by Javier Herrero
I arrived to the United States in 1966, to Duke University. In 1967 I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Virginia. I was exstatic facing the dazzling beauty created in the lovely fields of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson. Here was the truly American spirit: the Greek temples and Roman Forum translated by an Enlightenment’s mind into a new architectural marvels. They represented, in their new incarnation, the ideals of Democracy and Republic, and the rejection of, for the 18th century American revolutionaries, decrepit values of monarchical and aristocratic authority. Briefly, I fell in love with UVA.
It would come as no surprise, then, that I was delighted when, in 1971, I was offered the position of Chairman of the Department of the Spanish Italian and Portuguese of the University of Virginia. I immediately wrote accepting the professorship but not the chairmanship: the structure of European universities, in whose bosom I had been educated and taught for years, was totally different from the American one, and I did not believe that I could successfully direct a department without having the foggiest idea of how it worked. However the university insisted that if I accepted it had to be as chairman and I declined. However, God, in His supreme wisdom, had decided that I had to be chairman of UVA and, what can humans do in the face of such a supreme authority? In 1979 I was offered again the same position, and again as chairmanship. I knew by experience that I could not negotiate, it was aut chairman aut nihil! What to do?
In the late 60s and early 70s I had had the most remarkable student in my, by then, about twenty years in Academia. David Gies is the only student of whom I can say that he wrote his dissertation incognito. He had taken a course in which I studied the conflict, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, between the predominant conservative thought and the new liberal one. Among the authors that we discussed there vaguely appeared an interesting figure of whom very little was known (Agustin Durán) but whose influence made him worthy of scholarly attention. David asked me if I thought that he could be the subject of his dissertation; I was delighted that he had chosen a subject that will enlighten some aspect aspects of one of most fascinating, but at the time mostly ignored, periods of modern Spanish literary history: the origins of Spanish romanticism. David managed to get a grant, went to Spain to conduct his research, and disappeared of my sight.
I remember perfectly well the afternoon we met again, in my home in Yorkshire Drive, in Pittsburgh. He had written to me that he had come back to USA and that he should like to visit me to chat about his dissertation. Obviously this was a rather unusual situation: in my experience, when a student is doing research and progressing in his/her work, s/he periodically consults you, often sending some material that you revise and comment. Such a prolonged silence did not bode well; I now would have to study an enormous amount of material that, in case that it was not acceptable, would imply a disastrous waste of David’s time (and mine). But my alarm was in vain; what David had brought to me was his completed dissertation: he was presenting to me a book ready for publication. I was truly astonished; such efficiency was remarkable. The exam was a pure formality and soon the book was published, the first of the many that provided the foundation for his remarkable career. Very soon and very young, David was a tenured Associated Professor at Saint Bonaventure University in New York state.
Turning now back to my offer of chairmanship. I was decided to accept it but I was equally convinced that I could not handle the job. I needed somebody that was very familiar with the structure of American universities (all those 100; 201; 311; etc.) that was a mystery to me. Of David competence and of his loyalty I was certain; both essential since I intended to give to him complete authority in the organization of our program. I was fortunate that the University was ready to give me all I needed to implement what was its main aim: to place the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese to the level of excellence occupied by the other departments of language and literature in our institution. And these levels were very high indeed: all were between the five best in the country (English number three). I told the Dean, “I shall be ashamed if I didn’t do it”, and that seems to have been the right answer because he offered to help me in any possible way. Free from any shyness I asked for a new line that will allow us to bring, as visiting professors the top international scholars and writers, and for at least one endowed chair (we later got two). I also wanted to establish in UVA the program of MA and PhD that under the guidance of Alexander Parker, arguably the most distinguished Hispanist of his day, we had created in the University of Pittsburgh. Not an easy task to implement.
I, then, knew what I wanted, but had neither the know how to pass it from the ideal to the practical world, nor the energy to embark in such enterprise. But I knew that David Gies did. He knew Spanish as a native; he had won all kind of awards as a High School and as a College student, among them grants to attend programs in Latin-American countries and in Spain. Having been a graduate student in Pittsburgh he was familiar with our program and, above all, in the handling of his dissertation he had shown that he had the combination of total dedication and untiring stamina that made of him in later years one of the greatest scholars of his generation. On top of that all, he is a first class administrator. I had his name already in mind when I met the Dean; I suggested it to him insisting that I considered his appointment essential for the success of our project and, after some inevitable formalities (visit to the department, meetings with the faculty etc.) David was Assistant Chairman of the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese of the University of Virginia. He was thirty four years old.
