Sunday, July 31, 2011

One September Morning in 1985…

By the way… this is a note from the “editor”… if you have a chance to click and visit the places of the folk who advertise, it would be appreciated. Nothing to buy… just visit as appreciation for “sponsoring” these entries.

Premonitions… don’t scoff; they are real and although not present all the time, should be listened to whenever possible.
Have you ever heard that one that says… “When your time comes… You will go.” Or, “I was born again on that day” (and I do not refer to a spiritual rebirth) I must assume that the corollary to the first is that when it is not yet your time, you will not go. And this is what the post is about. Despite what you may think due to the travel entries, we had fairly strict development requirements and a lot of work to get done in every trip. However, during those trips which would keep me at my destination through a week end, it was a defined objective to spend from Friday afternoon until Monday morning doing nothing that had to do with work. Hence, the side trips I write about.

As a child, there were some “premonitions” which served me well. In more than one occasion these may have saved my life; one morning, because of a strong hunch, I used a different bus line than the one I used every day for the 28 mile trip to my school. That particular morning, as we rounded a tight curve, called “dead man’s curve”, we noticed that a fire vehicle as well as an emergency vehicle were there. At the bottom of the ravine was the blue and white bus I had not taken. These feelings are not to be ignored and, most times I have not.

One of the primary countries I traveled to on behalf of the association, was Mexico. We had several member companies there and they were (and I assume still are) very active within the association. Seminars, consultations and just plain public relations trips to Mexico were the norm and, as a result, I was there at least once every four to five weeks. Some trips were for one week, some for 2 or 3 days, even a few one day trips were done at times. You get the drift…

The greater Mexico City, DF (like our DC) is a large animal. When you are flying in from the south, the last 30 minutes or so of the flight are actually over the city, on your way to the airport. And this is half of the city. At an average approach speed of 125 MPH, take out your calculators and figure out what this means. The city is about the size and shape of Puerto Rico… The whole bloody island. It is a great city and, like all major cities, there are good and not so good areas; restaurants, neighborhoods, business centers and wide, ample roads and parks. Most locals get to know about 25% of the city (unless you drive a cab, then about 50%) Usually, my stays would take me to a major hotel on the main avenue, Independencia, right at the rotunda which is home to the beautiful City Angel. Across from the famed Zona Rosa… The Pink Zone; the tourist hub at the center of town. 

On this upcoming trip, most of my activities would be centered about the Central Plaza, the historical center of the city. Although my regular hotel was not very far from this area, it was decided that I would stay at a grand old hotel which bordered the plaza, putting me within walking distance of all my meetings. The scheduled activities would take a full five days, and my return flight was scheduled for Friday afternoon at 3pm, getting me back to Connecticut by midnight.  We would celebrate my birthday on Saturday, instead of on that Friday, the day on which it actually fell.

The week went by and the meetings succeeded one another, to the point that I felt like being in a constant, never ending meeting. These included three scheduled breakfast and three dinner meetings. Lunches would be taken wherever and with whomever I happened to be at the time. On this trip, there was no time at all for sightseeing or for little side trips; my days began at 7am and finished after 11:30pm. What actually happened, in keeping with this schedule, is that by Thursday afternoon I had completed all my assignments, and had the rest of my stay time off, until Friday afternoon.

Let’s go back to heeding premonitions. In my life, there have been several strong “urges” at times; no explanations for them and usually out of context with whatever is happening at the moment. You can call them what you may choose to; I call them “premonitions” and, as said before, I feel them and act on them. I had been invited to have dinner with some very dear friends that Thursday evening; it was now about 3pm. The grind of the week had tired me out; I also knew that a long report would have to be made on my return… remember… no laptops yet at the time… just digital recorders at best.

Suddenly, I just knew I had to leave. Now, not later. Tomorrow would be my birthday and I wanted to surprise my family by actually waking up at home. It became a physical need to go, I could not wait. I called my friends and excused myself, telling them I would return in about 3 weeks, with a less hectic schedule, and made a date for dinner with them for that trip. Then, I called AA, where my requests were usually heard, since I had accumulated with them almost 1Million miles.

-“Hi, this is Mr. Alcazar; I am scheduled to fly out to Miami and NYC tomorrow afternoon, but I need to leave tonight”
-“Sure Mr. Alcazar, we have room available in the 7pm Miami connecting flight out of Mexico and you will arrive in NYC at 1am”
This, after the drive up to CT (there would be no connecting regional flights at that hour) would get me home around 3:30 am
-“Book it please; I will get to the airport by 5:30pm”

So it was… my flight plans were changed without thinking much about it. After this was done I felt a very strange relaxing in both, mind and body. I could not understand this then… I just knew that there was no choice in what was done. I proceeded to pack and get a taxi, even though it was only 3:30 in the afternoon and the ride would be only about 50 minutes. It was like I had a mule driver behind my back, pushing and pushing to get me away from there as fast as I could.

I did eventually get home at 4am and slept through the early morning news. Oh yes, my birthday is September 19th. On that day in 1985, at around 7:30 in the morning, the most wicked earthquake in the history of Mexico City wiped out about 9 square miles in the center of town, including the Hotel Regis, where I had been staying until the day before.

Do you believe in premonitions? I tell you I do, especially when they come on as strongly as this one did. Had I not heeded it, I would not be here today; I can say this categorically, for the hotel was utterly destroyed. In fact, the place where the hotel existed became a memorial park after the reconstruction. 

On the plus side… Since I was reborn on that day, I consider myself to be now 24 years younger than I might be otherwise… 
Yeah… yeah, I know… I have tried, but can’t convince my body this is so.

About premonitions and change of life decisions… Mexico City, September 19th, 1985.

Welcome to life!!  Be Well… Be Back!!

           Corner where the Regis Hotel was prior to the earthquake
  The general area where The Regis was located. Most buildings ended like this one.

