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  • WOW Factor: Book Guides

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Some years ago, when moving to Mexico was merely a twinkle in my eye, I turned to books for guidance. Books have always been my go-to’s for all things life-decisions-related. You can count on a good book — one that’s been carefully researched and written, edited and fact-checked — to be a solid source of info, I’ve found. Friends and acquaintances might give their opinions, which, of course, I value. But for me, books have the last word on most decisive issues.

    While I was still living in Taos and teaching at the University of New Mexico branch there but gradually planning for retirement, I researched books on the subject of retiring in Mexico and ordered five from Amazon. Each of my chosen books spoke to me, in different ways, and each contributed to my informed decision to retire here: a decision I’ve never for one moment regretted making.

    New York Times’ best-selling author Tony Cohan’s classic On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel (published in 2001), was the first of those five I read. This evocatively written memoir tells the story of how he and his then-wife came to SMA from Los Angeles for a visit, quickly absorbed the town’s sensual ambiance, eventually found and refurbished a crumbling 250-year-old house, and became entwined in the daily drama of Mexican life. ...

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  • WOW Factor: Three Men and a Pickup

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: I’m all in now. All it took — after I’d finished my sorting, packing, taping, labeling, grouping, stacking (and fretting) over the course of these past couple of weeks – was three young Mexican men, one pickup truck, two trips (within a short distance), all in under one hour, to move into my sunny new studio apartment here in San Miguel de Allende.

    I was, I confess, in awe of these three men – how strong, efficient, and capable they were. They’re not professional movers, just friends of a friend who were willing to take the time to help me. (But I paid them, of course). They carried furniture and heavy boxes down flights of stairs and up other flights of stairs as though they were carrying bouquets of flowers. On a sweltering day in late May (May is the hottest month here), they hardly broke a sweat. ...

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  • WOW Factor: My New Friend Frida

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: I’m still muy ocupado, carefully and thoughtfully packing for my move next week – but taking things poco a poco, as we strive to do here in Mexico. (See last week’s post for the fuller story.) So I’ve asked my new friend Frida to come to my rescue and provide this week’s WOW post.

    To be totally honest (is there any other way to be?), Frida is a fictitious friend; and it’s just the fictional story of my efforts to befriend her that will serve as this week’s post.

    This story, “Frida and Me,” as you may have noted as a post script in my previous WOW post, was recently named a finalist in a flash-fiction contest by The Ekphrastic Review, an online journal edited and founded by Canadian writer and artist Lorette C. Luzajic, devoted entirely to writing inspired by visual art. For more about this marvelous journal, go to: https://www.ekphrastic.net/about.html

    If you didn’t have the chance to click on the link I gave last week to get to the contest’s finalists, here is Frida Khalo’s self-portrait, “Me and My Parrots,” and my ekphrastic response to it, in full ...

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  • Reluctant Nomad

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Part of me looks with envy on people who’ve managed to stay put — people who’ve remained in the homes and towns and countries of their origin. How secure it must feel to be deeply rooted in a place, as solid and immovable as a massive oak tree.

    This hasn’t been my destiny. I’ll soon be moving again, to another small apartment here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This will be my fourth such move in the six years I’ve been here.

    The first move was into an attractively priced neighborhood, which turned out to be extremely dangerous. (How could I, a naïve, newly retired, newby in the country, have known this?) Soon after that apartment was broken into in broad daylight and I was robbed, I moved again, to what I liked to call my “penthouse” – a small casita on the azotea (rooftop) of an old apartment complex near centro. ...

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  • WOW Factor: Amazing Women

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Exactly seven years ago – on May 6, 2014 – I published my very first WOW blog post. It was an interview with an amazing woman, Grace Fichtelberg, whom I affectionately call “my Amazing Grace,” now 97 years old.

    I’d met Grace, a diminutive woman with soft white hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, a radiant smile, and a strong New York accent, in Taos, New Mexico, in 2007 when she, at 83, was a student in my first Creative Nonfiction Writing course at UNM-Taos. She subsequently attended every creative writing class I taught in Taos, and we all – her fellow students and I — learned a lot from her and her stories.

