Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Blog Has A New Home

Our blog has a new home. Same great content just a new address ( You'll be redirected to it so please update your bookmarks and while you are at it check out the new web site.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Poetry For The Weary

As you can imagine, Isabel gets a lot of fan mail. Her assistant sifts through everything here at the office, sorting the mail into three piles that Isabel can go through at her convenience. In general, mail falls into three categories: the stunning, the ordinary, and the scary or obscene. More often than not, fan mail falls into the “stunning” category. For example, Isabel recently received a letter that we just have to share with blog readers. It came in the form of verse from a Brazilian fan named Lázaro Piunti. Here it is, first in Portuguese, then in English:


Quando o cansaço espiritual se revelar acentuado, ante as armadilhas perpetradas pelos iníquos e pelos que não amam,
Recorde-se de Isabel Allende!

Quando os desafios se mostrarem imbatíveis, alimentados pelo egoísmo dos ambiciosos,
Busque vigor e esperança no exemplo de
Isabel Allende!

Nas ocasiões em que o desânimo - nutrido pelos dominadores que não se contentam com pouco - ameaçar sua liberdade,
Refugie-se na coerência e na coragem de
Isabel Allende!

Eis aí uma alma latina, cidadã do mundo, sinal de vida nova, lampejo incandescente, que se revigora a cada passo e momento, devolvendo a Fé no gênero humano.

Sua vida é um poema, suas mensagens crônicas eternais, sua caminhada bálsamo e luz!

Isabel Allende – bênção das galáxias par um mundo contraditório e hostil!

 Lázaro Piunti
(poeta – escritor – cronista)


When spiritual weariness reveals its sharp accents,
set against the traps and snares of the wicked
and those who do not love,
Remember Isabel Allende!

When men of bravado prove unbeatable,
nurtured by their egoism and ambition,
look for energy and hope in the example of
Isabel Allende!

At times when one loses hope and discouragement is nurtured by dictators
not content with but a little, and threaten our liberty,
Take refuge in the coherency and courage of the example of
Isabel Allende

Here is a Latin Soul, a citizen of the world, the single sign of a new life,
an incandescent flash that gives us back our strength at each step
and moment of the way
returning our faith in human kind,

Her life is a poem, her messages chronicles of eternity,
whose passage through our lives brings healing and light!
Isabel Allende — A blessing of the galaxies for a hostile and contradictory world!

(Translated by Thomas Hunter)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Isabel's New Website Goes Live

This week, in addition to being named one of the ten most powerful women authors by Forbes, Isabel has a new website.

Here it is! After ten months of fiddling, the new and improved Isabel Allende website is up this week. Check it out and let us know what you think.

My favorite part of the new site? The different international covers for each book. You might notice that European covers tend to show more skin

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maya's Notebook

The new book is out! Well, so far it’s only out in Spanish; look for it in English next year. To celebrate the launch of Maya’s Notebook (El cuaderno de Maya), Isabel is jetting off to Spain, where she will present the novel at the Madrid Book Fair from June 7 to 12. Later this summer, she and Maya’s Notebook will make their way down to South America. More about that coming soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beading Times

I recently visited Isabel at home. It was a beautiful sunny day but I wasn’t there to sit and chat in the garden. I was interested in seeing what she’s been up to with her favorite hobby.

Because she is not writing a book this year, Isabel has been filling her days with do-gooder causes and such time-killing activities as...beading. Yes, beading. Trust me, the woman makes a mean necklace! Among other talents too numerous to recount just now, but of which I shall endeavor to write about in the future, Isabel creates really lovely jewelry. Her jewelry isn’t for sale, though. Isabel gives her necklaces to her friends and family, as well as to various charitable organizations to be sold as auction items (which by the way are ALL spoken for so don’t bother to ask).

Here she is amongst some of her creations. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Friday!

Catch Isabel this Friday, May 20th 12 – 2pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif.,  where she’ll be at a Literary Luncheon and book reading celebrating the paperback release of Island Beneath the Sea.  The ticket price of $55 includes lunch and a signed book.
Call (415) 927-0960 ext. 1 to reserve a seat.
Book Passage • Corte Madera Store
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, California  94925

Can't attend the event? Order a signed copy!
Please note: lunch is catered by Insalata’s Restaurant. Seriously tasty food!

You can also find Isabel on May 25th 7 – 9pm at the Rafael Theater, in San Rafael, Calif., for an on-stage conversation and introduction of  Nostalgia for the Light, a Chilean documentary by Patricio Guzmán.