Buddha, Sushi and Sauerkraut…

This must be the weekend travelogue. I am sitting here and a literal flood of memories are coming in about all these places which meant something to visit, for reasons other than just being there; Japan was one such place. Had the privilege to go there several times, but this first time in particular was special (so was the red district karaoke during my next visit, but… we’ll leave that one alone for now)
As an island nation, Japan is a big country; big in history and achievements. Very rigid in its cultural hierarchy but, by virtue of being physically a relatively small island, the concept of inward looking has become an ingrained part of the culture and of the upbringing of most people. The space around you on the physical plane is very restricted; there are just too many people sharing the same space. So, the alternate option is to restrict access to the interior space, and to meditation in a little deeper level than that which we normally attain in the west. Yes, this is an oversimplified version of the so called “inscrutability” of the Japanese character. But in day to day activities and relations, I can attest that once you, as an individual, get past the outside wall of another individual there can be a warm friendship. Perhaps not as effusive as we may be accustomed to, but a warm and caring relationship just the same.

On this particular trip, I was going to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan. My Richland High School friends who read this, may remember that Kyoto High School was our sister school in Japan. This was one reason to look forward to this trip. Another reason was that I would actually be living for two weeks in a totally Japanese environment, with the family of our Japanese Board Representative, a true gentle soul. They spoke some English and I did speak "some-less" Japanese; a language not easy to learn but, surprisingly, not difficult to sound out.  We were to visit a number of companies in Osaka and Kyoto, but our down time would be spent in Kobe, a bay side city near Osaka, where this couple had a villa that had been in Sato-San's family for many generations. There were two sides to Kobe: the traditional village and the modern city. We would be within the traditional village and this was something to look forward to. I arrived in Tokyo and took the bullet train to Osaka, where Sato-San was waiting for me. We drove to Kobe, which was “cross bay” and eventually made it to his home. It was just he and his wife; both in their late 60’s but full of life and of curiosity; this manner of greeting each minute of each day certainly keeps one young.  We talked about many things, none of them business related; I told them about the school relationship, and my intense curiosity about the Japanese culture; actually, the first paragraph above came pretty much from his assessments.

We did do our public relations work, which was the gist of this trip; in fact, we did net new members as a result, and that was the intended goal... And Folks... Now that we have taken care of the business end, let’s talk about more interesting things.  During our free time, and Sato-San was smart enough to program enough of this, I had the opportunity to visit several important and/or historical places. In Osaka, we visited the Osaka Castle, which dates originally back to the Shogunate of the early1300’s (remember ninjas?... no, not the turtles… The real ones which pretty much started here) There is one special feature of this castle and those are the cherry tree gardens. I saw them when they were already waning a bit … I could only imagine what they could be in full bloom!!! It would be like walking inside a cherry white cloud… the trees in our own capital city came as a gift from this garden. We also visited the flea market and, with Sato San’s help, I was able to bargain down some presents for my family back home; mostly pure silk shirts and dresses. Not too shabby!
                                                        Osaka Castle Entrance

There were two stops which truly impressed me and both were in Kobe. The first one was the sitting Buddha. Remember: India’s Buddha is skinny; Japan’s is somewhat rounder. But Buddha, all the same…  If you remember some other entry a while back, I respect and appreciate all religions. In the end, I think there is only one Supreme Being and you may call him/her differently than I do; this does not lessen either one. Anyway… we went to visit the Buddha and I was really impressed. I felt, as I had felt in India while in the presence of an also well visited Buddha, a very strong presence, all to the good. Almost like all those who pass by leave a little good energy behind. We stood there for a while, Sato San did his prayers and I did my own, in my own way. When I turned away to leave, I felt a peace which I had not felt in a while; something to ponder for I still feel it when I put my mind to it.

One night, early on during my visit, Sato San said: -“Today we are going to a special restaurant” then, he asked –“have you had sushi yet?” This was a question I had been dreading for I was not very good with the idea of raw fish. Yet… when in Rome… They took me to an ancient family inn, on the outskirts of Kobe. We were expected and, on arrival, our shoes were taken and sandals replaced them. The attending ladies, all dressed in beautiful traditional kimonos, brought us to an 8 tatami room, a large one by their standards (the measure of a traditional room is according to how many open tatamis, the roll which serves as a bed, fit in) and we sat at what seemed to be a “picnic” table: A one piece, thick, good sized table which seemed to have an ages old patina, very smooth and with those dips and slight undulations which only time and constant use can bring.  As we talked, Sato-San asked me: how old do you think this table is? Guessing by the fact I knew the Inn had been open for several generations, I said: -“I guess about 200 years”.  He smiled and said: -“make that about 650 years and you will be a lot closer”. I was really impressed; awed might be a better word; then, I realized that I was enjoying a culture where older things are respected and guarded. We did enjoy a full 6 course dinner which saw me eat all different types of raw and cooked marine denizens. And it was truly great; subtle aromas and tastes, nothing sharp or screaming “Here I AM!!” Actually, during the time of my two week visit my food was almost totally Japanese and it was truly enjoyed.

On my last Saturday we were walking along the beach and we stopped to have lunch at a German restaurant, where we had German fare at its best. Yet, I felt extremely full and even overly “greased”; my two week Japanese diet had really leveled my grease content and requirements. The day ended in a good sake brindis and next morning I started to make my way back to the States, a very happy and much more enlightened person, especially when it came to the Japanese culture.

Sadly, this note ends in a not so happy comment. A few years later, there was a major earthquake in this part of Japan and the traditional Village of Kobe was pretty much destroyed. The beach villa I had known and both Sato-San and his wife passed on from this life on to the next plane. Blessed be they!

Japan… a culture which is different than ours yet, not that different.

Be Well… Be Back!!                      Buddha Statue, Kobe                                   

Temple Gardens; Kyoto

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Am I Doing here… WITH YOU?

During those years I traveled with the association, truly some beautiful places were visited; all in the name of propagating knowledge about our chosen field of endeavors: life insurance. Let’s go back to one of them…
That Monday morning we were given our marching orders for the following week: two of us (my usual travel partner at the beginning of my tenure, Bill, and I) would be leaving on Saturday morning, via Miami, with our final destination being the island of Tobago, next to Trinidad (actually, both part of one island nation) and very close to the Venezuelan coast. We would go to Trinidad, then hop on the local interisland air service and go to Tobago, arriving there late afternoon.

