I THINK I MISSED MY CALLING

Restos_du_coeur_Logo_svgToday I did 3 hours of volunteering for the French Association called “Les Restaurants du Coeur” or the Restaurants of the Heart. It was the local collect in the supermarket and my neighbour and I were on duty from 4 to 7. I have never enjoyed anything so much! I really thought I would hate having to ask people to give something… and in French! I believed I would be embarrassed and feel badly when they said “no”. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

From the very start I found myself speaking from my heart, approaching each shopper as he or she entered and smiling because I really felt happy; there was nothing fictitious about what I was doing. I seemed to find the words; most people stopped and listened, took the suggested donation list that I offered and smiled back saying they would cooperate. When someone waved me away saying they had already given, I spontaneously thanked them from my heart for their donation which I had no proof of, but why would I have doubted such beautiful people. For suddenly everyone who entered had become beautiful and gracious. I don’t where the magic came from; I felt as if I had just fallen in love and nothing, absolutely nothing could go wrong even if they spat in my face. When they said “no” and refused to take my little sheet of paper, I said “thank you for your honesty” and sincerely felt it; strangely, I did not feel bad for myself, but rather for them not having the pleasure of giving, for I began to notice that all the people who came out with a donation, no matter how small, looked different, were happy, were glad they had given, felt generous, perhaps even a bit proud of themselves. I really wished that for everyone, not that they should give to the “Restos”, but that they should give that to themselves. I loved everyone! And then… the people I met!!!

Friends came and I realized how many people I knew and how many knew me and were happy to see me. Some asked about Salomé, others stopped to talk and bring me up to date on their lives while I continued giving out flyers and inviting people to participate. My friends didn’t seem to mind that I interrupted them off and on; they would just pick up their conversation where they had left off when I broke away. collecte

There was my old French teacher, Annie, who I was delighted to see. She did not look well so I gave her an especially tight hug and asked about her new apartment; she said it was too small for two people to each have her or his own space. Then there was Maité one half of the first lesbian couple I met upon arriving here (I had never met a lesbian couple before, so it was a first for me); she is fond of me, I can tell by the way she always hugs me a bit too tightly and a bit too long for just a normal salutation. She talked for almost 15 minutes telling me the latest about the problems they have had with their builder whom they are suing.

Then there was a lady who goes to the same café I do in the morning and –although we do not even know each other’s names- she asked about Salomé who everyone knows. And a gentleman who I know from just passing him in town frequently and always saying hello, and the lady that used to own one of the restaurants I go to sometimes, and my hairdresser…

But, more than the people I knew, it was the people I didn’t know that gave me the most. A man came over from the checkout counter and asked to borrow one of the large cartons we were filling with produce. Then he returned with the box completely filled to the top with canned goods. A darling little man was about to walk by and leave the store when he saw me, covered his mouth and muttered: “I forgot”. Then, instead of leaving the store, he handed me his goods to watch, re-entered, went through all the trouble of standing in line again at the checkout and brought me a bag of noodles. I couldn’t believe it. I told him he was ‘adorable’ and he seemed to like that. We were just two people completely in love.

A rather scruffy looking tall man sidled over. He didn’t look as if he could buy anything for himself, much less for us, but I invited him to anyway. He said no, he was a store thief and had come to steal some food. I asked why he didn’t register for the Restos de Coeur for food and he got angry, saying that he had tried but they had demanded certain legal papers that he didn’t have and he had decided they were no good (or something like that). He talked on a bit, but as I was busy inviting other people I couldn’t pay much attention to him. I know that the Association is strict and people must have their papers in order for them to receive aid. A while later, the ‘thief’ came back; he seemed in a better mood.

“Are you giving away any of that stuff today?” he asked. I said “no”, we were collecting and did not have permission to share any. I asked him how his ‘thievery’ had gone. He shrugged and with a sly smile, said that it hadn’t gone at all well. “There were people watching; I couldn’t take anything. I’ll have to give it another try.”

“Better luck next time” I said and I really meant it. He stuck around for a while; he seemed pleased that someone had taken his ‘occupation’ seriously. He explained how he hid things in his clothes, or ate them in the store. As a justification for his trade, he explained how the managers and owners of big businesses were stealing left and right and people like him were arrested for lifting a loaf of bread. “And don’t forget the politicians,” I added. That seemed to encourage him and he went back in. I didn’t see him again so I have no idea if he got to eat his meal or take home a few bars of chocolate for dessert.

People kept coming with stuff, filling up all the boxes I had. They seemed so happy and it pleased me tremendously to have given them the chance to feel so good with themselves.

A sort of dark-skinned good-looking young man came in and I presented my spiel. He shook his head and in broken English said he did not speak French. “What do you speak” I asked in English. “English and Spanish” he said, immediately clueing me in with his accent to the fact that Spanish must be his first language. What a relief! I immediately broke into Spanish asking him where he was from. It turned out he was Peruvian and he had come to give a conference for some business (I didn’t really catch the name) in town and he urgently needed a current adapter for his computer or he wouldn’t be able to give his course tomorrow. I was not sure he could find one in the store so I told him that if he didn’t, I had plenty at home and if he waited or returned at 7pm I would take him home and loan him one. He returned a few minutes later with an adapter in his hand: problem solved. I asked him if he would kindly help me take the full box of cans and goods off the top of the empty boxes so that I could get one out and he did. He was a lovely young man and I was so glad to speak in Spanish for a few minutes. We thanked each other and he parted.

