STUFF

Salies has been invaded by stuff. It is the annual ‘vide grenier’ which literally means ‘empty the attic’ and would be the French equivalent of a garage sale except here it has become professional. Although some of the participants are individuals or families wanting to get rid of all that stuff that has accumulated over the years, most are merchants who have bought up stuff (from people who have moved, downsized, died, or simply chucked everything out) and now go from town to town offering it during the one or various vide greniers of the year.cof

Some of the professionals are eclectic, laying out everything from doll clothes to old jewelry to electric toasters, from used boots to vintage postcards; others have specialized and fill a table with DVDs or toys or army supplies or porcelain and cristal or old cameras.oznor

Amidst the old stuff there are sometimes antiques; other things have never been used and come from a factory that closed down or a store that went bankrupt, but most wear the mark of time. As I wander between the stalls, the faint odor of clothes kept too long in an attic or a closet or a garage comes to me and the multicolored infinite variety of things fills my vision. I have no need for anything but I do enjoy drifting along between the myriad tables glancing absently here and there while in my mind the word stuff repeats itself endlessly. oznorcof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I needed something, here would be the place to buy it instead of the supermarket or the mall, and then I could feel good recycling all that enormous amount of stuff we humans have produced and getting something at a dirt cheap price too. But I don’t need anything.

cof

A flowered teacup attracts my attention and I pick it up for a moment. The lady behind the table looks at me and waits. I put it back down having glimpsed –in my mind’s eye- the line of cups hanging from the beam in my kitchen. More stuff. Maybe I’ll take a few of my cups to the déchetterie (waste disposal site) where they will be quickly snapped up by dealers of stuff and perhaps appear at the next vide grenier.cof

Getting rid of all my stuff was what moving to Salies allowed me to do. I sold or gave away everything except a couple of unimportant pieces of furniture (a miniature chest of drawers that served as a medicine cabinet, a small arm chair), a selection of books from my library, one set of dishes and most of my clothes.oznor

The feeling of exhilaration I experienced and the joy of moving into an uncluttered new home has long disappeared under the onslaught of new stuff acquired over the years. Now papers spill over onto cluttered surfaces like mushrooms in a crowded forest; books creep out from bookshelves onto tables and chairs; useless decorations gather on table tops and shelves collecting dust; the closets are full to bursting with clothes, overcoats, tools, towels and every imaginable object that has drifted into my existence without me even realizing.cof cof

Do I really need eleven flower vases? What in the world am I going to do with over thirty ball-point pens garnered from different hotels or events? And the bouquet of different colored magic markers is seldom touched. The seven frying pans hanging from the beam in the kitchen might give the false impression that I cook a lot which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And plants invade every nook and cranny because I can’t resist replanting every voluntary sprout.cof

What do I have seven pairs of scissors for if not just to avoid going from one room to another (and my apartment is tiny) when I need one, or having to look for the pair I just used yesterday and didn’t put back in its place. I have a whole set of new knives I bought because I loved their red handles. They were carefully put away in the closet when I discovered that the knives in my old set (a present from my husband during a trip to New York 30 years ago) cut better and were lighter.cof

There is an apron hanging in the kitchen that I bought because I liked the design and I have never used (great! I will give it to my neighbor on her birthday next week because she cooks every day). I have two pair of binoculars gathering dust, one belonged to my father and another I bought for a trip to the Galapagos and haven’t even looked at since. I have two magnifying glasses and two magnifying mirrors to compensate for failing eyesight which in itself has left a collection of 7 pairs of eyeglasses in a drawer (besides the one for emergencies in every room).cof

Everything has a ‘what if’ or a ‘for when’ or an ‘in case’ attached to its continued existence in my house. Even if I never bought another item in my life, I wouldn’t use all I have. Stuff, it collects like cancer cells occupying space.cof

As I finish my rounds of the vide grenier without –thank goodness- buying anything, I am possessed with an overpowering desire to throw out or give away everything and start all over again. Unfortunately, I know that by the time I get home I will have found other, more pressing matters to dedicate my time to, such as writing this blog post. cof

So stuff collects and I try to ignore it, and the vide grenier will give way to the Marché d’antand where more merchants will sell more stuff, this time made in the old fashioned way our grandparents or perhaps great grandparents knew, back in the days before stuff took over our lives.