All well until we came to Trinidad and were transferred to the interisland “hangar’… a WWII vintage Quonset hut, in front of which was parked a nondescript 727. Now, this was not a bad plane, you say. You are right, I answered. However, this was to be the first (and only I will add) time I would hop across some 15 miles on a jet plane… Usually these short hops are done on a single or dual engine… prop plane. Both Bill and I were a little disconcerted, since we knew the landing strip at Tobago was short and with water at both ends. We, along with some other 14 questioning people, got into the plane which took off without much fuss but, much to our surprise, leveled off at some 200 feet above the water (about the height of an 20 story building) and darted across the space between the two islands. We waved to a fisherman in his dingy… I think he, as perplexed as we were, waved back!!

Well, the hour of truth… as we arrived at Tobago an interesting thing happened. I had heard of the term “Air Brakes” but had never had the opportunity to feel its impact in action… until now.  We suddenly felt that the plane had literally stopped in mid air, and then proceeded to point down and drop at an impossible angle of attack for anything other than a fighter jet... or a rock. All I could think as my hands dug into the armrests was… “I sure hope this is being done on purpose” Just as suddenly we were, at the same time, over land and landing strip. The nose came up, the plane dropped down to the tarmac with a loud THUD!! and the pilot threw the thrusters into full reverse and probably stood up on the brakes, for the plane was rolling at a nose down angle … it turned to the left, still going a little fast and we could see the water, literally under the right wingtip, about 10 meters from the plane.

“Welcome To Tobago!!”  Said the steward… his smile a little shaky.

Our reception committee was there waiting for us, to take us to the hotel where the seminar would be held. The carriage was an old and somewhat battered VW bus, circa 1964-66, of a nondescript color. As we headed to the hotel, using the back roads, everything was forgotten. Everywhere we looked there was a veritable explosion of colors and animal noises, mostly birds. Macaws, parrots, bees, flowers, fruits. What aromas, what colors!! I felt transported in time to my father’s “finca” (farm) in Cuba, where tropical flora and fauna always filled my senses. Wow… the little bus chugged up and down some truly memorable roads (in some parts, literally a grass covered way) and we arrived at the hotel.

This hotel had been converted from an old plantation which had been built back in the 1800’s. It sat on a hill, overlooking a secluded cove which was covered in flowers of all types and colors. A pool was built into the middle of the large patio and this was, in turn, surrounded with palm fronds, with a bar at one end. That first night, after the long flight(s) we decided to call it an early night and had room service; we would meet at the seminar room at 1pm on Sunday in order to arrange everything.  So it was; next morning I went to the pool for a while, drank in all the splendor and the color, leaving it behind to go to the meeting room and help Bill put it together. After all was arranged to our liking we met, as a courtesy, with the company reps for a little while and then, being now already after 5pm, decided to take dinner poolside. Bill, being a practicing Mormon did not drink any alcohol… I had no such restrictions and ordered a rum ’n tonic to go with dinner and one for after… As we were lazily lying in the pool lounges, we dozed off and were awakened by a steel drum trio, playing old island favorites.

Picture this… A lazy late Sunday afternoon; a gorgeous island sunset, flowers everywhere, palm fronds whispering in the breezes, a drink in one hand and in the background, a trio playing great music… and as I look over to the next lounge, I see Bill lying on it!!! We both looked at each other and, almost at the same time asked the same question…
                         -“What in the world am I doing here… WITH YOU!!!???”

Oh well, what one must do sometimes in order to bring the bacon home…

Greetings from Tobago, Summer 1984.

Be Well… Be Back!!!

              Yes, That is Tobago..... Now... Wouldn't YOU ask the same question???

A Week End in Rio Cuarto, Argentina…

There were times in Argentina which were truly special. This weekend was one such moment. It started as a would-be routine visit to one of our member banks; it ended up being a weekend with friends. A slice of life in a then smaller (than today) city in the Argentinean Pampas called Rio Cuarto
-“Tenemos que ir a Rio Cuarto este jueves; hay una reunión importante el Viernes en la mañana…”
-“We have to go to Rio Cuarto this Thursday; there is an important meeting Friday morning”.
I was greeted with these words as I walked into my office one Tuesday morning, some 3-4 months after we had started the actual sales of our product.  The bank in Rio Cuarto had become an important point of sales as well as an important ally with our board of directors. The bank representative on our board, we’ll call him Francisco, had proven to be a very helpful, down to earth person. He understood the synergy necessary to make our project work and had his people at the bank fully committed to cooperate. The results were already beginning to show in a sales curve which was very much on the increase.

This trip meant some road time, since we would be going in my trusty horseless carriage. It was a 500+ mile jaunt (this local bank being the second furthest from Buenos Aires) and back in the 80’s the roads we would travel to get there were not exactly Interstate quality; this meant slower going than we would have liked. We would leave Thursday afternoon, stay overnight along the way and get there Friday for the 10:30am scheduled meeting.  I was actually looking forward to meeting up with my friend Francisco in his home turf; it would be good to know the dynamics of the town and its people.

Las Pampas in central Argentina are sort of like the KA/OK/TX plains in the US: never ending. Everything grows there and some of the larger cattle ranches may well be bigger than some of our smaller states. Our route Thursday took us directly into these lands. The winding roads were a fountain of never ending long views of land, small virgin forest like patches, cattle, fruit tree farms and, once in a while, people... and more cattle.  The grandeur is unique; one feels the immensity of nature and the smallness of man. Our plan was to sleep at Venado Tuerto (literally: One Eyed Deer), a wayside town with a couple of hostels and about 175 miles from our destination.  On our arrival, the only available rooms were in the smaller hostel, built somewhere around the early part of the century. As I drove my car into the dark, earth packed parking area, the spot next to me taken up by a small flat bed truck which, to my surprise, seemed to rock on its own. As curiosity won and we walked over, we heard a very loud OINCCC!!! which scared us half to hell. The sole occupant on the truck bed was a huge (and I mean, HUGE) porker, on its way to the county fair to be auctioned off. Welcome to the countryside…

At around 10:15 Friday morning we did make it into the bank at Rio Cuarto; Francisco and his band were there waiting for us. The purpose of the meeting was to review a good first quarter, send off the second quarter activities and work with the sales group in honing their skills. That took the rest of the day, well into late afternoon.  At about 7:30 pm Francisco said: -“Se quedan por lo menos hasta manana, no?” –“You’ll stay at least through tomorrow, right?” Richard, my travel partner began to answer that he had to be back in BsAs Saturday night, to which I said: “Well, make it Sunday night”.