A couple of tall, lanky teenagers strode into the store and –in spite the fact that someone had mentioned that youth seldom gave- I stopped them and offered the list, saying that any small thing would do. About twenty minutes later they came out and approached, handing me two small boxes of cookies: “It was all we could afford” they said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Oh no!” I cooed, “It is wonderful, just perfect. We are so grateful and the kids at the Restos des Coeur will love them.” If I hadn’t been so sure that they would feel very uncomfortable, I would have hugged them on the spot!

One lady, when I tried to explain about the Restos, stopped me. “I know” she said, “they helped me out for a while there when I was in trouble.”

“Are things better for you, now?” I queried.

“Fortunately, yes” she said; “What is it you most need and I’ll get some.” I told her some cooking oil would be good and she came back shortly later with three bottles. Another lady stopped and told me she had heard the advertisements about the collect on television and that she did not agree to giving the recipients cans of cooked food. “They don’t learn how to cook their own food that way; it is not right; I don’t agree with that.” I nodded my head and said I found her opinion interesting and that she just might be right about it. Then I suggested that she could always give a bag of lentils or rice and she smiled, and nodded. A while later she returned with two cans of cooked vegetables, so I guess her opinion wasn’t so solid after all.

Experdoniences of extreme generosity, of efforts made in spite of not having much for one’s self, of the painful way people hid their faces when they didn’t want to give or even take the paper, and so much love that my heart was overflowing. As I left, mentally kneeling down with gratitude, I wondered if somewhere along the line I had missed my calling. It has been a long time since I have felt so much love in my heart. How to say ‘Thank you,’ except…. Thank you.

BIG BROTHER

Now that Wikileaks has published all those documents proving that Big Brother is none other than the CIA or the NSA or whatever department is in charge of HOMELAND security at the moment, I see no harm in sharing my own experience. About 2-3 weeks ago, I requested my ESTA document which is the form one has to fill out for entrance into the USA from Countries with a Visa Waiver Status. Although the format has changed and a thousand new questions are being asked (about other passports, other citizenships and your intentions to commit a terrorist crime while in the USA), I had no trouble filling it in. About three hours later, I checked and my ESTA had been approved. No problem.
The following day, however, I received a notice from Microsoft that someone from somewhere in the USA had entered into my computer. They asked if that someone was me. It was not; I am in France at the moment. So, curious, I clicked on the link that said something like “See from where your computer was entered” and … I´ll give you 3 guesses and the first two don’t count: Yup! Washington. Was it a coincidence? I don’t actually think so. So Washington tapped into my computer. Fortunately, I have nothing to hide and my life hangs out there on my blog for all to see, so it doesn’t frighten me, but it is NOT legal. And it is not pretty.
I used to feel proud to be an American. When I was little and living in Mexico, I remember how I would stand at attention and salute if the American flag or the National Anthem came over the radio or the televisión. If anyone asked me where I came from, I would puff up when I said the United States. It was my country, even though I had lived in Mexico since the age of 9. I went to boarding school at Dana Hall in Wellesley, Massachusetts and once there, I felt as American as the next person even though my vacations were spent in Mexico City. Even when, later on, I married a Mexican doctor, I still felt American and used my American Passport when I travelled.
It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that something changed. I don’t think anyone felt proud of that war or actually believed that it was carried out for a ‘higher purpose’. I remember writing a long, and very bad, poem about my profound disappointment in what my country had done, and I began to feel embarrassed about being an American.
I was already in my 30’s and had two children when I went to the National University of Mexico to study Hispanic Language and Literatures. It was there that I realized that I had stopped feeling American, that I was actually more identified with Mexico and that Spanish had become my principal language and English was secondary. I started to write in Spanish and publish in Mexico; my name appeared in the Diccionario de Escritores Mexicanos (the Dictionary of Mexico Writers). I was Mexican in everything but my Passport.
After my divorce, I decided to legalize my adopted country as my own and I became Mexican, renouncing my American Citizenship. Little did I suspect that only three years later I would move to Spain and claim my father’s nationality. At that time, the European Unión was a dream coming true and I definitely wanted to be part of it. My Spanish Passport gave me that possibility. Now it is the only one I use. Today, as I watch my country of origin turned into a global laughing stock, I feel sad. I remember how proud my father was when he got his US citizenship and how he defended the United States against any criticism; I think of my son who is grateful to the US for the opportunities this country has given him to grow in his selected line of work; I look at my own heritage and there is no way I am not as American as the day I was born, but when Microsoft advises me that someone from Washington has gone into my computer the day after I requested entry into the USA, I feel like publically saying to someone: “You should be ashamed of yourselves!”
So there it is, said and done.