AFTER THE RAIN

NUBES Y DIENTES DE LEÓN (AMARGÓN) 004 (2)Yesterday and last night Nature put on quite a show. There were high alert storm warnings for this area and around 8:30, when I took Salomé out for a walk, we had a thunderstorm, and I mean a thunderstorm, such as I had never experienced before: no rain, no wind, no lightening; just one peal of thunder after another as if all the thunder in the world had gathered for an evening melee. It was a crazy drum festival, a heavenly jazz session with only percussion instruments. Each peal of thunder was different from the previous one; some seemed to compete in intensity, others in length. I thought Salomé would be frightened but she wasn’t and we had a fascinating walk to the rumble-rumble of the clouded sky. Sometimes one clash of thunder would seem to fade into the following one as if they played together; other times there would be a brief space in between drumrolls

Then lightening had its turn around 3 a.m. when the skies lit up like a faulty Christmas connection with one bolt after another crackling loudly across the darkness. It was an awesome spectacle and this time Salomé did get frightened and readily climbed into bed with me, hiding her head under the sheet. With the lightening (the thunder, which images2HA81KGGseemed to have spent itself earlier, was absent) came the rain, torrents of water and high winds lashing out against the window which I had only just closed. It was a formidable exhibit of the forces of Nature and I watched, fascinated, as the flashes lit up the night sky again and again for over 15 minutes. Then it was over and Salomé and I curled up for a good night’s sleep.

This morning when I awoke there was sunshine pouring through my living-room window that opens to the East. For a moment, I thought that yesterday’s fracas had spent Mother Nature’s fury and we would have sun all day, but I was wrong. To the West menacing black clouds gathered and crept forward towards Salies. I picked up my umbrella and stuffed Salomé’s little red raincoat into my bag before setting off for the morning coffee.oznor

Sure enough, no sooner had we settled down at our table under the awning of Rose’s Café, than the clouds opened up. It was a good rain, not torrential and without wind, thunder or lightening, but steady small drops that promised to replenish the water table gently. It lasted the better part of an hour and then the blue opened up again over Salies and it wasn’t long before the sun came through.

I was delighted. This meant I could do my morning walk with Salomé and enjoy the cofbeauty of my surroundings after the rain. The air was cool but the sun on my back was warm as we set off. And I was right: everything sparkled and the atmosphere had been washed clean; every minuscule drop of water on every leaf and stem gleamed with solar energy suspended in the briefness of its existence. Pools of water on the pavement oznorreflected what lay above turning the ground into a spaceless sky, an infinite chasm reflecting the world downwards. I could have sworn the flowers were singing with their whispered voices as we strolled by.

Everyone seemed happy and we all wished each other a very good day as we passed. I hung my umbrella on a fence in order to photograph another occupant of the sidewalk, one that often –or perhaps always- comes out after the rain, and then forgot my absolutely useless umbrella until almost arriving home; I had to turn back and recover it which made my walk a bit longer, and definitely put the tired Salomé out of sorts. oznor

I was almost home, smiling and singing softly to myself, when a couple of fighter jets streaked across the sky above, out-racing their thunderous roar and leaving it to trail menacingly behind. I froze in my tracks and watched as the black metal birds disappeared into a distant cloud. It made me wonder…imagesRB2ZTKICEpilogue: Today I realized that I had forgotten to add the picture of the little creature that comes out after the rain, so here it is (above).

MIDLIFE CRISES

Jeff Foster, in one of his posts said “You can’t make others happy, but you can inspire others by living your own happiness more fully. (…) Sometimes you have to be more selfish to be truly selfless; so selfish that you devote your life to burning as brightly as possible, inspiring others rather than trying to fix them.”

I copy his words here because they are mine and he has said it so well. When I took off –just as my children were having their children- to live my own life I was consciously being selfish; I consciously took the decision to reach out for my own happiness rather than staying around and being a grandmother to their children. I did it out of love, love for me and love for them. Somewhere along the line I had learned that if I sacrificed myself for them, I would hand them the bill later on.  My guiding thought was: ‘If I want my children to be happy, I have to show them the way; this is the greatest gift I can give them and the most precious inheritance.’ I truly believed that then and have continued to believe it till now. Life has yet to show me I was wrong.

