Adages and Almodóvar: Life Lessons via David Gies.

By Jenny Rademacher

I first met David when I was contemplating getting my PhD. I’d finished a Master’s program in economics and international affairs at SAIS in Washington DC and then, with two small children, we’d moved to Lynchburg, Virginia where my husband – having just finished his MBA – had taken a job. I felt like Lynchburg was a million miles away from DC, and I was suddenly adrift. I saw that there was a course in Spanish film over the summer at UVA and thought it might be a good way to test the waters. I think I emailed David to find out about it as the course was already under way, and he said something like, “It’s for high school teachers, but don’t worry about signing up for it officially – just come on up!” On the first day, there was a lunch in the faculty dining room. I remember I didn’t have the necessary ID, and that they wouldn’t accept cash – and David took care of it. “No pasa nada,” he assured me. This was my first exposure to David as consummate host. I have so many wonderful memories of the departmental picnics, of his amazing paellas, and of leisurely discussions over wine and pinchos at his house when he offered the course on Ethics through Film with a friend from the law school. His natural warmth and exuberance make him an amazing connector – he’s always gathering people, ideas, galvanizing us into something greater.

Later, when I started the PhD program, I knew David as an exceptional professor. I was lucky enough to take his course on 18th and 19th century poetry. I say this even though he did make me drive three hours round trip at one point to scour Alderman stacks for a single misplaced reference in a paper. When I reminded him of this recently, he laughed and said, “Well – it worked out pretty well for you!” I don’t know why I didn’t just make up the page number at the time. But, I think all of us wanted to go the extra mile in David’s classes and to earn his approval, even if I was surely thinking a few less adulatory thoughts on that long drive to C-ville that day.

While I was doing some of my dissertation research, I spent a week or so in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid. David and I overlapped on this trip, and I got to see him in his element. I feel like it was kismet that he introduced me to Harriet Turner and Roberta Johnson, who became wonderful friends and mentors. Roberta, Harriet and I spent many late afternoons drinking wine and talking about life and literature. The three of us saw Almodóvar’s Volver, and an amazing exhibit at the Reina Sofía. The Feria de Libros was happening during that time, and David and I went together. It’s no secret how much David loves encountering famous people, and on this occasion Pedro Almodóvar was there and David asked me to take a picture of him with Almodóvar. I don’t think my photography skills impressed him (a huge faux pas in DTG-land), but he was quintessentially generous about it and it is still a great memory that has stuck with me – bumping elbows with Almodóvar in Retiro.

David introduced me to other people in Spain who were helpful for my dissertation and in later writing, and who’ve also become friends, including writer Rosa Montero and economist Gayle Allard. And when I recently interviewed Javier Cercas, he talked about David and other colleagues from UVA, remembering how he had been received so warmly there.

If “no pasa nada” was my first welcoming reminder from David, others of his remarks have also stuck with me. After sending him a copy of my dissertation, I found a few typos and other small errors. I wrote him an email, concerned about this. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. And then, when I was heading into my dissertation defense, he reminded me, simply: “Stay calm and confident.” What other advice does anyone really need in life than these three – Don’t worry about it; Don’t sweat the small stuff; Stay calm and confident?
I started the PhD program with two small children, and finished it with two more, having moved twice (to DC and back to Lynchburg) in the process. As he reminded me in an email when I received tenure, it wasn’t an easy path – but faculty like David who were constant advocates along the way made it feasible. As I wrote in my dissertation acknowledgments: “I have been particularly fortunate to have encountered a number of superb professors who encouraged me and whose insights and friendship have been powerful influences. Special thanks go to David Gies, whose knowledge regarding Spanish film and culture has been an inspiration […]”

Truly, one of the great gifts of pursuing my PhD at UVA has been the friendships made along the way. I was delighted to travel back to C-ville to see Randolph, David, Joel, and so many other dear faculty at Randolph’s retirement party. It is especially rewarding to see faculty who taught and mentored become lifelong friends.

I should add, too, that I have always loved seeing how Janna and David fit together like a glove. It was wonderful when the kids were small to come to their house for the faculty picnic, and great to see them both enjoy grandchildren. I am looking forward to seeing the many Facebook pictures of all of David and Janna’s many travels and other adventures now that they will have more time to globe trot.