    Undaunted in her eighties then, and now her nineties, Grace continues to pursue her lifelong desire to be an accomplished writer – a goal she’d had to postpone while she was married, raising three children, and doing office work to help support the family on the East Coast. In fact, the first writing course she took, she told me, was at The New School for Social Research in New York in the late 1940s. It was there that she met her future husband, Jack, to whom she was happily married from 1950 until his death in 1998. ...

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  • Gardens of Delight

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: When it came time for me to leave Ségou, Mali, in early 2001, I invited my landlord, a grand type (“big shot”), as the Africans would say, businessman from the capital, Bamako, whom I’d never met in person, to come and inspect his house, which I’d been renting for nearly three years.

    At the time I’d moved into this house, a three-bedroom, one-story, cement-block structure in a middle-class Malian neighborhood, it was nine years old and had never been lived in. Its surrounding grounds were as flat, dusty and lifeless as a desert. To me, though, this baked earth looked like a blank canvas, and I made its transformation one of my creative projects there.

    Mali is a hot, dry, land-locked country in West Africa, bordering the Sahara, with daytime temperatures frequently at or near 120 F. (48.8 C.) — the polar opposite of “lush.” But I was determined to make a garden with my own two hands, which I’ve always enjoyed getting dirty, and then-strong back, made even stronger by pulling up countless buckets from my well to water all the plants every day. Although I was just a beginner, a true amateur, the resulting lush garden became my delight. ...

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  • Quality of Life

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: A dear, sweet friend wrote to me last week on learning of my recent ulcerative colitis diagnosis and considerable weight loss. Among the many kind and empathetic words she wrote were, “I hope that your quality of life is not too impaired.”

    This got me thinking. “Quality of life”? What’s that? I literally had to research its meaning. In that moment, the concept felt foreign to me.

    According to Crispin Jenkinson, writing in Britannica, “quality of life” is defined as “the degree to which an individual is healthy, comfortable, and able to participate in or enjoy life events.” The term is inherently ambiguous, he says, and highly subjective.

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  • Take a Book, Leave Another

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: It’s a fanciful image, I know, but I think of them as delicious mushrooms, popping up here and there now around this city, as well as elsewhere in the world. I came across a brand new one the other day as I walked with friends around the pond in our favorite nearby park, Parque Zeferino, and I was stopped in my tracks:

    Here was a newly built and installed sturdy metal box with glass doors and a magnetic latch, designed to hold books, free books to share. Painted in green on the sides of the box are the words “Toma Un Libro, Deja Otro” (Take A Book, Leave Another).

    My book-loving heart did a happy dance. ...

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  • Five O’Clock Sometimes

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: I used to look forward to five o’clock, wherever I was living in the world, because that was the time I allowed myself a glass or two of wine. It was always red wine, the only alcoholic drink I drank, preferably Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile — dependable and affordable — good enough for me.

    This was my daily treat to myself, akin to milk-and-cookies after school when I was a kid, a reward for the day’s labors. As the vino tinto slowly seeped through my body with each sip, I could feel knots in my stomach unknot and the built-up tensions of that day ease. I thought of this wine as pleasant medication, good in every way. It even helped to lower my cholesterol, I bragged to friends.

    I was already well into my twenties before I’d had my first alcoholic drink. Up to that point I feared alcohol. I was afraid I might become like my father. Was the tendency toward alcoholism genetic, I wondered? Was it true that the Scots and the Irish are more prone to alcoholism than other ethnicities? (My father was a full-blooded Scot.) Did he pass that gene, along with a love of books and reading, onto me? I didn’t want to tempt fate. I vowed I would never let that happen to me. ...

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  • A Jacaranda Story

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Every year at this time, which is to say springtime in San Miguel de Allende in the central mountains of Mexico, when the jacaranda trees are in full bloom, dotting the landscape like purple lollipops, I’m flooded with memories.

    I remember the first jacarandas that mesmerized me when I lived in southern Africa in my mid-twenties. I’d never before seen such majestic, purple-robed, spectacularly beautiful trees. These grand árboles lined the broad avenues of what was then known as Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), giving it the well deserved label of “City of Flowering Trees.”

