Monday, October 25, 2010

Olivia and Quincy

Years ago Isabel and I were asked to write a brief story about our beloved dogs for the publication The Bark.
The illustrator Vivienne Flesher was hired to do a full page drawing of each dog. 
It is the only thing I have ever written that was published AND it was published NEXT TO a piece by Isabel Allende! Here is the final published version of each:

Olivia is a black hole of need.  She has Willie and me on a leash, she walks us twice a day. We have learned to sit and roll over at her command. We attack when she feels threatened. We follow her around all day. She sleeps soundly on a bench at the foot of our bed, so soundly, in fact, that she doesn’t wake up even when the alarm goes off. How on earth did we live before without Olivia? 
–– Isabel Allende

Quincy is my first love. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night just to pet his ears and kiss his nose because it is hard to go for very long without these affections. Quincy came from the San Francisco city pound and cost me five dollars and change. I love him more than anything. He has a very deep and complicated soul. I save his whiskers in a tin. 
–– Sarah Kessler

Sadly, Quincy is not with us anymore, we had to put him down in 2007. It broke my heart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spend an evening with the Global Fund for Women

Join us November 11th for a thought-provoking conversation between acclaimed novelist and philanthropist Isabel Allende and Kavita N. Ramdas, former CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

Kavita and Isabel will explore the myriad ways women are building peace amidst increasingly militarized societies worldwide.

View the invitation by clicking here.


Thursday, November 11, 2010 / 6:30pm
San Francisco Design Center
101 Henry Adams Street
(between Alameda St & Kansas St)
San Francisco, CA 94103



Purchase Tickets Online
$50 Regular
$25 Students
$250 Including reception with Isabel Allende to honor Kavita N. Ramdas*
*Reception 5:30pm-6:30pm

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Visit to the Palace & Mario Vargas Llosa

Isabel sent me a photograph of her taken at El Pardo, the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, on October 13th. In the background you can see Queen Sophia, Princess Elena and Prime Minister Zapatero.
She was attending the annual meeting of the Instituto Cervantes, a governmental organization that promotes Spanish language and culture throughout the world. It was Isabel’s first time at the gathering, which was hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Click here for a mini Wiki crash course on that if you need/want to. 

 photo: Cristóbal Manuel, courtesy of EL PAÍS
Isabel describes it this way:
“The king has the impressive face of the Bourbons, double chin and slightly protruding eyes.  The charming queen was dressed in red from head to toe, very stylish. The princess was dressed in gray and beige.  The palace is large, sober, simple, elegant, nothing baroque or overdone, beautiful bouquets of flowers (blue and yellow) as main decoration.  Military personnel mostly for decoration, unobtrusive (almost invisible) security and a domestic staff of handsome young men in suits and women in black uniforms with white aprons and caps, like French maids in old erotic postcards, only with longer skirts.

After a report of the activities of the Institute in 2009, given by it's president, Carmen Caffarel, and a homage by the king to Mario Vargas Llosa for his recent Nobel Prize in Literature, their majesties offered a lunch to the members of the Patronato Cervantes and all the ambassadors from Spanish-speaking countries.  Long white linen tablecloths, ornate silverware (real antique silver, of course), white plates with a gold trim, five crystal glasses for wines and champagne.  Menu: vegetables wrapped in a pancake floating in tomato soup, (tasted much better than it sounds) filet mignon, white chocolate mousse.  I met interesting people and drank too much of an excellent Spanish red wine.
After lunch I picked up Willie at the hotel and we went to the airport for our flight to the Netherlands.  Willie is wonderful!  He accompanies me on these trips without complaining, all dressed in black, with a Borsalino hat, like a Sicilian godfather in mourning.   He is never bored and he has friends everywhere in the world, so while I work he socializes (unfortunately, most of his friends are good looking women), or he writes on his PC.  He is now working on his fifth detective novel, The Halls of Power.”

On the 14th Isabel has two events, one in Utrecht and another in Amsterdam, both organized by the Cervantes Institute and both very well attended in spite of being in Spanish. That was when I got that email from her about the porn shops and coffeehouses; see post: Porn shops and Marijuana 

The next day she has press and TV interviews and two book signings, one in Utrecht and one in Bussum. 

She writes:
“It was raining but my faithful readers waited patiently in the rain.  The lines went around the block in both cities.  I like the Dutch!  They have bought 120,000 copies of The Island Beneath the Sea in four months. According to my Dutch publisher, they have sold 3 million copies of my books. Considering that the Netherlands has only 17 million inhabitants, we can assume that one in every three families has a book of mine.  Wouldn't it be nice if that were also the case in China?”