Find out more by clicking here.  You can see trailers for the  Nostalgia for the Light and take a look at the film’s official website by clicking here. Isabel will introduce and discuss a special screening of filmmaker Patricio Guzmán's poetic documentary about Chile's Atacama Desert and its significance for astronomy, archaeology and historical memory. Located more than 10,000 feet above sea level, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth, its thin atmosphere and negligible humidity making it a magnet for astronomers, an ideal location for observatories and an important archive of pre-Columbian civilization. But it was also the site of a concentration camp created in the 1970s by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and today not only scientists wander there, but also mothers and relatives looking for the remains of political prisoners who "disappeared." Veteran Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán has dedicated much of his career to the remembrance of events following the military coup of September 11, 1973, and this personal and beautiful film essay has, in the words of The New York Times, "a moral as well as a metaphysical weight." In Spanish with English subtitles. Writer/Narrator/Director: Patricio Guzmán. (Chile 2010) 90 min. plus discussion.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


After returning home following a little gathering at Isabel’s over the weekend, I was plagued by one nagging question: Who the hell was that German guy at the party? And why was he so protective of the Isabel???

When I inquired the next day, here is what Isabel had to say:

Dear Sarah,

In 2006 I had the honor of being one of the eight women who carried the Olympic flag at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.  Unfortunately I was right behind Sofia Loren and in front of Susan Sarandon, so nobody noticed me. Also, in most of the pictures I am under the flag; you can only see my feet. Anyway…getting back to your question. For the event I had a German bodyguard, Thorsten Deckert: 6.7 feet of pure muscle, crew-cut hair, black leather, weapons. He looked very threatening but soon I discovered that he had the soft heart of a maiden and we became friends. He has come to visit us in the Bay Area a couple of times, traveling all the way from the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany.  This time he brought me the most unusual present: one of his police uniforms. It's not exactly my size but I will definitely wear it. In the picture I’m sending you, Thorsten is on the right.

Isabel and Thorsten the German Guy at the party! In case you can't tell, Isabel is on the left....thanks for clarifying that Isabel.

Isabel and Sophia Loren at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

No Calling Out, Raise Your Hand

I saw the documentary American Teacher with Isabel on Tuesday night. It was moving, overwhelming and made me love (even more) all the teachers out there doing what I think is the toughest job. I work in my daughter’s school one day a week as a teacher's aide, and I can tell you one day a week is all I can do. It is the hardest (and the most rewarding) day of my week by far. 
      American Teacher was produced by former public school teacher Nínive Calegari and Dave Eggers, the author of several extraordinary books and co-founder (with Calegari) of 826 Valencia, a very successful writing program for school kids in San Francisco that has been copied in several cities across the U.S. For More information check out the Teacher Salary Project.

Here is what Isabel had to say after seeing the film:

Dear Sarah,
I felt so angry and embarrassed watching this documentary! We spend $640 billion annually on the military, more than all the other countries in the world COMBINED (and we don't have any enemies to speak of), but we don't invest the minimum needed for education. We are lagging behind most Western nations in the quality of education. This problem has been studied, documented, discussed extensively and is now a hot issue, but no one is really addressing the need to change the status of teachers, value them, and give them a decent income. That's where our taxes should be going!! The film Waiting for Superman blamed the failure of our educational system on the quality of the teachers and the fact that, due to the unions, it's hard to get rid of the bad ones. American Teacher considers the problem from a different perspective, one that exposes the reality of any normal teacher's life: the low salaries; the few incentives or economic increments; the incredibly long hours, up to 65 or 70 hours per week (and that’s not counting the extra jobs that most of them have in order to make ends meet); the lack of respect from the community; and the fact that they have to buy didactic material, even pencils, out of their own money because public schools can't provide what is needed. The work conditions are so bad that few college students even consider teaching as a career, and most teachers quit after four of five years on the job.  The documentary follows the struggles of several teachers, calls for action, and raises some important questions. What sort of nation do we want to be? How are we going to fend in the global economy if we can't even prepare our kids to compete?  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Breaking News!

Isabel will be signing at the Latin book Fair in Los Angeles this coming Saturday!
 A branch of the Guadalajara Book Fair, it is the largest in the world for books in Spanish. There are so many Spanish speaking people in the U.S. that it makes sense to have this book fair in Los Angeles. There is one every year in Miami, which is very well attended, and now there is one on the West Coast. If you are in Los Angeles, please come!
Click here for a link to the event.  
And here is more information: 
The University of Guadalajara and by the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) is set to launch one of the most ambitious events ever held to promote Spanish: LéaLA, the first Spanish-language book fair in California. This three-day event seeks to encourage reading and promote Spanish-language books and English-language books written by U.S. Latino authors.

Sisters of Perpetual Disorder

Isabel tells me that on Sunday (Easter) her tribe gathered for the first pool party of the year. They had brunch and then went to see the movie Water For Elephants, based on the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen. It's the story of a young veterinary student who joins the circus in the thirties, during the Depression. He falls in love with the wife of the owner of the circus, played by the great Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who portrays a perfect psychopath villain. But the real star of the movie, of course, is Rosie the elephant. 

