LOCKDOWN ‘FALLOUT’

“So slow down, friend. Take a deep

and conscious breath. Trust the

place where you are, the place

of ‘no answers yet’, the precious

place of not knowing. This place

is sacred, for it is 100% life.

It is full of life, saturated with

life, dripping with life, drenched

with life. Don’t try to rush to the next

scene in the movie of ‘me’. Be here

in this scene, Now, the only scene

there is. Now is the place where

questions rest, and creative

solutions grow.

Jeff Foster

I take three walks a day, at least, four if I get antsy… Today, around 2p.m. Salomé and I set off for our after-lunch round about in silence as thick as cookie dough and not half as sweet. Somebody that lives in a big city says that now they can hear the birds singing. In Salies, we have always been able to hear the birds singing (small town, not much traffic) but now all we hear are the birds… announcing that it is Spring… a “Silent Spring” pops into mind, the title of a book written by Rachel Carson and published back in 1962 untitleddocumenting the adverse effects of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. I think to myself that this is what the world would look like if we had a nuclear war and were all wiped out by the atomic fallout. Not a soul on the streets, no one looking out of their window, no voices, no music, no cars… nothing. Thick, gooey, uncomfortable silence…

When I get home, I put on some music. Salomé is not convinced. She knows something is wrong and she comes over looking worried. I pick her up and sit her on my lap; she lays across my knees and lets herself be loved. We are company to each other; I love the gentle warmth of her body heating my legs. Afterwards, she seems to be comforted and takes her nap on the chair. I continue working on my Memoires…

Ten minutes later, Salomé is up again. She goes into the bedroom and barks. When I don’t run to see what she wants, she barks again… and again. Finally I get up and walk to the bedroom. “What?” I demand.  She just looks at me and then trots back into the living room: attention is what she wanted. I pick up a ball and lazily toss it down the hallway, IMG_20200318_135716she retrieves it. We play for a few minutes and then I tell her I want to finish writing my blog. She settles down again on the carpet. Thank goodness for Salomé; without her… don’t even want to think about it.

Ok: fallout from the Coronavirus: The rebirth of this blog-page; more time on Whatsapp; contact with people I haven’t heard from in years; more time doing The Work over internet, music. I seldom listen to music, I am too busy and my hour or so in the Café mornings chatting is usually enough noise for me to look forward to my two or three hours of silence before lunch. Now, as I do my exercises (stretching) I put music on the computer (YouTube), as I wash the dishes I listen to music, when I play with Salomé the music keeps us company… This is good.

I have never been much of a talker, but now I am convinced that by the time this is over I will have forgotten how to carry on a conversation, so I try to have at least one a day –over Whatsapp, usually- with my daughter, my son, a friend… anyone. I have decided that The Work I do over internet is another way to keep in touch and am now offering two sessions for the price of one; if this goes on long enough, I’ll give them for free.

IMG_20200320_125010Yesterday I went out for our morning walk and the first thing I saw was a man driving his car, all alone, windows rolled up… and he had a mask on. I wondered who he was protecting himself from… Today I noticed another woman with the same thing. I don’t have any masks; I haven’t even asked at the pharmacy because I know they are all gone, just like the hand disinfectant (I’ve been told more will be arriving next week). In the meantime, I wash my hands more than I have ever washed them in my life, but so as to not wash them double or triple times, I leave the dishes from my latest meal in the sink until I get back from my walks and then I wash them, along with my hands, of course.

Then, as suggested by Whatsapp, I take a clean Kleenex with me when I go out and use to hold onto the banister, to open the door and even to grasp Salomé’s leash. Today, instead of kleenex, I used one of the disposable dog-poo bags over my hand and it was the perfect glove… ummm mitten. Even though I have temporarily given up makeup, I still change my shirt every day; I have been living in the same blue jeans, though, but at least they are blue jeans. The other day I saw a woman out walking her dog in a jacket and pink flowery pajama bottoms! I wondered if she was just absent minded (and forgot she hadn’t taken off her pajamas, or actually thought that no one would notice).

I have taken to going to the bread shop for a croissant every morning, after all, if you think of all the ladies that last night on the Titanic who didn’t eat dessert so as not to get fat… At the bread shop, people now stand in dots rather than lines as they keep the reglamentry distance one from the other. I become a dot in the line. With my croissant in hand -which I will take home to eat with my home-made expresso- Salomé and I take off IMG_20200320_161149for another walk around the block. Salomé looks at me crossly: she wants the cracker she always gets at the Café. I patiently explain to her that the Coffee Shop is closed and I will give her a cracker at home. She doesn’t believe me and pulls stubbornly in the direction of town and the Café. I follow her: it is the same difference to me which way we go home.

As we approach the Coffee Shop, Salomé sees the flower pots still in front of the door and realizes it is closed. She lets me lead her in the direction of home. I will give her a piece of croissant. Strangely enough, I am convinced she knows something is wrong. Since lockdown began she has become constipated and I had to call the vet and get a canine laxative for her after two days with almost no production. We are now doing well, but I continue with the laxative.

Once home, the unexpected happens. My body which is not used to doing housework and has been made to arrange the bed covers after three days of use, decides to protest and I throw my back out. A lumbar vertebra apparently moves, I feel a sharp pain and suddenly I am bent over like a 99 year old. I call my osteopath: both his phones go directly to messaging where I am told the message boxes are totally full. No help there.

