Where were you… in ’72?

During that auspicious year, I returned to Canada after assistant teaching for two school terms in Peru. My newly acquired Spanish language skills helped me land “my dream job” with a Canadian airline. In those days, few people flew around in private planes, and Canadian Pacific Airlines (CP Air) was the carrier of choice. I met many famous and infamous, sports stars politicians, businessmen and entertainers.

When old-time movie icons like Red Skelton, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra boarded the plane, a respectful buzz would flow from the cockpit to the back lavatories. I remember folk singer, Joan Baez and contemporary crooner, Neil Diamond graciously signing autographs from their seats. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada at the time, usually flew “up front”, but if it was fully booked, he settled into Economy with everyone else. He did not expect anyone to vacate their seat for him. However, a loyal Liberal party member would usually insist on doing so.

Air travelers dressed up for their flights, except for the students waiting for a seat in the newly introduced “standby class.” CP Air served meals on china and used sterling table ware, crystal glasses and linen napkins in first class. The employees and airline crews bent over backwards to make sure the passengers were comfortable and happy.

I quickly became used to the coming and going of the celebrities, but the day Burt Reynolds bounded into the departure lounge, every woman there almost lost it.

A few months previously, he’d been the stand in for Johnny Carson, host of the popular late-night talk show. Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor of Cosmopolitan was his guest and at some point in the evening, Brown challenged Reynolds to pose for a nude centerfold in her magazine, and he agreed.

The day after the Cosmo issue hit news-stands, he was besieged by women asking him to sign their copy. Gurley Brown said: “He had been a movie star, now he was a celebrity.” And Burt made Cosmopolitan notorious. His photograph pushed the magazine across a threshold, and “something” changed forever

Back in ‘72, no one would have tolerated the officious treatment we are now subjected to in airports and on flights. People stalk celebrities to the point where they need body guards. Where are the world leaders like P.E.T?

Today, no one would look twice at the photo of a man (with his arm positioned “just so”) Instead they are lining up to see 50 Shades of Gray.

I wonder… is our world a brighter place or has it actually gotten grayer?

Telephone scams in Mexico

I received an email today from one of my favorite readers. She had been targeted by a “virtual kidnapper,” and the experience shook her to the core.

I could relate because I too have received similar calls. Yes, plural.

The first time, the caller began by telling me that I have a lovely daughter. I thought the comment was a bit strange, but I have heard similar ones before – I assumed he was the father of one of her friends. I thanked him and asked who was speaking. He then put a sobbing young girl on the line, “He-e-e-elp me Mamá. They are hurting me-e-e-e-e. He-e-e-elp me.”

The caller claimed he was a ZETA commandant, and demanded I pay up or my daughter would be murdered. My panicked screams brought my husband running. He listened for a couple of seconds, then took the phone from my hand and hung up. He took out the cell phone, and we called our daughter. No answer.

As it turned out, she was at the movies and had her cell phone turned off. I swear, the hour when we couldn’t speak with her seemed like the longest one of my life.

But, once burned, twice shy. The next S.O.B that tried to scam me got an earful.

People from all sectors of the population are targeted by these criminals. It is a horrible experience, and even after the drama is over, we remain shaken.

But there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.

  • Get caller ID
  • Screen your calls. If you don’t recognize the number, let the answering machine pick up
  • Use a mechanical voice on your answering machine
  • If you have caller ID, write down any unrecognized numbers.
  • Hang up if you do pick up a rude or threatening call
  • Never provide information about yourself or your family.

Even if you are sure the call is a hoax, you will be shaken until you locate your friend or family member. Whether done as a prank or an attempt to extort money from you, the perpetrators want to exploit your fears.

If you do actually believe someone has been kidnapped, keep the caller on the line as long as possible. Listen and take note of the demands, tone or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the police. Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer.

To report real or fraudulent calls, police from the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche may be reached by dialing: 066. As well, a special number has been established to report telephone extortion: 088.



A good joke

At the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, I heard a good joke…

A dedicated writer had just finished typing the final period of the 346th draft of her manuscript, when a heart-stopping pain felled her. Without a pause, she was whisked up to the Pearly Gates.

Saint Peter welcomed her. “Ah my child, you have been virtuous and true. You have earned a place here in Heaven. But I’m afraid that many of your colleagues have not. In fact, for the most part, they have been sent to Hell for the rest of their days.”

The writer felt torn. She wanted to be in Heaven but she wanted to be with her friends. “Can I have a look at both places and then decided what I want?” she asked.

St. Peter agreed and took her to see Hell.

Heaven or Hell?
Heaven or Hell?

She wept when she saw her friends chained to upright chairs at small desks. The keyboards they had to use seemed sluggish and the internet kept going out. A dim electric bulb burned above their heads making sleep impossible. They wrote, wrote, and wrote – without stopping. “Oh merciful St. Peter, take me to Heaven,” said the writer.