More news from Isabel:
Dear Sarah,

On Friday, April 22, I hosted a conversation with Jean Shinoda Bolen at Book Passage, my favorite bookstore, located here in Marin County. A psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, and spiritual teacher, Jean just published Like a Tree, which is her tenth book. We have been friends for nineteen years and are both members of a small circle of women that we call "Sisters of Perpetual Disorder." It was a lovely evening, with elegant round tables, Chilean wine (Veramonte; you can get it a Cost Plus) and food from Insalata. People commented that Jean and I should go on the road as stand-up comediennes. Maybe…but we would have to stand on fat telephone books because we are both rather short in stature!

Next Wednesday, April 27, Judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain is coming for dinner. Garzón is a criminal lawyer and judge who gained worldwide notoriety in October 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.  Since then he has been involved in several cases regarding high profile criminals and human rights abuses, but when he tried to uncover and publicize the crimes of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, he was attacked by the extreme right in his country and lost his job. Apparently, for some people, it's acceptable to prosecute foreign criminals but not their own. (We will have catering by Visconti and, of course, wine by the famous Chilean winemaker, Agustin Huneeus, who makes award-winning wine in Chile and Napa Valley).


With so much going on, I wrote back to ask her if she was doing much reading these days. (She is on sabbatical, after all.) But it sounds like I don’t need to worry; there are still a million books on her bedroom side table. So of course I asked her for a few recommendations.

Her response:

I finished reading Ann Patchett's new novel, State of Wonder, and enjoyed it very much. She is the author of several books; probably the best known is Bel Canto, which you HAVE to read. This new novel is a very entertaining adventure about a group of scientists in search of a miraculous drug in the Amazon.

I also read A Widow's Story: A Memoir, by Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific writers I know (the other one being Mario Vargas Llosa).  She wrote A Widow's Story: A Memoir, which is a no-nonsense, sharp memoir, after the loss of her lifelong husband. She didn't remain alone for long, however; she recently married a scientist. Joyce has written more than fifty books and I have to wonder how she found time to date!!

Fifty books! Chop chop, Isabel, you better get cracking!

On a related note, here is a preview of the new Isabel Allende website, where we will attempt to showcase many of her international first edition book covers. Isabel has only written eighteen books but they have been translated into thirty-five languages. So that’s a lot of covers for us to show off. I can’t wait!

Sneak peek: Some of the many covers of The House of the Spirits.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Remember last week’s post about the accumulation of stuff, excess shopping and eating too well? Well, Lori and Isabel sent me lots of photos during their NYC trip, and in the all photos they seem to be either shopping or fawning over the fine young man at DKNY.

Isabel with Ina...SHOPPING!
Hmmm. But it’s not as bad as it looks. Isabel tells me that most of the shopping took place BEFORE the workshop. (Ah, that explains it!) Here is what she writes:

Sarah, here’s more about the trip to NYC:

Meet Ina. She is a new and dear friend of Lori’s. Ina and Lori met in Oaxaca at a Mary Ellen Mark photography workshop. This absolutely, charming woman owns five up-scale consignment stores in SoHo with fabulous clothes—especially handbags—and she took us shopping a day before the Omega Conference, and fortunately we had not yet heard Geneen Roth warn against compulsive shopping. We bought something at all five stores!  Look for INA stores if you are in New York.

We also bought a lot of stuff at the DKNY store on Madison Avenue just because the sales person was a handsome Colombian guy by the name of Rodolfo Duque. (See his picture.) We didn’t want him to think that we were cheap...

Rudolfo @ DKNY: I'll take one of him please!
We saw an extraordinary play: War Horses. I can’t even begin to describe it, I can only say I was profoundly moved by the power of art. During the First World War (1914-18) ten million people and eight million horses died. The horses in the play are phenomenal sculptures, life size, completely movable and expressive. Two minutes into the first act I could have sworn that they were real horses. This play reinforced my conviction that war is madness. The only hope for peace is that women get really involved in the management of the world. We have to get rid of the patriarchy; we need a leap in evolution, for Goddess sake!!

For a little hint of what War Horses it like, see this YouTube movie:

After I viewed the one-minute clip I started to cry, so I know I cannot EVER see that play. 
Here also is a link to a TED conference with the puppeteers that created the horses, fascinating!
Click here for that.