I connect with my personal trainer in Madrid with whom I have been working over Skype since moving to Salies. He is an angel and directs some exercises that help. When I am finished, I can at least stand up more or less straight and go out with Salomé. After I have taken care of my back, I go into the bathroom, look in the mirror and discover I have developed a sty in my right eyelid. A sty!!! Haven’t had one of those since about the age of 15. Things are definitely deteriorating!

IMG_20200318_191125But then I work for a while, listen to some more music, go for another walk and have a conversation –keeping our distance- with someone also walking their dog whom I have never seen before, come home and write this blog and it is time for supper.

One more day gone by… I have lost count: is it four or five or more?

We are living in strange times, in the times of IMG_20200319_110909‘never before’, in the times of ‘I hope this doesn’t last’, of ‘Please keep my family safe’… and also of, Thank you, thank you… I am so grateful for all I have. After all, it is Spring and there is a bright pink tulip in a flower bed to prove it.

 

LOCKDOWN: DAY 1

026 (2)

March 17, 2020

Again, I awake at 5 a.m. Again the mind begins to race: Am I coughing, does my throat feel funny, what am I going to do if I get sick, who will take care of Salomé… on and on. Stop!!! I tell my mind that as soon as it is light we will go to the computer, we will find all the answers, we will write them down… go to sleep, sleep… I drift off again and don’t reawake until Salomé shakes her ears telling me it is breakfast time.

Hmmm, day one of lockdown. As I switch on my cell phone a message pings. It is from Gouvernement, the French government. Every single answer to my questions, every single instruction is there. By the time I have finished reading I know exactly what to do and what not to do. Good! I feel protected, I feel cared for, I am grateful.

Day one of lockdown. What a relief: there is no need to put on makeup as I will not see any of my friends, so I wash my face, clean up and dress in blue jeans and a sweater. sdr_softSalomé is asking for her breakfast; Salomé does not understand lockdown, Salomé only understands food-or-nofood. I fill her dish and serve my own cereal in a bowl and add some milk. I have stocked up on milk.

Breakfast done I sit at my computer thinking it would be nice to go back to bed; I am sooooo sleepy I could drop off in a wink. Maybe I am getting sick… Stop mind! Then I realize: it is –of course- caffeine suppression syndrome: I need my morning coffee.

As there are no cafés open, I take out my ground expresso and prepare a pot of coffee. Even the smell knocks the sleepiness out of me. With my nice hot cup of morning expresso, I decide to do my “café” over Whatsapp and begin sending messages to friends and family near and far.

As I have saved myself the 20 minutes of makeup duty, Salomé and I leave early for our walk (the instructions say that it is permitted to do some exercise or take your dog out for its needs). My doggie, thinking –of course- that we are going for our coffee, heads right off in that direction pulling at the leash. It is obvious that her dish of dogfood –as always- has not been nearly enough and she is anxious to get to the café and the sweet biscuit I always share with her.IMG_20200317_101803

“We’re in lockdown,” I tell her, “the café is closed. No biscuit today.” She looks at me. She knows what she knows. When we get to the café, she runs to the closed door, sniffs, peers through, turns her head to look at me, looks back at the door and then sits down to wait.

“I told you it was closed” I tell her pulling gently on the leash. Reluctantly she follows me, looking back a couple of times to make sure I am not trying to fool her. When we get home, I give her half a biscuit and she is happy.

Once I am home, nothing is any different from any other day –except that I know we’re in lockdown. First I go back to the Gouvernement instructions to see about a document (attestation) I have been asked to have to go out after noon today. I find the form and print it out. It is very simple: I fill in the spaces, check off ‘dog-walk’ and sign it. Then I put it in my purse, just in case…

After, I have an appointment over internet which lasts from 11:30 to 1 p.m. (I do all my work over internet) so when I am finished it is time for lunch. I usually do lunch in a small restaurant in town called ‘La Grignotine’, but all restaurants are closed. However, a while ago when I was doing a diet I discovered a service called ‘Kitchen Diet’ that IMG_20200317_154017delivers ready-cooked, vacuum-packed meals that are pretty tasty and help you lose weight. Upon realizing on Friday that restaurants would be closed and we were probably going into lockdown, I ordered my two-weeks of pre-cooked meals which  arrived this morning. I was all set.

Took out one of my favorites (penne with salmon and sauce), added some stir-fried veggies I had prepared two days ago and heated it all up in the micro. For dessert I had a tangerine (fresh), a handful of nuts and a square of bitter chocolate.

So far, not that much has changed with the exception of the morning coffee group. During lunch I work on my Memoires which have become a Proustian job because I can remember soooo much (I wrote it all down in diaries, ha ha).

At 3:30 Salomé gets up from her after-walk nap and barks once to tell me she wants to play, or go out or eat something and that I should stop working immediately and entertain her. Obedient mom that I am, I leap up, don my coat and we’re off again, this time to the center of town.

IMG_20200317_152300I want to see exactly what is open and what is not, and am specially interested in a small shop that sells grains, pastas, nuts and lots of etcetera’s in bulk so that you must take your own container.

