I was ecstatic that the movie starred both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

No one wanted to go see it with me. Not one person I knew was interested in seeing Sweeney Todd. In fact, not many people had ever even heard of Sweeney Todd in any of its previous manifestations. I’ve learned from personal experience a long time ago that if I want to see a movie, I should just go see it even if it means going to the show alone. There are so many movies that I regret missing simply because I was afraid to go to the show alone. So, for the last twenty years or so, I go see movies I really want to see even if I have to go alone. I went to see Sweeney Todd alone. I went to see a noon showing on a Tuesday. If you think I felt uncomfortable, you’re sadly mistaken. Yes, I went by myself, but there were about sixteen other people in the theater. I felt right at home with them! You see, they were all alone, too! We were spread all about the theater by ourselves, all alone. United by our individuality. We all had something in common. None of us could find someone to see Sweeney Todd with us. We were together, yet alone. Life is funny that way!

Oh, yes, I was writing about Alice in Wonderland. Of course, Johnny Depp and Helena were brillig, I mean brilliant! I went to see it with my oldest son. Occasionally, someone will go to the show with me. Don’t ask my son how the movie was because he fell asleep. He was in his own wonderland. We went to see the movie in 3-D, as the movie was intended to be seen by Lewis Carroll. I kept lifting up my 3-D glasses to see how 3-D worked. Or, to make sure it really was 3-D and not some sort of scam to charge us extra hard-earned money to see a faux 3-D movie. Well, I’m pretty sure it was 3-D because whenever I raised my 3-D glasses the picture on the screen looked blurry.

Johnny Depp played the Mad Hatter, and if you ask me, I will vouch for him that he truly was mad. But isn’t Johnny Depp a little mad in all his movies? In fact, for the final battle scene, I could swear that he resembled Jack Sparrow ever so slightly when he fought. Oops, I better not ruin the movie for you!

Okay, I think I’ve written enough. I’ve reached the end.


The Spanish perspective of the Mayan calendar

Who actually believes the world will end in 2012? Certainly not the Mayans. Sure their calendar ends on December 21, 2012. But did they predict the end of the world? Of course, not! The Mayans did not perceive time as linear, as we do, but rather as circular. Their calendar just happens to end on December 21, 2012. Uh oh, that’s 12-21-12. But let’s not read too much into the numerology, right? Because the Maya calendar is way different from ours. Perhaps, two-thousand years ago some Mayan astronomer calculating the calendar decided that he had done enough work and decided to leave some work for future generations of Mayan astronomers. So, who didn’t continue with the calendar? Probably some slacker Maya. And now many people are panicking.

A souvenir from Guatemala

Now that I think of it, our calendar always ends on December 31, but no one ever panics. Why? Because we know it starts all over again. However, we do celebrate the end of the old year and greet the coming of the new year. At least we hope so. In case the world ends at midnight on December 31, we certainly won’t feel too much pain. Maybe this tradition started as a fear of the world ending at the end of the calendar year.

But we love to scare ourselves. So some people subscribe to every “it’s the end of the world theory” that comes along. Remember Y2K? Here, again, there was a lack of calculation and foresight on behalf of computer engineers. Many people feared the end of the world would come on December 31, 1999. Why? Because all of the computers in the world calculated the date only until 12-31-99. At midnight of 12-31-99, the calendar “advance” to the next mathematically logical date, 01-01-00! But the computers wouldn’t know that 00 was supposed to mean the year 2000. They would instead “advance” backwards in time to 1900, which is the only logical mathematical step. Hence, the Y2K scare! Many people truly believed that at that precise moment there would be power outages, planes falling out of the sky, and nuclear power plants melting down. So many people bought their Y2K water bottles, emergency Y2K food rations to help them survive the imminent disaster, Y2K generators, and Y2K gasoline cans filled with beaucoup gasoline in preparation for the end of the world. But it was all for naught!

