Every life writes its own Work of Fiction (anonymous)


english-ships-arrive-jamestownFrom 1602 to 1620 when the Mayflower sailed, 81 ships (probably more, but those are the ones that have been recorded) crossed the Atlantic, some to found settlements there; most of these failed and the passengers either died or managed to return home. Many of those to make these first journeys were single men. For example, the Concord left Falmouth, England on May 15, 1602 but carried no settlers. In 1603, the Speedwell and the Explorer left for the territory known as Virginia to evaluate its commercial potential. They arrived instead on the coast of Maine in June of that year, were attacked by Indians, and returned to England by October. In 1606, the Richard left Plymouth in August also heading for the North Plantation of Virginia with supplies; they returned in March of the following year without ever having made it to their destiny. This is just a sample of what would turn into an incredible criss-crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Saturday, December 30, 1606, 150 passengers left Blackwell, London in three ships: the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed and the Discovery. After 6 weeks at sea they landed in Cape Henry in Virginia and were attacked by Indians. It was the 105 survivors of the original 150 men and boys that founded Jamestown in May of 1607. Of that group, only 38 or 40 would susan-constant-discovery-goodspeed-replicas-on-the-chesapeakesurvive to see the second landing in January of 1608. This ship arrived carrying only 100 of the 120 original settlers that had set out from England.

In the late summer of 1609, 200-300 more colonists disembarked at Jamestown, many of them women and children. The death rate in the colony had risen to 70% by this time. But mortality due to disease and starvation was to go higher, reaching almost 80% during the winter following their arrival, a period that came to be known as the “Starving Time”. Scientific proof has been found that the colonists –during this time- even resorted to cannibalism[1] eating the flesh of those who had died before them in order to survive.

In May of 1611, the Starr left England headed for Virginia, accompanied by the Prosperous and the Elizabeth. Amongst them they carried 300 people, much needed supplies and horses, cows, goats, rabbits, pigeons and chickens. The men aboard were listed as jamestown“honest, sufficient artificers, carpenters, smiths, coopers, fishermen, tanners, shoemakers, shipwrights, brickmen, gardeners, husbandmen and laboring men of all sorts.” Jamestown was being seriously populated and every kind of artisan and builder was needed to insure its growth.

And so it went: the Treasurer sailed in 1613; the Blessing with 100 passengers in March of 1614; the John and Francis in the first week of November 1614 with 34 men and 11 women and other necessaries for the rest of the Colony. The George departed in December of 1617 and took five months to reach Virginia with its supplies mostly lost and some 400 men, women and children in a sorry state. In 1618 a ship called Gift from God sailed to Virginia with 250 settlers. About 180 to 200 people crossed also in 1618 aboard the William and Thomas and some 30 to 130, according to varying reports, died on the way. The Bosa Nova and the Diana both sailed in 1619 carrying 120 persons and 100 children between them; only 80 children survived the crossing. And more, the Margaret of Bristol and the Sampson sailed in 1619 carrying 36 and 50 settlers respectively. In 1620 there were several trips over, all to Virginia, carrying more settlers in what was by then the most important colony in the New World.mayflower

In that same year, the Mayflower set sail from Harwich, England on the 6th of September and arrived on the 11th of November in Plymouth Harbor. During the crossing, two people died and one baby was born (it died shortly after landing). Of a total of 102 passengers, 54 either died on board over the first winter when the harsh weather obliged them to stay on the ship, immediately after gaining land or over the first year. At the end of that period, only 45 survivors were counted in the budding Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower was but the first ship to take emigrants to what would later be Massachusetts and it therefore has been marked as the signal founding voyage of the future New England.[2]

shipsBetween the Mayflower and the Winthrop fleet, 66 other recorded ships made the crossing, founding settlements in Plymouth, Braintree, New Amsterdam, Salem and Charleston bringing the grand total of known crossings to 147 ships with varying numbers of passengers and rates of mortality. These were not pleasure cruises and one can barely begin to imagine the courage it took to embark on them.

Many of the travellers on these first voyages returned with tales of their hardships, but also with stories of the unimaginable extensions of choice land to be had for the wanting, of the possibility of founding communities based on their dreams and of the freedom from tyranny. In 1630, right before the departure of the Winthrop Fleet, the Mary and John sailed with approximately 140 passengers from Dorchester, Dorset, England that arrived at Nantasket Point and, just a few months before the founding of Boston, founded one of the first New England towns: Dorchester, Massachusetts; three years later, on the 8th of October, the first town meeting in America was celebrated there. Dorchester would later become the home of Baker’s Cocoa, which has formed a part of almost every American child’s diet since then. It was annexed to Boston in 1870.arrival-of-withrops-ships-in-boston-harbor-talbot-arabella-jewel

In spite of the fact that so many had already made the crossing, the so-called “Great Migration” began in honest in 1630 when the Winthrop Fleet of 11 ships gathered and crossed the Atlantic carrying more than a thousand emigrants, mostly families, to the future ‘New England’. The Fleet consisted of ships named the Arabella, the Ambrose, the Charles, the Hopewell, the Mayflower (a different one), the Jewel, the Success, the Trial, the Whale, the Talbot and the William and Francis. It landed near what would later become john-winthropSalem, Massachusetts during the year of 1630 and constituted the first mass exodus of Puritans from England. Their dream, expressed by their leader, John Winthrop, was to found “a city on the hill” so that in sight of all who saw them they would be a model of goodness and light lived on this earth. Of the thousand settlers in that first group, two hundred died that winter and two hundred more returned to England the following spring. But, over the next ten years, more than 20,000 persons –mostly from East Anglia (Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk) in England and mostly of the Puritan philosophy– migrated to America to form the backbone of New England.

puritans25The difference between this migration and previous ones is the fact that it was realized by whole families who –pulling up their roots, selling or giving away or storing with others everything they had, saying goodbye to whatever family stayed behind perhaps to never be seen again– packed in grand trunks what necessary possessions they could not make anew on the other side (the metal parts of farming instruments, for example, a small store of pots and pans, the family bible, basic linens) and set out on an adventure that they couldn’t even begin to imagine. Most of them had never been aboard a ship before; some had never even seen the sea. Perhaps, if the real hardships of the trip and the new settlements had been known, the colonization effort might have been set back for many decades. But news did not travel fast then, mostly it did not travel at all and what ill tidings did manage to reach the coast of England, rarely continued inland or, if they did, were promptly overridden by dreams of barely imagined possibilities. The stories of over 100 acres of land being allotted to each settler; of communities making their own laws and governing themselves in a new and freer way, of prayer and religious gatherings being held in what for them was the true way… all this told of a ‘new beginning’ where anything was possible.

massachusetts%20bay%20colony%20puritans-%20us%20history%20images The East Anglian families that made up the bulk of those crossing in the 1600’s were not starving, uneducated people. Most of them had good schooling for the times; they were established artisans in their communities; some owned houses and land which they sold to pay for the trip. A few could afford servants and often took them along, paying for their passage as well. Some, however, were yeomen, tenants subservient to the nobility who had little hope of ever owning their own land. Most of these could not afford the cost of passage for themselves and their families so they became indentured servants during the trip and upon arrival until that time when they could repay their debt and become freeman. And then, of course, there were the adventurers and the restless, men who travelled alone seeking fortune. There was even an occasional single woman hoping, perhaps, to form a family with one of so many single men. But for the most part it was families that crossed. The long lists of passengers –saved over time so that today we may read them in wonder on Google- include families called Abbot (10), Barnard (6), Belcher (4), Cheesebrough (6), Dudley (8), Gardner (4), Greene (6) … Hawes (5), Kemball (13), Longe (13), Swayne (6) and so on. These were whole families pulling up their roots, leaving forever the known and moving to a new land. [3]puritans2

On the Planter, for example, that made the voyage in 1635, there were 118 passengers registered before boarding. The roll does not necessarily mean everyone on it boarded the ship or arrived in America: “Some may have decided not to sail; some servants may have run away. And there usually was some loss of life among the passengers from disease and malnutrition during the passage.”[4] Among those registered to board, the eldest is a man 70 followed by a woman 65 (not related) and another unrelated man of 65; there are 11 passengers in their 40s, but most are in their 20s and 30s. 53 of the passengers are under 17; the youngest is 3 months old, Thomas Tuttell who, at least, would have been assured of his food as long as his mother survived. The incredible thing about these passenger lists is they speak not of strong seamen, foolhardy adventurers or rough-and-tough men of the world, but of simple, everyday families. William Beardsley, for instance, was a 30 year old mason travelling with his wife, Mary, who was 26 and his three children –Mary, John and Joseph- aged 4, 2 and 6 months; Thomas Olney, shoemaker, 35 and his wife Mary, 30, took two children: Thomas 3 and Etenetus whose age is not registered. Also on board there were several husbandman (free tenant farmers or small landowners), 2 shoemakers, 3 tailors, a linen weaver, 2 curriers, 2 glovers, a carpenter, a hostler (one who looks after the horses), a couple of millers and 2 sawyers. 9 men and 3 women identify themselves as “servants” and travel attached to one of the families. In other words, these were not sea-people. They had lived in towns, they had worked on land, they had housed their families in nice cozy houses, everything they knew was solid and controllable. Nothing jumped about and possibly sank the way a small ship in a storm was apt to do. So, what drove them to the sea, to the unknown, to the dangers and the possible death during the journey or in the new land?