Once again Salomé is terribly disappointed because our afternoon café (where they actually have dog biscuits) is closed, but this time she is not even fooled because they have placed the large flower pots in front of the door. The restaurant next door is also closed, but IMG_20200317_152551surprisingly the French government considers wine and liquors as a primary necessity and the liquor shop is open, as is the tobacco store (I once again thank the powers that be for my almost 28 years without tobacco or alcohol).

IMG_20200317_152435My little shop is also open and at the door are the instructions for entering. One is to sterilize one’s hands with the alcohol gel provided in a small bottle, only two people are allowed in the shop at the same time and everyone is to keep a distance of at least one meter from everyone else, and only the store attendant can dish out the produce. Ok, understood.

Once inside, I open my purse to take out the paper bags I have brought for my products and the owner yells at me as if I had pulled out a snake: I am to put them back and she will give me new bags. ‘That’s a waste,’ I think to myself as I obediently put the forbidden objects back into my bag.

I buy almonds and walnuts and pay for them with a credit card as has also been instructed on the rules sheet. As I am leaving, a beautiful head of fresh lettuce catches imagesP3UUIVHFmy eye and –keeping my finger far enough away so there is no mistaking my gesture as a desire to touch the greenery- I ask how much.

Lettuce safely tucked in bag, Salome and I set off once more for home. No one has stopped us; no one has asked for our ‘attestation’ which I have so carefully filled out… actually, there is no one around. Town is deserted.

Once home, I have my afternoon coffee (taking care to give Salomé half a biscuit) and settle down to write this blog-piece. Day One has not been so different from my usual days here… except that I know it is different

AND THEN… THERE WAS WAR

oznorFor a long time I have been saying what a wonderful life and what fantastic luck I have had, to have been alive at a time when I haven`t had to go through any wars, not personally anyway. The wars I have heard about have been far away and have not touched my life in any damaging way. I have not known a World War as my parents and grandparents did. I have not lived in a country being invaded or under siege.

I still say it, although in somewhat of a state of shock. Covid19, the Coronavirus whose worldwide attack we are now all suffering from in greater or lesser degree is about to prove me wrong. There are no bombs or helicopters, no invading armies shooting at Fotos Galaxy (411)each other, no canons bombarding buildings and shelters… yet we are under attack, the human race as a whole. Yesterday, Spain declared a State of Emergency with which special powers were given to the government to close down every non-vital business and center, meaning only supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open for business; France is now following suit, closing restaurants and social gathering places and discouraging travel.

It is a strange feeling, a feeling of being under attack by an invisible enemy; a feeling of something lurking unseen in every corner. Everyone in town has stopped the customary kissing of everyone else, handshakes are out too. We say ‘hello’ to people we care about from a distance, we wash our hands so many times a day they are dry and cracked, we open public doors with our elbows, and now, we find ways to not leave our homes.

Internet becomes our umbilical cord to the world, our phones –always important- are now life-lines to our loved ones nearby and far away, and even to neighbors as we stop leaving our houses. It is strange… the enemy is invisible, soundless, scentless… It could be a story, fake news… yet we know it is real.

davThere is a strange feeling of apprehension and also of underlying awe at the grandiosity of the whole threat. Suddenly, there is the understanding, with a great amount of disbelief and a frisson of excitement, that we may be living a turning point in history, a shift for humanity… For the better? For the worse?

As the countries of Europe curl in upon themselves like threatened snails while being told they are now the epicenter of the pandemic, I sit in my little French town and wait for news to get to me the same way it has since three years ago when I stopped watching or listening to it on television or radio, or reading newspapers: by way of mouth. Someone sends me a text message: restaurants, cafés and the like ordered closed in France; Spain shuts down… The frontier is probably closed. From someone else, a set of rules arrives on how to best avoid contagion. Over and over again we are told to wash our hands as if we were dirty little children rushing in from the playground. It is all unreal; there is a feeling of living in a bubble that will burst any moment and we will discover it has all been a bad dream.

I awoke at 5 a.m. this morning. My nose was all stopped up (“the corona virus does not affect the nostrils the way a common cold does”)… still; I decide it is just this allergy I have had for some time now, but the feeling of fear persists. I am alone; it is 5 in the morning… what if? I cough a couple of times… Is it a wet or a dry cough? I cough again… yes, there is a little wetness in it. Whew!

The emergency number: is it 212, 211, 112,121…? ¡fuck! What is wrong with my cofmemory… It is 112. I would dial 112 and they would ask me in what language I want to be spoken to. Should I say ‘French’ and run the risk of getting confused or not being able to describe my symptoms adequately, or ‘Spanish’ and run the risk of being switched back to French when they ask me where I am located. “¡Stop! It is 5 a.m. Just breathe deeply and go back to sleep.” Breathe… is that deeply enough, am I having trouble breathing deeply? I take a few more breaths and they seem adequate; I turn over on my back. My nose clears immediately and before I know it I have gone back to sleep and awoken at 8:30 this morning.

Today I get a message: “embrace your fear, don’t try to push it away”… Yes, that is good: treat yourself like a frightened child, don’t stress, wash your hands, stay away from public places, eat well, wash your hands, breathe deeply…

There is an incredulity about all this. Here it is: the 15th of March 2020, the year of great visibility, the year we should be seeing clearly (20-20 vision), and I sit in wonder of what it is that we will be seeing tomorrow and the next day, and the next. Last night, as I watched a movie, I noticeD how reality had become much more Hollywood than Hollywood, more unpredictable than the best plots.