Isabel Allende Interview (The Artist Toolbox)

Watch this amazing interview this week only! Click Here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Workshop Addicts

Lori and Isabel have been in New York for the last week. I have missed them both very much. I have so many things to blog about right now it is an embarrassment of riches as they say. I wanted to know all about the workshop they attended and I asked Isabel to tell me about it, this is what I got (I was eating a cinnamon roll wearing a new shirt when I read this, the end made me cry! OH, and note, she even remembered to put an "h" on my name!):

Dear Sarah, 
Lori and I had such a good time at the Omega Women’s Conference in New York (April 1-3) that we decided to go back every year. We may become workshop addicts. We had three enlightening (and very entertaining) workshops, one with Geneen Roth about the way we handle food and we spend money, and two about resilience with Joan Borysenko. There you have two wise spiritual women who also look great! 

With Roth I learned a lot about food and money. I had never seen the connection between them but the truth is that the way one does something is the way one does everything. That means, for example, that if one overeats without paying attention, trying to compensate for loneliness, anxiety or any other negative feeling, most probably one buys unnecessary stuff with the same compulsion and for the same reasons. Eating and shopping can never satisfy the perpetual hunger of the soul. What do I really want?  What would feel good in my body? We live in a mad culture that emphasizes body image and consumerism. The mark of our madness is when we accumulate more than we need.

I came out of the workshop determined to never weigh myself again, eat only when I am hungry, and think before putting anything in my mouth. The same for shopping: buy what I need and think before I do it. My closet is full of several identical black skirts and tops, absurd dressy stuff that I never wear, and high heels in which I couldn’t possibly walk. I keep buying make-up with the fantasy that a particular shade of lipstick will give me Julia Roberts sex-appeal. 

Borysenko taught about resilience and strength. She said that resilient people are not pessimistic or overly optimistic, they are realists. Pessimists take everything personally, they are paranoid or they blame themselves. Optimists tend toward magical thinking and usually end up very disappointed. Realists, however, evaluate the problem and look for ways to optimize their possibilities. Resilient people can think outside the box, they have a sense of humor, they reach out for support, and they are not afraid of change, because for them difficulties are challenges. They hang in there when the temptation is to bolt away from scary situations. 

Part of the workshop was about faith but not religious faith only. In one of the exercises we had to get in pairs—terrified, I clung to Lori—and each person had five minutes to talk about faith from the heart, without thinking much. I discovered that I have faith in my capacity to get back on my feet and my intuition; I have faith in Willie, my current husband, Nico, my permanent son, and Lori my blessed daughter-in-law. I also have faith that everything in the immense universe and beyond is connected, we are all particles of the same spirit, unlimited, indestructible, divine, so I don’t have to worry about my minuscule self or my minuscule (albeit wonderful) life. 

Joan Borysenko talked a lot about forgiveness because, how can you be resilient if your energy is wasted in grudges and you live in the past? The first step is to forgive oneself, then to dispute one’s negative story. People often play the victim in their own life stories. I don’t have that problem: I am always Zorro in the narration of my epic life. As a writer, I know that if I change three adjectives in a paragraph I can change the tone and the mood of a scene. Here’s an example: It was a cold and rainy day when the maiden met the bulky stranger who would change her life. Now change three adjectives: It was a crisp and luminous day when the maiden met the handsome stranger who would change her life. Personally, I have chosen carefully the adjectives to create my own Technicolor legend. Try it. Don’t worry if it digresses a little from the truth, nobody is checking.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Travels with Isabel

Isabel and Lori, her daughter-in-law and the executive director of the Isabel Allende Foundation, are traveling to NY this weekend to attend an Omega Institute conference entitled Resilience: A Retreat for Women. Omega co-founder Elizabeth Lesser will be hosting the event, along with Geneen Roth and Joan Borysenko, two noted experts on women’s health and spirituality. Learn more about it here. Lesser's book, Broken Open comes highly recommended. I am going to have to check it out! Take a look at it here. 

With so much going on, I emailed Isabel this morning to check in and ask her a few questions:

How was your trip to San Antonio? Hey, aren't you on a sabbatical? You seem to be traveling so much?

I attended the first fundraiser for the Women and Girls Development Fund in San Antonio, a lovely lunch attended by 700 generous women and several smart teenage girls. Yes, it's my sabbatical, but this organization fits like a glove with the mission of my own foundation: empowerment of women and girls.  I am convinced that's the only way we can end patriarchy and save the world.  I had a good time in San Antonio, a city with Latin flavor and great cultural life.

Who took care of Olivia?

Nico and Lori took care of Olivia for two days and a night.  She is one of those silly dogs with abandonment issues and although I explained to her that we would come back soon, she spent day and night with her nose glued to the door, waiting.  Someone recommended a psychotherapist for dogs but Willie said "Over my dead body," so that's that!

How about this upcoming trip to New York?