One factor was religious persecution. East Anglia was, at the time, a hotbed of dissenters and, although not all of them were Puritans, all of them believed that theirs was the only true religion and the only road to salvation. They truly believed. Today, perhaps, we would find that kind of absolute belief only in the jihadists who fly planes into towers or blow king_charles_i_after_original_by_van_dyck1themselves up in nightclubs or drive a ten-ton truck through a crowd of revellers. In those days, it probably could be found amongst most believers of any religion. After Charles I rose to power, religious persecution increased as the Established Church of England grew ever more intolerant of what they called “heresies”. It was, apparently, William Laud who –upon becoming Archbishop of Canterbury- tightened the laws against “deviations” and was not prepared to compromise on any aspect of his policy. He gave the Justices of the Peace authorization to arrest all non-conformists who met in private. The leaders of ‘deviant’ movements were forbidden to preach and often imprisoned. He made it a criminal offense to attend Puritan worship services in an attempt to squash any opposition to the Anglican Church.

When the Puritan dominated Parliament was closed by Charles I, the followers of Puritanism found all channels for change blocked. Believing that eventually God would smite England for its sins, they had no qualms about leaving the followers of the ever more “popist” Church of England to their fate and emigrating with their leaders to a land where they could worship as they saw fit. So, many of the trips over were commandeered by Puritan leaders wishing to establish the “true” religion in the New Land.

The Puritan dream was to reform human civilization through religion, to wipe out poverty, to allow women to be educated so that they too might read God’s Word and be saved, and to make a heaven on Earth in which everyone was free to discover God’s will forcolonial-america themselves. In this way, Puritans would be able to live exemplary lives in every respect so that everyone else would see God through them and be converted to their beliefs. Therefore many left England to preserve that faith and to create a place where Puritanism could thrive, grow strong and eventually –when England had been smote for its apostasy- re-establish Christian civilization[5]

However, some economic reasons were just as compelling. The Crown, to support King Charles’ self-serving excesses, imposed heavy taxation and much of the countryside suffered. “We are being taxed into the alms house without so much as a voice,” said one such victim of injustice[6]. East Anglia, already suffering because of the decline in wool trade, found itself doubly oppressed. Large and small freeholders became victims of taxation illegally laid on their holdings. Many in the region began suffering from severe poverty. Hardworking men could no longer see the benefits of the land that had birthed them. The stories that managed to filter back from the New World, spoke so gloriously of endless opportunities for land and betterment that the dangers and sacrifices involved in migrating must have seemed worth the risks.[7] Even noble landowners such as John Winthrop found themselves taxed to such an extent that they feared the future of their families.

plague1 Fear of the plague was another incentive to get as far away as possible. Death was a possibility even in the homeland especially since the bubonic plague continued to claim lives. Although the devastating epidemic of the 14th century had not since been repeated, people continued dying in the thousands from this disease. In 1603, there had been 30,000 deaths in London, in 1625 more than 35,000 died and again in 1636 the deaths reached more than 10,000 individuals. Even though it was known to hit hardest in cities, the plague also spread to towns in rural areas. There are, obviously, no numbers for smaller urban areas. In the New World there were no overcrowded and filthy cities to attract the disease, and one could safely hope it would not find a way to propagate there.

And then there was just simply hope or greed. Among other restless spirits were those whose land hunger was not satisfied at home. They heard of the great continent across the Atlantic where a hundred acres would be given to each and every settler –an expanse imagesn08h0jlualmost beyond their conception of reality. Farmers who had long lived as tenants to landed gentry dreamed of finally being landowners themselves. Small landowners who envisioned their properties decimated amongst their many offspring, hoped to be able to allot to each child a just amount. And, for some –the young, the unattached, the endlessly curious- it was simply the spirit of adventure, the dream of a land where everything was yet to be done, the creative challenge of establishing the perfect society, the thought of freedom from all constraint and the need for doing everything anew that pushed them up the boarding plank onto the waiting ships.

english-colonistsThe eleven ships of the Winthrop Fleet were followed by 40 more recorded ships between 1630 and 1634. Afterwards, from 1634 to 1639, 98 more registered ships sailed across the Atlantic to the New World. According to Anne Stevens, who has carefully researched the matter[8], over 7100 families on 290 ships went to America between 1602 and 1638. And, then, it was over. There was hardly any further migration into New England until after the Revolution. Virtually all growth of the colony after 1640 was by natural reproduction. Those who had gone and stayed were founding –without knowing it- a new and incredible nation that would eventually come to be the most powerful in the world.

[1] (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-22362831)

[2] There is a TV miniseries called Saints & Strangers illustrating marvellously the struggles of these first settlers.


[3] On the internet site founded by the Winthrop Society we can view the lists of passengers by ship, and the names and ages of the passengers. http://winthropsociety.com/ships.php#passname

[4] http://winthropsociety.com/ships.php

[5] (https://thehistoricpresent.com/2008/10/27/the-puritans-and-freedom-of-religion/)

[6] Contentment, A Novel of New England’s Birth, Raymond E. Sullivan, 2006, IUniverse, Inc. USA.

[7] http://genealogytrails.com /mass/winthropfleet.html

[8] (http://www.packrat-pro.com/ships/shiplist.htm)


Salies, nov 19 2011 024Living in my little French community is like being in love. Every day I leave my house in the morning and have my heart broken wide open. On the way into town to have my morning coffee, I meet the elderly lady with the walker. She stops me to have a chat about her latest problem with her diabetes medicine or simply to comment on the most recent weather; a few meters further on, the overly rotund man in the automatic wheel chair motors out of his house and stops to say hello and smile, proffering a pat to Salomé’s cocked head. The very thin lady with the glasses and the large hooked nose, walking the shaggy red-haired dog that is friends with Salomé, stops to say good morning while our pets sniff each other cosily. A little further on, Loic from the Realty office where I rented my apartment drives by and honks hello from his car; I wave. Michelle, shapely and dressed to a T as if she had been invited to breakfast by the Mayor of Salies, greets me head-on half way to the Café and we exchange a kiss on the cheek and a few words. Right around the corner before I arrive, Jany who lives in the big house is usually outside to greet me and tell me the latest gossip about people I’ve never heard of or met. Her neighbour, with the cute dog that shares a sniff with Salomé, asks me how I am and I return the pleasantry. On the corner, the young, short round guy who cleans our streets informs me that the dog-poo bags have not yet arrived and smiles and shrugs his shoulders to make sure I know that their absence is not his fault.

20160919_103726-2By the time I arrive at the Café after so much social life, everyone is already there. First I wave to Rose (Madame Ça Marche, to everyone because when you order anything she cries out “Ca marche!” or “Coming”) and blow her a kiss. Then I join the table where there is always laughter and fun. Chantal, the woman with the short white hair who always arrives first so that she chooses the table, sits with her back to the sun. I used to get irritated because I don’t like to sit with the sun in my face but little by little we have turned our disagreement into a standing jibe: When I ask her to change places with me she says in an exaggerated tone:20121209_101827Ah, Brianda, tu toujours avec ton problem du soleil” and I shrug my shoulders and answer that one could just as well sit at a table in the shade, with which –laughing- she gets up and gives me her place. Then there is Eliane 2 (Eliane 1 is my age whereas 2 is much younger) who is married to a sculptor and every day brings Josée (who will be 94 in November) to the Café; she fascinates me. I have never seen her in the same pair of earrings and she must have at least 25 different decorative watches. Eliane 1 is the only person I know today who still smokes and she does so with her coffee every morning. Her husband, Bibi (Jean Claude Bidegan), also comes and there is a standing marital play where she recovers the money she has put on the table for her coffee telling her husband that, now that he has come, he can pay for 20160918_102014her’s too. Josée, of course, is a special treat. Small and a bit round, with dyed red hair, sun spots on her white skin and glasses, she reminds me of my grandmother and she has the same spark. She often greets Bibi jokingly with “casse pas mes bonbons” which literally means: Don’t bust my balls. Then there is Gege (Gerard) who is one of my favorites. He has long, fine white hair which he wears pulled back into a skinny 20140102_102517ponytail that droops halfway down his back, and a bushy white beard and moustache. He is always joking and teasing someone at the table, sometimes me, but mostly Josette, the Laotian woman whom I envy because of her “petite taille”. Isabelle, my Spanish friend who has lived in Salies for over 45 years and whose ex-husband, Jean Louis, frequently joins us, is in Spain at the moment, visiting her 86 year-old mother and won’t be back till the end of September. She is the “dame elegante” that I spoke of in one of my first posts about Salies. She always dresses with everything matching: bag, shoes, purse, umbrella, earrings and necklace. Everything goes with everything else, making her look as if she were going to a luncheon along the Champs Elysées. When she laughs, it is 20121209_102429extremely loud and often accentuated by a heartfelt thump with her hand on the table. Occasionally, Yvette Andres joins us. She is an artist (painting and sculpting) who frequently exhibits in the local gallery and whom the group often chides for her lack of sense of direction; she is known to more than occasionally take the wrong turn when driving somewhere. Sometimes YaYa comes (don’t know his real name). He is a teaser, and loves to get my gall giving Salomé more croissant or cookie than Iwould normally allow. She, of course, thinks this is just fine and the moment he arrives he has all her attention. I get and give kisses from everyone, wondering why it is that most of the men have nicknames while none of the women do. C’est comme ça, would be what they would answer if I asked: That’s the way it is.img-20150706-wa0001