It turned out Francisco had planned a full day for us, to take advantage of the city, its people and the beautiful weather (Fall was just beginning to show its face) we were having. That night we had dinner at his house, and shared a few bottles of the red wine for which Argentina is justly famous. As we were leaving for the hotel, he simply said –“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 10am”. “Where are we going, I asked…?” he just smiled and said: ”You wanted to see the city, right?” I said “Sure”, never anticipating what he had in store for us.

At 10 sharp he was at the hotel door and we headed, not into town as we expected, but towards the outskirts. After a bit of this, I asked: “Where are we going?”… “you’ll see in a minute or two”, he answered. As he was finishing saying this, we turned into what looked like a clubhouse with what seemed to be a long picnic area behind it. We got out of the car and as we walked around the building, we came face to face with a couple of single engine planes. We were at the Rio Cuarto AeroClub. As we stood there, he smiled and said: ”-Well, the best way to do sightseeing in such a short time is from the air”… -“mount up!!”.  It turned out he was a private pilot in-training (not yet 100% qualified, but his instructor came along) and this was his means of relaxing. Richard was not too sure and stayed behind at the club’s cafeteria; I love flying so up we went. He was right; the views were beautiful and we circled the city a couple of times, as well as went out into the surrounding country areas. In the distance, there was a range of mountains and Francisco said “There is a beautiful lake by the mountains and that’s where I take my family for picnics every so often; it’s about one hour flying time from here”.

This special flying guided tour was followed by a full afternoon parrillada (barbecue, Argentinean style) at his week-end place, with his family and a few friends from the bank and/or town. As if this wasn’t enough, that night we were treated to an open air tango and milonga concert at the town plaza. Long and tiring, but what a most beautiful day!!

What actually struck me the most is that all this happened because Francisco wanted to truly show his town; where he had been born and raised, and a town he was justly proud of.  He was a very efficient and productive senior officer at the bank, where he had started some 17 years before as a clerk; in fact, he had been offered to head the operations in Buenos Aires, a financially important position, but he had turned it down. We talked about this that night (we had become friends through our business relationship) and his only comment to me was: “after seeing what is there to be lived in this city, do you understand why I want to stay and see my children grow here?” There was nothing to say, he was totally right. He had chosen a lifestyle which was good for his family, giving him more time to spend with them (he lived a mere three blocks away from his office) and giving them a quality of life which would be very difficult to maintain in the big city. He was an example of a person making a very unselfish decision, so as to give his family a better chance.

Money is not an absolute goal… It is really just a tool we need to use in order to attain those personal goals which are truly important. Francisco totally understood this; my respect for him grew accordingly. I knew that his current position, locally important, was a lesser one than that which he had turned down. He was happy with his choice, and so was his family.

A personal post card from Rio Cuarto, Argentina; early fall 1987.

Be Well… Be Back!!

                                                  The Aero Club at Rio Cuarto

                                                   Central Plaza in a winter night.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Place Called Panajachel, Lago Atitlan…

This is somewhat of a living post card. I say this because this lake in central Guatemala became a magnet for me, as it had become a magnet for others over the years. Legend has it that some of the more renowned fiction/paranormal writers came here for inspiration. After having been bewitched by it, I can understand why.
This is mid 1983, during one of my many trips to Guatemala, C.A. I had already visited this country about three times and had fallen in love with its people and wild passages; some of the few who are still called good friends are from this land. My side trips, in the little time I had been allotted to this point, had been mainly to Antigua (the old capital city, dating to the 1700’s) which is about one hour from the capital, and where I had been delighted by the early colonial buildings and the even older ruins. Not to mention great food and wine…

This trip was to be different. First of all, we were to have two weeks of seminars –including the weekend in the middle- and, as promised by my dear friend and program coordinator Mary Alice, we were not going to do this at the capital city. She came to the airport to meet my flight and simply said: -“get your body into my car, for now we have about 3 or 4 hours of travel time” –“I have a surprise for you”.

Now, Mary Alice or, simply Alice was by then a 15 year veteran of the insurance wars, having started as a clerk in the company where she now headed the largest agency and we had become true friends (still are) a brother/sister relationship. We had built a total non questioning trust and respect into our relationship but, even so… I am not sure I Iike surprises… She knew this and just smiled. “get in…” -“I’ll tell you about it on the way”.

Guatemala is a country where close to 75% o the population still lives in the countryside within small villages, as the original inhabitants had lived for many, many years prior to the Spaniards coming in. Also, if I remember well, there were then (and I guess still) some 27 native tongues spoken, other than Spanish (which is not native). Actually, in these villages, Spanish was the least spoken language. Shamans are still important people and the spiritual world is revered, feared and respected. On the plus side, the people in these villages live in harmony with the natural forces around them and the country, outside the two or three major cities, is truly a natural wonderland. Mountains covered in a beautiful, lush green tree carpet; valleys so high they are filled with clouds and you can watch the bird flocks pass below you, wild rivers and waterfalls…

There are many lakes within the country of Guatemala. But there is one which, without being the largest, has the most history. As we drove through the countryside and were going up into the mountains, I knew where we were going.  -“We are going to Atitlan, aren’t we?”  A big smile came to her face and she said: -“I was wondering how long it would take you to figure it out” -"We managed to contract two great seminars at the lakeside hotel", she added.