Today I take a walk through town. Salomé –my schnauzer- thinks we are going for a coffee and her usual biscuit, but the coffee shops are closed, the restaurants are closed (one has a sign on the door saying they with attend ‘take-away’ but there is no telephone number), the stores are closed because it is Sunday but they will be closed again t20140406_145414omorrow and the next day and the next… The town is almost empty of people in spite of the fact it is a beautiful spring day, warm and sunny. We walk through the semi-deserted town and on home where I give Salomé a compensation biscuit.

I can’t concentrate, on movies, books, my daily chores, the memoires I am writing… It is as if I am waiting, waiting without knowing what it is I am waiting for; a state of suspended animation, a stillness that is filled with sudden starts.

There is a sense of expectation, as if something were about to happen, as if someone were going to come knocking at my door suddenly to announce the first case of Coronavirus to be diagnosed in Salies, a wonderment about what everyone is doing in their individual lives now that we are under attack. Do I have enough food to last out the lockdown? Will I be affected by the virus…? Will the bookstore stay open? What about the bank? Will someone let me know when it is all over? Will it ever be all over?

Yes, I was grateful that I had lived a lifetime without war… and I am still grateful even though  I now find myself –at 78- involved in the strangest, most unknown war of all: the war against an invisible enemy. I sigh and fall back on old ways of coping: take it One Day at a Time, Let go, let God… trust that this too shall pass.

 

A VERY SMALL DOG… R.I.P.

If we believe that death separates our loved ones 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.

Death, July 28 2017

Lolipop has gone. I had her for 16 months and 26 days and in that time she became a happy dog. I am grateful for that and for all the wonderful moments we had together. Once she began to get over her fear, she was a delight. And she could run like the wind. I would take her into the garden and say Run! Run! and she would be off like lightning oznorround and round. Then she would race up the front stairs, jump up on the guard post and be King-of-the-Mountain until Salomé and I got to the top. She often wanted to play with Salomé, baiting her in her doggie way, but my little old lady was too oznorGrand to play with a little mutt. When we walked into town, Salomé was her usual dignified self, walking in a straight line and only occasionally stopping for a sniff or two, but Loli was all over the place, running from side to side, up and down and over and under till the two leashes that I tried to keep organized would be so entwined that I would have to stop and spend time untangling them.

She was still scared of thunderstorms but she got used to the trucks rumbling by (as I have) and it was only with howling winds that she would stick her head under the chair believing that if she couldn’t see you, she was well hidden. But most of the time, when at home she just lazed on her easy-chair IMG_20181026_170519.jpg(I have two and cofeach dog chose their own, so that I seldom got to use either).

Eating was a another matter: she wouldn’t even go near the dish if anyone was looking at her, so I would place her food under the table between the two chairs in the picture and then leave or turn my back so she could eat in peace. The protection of the table and the fact that she thought no one was watching allowed her to eat, but it was a fussy process. She would take a mouthful of kibble and carry it out to deposit on the rug. Then she would eat piece by piece. Most days I ended up collecting dog food spread about under the table and on the carpet, or just let Salomé go in and vacuum it up with her insatiable appetite. IMG_20180602_144306.jpg

As for sleeping, Loli decided that a dog bed was not her cuppa, and slept every night on one of the two chairs in the living room. But come morning, she would trot into the bedroom to see what was going on. Once or twice she climbed into Salomé’s bed but  my older dog was not the cuddling type and would usually leave the room in disgust although once or twice she just seemed puzzled. IMG_20190808_081510.jpg

IMG_20180715_182625.jpgAs for preferences, there was nothing, but ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, Loli liked better than having her tummy scratched. Therefore, she spent more time on her back than on her four paws.

So life got good for Lolipop and I was quite content with our little family of three. We went everywhere together and the whole town -before quite familiar with Salomé- now knew Lolipop as well

Then, as always, things began to change. Around the end of September, beginning of October, Loli stopped eating. She fussed, smelled her food and walked away. She would, however, eat any treat offered and frequently, during our walks, would find an old chicken bone or some other horrid delight that I would have to extricate from between IMG_20180922_123049.jpgher sharp little teeth. I noticed she was eating only the wet food, licking or sucking it off the dry and spitting out the small kernels of dog food. So I began separating wet from dry. Then, one day, she stopped eating all together. I changed to another wet food and for a few days she ate that, then stopped again. By the third week in October I got seriously worried because she was losing weight and had become listless so we went to the vet’s.

The diagnosis was renal insufficiency. A friend immediately reminded me that it is fear IMG_20190716_145501.jpgthat affects the kidneys and I knew Loli had lived in alot of fear most of her life, first being left in a pen with larger dogs when she was very young and then being abandoned the better part of the day and night all alone on a terrace where the wind and rain must have kept her shaking with fear and loneliness.

For two days, the vet kept Loli, in a cage, with an intravenous needle in her front paw, in an attempt to flush the toxins out. I took her home. She refused to eat until I cooked up some turkey breast. That she ate one day.

Two days later, another blood test served to prove that she had only gotten worse inspite of the efforts. I decided she would undergo no more torture and took her home, knowing that if things got bad I would not let her suffer. Sunday morning, things got bad. I called the vet, he put her to sleep in my arms. My sweet little Lolipop went very quickly IMG_20190207_123805.jpgbecause she was so weak. I spent most of the morning crying, and today -because life will guide you if you let it- I read the above opening quote from an old blog post on death and made the decision to let Loli keep on living in all my sweet, sweet memories of her.