Today my two children are together, in Mexico (my son has flown down from Los Angeles), battling for the inheritance their father left them, which would have given them a nice amount of money if things had gone differently. Things didn’t, and what ensued is much too complicated to explain. Suffice to say it has caused them a great amount of anger, frustration and –in my son’s case- a large amount of money in lawyer’s fees. I do not know what the outcome of their struggle will be; they don’t either. But I sat here this morning contemplating the possibility of sending a wish to the Universe for things to go well, and then I realized I couldn’t possibly know what would be the best for them, for my children, so I simply turned it over knowing the Universe will give them what is best for them… but only always. Reality is kinder than my thoughts about reality –as Byron Katie says- but only 100% of the time.oznor

I don’t know why my two children are going through this at the midpoint in their lives (both are in their 50’s) but I do know that only good can come of it. I was 50 -well, 49 about to turn 50- when my life did a complete flip-flop that set me on the path I call “my second life”, so different from my first that the memories of that time seem to belong to a completely different person. In that first life, I searched for love everywhere wanting so desperately to be happy. Then that life died and, although I survived physically, everything I had believed I knew in those first 50 years was washed clean and I had to start learning all over again from scratch.

A few of the first things I learned were put very simply in Twelve Step meetings which became my new birthing family: “You can’t give anybody that which you cannot give yourself”; “God’s will is that you be you; if He had wanted you to be Mother Theresa of Calcutta, he would have made you Mother Theresa of Calcutta;” “you cannot control anything out there and when you try to your life becomes ungovernable.”

Recently, someone sent me a Ted Talk by Anita Moorjani where she explains her near-death experience (NDE). After listening to her, I bought her book on Kindle. Her story states over and over again in every way possible, that it was only one realization that made her come back to life and that cured her cancer: that she was here to love herself above all else. This sounds selfish and self-centered unless you put it the way Byron Katie does: “I am 100% responsible for myself”. That means I am responsible for taking care of myself, but also that I am responsible for loving myself: there is no one else that can do that; it is my job.

It took me a long time; I had no idea what it meant to love myself. Having spent my whole life thinking that I knew what love was and that I had felt it for others, I came to realize that what I had thought was love (physical attraction, passion, neediness, actually selfishness like in ‘be mine only’ ‘give me’ ‘love me’ ‘don’t leave me’, etc), all those confusing and sometimes painful emotions, had nothing to do with love. Eventually, I would understand that love is actually Being Present, Paying Attention and Responding: in other words, being Responsible.

oznorMy first lesson was learning to listen to me, something I (as a Leo) had always wanted everyone else to do. This was not an easy chore because –although I had demanded many things of others- I had never actually tried to listen to myself, so it took time and patience. I had to sit quietly, I had to ask myself and then wait. “Brianda, what do you want?” My first discovery was that I had no idea what I really wanted. It was like being with a small child who hasn’t a clue of what choices she has and therefore cannot answer the question. I had to be patient with myself and I had to try things out to see if they fit.

I would ask myself: Do I want to go for a walk now or would I feel happier reading a book? Then I would wait. I would check inside, first imagining walking and then imagining reading a book and waiting for my body to tell me which activity it actually would enjoy more in that moment. This was new. I had never really connected to my body before, much less known I could trust it to inform me of my needs, likes and dislikes. I had lived from the neck up, inhabiting a mind which became every day more obsessed, addicted and crazy. But my body –I would discover- knew exactly what it liked and didn’t like, what food it craved, what movies it wanted to see or not see, what people it wanted to be with.

For instance, one day the memory of how, as a young girl, I had loved coloring with crayons came to me and I felt my body respond with what seemed like excitement. My mind immediately said ‘but Brianda, you are a writer, an intellectual: what are you going to do with a coloring book and crayons at your age?’ But my body didn’t seem to give a damn about my mind’s opinion; it was already visualizing an enormous box of crayons, one with 48 different colors (there had only been boxes with 6 and later 12 colors when I was a girl), so I got myself up, went to the store and bought myself a big box of crayons and several coloring books.