    Springtime there was known as “jacaranda time” among the British colonials, when these trees came into bloom in October and November each year, springtime in the southern hemisphere. What impressed me most and inspired me then about those jacarandas was the juxtaposition of their soaring strength and their seemingly fragile beauty. ...

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  • La Fiesta de la Vacuna

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: It wasn’t my intention to join the line. Curiosity was my draw. I’d heard, as many of us here in San Miguel de Allende had, at the last minute, that first doses of the coronavirus vaccine would be administered in a number of locations over the course of three days, the first day being Friday, March 19th. And one of those places would be my favorite nearby park, Parque Zeferino, where I often go for walks anyway.

    So I walked there that Friday to see. Unlike other people, smarter than I, who had arrived at their chosen location before dawn (it was first-come, first-served, I learned), I moseyed over in late morning, after I’d met my self-imposed deadline of publishing that week’s new WOW post, “Seeing” (http://bonnieleeblack.com/blog/seeing/).

    What I saw was a single-file line that wrapped three-quarters of the way around the periphery of the vast park, outside of the park’s gates, with no terminus in sight. It appeared never-ending, forbidding.

    But I also saw, near the end of that line, an acquaintance named Sallie Kravetz, a photographer and poet active in the literary community here. ...

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  • Seeing

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Always near the top of my morning thank-you-for-my-many-blessings itemized prayer list is this item: “Thank you for legs that walk and eyes that see.” The two go hand in hand for me.

    Living as I do as a retiree here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a beautiful, centuries-old, largely pedestrian city, and not having (or needing) a car, my legs provide both transportation and recreation for me. And on my daily miles-long walks I make a point of stopping frequently to see.

    There’s so much to see.

    This week, for example, I’m seeing that the purple-flowered jacaranda trees are beginning to bloom. These grand, glorious trees, majestic as old oaks, are often halfway hidden behind tall walls. This was my first sighting this year:

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  • Dry Seasons

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Last Sunday when my friends Kharin and Ruth hiked El Charco del Ingenio (The Mill Pond), home of San Miguel de Allende’s exquisite botanical gardens and nature reserve, they discovered to their shock that most of the enormous reservoir there had gone dry. Its bed was cracked and veined, baked in the sun:

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    And last week, when I walked to one of my favorite spots, the duck pond near San Miguel’s art and design center, Fabrica la Aurora, I saw that the pond was mostly dry. Instead of gliding gracefully in the water, as I’ve always loved watching them do, the more than a dozen ducks and geese were waddling disconsolately along the length of the pond’s dry stone bottom ...

    What is going on? I had to wonder. Could this possibly be normal? Should I – and these ducks and all the living beings in the nature reserve as well as in this community — panic? Is this a life-threatening drought? Is climate change to blame? ...

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  • Partly Russian

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: When it’s my turn to receive the coronavirus vaccine here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, it may be that the shot I get is named Sputnik V — from Russia. Russia is one of the five suppliers of the COVID-19 vaccines that Mexico has begun to offer.

    The day I registered for my vaccination and asked Daniel, the young Mexican man who helped me with the online paperwork involved, about the likelihood of this, he answered, “Maybe.”

    “That’s funny,” I told him.

    He looked at me quizzically. So, because he seemed like a patient and interested sort of guy, I tried to explain to him why. ...

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  • A PC Memory

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Sixty years ago, on March 1, 1961, President Kennedy — heart throb to me and all of my fellow teenage girlfriends at the time — established the United States Peace Corps.

    I was not among the thousands of idealistic young people who flocked to answer JFK’s call to “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” and sign up for Peace Corps service. No. In characteristic glacial fashion, I took a lot longer. I was fifty years old when I joined.

    Looking back now, I can see it was a risky decision, for which I was rightly criticized by some friends and family. For one thing, if I hadn’t dropped out of the work force for two years to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa from 1996-98 — and subsequently do independent volunteer economic development work in Mali, West Africa, for three years — I would be receiving more in monthly Social Security payments now that I’m old and retired. That would be nice, of course. ...