NOT MORE GUNS, NOT LESS GUNS… NO GUNS!

Coincidentally I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver when the Florida school shooting took place killing 17. It was a riveting read about a 17 year old boy who kills 9 people in his school and more so as I longed to understand what goes on in the mind of any young person capable of committing these atrocious acts. In the book, Kevin’s mother (the narrator) also struggles to understand why her son meticulously planned and carried out the murder of 8 school companions and one teacher. I will not spoil the book for anyone who wishes to read it and, in spite of what I considered an unnecessarily gruesome end, it was well worth the read.

As with everyone I know, I was horrified not only by the Florida killings, but with the printed fact that by the 15th of February there had been 18 school shootings in the United States[1]. That’s one shooting every two and a half days, every 36 hours. No, mistake: there are 13 days (weekends and the 1st of January) where there was no school, so it was 18 shootings in 34 days, or a shooting every 1.8 days. As The Guardian states in the note below, there were a couple of accidents, some incidents with no deaths, and two suicides but none the less, there were 18 gun related incidents in schools in the first 34 working days of 2018.

As if this were not bad enough, I then heard President Trump (or The Donald as Obama called him) say that the problem was that schools were gun-free zones (not that kids could buy or get a hold of automatic and semi-automatic weapons) and that the solution was to arm the teachers[2], a proposal that shouldn’t even merit comment, much less consideration, an opinion I voiced to a group of friends during market day in Salies. I was surprised to find that one of the ladies, though claiming that semi and automatic weapons should be banned, considered that having a gun was a necessary defense. This made me think of my father and remember an incident that taught me a lot about guns when I was young.

1920 Sep 25, Laguna de Medina 2First some background. My father was a hunter (the picture on the left depicts him at 18, in Spain, 1920) and, as such, owned a good amount of shotguns which he kept under lock and key in a gun cabinet. Everything I know about guns I learned from him. Even as a child I was taught that you never, EVER, point a gun –even a toy gun, even a water pistol- directly at another person. When I asked my father why he didn’t buy himself a pistol, he said that he had shotguns because they were for hunting; pistols, and most other weapons were for shooting people and he had long ago decided that he never wanted to kill any other human being (he had done his military service during the Rif war in Africa and, from what I have read about it, there were atrocities committed on both sides); that –according to him- was the reason he had not gone back to Spain when the Civil War broke out for he would have been expected –as a member of the Spanish nobility- to lead troops into battle.

When I was around the age of 13, my father began to show me how and how not to handle a shotgun. I was taught that the moment the gun was handed to you, you break it open and check the barrels to see if it is loaded; that you never walk with a loaded gun even if you have it open (his best friend had lost an arm by tripping while walking with an open, loaded gun); that the safety should be on at all times until the moment you plan to shoot your prey. He showed me how to clean a gun after using it, how to aim ahead of a flying prey so that the shot and the bird would cross paths. He took me to shoot skeet at the gun club and let me practice until I was pretty good at it. Then he took me duck 1922 1 (2)hunting, in Acapulco, out at the Lagoon of ‘Tres Palos’ (Three Sticks) where we stood, at the break of dawn, up to the knees in swamp water, hidden by the marsh grasses, waiting for the ducks to fly over. I remember feeling very important to have been included in the hunting expedition (my mother had preferred to stay home in bed and was happy to have me as a stand-in) although I don’t know if I shot any duck on that first time. Neither do I remember how often I went with my father. Actually I only have two clear memories of these experiences: the first, feeling things crawling up my legs from the swampy water (and discovering later that it was nothing more than the air bubbles from my sneakers) and the time I shot and wounded a duck. The poor animal dropped to the water well within my reach and I could see it fluttering helplessly. From watching my father, I knew that it was my obligation to wring the creature’s neck in order to end the suffering I myself had caused it. So I waded out to where the bird lay and took it gently by the head with my right hand. Then, trying not to look into its eyes which were still open and alive and attempting to kill it without causing it harm, I gave it a couple of soft swirls. I can still feel today the warmth of its body, the life still present there. I was heartbroken, I hated myself and I just wanted the damn bird to die so I could stop suffering myself. It did not oblige under the gentleness of my feeble attempts. So after three half-hearted swings and seeing that the duck was still flapping around suffering, I could stand it no longer. I plunged the feathery body into the water and put my heavy cartridge box on top of it so that it finally drowned to death. I realized in that moment that I was not capable of killing an animal and I have never been hunting since.

1951-3 Mexico (4)However, the incident that taught me the truth about guns took place a year of two later. Our house in Mexico City –as most of the houses there- had a flat roof where we hung the laundry and had a storeroom. Late one night, after we had all gone to bed, my father heard footsteps on the roof and realized that someone had managed to climb up there and was walking around. As my mother told the story later, my father grabbed a broomstick and went up to the roof to face the invader. She was laughing and my father was right there eating breakfast so it was obvious the story had a good ending, but I was shocked.

“Why didn’t you take one of your shotguns?” I queried, thinking how ridiculous and helpless a broomstick must have looked to the invader. “Supposing he had had a gun?”