After 30 to 45 minutes I have finished my coffee and my stay and wishing them a good day I take my leave. My route home is different from the one I take to come so I pass and greet new friends on my way back. Salomé usually decides that she has sacrificed herself putting up with the boring time at the Café and it is now time to go for a little walk. We stroll past the public gardens and a man I have never seen before stops to ask me what breed my dog is. I answer: schnauzer (pronounced schnoozzzeeer in French) and watch while he gives her a few caresses which she very readily accepts; we wish each other a good day and head off in opposite directions. At the corner, the man who owns the gift shop smiles and says hello as he leaves heading for his own cup of coffee. As we pass the bridge that goes back into town, the young man that owns the toy store (handmade wooden toys, nothing plastic) nods bonjour on our passing. A bit further on, we stop at the Coffee Shop (so called, in English) to say hello to the lesbian couple (Severine and Christine) who own it and give a kiss to Corinne from whom I purchase natural beauty products made with aloe which is supposed to be good for your skin. Everyone takes the opportunity to give Salomé a few caresses and say how sweet she is, so she gets her share of love too.

20160919_134525Heading back through town, I go by the restaurant where I will have my meal later and the man with the German Sheppard who has coffee there each morning looks up and smiles. I say hello and he responds with a wave. Melanie, the chef, is at the cash register and I signal to her that I will be back in a while for lunch; she calls out “A tout à l’heure”, which is like saying ‘see you in a while’. Next door, the artist who sculpts in aluminium, large interesting figures (a flying owl, Michael Jackson, the head of a elephant), says ‘bonjour’ as I lean down to pet his little Yorkie that is in love with Salomé. Salomé, herself, stays well away, not at all interested in the little 20160919_134729whippersnapper trying to get her attention. Under the arches, the policeman who never smiles nods in my direction as I, in turn, say good-morning to him.

Before getting home, I stop at the local super market for a box of dog goodies which I have just run out of. My favorite cashier is there. He is a good-looking man of undetermined age (but no long young, although he wouldn’t be 65 because he hasn’t retired) and today he winks at me as he rings up my purchase. I smile, wink back and say something in which I address him in the familiar “tu”, which is never, never to be used with anyone but the most intimate of friends or family. I immediately correct myself, “vous” and he says I can address him as “tu”. So, I say that then he should address me also as “tu” (the verb is ‘tutoyer’) and he agrees to that. We are both laughing and I am feeling all warm inside. What fun it is to flirt a bit at my age!

On the corner, the man who parks the food truck there on Saturdays and Sundays selling roast chickens or special dishes for a weekend noon meal (such as Spanish paella, Basque axoa, Indian couscous or German sauerkraut with pork) smiles and waves as I go by. The lady who owns the boulangerie where I buy my croissants on Sundays steps out of her shop and I stop to chat for a moment. She has done a marvellous job of dieting and has lost around 15 kgs. I comment how well she looks and she beams.

20160919_134609By the time I get home it is almost lunchtime so I barely have time to check in on my computer and answer some e-mails from friends and family in Spain, Mexico and the USA, and I am off again. As it is seldom that I walk to or from town without running into someone I know that says hello or someone who stops me to admire my dog, the usual interchanges take place again on my way back to the restaurant.

The restaurant where I eat almost every day is called La Grignotine (from the French grignoter which means to snack). There, apart from Melanie and Eric who own and run the place and are practically like family to me, there are always people to greet and talk to. Invariably, André is there. He is a single older man (by about 7-10 years) with whom I havebruschetta-1020x525 more than frequently coincided in noon-hour meals out. We used to see each other in the restaurant of the small hotel around the corner from my building before the Grignotine existed, but now have changed, both thankful for the healthy food including always veggies and salad (something seldom available in the other place). André and I kiss on the cheek, he fondles Salomé’s ears and I usually inquire briefly about his health and the menu de jour as he almost always has finished by the time I arrive. Anika is someone else usually eating alone there. When I first met her she was depressed, having recently lost her husband, according to her, although it had been more than five years. Since then she has definitely recovered and we always ask about one another’s day. Ludovic and his mother (from South Africa) often are there and always say hello. And invariably someone from the English colony in the area whom I will be more or less familiar with will be there too. Occasionally a middle-aged woman called Françoise will come and she has once or twice asked if we can sit together. She is a talker who can make my meal hour absolutely uncomfortable after ten minutes so I try to avoid looking available when she comes. If I meet her on the street it is the same story; after about five minutes of shifting from one foot to the other I make some excuse and run off. Occasionally I have company for lunch: my American friend Janice from Rive Haute; Annie my favorite English friend or my once-in-a-while visitors, and this is a special treat.

002-2My walk home seldom encounters interruptions as most people are in their homes or in restaurants eating, and the rest of the afternoon –except for a short stint with Salome, throwing the ball for her in the garden- I spend at home. In the evening, before going to bed, I take Salomé out for her last walk and pee. It is usually between 9:30 and 10:30. Many nights I run into a neighbour who also walks her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Archie, at the same time. When this happens, we walk together and I get to practice my French. And every once in a blue moon, my dear friend Christophe passes by cycling to his new ecological house on the hilltop. When this happens, he stops and we talk. I can sincerely say that I love phone-images-june-2012-084Christophe. Apart from the fact that he fixes my computer and my smart phone when the need arises, he is a very special person, one of those rare specimens not interested in money, totally committed to the enjoyment and the betterment of life in all its areas and as kind and generous as they come. He is not much older than my son so I consider it a privilege to be included amongst his friends. When I do run into him, the day or night time walk becomes a special event.

So, even though I enjoy travelling and seeing other places, and occasionally visiting my favorite city which is Madrid, or spending time with my children whom I adore, I cannot imagine living any place else. How in the world could I ever consider moving someplace where people do not even look you in the eye when passing on the street, much less smile or wish you a good day? Or moving to a city where everyone is isolated in their house or their car and knows nothing –nor wants to- of the people living on the same street? Even here, living farther away and having to move about in my car would not be the same. The way it is I belong to a community of warm, friendly neighbours that make me feel more at home than I ever have before.



detailed-physical-map-of-greece-with-cities-roads-and-airports-copiaInterestingly enough, I didn’t even realize I had a bucket list until I started checking things off. I guess one of the first, if not the very first, was living in Madrid. When I thought about it before it happened, my response was: “Well, I guess it won’t be in this lifetime.” But, it happened when I least expected. I can’t remember what the second was, but it will come back… or not. The third was going to Machu Picchu; I was certain that I would not do it in this lifetime. I was getting too old to take the altitude and then there was no one to go with until, suddenly, when my son turned 50, it occurred to me that I could give him the trip as a birthday present (birthday present for me too, I guess), so we went to Machu Picchu: me, my son and my lovely daughter-in-law. Once the way to do it was discovered, the fourth item on the list was easy. The Galapagos Islands were seen and enjoyed with the most wonderful company of my daughter, my son and once more his wife.

The latest is Greece. I had no plans to go. Perhaps, I had thought, I could do it for my daughter’s 50th birthday: a sail around the Greek Islands, but while making the plans for that trip, I couldn’t find anything that convinced me, so instead we are going to Tahiti and the Marquis Islands. And then it happened, unexpectedly as with most wonderful 971771e3-ea24-4a00-ba7f-c31cc152191ethings in life. I opened an email from my English friend, Tamara, and it was an invitation to Kalikalos, in Greece, for a workshop of the Byron Katie Work. I had received that invitation several times before because Tamara does this workshop every year, but suddenly something in my body said “yes”, and I immediately wrote my friend an e-mail asking if she would accept me as a helper or staff. She agreed, I got my tickets and on the 25th of August, flew to Thessaloniki via Athens. There we were to meet in a hotel in order to drive to Mount Pelion the following morning.

untitled-hotelThessaloniki overlooks a bay in the Aegean Sea so that evening I sat on the porch of the hotel restaurant enjoying a Greek salad and finding it hard to believe that I was actually in Greece. The night sported a sparkling necklace of multicolored lights adorning the land-face and separating it from the black bodice of the bay. From pool-side speakers Latin-American music permeated the atmosphere mingling with laughter and conversations at other tables. I might have just as well been in Las Brisas, overlooking the Acapulco Bay. Even the gentleness of the waiters and the hotel staff’s willingness to be of service reminded me of Mexico. I wondered if the rest of the trip was also going to be this sweet sliding into nostalgia.

img-20160831-wa0000Tamara arrived just before midnight and I was almost asleep so we didn’t talk that night. The following morning after a satisfying breakfast, we climbed into a small blue Fiat Panda, picked up two lady passengers who were also attending the workshop and set off down the modern highway towards our destination on Mount Pelion, pelion-2a mountain forming a hook-like peninsula between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea on the southeastern rim of Thessaly in central Greece.