We had spoken often about going to Solola, Panajachel and lake Atitlan; the first two, small towns around the lake. Solola was a typical colonial small town, a little up into the mountainside. Panajachel, however, was lakeside and an international refuge for people from all over the world, especially Europe. Once there, I was able to dine as if I were at the best Parisian bistro or, if preferred, home made German schnitzels. Spanish tapas, Japanese sushi… you name it. You could find it there.  Lago Atitlan had been given international fame as a spiritual force and many of these people had come as hippies to find peace and had stayed.

Yes, we did have the seminars but we also took advantage of any free time we had and explored the lake (by boat only, no roads around it) the volcanoes and the Mayan Indian villages which surround it. WOW!! What a trip… literally a walk back into a lifestyle that had existed for a thousand years before the Spaniards came into the land. For Saturday night, a group of friends came over from the city and we took “The Walk”… This meant that we started at the north end of the main avenue in Pana, and walked back to the hotel at the other end. The trick? At every bar along the way, we would stop and have a drink called the “mudslide”… No, I have no idea what’s in it or how many bars were there along the way. We did manage to make it to the hotel and went on to the lakeside little beach, where we lit a campfire and did some serenading and, yes, a little more drinking well into the wee hours. It was a fall night, clean and totally crisp and clear. I still remember looking up and seeing a huge moon (the lake is high up the mountains, it is the result of a volcano caldera) It was so brilliant and so big that I felt that if I could stretch a little more, I would be able to touch it. The electricity in the air could be felt and one could understand and accept the existence of the magic that so many have spoken and written about… Aldus Huxley once said that Lake Cuomo was beautiful, but Atitlan was far beyond… He was right.

This was my first time to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan. It then became an unwritten rule that all seminars, whenever possible, would be held there… most were.

Postcard from Lake Atitlan, a magical place, fall 1983.

Be well, Be Back!!

Time Travel and God Particles... Huh?

Time travel has always been the stuff of fantasy and science fiction. Some recent developments tell us that this is not possible… at least for now, with what we know.
Haven’t you ever thought as to how great it would be to be able to actually go back in time and live again certain moments, even as someone who only watches events unfold? Sort of a cosmic peeping tom. Most of us have at one time or another wished it could be so, especially those of us who enjoy reading the works of Fantasy/Science Fiction masters. This is a concept which has been dominant in the genre; I guess because it is one which brings with it jeopardy, mystery, possibilities of righting a wrong (can’t do too much unless you are willing to risk a current lifeline which is totally different) or simply to visit with those whom we loved and are gone.

From Jules Verne’s “Time Machine” to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (a perennial favorite); the movie “Time Cop” and all the way to the “Back to the Future” series and hundreds of other books in between and betwixt; this theme has been universal in scope and interest. In my case, I would have loved to be able to visit my childhood haunts again; to watch moments of my story unfold anew and perhaps, who knows? A little push or shove here and there… Not too much, mind you… my life has been uneven enough as it is, I really don’t want to risk making it even more so. But there are a few things that could have unfolded a little differently…

It had been my dream that, somewhere along my lifetime, someone would announce that volunteers were needed to test time travel gizmos… Truly, I would have heeded that call. After all, a life has been lived already and the curiosity factor about those new frontiers would win out over the more sensible options, like turning tail and running the other way.

Well… no matter and no deal. According to a group of scientists in Japan, it has been determined –beyond any reasonable doubt- that the concept of time travel is simply not physically possible. Apparently, for some years now it had been hoped that upon being able to get down to the most minuscule of protons, this sub-microscopic, sub-atomic mass would be able to be accelerated beyond the speed of light, speed at which point it would be possible (not guaranteed, though) to go backwards faster than light had brought us forward (or some such…) and Bingo!! The door would be open to eventually send you or me or another lunatic in a backwards spin. Well… Aw Shucks!!! Nothing doing… That little feller refused to go faster than light, no matter how much they pushed it along the tunnel. Apparently it seems to have a “built in” engine governor and the speed limit was set at, you guessed it, 99% of the speed of light.

Do we give up? Now fellow readers and followers of this blog and of the story of mankind… When have we ever been known to leave well enough alone?  Huh?? Do you really think this little impediment will stop others from trying? I don’t think so… Eventually, someone will discover a new variant in the “continuums” which will allow that little sucker to go faster. We just do not have the technology available yet. Come on… just 5 generations ago (that’s what? Some 45-55 years ago) we had barely understood how to make atomic particles collide… and look what it brought us. The sub-atomic world was yet to be defined and explored. So, it is a matter of time before our scientists find a way to make the proton move along at a brisker pace.

In a non related matter, there is a group of scientists who predict that by the end of 2012 the “God Particle” will be identified and understood… This is the energy that supposedly created the so called Big Bang, initiating the movement of the universe, as we know it to be today, outwards. I believe investigative science is great; many answers to the physical world have been found along the way and much in the way of explaining certain issues has also been made available. I also think there are issues which have not been made public; us little, common folks are not deemed ready to receive this privileged information, I guess. Fascinating, the concept of information police.

Yet, as all these discoveries come and go, we go back to the ages old conundrum, which has vexed many minds: What existed first, the chicken or the egg?

There is an old anecdote which tells of God talking to a would-be god, and a challenge was thrown: create a human entity from scratch and I will recognize you as another god…   The “god-in-training” said: “Watch me” and he bent to pick up mud from the riverbed. At which point a voice was heard, like thunder, saying… “NO, Do not take THAT mud” –“That belongs to me, I created it… you create your own!!”

If and when a “God Particle” is indeed identified and found to have the energy to create the Big Bang… my question is then: “What created the so called "God Particle"?”  In my limited reasoning and understanding, I do believe that something cannot come from nothing, unless there is an initial and/or final energy or being which actually did some inventive creating of his/her own and then let it go forward. With a little nudge here and there along the way.

Be Well… Be Back!!  (Figuratively speaking, that is)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Little of This... A Little of That...