And so it went. If someone invited me to their house or a party, was I really interested in going? I had to learn how to say ‘no’.  Did I want to see that movie, go to that restaurant or eat that food? Was I more interested in sitting around the table with my family on Sundays or going to an AA meeting (one Sunday, when I excused myself to go to the meeting, my son said “Mom, you’re getting awfully selfish,” to which I responded: “Yes, isn’t that wonderful!”)?

cofAnd listening to myself was only the beginning. Liking myself came second, and learning that it was all right if not everyone liked me as long as I liked myself. I came to see that my need to be liked by others was actually the long road to trying to like myself (the hidden belief being that if everyone liked me I would finally be able to feel I was ok). I decided to take the short cut and start with me. I dragged age-old photos of myself from the drawer where they were hidden (I hadn’t included them in the family albums because I didn’t like the way I looked) and pasted them all around my dressing room. Under each photo I stuck a piece of paper where I had written a quality that I could admire in myself (honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) and every morning while I was dressing I would look at the pictures and allow my body to feel acceptance and even love. It wasn’t long before I realized how beautiful I had actually been when I was younger, and started to feel sorry that I hadn’t known and appreciated it at the time. From there it was easy to see that when I reached 80 I would look back on my 50-year-old self as gorgeous and feel sorry for having missed it. I decided then and there not to miss another moment of my own beauty, notwithstanding extra pounds, wrinkles or bad-hair days. I was helped in this task by a very special teacher: my little dog. Supposing I loved, took care of and caressed my own body just the way I do hers? I asked myself: Am I going to stop loving her if she gets old, or goes blind, grows fat or loses her hair? If not, then why would I not treat my own body with the same love and care for as long as it lasts? Today, I mentally get on my knees to this precious body that survived my almost killing it with cigarettes, alcohol and misery, and has now carried me well into my 70’s as healthy and sturdy as ever.

With what are known as “negative” emotions, it was the same. Whenever I felt embarrassed or inadequate, sad or frustrated, lonely or bored instead of looking to others or the circumstances to find a culprit, I would stop and go inside. What I discovered was that the feeling had nothing to do with others or the situation and everything to do with my own judgment of myself and my circumstances. So I would ask myself what I was doing or believing that was causing the discomfort. I often discovered that what was making me uncomfortable was that I wanted something from somebody else (or from life itself) and that was making me unhappy with what I had (or was) at the moment. If I was being critical or judgmental of someone else or of my own life, that oznorcriticism or judgment made me dislike myself or my circumstances.

Little by little I began to realize that nothing I did or felt had anything to do with anyone or anything else: it was all me. Of course, some years later when I discovered The Work of Byron Katie and began to use the questions to undo my painful beliefs, it all became clear and much easier, and I at long last experienced real freedom and real joy as a way of being in the world.

So back to the beginning: Today my children are facing their own midlife battles, one of them being the fight to claim their father’s inheritance. I have no idea of what the outcome will be or what effect it will have on their futures. I only know I trust the Universe and am convinced that there are no mistakes… ever. And I know that if there were any way I could give them that trust, I gladly would, but it is something that each of us has to learn for ourselves by walking the walk. And for me, this learning is what life is about.WIN_20160731_155612 (3)

ONE DAY TO 75

davI know I am repeating myself but for me this is a milestone for the reasons I have already mentioned more than once (https://writingalife.com/?s=Almost+there) and will not delve into again here. Already I see that tomorrow is going to be a busy day and also a day where I will probably eat more than normal as our custom is to take a cake to share at coffee and later I have been invited to go out to lunch with my dear friends Annie and Richard. So after coffee this morning I decided to go for a longer walk than usual. I set off on the daily path but then veered to the left and up towards what is known as the “Allée Vert” which means ‘green path’. It is a lovely walkway formed using the old railroad tracks through a wooded part of town and it promises greenery, good smooth walking surface and shade. cofSalomé seemed delighted when we didn’t turn towards home after strolling through the public gardens in front of the Thermes.

I knew how long the Allee Vert was and wondered if my left ankle was going to hold out. Once started it would be just as long to backtrack as to go forward. I decided to take the chance and give myself the gift of taking a really long stroll. I was certainly not sorry and the ankle did hold out perfectly although the walk turned out being a little over 4 kms, more than double what I usually walk in a morning. The day had morning clouds which kept the temperature cool and the shade of the trees filtered what little sun managed to seep through. I found myself going along at a brisk pace and feeling extraordinarily good about it. I usually cut my walk short past the bridge where there is a staircase that goes up to the road above which allows me to go home, but today I was determined to walk to the end, something I had only done once before about 8 years ago. Therefore, after the bridge, the sdrscenery was as good as new and I slowed my pace to take in everything and couldn’t resist capturing the new sights with my phone.