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    Leora and me in the Lastoursville marche, c. 1997.

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  • The endurance of stone

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Six years ago this month, when I visited San Miguel de Allende for the first time to attend the world-renown writers conference here, I stayed with my artist friend Sharon from Taos, NM, who, with her husband, had had a second home in SMA for many years.

    After the conference ended and before I left San Miguel to return to Taos and teaching, Sharon was my tour guide, showing me the main art and cultural attractions — including, of course, the Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes — and sharing with me the rich history of this beautiful old colonial city.

    One of the things Sharon said to me on our informal tour stuck fast:

    “San Miguel will never burn down,” she said.

    “Oh, really?” I laughed. “How can you be so sure?”

    “Because it’s all made of stone, and stone doesn’t burn.”

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    In el centro there are said to be over 2,000 doors, behind which there are 2,000 courtyards. The date hammered into this metal door framed in stone reads 1764.

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  • Not just a walk in the park

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Last week, on a particularly dazzlingly bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to return to my former neighborhood near my beloved Parque Benito Juarez here in San Miguel de Allende to visit some of the familiar faces I used to know there. It’s a long walk, but I was up to it. I wanted to know how they were faring in this pandemic.

    In the courtyard by Los Lavaderos, the once-public laundry on the corner of Recreo and Santa Elena, a stone’s throw from the park, I stopped to say hello to a sweet man I used to greet every day on my walks to the park when I lived there. This middle-aged man, shortish and stocky as many Mexican men tend to be, makes his living selling decorative, hammered-tin objects – such as candlesticks, angels, many-pointed stars, mirrors and picture frames – to tourists.

    In the nine months since I moved away, my Spanish-language skills have improved a bit, so I thought he and I might be able to converse, really for the first time.

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    Los Lavaderos near Parque Juarez.

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  • Margaret Atwood Wears Mascara

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: There was a time, which lasted quite some time, when I wouldn’t think of leaving home without wearing makeup. To face the world with a naked face was unthinkable to me then. It just wasn’t done.

    Without makeup brightening my colorless complexion – pale skin and hair, pale eyes, nearly invisible lashes and brows – I looked half-dead, or ready for bed. Makeup was as necessary to me as clothing when entering the outside world.

    And besides, there was my mother’s often-repeated directive echoing in my mind: “You must always look your best, honey!” As a member of the appearances-are-paramount generation, she drummed this belief into her three daughters’ heads. ...

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  • A catering love story

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: The logo for my catering company, Bonnie Fare Catering, which specialized in at-home dinners and cocktail parties in Manhattan and operated from 1986 to ’96, was a place setting with a red-tartan heart in the center of a dinner plate. The tagline read, “Bonnie Fare means good food.” What the logo’s design clearly hoped to convey was that I put my heart into my cooking. Because I did.

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    “Everything is fresh and homemade,” my advertising copy also read, and this was completely true. I made everything myself – including the little heart-shaped Scottish shortbread cookies that were a nod to my Scots heritage — for the joy of it, because I loved to cook. (Recipe follows.)

    I’d changed careers at forty, going from being a well paid writer and editor in the New York corporate world to being a self-employed caterer in the New York food world, because I was hungry for what a new, culinary career had to offer. ...

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  • Slow reading

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Sometime in the mid-seventies, my then-boyfriend John and I saw comedian Robert Klein perform at Carnegie Hall. I remember that our seats in this fabled auditorium were in my favored spot – middle, middle – but I don’t remember much about Klein’s performance. Except for this:

    At one point he pretended to be a young surgeon who’d just breezed through med school, thanks to the Evelyn Wood speed-reading course he’d taken. Imaginary scalpel in hand, bending over his imaginary patient on the imaginary operating table, he hesitated, looked up at us in his audience and worried aloud:

    “Now, was that the liver AND the spleen? Or [he paused], the liver OR the spleen?” ...