20160826_124430After driving past Mount Olympus we continued for hours on a straight motorway bordered by flat terrain, the unaesthetic forms of warehouses and the usual highway clutter; then we suddenly turned off onto a local road, passed the port city of Volos and began to climb. Immediately the landscape gave way to cliffs and lovely white and beige Greek houses huddled in the crevices and clinging to the mountain side like nesting doves. The road narrowed as it curved its way through township after town-greecetownship, each offering its produce for passing tourists: pottery, basket ware, honey and marmalades; hats, beachwear and inflatables bursting with colorful temptation. Then the forest began to thicken and the road seemed to narrow even more, hemmed in by tall trunks and mountain on one side and deep crevices on theimagesve4ywjdh other. Beech, oak, maple and chestnut trees competed with each other for room on the steep slopes, and stretched tall, harvesting their share of Greek sunshine. According to Wikipedia, the Pelion is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in Greece, and after driving up and down it various times, I can confirm that it is indeed beautiful. It is also a very popular tourist attraction, offering hiking trails, stone paths, springs and, of course, incredible coves and beaches, both sandy and pebbly, with the white, white stones that Greece is known for and that tourists like pebblesmyself collect to bring home and sport in our household flower pots. During the winter, the highest peaks gather a good covering of snow and two ski lifts take the enthusiasts up and down. So tourism is the livelihood of many mountain dwellers all year around.

Springs let loose rivulets that course down the mountainside and are sometimes domesticated by stone-guided streams providing the towns with water offered to passing visitors from public fountains. We stopped at one such source to fill our water bottles with the cold crystalline liquid which is known for its purity. In one of the small towns we lunched on the local fare of stuffed peppers and tomatoes, fried cheese, cucumber salad and steamed local greens similar to kale and fresh spring water.

imagesxznc0q6bMount Pelion took its name from the mythical king Peleus, father of Achilles and became the home of the Centaur, Chiron, tutor of many Greek heroes (Jason, Achilles, Theseus and Heracles). The symbol for Mount Pelion today is the centaur and this image can be found all over.

kissos-3We climbed up to 500 meters above sea level to a lovely little village called Kissos. The center of town consists of three enormous plane trees, a small church, several restaurants, a few shops, a neighborhood supermarket and a pharmacy. Saturday night we were treated to the music from a Greek wedding held under one of the plane trees, to which possibly all the neighbors had been invited, because it went on until 4am. Sunday, it was the voice of the priest and his second in command singing the mass over loudspeakers so that everyone (not in the church) could, or was img_2460obliged to, tune in.

Kalikalos, as our destination was called, was just on the other side of the village, amongst neighboring houses. A large two-story building offers several bedrooms with 2, 3 and 4 beds each, whereas a smaller one houses the kitchen and utility rooms across a stoned terrace where the dining space is located under a thick roofing of kiwi and grape vines. We were between 24 and 26 people staying and eating there, and taking advantage of the different offerings such as Tamara’s kissosworkshop, a facial-lift massage, reflexology and guided hikes up and down the mountainside. We were all invited to make ourselves part of the community by helping in diverse chores throughout our stay: cooking, cleaning, keeping the gardens, etc. This insures that every meal becomes a communal affair with laughter and conversation all the way through. Dinner, which is the main meal, is preceded by forming a circle holding hands and listening while the cook-in-turn announces the evening’s fare and wishes everyone a healthy and happy meal. The clean-up crew gets to serve themselves first so that they may begin their duties as soon as they are finished. Every chore has a ‘focalizer’ and 20160828_140047several ‘helpers’ so the work is done rapidly and efficiently. The community is set up in May and lasts until October (http://www.kalikalos.org/) and is open to all peoples. Our group had visitors from Hungary, Italy, Spain, France, England, Australia, Austria, Chile, the USA and Greece. The cooking was vegan and very tasty; I would have preferred some eggs and cheese, but it was plentiful. On one night we all went out to a restaurant and I ate lamb; it was nothing to write home about. My img_2478favorite –as far as Greek food- was the tzatziki dip, made with yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and sometimes quite spicy. The fried cheese, which somebody raved about, was a bit like eating a tasty breaded piece of rubber, but the veggies were great: aubergine, zucchini, tomatoes and onions… my favorite, and quinoa –no matter how it’s made- I can just die for! All in all I loved Kalikalos and there was something about the whole atmosphere that just invited me tountitled ‘space out’ which I did.

The schedule in Kalikalos is as relaxed as everything else, the morning dedicated to any workshop or organized activity that one has chosen, and the afternoon free for going to the beach or just lazing around. If Kalikalos and the mountain side villages were a delight, the Aegean Sea was beyond my wildest dreams. Now, understand that I have been to many, many beaches in the Caribbean and know what transparent, aqua-colored water looks like, but nothing prepared for the water of the Aegean Sea. It was like looking at liquid glass; it was not only transparent, but also had a crystalline quality to it that made it seem practically unreal. Of all the photos I took, more than 75% are of the water; I just couldn’t get over it, and obviously no matter how good the camera, there is no way to capture what the eye is really appreciating. But here they are anyway:





This is one Bucket-list item that is definitely going to be repeated!



Jose Ignacio DomecqAfter my divorce late in 1992, one of the first things I did was to take a trip to Spain to attend my favorite uncle’s 80th birthday celebration. Other than flights back and forth to boarding school where I was seen off by my parents and met by my maternal grandmother, I had never before travelled alone, so it was quite an adventure.

In Madrid, before I drove to Jerez for the party, I met my cousin, Marina, with whom I had kept up a lively correspondence over the years since the time she had lived briefly in Mexico and we had become friends. Marina invited me to go see an Argentinian woman who read the tarot cards. I didn’t really believe in those things, but it sounded like fun and as I was starting out on a whole new life, I was interested to see what she would say.

images9KRW67GHI went in first and sat in front of a woman in her thirties who held a deck of cards in her hand. As I watched she turned up a row of cards one by one. I don’t remember the faces on them. Then she raised her eyes and looked at me.

“What are you so afraid of?” she asked in Spanish with an Argentinian accent.

Considering I was not conscious of being frightened, I had no answer. Yes, I had been afraid before leaving Mexico. When my uncle wrote and invited me to his birthday party, I mentioned to a friend how sorry I was not to be able to go.

“Why not?” she said, “You’re free; nothing to stop you. Go!” It took me all of five minutes to realize she was right so I got my plane ticket, reserved my hotel and flew to Madrid all alone. I was so nervous and excited that I couldn’t sleep on the plane; I watched three movies. When I arrived at my hotel at around 9a.m. I was exhausted and miserable. Before falling asleep, I decided I would catch the next plane back.

Nevertheless, when I awoke at 1 p.m. with the sunlight streaming in my window and a light breeze blowing across my face, instead of fear, I felt exhilarated. That had been several days before my meeting with the foreseer and I hadn’t felt a bit of fear since. Yet the Argentinian woman insisted that I should look into the matter as soon as possible.

lg_2014%20Citroen%20C1%20Hatch%202With her admonition in mind, I decided to be daring and rented a car for driving alone to Salamanca. After a night in the Medieval University city, I was about to return to Madrid but, when I reached the highway there was a sign pointing in the opposite direction, reading Zamora. During my studies of Spanish literature I had discovered the fascinating character of Doña Urraca who came from Zamora so, instead of heading for the Capital City. I turned right and took off on my first adventure.

ciudad-de-zamoraZamora was not a disappointment. I stayed there overnight in a roadside hotel and left the following day for Madrid. However, still thinking of my card reader’s advice, I did not take the Freeway back, but rather decided to travel secondary highways which took me along the border with Portugal. My chosen route took me through a beautiful mountainous country which was a nature reserve. After a while, I noticed there were no other cars on the road, neither coming nor going and my immediate thought was, “what if I have a flat tire?” Needless to say, I began feeling a bit nervous, but the crevices and peaks were so breathtaking I soon forgot my worries and enjoyed the scenery. It was over two hours before I reached anything that looked like civilization.

I spent the rest of the trip driving all over Spain without a quiver in my heart, and I hoped that would do it as far as fear was concerned. I returned to Mexico over three weeks later without a mishap and feeling like a seasoned traveler with the world just waiting for me.

About ten days later, a friend called and said she was going to run the rapids in the state of Veracruz and would I like to come. The rapids sounded like something that would really frighten me, so I accepted and a week later I found myself on the bank of the Fish River (Río Pescados), donning a helmet and a life jacket, grasping an oar and climbing into a imagesHPPW3T2TZodiac with 9 other daring people.