MUSICAL COUNTRIES

1943-brianda-1-yr17042014A friend asked me today how I had felt about giving up my American citizenship and if it hadn’t been a hard thing to do. I said “no”, that given my rootless upbringing it made little difference. At nine years old, when I was just beginning to discover that I belonged to something much larger than my immediate family, we moved to Mexico and everything changed. My mother stopped cooking dinner for the family and the children (my brother and I) were served supper in the kitchen by and with the maids who spoke Spanish, a language I still had to learn. The acres and acres of fields and woodlands that surrounded our house in New Canaan became a fenced in garden with nothing but flowers and grass and a few trees. Gone were the vegetable patch and the field with wild blueberries; gone the endless woods and the long walks with my father; gone were the tractor and hay rides in the autumn… as a matter of fact, gone were the spring, the summer, the autumn and especially the winter. Instead, there was a dry season from October to June and a wet one from July through September. There was no snow except on the peaks of the (then) visible volcanos, Iztaccihuatl[1] and Popocatepetl, and img-20160116-wa0000plants generally flowered all year around but never with the magical profusion of a New England spring. Even the school year was then different as at that time, in Mexico, the long vacations were over Christmas (to take advantage of the sunny dry season) and school continued during the summer (when rain made everyone stay indoors anyway)[2].

So, considering that I was only 9 years old, did I adapt and identify with my new Mexican surroundings? Well, not really. I was sent to the American School so that most of my classes were in English and many of my school friends were Americans living in Mexico, many of them temporarily. The Mexicans in school all spoke English, so English continued being my principal language. My parent’s friends came mostly from the American Colony in Mexico, therefore I continued identifying myself as “American”, but a second class one because most of the desired cultural symbols enjoyed by youth my age in the USA were not available in Mexico. I dreamed of Double Bubble and Mars Bars while breaking my teeth on chamuscadas[3], eating Tin Larín[4] and drinking Royal Crown Cola instead of Coke. I listened to American music when I could get the records to play, but never tuned into a Mexican station to hear the local music. I went to American movies when they finally came to Mexico although I didn’t even once go to a Pedro Infante or Jorge Negrete film, and I read every American comic book I could get my hands on and it never even occurred to me memin%20retroto pick up a comic of Memín Pinguin or Kaliman which is what Mexicans were reading at the time. In other words, it was like living on a small and distant island belonging to the US but not really America. Every time I went to the States (as we called it) I felt like a second-class; each visit showed me more how out of real American life I was and how different I was. My cousins would introduce me as their “Mexican” relative and ask me to speak Spanish while they pretended to understand what I was saying and showed off in front of their friends. They had toys I had never heard of, read comic books that weren’t sold in Mexico and shared a common cultural language with their friends that was as foreign to me as Spanish was to them.

And if I was different in the USA, I was much more different in Mexico. There I was a “gringuita”[5] with a coloring that wouldn’t be considered Mexican under any circumstances. Blond, blue-eyed and with a skin that always required a hat lest it turn bright red, I was as foreign as foreign could be. Furthermore, I was confronted 1951-3-mexico-2immediately with something children don’t see much of in the USA: a marked class difference. As a matter of fact, my contact with Mexicans was seldom as friends. The closest were the maids, separated from me by their language, the color of their skin, their age and their maid’s uniforms… in other words, their position in the household. Then there were the lecherous men who made obscene and salacious remarks with words I had never heard before as I walked by. There was the kind gentleman, who had the paper store where I went often to buy paper dolls and crayons and notebooks and pencils, and the girls at the checkout counter in the supermarket (but you never got to know them). There were the sad looking men who put on worn out uniforms and tried to direct the parking in town or at the market. My mother would always get mad at them because “they didn’t help, just blew their whistles but never picked up a bag for you”. They were commonly called “pesómanos” and it was generally expected that you would give them a “peso”[6], but my mother would only give them a 20¢ piece, and I would feel embarrassed and sad for them. When I was old enough, I remember telling her one afternoon that she should give them more: “After all, at least they put on a uniform and come every day; they are not begging on the street,” I said, but she kept on giving them the shameful token. There were construction workers and bus drivers and craftsmen or women and my father’s secretaries 1953-3-churubusco-golf-club-3in the office who were very nice. But they weren’t people you would invite to dinner at your house or whose children would come over to play. A few of my mother’s friends that she played golf with were Mexican, but they all spoke English and I, of course, knew them only slightly as “Mom’s friends”.

We kept our American customs and ate dinner at 8 pm and lunch between 1 and 2pm. Our food was more American style (roast beef, hamburgers, salad, pasta) than Mexican (chiles rellenos, quesadillas or tacos) and the few times I went to visit Mexican families with my parents, I felt strange and out of place; they talked about movies I hadn’t seen, books I hadn’t read, songs I hadn’t heard, just as when I went to the States. It was a neither-here-nor-there existence even though I didn’t realize it at the time because I had my group of school friends who were as second-class-Americans as I was.

When I went away to boarding school, whoever was in charge seemed to sense this ‘apartness’ for they put me on a floor of the house we boarded in with two American girls who also lived in Latin America: one from Columbia and one from Venezuela, who was my roommate. As I look back now, I realize that none of us talked about our countries of residence, nor did we identify as what we would now call ‘ex-pats’, but rather tried to identify with the two American girls that also lived on our floor. In the beginning, I didn’t notice the differences because we were all new to boarding school, but later, when coming back for the second year, after vacation, the summers the American girls had lived had nothing to do with my experience; they had lived things in common which they could share, whereas my experience had been somewhat shocking and definitely not shareable. When they had gotten home for vacation, their friends were also on vacation and soon they were all sharing summer experiences. When I got home for vacation everyone was in school. Even when I did get to see my old friends, they were talking about things that had happened during the school day or week that I had not lived: they had shared experiencesuntitled to which I was foreign. I remember a strange feeling of not belonging, not belonging anywhere. In Mexico I was not a Mexican, I was not even a Mexican-American along with my ex-pat friends; and in the United States, I was an American by passport only.