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  • Room temp

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Here in San Miguel de Allende, in the central mountains of Mexico, the weather in what passes for “winter” is, in my five-year experience, perfecto. So I must add this to the long list of reasons I’m grateful to live here. Most afternoons these days the temperature outdoors is at or near 72 degrees F. (22 C.): comfy room temp — which, in my opinion, is ideal.

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    On one of my walks to nearby Parque Zeferino this week.

    The sky is almost always a solid, cloudless, brilliant blue. The wind is negligible. The sun is embracingly warm, seldom smotheringly so. The spring and summer rains are months away. Flowering plants bloom in everyone’s lovingly tended gardens. Winter snow? Oh, no. (And, I would add, Thank God.)

    The weather I left when I came down to “Old” Mexico from northern New Mexico to retire was, for me, nearly unbearable six months of the year. As much as I loved Taos for other reasons, from October to April I’d be climatically miserable. Simply put, I’m just not built for the cold. I’m sadly deficient in bodily insulation. ...

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  • Sleep, sweet sleep

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: If I were a scientist, I’d choose to be a sleep researcher. Sleep intrigues me. It mystifies me. Why do we need it? What happens inside our bodies and brains when we get it? Why is it so difficult for some people to achieve enough of it? What can we do about it?

    Obviously, this thing called sleep, which Shakespeare labeled “Nature’s soft nurse,” serves an essential biological function; and the fact that it exists in almost all animal species is, to me, a clear indication that what we commonly refer to as “a good night’s sleep” is fundamental to our overall well-being.

    According to the Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org), “In humans, sleep appears to be critical to both physical and mental development in babies, children, and young adults. In adults, a lack of sleep has been associated with a wide range of negative health consequences, including cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, higher risk of obesity and type II diabetes, impaired thinking and memory, and mental health problems like depression and anxiety. ...

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  • A Very Merry — and Creative — Un-Christmas to You

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    My mother, Lee, my older brother, younger sister, and me — New Jersey, Summer 1950. In this photo Lee was pregnant with my youngest sister.

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: My mother was a spinner – and I don’t mean with yarn. No, she had a way of putting a positive spin on things when we her kids were little. Especially when my father was out of work and there was no money for heating oil, much less presents, she would show my siblings and me the value of creativity.

    In fact, I think now, if she had a long-held religious belief it might have been: Creativity Saves.

    I illustrated this about her in my Peace Corps memoir, How to Cook a Crocodile (Peace Corps Writers, 2010):

    “My mother had a way of turning our circumstances downside-up. Buy a commercially manufactured doll off the shelf of a toy store? Well, anybody could do that! (She didn’t add that we didn’t have the money to do that.) What we could do, because we were blessed with creativity, was make our dolls. Our dolls would be unique in their adorableness. One-of-a-kind! Eventual collectors’ items! The whole concept was thrilling to me. It made me feel proud.” ...

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  • Christmas: cancelled?

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas will be unrecognizable this year here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Yes, twinkly lights have been strung up along some streets in centro, as in the past. But the traditional religious pageantry and the festive social gatherings normally associated with this Christmas season in this beautiful old colonial city in this devoutly Catholic country have become verboten.

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    Even the Christmas decorations are subdued this year, as these poinsettias in the courtyard at the Fabrica la Aurora art and design center show.

    As I understand the rough (Google) English translation of the document in Spanish recently published by the City Council, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases [as of December 11, according to San Miguel FAQ (www.smafaq.com), there were 1,239 confirmed cases and 69 deaths here in San Miguel], strict measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus and the deaths from it.

    First among those measures listed on my translation is: “The holding of public or private inns is prohibited in the Municipality.” I think it’s a fair guess that “inns” here refers to “Posadas,” the popular celebration in Mexico and Central America between December 16 and Christmas Day to commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. ...

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  • Creative Visualization

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Forty-something years ago I happened to read a slim, newly published paperback book that has reverberated in my life ever since. Written by an American woman named Shakti Gawain, the book, Creative Visualization, became a best-seller, read by millions of people all over the world.

    This week – in a fit of what, nostalgia? — I decided to reread Creative Visualization as an eBook. The subhead for the 40th Anniversary Edition, published a few years ago, reads: “Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life.” So now I’ll add my small voice to the testimonies of those who have found this book effective in helping them to do just that.