Not only was the department was in crisis, but in a truly existential one, since two of the three full professors of the department had retired and the debilitation produced by such a state of disarray was obviously dangerous for its scholarly health. There did not seem to be a program: each professor told the secretary what they wanted to teach and in this way the series of courses of the semester were established. But one of the greatest and more disconcerted surprises took place went we discovered that not only we did not have a program, but we did not have students. I am referring of course to graduate students, since there are always enough undergraduates in the Spanish language. Our discovery took place in a rather bewildering way. I decided to teach my first seminar on “Don Quijote”, assuming than such an important text would attract a majority of the graduate students and would give me a chance to know them. I was shocked when I found out that only two had registered. I immediately, in a state of panic, consulted with David who, with his usual competence, came back with a puzzling but comforting answer: “Congratulations, Javier. Your course offering has been extremely successful. All our graduate students have signed for it!” And proceeded to present to me a list of the lecturers who taught our language courses, the majority, as was the case at the time, the wives of professors of different departments who knew one of our languages. So, we had just two graduate students! (By the way I leave out of these comments the section of Portuguese that was a model of efficiency and scholarly solidity).
We had, then, four major problems: we did not have a program; we did not have students; we had to replace retired senior faculty; we were very low in the national ranking. But we had a very powerful weapon: the promise of the Dean of giving us full support. However, to obtain it we had to present to him carefully thought plans. The creation of a program presented no problem; I have mentioned the one we established in Pittsburgh under the guidance of Professor Alexander Parker and with which David was familiar. Our goal was to provide to the students in search if an M.A. a knowledge of the most important texts of the Spanish literature starting from the Middle Ages to the, then relatively recent, Civil War and Franco years. With that foundation it would be easy for the student pursuing the Ph.D. to narrow the field of his interest to a subject of whose background s/he had a familiarity. We establish this program in UVA in 1979; it has lasted until today, and numerous students have written to us gratefully expressing how useful it was as a preparation to start immediately the new career of Assistant Professor without undue anxieties.
Two major problems remained to be solved if we wanted fulfill the Dean’s vision of a Department with national prestige. These problems were really two sides of the same one: if we attracted internationally known professors graduate students of quality would follow. Since we had the promise of the Dean, and with it the funds, the task was relatively easy. I had originally intended to bring, with the rank of ‘Visiting Professor’, the greatest European scholars, so that our students would be exposed to a different tradition of teaching and learning. David, though, as usual, came with a most interesting idea; why not combine the critics with the writers, artists, and bring to the students simultaneously the creator and the product. I enthusiastically agreed. So we immediately proceeded to produce two lists: one of future chaired professors as permanent members of the department, the only way of giving to it the prestige we claimed, and other of possible visiting novelists and poets who will contribute to this success with the glamour that art brings with itself and of which the gravitas of research is deprived. David laboriously collected all the necessary information while I dedicated myself to the more attractive, self-aggrandizing task of inviting such luminaries as Sir Peter Russel, Oxford Professor of Medieval Literature, Professor Jean Cannavaggio, Director of the Center of French Culture in Madrid, Professor Colin Smith, of Cambridge, etc., to visit us (in the Spring Semester) in successive years. Equally rewarding, and, given the nature of their activities, even more lively, was the visit of writers of the standing of Carmen Martin Gaite, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Rosa Montero, Guillermo Carnero, Isabel Allende, Mempo Giardinelli, and other luminaries that delighted our students, entertained us with their company, and honored us with their friendship.
With regard the staff itself, whose quality, obviously would be the foundation of any progress in future ranking, we progressively appointed such distinguished scholars as Juan Cano for the Spanish-Peninsular section, Donald Shaw as our Latin-American specialist, and Tibor Wlassics in Italian (David covering 18th and 19th centuries, and I the Golden Age). In Bristol, England, attending a lecture on Latin American literature, I found out that a modest fellow that had his office three doors beyond mine, David Haberly, was an internationally recognized authority in Brazilian studies. In successive years we completed our faculty recruiting promising young scholars such as Alison Weber, Fernando Operé, Gustavo Pellón, Ricardo Padrón and Joel Rini, (followed in later years by established scholars of the standing of Mané Lagos, Randolph Pope, Michael Gerli, and Andrew Anderson). The joint contribution of this group has brought UVA to share with Yale University the number one among the Spanish departments in the country. The wish of the Dean who appointed me had been achieved. Another Dean told me when I, retiring, went to say “Good bye!”: “Javier, we invited you to play and you broke the bank!” I did not do it alone.