“Well,” my father explained, “if he had had a gun, he obviously would have been more than prepared to use it, something that for me would have been difficult if not impossible; so if I had appeared with a gun he might have shot me right off while I considered the possibility of doing the same. A person who breaks into a house with a gun is prepared to use it; I was not. It was safer to go up without a gun if you know you are probably going to think twice before pulling the trigger.”

I understood perfectly: I couldn’t even wring the neck of a dying duck to stop its suffering! So, I ask myself or anyone else who will listen, how many teachers are prepared to pull out a gun and shoot a student before he sprays everyone in the classroom with automatic fire power? It’s ridiculous! Even if the teacher is trained and manages to extract his/her gun from its concealment, aim at the student and pull the trigger, the possibility of landing a deterring shot before the other responds in kind is minimal. And then we have to think how many teachers would be able to do this and how can we be sure that the classroom to be shot up is one with a gun-toting teacher? My history class was taught by a Miss Hunter who –if I remember correctly- was a small, aged lady with white hair and glasses. I just can’t imagine her pulling out a Smith and Wesson from her girdle and shooting our aspiring high school killer before saying calmly to the class: “Please open your History books to page 347 where we left off last Friday and commence reading, and, Ralph, would you mind removing that trash from the doorway and depositing it in the Principal’s office.”

The basic argument against gun control runs to some version of the following: “With gun control, the good people will be forced to give up their guns while the baddies will continue to have them; we will be defenseless”. Nothing is farther from the truth, as my father well understood and showed me with his brave example. If someone armed enters to rob my house, he/she probably does not mean to kill me, just to take what he/she wants and depart. He/she will only shoot me if I threaten to shoot him/her. If, on the other hand, someone wants to kill me, they will undoubtedly do it while I am walking down the street unarmed, or driving by in a car unarmed and not while I am in my own home where I might have a weapon. Therefore, gun control might actually save my life, not put it in danger.

The mostly ‘kids’ who shoot up schools are not hardened criminals; they are usually ordinary –sometimes mentally or emotionally disturbed (not ‘sicko’ as Trump said)- kids. Gun control would make it more difficult for these unfortunates (yes, they are as unfortunate or perhaps more so than the ones they kill) to obtain weapons, especially automatic weapons. It is much more difficult to kill 17 people shooting them one by one, than it is spraying them with a hail of bullets without even having to aim.

As I am not a hunter, personally I have no use for a gun in the house; I know I would be absolutely incapable of using it. I have proof, for when I was kidnapped, many years ago in Mexico City, I found myself trying to figure out a way to escape. One day, the kidnappers left an empty bottle of wine in my room and I thought to myself that I could use it to hit my guard over the head the next time he came in and make a break for it. Immediately I realized I would try to do it gently so as not to hurt him (just like the poor duck) and that would have me ending up as the object of his wrath. Fortunately, the police did the job for me and I was rescued.[3]

So if you ask me –and nobody has- I’d say “not more guns, not less guns, but NO GUNS is the only solution.”

[1] In all, guns have been fired on school property in the US at least 18 times so far this year, according to incidents tracked by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group. In eight of these cases, a gun was fired on school property, but no one was injured. Another two incidents were gun suicides, claiming the lives of one student and one adult on school property. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[2] Some gun rights advocates have pushed to expand gun-carrying in schools further. Andrew McDaniel, a state legislator in Missouri who introduced legislation last year to make it easier to carry guns in schools, told the Guardian that, in rural schools where it might take 20 or 30 minutes for law enforcement to respond to a school shooting in progress, it made sense to have other armed citizens ready to step in. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[3] The book I wrote about this incident is called Once días… y algo más and is available on Amazon; the translation into English, Eleven Days, is out of print and 2nd hand copies are quite expensive I believe.

FORGIVENESS, OR WHEN THE UNIVERSE CLOSES A DOOR, IT ALWAYS OPENS A WINDOW

In my last post I spoke of forgiving myself, but recent events have made me think about forgiveness in and of itself. I have come to believe, through personal experience, that the best definition of forgiveness is the one that Byron Katie gives: “Forgiveness is the realization that what you thought happened, didn’t.”

This is true: if I believe someone has done something wrong to me, I can question the belief that they did it to me which invariably leads me to see quite plainly that it had nothing to do with me and it was only I, myself, taking it personally that caused the pain. If someone hits, insults or in some way tries to harm me, I can understand that they are doing the best they can in that moment with what they are believing about me or about themselves (they are striking out against the person they believe me to be, not who I really am). This, of course, doesn’t mean that I will stick around and let them continue abusing me or themselves, but understanding that they are doing the best they can with what they believe in the moment, allows me to see that it has nothing to do with me and therefore there is nothing to forgive.

Voilà an example:

I had quit drinking –let´s say- three months earlier, in other words I still wasn’t emotionally very sober. My mother came over to our house (I was still married then) for supper and she came through the door gaily announcing to my husband: “Fernando, your drinking partner is here because Brianda no longer drinks.” I flew into a red rage MAMA–doubly so, because my husband couldn’t understand what I was so angry about- said a couple of nasty things in a loud voice and stomped off to the bedroom. The thought was: ‘How can she be so cruel’, obviously to me. That scene alone sufficed for years to prove to me how unloving my mother was which, of course, was one of the reasons I was so messed up.