On Wednesday Lori and I will attend the Omega Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City. San Antonio was 93º and the humidity curled my hair, which is normally limp.  In New York it's snowing.  It's hard to pack nowadays.

So—as Isabel would say—that’s that! I look forward to hearing all about New York and the Omega conference when she returns.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Fan of the Year

photo by Maria Emilia Moncayo © 2011 

photo by Maria Emilia Moncayo © 2011 
We have all fallen in love with Marino. Isabel's daughter-in-law and Executive Director of the Isabel Allende Foundation Lori met Marino—the Isabel Allende Fan of the Year—on a recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she was participating in a Mary Ellen Mark photography workshop. It was actually a fellow student, Maria Emilia Moncayo, who happened upon him. While taking photos of Marino's farm and family, Maria stumbled upon Marino’s extensive Allende library. Maria shot a few photos of Marino and, as you can see, he’s clearly enraptured by "the" Isabel Allende.

When Maria told Marino that Isabel Allende's daughter-in-law was just a few hours away in Oaxaca, he made the journey into the city to meet up with her, delivering a packet of lovely poems for Isabel, all beautifully written on handmade paper.

Here are the photos and a scan of two of the poems. It must be nice to be so loved…

Well, now Marino has fans of his own. We love you too, Marino!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

San Antonio or Bust

After a week of storms, complete with power outages, hail, thunder and lightning, My Invented Isabel is back.

I asked Isabel for something blog-worthy and she told me about her upcoming trip to Texas to speak on behalf of the Women & Girls Development Fund. The organization must be pretty special, because this trip is one of the few she’s taking during her yearlong sabbatical. What she writes about makes me want to travel to San Antonio just to learn more:

March 26 I will be in San Antonio to speak at a wonderful event: The Women & Girls Development Fund’s Poetry Slam Luncheon. The Fund’s mission is exactly that of my Foundation: to empower women and girls. It is a proven fact that the best possible investment in fighting poverty is to provide women with education, health and protection from violence. If you give a woman a small loan, she will spend it in her family or start a small business, such as buying a couple of goats. Soon she may come out of extreme poverty and her family will do better. The same loan to a man would allow him to buy something that gives him status, like a bike. Empowering women benefits the family, the community, the village and eventually the nation. The most backward societies in the world are those in which women are held down. Yet, for every $20 that most governments and philanthropies spend on men’s programs, only $1 is invested in women’s programs.  Less than 2 cents of every development dollar goes to girls, and 9 out of 10 programs are aimed at boys. The good news is that there is a new generation of idealistic and generous young Americans willing to correct this appalling disparity with their contributions and their work.

The event will be a luncheon. Please Google it and if you are in the area, try to attend. It will be fun!

Here are a few links about the event in San Antonio:
San Antonio's Home page
San Antonio Area Foundation

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Edition

I have the job this week of finding and scanning all of Isabel's first edition books. On the surface it sounds pretty easy—until you visit the library. That is, Isabel's personal, all-Allende library. Okay, so the English first editions number 18 in total and were pretty easy to find—I am actually scanning those as I write this. It is kind of fun, really.

THEN there are the international editions…oh boy. To see what I mean, take a look at the photos in this week's posting to see just a few examples. 

I don't even know what half these languages are, so this could take a long time. While there are many international editions currently listed on the website, there are still a bunch missing and I am going to attempt to find them all.

Remember, Isabel has written 18 books, which have been translated into 35 languages! I personally doubt that I could even come up with a list of 35 languages, at least not without the help of the Internet.

Wish me luck. I will post a link to the page when the books are all sorted.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lost In Translation

At Isabel’s office we are working on translating—for obvious reasons—her English website into Spanish. I am ready to give up! This project is taking forever; she is just too picky about language. Who cares about grammar and spelling anymore? Text messaging and twittering took care of that a long time ago; Isabel is dated, her age is showing. Just for fun, I translated this into English:

El chico abrió la puerta y se enfrentó a unas pupilas negras de expresión inquisidora.   Sintió que se le helaba la sangre ante el recuerdo de los horrores cometidos del bandolero.  Temblando, se hizo a un lado y lo invitó con un gesto tímido.  “Entre no más y tome asiento mientras voy a buscarle un cafecito.”

The short person opened the door and confronted the Inquisitor looking expressively at the Black female pupils.  He felt ice-cream in his blood before the horrid souvenirs and commissions of the band player.  He gave a footstep to the side in the earthquake  and said: “Come in no more and drink a seat whereas I go searching for small coffee beans.”

And, just for fun, the Google Translate version:
The boy opened the door and confronted a black pupils inquisitive expression. He felt his blood run cold at the memory of the horrors of the bandit. Trembling, he stepped aside and invited him with a timid gesture. "Between no more and take a seat while I go fetch a coffee."
Isabel with Jimmy Carter?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Isabel Goes Hiking

When Isabel stopped by the office this morning I looked her up and down and asked, jokingly, "What are you dressed up for? Are you going hiking?" To which she replied, "Yes, actually, I am. How did you know?" 