But this part of recruiting a faculty, although it needed a lot of search and paper work, was relatively easy. What I should call the ‘heroic period’ of our fight towards excellence was the search for graduate students. How to persuade young graduates of first class universities to apply to a program that was in a state of development? Here I must acknowledge that we owe the greater part of our success to the strategic genius of David. The first thing that we must do – he advised me – is to write a brochure taking advantage of the many attractive features of Thomas Jefferson’s University: its tradition of being part of cultural development that took place with the birth of the Republic, related historically and socially with what has been called the dynasty of Virginian presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, several of them close friends and neighbors; its proximity to Williamsburg, which had been the colonial capital of Virginia and the earliest center to agitate for independence in the South; all of this had made of UVA, in the past, the most sought-after educational center in the South of the United States. And we should not discard its aesthetic beauty that won for UVA in 1976, in a celebration of the centenary of the Revolution that took place with the attendance of the Queen of England (and the still in power Shah of Iran), the prize for the greatest architectural achievement in America. This historical and Jeffersonian heritage had made of it the most distinguish and elegant center of learning, with a certain snobbish appeal. To top it all, David found that Thomas Jefferson had recommended the study of Spanish: this quotation became prominent part of the brochure. With all this, basically historical and partly baloney, David produced a fabulous piece of propaganda.
Already we had the seductive brochure but, what to do with it? I called this part of our recruiting efforts ‘heroic’; we could call it also, using terms of the great Steve Martin, the ‘wild and crazy’ period. Again I must give David the credit for the brilliant, if up to a point arduous, strategy directed to the search and capture the graduate students who would receive, and later dispend, the excellent education that our renewed department would impact. Our motto was, ‘We must spare no effort, be ready to do any sacrifice, to run any risk, in the cause of recruiting the best master and doctoral candidates!’ And how to do this? We must personally distribute the brochures. Where? Anywhere! By ‘anywhere’ it was understood that we shall attend all conferences where members of the profession met regularly: MLA, of course, what meant the different cities where they took place; the North Atlantic MLA, the South Atlantic MLA, The Kentucky Conference of Foreign Languages, and any other less periodical one that was announced in the relative proximity of Virginia. Of these meetings the most productive one was the South Atlantic MLA, of whose executive committee we were members, which took place every spring in Atlanta, and whose location was usually one of the lovely hotels situated in Peachtree Avenue. David and I selected in every occasion the rooms where topics were discussed that could attract an audience likely to be interested in what we offered, and we placed our brochures on the chairs. After the meeting we would go back to see how many fishes had bitten the bait, which we could discern by seeing the number of brochures left untouched. Of course this tiresome activity was complemented with personal contacts and enthusiastic explanation of the excellence of the renewed department that was been created in UVA.
Was this strategy too onerous? I think that David would agree with me that this was one of the most pleasant tasks that we have completed in the long years of our profession. As we all know, to attend conferences is not an exclusively scholarly activity: you have to lunch here, dine there, attend cultural activities, meet and chat with numerous friends, and in fact live a temporary cosmopolitan existence of a human and cultural quality that cannot be achieved in the usual departmental routine. A faculty meeting or an advising session are not glamorous; dining in a superb restaurant in Peachtree, with old friends, can be. And David made sure that this was the case. I said earlier that his abilities are varied, and among them, in an extreme case, is his talent as an organizer. Before we had left Charlottesville, David knew the ratings of the best restaurants in Atlanta (or in San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Madrid … and so many other great cities where our scholarly pursuits have taken us during the years), their menus and their prices. In a certain way, we have, in the successive events of so many travels, experienced the fascinating progress of American sophistication in the last decades of the twentieth century. For example, in the early 1980s it was impossible to have an expresso in the best restaurants in the South of the United States, or to find a good Rioja. By the time we stopped attending these meetings, in the 1990s you could find them anywhere.