Writing is definitely one demanding hobby. When this blog was started, I was convalescing from a number of physical issues, now long past. I had a lot of time and the number of entries then posted reflects this. As the months passed and part time work started, the entries were limited in size and number, to the point that there were a few months along the way that saw only about 2 posts per month
Then, the purpose was firmly established to post no less than two per week and, during the last 2-3 weeks, these numbers have increased again to about 3-4 per week.  It is not about being prolific; many people who can sit at a computer today, will probably be able to write a worthwhile blog. However, when a commitment is made (to oneself) to post no less than three entries per week, then this becomes work in earnest. No matter; it is enjoyable to the utmost… Today, it is an entry of the “cleaning house” sort. What is the meaning of this? Well, it means I will try to answer some comments received, and include (indulge in?) some observations as we go along.

The last few entries have come back at me in the form of comments. Especially, the “Black and White, Part II” about the evil spirit invading the person who was acting as a medium in a séance. Remember: I can only report what I lived, saw and heard at that time. I can also pretty much vouch for the fact that there was no trickery of hands (or eyes) involved. Everything was above board, as much as could be made in 1953 or thereabouts, with really no gimmickry available at the time. We did see this family again, on and off; but it took me a while to agree to witness another session; I guess you can understand why. Eventually I did and many years later, while staying in Spain, I was at the center of an unexpected “vision”… more on this some other time.

The entry about my friend Marc has also generated a few comments. Mostly questions about what was it exactly we were doing. This is material for a number of entries; perhaps, seriously, even a novel or a book. These entries will come along, I promise; too much happened during those years and it has to be sorted out in my own mind before it can be put to the computer. I believe it will be, if I can manage to do it right, a very interesting read.

“Outsourcing your Memory” also came in with some comments. My friend Doug (the same Douglas mentioned in the early Matecumbe entries) tells me that he exercises his brain every day. He is determined to push back “senility” to the early 100’s if at all possible. By the way, what he is doing has been recommended by neurology experts for many years; simple arithmetic problems solved “in your head” every day act as mental push ups. Reading, studying, learning a new subject; doing puzzles and some cardio exercises… all these add to the results. Sitting in front of the "tube" will not...

The Argentina entries are always a favorite. Also for me; those years were truly rewarding from a professional viewpoint, for much was actually achieved. The children also liked Argentina; it is part of their good childhood memories. Unfortunately, the only aspect that did not benefit was my wife’s and my relationship. There is more than enough material for at least 3-4 more entries on Buenos Aires to be dispensed along the way.

Last but not least (of this bunch, that is) are the comments regarding the entry on India. There was so much that was actually experienced during my two trips there that it was difficult to hone into one area only. Because of the need to do this, the time spent at the Taj Mahal had to win hands down. It was just, literally, overwhelming. I also came to know, and share thoughts with, many folks during these trips and came to feel very much at home in this very old, diverse and complex country.

These particular entries could be seen as a “travelogue” of sorts. I am not sure this was the intent, but there are specific anecdotes that come from each port and city and they seem to be well received. The people of each country, as part of the human whole, have good and not so good sides. There is much wealth owned by a few; some of these folk do share and help others to get ahead. There are others who simply hoard… Then there are those who have little and give it all to others who have even less. And then there are some who have nothing and simply rejoice in being alive. A friend likes to say that “it is easy to give away leftovers; it is the true measure of sharing when you have but one plate to eat, and are willing to give some of this to others”. It is all in the encompassing make up of humankind.  

There is still so much that is ensconced in my childhood memory bin; there are also many significant and interesting people with whom I have had the blessing of sharing time and space in my adult life. I think that a to-do list of entries will be put down somewhere; a list of moments which can be translatable into an entry for the blog.

Or maybe not… it may be better to just sit and write whatever comes to mind, just like I have done with this entry…

Be Well… Be Back!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Traveling Under the Influence…

Just a “to catch your eyes” title… During my travels in the eighties, there were many situations which were mentally recorded for later life. This is later life, and some of these happenings are coming back to me as these entries multiply. Comments are far from judgmental; they mostly reflect the individual goodness or the, I guess, “badness” we encounter along the way. Luckily for me, I can honestly say I have been given far much more “goodness” than “badness”. A 1983 snapshot follows.

-“Apúrate que ya voy tarde para el aeropuerto” 
-“Hurry up… I’m already late for the airport”
The above was not a rare exchange at home. After all, there were usually two - three one week trips per month, sometimes even four if these outings were 2-3 days short. Once one becomes accustomed to the hassle of being “The Traveling Guy”, a lot of habits become ingrained.

On this particular outing, I was to go to Honduras and Guatemala (one day/night each) then arriving in Panamá on Tuesday evening to complete the week through Saturday. Since we were living in Connecticut at the time, this meant leaving Hartford on Sunday late morning, in Miami by mid afternoon to fly on to Honduras; leave Honduras for Guatemala on Monday late afternoon, then leave for Panama on Tuesday pm, returning to the US late Friday pm…  All neat and prepared…
Remember this saying?  All best laid plans… How true… how true!!

During this trip there were two sessions of one day consulting during the first two legs and then, on the last leg, a major new product presentation and launching, where I was to be the “Keynote” speaker and endorser of the product, on behalf of the Association I represented. This, after two one day meetings with the sales managers were completed, in order to make sure that all details of the product were fully understood.

As I was leaving Guatemala to go to Panama I remembered that, when traveling from the US, the needed visa was usually bought at the airport and that it cost $30US. I got on the plane in Guatemala and had no visa, but I remembered that I had seen people buy these on arrival at Panama. So I didn’t worry and settled down for the short flight… Hmmm…

On arrival, I inquired as to where I could buy the visa and here the dance began in earnest…
-“De donde viene?”   -“Where do you come from?” 
At this point, having been on the only flight which had recently arrived, or would be arriving for the next three hours, I became somewhat on guard.
-“But you have a US Passport”
-‘Yes, I do”
-What is your business here?” My passport had at least 15 entries into Panama by this time.
-“I have a meeting to attend” No sense in getting into an argument, right?
-“Where is your visa?”
-“I could not purchase it in Guatemala, and expected to buy it here” said I quietly…
-“You cannot buy it here; you have a US passport”
-“I’m sure this has happened before and there is a solution; what would I have to do?