Saying this reminds me of how I reacted when cell phones first began to include cameras. “What in the world would you want a camera in your phone for!” was my sarcastic comment. But I have lived and learned and now adore the fact that I can capture everything my eyes delight in to include in my blogs or just to decorate my computer screen. Today it was the fantastic Béarnaise houses that caught my fancy. Thank goodness for phone cameras!oznor

One of the first things that made me fall in love with this town was the rooves, the out-of-the-ordinary Béarnaise rooves, ending not in the straight slope of usual tiled rooves, but in a slight upward curve similar to a young lass’s skirt. There is something so coquettish about a Béarnaise roof that I never tire of seeing them or photographing them. The town is full of –what I call- rooves ‘nesting’ together, but here on my walk, it was the houses that attracted me and not only their rooves.

sdrIt was then that the idea of writing this blog piece came to me, not so much as a form of remembering that tomorrow is my birthday, but rather as a way to publish the pictures that so captured my fancy while walking.

Now that I know the delights of walking and taking pictures, I am sure that my daily exercise will increase (and Salomé’s too). So I will save you having to read more words and just share my pictures from this morning.oznor

 

oznor

oznor

oznor

Oh yes, there was a black pig too.

oznor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEATH

                                                                           “Death doesn’t break the connection to someone you love; the believer’s mind does.”

– Katie

 

My downstairs neighbor’s son died a while ago. I immediately went just to hug her and see if I could do anything. Then I took her a couple of sweets from the bakery, Viennese pastry, and a container of vegetable soup I had made. Sorrow wants for sugar and something warm and comforting like soup.

I did not know her son, had never met him. At that time I had lived here for 6 years and  I had seen her daughter every year, but never her son. My neighbor doesn’t go away very much either, so I don’t think she visited often. I don’t know if they spoke by phone. Another neighbor who is also her friend told me that she didn’t speak to her other son at all, or perhaps that he doesn’t speak to her: they had a falling out.

After taking her soup for two days, I gave it a rest. Then, a few days later, on coming back from my walk with Salomé, I decided to stop by and see how she was doing. She looked worse than a week before, when the news was fresh. I could see the suffering was weighing her down. Gently I suggested it might be good to start doing something, begin getting back to her routine. “After all,” I said, “it isn’t as if you saw him every day.”

She shook her head: “It is not even his death,” she said, “but the fact that it could have been avoided if they had done what they should have done; it was negligence; that is what keeps running over and over through my head.”

I couldn’t say what jumped to the tip of my tongue (“Is that true? They could have done it differently, is that true?”), but instead I mumbled some platitude like ‘Maybe he would have suffered more if he hadn’t died,’ that she fortunately ignored. But I could see how her mind had reached out, instinctively, for anger as a defense against the pain of loss, and how it was precisely that anger that, ironically, kept her going back over and over again to what she considered his ‘unnecessary’ death. Her mind killed him over and over again, as it contemplated the possibility that he might not have died if he had received the adequate treatment. It was a catch 22.

That same evening, when I came home I read the above quote from Byron Katie. How true: our loved ones only die once, and then we kill them over and over again in our minds. If we believe that death separates them from us, we will push them away when their memory comes, remembering the only thing we keep of them: their death. We won’t let them ever live again, shutting ourselves down to their visits and to the love we could still keep feeling for them until the day we join them. As we believe that their death is painful, when the thought of them comes, instead of feeling the love we always felt when we thought of them, we feel the pain of their supposed separation, and we push them away.

So far the deaths I have lived through have been the normal ones we all face: grandparents, parents; never a child or grandchild. When my husband of 30 years died, we had already been separated for 20. When I received the message from my daughter with the news I was at a retreat in California. I read the words, simple words: My father died today, it said, and a strange thing began to happen. A weird and horrifying howl emerged from deep inside, from somewhere below my stomach, down in the abdomen and came out of my mouth. My eyes weren’t crying, there was no pain in my heart, no conscious sorrow, but it was as if an animal were trying to escape from within emitting the most horrid sounds. My two roommates come over immediately, but I gestured to them that I was all right, not to worry, and continued to produce the inhuman wails that had nothing to do with me and that were like nothing I had ever experienced before.