Beyond these somewhat hedonistic experiences that accompanied our graver recruiting tasks, there were others in which culture and pleasure combined in the most agreeable manner. A most remarkable event comes to my mind. In one of our Atlanta meetings, the Association of Barber Shop Quartets held also a conference that took place in the same building that the one we were attending. I had never heard of such virtuoso musicians, and was very intrigued by these, as far as I know, exclusively American artists. David, with his characteristic good humor and confidence, approached a group and suggested that, since I was a Spaniard who had never had a chance of hearing them perform, it would be most hospitable for them to give me a private performance. Given the kindness of Americans in general, and of barbers in particular, it will surprise no one that they agreed and we had the most delightful musical afternoon followed, naturally, by some beers to which I was happy to invite the musicians to show my appreciation and gratitude. Or, and I end this digression in my narrative with this last story, our encounter in Kentucky with the Nobel Prize laureate Camilo José Cela, who was the guest of honor. For some reason that I cannot remember, a group of attendants (we were five altogether) among whom David and I were included, met with Cela. We were enjoying an animated conversation, something in what the great writer was a master, and the name of Mallorca, where Cela lived at the time, was mentioned. I said that my brother Antonio lived also in Palma, and Cela immediately exclaimed, “What! Antonio Herrero is your brother? He is my ophthalmologist! And a good friend! We must celebrate this amazing coincidence. And since we are in the South, let us have a round of old fashions!” Cela seemed so delighted that we did not dare to suggest that five cocktails with our lunch might bring unforeseen consequences. I have the vague memory of a most convivial meeting in which the joys of companionship, witty chatter, and delightful food joined with unique success. What has remained in my mind strangely fixed is that after the lunch David suggested that we (he and I) should go to see The House of Fools that was being played in a local theater. On the way a poor fellow asked us for money, one of us gave him a couple of dollars and he immediately entered a tavern. David commented ruefully and biblically, “Who can throw the first stone?” I remember that I slept through the whole movie.
I am not going to write a résumé of David’s unusual successful career. He is probably, since he has been the President of the International Association of Hispanists, one of the best known scholars in the world and I could add nothing new to what is well known or could be found in a look at his name in Google: that he had had all kind of successes; in teaching (award for the best professor); in writing (several books in Cambridge University Press); in administration (President of the Senate); in professional endeavors (committees for awards of literary prices; for cultural development, the most distinguished the one founded by the Duke of Soria, uncle of the King of Spain). Not only has David’s career been extraordinary for his uninterrupted series of impressive achievements, but also for having had some of the most original ones that can be found in the world of Academia, and I shall end this brief mention of them with this picturesque one: David has been, in several occasions, the Professor/ Admiral of the Semester at Sea, a kind of cultural cruise that navigated the waves of all the oceans imparting learning and tourism to hundreds of students.
And this brings us to the more intriguing and significant questions that I intended to discuss in the description of my personal experience of this, one of my dearest friends, along our many years of academic collaboration: Is David perfect? This is obviously the first question that comes to mind of everybody who reads what I have written above. The answer is, fortunately, No! First and foremost, let us say that his sin, the cloud that shadows his dazzling brightness, is not mortal. Not only is David essentially good; he is also an innocent and pure soul. You want a proof of it? Here it is: David waited avidly for the next volume of Harry Potter as they were being published, and once it appeared he would read it as he contemplated the impressive landscape that formed the background of his previous, lovely, house (the Blue Ridge Mountains). Which experience could be more uplifting than this one that combined literary excitement with the contemplation of God’s great art. But what documents clearly his spiritual cleanliness is the choice of his material: one of the greatest, and more profoundly educated scholars, tested by the profound work of the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement, finds peace and joy in the fantastic world of magic in which my grandson also delights.