Coming home is an ordeal: Isabel and Willie get up at 4:30am and take a plane from Amsterdam to Madrid. Their plane arrives late, so they miss their connecting flight to Chicago.  Iberia's Customer Service is mobbed by dozens of angry, stranded passengers. (A bit of travel advice here: Be nice to customer service people. They hate you as much as you hate them.) They wait almost an hour to talk to a young woman whose computer is acting up, but finally she gives them boarding passes and they run a marathon to another terminal to get on the plane to the U.S.  Once they land in New York, Isabel and Willie realize that they have two tickets on Qantas to Sydney instead of on American Airlines to San Francisco. Sydney and San Francisco both start with S. Personally I would have flown off to Sydney for a week. Instead, Isabel comes home.

P.S. I mentioned there was a little episode in New York in early October. I had forgotten to post it and so I will briefly relay the story:
When Isabel learns that the aforementioned Mario Vargas Llosa is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature she hastily buys a large bouquet of roses and heads off to his house in Manhattan to deliver them personally. (Remember, she is very short and the roses conceal her almost completely) When she arrives at Llosa's house she is greeted with skepticism and doubt that she actually is Isabel Allende. (Sometimes I question this, too, and that is WITHOUT roses.) The doorman tells her, "Anybody can say they are Isabel Allende!" To which Isabel replies, "Suppose YOU say it to Mario then!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Literary Luncheon at Book Passage

Coming up on October 29th at 12:30 pm join Isabel as she talks about her new novel Island Beneath the Sea. Lunch is catered by the outstanding Insalata’s Restaurant of San Anselmo. Tasty!
The ticket price of $55 includes lunch and a signed book.
Call (415) 927-0960 ext. 1 to reserve your spot.
51 Tamal Vista Blvd City
Corte Madera, California 94925

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pornshops and Marijuana

Isabel sent this email from Amsterdam and as I read it I wonder why didn't she just go buy some quality porn, and a few special cigarettes and unplug the phone for the afternoon? Here is what she writes:

"We are in a strange, decadent, old fashioned hotel that has seen better days, on a
main plaza in Amsterdam, next to pornshops, marijuana coffee shops and
second-rate Argentinian restaurants.  We want to go home!  I have been
really busy–what's new–and I am beginning to feel just too exposed.
Journalists are calling me about the miners.  I am sure they think that the
Isabel Allende on the site is me.  My poor cousin doesn't get any credit."

The email came last week and she is home already, I saw her today and will have some interesting stories about her trip over the next few days. She sure travels a lot! She was gone for most of September. Let's see: she was in Spain, Amsterdam, and Sydney, Australia....well, almost Australia. To the airlines credit, Sydney and San Francisco BOTH start with S. It could happen to anyone! More on the airline mixup tomorrow, as well as on the trip and the journey home.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Losing it

When I ask Isabel how she is doing, being home and all after such a crazy month, she reports that she is well, hyper and hungry. She is on a diet, trying to lose the 5 pounds she gained from staying in her parents’ house. Now, back home without a dozen scheduled interviews, at least for a few days, she paints furniture and works on other home projects, cuts her hair (don’t ask), cuts Olivia’s hair (that turns out OK actually), and wonders, how am I going to survive the sabbatical I have planned for 2011??

So Isabel, home now for approximately three days, gives me this brief update:   
"I have been very hungry and I have lost exactly 26 oz. Walked the dog, came back home; the gardener had gone and I found the gate closed. No cellular (I forgot it in Chile). No one is home. Climbed a tree, crawled on the wall, jumped down and almost broke a leg.  Olivia on the other side was wailing.  Managed to get back on my feet.  
That night, when I told Nico what had happened, he asked me why I hadn’t opened the gate using the code, as we always do.  The truth is that it didn’t cross my mind. I am truly losing it."

Let’s hope not. When Isabel has a bad hair day I want to hear about it, and when that short lady climbs over walls that could easily be opened with a simple code, I definitely want to hear about it. I am going to keep stalking her and jotting down what I learn. Isabel inspires me, makes me laugh and sometimes makes me cry. Have you read Island Beneath the Sea yet? Stay tuned for October and beyond.... 

Home is where the DOG is

When Isabel and Willie finally fly home on the 26th, Nicole (Isabel’s granddaughter) informs her that in her absence a tall blonde, a beautiful German journalist, slept at the house. “Did you know about that, Mai?” she asks, using Willie’s nickname and looking at him with a scowl. Can Isabel trust Willie?  He always calls Isabel his tall blonde. 

