Thursday, 11 October 2007

By George, What an Honor!

Enough about me! Time to write about George Greenia, one of the very fine people I know in this world. Though after today I shall have to call him "Comendador."

This very day, George X. Greenia of Williamsburg, Virginia USA is going to a posh reception at the Spanish Embassy in Washington D.C., a celebration of the Spanish National Holiday, aka ´Puente de Pilar.´ (The feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar is tomorrow, Friday. Which means it´s a three-day weekend, or ´puente´here in Spain, and probably at the Spanish embassy, too... thus the celebration a day early.)

While there, George will be called up to the front, where the Ambassador will probably kiss him on both his (face) cheeks and put ´round his neck a yellow-and-red ribbon with a nice shiny medal hanging on it... thus naming dear old George a Knight Commander of the American Order of Isabella the Catholic.
The gentleman in the picture is not George, but if you ignore the flowing raven locks and the cunning pantaloons there IS a passing resemblance. He, too, is a Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic. Fine company indeed for a tipo of George´s caliber.

George is a professor of Spanish at the College of William and Mary, an educational institution in Virginia so eminent it was sung on a hit by Steely Dan years ago. Thomas Jefferson had a hand in the place, and Christopher Wren designed the chapel there, and the Rockefellers spent zillions creating Colonial Williamsburg, a faux capital city on the same place where regular Americans had let all the old original buildings fall down. It´s like a 16th century Disneyland nowadays, so clean and neat and regulated the McDonalds is clad in red brick and the coach horses are not permitted to poop.

George lives there, in a very fine condo just off campus. When he is not chairing academic committees, or overseeing publication of two magazines, lecturing on preterite imperfects, writing up budgets, shmoozing, raising funds, translating 14th century Castilian legal papers, plotting his next hike down the camino with a few lucky students, or scheduling international art exhibits. Or emceeíng some black-tie dinner or making something wonderful for his mother-in-law, who lives next door.

George is an all-rounder. One of his biggest talents, outside all the above, is his attentiveness. No matter how insignificant you are, when he speaks to you, you have all his attention.

We met at a North American pilgrim gathering in Toronto three or four years ago. I told him I´d help with American Pilgrim magazine, the giveaway produced by American Pilgrims on the Camino -- there had only been one edition up til then, and he needed a hand with the editing and writing. I know how to do that, so I volunteered. We hit it off.

And ever since, when George is around it´s a whirl of activity. We went to a very posh reception atop Rockefeller Center a couple of years ago, where we met with an old employer of mine back in my freelance days, the head of the Tourist Office of Spain in New York. We shmoozed the Galician tourist office people, the toffs from Condé Nast, and a gang of other questionable characters from My Former Life. We stayed at a $350 per night hotel up the street, a place that offers a Menu of Pillow Selections, as well as an on-call Pet Psychologist. George paid for the hotel via some grant or other. (Having left our ferrets at home, we could not find a good reason to consult with the pet psychologist, alas!)

George turned that evening´s introductions into a long-term relationship with Spanish tourist authorities... which somehow continue to turn into more grants for more trips and studies and publications on, about, and for Spain and the Camino de Santiago. So everybody´s happy. George X Greenia knows how to hustle!

He´s great in museums, archives, restaurants, and up on cathedral roofs. And at home. George has never been to my house, but when I go to Williamsburg I stay at his. It´s four-star Colonial, but with Indian cuisine. When my house gets civilized, I will put aside a suite (aka "push the dogs off the sofa") for George´s visit. And I´ll have to find space, probably, for the gaggle of W&M students that follow in his wake. Or sometimes a photographer or two. Spain has got a lot of mileage out of George, his students, his talent. They should´ve given him a medal a long time ago.

The Order of Isabella the Catholic was invented about 200 years ago, as a way for Spain to recognize people out in "the colonies" for service to the Mother Country. These days it´s a way to honor a standout academic who specializes in things Spanish. (Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister and namesake of our town, is also a Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic.) (KCOIC). There´s not any money involved, at least not that George is letting on about. I don´t think they have any lodge meetings on Tuesday nights after bowling league... especially not in those shoes with the little bows on!

George X. is enjoying the fuss, but he isn´t taking it too seriously. In his words: "helpful colleagues have correctly pointed out that there's scant difference between "knighted" and "benighted".

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