This and other things –sex and alcohol, for example- caused an adolescent crisis during my first year at Barnard College and I refused to go back when the summer was over. I had identified my problem as ‘not belonging’ and decided to delve into growing roots in my country of residence: Mexico. I started by the one thing I knew for sure about my adoptive country: its poverty. I took a course in Social Work envisioning myself as the saving angel of an impoverished population and then threw myself into volunteering at the National Rehabilitation Center. Both places were 100% Mexican, no ‘gringuitas’ other than me. I spoke Spanish all day and began to make Mexican friends. I became a Catholic (I had not been brought up with any religion). I started dating Mexican boys; my old schoolmates were a thing of the past. In the midst of this, I met the man I would marry a year later. He was definitely Mexican, although his family came from the north of Mexico not from Mexico City and did not belong to the same social class as mine. He was also the most handsome and serious young man I had ever dated, so my parents thought it was fine. His father was a doctor and  he himself Fernando Rodríguez circa 1960 (2)was finishing his doctor’s degree. Not one of their customs and habits were anything like those of my family. It was, so to speak, deep-Mexico. I was attracted to the size and closeness of his family although I would soon discover that his father was an alcoholic and went on periodic binges. His mother was extremely overweight (110 kilos) but a kind and simple woman whom I grew to love. His family was warm and close in ways that mine had never been and I felt very welcomed; his father forbade the use of the derogatory term “gringa” around his house from the first time he met me. I began to feel that I was accepted and therefore that I belonged in this family.

My future husband, on the other hand, looked down on his own family and wanted nothing more than to be totally accepted in mine as an equal. So we were the perfect match, each hoping to get what we thought we needed from the family of the other. When we set up house, however, it was much easier for me to organize it the way I was accustomed with American hours and meals and my husband put up no resistance as he found that more ‘refined’.

Two married children and thirty years later we got divorced. In the interim, I had obtained my degree at the National University of Mexico (the UNAM) in Hispanic Language and Literature, had produced 8 books which had been published, was included in the Dictionary of Mexican Writers and felt more Mexican than American to the point that anyone mentioning the fact that they heard a slight American accent when I spoke unamSpanish was a quick recipient of my rage. I had also gone through several years of psychoanalysis and become a recovering alcoholic.

After the divorce, I began working doing subtitles for films my son was distributing; but my main source of income was the rent from the house I had lived in while married, which was my share of our accumulated capital. Seeing as it was the first time I had earned money in my life, I thought it would be a good idea to start doing my American income tax returns so I called a tax lawyer. He immediately asked if we had been married under a regime of ‘community property’. I said that we had.

“Well then, you should have been declaring half of his income as yours from the beginning.”

I was horrified. I had never known what his income was, but rather had been handed whatever money I needed to run the house as I asked for it, so there was very little chance he would tell me now about his earnings. After being told that the only thing I could do was fill out the last three years of income tax returns and hope that no one asked why I hadn’t filled any out before I realized that the task was risky at best and probably impossible anyway because I was not on speaking terms with my ex-husband at the time. mexicoThere was only one thing to do: renounce my American citizenship and become Mexican, and for that, it turned out, I had a slight advantage. As I had left the United States as a child and never legally worked there I did not have a Social Security number or a Taxpayer number or anything that even closely resembled it. Even though there was always the chance that, when they checked my “record”, not finding me would be as damning as having purposely not paid taxes, but I could see no other way to solve the problem. I know that ignorance is not considered innocence under the law, but it sure felt enough like it for me. So I was finally going to make the ‘roots’ I had put down legal.

The first thing I did was begin the paperwork to request Mexican Citizenship. It was long and tedious but finally I was a bonafide Mexican. Passports in hand, I presented myself at the American Consulate in Mexico City. There was a long line reaching out into the patio of women with their babies in their arms waiting to register them as American citizens. I wondered if they knew that these innocents would have to make tax declarations to the United States for the rest of their lives. I walked up to the counter and told the lady behind it that I was there to renounce my American citizenship. I thought she was going to faint.

“One moment,” she muttered, “I have to call the Consul; I have never done that,” and she disappeared into a back office. A thin, short, middle-aged man of indistinct coloring came out and approached me.

“Madame, my colleague tells me you want to renounce your citizenship” –his voice denoted incredulity as his eyes drifted over to the long line of mothers with children in their arms-; “do you realize the gravity of this act? You are aware, aren’t you, that once you do that you will not be able to get it back, you will have to wait, just as any other foreigner to get a new one?” I nodded.

“Can you tell me why you wish to give up your citizenship?” he asked, without taking his widening stare off of me.

“I have just become a Mexican,” I said, trying not to act scared, “and Mexico does not recognize dual citizenship for a naturalized citizen.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, looking very relieved, “that’s no problem; the United States pays no attention to that; you can keep your citizenship.”