And what happened when the year 2000 began? Absolutely nothing! A lot of scared, confused, and drunk people realized they had panicked for nothing. But everyone loved the adrenaline rush of being scared. Why do we love to scare ourselves? Why do we enjoy that sudden rush of adrenalin? Sigmund Freud said we all have this death drive (todestrieb) that makes us want to die. Well, not all us really want to die, but we don’t mind experiencing death precariously through fictional characters in movies or experiences that simulate near death. We achieve this great sense of accomplishment at having survived this harrowing pseudo-near-death experience.

That’s why roller coasters are so popular. People ride them, scream their heads off during the whole ride, stagger off the platform, and then run to get back in line. That’s why we like scary movies like Paranormal Activity. Everyone–myself included–went to see it because the buzz was that this was a really scary movie. This was a low-budget, no expensive special effects type of movie, like The Blair Witch Project. You could just feel the suspense in the air. The scary part was when the bedroom door mysteriously moved about an inch. All the females in the theater screamed and all the males jumped when they heard all the screaming. But everyone enjoyed being scared throughout the movie.

And speaking of 2012, I also saw the movie 2012. Since everyone is worrying about the impending end of the world in 2012, why not capitalize on this fear. Give the people what they want. The movie theater was packed when I went to see it with my sons. We were forced to sit in the front row because we got there a few minutes before the movie started, which was great for watching all these buildings fall on top of us. Other than the allusion to the end of the Mayan calendar, this movie had absolutely nothing to do with the Mayas! We witnessed one cataclysmic disaster after the other until the protagonists finally survive in the end. Ironically, the premise of the movie hinges on the total destruction of Planet Earth, but will we go see a movie where everyone dies in the end? All the destruction considered, there was a huge adrenalin rush for everyone as they nearly died, followed by a happy ending. We all brushed off the imaginary dust of ourselves and slowly headed back to the real world to anxiously await the real 2012!



Sometime during the first week of every semester, my Spanish students always ask me if they have to learn the vosotros form for verb conjugations. No high school Spanish instructor seems to teach the vosotros form. Now that I think of it, Señor Mordini never made us learn the vosotros form at Divine Heart Seminary. And Señor Mordini was from Spain! I didn’t have to learn it in college either.

Now as a Spanish teacher myself, I find this truly amazing since there are more than forty million Spanish speakers who use the vosotros form. If you’ve ever watched Penelope Cruz movies, surely you’ve noticed that her character always calls her friends and acquaintances vosotros. So for the sake of Spanish cinema fans, I always teach the vosotros form even if the students won’t be tested on it. Every Spanish student should at least recognize the vosotros form when they hear or read it so they’re not totally lost. Like I was in the days of my youth.

When I was a boy, our family often went to mass in Spanish. Jesus, Jesucristo in Spanish, always spoke to his apostles using the vosotros form. I was puzzled by what he was saying when he did. For example, Jesus told his apostles, “No penséis que he venido para traer paz a la tierra” on one occasion, and on another, “Id por todo el mundo y predicad el evangelio a toda criatura,” which confused me. I asked my father what Jesus had told his apostles and my father explained to me that in Spain they used the vosotros form. I found it hard to believe that Jesus had ever been to Spain! But I didn’t dare question my father.

So what exactly does vosotros mean? It means “you” plural. When you translate “you” into Spanish, you choose from tú, vos, vosotros, vosotras, usted, or ustedes. In Spanish, you must also choose between the formal and the familiar. If you are speaking to someone you don’t know personally or they are in a position of authority over you, you must call him, her, or them usted or ustedes. Family members, friends, or acquaintances whom you know well you call . If there are more than one , you are supposed to use vosotros or vosotras. However, in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, everyone uses ustedes instead of vosotros(as). So, if I’m speaking to my cousins or my friends, I call them ustedes instead of vosotros, as they would do in Spain.