It wasn’t till years later, many years later (after my mother had died, actually), that I questioned that belief, thinking it was time to forgive her. The thought was: she was being cruel. As I viewed the scene, in my mind’s eye, first holding the thought (still rage) and then without the thought (sudden realization and laughter), I saw clearly that her entering announcement had nothing to do with me. It was my mother being her usual flirtatious, playful, man-attracting self that always wanted attention (but only all of it). As I watched the scene play over again and again in my mind’s eye, I felt a wave of love for my mother, a smile spread across my face and a mad desire to run and embrace her took hold of me. I felt so sorry I had treated her badly at that moment. It was then I realized that there was nothing to forgive, there never had been. There was a sadness in my work that day for, when I turned the thought around (I was being cruel to her) I could definitely see that I had been, attacking her directly with every intention of hurting her. But The Work freed me. It freed me to love my mother with all my heart which is my birth right.

Even forgiving myself is understanding that there is nothing to forgive: I can’t know to do any better than I know to do in each moment; when I raged out at my mother, I was still believing all my thoughts. It would be many years before I was freed from this. So when I said in the previous post that I forgave myself, it actually was saying that I1944-1 Poughkeepsie25042014 (2) realized I had done the best I knew how to do with the information I had at the moment and that now, with new information, I would hopefully not repeat the mistake. Slate wiped clean.

So this is what Katie means when she says that forgiveness is understanding that there is nothing to forgive; that we are all, in every moment, doing the best we can with what we believe.

Unfortunately, the person who supposedly (the harm is done, she said, but never specified where or how) suffered the wrong I unwittingly committed, does not feel the same way. For her there is no forgiveness possible. I would not know this for sure (although I suspected it would be so, knowing this person) until yesterday morning when I worked up enough courage to walk into town and enter the café where we gather.

cofAs far as the group went, there was only one person (whom I will call our local Drama Queen because she is always in a state of righteous anger about something somewhere she has found wrong) in the Café and I walked over to say hello. Before I could reach her, she swung around on her barstool and told me she was furious with me because I had fought with the other member of the group and therefore she –the person I had fought with- wouldn’t be coming to the coffee group any more as long as I was there, and therefore the Drama Queen would never see her again. I politely, but firmly, set the story right (I did not fight with her, I made a mistake and she was apparently hurt by it) and told her not to worry, that it would be me quitting the group so the other friend could come. I realized, in that moment, that I had made a decision.

The ironic thing about this scene is that the person whom I hurt and was not going to come to the café any more, can’t stand the Drama Queen who was so bitterly lamenting that she would never see her again (something ridiculous as they live in the same town and if they were friends they could visit each other; but they are not even friends). Anyway, I sat alone and drank my coffee and then left.

WINDOWStrangely, as I walked home, the thought of not going to the café every morning for coffee didn’t weigh me down; on the contrary, I felt lighter. Inside, there was a conviction that the Universe never closes a door without opening a window, and all of a sudden I began looking forward to what might come next. Yes, during the afternoon, I had a couple of down-thoughts (I won’t have the group to buy presents for when I travel any more, and there will be no birthday celebration for me on the 1st of August this year) and a slight feeling of loss swept through my chest thinking of the friend who will not forgive, but on the whole I felt pretty good. During the afternoon, I wrote to the coffee group and explained the situation without going into details, and announced that I would be retiring from the group out of respect for the ‘injured’ party who had been there long before me.

One friend answered, it was the artist and sculptress. She jokingly suggested that instead of a café group we form a restaurant group and invited me to join her and some painter friends for lunch the following day (today). I gratefully accepted, and there it was: new beginnings. Added to that, a dear friend who reads my blog, alerted by the last post, emailed me to let me know she was there if I needed anything. That felt so sweet that grateful tears filled my eyes.

img_5192This morning I went to another café (where the coffee is slightly more expensive but much, much better) and had a jolly conversation with a woman who was visiting from a nearby village (in French!). Then at noon, I met the Artist lady and her friends, spent a delightful two hours and had a delicious lunch. C’est la vie, what to do, that’s life!

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.

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!

GENERATION GAP

images berraThe other day I sent my son some quotes –some very funny ones- that I had just discovered were things said by Yogi Berra, the baseball player. My son wrote back: You mean Yogi Bear, don’t you? My son is in his 50s (and that sounds horrible because it puts me 20-some years ahead of him). I wrote back and explained that, no, I did not mean Yogi Bear. He had never heard of Yogi Berra.BEAR

Then today I was at my osteopath’s and I quoted Yogi Berra again. I got the same response: “Do you mean Yogi Bear”, and yes, my osteopath is in his 50s too. This of course dates me!

Now, I do not know if Yogi Bear said cute and memorable things (I’ll have to look him up on internet, and yes he is there because when I typed in “Yogi”, internet also suggested “Bear” as the follow-up. Guessing that the Internet was another youngster in its 50s, I looked it up: the Internet is 47 years old this year).