Suddenly, the fear I had felt turned to indignation: “Are you suggesting that I lie to the government of my new country?” I asked looking him straight in the eye. I don’t remember his answer but a few minutes later I had the papers I needed to fill out in order to cut myself loose from the US. It took me over an hour to answer all the questions; it was tedious and terrifying, and I felt as if I were committing a criminal act. I handed in the papers along with my American passport; they said they would get in touch when the answer came back from Washington.

When six months went by and I had heard nothing, I was sure they were investigating. I called the Embassy.

“Oh, no there’s no problem,” they said in response to my question, “it’s just that there is only one person in Washington working in this area and it takes a long time.” Three months later, I finally got the letter of termination of my citizenship along with my stamped and cancelled American passport. two-passports

Was it hard? For a moment I thought so; I had a feeling of orphanhood, but I was seeing a therapist at the time and she smiled: “All they have taken away is a piece of paper; your Americaness, your heritage, your history and your memories, no one can take that away; you are as American today as when you had your passport, just without the papers.” Wisdom is always there in some form or another just when you need it.

The game of musical nationalities did not end there. When I moved to Spain I decided to get my Spanish citizenship to which I had a right because of my father. I presented all the papers and filled out the request on which I stated that my father had NOT married my mother and I was, therefore, an illegitimate child. This was a lie. My father did marry my 1941-2-lake-tahoe-and-reno20042014-8mother, in Reno Nevada the 13th of June, 1941 and only one hour after they had both obtained “quickie” divorces from their respective spouses. Seeing as she had been a single woman only for the last 60 minutes, my mother apparently had no ID in her maiden name, Cook, and thus was married to my father using her married name, Wasey. Therefore, my mother being Elizabeth Cook while my father married Elizabeth Wasey I could see the difficulty of having to try to explain this to the third level bureaucrat who was going to issue my Spanish birth certificate. So, as I sat in the grey office, in front of the grey representative of the Spanish government who was filling out my papers, I was fully prepared to accept my bastardhood. When she asked if I was sure they were never married, I lied and answered immediately that I was. She then informed me that, as I was an illegitimate child and this would be visible on the birth certificate, I would have to come personally to pick it up.sp-flag

“You cannot even give a power to someone else to do this,” she insisted, “you must come yourself.” I wondered who she was protecting. It couldn’t have been me because if I wanted no one to know, I would have come personally for it even without instructions, and if I didn’t care (which I didn’t) I needed no protection. Then she handed me a piece of paper with a pledge of loyalty written on it.

Do you promise or do you swear to the following” she asked pointing to the paper. I, not up on the difference between one or the other, chose “promise” and read out the words that would henceforth make me loyal to a new country, king and government. Later, I asked someone what the difference was between swearing and promising and was informed that the first was before God and the second before the King. I found it quite amusing that in becoming a citizen of the most Catholic of countries I did so as a bastard and an atheist. So be it.

And, by the way, I religiously pay my Spanish taxes each year and am proud to be a Spanish citizen, but if someone asks me –which sometimes they do- I feel more a citizen of this ONE WORLD. And sometimes, when somebody asks me where I am from, I simply respond: Planet Earth.three-passports

[1] Iztaccihuatl is actually a mountain, only Popocatepetl is a volcano and an active one at that.

[2] Since then, Mexico has adjusted its school calendar to match that of the rest of the western world.

[3] A very hard candy made from burnt caramel and milk.

[4] A chocolate bar with cookie inside.

[5] “Gringo/a” is a pejorative term for Americans; “gringuita” is the diminutive meaning “little gringa”.

[6] At that time about 8 pesos to a dollar.

IS THE WORLD ENDING?

inside-jobOr is it just the beginning of The War of Tweets? This morning, on the news, first the Donald (I loved what Obama called him) announced he would begin the Wall between Mexico and the USA in a few weeks and that the Mexican President –who had announced a state visit in a few days- would agree to pay for it. Then, as I turned to French news, one of the candidates for President from the left was being interviewed and the interviewer was asking if he, as President, would use a nuclear weapon against another country as a deterrent, in other words, without being attacked first. I was horrified to hear the possible candidate wiggle and waggle and worm his way around the question without ever answering it. In Spanish we say “El que calla, otorga” which means “He who remains silent, gives permission or agrees”, so I took the wiggle-waggling as a “yes”.

Without actually formulating a fear, I spent the rest of the day feeling slightly depressed: a wall against Mexico and Nuclear war all in one day. It was just too much. Then the Tweets started. The Donald threatened (if you’re not going to pay for the wall, there is no use in your coming), and –fortunately- Peña Nieto answered.untitled He tweeted his cancellation of the trip. There will be repercussions, of course, and Mexico will probably suffer economically for a while, but for Mexico to retain its trade agreements Peña Nieto would have had to accept paying for the wall and the Mexican people would never have forgiven him. You can’t eat pride, but it sure makes hunger feel a lot less hurtful. I actually checked into my Twitter account for the first time in about 10 years and tweeted the President of Mexico my heartfelt gratitude.