So, ustedes could be used for both formal and familiar situations. Sometimes, this results in absurd situations. For example, people who own a cat will call it . If they own more than one cat, they call them ustedes when vosotros would be more appropriate in this situation. Someone from Spain will laugh if they hear you calling your pets ustedes!

The Proposal


In the movie The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, and Betty White, there is a character of ambiguous Hispanic descent who appears as a waiter, a bartender, a stripper,and finally a minister. His name is Ramone, as played by Óscar Núñez. That’s right! Ramón with a silent “e” at the end despite the fact that the Spanish name does not end with an “e”! It’s just Ramón! He even spells out his name with an “e” when he’s stripping for Margaret (Sandra Bullock).


Dr. D. collects souvenirs.

Quick! What do you think of when hear drive-in? I think of the movie Grease! and John Travolta singing Stranded at the Drive-in after Sandy left him.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many drive-in theaters in America anymore. I used to love going to the drive-in. I remember sneaking my friend in by putting him in the trunk so we wouldn’t have to pay for him.

The drive-in was always a unique way to watch movies. I used to go to a drive-in in Twenty-nine Palms, California, where you could roller skate and watch a movie simultaneously. Well, I was telling my sons about my drive-in adventures and they couldn’t understand what I was talking about. I always like to broaden their horizon, so when I failed to explain to them how much fun we used to have at the drive-in, I wanted to take them to one, but I didn’t think there were any drive-ins left in our area. But I googled “drive-in” and discovered there was a Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago.

I took my sons just so they could see what a drive-in was like. Things were a little different from the last time I went. You can now listen to the movie on your car radio on AM or FM! They still had gray steel speakers on the poles, but they didn’t work. All cars are supposed to drive with their headlights off, but mine stay on whenever I start the engine. I sat on a lawn chair so my sons could sit in the front seats. Boy was I sorry! The compact car next to us contained an entire family. And they were so crammed into their little car that they were complaining during the whole movie.

Well, my sons and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but we decided never to go to the drive-in again.



I have been watching Woody Allen movies for a long time. Once, in the 1970s, we–Vito, Jim, and I–saw four Woody Allen movies for a dollar (Only on the north side!) I remember his earlier, funnier movies, to quote Stardust Memories.

Later, when we lost track of each other, Jim would call us up so we could go out to see his latest movie. Of course, no movie after Annie Hall was as funny for me as his earlier efforts. So, today, I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And it was okay. Certainly not as funny as Annie Hall. I did enjoy the shots of Spain in Barcelona and Oviedo. The movie reminded me of my trip to Spain. I haven’t actually been to Spain, but when I do go, I plan on visiting Barcelona where I knew a couple of people. I really will go to Spain someday!

But back to the movie. The plot was easily identifiable as a Woody Allen product of obsessive attention to the minutiae of life. In his typical fashion, he exaggerates details that most normal and sane human beings would overlook. In one scene, Scarlett Johansson apologizes profusely and I couldn’t help but picture Woody Allen directing her into acting as she did–that is, a Woody Allenesque neurotic tirade complete with the exaggerated hand gestures.

Of course, if Woody looked anything like Scarlett, he would have had a completely different career. The one thing that really bothered me about the movie was the narrator. If you’ve ever taken a writing class, you know that one thing that is drilled into head constantly: Don’t tell, show! Well, the narrator constantly explains the actions that we see on the screen, rather than letting us think about them and contemplate what the characters are thinking about their dilemma. Okay, the actors were great in this movie, but I guess I was mainly focusing on Woody Allen as the writer and director. For some reason I’m always attracted to his movies even though I don’t think they’re very good. But I will immediately go see the next one that comes out.


Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Today, I saw the second movie of the Chronicles of Narnia with my sons Adam and Alex. Adam was worried about watching the movie because he never read the book. I was glad that I saw the first movie last week before seeing this one because I wouldn’t have understood some of the allusions otherwise. I thought the sequel was actually better than the first movie. And my sons enjoyed it even though they couldn’t spoil the plot for me. Even though this is a generally serious movie, I laughed at many scenes that were intentionally funny. I was surprised the humor was successful.