Olivia is Isabel’s dog and, possibly, Isabel’s tall blonde. She came to her with the name “Princess” but Isabel changed it. I am not sure why, because the dog is a princess: she has velvet cushions, turkey niblet toppings on her meals, toe massages, and three treats, twice a day. I know for a fact that Olivia misses Isabel and Willie horribly because I have seen her when they leave the house. She hides in their closet and literally cries. I have to take her little bowls of water and chicken to coax her out. Only after three days will she appear, and then only for a few minutes before disappearing into the closet once again...Here she is looking beautiful for the camera:


The next morning: The National Book Festival on the Mall.  Isabel uses a Port-O-Potty and almost gets locked in.  One of my worst fears.  The big tent is packed, almost 2,000 people. There is a long line of people waiting for Isabel to sign their books. One lady faints twice; it is hot and she’s pregnant. At a certain point, Isabel has to leave or she will miss her flight home, so Willie puts one of those signs on a guy about ten people out that says “lane closing,” like in a supermarket, and that is that.

Read more about it here:
National Book Festival

And Another Award

OK, that whole shindig is on the 21st, and on the 22nd Isabel flies to Washington D.C.!  Willie meets up with her there.  Wonderful husband that he is, he crosses the continent to be with her for just two days.  This is why I have a little thing for Willie—well, one part of why... Isabel is here for the 10th Anniversary of the National Book Festival.  Some 130,000 people are expected on Saturday.

On September 23rd Isabel receives the Creative Achievement Award from the Library of Congress. Lunch is in the stuffy Cosmo Club where, until recently only men were allowed.  It is a lovely gala with music and a great buffet, very elegant.    Isabel meets up with some interesting people like Ken Follet and his wife Barbara, who was Minister of Culture in England, and Dennis Kucinich, whom Isabel said looks younger and shorter in real life. 

Have I mentioned Isabel’s height yet? She is very short, so short I think at times I could take her in a fight...but then I rethink it and move on with life. Isabel mentioned that she thinks that Mr. Kucinich is possibly the only person in the world she could dance cheek to cheek with, and that is saying something.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stupid American Moment

September 21st, Isabel got some other medal, something from the Chilean Congress. Here, by the way, is a little news blip I noticed whilst I researched this award: 
“Internationally acclaimed novelist Isabel Allende, winner of Chile’s 2010 National Literature Prize, used the word “terrible” to describe the situation of the Mapuche hunger strikers. “They could die, several of them are already on the edge of dying,” she told reporters after receiving the Bicentennial Medal from the Chilean Congress.”
So that must have happened at the elegant cocktail party following the ceremony...I, being a Stupid American, know NOTHING about the indigenous peoples’ hunger here is what I found out: hunger strike.
Pretty heavy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying for the Miners

Then, on September 19 Isabel goes with President Piñera and some of his staff and ministers in the presidential plane and then by helicopter to visit the 33 miners who are trapped in a copper mine in Copiapó. The men have been essentially buried alive since August 5th.  After a week, the rescuers were ready to give up, but the miners’ women (wives, mothers, sisters, daughters) camped out near the site and demanded that the search continue because they KNEW their men were alive.  On the 17th day the rescuers heard tapping and knew the miners were alive. Rescuers and family members now communicate with the miners through a narrow pipe that has been drilled half a mile down into the cavern.   On an earlier visit to the mine the president had received their first message, written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook: “Estamos bien, en el refugio, los 33.”   “We are OK, in the refuge, the 33.” It’s a perfect haiku!   Since then the whole world has become aware of their plight. The miners can both see and be seen via a TV connection, and on this day President Piñera shows them a baby girl, born a couple of days before, named Esperanza (Hope), for obvious reasons.  Isabel shows them 33 T-shirts she brought with her and explains that 33 swimmers had “escaped” from Alcatraz, the former island prison in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, swimming in honor of the trapped miners. She told them that just as the swimmers had escaped from Alcatraz, the miners would eventually escape from their prison underground.   Each T-shirt has the name of both a swimmer and a miner.  One of the swimmers is Isabel’s son Nico, “the light of my eyes,” as she calls him.

Nico and Isabel

Bad Hair and Some Serious Stuff

What else did Isabel do in Chile this September? 
I will tell you, but let me warn you that some days her hair was not so great. Usually it is STUNNING but the heat—it can really bedraggle a person. And with all the interviews…It is hard being famous, and it is especially hard to keep your hair looking stunning under certain circumstances.
On the 17th, for instance, there is this big ceremony with the current president, Sebastian Piñera. The ceremony is to raise this massive flag. It is sunny and hot and Isabel wears a lovely purple frock with high heels. Everyone is greeting her and there is all this fanfare because she just got awarded this huge prize! There are many press interviews but really scant time for personal grooming. If you saw her that day it was a bad hair day, so just cut her some slack. It’s tricky sometimes.


On September 16th, Isabel attends a reception in her honor. Former President Michele Bachelet hosts, and everyone congratulates Isabel for her National Literary Award. At the party, Isabel enjoys—surprise—a little more red wine and empanadas!  