What is then the nature of this weakness? Do we want more evidence of the miraculous fact that David has maintained the cleanness of youth through the rough experiences that life requires of us in the way to excellence and fame? Nothing more genuinely honest than the sincerity with which David delights in the perks of his well-deserved success: his Mercedes sports brings with it the evidence, not only of affluence, but of a debonair and daring spirit; the spectacular penthouse to which he moved recently confirms that he will live his later years in the ambiance that pertains to the friend of great artists, politicians, Europeans aristocrats… Innumerable photos in Facebook witness to the fact that he is celebrating the success of some event with the Duke of Soria, with the Spanish Minister of Culture, or with the Marquis of Tamarón; or dining with the great Spanish writers Muñoz Molina and Rosa Montero or Eduardo Mendoza. Better still is a selfie with the King of Spain. Is this snobbery? Most certainly not! And there is nothing phony or pretentious about this: David is too intelligent to fall into a Trumpian conceit and vulgarity. It is simply the joy that my grandson Rafa feels with the new motorized bike that I gave him for his birthday as a prize for his grades: the clean and somewhat self-ironic delight in the material dressings of spiritual success. Yes, David sees with irony his one display of glory and, when I comment his joyful display with affectionate mockery, accepts it with friendly humor. I am going to end this review of the many years of warm friendship with David with the reproduction (in its Spanish original) of a piece of correspondence between us that illustrates this ironic auto-celebration of David and my somewhat sardonic answer that he accepted with good sportsmanship.
On 8/2/2016 2:32 AM, Gies, David T. (dtg) wrote:
¿Qué tal? ¿Cómo estáis? Ya hace un mes que no sabes nada de nosotros. Me dicen que ha hecho muchísimo calor en Charlottesville; espero que hayáis sobrevivido bien.
Ya estamos en agosto; cómo vuela el tiempo. Janna y yo salimos esta mañana de Barcelona, donde llegamos a bordo del barco The World. Creo que mencioné el mes de julio que me esperaba, con tres eventos para mí importantes. Ya te cuento.
El 4 de julio me fui a Madrid para dar una (lo que llaman) “lección magistral” a la Fundación Duques de Soria. Da. Margarita (nota de Javier. Es la hermana del Rey) está indispuesta (ingresada por problemas de una cadera) pero el duque sí que estuvo, junto con Rafael Benjumea (conde de Guadalhorce, presidente de la FDS), José María Rodríguez Ponga (asesor de la FDS; su hermano Rafael es el Director del Instituto Cervantes) y Santiago, marqués de Tamarrón (ex-Director del Instituto Cervantes y ex-embajador español ante el Reino Unido). Un día super largo pero divertido. El resto del tiempo en Madrid lo pasé en la Biblioteca Nacional, viendo a los amigos, descansando.
Luego, el 9 de julio volé a Münster, Alemania, para presidir sobre el 18 Congreso de la AIH. Una semana intensa pero muy buena. Lo pasé fenomenal, la AIH sobrevivió mi presidencia y salí elegido Presidente de Honor.
De allí, el 17 volví a España, a Vigo, donde me reuní con Janna para subir The World, este barco en el que varios ricachones tienen casas. Es algo increible, difícil de explicar, de un lujo que no te puedes imaginar. Me habían invitado a dar 4 conferencias, que hice con Powerpoint en su elegante auditorio/teatro. Son cosas de alta divulgación: “4 cosas que sé de Portugal,” “La historia de España a través de su arquitectura,” “De Franco a Felipe: La España de hoy,” y “Barcelona, ¡a disfrutar!” Pero lo bueno, claro, es que viajamos con ellos durante 16 días, desde Vigo a Cascais (Portugal), Palma de Mallorca, Ciutadella, Mahón, Tarragona y Barcelona. La gente a bordo es excéntrica (cómo no) pero simpática; los días los pasamos en los puertos. Total que, un lujo y un privilegio.
Y se acabó. Volvemos a Charlottesville donde intentaremos vender la casa de Janna y preparar la nuestra para la venta, posiblemente en septiembre. Ya somos los dueños del nuevo piso en el centro y (obviamente) tengo que vender cosas para no terminar en la cárcel de deudores.
Espero verte pronto. Debemos pensar en retomar nuestros encuentros en Burtons.
Un fuerte abrazo,
Esta es mi respuesta: For those who understand the somewhat sardonic, although affectionate, irony, that pervades my letter, the fact that David accepts my benevolent mockery with respectful humor (“I read you with a smile in my lips” – was his answer) shows the strength of the bond of David’s respect for his elderly teacher and companion and, from my side, the justified pride in his successes that I covered with a light tease.