One thing that bothered me about the movie was the depiction of the “bad guys.” In most movies, the plot revolves around the conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. That’s just one of the few available movie plots.  However, these bad guys look as if they’re from Spain, they have Spanish accents, and they wear the helmets and body armor of the Conquistadors. I mean, these are my ancestors. Spaniards have always been hated from the Middle Ages on. In fact, until about a few hundred years ago, Spain was considered part of Africa by most Europeans. Some of this residue hatred is still present to this day in the U.S. toward all Mexicans. Many things that happened in Europe carried over to the New World. So this xenophobia toward Mexicans in particular is just an extension of a trend that began in Europe.

I suppose just analyzing this juxtaposition made watching the movie worth my time. That alone gave me plenty to think about! Of course, I didn’t even discuss this issue with my sons afterwards. But someday I will.


Como agua para chocolate.

Some Spanish students just amaze me with some of the things they tell me, particularly when it comes to criticism about teaching. Some students are very blunt and opinionated when criticizing teachers. Most often, they don’t tell me what they think about me or my style of teaching, but they will tell me how they changed to my class because they couldn’t understand the other instructor because he or she spoke Spanish too quickly. Sometimes students will tell me that my Spanish class is their favorite class, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. Then, some will even add that my Spanish class has been the best class of their entire college education.

I can honestly say that most of my students are happy to come to class and we often have fun together and laugh a lot during class. However, I don’t feel that I deserve all the compliments that I receive. When I used to teach at Morton College, an instructor who taught in the classroom next to mine commented about all the laughter she heard emanating from classroom. “You must teach a fun class,” she said. “What do you teach?” “Spanish,” I said. She gave me this look of disbelief. Normally, most students dread studying a foreign language and only do so to fulfill the mandatory general education requirements. But most of my students love coming to class! This last semester, many students told me that this was the most Spanish they had ever learned. And they had fun in class.

When I first started teaching Spanish at UIC, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the students. Overall, they were certainly a notch above community college students because of stricter admissions standards. The main difference was in the attitude toward me as a Spanish teacher by the two school administrations. At the community colleges where I had taught, I was in charge. They would give me a textbook and tell me that I had to cover a certain number of chapters, which I was always did. But I had a lot of freedom in the classroom. Then, I started teaching at UIC, which is a research university, where most of the 100-level Spanish classes were taught by teaching assistants. Since there are hundreds of 100-level classes and the possibility for cheating increases exponentially, the classes are more controlled and there is less freedom for the instructor in the classroom. Plus, the administration wanted all the classes to be equally fair to all the students. So it took me a while to adjust.

I’ve always liked showing movies in Spanish class. At UIC, I once asked if it would be okay to show a movie if we had time and I was told no. So I didnt’ show a movie. I recalled how students liked watching a movie, in Spanish, set in a Spanish-speaking country. I always picked a movie that demonstrated some cultural aspects of Spanish or Latin American society. Anyway, I decided that I would show a movie to my classes the next semester. How did I get around getting permission? Simple! I just didn’t ask for permission to show the movie. If I had asked, I would be told no. And then I wouldn’t be able to show a movie because I was ordered not to. So I just showed it. If anyone of my superiors would have told me anything, I would have said, “But no one told me that I couldn’t show a movie.” Of course, none of my students ever mentioned watching movies in Spanish class.