This, by the way, is what she was wearing. Note the shoes!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When is Valentine's Day?

Last week I asked Isabel what she was doing for Willie for Valentine’s Day. Her answer? "When is Valentine's Day?"

Uh oh. That was supposed to be the subject of this week’s blog entry. Realizing I was dealing with a foreigner with no clue about the holiday, I quickly came up with a few alternate questions:

Q. Do you know many other Chilean Americans here in the U.S.? Do they automatically assume you should meet them since, you know, you come from the same place and all?

A. I have a few Chilean American friends. Sometimes Chilean tourists come to the Bay Area with the idea of dropping by my house and simply knocking at the door. Before, I would try to be gracious and offer them a cup of tea, but when I had the stupid idea of writing in The Sum of Our Days that our door is always open, and people started coming as if it was a restaurant, we had to put a stop to the invasion. 

Q. When Americans go to live in, say, Paris, they’re called "expats.” What do you call Chileans who live abroad?

A. Chileans abroad don't have a term to define themselves. We are always Chilean. We are good travelers and reluctant immigrants, and in the seventies and eighties many of us became sad exiles, but our roots are so strong that we never quite adapt in another land; we carry Chile in the bones.
Q. Do you hold dual citizenship? If so, was the citizenship test hard to pass? Being a stupid American, I can barely spell citizenship, let alone tell you how many states there are in the U.S....I am not kidding about that, sometimes I think it is 50; other times I say 52. Alaska and Hawaii always confuse me...

A. I have two passports, a foot in Chile and one in the United States. I prepared for the citizenship test in l992, the year my daughter Paula was slowly dying in our home. I would sit next to her bed, holding her hand, and memorize the book I had bought for the test. I had nothing else to distract myself at that time, so I did my homework and passed with honors. Five years before, when I had applied for my green card, they didn't ask me about the USA, they just wanted to know if I was one of those illegal immigrants who get married for the residency. Willie and I were interrogated in separate rooms. They asked him what toothpaste I used and they asked me which one he used. To this day neither of us has any idea which toothpaste is in the bathroom because it changes all the time: whatever is on sale in Costco, that's what we get.

Q. In your mind, who is the hottest/sexiest man in each of the following categories:

Movie star: Antonio Banderas, still, and I have always secretly liked Bruce Willis. These two tough males are loaded with testosterone but they are soft inside, and they have an irresistible self-deprecating humor. They knock me off my knickers. (Is this a proper American expression?)

Politician: Barack Obama. Just look at him!!

Musician: My grandson singing in the shower.

General contractor: I prefer firemen.
Writer: William C. Gordon, writer of detective stories.

Humanitarian:  Humanitarians are definitely not sexy. Who wants to be in bed with a guy who saves the tuna?

Philanthropist: It used to be Paul Newman. I will have to check around to see who has replaced him.

Cowboy: Jackie Chan.

Artist: A friend of mine called Ward Schumaker.

Chef: Definitely Willie.

At the end of our Q&A session, Isabel told me to order a tall blonde for Willie for this holiday we call Valentine's. Needless to say I did no such thing. Who would want a tall blonde when you can have an Isabel?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is That A Wig? or Bim Bam Bum

Isabel sent me a video link. "Perhaps you can use it for the blog, no?" A confusing statement for a stupid American...The link itself is confusing since I have NO idea what these Spanish speakers are saying, sadly; they speak so rapidly. I considered dubbing it in English but haven't got the energy somehow. I have been a little under the weather and am just now well enough to watch (and re-watch) this funny wonder from the past. There are unmistakable gestures she makes here in this little video clip that are so purely Isabel I can hardly stand it, they are so endearing. The host of the show clearly wants to get into her pants...And what is up with Isabel dressed as a Vegas showgirl? What a stunning little thing she is. Watch and tell me what they are saying; Isabel hasn't the time to fill me in. She is too busy—probably going to the spa since she isn't writing...
note: Isabel appears 55 seconds into the video, it is worth the wait!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Oscars and Chocolate

I tried to get Isabel to tell me what her Oscar picks are this year but our conversation quickly turned into a heavy, depressing rant (on Isabel’s part) involving women's rights, the global economy, arrogant and selfish men with no concern for human values or human lives, the horrific treatment of women at Ivy League universities, Javier Bardem’s alleged bad temper, and chocolate (see note below). I figure I will spare readers the specifics and mention that Isabel did say she liked the movie The Kids Are Alright, and that she wished to see more of Antonio Banderas. Is he even still alive? 