Sí, ha sido un verano difícil y duro para ti y, por supuesto, puedes contar con mi apoyo y comprensión, pero creo que también debes pensar que es precisamente de las penalidades de donde podemos sacar enseñanzas. Claro que la conducta del comité de la Fundación Duque de Soria es imperdonable. Todos esos duques, condes y marqueses deleitándose con exquisitos manjares y deliciosos vinos mientras tu intentabas entretenerlos con tus bien organizados y, sin duda, amenísimos poderosos/puntos! Y sin pensar que tú también tendrías un apetito y derecho, como aconseja el evangelio, a comer por tu predicación. Una inexcusable desatención! Pero de esa penosa experiencia puedes sacar la lección de la vanidad de las promesas de los poderosos.
Y qué decir de la abominable conducta de la A.I.H! Roger Ailes abusa de docenas de mujeres y Fox, en vez de meterlo en la cárcel, lo premia con cuarenta millones de dólares y a ti, que has dado una vida a la scholarship hispánica y seis años a esa institución, todo lo que te dan es un papel diciendo que eres un hombre honorable. Ha sido todo tu esfuerzo en vano? No, porque tú sabes que tu conciencia de haber cumplido con tu deber, y el conocimiento adquirido con tu esfuerzo, vale mucho más que esos millones de dólares!
Finalmente y aún más penoso, es el haber tenido que soportar durante tanto tiempo ese desquiciado lujo que yo sé cuanto detestas y como ofende a tu sentido de la frugalidad, a esa austeridad que siempre te ha marcado, a ti y todos tu hábitos, (viajes, comidas, coches …) todo ha estado marcado siempre por esa pasión por la oscura modestia que tanto admiramos tus amigos. Sí, has sufrido, pero cuantas enseñanzas has ganado, la vanidad de la riqueza, el vacío espiritual de los poderosos, y tantas otras lecciones que te preparan para gozar de tu retiro con una sólida, inalterable paz.
Nosotros no muy bien; Merche acaba de pasar (hemos pasado) dos días en el hospital pues tuvo varias caídas, una por la escalera. Se ha repuesto y no tiene nada serio, pero está débil y, como es natural algo asustada. Pero no es este un tema que me guste tocar. Ya hablaremos.
David has been, in the many years of our professional and personal relationship, not only a dear friend, but a member of our family, a younger brother. In one occasion in which Columbia University tried to steal him from us, I wrote to the Dean that apart of the many scholarly reasons for which his departure would be a loss for us, was the personal ones that I should lose the friend whose occasional companionship makes more acceptable the gloominess of old age, and that my wife will find, without him, the life in Charlottesville much less attractive. What I have written here will show, I hope, why this is so.
By Javier Herrero,
Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia
By Jeff Bersett
Thank you for being a teacher who taught us to learn and to teach, and to love both. Your classes were always models of efficiency. Your lectures transmitted the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of boredom. Your positive attitude and good humor taught us that learning, difficult learning, could also be fun and exciting (how Enlightenment of you!). You created a space for discussion that allowed students to find their strengths, to participate in constructive dialogue, and to be respectful of the ideas of others (to the point when such respect was deserved and/or necessary).
Thank you for being a scholar who has served as a role model for all of us. Your work has taught us what there is to know, and it has also taught us how to do the work ourselves. As I am sure others will have said more eloquently here, you made the XVIII into a thing again. We study the Enlightenment in new and interesting ways that were not possible before your work. You have encouraged all of us to reach for the same level of achievement, and you have helped us along the way as well with useful and insightful (and instant—how the hell?) feedback at every turn.
Thank you for being a colleague from whom we all learn daily what it means to be a colleague. You have modeled positive and productive interactions that have become the meta ideal for the rest of us in our respective departments. You have taught us how to navigate the labyrinth of personality in academia, and how to make the most of difficult situations.
I speak on behalf of all of us—former students, fellow scholars, current colleagues—and hope that my experiences with you have been shared to some degree by all.
I have given a lot of thought to what stories I would want to include here, and have found, as I have stated elsewhere, that there are just too many good ones that need to be shared. Adventures in dogsitting (avec parfum de skunk), NEH work both at UVa and in Spain, dinner (or lunch, maybe) at Zalacaín, our cameo appearance in what is possibly the worst movie ever made (I never received my Goya, did you?), countless movies and plays, countless books bought / sold / exchanged / recommended / argued over, conference panels and presentations, letters of recommendation (written, oddly, in both directions—how’d that happen?), museums and exhibitions, food food food frenzies everywhere at every opportunity (and the quest for the perfect soup dumpling!), hilarious Uber and cab rides (most recently with the wacky lady in New York during the bomb cyclone!—I haven’t laughed that hard in years!), and all the kindnesses and generosity extended over the years. And I’m sure that there will be more in the future to be added to this list.