So, one day at UIC, one of my students tells me that I’m a very good Spanish teacher. I said, “Muchas gracias” and left it at that because I don’t take compliments very well. She was a good student who always paid attention in class and always did the homework and participated in class. Another day, she told me that her friend was also in the same Spanish 103 class as her, but in a different section. Her friend wasn’t happy with her Spanish instructor. A couple of weeks later, she told me how her friend had transferred to UIC from Daley College and how her Spanish instructor at Daley College was so much better than the one she presently had at UIC. She just went on and on about how her friend had learned so much Spanish at Daley College and how her instructor was so enthuisastic and always answered all her questions. I have to admit that I got very bit uncomfortable by all this talk. I wondered who this super Spanish instructor was. I was also afraid that my students would be disappointed to have to settle for me as their Spanish teacher instead of having that teaching wonder from Daley College. One day, I’m leaving Lincoln Hall where I teach Spanish 103. The student who always talked about her friend at Daley College is exiting alongside me. Well, who do see on our way out? Her friend. “Carol!” my student shouts to her. Carol and I look at each other and we immediately recognize each other. I used to teach at Daley College and Carol was my student back then. The Spanish instructor she was talking about was me!

Speed Racer

Great movie theater snack!

I love going to the show. And I love to spend quality time bonding with my sons. If I can do both simultaneously, I feel like I have accomplished greatness. At least in my own eyes.

When I compare myself to my twelve-year-old twins, I realize that they’re much more mature than me because emotionally I’m ten. When Horton Hears a Who came out as a movie, I wanted to see it with my sons, but they refused to see it because was a kiddy movie. I was rather disappointed to miss seeing Horton Hears a Who because I remembered really enjoying reading the Dr. Seuss book and watching the TV special as a boy. So I’ve missed out on some very good movies just because my sons thought they were childish. But I never once threw a tantrum.

Anyway, last week I brought up going to see Speed Racer and my sons instantly refused. I was rather disappointed because I remembered watching Speed Racer as a cartoon show on TV when I was a kid. Today, I finally talked them into seeing it. As we drove to the show, they didn’t seem too happy. I knew I was pressuring them to see it.

Well, that got me to thinking about how I used to watch Speed Racer after school. Then, I remembered that I didn’t actually like watching Speed Racer. But my brothers and I had this policy that whoever arrived home first from school could pick the first show to be watched. After that we would all vote on the next show to be watched. If Danny arrived home first, he would watch Dark Shadows. I was the only one who didn’t like Dark Shadows. I liked comedies. After that, everyone except me voted to watch Speed Racer. I remember now! I hated watching Speed Racer! And now I was driving with my sons to see the movie version of Speed Racer at the show.  Well, it was too late to tell them that I didn’t want to see it. However, as I drove, I realized that I liked the show, but I was just upset that my three brothers had voted against me.

But back to the movie today. My sons didn’t seem too happy about going to see Speed Racer today.  Well, I wasn’t either after I recalled all the surrounding cirmcumstances. However, I was determined to have fun with my sons. So we watched the movie with mixed feelings. Once the movie started, we were captivated by the music, the story line, and all the color graphics. Plus, I snuck in a bag of authentic tortilla chips for us to eat during the movie. (I’m becoming more like my father with each passing day!) We talked about many of the movie details afterwards. We really enjoyed the movie! We were all surprised at how much better it was than we had expected. Plus, I think we all grew a little closer through this bonding experience!

Stranger than fiction

Filmed on the UIC campus.

I actually saw the movie Stranger Than Fiction because it was about a writer writing a novel. I liked the way the line between reality and fiction was blurred. I bought the DVD when it came out and I actually saw it soon afterwards. I only say this because I have a stack of DVDs that I bought years ago and have yet to see.

Another reason I wanted to see it was because I have a personal connection with this movie. It was filmed partly at UIC. In fact, I had to change classrooms because they filmed in my classroom. One day, as I talked to a student in the hallway, another student said, “Did you see who just walked behind you?” Of course, I didn’t. Because I like to make eye contact when I talk to someone. Well, it was Dustin Hoffman! And I didn’t see him! People at UIC who were around the film crew said that Dustin Hoffman was actually funnier than Will Ferrell in person.

So that was my brush with greatness. And I missed it!