She also mentioned that she had just finished a fabulous audiobook— Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. It’s the story of a young Nigerian girl who witnesses the most brutal extermination of her whole village by soldiers paid by an oil company, and who and ends up in London as a refugee. “You have to read that book!” she told me as she dashed out the door. Click here to buy it!

Um, yeah, sounds great, Isabel—really uplifting. I’ll be putting it on hold at the library just as soon as I finish writing this…

P.S. The chocolate refers to the kind of man Isabel likes: “Men who are tough on the outside and soft on the inside, like the best See's Candies.”   

Hmm. Come to think of it, we have been through several boxes of See's Candies at the office this year… 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Looking for something to read or watch?

Isabel came into the office for a few minutes to check in with us. I asked her what she was reading and she told me she is on disc six of an audiobook called A Gate at the Stairs, which was written by Lorrie Moore. She said it is about a teenager who babysits a mixed race child who has been adopted by a weird white family, and that she expects something bad is going to happen at any point since the baby is at the top of the stairs and there are all these gates and tricky steps. She figures it is just a matter of time before the name of the book plays into it. Click here for a link. 
Isabel also mentioned two foreign movies she recently saw and loved. One is called Zelary, a World War II-era Czech film that came out in 2003 and was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. It is about a highly educated urban woman who is a nurse and who saves the life of a mountain man with a transfusion of her blood. She is involved in the resistance against the Nazis and when she needs to find a safe place to hide, she goes to the man whose life she saved and he takes her in. Since he lives in the country—and, as Isabel puts it, “they are different there”—she must marry the man in order to stay hidden. The film is about the dynamics of their relationship, how it evolves, their two worlds, and the war. Isabel made it sound so moving I feel I must go out and rent it for the night. 
The other movie, a German film called Cherry Blossoms, sounds equally stunning. After an elderly wife finds out that her husband is dying (he doesn’t know), they decide to visit their children and grandchildren in Berlin. On a side trip to the Baltic Sea, however, SHE suddenly dies! The husband realizes that his wife had never really done anything for herself and that she died without getting to do what she really wanted, which was to travel to Japan and to see Mt. Fuji and dance a certain shadow dance. He decides to live her dream for her, traveling to Japan and doing the things he realizes she wanted. 
Isabel described this movie so beautifully—I was weeping a little by the end—that I feel like I would be disappointed by the actual film. Still, I’m also planning to check it out for the weekend. 
Isabel chatting with us this morning..Who looks this good on a Tuesday morning?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 8th

January 8th has come and gone, and here is a news flash: Isabel did NOT start a new book! She did not. Ever since January 8, 1981, when Isabel first started writing a spiritual farewell to her dying grandfather—a letter that later become her first novel, The House of the Spirits—she has begun all of her books on January 8th. Isabel was in exile in Venezuela when her grandfather was dying, and she was unable to visit him. This is what she told me about that letter:

I remembered everything he had ever told me—about his life, the family anecdotes, the history of our country. As soon as I began the letter I realized it was not a normal letter; it was part novel, part memoir, part family saga and political chronicle. My grandfather died without reading the letter and I continued to write at night and on the weekends in the kitchen of our apartment. I had a day job in a school and I worked 12 hours a day, so I didn't have much free time, but I was obsessed with the writing. By the end of the year I had 500 pages of a very dirty manuscript on the kitchen counter. My first novel, The House of the Spirits, had been born. It had coffee and food stains, and some of the pages had been corrected with Typex so much that they looked like cardboard. Remember that computers didn't exist at that time; I wrote in an old small typewriter. Correcting wasn't easy. If I needed to add something or change a paragraph, I had to write it on another page, cut it and insert it with scotch tape, so some pages were much longer than others; the manuscript was difficult to handle. When it was done and my mother read it, she objected to the villain's name because I had given him my father's family name (on his mother's side). I had to find a name with the same number of letters; once I did, my kids, Paula and Nico, went page by page looking for the word, erasing it with Typex, inserting the page back in the typewriter and typing the new name that would fit exactly in the space. We did it very carefully but we missed one instance and the first edition of The House of the Spirits has a weird character that appears only once and no one knows who the heck he is. A critic thought it was magic realism...
Eventually Isabel got a computer!
This story changes slightly every time I hear it—often at one of her readings or just when I ask about it—but I love it because, in the end, perhaps it is me remembering it differently every time. Either way, it’s a charming story and I am glad to have this version first-hand for the blog.