    In creative visualization, as the book defines it, you use your imagination to create a clear image, idea, or feeling of something you wish to manifest. Then you continue to focus on it – and give it lots of positive energy — until it becomes reality. ...

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  • You are invited: Sweet TartsZoom Reading and Demonstration

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: One of the things I’m most thankful for – every day of the year but especially at this Thanksgiving time of year – is my family of friends, far and near. I’ve been fortunate enough to retain friends from everywhere I’ve been, every school I’ve attended, every place I’ve worked, every country I’ve visited and lived in. I’m a rich girl when it comes to friends, and I’m deeply grateful for this non-material form of riches. My enduring friendships are precious and priceless to me.

    And one of the ways I manage to keep in touch with this cherished family of friends is through my weekly blog posts. I can see, when I check the stats, where in the world my posts are being read: the States mostly, plus here in Mexico, Canada, parts of Africa, England, Scotland and Wales, France, Switzerland, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, sometimes even India, as well as farther afield.

    So it’s thrilling to me to think that at my upcoming Zoom event I might see on one screen at one time the faces of many of those friends from around the world whom I haven’t seen in years. It could be a virtual reunion – across decades, continents, and time zones! Will this be possible, I wonder, or am I dreaming? ...

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    You are invited to a SOMOS book launch:

    Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts, with Bonnie Lee Black

    Date: Sunday, Dec 6, 2020

    Time: 5:00 PM San Miguel de Allende and U.S. Central Time.

    please be sure to check the time difference for your location

    Zoom Meeting link:

    https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5757701789

    Or just launch your Zoom app and use the Meeting ID: 575 770 1789

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  • Thanksgiving Offerings

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: For those who weren’t able to attend the event last Thursday at Casa de la Noche here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, this WOW post will give you a taste of what you missed – and let you know we missed you.

    This event, the brainchild of Barbara Poole, Casa de la Noche’s owner, was in celebration of my new “baby” book, Sweet Tarts for my Sweethearts: Stories and Recipes from a Culinary Career. As the mother of this newborn, I couldn’t have been happier or more thankful.

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    The outdoor space, Casa de la Noche’s lovely courtyard, reached the maximum allowable number of guests (28), and the kitchen staff served beverages and fresh-baked tasting-size portions of tarts at the end. ...

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  • Change the Channel

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: I like to think that this pretty little book has something for everyone: For those who like to read, there are eighteen short personal essays on food and travel themes. For those who like to bake dessert tarts, there are twenty-five of my favorite sweet tart recipes, many of them from my years as a caterer to famous clients in Manhattan. For those who would like to learn how to bake dessert tarts, there are step-by-step instructions with accompanying photographs. ...

    I dedicated this book to my great-granddaughters, twins who just turned two, who are far away and whom I’ve yet to see in person. They’re too young to read or bake now, of course, but some day I know they will. If I’m not around to show them, this book will act as my stand-in.

    In two weeks, on November 19th, Sweet Tarts will be launched at a tart-tasting-and-book-reading/signing event here in San Miguel de Allende held at Casa de la Noche (Organos 19) at 4 pm. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited so RSVPs are a must:

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  • Up in the air

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: When the wind blows through the corridor that is the street where I live, I can now hear from my third-floor apartment window a rustling sound, like the rustle of leaves in a thick stand of bamboo. But it’s not bamboo. It’s several strands of string on which my Mexican neighbors have hung, just this week — high above the cobblestone street, from one side of the street to the other — dozens of colorful paper flags.

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    These flags, as I call them, fluttering in the wind, are more than festive and decorative, I learned. Their real name is papel picado (“perforated paper,” or “pecked paper”), a Mexican folk art dating from the Aztecs, that is filled with meaning. In essence, these tissue paper banners with perforated designs symbolize the fragility of life.

    Although they’re a fairly common sight throughout the year here in San Miguel de Allende, these colorful papeles picados flying above the streets are particularly prevalent at this time, when Mexico celebrates Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. And they are even more particularly prevalent this year. ...