After about ten minutes, the animal inside me quieted down and I began to breathe normally again. I thanked my roommates for their patience and understanding, and simply said that what had come out didn’t seem to have much to do with me. The following day I was very quiet, filled with love as if the presence of the father of my children were there with me. I didn’t feel sad; I felt no need to cry. I was grateful for what we had shared and grateful that he had been released from the cancer that was claiming his body. He was closer to me in that moment than in any previous moment since our divorce. What the animal inside was and why it had to bring out all those strange sounds, even today I have no idea.

I don’t often get visits from my ex-husband or my grandmother or even my father, but my mother, who died in 2007, is with me constantly and I love her so much and am so grateful for her company.

At the time when my neighbor lost her son, I remember wishing there were something more I could do, and finding nothing else I simply continued to take her sweets and soup until she began to heal in her own way.

THE DEMISE OF MALLS

IztaA recent on-line issue of TIME decries the death of shopping malls due to on-line buying (I don’t even buy printed issues of TIME anymore and rather settle for what they print on-line). I read the article and smiled. Memories…

I was in Mexico when the first Mall was built (according to the article, in 1956 Southdale Center in Edina, Minn.) and we were still far from buying into the consumer madness that Malls represent. We went to the park instead. That was where we saw people, picnicked, bought junk and played, interacted, breathed fresh air (Mexico City air was izta contaminatedstill fresh then, with a population close to 6 million; today at 25 million+ there is a pea-soup-like cloud of smog lying over the city and Chapultepec park, where we used to go, shows up to the passengers on landing airplanes as a small green smudge in the midst of a sprawling concrete megalopolis), rode bicycles, ate popsicles. It was a place where grandmothers and the first blue-jeaned crew-cutters crossed paths; where concerts and clowns entertained visitors of all ages and balloon vendors hawked their colorful bouquets. Cotton candy and tacos, tamales and soft drinks were offered from push-carts. Families pushed baby carriages, walked dogs, lounged on the grassy slopes or visited Chapultepec Castle to once more hear the story of the five young militias who, wrapped in the national flag, hurled themselves to their deaths from its tower rather than be captured by the invading “gringos” (as Americans are disparagingly called).

The first Mall that opened in Mexico City was built by Carlos Slim (just Google him) in Nezahualcoyotl (you can Google that too, but it probably won’t help you pronounce it) on a spot supposedly reserved for a street market that had been displaced by some other construction project. I do not know the year, but I am sure I never went there. Nezahualcoyotl is an area of Mexico City known for its high crime rate and drug trafficking so it was not the place where a little blond, blue-eyed gringuita would go.

The first Mall I actually went to was Plaza Satélite built in the municipality of Naucalpan de Juárez, north of Mexico City which was inaugurated exactly on my daughter’s fourth 010ciudad_plaza_satelite_una semana después de la inauguraciónbirthday according to Wikipedia. That was on the 13th of October, 1971 (the black and white picture to the right was taken one week after the inauguration). I don’t clearly remember my visits to the Mall; I am not a shopper much to my daughter’s dismay and therefore I always used to avoid large supermarkets and malls as much as possible. Restaurants, movies and Xmas shopping, however, would have taken me there and I do remember several outings on Sundays to do the Mall and then eat and take in a movie. Doing the Mall entailed walking, window-shopping and usually munching or slurping something and I remember thinking to myself, while I observed the passerplaza satelites-by, that this was the new gathering place for families on weekends. Malls had substituted parks. Families, composed of two or sometimes three generations, strolled down the long passageways in front of the lit and decorated store windows; grandmothers rested on the benches provided for grandmothers to rest on; children ran from one store window to the next hoping to eventually break down their parent’s resistance. Restaurants and cafés were filled to the hilt and in the afternoon the lines for buying movie tickets would have reached around the block if they had been on the street.

I remember shaking my head and feeling quite judgmental about the new Sunday entertainment, but I don’t remember ever going again to a park. Of course, by that time we had a house with a large garden and lived in a neighborhoodplaza satelite 3 where it was safe for the children to play kick-the-can on the street, so we didn’t need to go to a park to get away from the concrete of the city.