To her horror, the scene there looked exactly the same. Writers chained to desks, poor equipment, lousy bandwidth. “It looks just like Hell, is there a difference between the writers’ lot in Heaven, and of those in Hell?”

“Most assuredly,” said Saint Peter, “Up here in Heaven, the writers get published!”

Writers do not live by words alone

Thursday at the San Miguel Writers Conference started out sunny. The participants lounged on the lawn between the morning sessions, but by the early afternoon, the sky had turned ominous. The first drops fell while I attended the roundtable session with Tracy Chevalier. By six pm, water had leaked through the hotel corridor roofs and enough of it ran down the cobblestone streets to make walking dangerous.

I remembered one summer in San Miguel when I saw the runoff grow into fast-moving little rivers as it tumbled through the steep streets. It was strong enough to actually knock me off my feet!

For the conference organizers, it was a worst case scenario. Hundreds of hungry participants had no choice but to hang out in the hotel… yearning for a sample of the offerings at one of the city’s fine restaurants. Every cab in the land was summoned, but of course, there weren’t nearly enough to meet the demand.

Marianne and I saw no point in fighting with anyone over transportation or a seat in the hotel dining room. We bundled up, opened our umbrellas, and headed across the road to OXXO. Our meal in Room 224 could not be categorized as gourmet, but we didn’t go to bed hungry!

Mind you, I must say we are looking forward to a hot breakfast this morning.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

This week at the San Miguel Writers Conference, I can see how my past interests have led to my present work as a writer and artist, and how I will further develop my potential.

As a girl, I loved to draw horses and girls in party dresses. Whenever a special event was coming up, I would use my colored pencils to help me envision what might happen there. I tried to capture faithful likenesses of my younger siblings, but they would never stay still, so I turned to sketching buildings. My childish doodling must have been the germ of my life-long love of art and storytelling.

However, none of those early efforts survived my many moods and moves. I remember tearing them up before my brothers could get a hold of them and then tease me with the silliness of my dreams. It was not until high school that I entertained the idea of making a career in the arts. My teacher for three years was Mr. Laing. He introduced me to painters like Vermeer, van Gough, Chagall, Picasso, all the Renaissance Italians and Frida Khalo. To this day, these artists remain my favorites. He used to say I could have modeled for Vermeer, and given my ancestry, this could have been true, I guess.

I took no more art classes after leaving high school. New passions replaced those of my early life. My move to Mexico changed my path all together.

Then in 2003, my sister and I went to Holland to visit my aunt. Barb gave me a book, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier. I read it straight through during that all-night flight to Amsterdam, and upon landing, I insisted that we visit Delft and travel to Den Hague where the painting was on exhibit The excursions to those two cities and the hours we spent with my aunt, certainly stirred up something inside of me. I truly felt transported to another time – the past, present and future seemed to somehow meld together – and I knew I needed to find a way to incorporate more expression into my life.

I had written a bit here and there, and in 2007, I wondered if I could write “something full length”. As the completed pages piled up, I felt the cobwebs clearing from my eyes. And that Christmas, my son Carlos gave me an easel, some paints and brushes. He attached a little card that read: Mom, I think it’s time for you to give this another try.

We are now in 2015. I have completed the writing of my fourth book and I have a studio with lovely light, set up in one of the empty classrooms at our college. My life today certainly includes both written and visual expression, and that unsatisfied stirring inside me has morphed into a purr of contentment.

As readers of this blog know, I am at the 10th Annual Writers’ Conference in San Miguel. Yesterday during our first day of talks and workshops, I listened to three women who said just what I needed to hear.

The first was Tracy Chevalier. Yes, the author of the book that forced me to board a train to a medieval Dutch city. The title of her keynote address was, “The Past is a Foreign Country – Why History Matters.” She later added to the subtitle, “They Do Things Differently There.” So much of what she talked about resonated with me, and today I will participate in a round table discussion with her. I feel so lucky.

I then took a workshop with Randall Plat, an accomplished writer from Oregon who was so generous with her knowledge and inclusive in her instruction. A wonderful model to follow.

The evening’s keynote speaker, Alice Walker, is a writer I have long admired, but little understood. The interview format that she elected to use for her presentation was perfect. She spoke of her struggles, her triumphs and her causes. She made me reconsider many topics I had ignored for years. Food for much thought, thank you Ms. Walker.

All in all – an amazing day. And there are four more to come. This year’s writers’ conference in San Miguel is an experience that has already surpassed my expectations. If I sound like a star-struck fan girl… so be it. Indeed I feel joyous to be here and to have this opportunity to learn and share.


Writing and Intercultural Living…


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