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  • Sweet Tarts Zoom Reading and Demonstration Dec 6.

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: When it comes to computer technology – the quotidian kind that most normal modern people welcome and embrace – I’ve always been late to the party. Or I’ve avoided the party altogether.

    My resistance has stemmed from fairly understandable reasons, I think; among them: Staring at screens hurts my eyes, I refuse to be enslaved by a machine, and I believe I was born in the wrong century.

    Even as a child, when television was new, watching it gave me headaches. I preferred to play outdoors than be glued to the TV screen in the living room, the way the other kids were. As it turned out, I’m very far-sighted; so it’s more comfortable for my eyes to look far into the distance – past the treetops, into the hills — than it is to try to focus on anything close. ...

    (GW: Really important stuff for context skipped over here. Please visit her blog for more info.)

    ...

    So please save the date:

    Sunday, December 6 at 4 pm US Mountain Time.

    Zoom Meeting link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5757701789

    Or just launch your Zoom app and use the Meeting ID: 575 770 1789

    All are invited to attend, and it’s free of charge, of course. Closer to the date, I’ll be providing more information as needed. And maybe by that time I’ll be a pro at zooming! This is one computer party I don’t want any of us to miss. I’d love to see you there.

    Continue at The WOW Factor: Zooming. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Revisiting Styron

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: For a long time he was my favorite living American writer. You might say I idolized him. I read William Styron’s books worshipfully, knowing full well I could never emulate his writing. He belonged to a too-lofty pantheon, way beyond my reach.

    I clearly remember reading Styron’s 562-page novel Sophie’s Choice in one weekend when it came out in 1979. I was living in New York at the time, in a studio apartment on Riverside Drive, working on my own first book for Viking Press, Somewhere Child. I remember doing nothing else that weekend — hardly budging from my reading chair to eat or sleep or shower or dress – physically immobilized yet emotionally and spiritually swept away by Styron’s wrenching story and his transcendent words.

    I remember falling in love with William Styron that weekend. Not in a romantic sense but in a kind of misty adoration. I’d always been an avid reader of good books; but this book, in that moment, when I was struggling to write the story of my missing daughter, spoke to me like no other book ever had. I resolved to send a copy of Somewhere Child to Styron as a thank-you gift, as soon as it was published.

    So I did. ...

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  • Sweet Tarts for my Sweethearts is Born!

    From Bonnie Lee Black

    BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT

    So happy to announce to all my WOW readers,

    far and wide,

    that my new “baby” book,

    Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts:

    Stories and Recipes from a Culinary Career,

    was born (at last!) this morning,

    October 9, 2020,

    at the Amazon.com “hospital”!

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    Sweet Tarts for my Sweethearts on Amazon.

    Continue at The WOW Factor: Sweet Tarts for my Sweethearts is Born! More #WOWFactor.

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  • Farmette in Farmer-ish

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Was it really only one year ago this week? It seems like much longer than that since our authors group gave our first ekphrasis reading here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

    No thanks to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, it’s as if we’ve all been living through a worldwide war, where time has become, like war itself, foggy. The anxieties and stress caused by this pandemic, plus other manmade and natural disasters, have aged each of us, I feel, beyond our years.

    Yet it’s true. It was just one year ago this week. And I have proof. ...

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    I chose a painting that looked to me like a duck in distress. So I wrote about an experience I’d had when I lived for a time in a small farming community in northern New Mexico, just south of Taos. I titled this true story “Farmette.”

    This week I had the honor of having my “Farmette” essay included in a beautiful new online literary journal, founded and edited by Crystal Sands in Maine, called Farmer-ish.

    Go read the rest of this post including the essay "Farmette" from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Farmette in Farmer-ish. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Apple time

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Thursdays in San Miguel de Allende – at least according to the Mi Vida Italian restaurant here – are pizza days. So on Thursday of this week I was inspired to make a pizza of my own. Not a traditional, savory Italian pizza, but a sweet dessert pizza, an apple pizza tart, from the recipe for it that will appear in my soon-to-be-published book, Sweet Tarts.