If my memory serves me, the kids loved going to the mall as did both my husbands who were shoppers, and I was grateful to be freed from Sunday lunch whplaza satelite 2en the maids had the day off so I have seen the inside of more than one Mall in my lifetime. Today, when I go to my daughter’s house in Mexico I often visit the Mall up on the hill called “The Cusp” or “La Cúspide” either for a meal or to pick up some item in one of the humongous super markets available there. It is more open-air giving the impression of a small city with streets and even includes a miniature golf course, and one has the feeling that they wanted to capture some of the charm of the parks they have substituted. I now find it convenient to be able to buy anything I need from light bulbs to a manicure to a meal and a movie, from toys to toe-nail clippers, or some pork chops for dinner, or an outfit for a wedding, cash from the bank, a computer, a pet, an umbrella or suntan lotion; to fix my portable phone, buy or rent a van, acquire or sell a house, choose a bed or just a nail file, all in one place without moving my car. It’s good exercise too and opens from 9a.m. Cuspidetill midnight. If we are to judge by the zillions of comments and who makes them, youth flocks there and completely enjoys it. So, though it might be true that Malls in the U.S.A. are dying, from what I can see they are still thriving in Mexico since that time long ago when they displaced the parks as a center for family entertainment.

So, what about malls in Europe or, to be more precise, in my little French town of Salies? Well, we have our Thursday markets where aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlmost everything can be bought. The Thursday market has the advantage that it is ephimeral and disappears completely by 1pm leaving the town unscathed except for a few remains which the cleaning truck promptly sweeps up. And, if I ever get nostalgic for a mall, I just hop in my car and drive to San Sebastián across the now non-existent border, to Garbera: a US style mall with most anything one’s heart could desire. It doesn’t seem to be dying either. I do notice, however, how much more I am buying over internet… so, perhaps the eve705-4_-centro-comercial-garberantual demise of malls is more than just an American phenomenon. We will see.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE OLD?

WIN_20170722_130919 (2)                    I slept and dreamt that Life was happiness; I awoke and learned that Life was   service; I served and discovered that service to Life was happiness.

                                    (I have no idea who said this or even if this is the exact way it was said, but it is the expression of what I know  to be true for me today.)    

 

This year I am turning 75. Sometimes I find it hard to believe and others it is just a number with no meaning whatsoever. When my grandmother turned 75 and I went to wish her a happy birthday, she said: “I’m 75 years old and I don’t know what I have done with my life!” I have commented on this before but want to once again thank my grandmother for this warning. I know now mine has been a life consciously lived –although not always consciously liked- and will continue to be so as long as consciousness remains.

Recently, a dear and ‘old’ (both in duration of friendship and personal age) friend sent me a brief text (anonymous) with the title “What’s it like to be old?” Everything contained in it was absolutely true for me, even though some of the examples did not pertain to my experience. I decided to plagiarize the writing and turn it into my own. So I began and found the following outpouring of my heart blending with the outpouring of that unknown heart to whom I am deeply grateful for the gift of words (theirs and mine).20131116_105036

So, what is it like to be old? The text in front of me posed the question, and I was forced to answer much like the original author. I don’t think of myself as old, there is in me a something that doesn’t age, a something or a place that is as curious, as open and as excited about life now as when I was three years old and just beginning to become conscious. However, as I contemplated the question, I felt grateful and excited about being able to answer it along with my unknown collaborator.

Old age, we decided, is a gift.

I could joyfully say –along with the text on my computer screen- that I was, perhaps for the first time in my life, the person I had always wanted to be. For once (say I) I live the daily miracle of waking up with myself, delighted to meet me once more and curious about the day that lays ahead. Of course, I don’t bound out of bed and race towards the day as I once used to, but rather close my eyes around the 10 or 20 extra minutes I allow myself under the blankets, savoring each second of added warmth and relaxation.

Yes, old age is a gift. Oh, not precisely my body (I cry out in unison with the invisible author, my new friend)! Agreed! Not the wrinkles (and Life is so kind to take away the sharpness my eyesight as it increases the wrinkles), the fat around my middle, the bags AUTUMN 002under my eyes, the pains in the joints that come and, sometimes, go. Often I feel the shock of seeing that stranger in the mirror that looks so much like… my grandmother! Then I smile, a secret smile, and feel gratitude for a long life lived a duo.