Yogi_Bear_Yogi_BearYogi Bear made his television debut in 1958; Yogi Berra had made his baseball debut in 1946, and by the time the cartoon character hit the screens, the baseball player was a household name. That would untitledexplain why people in my generation (born in the United States) would have heard of Yogi Berra. According to Wikipedia, Berra sued Bear (Hanna-Barbera Cartoons) for defamation, but Bear cried coincidence and Berra ended up dropping the suit. As Berra quipped afterwards: “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”, to which Bear would have answered: “I’m smarter than the av-er-age bear!” just so people would know who had won that argument.images9LZ8GY6X

bERRAAnother coincidence, as long as we are on that theme (that is where we are, isn’t it?): both Yogis, Berra and Bear, lived in Parks. Berra lived in baseball parks and Bear lived in ‘Jellystone Park’. So if one day in the 60s you happened to be in the USofA and you said offhand to someone: I’m going to the park to see Yogi, you’d have no idea what image ran through the other’s head!

yogibeardead-1100x600Just how far the Generation Gap can go was proven in September of last year when the Associated Press reported the death of Hanna-Barbera’s animated character, Yogi Bear who, they went on to comment, ‘was also a Hall-Of-Fame catcher with the Yankees’. The headline reads

NEW YORK YANKEE’S HALL OF FAME CATCHER

YOGI BEAR HAS DIED. HE WAS 90

It turns out that the report was a case of mistaken identity; everyone’s favorite pic-a-nic basket-stealing bear is alive and well. But Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, whose name allegedly inspired Yogi Bear (though Hanna-Barbera denied it), has indeed died.

yogiismsYogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”, and I guess he knew what he was talking about because today everyone thinks he still lives in Jellystone Park and he didn’t even know he was playing there.

 

Berra won three American League Most Valuable Player awards and appeared in fourteen World Series as a player and another five as a manager or a coach. He won thirteen championship rings and holds several Series records. Berra met with numerous roadblocks on his journey to fame, but he overcame them with grit and dedication and went on to become one of the more beloved figures in American sports history. (Society for American Baseball Research)  http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a4d43fa1

A FORK IN THE ROAD

Alice came to a fork in the road.

“Which road do I take?” she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”

responded the Cheshire Cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

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I have been standing at a ‘fork in the road’ for some time now: it is called “Writer’s Block” and, like Alice, my problem is that I do not know where I want to go. The Cheshire Cat would have said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter.” Maybe if he were around I would ask him if he knows which fork I should take to get to Inspiration.imagesSYJXP645

At my feet lies a thick blue folder; it contains the 1500+, A4 sized, single-lined typed pages of information on the male and female lines of my family that has taken me over three years to gather. On my blog there are three “chapters” published, maybe more (haven’t looked recently) under the working title of A Work of Fiction, from an anonymous quote which reads: “Every life writes its own work of fiction”. I have progressed from the early 1600’s to exactly 1624, which was the year Elizabeth Smyth, my 10th Great-grandmother, married Samuel Smith in Hadleigh, Suffolk, England. What followed that marriage and the birth of her first four children should have been terribly exciting and actually easy to write, but imagesIC6G1D80after a few false starts, I came to a dead stop and haven’t been able to write anything since. I seemed to have lost the way to Inspiration.

For a while, I dithered reviewing the material, picking up books I had ordered on Amazon that covered the Great Migration and the early days in New England and making lists of the passengers, their occupations, the villages they came from and so forth. Then I dallied getting involved in a TV series that covered all of 5 seasons with 6 discs and 4 chapters to each season. I sat in front of the computer and played Solitaire; I sat some more and played Bejewelled and sat some more and played Scrabble. I stopped dallying and cleaned a few closets, emptied and refilled drawers, I threw out everything I could find that seemed unused or un-useful and rearranged everything that had been blessed to remain. I washed the dishes any time they piled up in the sink, I made and ate popcorn several times, I watched a dozen movies.

I used Salomé (my little black and silver schnauzer) as an excuse to go for interminable walks. I scoured supermarket shelves and bought enough to fill up the spaces my cleaning-out had left. And still there was nothing but the damn fork in the road. I even FORK 2pretended for a while that a fork in the road is nothing but that: just a fork in the road. Still there was no going forward.

Everything came to a standstill. Even my blog has gone without a post for I know not how long. For a while I tried to convince myself that doing nothing was what I was supposed to do at my age: after all I had earned the right to do that, right? Right? Right?

if time can come to a standstillWell, I guess not, because in spite of the walks and in spite of doing exercise three times a week with my personal trainer, in spite of my morning coffee with friends and my progress in speaking French, in spite of reading through volumes 1 and 2 of the Century trilogy by Ken Follet (in hopes of finding inspiration)and beating the computer’s best player at Scrabble I was not happy.

I could feel the life energy wane and fade as the days passed in passing the time, and yet, the spirit of inspiration visited me not. I had enough material to fill a four Century decalogy and yet every time I sat at the computer, I would plug into a film or a game instead of opening a Word doc and beginning to type. It felt downright dead.

And then it happened: in one of my meanderings through the internet I came across a 220px-Yogi_Berra_1956quote from Yogi Berra. It said, in no uncertain terms: “IF YOU COME TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT,” and I was blown away. During the two days it has taken me to finish the series and decide to go cold-turkey on not starting another one; in the 48 hours it has taken me to limit my game-playing to early morning wake-up hours and just before bed finishing-the-day time, the phrase has repeated imagesLJRK1C4B10 zillion times in my brain: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”. So that is exactly what I have done!

Hopefully, the quiet time I can now spend sitting in front of the computer, fork in hand, will turn into text some day soon.