Isabel’s former husband, Michael, is there. He is always invited to these events and he always attends.  “His support warms my heart,” Isabel tells me. “He should hate me.  I was a horrible wife.” Michael is another hottie! Great eyebrows amongst the Chileans, I have noticed....
Here is a recipe for empanadas that Isabel once made for me:
Dough for empanadas – makes about 25 
3 cups flour
1 egg yolk
½ cup of grasa – lard or butter or mix of both
¾ cup to 1 cup of warm milk
½ tsp salt

Mix the flour and salt in a food processor; pulse until well combined.
Add the lard or butter, blend well.
Add the egg yolk and the milk in small amounts, pulse until small dough clumps start to form.
Make a couple of balls, flatten into disks and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough onto a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas (use round molds or a small plate).

Beef  filling
1 lb ground beef
2 white onions, diced, about 3 cups
1/2 cup lard or butter
2 tbs smoked paprika
2 tbs chili powder or any ground hot pepper
1 tbs finely chopped fresh oregano
½ tbs ground cumin
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
¼ cup sliced green olives
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, white and yolk separated and lightly whisked

Combine the ground beef, paprika, red pepper, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix all the ingredients together and chill until ready to use.
Melt the lard in a large frying pan or sauté pan, add the onions and salt, and cook until the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the meat mixture to the onions and cook on medium heat until the meat is done. Stir frequently.
Let the meat mixture, or picadillo, cool down, and then mix in the chopped green onions and chopped oregano.
To assemble the empanadas, add a spoonful of the meat mixture to the center of each empanada disc and add a slice of egg and sliced olive.
Brush the edges of the empanada discs with the egg whites. You can also use water but the egg white is a good natural “glue” that helps seal the empanada.
Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges gently with your fingers; twist and fold the edges of the empanadas with your fingers. As a final step, use a fork to press down and finish sealing the empanadas.
Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk; this will give them a nice golden glow when they bake.
Let the empanadas rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and bake for about 25 minutes.

Red Wine and Sleeping Pills

I asked Isabel how she does with flying, since it takes something like 20 hours to get to Chile.  Apparently, and this is good to know, taking sleeping pills with a little red wine makes things in the air a little less gruesome. BUT seriously, consult a physician before YOU do this. We don’t need any letters from bereaved family members claiming Isabel Allende told us this great jet-lag cure!

Here’s something else about Isabel Allende. Her parents are STILL ALIVE! In fact, she stays with them when she is in Chile. Let me tell you, they are amazing. The old man is pretty hot actually, and P, as I will forever call Isabel’s mom, is stunning, like movie-star stunning.

Willie is NAKED

When the call comes to Isabel from the Chilean Minister of Education on September 2nd, Willie is NAKED! He is in the shower when she tells him the news and he starts crying because, apparently, he is so happy. I suspect he is also lamenting that the quiet of the house is soon to be interrupted by a constantly ringing telephone. It gets so bad the number has to be changed! 

The fact that readers in Chile initiated a campaign in blogs, on Facebook and Twitter, and by writing hundreds of ACTUAL letters helped immeasurably. This year the jurors could not ignore Isabel! Four former presidents even wrote in her favor, and that is pretty cool. That would be like Jimmy Carter writing a letter singing your praises. I mean, he used to farm peanuts! 

THE Isabel Allende

I am one of those people who knows Isabel Allende, THE Isabel Allende, and has been lucky enough to be called a stupid American by her on several occasions. Let me just say that I adore her, I kind of stalk her, in a weird way, but I’m not entirely clear if it is Isabel or her current husband Willie whom I most admire....
So, here you go, a little Isabel fix for those who might want to know...

The office is buzzing about this Chilean award—The National Literary Award—that Isabel is supposed to maybe get. There is talk of the award going to her but then, according to Isabel herself, it only goes to non-best selling authors. Apparently, good literature is supposed to be obscure and hermetic. The National Literary Award is seemingly the most important literary prize in Chile. 

Read more about it here.

The REAL Isabel Allende Blog

My Invented Isabel is the REAL Isabel Allende blog. Others exist, but rest assured I actually KNOW her and she sort of approves of what I write. I say sort of because sometimes I am not sure what she is saying when she yells at me in Spanish. Initially, I’ll be posting quite a bit, since we have a lot to catch up on. September was a very exciting month around here and we want to share it with you. The Chilean miners, who have been buried underground since the summer, are scheduled to come out today, and Isabel is particularly thrilled, having just “visited” them while in Chile. Also, there are a bunch of awards floating about the office. It is hard to keep track of them all...There is a lot going on and the pace is picking up. The plan is to post updates every Wednesday, so stay tuned. Coming next week, a visit with Mario Vargas Llosa, the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and more about Olivia, the shy, dark creature that meanders through Isabel's life...