In many developing countries, there are people without scruples who work at the airport entry/exit points and make this a place to shake down those who come through; Latin America is no different. As my travel time increased, these issues would come up every so often and would be dealt with quickly and quietly. It would not be so this time; I guess the duty officer saw me as a “mark”. It was about 8:45pm and the airport was quickly becoming very quiet and very empty. The immigration officer knew this and was going to try and make the most out of this “fool” who just landed into his hands. I expected that his answer to the last question would be somewhere around 60 – 75$; the visa would be issued and the pocket money would be enhanced by another 30-40$$. 

He was hungry. -“It will cost you $300 to get in”.
I thought he was kidding; but he was dead serious and something actually snapped inside me. I had the money; besides, it would be put under “general expenses” for the trip. But, I decided this was way too much of a shake down. And I was not going to pay it.

-“I don’t have that much money with me”
-“How much do you have?”
- “ I have $70 in cash, not more.”
-“That will not get you in” –“You will have to stay in the airport until the first flight leaves for the US in the early morning.”
- “OK, I will” I said, looking at him straight to his eyes. “Can I make a phone call?” –“Sure, there is a public phone over there on the far wall… but” he added with a smirk “you can’t cross this yellow line over here”. At this point he turned and left.

I looked around for a place to actually set myself down and, from an empty duty free shop counter, being readied for the night, a young guy took his phone to the limit of the cord and just made it to “my” side of the yellow line. He said –“Use this, these bastards like to steal all they can and they give us all a pretty bad name”

I was able to make a phone call to the President of the company that had hired us (a personal friend as well) and, guess what? His neighbor and friend was the then current Minister of the Interior under whose dominion came all entry/exit ports. Well, rock breaks scissors and paper covers rock.  Within 30 minutes of my call, there was a very contrite immigration officer handing me my passport and visa (courtesy of the Ministry) giving me all manners of apologies and ushering me into the beautiful country of Panama; and I say this last from my heart. It is a beautiful country, warm and friendly.

In one same instance, I was exposed to the bad and the good, this last in the person of the young guy who risked, I am sure, a retaliatory strike had his help been found out. To me, he represented the vast majority of people I had met in Panama.

He just saw me cross the line and, with a smile in his lips and a wink of the eye, simply said:
-“Bienvenido a Panama

Panama, Panama, Early fall 1983.

Be well, Be Back!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Buenos Aires V... Doing the Impossible.

What does it take to put an impossible project on the boards? It takes a concerted effort by a group of people who came to believe and who committed themselves to get it done in the face of adversity and swimming against the current, as it were. These were, perhaps, my most committed months (and years) of my professional career. Truly, I consider this project a personal triumph, but it was a triumph for all who gave the utmost of themselves to see it through. It is a longer than usual entry, but worth the read.

- “FortheLoveofGod!!! Howmuchtimeyousaidwehavetodothis??”

This gentle question was posed by our own Maddy, during one of our Monday morning meetings, after we had just reviewed the revised timetable given us by our friendly banking associates(read: owners). This was now late September/early October and there were only 45 days left before the summer / Christmas / year end break. Originally, we were to have until the beginning of the year to present the marketing sales plan and completed structure for the insurance company. This would have given us precious time while the folks were away with their families; under the new guidelines (read: request/demands) we were to have a structure in place by November 15th.

Were there a base structure to develop, this would not be such a crazy demand… yet, there was nothing in place; no sales personnel, no management, no training structure (we had just barely received approval for the product) and no… well, just no anything. We were born of an uneasy coalition of smaller private banks, set to do battle against companies backed by such as Banco del Lavoro (major Italian bank), Citibank Argentina, Banco Nacion (national Bank), AIG Argentina, etc… you get the drift… (David and Goliath, anyone?).  None of our member banks were willing to share personnel or client base… after all, the other guys were the competition. Not to be trusted. So, each bank would have a sales team, under a trained sales supervisor and all supervisors would be trained and supervised in turn by, you guessed it… yours truly.

Argentina is a physically big country; you can easily spend 8 hours in your car and still be not that far (relatively speaking) from Buenos Aires. Luckily, all the member banks except for one were within a radius of 250 miles from BsAs. The lone “far away bank” was located in Salta (a beautiful colonial city, well north, almost to the Bolivian border); here I had to travel by plane. Luckily for me, the appointed representative from that bank was a good marketer and was easy to train; also, he liked to come to Bs As. since this gave him a chance to get away from home and hearth… and boss. He did well up there.

Each bank supervisor was trained and, in turn, each had to choose or hire from one to a maximum of three sales people, depending on the size of the bank and the number of branches where the product would be initially offered. The starting number was limited to three, for easier training and initial management.

While the bank supervisors were doing this, we had a chance to work on the marketing plan, sales plan and the sales support team and material. We were lucky, a good marketing mind from one of the better agencies in town was a friend of Maddy, and she came to help us as a (paid) free lancer. She was a breath of fresh air; within 5 days she was back with the working “motherboard” and it was a beauty!!  Exactly what we wanted and done in a very easy to follow format; this was important, because in each presentation this would be read to the client, creating a flow to the final question: Would you like to be able to have a better retirement?  After sharing the message the right way, it would be difficult to say “no”. Maddy took over the internal training of the support personnel, while I went to the different bank locations on a regular basis, to make sure the training was being done according to set parameters. Our Admin VP, a great asset to us, managed to create all the internal controls, as related to sales and marketing and the corresponding administration programs.

Finally, Henry, Mr. Financial VP (another tremendous asset) and I had to sit and discuss the finer details of selling life insurance. Remember, due to the incredible rate of inflation existing at that time, national banks worked on a 24 / 48 / 72 hours investment turnaround. Here we had a product that would require continued investments and look to an initial return towards the end of the second year (maybe) and thereafter. Commissions, credits, bank participation according to sales… also, there was this matter of “legal reserve”, which meant that, the more we sold, the more funds that would have to be put aside to meet potential claims. This, in turn, brought about the reinsurance contracts; larger companies which would help us carry the risk/claim load. They did not do this for free. I’m not going to go technical on you… Suffice it to say that if a small company, not correctly structured, sells too much insurance… it could actually go bankrupt. All this had to be communicated to the corresponding banking minds, and Henry (Fin VP) was the man to help me do it.