The House of the Spirits was a huge success in Europe and on the advice of her agent, Carmen Balcells, Isabel wrote a second book, again starting it on that 8th day of January. This time the start date was for luck, since Carmen had warned that a first book, though not easy, was often charmed; the second could prove her skill. That second book, Of Love and Shadows, also did well, and so the third book, Eva Luna, was also started on January 8th. It, too, was a success and that’s when Isabel says it became scary:

What if I started writing on another date and the book was a flop?? 
She continued:

After a few years and a few books, January 8th became a good habit; it gave me discipline. By then my life was complicated—I had to travel, lecture, do innumerable interviews, I was getting tons of mail—so if I didn't organize my calendar I would never have the time, solitude, and silence I needed for each book. That's why I have kept January 8th as my sacred day in the year, the day I lock myself away and start a new book. I have not started something new every year, because sometimes it takes me more than a year to write a book, but I have started every book on the same day.   

In 2002 I decided it was time for me to take a sabbatical and fill up my reservoir; I had been working too hard for too long. I wrote down my sabbatical resolution, put it in a sealed envelope, and placed it on my altar. Then I forgot about it. 
Eight years later I found the envelope and decided that I really, really needed that sabbatical. I cleared my calendar for 2011.

This is my year of resting, reading novels, playing with Olivia (my dog), learning crafts, dancing, walking in the woods, and charging my batteries.

So what was Isabel doing if she wasn't locked away on January 8th beginning her next novel?

On January 8th I spent the day in a spa...


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Premio

On December 29 Isabel attended the ceremony of the National Prizes (Premios Nacionales) in Santiago, Chile. the Chilean government grants the Premio to distinguished persons who have excelled in their professions and in service of the country.  This year the awardees were two scientists, a historian, a musician and Isabel. (Interesting side note: Only three other women have ever won the Premio award. Isabel joins Gabriela Mistral, Marta Brunet and Marcela Paz.)

Upon receiving her award, Isabel got all emotional, although it wasn’t because it was a surprise—she’s known about the prize since September (see posting Willie is NAKED).  The ceremony took place in a beautiful old building that originally was a convent.  A small orchestra played songs from l810, the year Chile declared independence from Spain, while President Piñera and the Minister of Education handed diplomas and rather large checks to the five awardees.  Isabel gave her check to her parents but has yet to let go of the diploma. She carries it around like an umbrella and keeps showing it to everybody. Because I love her I don’t have the heart to tell her it is weird to keep showing this thing around now that she’s back, given that so many of us cannot read Spanish. After the ceremony everyone was treated to hot dogs and chips. Wait, that was Jerry Brown's party… never mind.

Isabel standing between Joaquin Lavin, the Minister of Education, left, and President Sebastian Piñera. Also pictured, far left to right, are the other Premio Nacional award winners.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Panchita!

As you may remember from last week’s blog, Isabel was out of the country for the holidays. I saw her when she returned on New Year’s Day and I have to tell you that she looked fantastic. How someone who has just flown for 22 hours can look that good I will never know. Really, she was radiant!

Here is something else I have to tell you: Isabel was wearing a beautiful Eskandar poncho. Only it wasn’t really an Eskander poncho. It was an Isabel Eskandar knock-off! I will have to fill you in on Isabel’s sewing abilities sometime, but that is for another entry. For now, I want tell you about her mother’s birthday party.

Isabel’s mom, Panchita, turned 90 in December. (That means she was born in 1920. Think about that for a minute!) But Isabel says she is 90 going on 60. In true Panchita fashion, she celebrated her birthday in great style. She bought herself a bride’s trousseau—enough clothes to last several decades. (Apparently she is planning to live to be 130.) Isabel threw a fantastic party for her. It was held under a large white tent decorated with loads of fresh flowers. She invited all of Panchita’s relatives and friends—the ones who still have their marbles if not necessarily their teeth. The average age of the partygoers was 80; in total there were approximately 5,200 years under that tent.  An organ grinder and a flower girl greeted the guests, each of whom was immediately served a Pisco Sour, a traditional Chilean cocktail strong enough to fell a Cossack. Click here for a recipe. (Scroll down halfway to learn the proper [i.e., Chilean] way to mix the drink.) 

If anyone can tell me how to get one of these I will be eternally grateful! I am talking about the organ, not the grinder....hmmm, that could theoretically be taken out of context....

Soon enough pretty much everyone was tipsy and happy. A magician went around doing tricks with cards, and a charming female singer with an impressive bosom sang popular love songs from the 1930s and 40s. All the old folks sang along, especially Ramon, Panchita’s husband, who is 94 and has a nice tenor voice—a good thing, since he’s not exactly shy. There were so many candles on the cake that the icing was mostly melted wax, but it still tasted good. Isabel cried nonstop, mainly because Pisco Sours have the opposite effect on her: whereas most people who drink them tend to become quite jolly, she becomes very melancholic.

Ramon is so handsome. I love a man with crazy eyebrows!