But I will end on one of the stories of generosity. In 2015, the Kennedy Center hosted its Iberian Suite event, bringing together artists and authors from around the Spanish-speaking world. We both happened to be in DC for the event, and you made sure to invite me to all the dinners and all the drinks and all the people. You had no reason to include me in these things, but as you always have done with everyone, you made sure that you did. A lasting memory of that trip is of Spanish writer and TV personality Elvira Lindo making sure that she got a portrait of Janna at the Kennedy Center. Not to mention that we ate and drank and spent time with our favorite writers from everywhere. In addition to Elvira, we spent time in some capacity with Antonio Muñoz Molina, Javier Cercas, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Anne McLean, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, not to mention sightings of other folks like César Aira and Edith Grossman. Your celebrity photo obsession is catching… I particularly like this one of us with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Elvira Lindo. We were having such a good time that the digital ghost of García Márquez left his chestnut tree in the courtyard to photobomb us.
Thank you for everything, always.
PS—Amy thanks you, too. Her story would involve Isabel Allende and drinks in Tiburón followed by a fantastic dinner in Sausalito. That actually might be a better story.
de José Hidalgo
¡Felicidades! Así suelen empezar las muestras de cariño tras la trayectoria profesional de personas competentes. En este caso, se debería comenzar la felicitación con preguntas de sorpresa y asombro: ¿Ya? ¿Tan pronto? El Profesor Gies, que con el tiempo fue David, luego Almirante David, siempre ha estado en mi memoria y más profunda estima desde que lo conocí de manera virtual en la primavera del 2003, cuando buscaba un programa de doctorado para continuar mis estudios. Muchos lectores sabrán de la dificultad que entraña decidir entre un programa u otro, y en mi caso, tenía preparadas hasta doce solicitudes. Quizás pensaba que mientras más solicitudes mejores posibilidades de encontrar el programa adecuado. Sin embargo, fueron la profesionalidad, entusiasmo y buena disposición de David lo que hizo que rasgara en pedacitos las restantes once. Así fue, David me había convencido de que tenía que ir a C´ville para estudiar en el SIP, y ahora solo tenía una opción; bueno dos, la otra era regresar a España si no entraba en el programa.
A David lo conocí por fotografía antes que en persona. Fue en los primeros días de visita a Cabell Hall donde lo encontré junto a Don Juan Carlos, Rey de España por aquel entonces. ¿Cómo?, se preguntarán. Sí, elegantemente retratado junto al antiguo Rey. Creo recordar que posteriormente se cambió la foto por una con Don Felipe VI.
Una vez me presenté en su oficina y acepté el ritual de comerme unos M&M´s, ese famoso tarro de chocolates que preside su escritorio, tuve el privilegio de conocer a una de las personas más generosas, amigables y cariñosas que la profesión ha visto y echará en falta. No voy a mencionar sus éxitos académicos de sobra conocidos, ya que me extendería páginas y páginas. Es que además David va más allá, y su persona desprende un aire señorial y folletinesco. Para empezar forma parte de la aristocracia española, el academicismo de ambos continentes, e incluso al más puro estilo cervantino su persona salpica en las páginas de ficción de algún que otro escritor de envergadura.
Además de estas peculiaridades, unas de las características que destacan de David son su generosidad y sencillez. Por aquel entonces del 2003 yo era un simple y humilde estudiante graduado, de escasos recursos y algo perdido en la cultura y el idioma. David, por el contrario, era profesor catedrático, reconocido en las esferas docentes y literarias, y sin embargo se ofreció sin preámbulos a llevarme de compras al supermercado y a mostrarme la ciudad. No sólo una sino varias veces, y siempre con una disposición apabullantemente positiva que hace arrancar sonrisas hasta a un muerto. Me trató con gran cariño y ternura, pues para David no hay jerarquías ni rangos sino personas con alma, mente y corazón.