I would never trade in my wonderful life, the profound love for my family, the marvelous friends, all the new adventures and the deep satisfaction of my actual work, for less wrinkles or a more sculpted figure. As I have aged, I’ve become so much kinder to myself, so much less critical. I’ve turned into my best friend, a wonderful companion.

I no longer scold myself for eating my big plate of Häggen Das occasionally, or the third cookie I slyly snap up on the way through the kitchen. I have no problem spending the extra money that comfort sometimes requires; I deserve that consideration, that simple joy. I can splurge on myself and not worry or splurge on my loved ones (which is the same as splurging on myself) with abandon.20160520_143050

In my life, I have seen too many people arrive at the birthdays I have now celebrated, complaining endlessly about their old age, angrily wanting back the youth they no longer have to do the things they hadn’t thought of until too late, and completely oblivious to the gift of freedom that comes with the years.

After all, who cares if I decide to spend a Sunday afternoon playing computer games, or if I go to the movies more to eat popcorn than to watch the film, or if I take a cozy nap curled up on the sofa under a warm, woolen blanket? And whose business is it if I find myself dancing wildly to a hit song from the 50’s or 60’s, or collapsing into a loving heap of nostalgic tears over a remembered boyfriend or lover? I no longer fear taking all the courses I want even though the youths that fill the classroom might ask what good it will do someone my age; they too will become old someday.

“Yes” (I whisper to my anonymous author) sometimes I forget things, but then some things are better forgotten. Over the years I have found that the tragic stories about my childhood and youth are no more than that: stories. And, in the long run, I remember that which is important to me today. I find my mind much more flexible than before, willing to let go of useless beliefs, willing to not be right, anxious even to step out of the role of the-mind-that-knows. My mind today seems perfectly happy to live with me in the present, to be clear about the options that open up before us and to direct me wisely and kindly towards the best path. Today, this mind that once was a torture chamber of mistaken beliefs, is a faithful friend, my favorite toy and beloved instrument, my constant and loving companion. It takes me where I want to go without my ever leaving the chair where I sit.

I’ll agree –if you insist- that life has sometimes seemed hard, that there have been unwanted frustrations, the loss of loved ones, painful separations, trials and tribulations that at moments seemed insurmountable. But the trials and the frustrations are what have provided strength, understanding and compassion. A life without trials is sterile and empty and will never experience the deep joy that the miracle of living bestows on us.

From the deepest corner of my soul, I am grateful for having lived enough years to begin to see the laughter and tears of youth etched into the expanding grooves on my face. Time, far from taking away, has rather given me the opportunity to live many lives in one, to experience the true abundance of each day (not the abundance of “stuff”), to reach the precise place inside myself where unlimited and unconditional love is born. Today I understand that what others think of me is beside the point; I have earned the right to be wrong, to make mistakes or look absurd in the eyes of others without punishing myself, for I have arrived at the knowledge that nothing is ever a mistake… not ever.

20130622_225437So the next time someone asks me (or I run across the question) what it feels like to be old, I’ll be able to honestly say: I love it. Age has freed me. I love the person I have become, the one that was born of me thanks to the years that life has provided. I know I won’t live forever (heaven forbid!), but as long as I am here I am not going to waste a minute complaining about things I have not had, moments I have not lived, persons I have not been, goals I have not achieved; neither will I spend and instant worrying about what awaits me in the future. I will live in the fullness of the unwavering present, seeing how I might best serve this life, this person, this instance in front of me, for serving today gives me the extreme joy I once searched for in others, in things, in sex. I’ll eat popcorn and ice cream, I’ll sleep that extra hour in the morning with the furry warmth of my little schnauzer clinging to my back, I’ll take the longed for journey as it occurs to me, and every morning I’ll contemplate the day ahead through the eyes of innocence that life has returned to me. Above all, I will love with all my heart until this heart stops beating. I know now, this is what I am here for, and my heart fills with gratitude.

When someone near me exclaims: “Oh God! I am about to turn 30 or 40 or 50 or 60!” I will be able to tell them honestly that it only gets better, that each decade surpasses the previous one in ways unsuspected. I know this. I’ve been there, at 30, 40, 50 and 60 believing that it couldn’t get better. And it has! Life has proved me wrong each time around. It not only could get better, it did!

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.