We had been carefully instructed how and when to paddle forward or backwards, what to do in case the instructor yelled “high side!” (which meant that the raft was thrown against a rock and the people on the side the rose had to push hard to force the zodiac back to level position), and how to hold ourselves tightly by tucking our heels under the cushiony inflated tube that formed the side so as not to fall overboard while, at the same time keeping our hands free to handle the paddle. We had also been told what to do in the case of falling into the water (something I had no intention whatsoever of doing): be sure, the instructor said, to go with the current feet first so you don’t hit the rocks with your head; do not let go of your oar. If the river pulls you under, don’t struggle, it will bring you out again by itself; do not let go of your oar. I repeated the instructions in my head although if there was one person who was not going to fall out of the zodiac, that was me.

rafting 2The instructor (our captain on the descent) also mentioned that the heavy September rains had glutted the river, raising it from a number 3 rapids to a number 5 (the maximum is 6), so we were in for a good ride. This news made me even more decided to not fall overboard. I’ll admit I was scared, but I was doing it, wasn’t I?

The rapids were fast and furious, and we worked really hard to keep the zodiac straight (steady was out of the question), but I was getting the hang of it and beginning to feel more confident when a large rock appeared in the middle of the waters.

“There might be a hole on the other side,” yelled our captain, “¡hold on!” I wondered what on earth a “hole” was in the middle of a river, but didn’t have much time to think about it because we were accelerating and had to paddle faster than ever to keep the raft under control as we rushed past the boulder and into the “hole”. I now know what a “hole” is. It is the effect of a great amount of rapidly flowing water washing past a large obstacle such as a boulder; immediately on the other side of the obstacle, the water form a kind of furious depression before shooting out again down river.

As we entered the enormous “hole” that the boulder was causing the water to form, the zodiac literally folded in two and then sprung open again flinging the three persons in the rear into the river. I was one of them. I suddenly found myself in a vortex of water (no oar in my hands, of course) that was flipping me over and over like just one more pebble in its current. I struggled to get my head out of water and finally managed. But, just as I opened images9FC0Y7JJmy mouth to breathe, a wave hit me square in the face and the river pulled me under again. Suddenly I had twisted and turned so much that I no longer knew what direction was up. My mind produced one thought: “How can you be so stupid to come and drown in a river called Fish!” and I knew at that moment I was going to die, so I just stopped struggling and sunk into the deep sorrow of that certainty.

Of course, the moment I stopped struggling, the river pushed me to the surface, I gasped for breath, saw an oar stretching towards me and grabbed it. Someone pulled me onto another Zodiac and I was saved. The experience of joy was immediate: I had not come to the Fish River to drown that day.

The moment I was safe, in my mind I suddenly experienced that something had been out of my body. For some time I spoke of an “out of body” experience, saying that I had been out of my body, but now I realize there was no I at all, just as there was no “out”: it was a non-local, non-personal experience of what I have since called ‘cosmic compassion’ for a minuscule body being tossed about in the rapids, and whatever it was, could not experience itself, because there was no self, no identity whatsoever. The experience was only realized (made real) when self was restored by my body being pulled out of the water.

For me, this experience was instantaneous so that my self-identity returned in full the moment I was pulled from the water. For others –Byron Katie and Dan Siegel, for example—the period of self-less-ness lasted much longer and the experience transformed their lives completely. You can listen to Dan’s experience through the following link: (https://www.facebook.com/eOmega.org/videos/10153492113806325/ ) and Katie’s is in her book Loving What Is and several others.

As my experience happened when I was still at a very primary stage in my evolution (I wasn’t even to hear of Byron Katie for years to come), I immediately related that happening (or non-happening) to some form of the religious idea of soul so, henceforth, I believed that there was a part of me that didn’t die.

Today, I don’t even try to define it or give it a name: it is what is when the self disappears, the self that lives the dream it calls life. It is the “stroke of insight” that doctor Jill Bolte Taylor talks about after experiencing a massive stroke (https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight?language=en) and discovering the difference in perception of the two hemispheres of her brain; the no-where-to-go-nothing-to-do of Jeff Foster’s Life Without a Center (https://batgap.com/jeff-foster/), the freedom of the Don’t-Know mind with the four questions of Byron Katie.

I have not re-experienced that no-self, I don’t have to, I am here to live in the self at this moment and enjoy it. If I find there is something I am not enjoying, well I have what for me is the simplest way of setting myself free: I have 4 questions and a turnaround for which I am forever grateful (see www.thework.com).


 I think the most pernicious thoughts in my existence start with a “what if…” and then the death sentence: “What if I’m doing it wrong” (it being life itself), and what if I don’t find out till the day I die. What if I have made a mistake and there is no going back. What if I have lost the opportunity to… what? Do it right!

Although it can happen at any moment, panic loves to arrive about 3 a.m. when there is nothing around to distract me from that drowning feeling that everything is all over, that I have had a chance and botched it, no more chances: I’ve done it wrong.

It was shortly after having moved to Salies that the last remembered “what if” panic hit. Everything gone! The apartment rented! No going back! OMG! What if it was a terrible mistake; what if I regret this for the rest of my life. What if, what if…

As I sat alone in the restaurant of a local hotel waiting for my plat de jour, looking out the window at the leafless trees and paling grass of a cold January day, the “what if” crunched my heart. What if I had made a mistake and now it was too late. Even if I did go back to Madrid, there was nothing to go back to. I heard in my head my daughter’s voice: “Why do you always have to be so drastic?”

Then I remembered another time. I was 18 and had come home from Barnard College for summer vacation. I had not been happy at Barnard –as a matter of fact I had been terrified of the way my life seemed to be going there- but I was planning to go back for my 2nd year, solely in order to attend my best friend’s wedding. My parents, however, informed me that this was not to be. I could not go to my friend’s wedding because it meant an extra expense that they couldn’t or wouldn’t cover at that moment. Without the wedding, there was nothing to make me want to go back to college, so I decided not to continue my education but rather to stay home where I felt safe.

Once the decision was taken, once I had faced my father’s disappointment, once I had sent the final letter, the horror set in: “What if I have made a mistake and my whole life is ruined.” It was then, in the middle of the night, in the dark and quiet room where I lay realizing that all of my Destiny had changed with that one decision, that panic set in and “what if” became the key to my own private torture chamber.

Of course, it is not possible ever to know what would have been if I had not taken that decision, so there is nothing but horror at the end of the question. Every single one of those unimagined and unlived moments, that vast ocean of ignorance for one to drown in again and again, the future that might have been and now will never exist, turns into a living hell in the terror of the moment: What if I have made the wrong decision?

The second time I remember it happening was a week before my wedding: What if it turns out I don´t really love him, what if he is not the One? What if I am terribly unhappy, what if it doesn’t work out? My mother heard me crying and came to sit with me on my bed. She told me we could call the wedding off if I wasn’t sure. But what if I called it off and then discovered that He was the Right one and it was too late? What if no one else ever wanted to marry me? Eventually, the mind must find peace in the what is, and leave go of the what if. I was married a week later.

Then again, when my second husband and I decided to move from Mexico to Madrid, there was another what if? Panic! In the middle of the night: What if we don’t like it, what if his business doesn’t work, what if… what if… it is the wrong decision?

I remember calming myself with the thought that if it didn’t work out we could always come back. But we had sold most of our furniture and put the house up for sale. We had shipped the rest across the ocean and signed a rent contract in Madrid for two years. My husband had closed down his business, hoping to start a new one in Spain. There would be no coming back, at least not for me, although my husband left after nine months. There is no going back ever. Change happens and nothing is ever the same. The past doesn’t exist; we could never go back to it.

So in four life-shaping moments I have felt the what-if panic and yet never been sorry for any one of the “decisions” that led to those moments. And I have put the word “decisions” in quotes because, as Shakespeare would say, “there’s the rub”. The whole posing of the question is downright wrong from the beginning. What if is short for “what if I take the wrong decision”. But did I ever really decide anything? What if there is NEVER any such decision to be taken?

The Barnard “decision” hadn’t been mine. The only reason I was going back to college was because I wanted to go to my friend’s wedding; it had nothing to do with the college. What I was doing and experiencing in Barnard was terrifying me, I felt I was losing myself. When my parents didn’t let me go to the wedding (and how could they know it was the only reason I wanted to go back) there was no decision to take: my whole being balked at the thought of returning and the decision had been taken for me.

The “decision” to get married… I was 20 and from the photographs, pretty good looking, but for some strange reason, I thought this was my last chance; my father had the bizarre notion that if I didn’t marry this candidate, I would become a nun. I had already broken off our relationship once and then spent 3 days crying before coming back to it; another break would be definite. It was a no-brainer. I got married. What decision? I had thirty years with the man who fathered my two beautiful children and most of them were pretty good.