So… We may not have nuclear war yet, but we do have the War of Tweets. If I were really brave, I would tweet the Donald saying “Shame on you for trying to bully Mexico into submission!”, but the truth is I still have to go to the US in April in order to see my son and take a trip with my daughter and I don’t want to be stopped in immigration and not allowed entry. See how scary this is?

The interesting thing was that the moment I made my small contribution (a tweet) I felt better, I actually felt I had done something; I had become a soldier in the Tweet War. But, does a Tweet matter? Apparently to the Donald it does! He counts noses (at his inauguration) and I am sure he counts tweets, at least the positive ones!img-20150721-wa0000-2

Today my son said on our family’s WhatsApp: “Problems are opportunities; how we take advantage of them defines who we are.” I so appreciate his wisdom; somehow it makes me feel safe and hopeful in face of the changes going on in the world. Whatever comes is a creative challenge and with internet there no longer has to be anything called “the silent majority”. And my daughter, well she is making a marvellous video to promote a film her brother is distributing in Latin America. So my family is alive and wonderfully well, living on either side of the future wall!!! And me on the other side of the Ocean. What a world!

THE BROKEN THINGS

                                         A willingness to sanctify the broken things. Jeff Foster

20150510_153644Recently Jeff Foster wrote that it is necessary to have “a deep reverence for endings. A willingness to sanctify the broken things”, and something deep inside me resonated with his words. I am not sure what: there was a strange vibration, tears rose to my eyes and trickled slowly down my cheeks. We are all broken in some way or another, some of us in many ways. I hear Leonard Cohen singing “the cracks are how the light gets in” and I begin to understand or at least to be able to revere. The radiator to my left has a leak and every once in a while a drop falls into the dish I have placed to catch it. Its sound reaches my ear as I write this. The radiator is my mate in broken things.

The sound of water reminds me that my brother is going to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary island of Lanzarote to the Caribbean with his two unexperienced sons as crew. I know he has been broken somewhere deep inside and is somehow looking for home. I hope his journey is a safe one. 20150404_152605

I watch as the world changes: my general doctor as of 16 years dies; the sun gives way to rain and wind; Trump is elected; my daughter loses the battle she has been fighting; a friend dies suddenly, unexpectedly; I buy some new dishes (black) and decide to throw away all the old ones; outside my window the waning moon rises still in the memory of its SuperMoon but 48 hours ago. Nothing is ever the same and yet it would seem so. The clutter of notebooks and papers on my desk, the glass full of pens; the rumpled sheets because I am lazy and don’t make my bed; the closet that needs arranging. Downstairs, the azaleas I bought last year to decorate the entrance have developed a fungus. I have carefully washed them with detergent twice, but the brown grime on the underside of the leaves returns and the leaves fall off. They will die eventually: broken things, and I will tear them out by the roots and replace them with new, fresh, flowering azaleas. Will I remember to sanctify them in their brokenness?

Yesterday a friend called; her latest ‘relationship’ had just ended and she has had and lost so many I don’t even know if to call it that. I can’t tell her to sanctify her broken things, not now. She wants to visit, “I need to be with someone serene”, she says over the phone. I agree. Today she calls: she is sick and can’t come. I agree. Broken…

20150805_204911 This morning another friend called: “I am terrified,” she said, “I am terrified that I will not be up to the job”; her voice was filled with anguish. Sanctify the broken things. We talked; I listened to her fears, her anguish, her envies. I offered what I had; she took it and said she felt better. Sometimes the cracks are for things to come out and spill over onto others. Sometimes they are to let things in…

My mind often turns to the immigrants (broken things) and my heart goes out to those thousands of unknown faces. If there is something I can do… In the market, this morning, a lady hands me a piece of paper: it is an invitation to volunteer at the food kitchen arranging or serving the food. Ask and you will receive. I will call tomorrow and begin to volunteer. Broken things need to help other broken things to mend, or to help let the light in…

I am crying again; there is a softness in thinking about the cracks that fills my heart with love and longing. Recently my brother came to visit; it was a surprise, a delightful one. We spent a day walking around town and talking. We spoke deeply of our father and of all that20160329_105804 he gave up. My father was one of the broken ones, and there was a lot of light inside. When he was 38 he gave up his family, his first wife, his four children, his country, his language, his culture, his history, his friends, his place in society… everything, and went to America. We realized, my brother and I, that we can’t even begin to imagine what that was for him or how he lived with all the cracks.

It is night time now and I must take Salomé, my little dog, out. I wonder if she has cracks too. Is she broken because we, humans, have forced her to live a dependent life, always waiting for her needs to be met, never free to fulfil them herself? There is a gentle sadness in me this evening, it is not unpleasant; rather it is soft, like a warm feather pillow against my chest.

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TRUST

 “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Albert Einstein

20130622_225437For some time now I have truly believed that the most important thing Life had given me was Freedom.  But recently I realized that this was not true: Life did not give me Freedom. The most important thing that life gave me instead was TRUST and when I finally trusted, I found true freedom.

In the beginning there was no trust, there was only fear. Hunger pangs caused a fit of screaming because there was no way I knew to trust my mother to feed me on time. Cold, wet diapers, an earache, a sore throat… everything exacted the same response to make sure the Universe knew I needed something and got it to me as quickly as possible if only to shut me up. Screaming did it until around the age of 5; after that it was being good, studying, not bothering and brushing my teeth even though the sound gave me goose bumps.