The Big Day finally arrived...! On Friday, November 14th, 1986, we had a very successful full house press conference in our offices, where all board members and management personnel were introduced to reps of the major finance dailies who were present “by invitation”; radio and TV interviews were also done. The wine flowed and a good poundage of cheese and chorizos were consumed by all. Yes, the rank and file was there; this had been a group effort where all had gone “above and beyond”; no one (including the messenger) was to be kept away from this moment. Although I may have spearheaded the overall project, they made it all work. We were now, officially, a functional company and believe me… most definitely still a work in progress.

At home, it was also a work in progress but, unfortunately, it had become a working process towards an eventual dissolution of the union. We did not know this yet for sure, but I think we both were internally anticipating this would be the final result. No one person is fully responsible for either the success or the failure of a relationship; either of these results is the compendium of the work and interest of both sides. Our mutual interest was rapidly dwindling and the arguments (specially those involving small, silly things… a true harbinger of a decaying relation) were rapidly escalating. Easily seen from the vantage of the years, but difficult to grasp at the time.

Well… This is more than enough for now. This post is more about the triumph of a small band of very different people brought together by a dream in which they all came to believe. These few paragraphs actually condense a fiery 3 months of non-stop work, sweat and tears and a magnificent accomplishment by that small band of committed believers.

Just comes to show what seemingly impossible goals can actually be reached when there is enough faith and trust, and a true desire to accomplish what others said could not be done.

Be Well… Be Back!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jack in the (otherwordly) Box.

Remember an entry several months ago? A “postcard” from my childhood called “Black and White?” I re-read it this morning and, as this was being done, a very strong, unidentifiable feeling came over me. There was one time (of some 6-7 times I witnessed one of these sessions) when an unwanted visitor came through the young medium and it became a “search and rescue” operation for the mother and the sisters, just to get to the core of the medium and bring her back.  This is what I remember…

We, my grandfather and I, had come again to visit this family of “sensitives” who would act as portals to other entities who wished to communicate with this physical plane. This was my 6th or 7th visit and, because of what transpired, would be my last. My memories are fairly clear, even being this an event that took place some 58 years ago.

It was a summer afternoon, the sun out and clear, a soft breeze coming in from the bay. My grandfather had come by the house where he knew I would be, in order to take me with him to visit our friends. We had gone there several times before and I had witnessed some sessions where entities had made an appearance through the medium. I know… this is not believed by many but, remember: this is the culture in which I was brought up as a child into my early teens, and these issues are a part of it. I cannot vouch for what is real and what is not, only for what I witnessed, within the realm of my understanding at the time. No electronic gadgetries present; four white walls with no visible ornaments, high ceilings and uncovered gray-almost white- marble floors where nothing could be hidden. Also, a plain wood table painted white; not even a table cloth which could hide a gimmick. At the time, this was simply registered in my subconscious; it is only while recounting the happenings that the importance of these observations is understood.

As always, we had some coffee and the white jasmine flowers he had brought were placed at the center of the table; not in a vase, the flowers were simply put on the tabletop. The session started with comments from the mother and “Traffic Director”, and the medium‘s head dropped, as in a light sleep. I had never paid much attention to the messages; I was more interested in the proceedings and this time it was no different, at least for a while. About 6 minutes into the session, her head snapped up, her mouth open in a snarl like position with teeth showing, and her eyes wide open with a furious glare coming out of them; almost fire like. Immediately, I realized this was not in the regular “script” and the mother’s reaction confirmed this thought. While a very deep growling like voice was uttering unintelligible, but loud mutterings, the mother jumped to her side and with the other sisters around her for support, grabbed her daughter’s head in both hands and started an undulating chanting which grew in strength and volume.  This went on for some 15 minutes or more, I do not recall exactly how long. At some point, all the family women put their hands on the head of the medium and a wave of strength came through; I actually felt it much like a water wave when at the beach, except this one went through me, not over me. A few moments later, the sister came out of her trance like presence, and was carried off to her bedroom where, being totally wasted, she went to sleep.

Over the years since, I have read many stories and many studies regarding these types of paranormal issues. Also, in my travels I have been able to discuss these with several learned folk in different parts of the world. Mostly trying to find some sort of explanation for what I saw, heard and felt during those sessions and, especially, that last one; also to try and understand other happenings throughout the years. To say that moment years ago was terrifying, would be an understatement; whatever came through for those few moments, was a defined and felt evil presence; who or what it was, I have no idea.

There have been, over the years, moments during which a very strong presence has been felt by me, as well as others physically near me at the time. In these instances, I have not felt threatened on the contrary, a very warm inner glow, almost a reassurance, has been felt. I have no control over these happenings; in fact, it has been a while since such a defined, almost physical touch has been felt and, actually, I have missed it at times.

Are there planes of energy, other than the one we inhabit? Can their “inhabitants” really cross into one another’s realm and become manifest? Can we identify them as “positive” or “negative”? During my infancy I was exposed to many instances of “irregular” behaviors; not only of people, but of circumstances and environments around me. Can these be explained away? No, they cannot. It would be just too easy and convenient to say “these things do not happen”, because they did, and still do. Do I understand what goes on when something “strange” has happened? Not fully; it is beyond my logical sensing ability. But this does not mean these instances are “non-happenings”, it just means they are not fully understood or explainable by means of regular, day to day reasoning.

Also, too many charlatans make a living preying on innocent folks who want to “touch someone” who is gone. This is simply not dialing a phone number and getting dear old departed Uncle Joe; the medium of my childhood never knew who, or what, would show up. I am sure that most of these folk who charge for a session of communication would drop one in their pants if they actually communicated with an energy force from another plane.

I am not sure as to how to wrap up this entry. This field is just too large and too little understood. Most will shrug it away; but I simply cannot. I have been witness to too many “irregularities” as a child and as an adult to simply ignore and hide the concept under a rug. I will continue to read and to try to understand; in the meantime, there will be one or two more occurrences which will make it into this blog at some point.

Another postcard from the past… a little darker in color and with very frayed edges…

Be Well… Be Back!!

Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...