Long before I moved to Madrid, I had visited the city and gone with a cousin for a card reading. Towards the end of the session (and everything the woman said I wrote down and watched as it happened) she said “You aren’t going to die either in Mexico or in New York (where I lived and where I had been born)” and in my mind I immediately heard “I’ll die in Madrid”; it was like a certainty, like an announcement. At that moment, it seemed absurd; I even thought that it would have to be in a plane crash when arriving here from Mexico. But I can see now that the decision was already taken, so that a year later, when my husband said that, due to the economic crisis in Mexico, he wished we could go and live in the United States, I simply pronounced the words that would seal my fate: “I don’t want to live in the US but if you want we could move to Madrid.”

And Salies, well that was even more obvious. It was the third time I was coming up to spend August here. I was a couple of hours out and thinking about being bored with the experience I had had the previous two summers because there were no French courses to take and my one-month visit didn’t give me time to get to know anyone or integrate in the town’s activities. I was wondering in my mind if I should look for a new place to spend summer months, when a voice asked: “Why don’t you move to Salies?” Again, as in other life-changing instances, it was not ‘my thought’; it wasn’t anything that was in my conscious mind: it was a question that came from nowhere, and that even seemed absurd at the moment as I was in the process of judging the place dull and boring.

But then, during my stay in Salies, I found myself drifting past Real Estate offices and looking at the ads in the windows. Finally, I went in to one that announced Spanish and English spoken and said I was interested in looking at some apartments. After seeing three or four that were absurdly expensive (I calculated I could rent one for about 60 years for the price I would pay to buy it) I apologized and said I really wasn’t interested in buying and probably would rent something.

“Oh, that’s great!” the realtor exclaimed; “I have just the thing for you.” And he took me to the perfect bachelor’s apartment and I rented it on the spot, paying a whole year’s rent on the condition that they redo and equip it. There was no decision: I just found myself going through all the motions. After that was done, I told my children in an e-mail not to worry, I was not going to move to Salies. Now, I couldn’t have done that if I had taken a decision could I have?

It was not until driving back to Madrid from Salies, with no idea in the world why I had just rented an apartment, that the realization came to me (I had nothing to do with it) that my dream of getting rid of all the stuff I had accumulated over the years was now possible if I moved to Salies! Not only that, but as there was a perfect someone to take over the workshops I gave in Madrid, someone who was a dear friend and had trained with me, well I was free to go. Such a joy entered me that I didn’t doubt, even when I saw all my things (grandmother’s dining table, mom’s sideboard, pictures, books, sofas, chairs, rugs… everything I had been given or bought over the years) leave with other people. It was a gift to see how happy they were to have all my old stuff (I say stuff but there were very nice antiques, and lovely bronze and glass furniture, beautiful sculptures and paintings, and almost all my books). The sale garnered me over 36,000 euros and there was so little left that the movers only charged me 500 euros to take it to France.

After my brief “what-if” moment during that lunch in the Casino, I soon found all the delights of living in a small town surrounded by countryside of rolling hills and deep forests and I am going on six years since that life-changing… I was going to say “decision”, but that isn’t possible, is it?

Far from regret, I find only joy in what life has chosen for me. Will I stay here, some people ask? How would I know? I am not the one making the decisions, so I don’t worry about it. A higher consciousness is at work here: No mistakes, no what-if’s. Only peace and –as Katie says– ‘following the simple instructions’.


You often say, “I would give,

but only to the deserving.”

                               The trees in your orchard say not  so,

nor the flocks in your pasture. (Kahlil

Gibran, The Prophet)



Recently I worked with someone who was upset because her life had become so happy and she couldn’t seem to enjoy it. She believed she didn’t deserve any of the happiness that was coming her way. So her thinking was that she should know she deserved it 1) just because she was alive and 2) because she had “suffered” so much previously. The fact was that she couldn’t enjoy what life was giving her because she believed she should feel entitled to it. Her thought went something like this: “I am angry because I don’t believe I deserve all the good things I am receiving in life.” It was a double whammy! She wasn’t enjoying what she was getting and on top of it, she was punishing herself for not enjoying it. So I went for the jugular.

“So you deserve what you are getting in life, is that true?” and then proceeded, internally to do my own Work.untitled

How do I react when I believe that I deserve all the good life gives me? What happens when I believe that either my previous suffering or my hard inner work has earned me the blessings that are showering down on me day after day? Oh, how the Ego loves that! Oh, how it puffs up! I earned this; I am doing it right. Or perhaps it turns judgmental and feels it is about time it got something good! After all I have done, after everything I’ve been through, how can life treat me like this! What the Ego doesn’t do is feel grateful, and gratitude is the attitude (rhyme on purpose) that fills me with joy.

applesTo begin with, I didn’t do anything to deserve being born; I wasn’t even chosen. I just happened, popped into life so to speak, and there I was. I did nothing either to be loved and cared for and not left to die the moment after arriving. As a matter of fact, I did all the opposite. I screamed for food or warmth or comfort or attention; I peed and pooed my diaper making a stinking mess; I didn’t let my parents get any real sleep for a long time after coming and, later on, I ignored their wishes at every opportunity and did whatever I pleased. Besides that, I never thanked them for a thing; quite the reverse, I blamed them for every little supposed “trauma” that I believed I had (until I stopped believing that traumas actually exist). Seen with clarity, I didn’t even deserve to live. If any parents were in their right mind, they would do us in immediately after birth if they had the bad luck to get pregnant and allow that state to evolve, ungrateful little wretches that we are!

Oh, but I was sooooo cute! Really! Drooling on my mother’s silk blouse, making tooth marks on the gold locket my father had just given her, being born with four toes on my left foot so that my parents had to spend a fortune making sure both my legs were more or less the same length when I grew up. Wetting my bed stubbornly until I was eleven… What was cute about me?images

And after the age of six, when I fell absolutely and uncontrollably in love with the idealized image of my father, I treated my mother like a second class citizen. I made it so obvious that I didn’t want her along on our walks that most of the time she would let me go alone with my father; later, I decided she was beautiful but stupid so I would be intelligent and win my father’s love away from her. Many a night while my mother went to bed, I sat up with him discussing important things that she wouldn’t understand. And I did my mother the favor of hating her because she wouldn’t let me have him. My poor mother! What had she done to deserve me as a daughter?

And my mother wasn’t the only one I couldn’t stand. I didn’t even go near my little brother, who was six years my junior, except to torture him and make him cry. I remember one day in a doctor’s office, I wouldn’t stop picking on him and my mother finally got so desperate she lost her temper and slapped me across the face. Of course, I never forgave her for that one time or understood her desperation. Arrogance was my middle name: I definitely deserved a different mother or perhaps no mother at all so I could have Daddy all imagesY6UE8290to myself. Now I know that if I deserved anything it was that slap and many more!

But somebody somewhere seems to have come up with the strange idea that we deserve everything good simply because we exist or that we don’t deserve anything because we haven’t lived right. Ha! And then when we get the good things, we can’t really enjoy them because we can’t figure out what we have done to deserve them. And, unless we judge them –which we do sometimes- neither can we figure out what someone else has done to deserve his or her “ghastly” life. Well the answer, at least in my case, is NOTHING.

That is why, that signal day, when I couldn’t understand why I was so miserable when I had done everything I knew to do to be happy, my thinking was exactly that: having done the work, I deserved the prize (happiness) and Life wasn’t doing its job! So Life finally sang it to me as it was: Brianda, Life doesn’t owe you anything.images75TMJUY2

Since then I live mentally (and sometimes physically) on my knees in gratitude for all I have received, never having once done anything to deserve it. Or as Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet: “For in truth it is life that gives unto life –while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”



stone gratitudeTwo messages received during my birthday celebration have stuck in my mind: one said, “That’s right, be happy” and the other thanked me for reminding its author of the importance of gratitude.

I have often told the story of how I awoke to gratitude, so bear with me as I repeat it briefly.

After my divorce I couldn’t stop crying and I was so sick of feeling miserable when all I wanted was to be happy, that one day I fell to my knees and asked a God I didn’t believe in what it was exactly that was I doing wrong to feel so unhappy. Nothing happened, so I gotcrying up and began fixing my makeup. Then, I heard a voice –it wasn’t my voice and it wasn’t a thought- it was an unknown, somewhat masculine voice in the space I call my mind, and it said: Brianda, life doesn’t owe you anything. That was all, and it was enough. The realization that I had spent my whole life looking at what I didn’t have instead of being grateful for what I did have was immediate. My thought: ‘Life gave me life, all the rest is gravy’ sent me racing around my house like a madwoman thanking every object that I owned: stairs, roof, sofa, fridge, walls, rugs, tables, books… everything. When I finished, I was so happy I hardly fit in my own skin.

imagesSC3S7QKCSo, for me, the path to happiness is gratitude. Those five words (life doesn’t owe you anything) are the most important thing that has happened to me in my life, bar none.

This morning, as I walked to coffee with Salomé, I tripped over a cable lying across the path and went flying forward, falling with all my weight on my right arm and hip. A man rushed imagesIWIXEE3Aforward and, grabbing my arm, tried to pull me up. Why do some people think that pulling you right up is the best thing to do? Could it be that they are embarrassed for you lying there on the pavement? I was actually feeling very grateful for the solidity of the street that was allowing me to be very still for a moment and mentally check if there was anything broken. It felt so good to just not move and simply go from limb to limb mentally gathering myself together.