By the time I reached my teens, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a Do-It-Yourself Universe and that you only got what you screamed, kicked, worked, pleaded and fought for, and even then, there was no guarantee.

My grandmother, bless her, quickly confirmed this when she repeatedly told me that we lived in a dog-eat-dog world, and that bringing children into it was an act of extreme selfishness. Her remedy would have been –if she had had anything to say about the matter- to put a sterilizing machine on every street corner and ¡zap! every man that went by. My grandmother was a woman with very definite beliefs about what was and what wasn’t and she expressed them at the slightest excuse or without one.20131116_105036

My mother was not given to philosophical considerations like my grandmother, so I have no idea what she thought of the Universe and its workings, and my father several times said that he would rather be cheated and lose than to go through life untrusting. I particularly remember him saying this after being swindled in a business deal where he lost a lot of money.

My father however was not talking about the Universe; he was referring to other people. I really don’t remember him going into philosophical considerations about the cosmos except to say that he was an agnostic, having lost his faith (the Catholic one) early on when God failed to strike him down for all the terrible things he did. My mother seconded his agnosticism without justifying it, and my grandmother –whom I mentioned earlier- was a devout atheist who spoke of God almost every day of her life to declare His nonexistence. My grandfather was more dedicated to drinking, gambling and philandering than to discussing the conditions of the Cosmos.

Therefore I was left to figure out the walks and wanderings of Life on my own and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was heaped with disappointments, frustrations and disillusionments and had little to offer in the way of gratification unless you grabbed whatever chanced to come your way before anyone else spotted it. I remember my father repeating a Spanish proverb that says “Opportunity is bald and you have to grab it by the hair”.

20160803_160514So my upbringing was pretty straight forward: there was no God (no friendly Universe either) showering down blessings; no free rides. Whatever I wanted or needed I would have to work, grovel or cheat to get and, even then, nothing was guaranteed. This is the way I went about life for all of 49 years, and then Life itself stopped me in my tracks.

I’ll never forget the day I interned myself in a clinic for addictions. I truly believed my life was over and I had been a rotund failure throughout. But from the very beginning, the very first day, something strange happened. From out of the blue, a phrase popped into my mind that later would turn out to be one of the pet phrases of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Let go, let God”. I didn’t believe in God; even much later, I crossed out the word “God” in all the AA literature and put HP instead, which stood for “Higher Power”. To this day, I have no idea where or when I had heard the words, but Let go, let God was a catch phrase that helped me surmount my overpowering fear and stay in the clinic for the time necessary to clean my system of alcohol and learn the basic ropes of staying sober.

Repeating that phrase, however, by no means meant that I believed in God or in the Universe or in anything other than my AA group and my companions at the time. I counted myself as lucky to have landed in a “therapeutically inclined” AA group rather than in one of the “spiritual” ones. And the truth was that I trusted no one but my therapist.

Nevertheless, there was no way I could deny that there were strange things happening. For instance: the very first day I didn’t drink I went to bed thinking I would have trouble sleeping. Not only did I fall asleep immediately, but at 3a.m. –the hour when I was usually awakened by terrible nightmares- I awoke with the strangest feeling coursing through my body. It came –I realized- from the enormous smile spread across my face which was electrifying me in the most pleasant way. Immediately I understood: my decision to stop dandelionsdrinking and get help was the way to go. I fell asleep again filled with happiness. Where did that smile come from? At that time I decided that it had surfaced from the unconscious mind to tell me I was doing the right thing, but the marvelment of that small happening has lasted to this day. And then again, where exactly is the unconscious mind?

If I look back, I can notice now how everything fell into place so that I would follow the path I did: the friend I called (a psychoanalyst) had two alcoholic brothers and knew the name of a doctor specialized in addictions; the doctor immediately put me in touch with a marvellous clinic and they had space for me; once out of the clinic I was directed to an AA group that is –to this day- the best group I have ever participated in for its level of recovery (people shared how they were recovering, not how they had been drinking). When I divorced 18 months later, I got to keep the spacious house we had lived in and immediately was able to rent it to an American executive for an exorbitant price that gave me a decent income; the first day I went to look for a place for myself, I remember turning into a street in the section of the city where I wanted to live and seeing a brick wall at the end of the block. Immediately I knew that that was where I was going to live, before I even saw that the house was for rent.

It was in that house that I received the first gift from life: the gift of Gratitude (read “Life Doesn’t Owe You Anything”) and was invited to let new love into my heart. It was then that the idea of trust began to slowly seep in. Gratitude made me realize the abundance in my life and the fact that I had not done anything to deserve it or to achieve it. As a matter of fact, I had not even noticed it until that strange voice in my head brought it to my attention. It was gratitude that actually made me see that I was not going anywhere I was being led. For the first time since sobering up, I felt the deep meaning of the catch phrase that had accompanied me in the Clinic: “Let go, let God”. For the first time in my life I really experienced from deep inside that a Power Greater than myself (as they say in the groups) was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. Consciously I began practicing letting go; I stopped grasping, clinging to or longing for things and sort of settled back (nervously at first) to see what would happen.

wall-flowersFor once, I really began to notice that everything I needed came to me exactly when I needed it. If there was something I thought I needed and didn’t get it, shortly afterwards I would discover why this had been for the best, or instead I would get something even better than that which I had wanted. And then the clincher came.