También disfruté a lo grande, al igual que muchos otros estudiantes, de su talento como pastelero en todas las celebraciones cinematográficas. Así que además de facilitar a sus estudiantes la vida con su sabiduría y apoyo, nos endulzaba el paladar y nos llenaba la barriga.
Sin duda, me dio gran regocijo que fuera a la defensa de mi tesis sobre asuntos medievales en El Greco con el inolvidable Chico, quien no bostezó en ningún momento. Ejemplo de seriedad académica, dignidad y rectitud. Siempre le agradeceremos que en el seminario de mujeres decimonónicas que impartió nos ayudara a publicar los trabajos finales de investigación en una revista académica. Y la lista de acciones de apoyo y ayuda puede continuar y continuar… Después de la escuela graduada, siempre ha respondido en menos de veinticuatro horas a cualquiera de mis inquietudes profesionales, con buenas sugerencias y comentarios inteligentes. He tenido el gusto de encontrármelo en varios congresos y siempre he disfrutado de su compañía, y de compartir muy buenos momentos. A día de hoy seguimos en contacto y ojalá que por muchos años más. ¡Felicidades, Almirante, por ser uno de los genios de carne y papel en este Parnaso terrenal!
by Arantxa Ascunce
I completed my PhD at UVA in Spanish in 2007. I took a job at the University of Hawaii where I stayed until 2015. During that time, David and Janna came twice to visit, once with the Semester at Sea and the other time while they were on vacation. I cherish this picture of us together in Maui, Jan. 19, 2014. We are standing at the trunk of a massive tree that spans the area of an entire plaza. I think this picture is symbolic of his work as a teacher and all the branches, leaves and flowers that have stemmed from his loving guidance and generous support throughout the years.
By Cynthia Wall
In October 2003, David and I started the university-wide XVIII Study Group, bringing faculty (from Architecture, American Studies, Art and Art History, English, French, German, History, Italian, Music, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Spanish, and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies) together once a semester to share current work in the eighteenth century. Or rather, the eighteenth centuries–since that collaboration produced a wonderful two-day seminar in March 2013 for our tenth anniversary, and a book we co-edited from that seminar, The Eighteenth Centuries: Global Networks of Enlightenment, published January 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. For the Study Group, we had two firm rules: (1) NO HOMEWORK, and (2), PLENTY OF WINE. David has always been a joy as a colleague, his unbounded energy and optimism contagious, lifting all our spirits. David and Janna frequently hosted my partner Paul Hunter and me, plying us with food and drink as David and I scribbled notes at their kitchen table and Paul and Janna added wit and wisdom. David, I will deeply miss you as a colleague, but Paul and I both plan to delight in the friendship of you and Janna for aeons to come. –Much love from Cindy and Pablo!
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.
By Anna Brickhouse
David was the dean of the inaugural Semester at Sea voyage for UVA, and because he hired me I was able to travel with my husband and sons, then 4 and 7, to eight countries in Latin America. They will be 15 and almost 18 by the time of David’s party, and it is still a defining event of their lives, and ours. He put together an amazing adventure for us all, and made us happy every day to be there. I will always treasure that experience, and I learned so much by watching how David and Janna find the pleasure in every drop of life, everywhere they go. Eat, drink, ask questions, tell stories, laugh a lot–they know what they’re doing!
David and Janna, Bruce and I are so happy to celebrate tonight with you!
By Wynne Stuart
How do we know David Gies? Let me count the ways . . .
I started writing something linear and boring — but David Gies and is his life are neither.
So. . .
WHERE would we be without Tinto and Tapas, Great stories from the family, the pets, the World and Semester at Sea, Very happy times of food, wine, and discovery at the Paramount and with Cavalier Travels?
David Gies: Always an engaged, inspired, and inspiring teacher. Curiosity, exuberance, intelligence, attention to detail, caring, joy.
Because of him, Vicki and Wynne love Spain and the warmth of the culture and will continue our Spain / France banter, as only he can incite!
WHERE would we be without Janna with David, as they travel forward together in their adventures?
By Judith Shatin
David has the extraordinary capacity to seemingly remember every person he meets, and certainly all of the students on this trip! He radiates positive energy, too rare a quality! On the rare occasions when problems arose, David was always ready to assist anyone who needed help. In sum, his friendship and kindness and the academic level that he both demonstrates and requires, elevated that entire experience, just as they have done throughout his career.