I noticed I had skinned my arm right below the wrist and it was bleeding. I showed the man (who was standing over me looking extremely worried) and said, “This is all that has happened, nothing broken … isn’t that good?” Actually, I didn’t mind at all being on the 20130718_173248ground (Salomé didn’t seem to mind that I was there either; she was just sitting on the side observing the whole scene) but the man seemed so upset about a woman fully dressed, with earrings and all, just lying there on the street that I thought I would try to ease his mind by making an effort to get up.

It was a very slow process, but every time he tried to help I discouraged him; something told me that it was important for my body to do this by itself, at its own pace. Slowly, I pulled myself together and up. The man looked less worried and actually smiled. Then he pointed to my arm that was bleeding a bit. I dug into my handbag (it had not even fallen off my shoulder) and, giving him a big smile, produced a kleenex with which to stem the bleeding (really not much at all). I thanked him for being so willing to help and walked the rest of the way to the Café for my morning coffee and a chat with my friends.pansement

Upon arriving, I showed Rose, the owner, my damaged arm and she produced a Band-Aid (in French, pansement, so I learned a new word too). All was well; I had my coffee and walked home again, this time without coffee-cups_00367940.jpgfalling. Ahh, so much to be grateful for!

Happy birthday to me, Feliz cumpleaños a mí… Joyeaux Anniversaire a moi, Feliz cumpleaños Happy birthday to ME!!!

What a birthday!!! Let’s do it again!!!  I am still savoring it. 13669571_1047155385369805_4993947718874278850_n

Not too long ago, birthdays were usually celebrated with family and maybe a few friends. Today there is INTERNET!!! Skype tells everyone on your Contact list that it is your birthday and invites them to help you celebrate by –what else? – giving a gift of Skype credit for phone calls. Facebook sends all the people you have ‘friended’ an email reminder that you are celebrating a birthday and then sends you a notice of those that congratulate you. Afterwards, Facebook tallies up the final score on your FB page so that everyone can see how popular you are or aren’t.

13879373_10207828128555189_7987522197833662195_nThanks to Whatsapp, saying Happy Birthday with many smiley faces and clapping hands is more than easy and can be done in less than a minute, so the phone just keeps whistling all day long to let me know another message has been received.

And to top it off, when I sat down at my computer and opened Google, lo-and-behold, my search page sported a series of birthday goodies. For a split second I thought it might just be a coincidence so I placed the cursor over the display and clicked: “Happy Birthday, Brianda my birthday (2)appeared on the screen. Now that is a first! I truly must exist if even Google thinks so! It makes me feel soooo connected! All day long, if I wanted to check to see if I was real, I could return to the Google page and get another birthday greeting.

Then, of course, there were the advertisements: websites that I have visited and registered at that sent me all sorts of invitations to give myself their products for my birthday. So kind of them to think I 13912591_1657263811267272_8661916408328722376_nmight need something on this special day.

All this attention helped me to understand the ease with which people become addicted to internet. If someone feels lonely, they can click on internet; if they are jilted by the love in turn, they can turn to internet; if there is a celebration they wish to share and nobody around seems interested they share it on internet… Then they get responses from people they can’t even remember or perhaps have never met, but who are there (apparently), loving them (apparently), thinking of them (for at least a few seconds) and the momentary feeling is of no longer being lonely or left out of the world. And, of course, they are there even if –like me- you don’t feel lonely or left out of anything.13921031_10210201599856043_5559419092677839889_n

It was absolutely fascinating and I spent most of my day saying thank you (in three languages) to so many people that sent me wishes and pictures, not only thanks to the Social Media on internet, but also because I had made no secret of the fact that it was going to be my birthday. Many years ago, I decided that waiting to see who might remember my birthday was an exercise in self-torture. Since then, I celebrate my own BIRTHDAY, after all it is MY day (and I could question that belief!!!), and I enjoy letting everybody know. I don’t expect them to remember: I remind them when I see them. It is kinder to them and to me.

petit foursMy group of morning coffee friends organizes birthdays for everyone. The plan is always the same: the birthday person brings the goodies (a cake, a pie, croissants or whatever) and pays for everyone’s coffee (everyone who is sitting at the birthday table, of course). In return, the celebrated one receives a lovely card filled with 10€ bills collected amongst all the celebrants and gets to spend it on a gift of her choice (only the girls get celebrated, but the boys get to put their money in too, heh-heh). This year, one of my friends had already taken my usual offering (lemon meringue pie) so I settled on petit-fours and they were a great success. And when I went to pay for the coffee, the owner –Rose- told me that no, she was paying as a birthday present for me. What a generous world!!!

And the fun kept on going. On the way home from coffee, a trio of my favorite people sung13892099_10207085290626583_4880492004903632853_n me Happy Birthday right in the center of Salies. When I got to my apartment, my kids and grandkids called or sent messages, and I received the most beautiful letters from a few friends thanking me for things that have given me so much pleasure to do that I certainly never expected any gratitude in return.

And the surprises continued! At lunchtime, I went to my regular restaurant and ordered exactly what I felt like eating: a hamburger. When I was finished, I checked my body to see if there was space for a birthday desert. There was a little so I considered a “Café Delice” which is coffee with all sorts of sweet tidbits. I could ask which ones were served cafe gourmandand only order it with one or two tiny sweets. I was considering this when the owner and chef, Melanie, came out carrying…. a Café Delice with four tiny replicas of my two favorite desserts on it: crumble with caramel ice cream and lemon meringue pie (her special recipe). She then proceeded to sing me Happy Birthday in French and everyone in the restaurant clapped. When I went to pay b daythe bill, there was no desert or coffee on it.

So, there it was: gifts left and right, more birthday wishes than I had ever gotten or that I would ever have imagined getting in my whole life and a very happy, happy birthday with Google to keep right on reminding me all day long!

Can’t wait to see what happens next year with the big



The unexamined life is not worth living.  Socrates.

Tomorrow, August 1, I will be 74 years old, at least according to my mother and my birth1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (4) certificate. Personally, I can’t vouch for it. As far as I know, I was born this morning and my mind has this movie called “Brianda’s life” that it projects for me all the time. I just play along.

I was born in 1942 in New York City. My father came from Jerez de la Frontera, a wine producing town in Andalusia, Spain and my mother was a native New Yorker. I was their first child. My mother was 27 years old when I was born. Seeing that that number is a multiple of 9,  every eleven years, from the time I turned 3 and my mother turned 30, we would celebrate something that my father called, in Spanish, capicúa. I now know that capicúa (from the catalan, cap i cua meaning head and tail) means a number that is the same forwards or backwards, a palindromic number, and this is not so for the numerical phenomenon that we celebrated, but that is what we called it . So, when my mother was 41 I was 14, when she was 52 I was 25 and so forth. In other

words, when my mother turned 74 I was 47.HELEN IN CARRIAGE 1895 (2)


But the title of this post has nothing to do with my mother or my father, but rather with my grandmother, Helen Cook, nee Moeller. My grandmother was a very important person in my life; I spent a lot of time with her and I loved her deeply, almost like a second mother. When she was 71 my grandfather died and, although she had fought with him all their lives together (mostly about his drinking), she was lost without him and began HELEN 5 monthswandering back and forth between New York (where she lived) and Mexico (where we lived at that time). As it turned out, she came to Mexico for her 75th birthday.

I was 25, married and already had my two children and my mother had invited us to come and celebrate her birthday. When I arrived she was still in her bedroom (which had been my room) so I went up to congratulate her. As I hugged her and gave her a kiss, she sadly shook her head and said:

“I am seventy-five years old, and I have no idea what I have done with my life.”

Helen Moeller and Mary Smith (her grandmother) (2)She went on, certainly, but it was that phrase that struck me so hard it glued itself to my mind and has remianed all these years. I remember writing a poem that began something like: ‘To be 75 and not know where life has gone’. That was a long  time ago and has either been lost or thrown out (I have never been able to write poetry: no sense of rhythm), but to this day I can see her sitting on the edge of the bed shaking her head sadly and offering up this devastating summary of her time on Earth.

In that moment, I swore to myself that no matter what my life was like, I would do anything so as not to arrive at seventy-five not knowing where all those years had gone.

Soooo, I am Almost There! And my life… No: my two lives are very present in my mind. I know exactly what I have done with my lives, the one that ended at 50 and the other that began immediately after (which would make me actually only 24 years old tomorrow). I know the few books I have written, the mistakes (although I am conscious that mistakes don’t exist) I’ve made, the children I have borne, the grandchildren they have given me, 1919 Helen 26, Betty 317042014the marriages (2), the friends, the relations, the trips, the moves from house to house, and then from country to country… The whole movie is here, in my head as clear as it was while it happened day by day, minute by minute. I can see the path I have followed and the times I have not followed it (and that is not true: one is always following one’s path, it just doesn’t always go where we think it should). I can see the goals I sometimes set out, and those achieved or not. I can see the struggles and the conquests, the beds I’ve slept in, the boys I`ve kissed. I have kept diaries of my dreams, of my confusions, of the things I believed and then didn’t, of my spiritual paths.