Once I felt sure enough that the sober life was the one for me and that I wasn’t going to slip easily back into my old habits, I made a wish. I wanted to fall in love, really fall in love, like an adolescent. I actually told the Universe about this wish, and then tried to take things into my own hands checking out every possible candidate. I even propositioned a couple of them and was turned down. After a while, I got tired of hoping and trying so hard and I gave up, throwing myself into other things. I founded a women’s group for co-dependency; I translated Melody Beattie’s 12 Steps for Codependents into Spanish and got it published, I made friends with other single women and started making a life for myself. Of course (I can say that now), when I stopped obsessing about it, it happened.

I was sitting in front of the room facing towards the door; I had just finished coordinating the meeting, when the door opened and he walked in. The moment I saw him I knew. Without a thought, I stood up, crossed the room and held out my hand:

“Hi, I’m Brianda.”

His name was Fernando, like my ex-husband; he was recently divorced and had been sober for 13 years. He was tall, slender, well-dressed and 4 years younger than me (which turned out not to be a problem). Less than a week later we were going together and I was madly in love, so much so that I thought I was going to die. Be careful what you wish for!

By the time we had been dating some 6 months and I knew that I wanted to live with Fernando, but I had been to his house and seen that moving in would probably be a fast-track to the end of the relationship. And then, one day, I had a dream… no, not an asleep dream, a waking dream: a day-dream. I was walking down the street thinking of my love when a vision appeared in my mind’s eye. It was like a movie: I saw myself knocking down a wall between Fernando’s house and the house next door. The vision was so real and I got so excited that the minute I arrived home I called him.pansy

“You won’t believe this, but I just had this waking dream,” and I told him about the vision. “I don’t know how you feel but I want to live with you and I don’t fit into your house. So, if you agree, I need to buy the house next door,” I blurted out, suddenly realizing that I was proposing to the guy.

“It isn’t for sale,” he answered, “and I don’t think they will consider selling it as the woman who owns it rents it out and lives from that income.”

I wasn’t worried about details for some strange reason; what I wanted to know was if he felt the same, so I asked him straight out. He said that he did, that he too wanted to live with me. That clinched it.

As the house next door was not for sale, I went around to the neighbour that owned a large stretch of property directly behind Fernando’s house and asked if she would sell me a piece of her enormous garden. She said no. I insisted; she got nasty. That was the end of that. For a few days, I went over and over the possibilities without finding a solution and then, one day, I threw my hands up in exasperation:

“I give up”-I was addressing the Universe or whatever- “If you want me to have this relationship, if it is the best thing for me, then you make it happen.”

And I actually let go. I carried on with my life and forgot about our living or not together completely. Then, about ten days later, I came home from whatever I was doing one afternoon and the cleaning girl told me Fernando had called 3 times; this was not usual as OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhe very seldom called before night and never more than once. I phoned him back.

“They just put the house next door up for sale. Do you want to buy it?”

Ten days! This was the house he had been sure wouldn’t be sold so we hadn’t even asked. Ten days, for god’s sake! How was it possible? Coincidence? Chance? Call it what you will, there was something at work here that had nothing whatsoever to do with human endeavour.

To make a long story short, I bought the house and we knocked out the wall between Fernando’s bedroom and a room in my new house just as I had seen it in my daydream, and made a master bedroom connecting both houses so that each morning we would get up and he would go into his house and I would go into mine. The vision that had come to me completely out of the blue had become reality through no effort of mine, but simply by letting go.

It was then and there that the element of Trust was born in me. I realized that there had never been very much that I could do, that there were really no decisions that could be taken intelligently as we could never know the outcomes, that my life had been led down paths I could never have suspected and that I might as well trust what was “doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself”, because to date it certainly had seemed to want what was best for me.

Since then I have basically trusted, letting what I call The Universe, do its job with the 20141105_103633least possible interference from me. Today, I look at how things have unfolded without much input from me and I find it hard to believe. Many of the things I thought I would never experience in this lifetime (living in Madrid, visiting Machu Picchu, moving to a small town in France, spending three years on a fascinating new project that got me up every morning at 6 a.m., etc) have come to pass, and every day I wake up wondering what adventure is next.

Since then I have but one prayer (if it can be called that) and that is “I’m willing…” I live with faith and trust in the Universe knowing absolutely that it is friendly and will bring nothing but the best for me. And as I said at the beginning, this Trust has given me the greatest gift of all: Freedom.

And if all the previous proof wasn’t enough to believe in the intervention of the Universe, while I was writing this piece I happened to look over some other posts I have on my blog spot and thought to myself that I really would like to make a book out of some of them. Then tonight before turning in, I took one last look at my mail. I always check the Spam before erasing it and there was omeone who subscribed to my blog. I opened his page out of interest and it was publicity inviting me to make a book out of my blog posts, yes… exactly… I thought the same.

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A WORK OF FICTION 7

1603-1640: THE GREAT MIGRATION

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)

COMMUNITY

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.

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ONE LESS ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST

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:

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

THE SELF…

THE SELF

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).