1923  HELEN 30 YRS OLD17042014Perhaps, when I heard that phrase from my grandmother, I believed then that I had to make a life that was important to me and to others; I remember wanting be a famous writer, to have recognition and applause and leave a definite footprint on some field of endeavor. But life itself has shown me that that was not my path, that the applause I did receive for the few things I have done publically, did actually nothing to enhance my existence; quite the opposite. It inflated an ego that could do nothing but lead me down paths of self-destruction.1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (10)

However, those very paths of self-destruction guided me to my real purpose: to know myself as best I could. Every single thing that might have seemed like a ‘mistake’ in my life, has been what has shown me where my true destiny lay: the search for self.

Scan0009I remember not long after my shock at my grandmother’s assessment of her life, I made a decision, a decision that I now can see has shaped everything I have done even though many times I have been unaware this. I decided I wanted to understand, to know what it was to be a human, to be a woman, to be alive and the only way I could know that was being my own laboratory rat, was observing my life, was becoming a conscious being living a conscious life in the deepest sense of the word.

This search has guided me through religion, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy in its many  varied forms and numerous self-help methods. It has led me through literature, through leadership, through marriage and maternity, through feminism and divorce. It has taken me from house to house, from country to 1969 Helencountry and from language to language. And every step of the way has been worth whatever I have known of pain and suffering, of joy and serenity, of turmoil and peace. I doubt I’ve done it My Way, but I certainly know today the way I have done it for all 74 years.

So now that I am almost there, almost arriving at my grandmother’s 75 years of age, … (I had to stop writing because I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude so all-powerful that I found myself sobbing; this poor body still gets very emotional when it feels gratitude …) and, as I listen to Edith Piaf sing Je ne regrette rien. (on internet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFtGfyruroU ), with tears streaming down my face, I thank my grandmother, with all my heart, for having alerted me to the WIN_20160731_155612 (2)dangers of living an unexamined life. She was, without a doubt, my second mother, because thanks to her example I have lived what would seem to be the opposite of her experience: a life I never could have imagined even in my wildest dreams.


Little by little my weight has been increasing so that I have gained back almost 6 kilos of the 14 I lost three years ago. The problem is not so much the weight, as the where. My face, for example, has not gained back anything, which is unfortunate as it fell in unattractive folds with the previous weight loss. On the other hand, the ‘tires’ I’ve developed around the middle have increased and keep increasing, it seems, by the minute. Every time I have gone on a trip, I naturally put on weight (around the middle) because I go with the thought that I am travelling so I get to eat special things and more than usual; every time I try to take that weight off after the trip, I lose most of it from my face (which results in the characteristic ‘turkey-neck’ my grandmother so bitterly complained about). It has been a losing uphill (up-weight) battle the whole way, so on Wednesday of this week I made a decision.

Considering that what is difficult for me is to eat little which would ensure a smaller stomach and, therefore, a loss of weight, I asked myself if it would be possible to eat nothing. I remembered reading in Byron Katie’s book that she had gone 28 days without food so I found it worth a try. Of course, this is fasting and I have done it before but never accompanied by The Work.

On Wednesday morning I had no breakfast (which I falsely believed wouldn’t be very hard because my breakfast usually consists of an apple –one that gets bigger every day-, about 10 or 12 almonds and a heaping teaspoonful of goji berries); I drank a cup of green tea and lots of water. It wasn’t long before I began to feel what I normally would have called ‘hunger’ in my abdomen. I concentrated on the sensation and asked: “This is hunger, is it true?” I waited not losing touch with the sensation. The answer was I could not know it was hunger if I did not call it “hunger”. In other words, it only seemed like hunger because in that instant I believed the thought that hunger is a real thing and that that sensation pertained to a state of hunger. My answer had to be “no”; I could not know that that specific sensation was “hunger”. So I went to question 3.

How do I react when I believe the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again, I closed my eyes. Immediately my mind began parading in front of me juicy red apples, round full almonds, a plate of granola topped with milk and bananas; the food, its shapes, its smells, its colors, even its flavors (sweet, salty, bitter) paraded across my mind. My salivary glands began to react (just like Pavlov’s dog when he heard the bell); I even believed that I could taste each dish thanks only to a movie in my head. I understood in that moment that, if I weren’t doing The Work, I would run to the kitchen for something to eat to satisfy what I by then called this “gnawing hunger” in my stomach. Then I moved to question 4.

Who would I be, right in this moment, without the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation in my stomach. I saw it for what it was: a very slight sensation of… I could have called it anything: hunger, satiety, nervousness, pressure, a little tightness… any name would have done. The sensation wasn’t even unpleasant and if I turned my attention to something else (the gorgeous, sunny day outside my window, for example) it completely disappeared from my conscious registry. Did it even exist if I were not concentrating on it which means ‘believing’ it? The answer was “no” again. So to answer the question: I would be someone ready to get to work on my computer.

The turnarounds were easy: “This is not hunger.” More true; it doesn’t have a name it is a sensation in the body, not even a very strong one. If I didn’t know the word ‘hunger’ I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what the sensation was, if I even felt it. “My thinking is hunger.” More true: it is my thoughts that are producing and needing food, not my body.

I continued working with my thoughts all during that first day and sipping water whenever I got the sensation in my gut that I had called hunger, noticing that sips of plain water seemed to be more than enough for my body. When the thought arose “I want to eat something”, I questioned it and was surprised by my reaction to the turnaround: “I don’t want to eat something”. Apart from the fact that I found it ever so more true, when I realized how true it was, a feeling of elation filled my body. I was so happy (and that would be just another name for a different physical sensation, but this one causes no side effects, like having to eat something, for example).

Then there is always the problem of what to do with all the time I usually dedicate to food: thinking about what I am going to eat, going to the store to buy something for a last minute whim, preparing and then actually consuming the meal requires an enormous amount of time that I had not been conscious of until I stopped doing it. I decided to keep myself busy so as not to be continually returning to the sensation in my stomach. I set about writing a couple of things –some only ideas, others completed- for my new blog in Spanish. Then I wrote some letters I owed, then I cleaned out my e-mail, then I played solitaire, then I took my dog for a long walk (Salomé kept nudging me with her nose, to tell me that it was time to go for lunch because she always gets tidbits; she still was believing the thought “I’m hungry” even though she had just finished her meal). When I came back I wrote some more; then I watched a film and discovered at the end that I had already watched it. It was a good movie so I didn’t mind the time spent, plus I seemed to have a surplus of it to use at my pleasure since I wasn’t spending so much of it putting things in my mouth.

In the evening, I prepared myself a very light supper: a small piece of chicken and some veggies and half an apple for desert. I ate it very slowly, enjoying each mouthful and was surprised to find, when I finished, that it had actually been enough. That night I slept beautifully, but that is nothing new: I usually sleep well.

The following day, Thursday, I did exactly the same and began noticing how much more I was getting done, how my concentration had improved (I wasn’t jumping up every few minutes for a snack) and even my energy level seemed to have risen. I didn’t feel at all weak or woozy or even hungry (as far as I could tell) and every time the sensation in my stomach came about, I would dedicate a few moments of concentration seeing if it was hunger. It never was. What did become obvious were the many times my mind would come up with, say, “almonds” or “apple” or “cheese and crackers” and expect me to interrupt my work and run to the kitchen. Each time I would simply notice the thought, ask if it was true that I wanted that in that moment and find that it was not. This allowed me to continue with my work and to feel very satisfied at the end of the day. Again, I ate a light supper.

Then last night I had a dream. It should have been a dream of loss and frustration, even anguish. My car slipped into the ocean and disappeared; my ex-husband told me I had never been the wife he had wanted and disappeared (just when I needed him to help recover my car) and the officer who I finally found to ask for aid, said it was not a good time for him to do anything. Surprisingly enough, the dream-me took everything in her stride without feeling loss or frustration or anguish. Strange as the dream was, what I found strangest was that I didn’t awake having to pull myself out of a series of tormented emotions. It would seem that even my dream-character had smoothed out with the practice of not eating.

Today I have eased up on the fasting and eaten a small apple and 7 almonds for breakfast and then not eaten again until 3:30 when I had a glass of ‘gazpacho’ -a cold Andalusian tomato soup- and again a light supper. I notice once more how full and absolutely satisfied I feel with supper, and how my mind keeps suggesting something more: a cracker, some cheese, an apple, some almonds… It never stops: image after image enters and leaves my mind and my salivary glands salivate, as I notice happily the feeling of fullness in my stomach… and yes, “fullness” it is just a thought too, but a thought that gives nothing but pleasure and doesn’t require me to do anything else but enjoy it.

And, by the way, my ‘tires’ are still here (of course) but this now has become something other than a way to lose weight; it has become an exercise in consciousness: much more fun!