    It had to be an apple tart because this is the high season for apples. On Tuesday of this coming week, September 22, autumn will arrive, and for me, AUTUMN spells APPLES.

    Fat, orange pumpkins are nice, as are Jack-o-Lanterns, and, here in Mexico, skeletal Catrinas. But for me, the best memories of autumn look and taste like apples: bushel baskets of just-picked McIntoshes from the local farm, freshly pressed cider, my mother’s towering and incomparable apple pies made from Granny Smiths. ...

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  • Glad Wall.

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: When she was growing up in central Massachusetts in the ’60s, author Catherine Marenghi learned, in bits and pieces, that her parents had once had a successful gladiolus farm.

    As she describes it now (and more fully in her acclaimed 2017 memoir Glad Farm), “The land was once ablaze with tall gladiolus flowers, up to six feet tall, in every color imaginable. So the flower has a very special personal meaning for me, as it did for my parents, who worked so hard to make their flower farm a success.”

    Much later in life, Catherine learned the truth about her parents’ glad farm’s failure and the reason why their growing family struggled so: In the 1950s, the gladiolus, which had once been “a wildly popular flower,” Catherine writes in Glad Farm, fell from favor, and the market for gladiolus plummeted. ...

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  • A Passion for Mangoes.

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Every morning I carefully, thoughtfully, cut up a fragrant, ripe, plump mango and add its meat to my healthy, tropical-fruit, breakfast smoothie. Mangoes, considered the king of fruits, are, hands down, my favorite fruit — way beyond the sweet, summer-fresh Jersey peaches I grew up on. Mangoes, in fact, are one of the many reasons I prefer to live in the tropics — where mangoes grow in profusion.

    Mexico is one of the five top mango producers in the world, after India, China, Thailand, and Indonesia. Portuguese explorers in the 16th century are credited with introducing mangoes to Brazil and Africa, after they’d “discovered” the fruit in India. It has since become one of the most widely cultivated fruits in the tropics, with over five hundred varieties known worldwide.

    I’ll never forget the first time I discovered mangoes, about a half century ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, living in southern Africa. Walking home from work one day, I noticed what looked to me like the carcass of a huge, fuzzy insect on the sidewalk. ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: A Passion for Mangoes. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Art Walking

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    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: The shoes I wear were made for running, but I don’t run anymore. I walk.

    I used to run along the Hudson River in Riverside Park — noticing little except the expanse of water and the overarching sky and the birds overhead — feeling like a bird flying away. Until, after a few miles, reality would hit me and I knew I had to turn and run back to my studio apartment on Riverside Drive, dripping with sweat.

    But that was then in New York, and this is now in San Miguel de Allende. Here and now I wear my running shoes to go for long walks every day. I need to get away from this computer screen and use my eyes to take in everything around me. I need to remind myself that I live in beautiful old Mexico now and that Mexico, like an ancient brown-skinned woman in a weathered rebozo, has embraced me. ...

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  • Kitchen Lessons

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Searching for an upside to the coronavirus-pandemic lockdown that has gone on tiresomely long already, I recently came up with this: Maybe in these past months, lots of us worldwide have become reacquainted with our kitchens, as if with a long-lost love.

    And perhaps we’ve actually been having fun in the process – experimenting with new recipes or dusting off old favorites, tasting novel ingredients, trying out different cooking techniques, taking pride in the sometimes-yummy results.

    Or perhaps I’m just projecting? ...

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  • School TV

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Ever since Count Blessings came into the world last month, he’s been really anxious for school to start at the end of this month so he could make his debut. He wanted so much to personally meet the kids in the after-school program at the University of Guanajuato Extension, here in San Miguel de Allende, where I’ve been a volunteer English teacher one afternoon a week.

    He knew the kids would love him, and he would love them back. He was counting the days and looking forward to counting blessings with his new friends. (See my posts of July 3 and 24 for his backstory.)

    Well, I had to break the news to him this week that this wasn’t going to happen. There’ll be no in-person classes in Mexico this coming fall school semester. This state’s University of Guanajuato, I learned, is going for online courses. And the federal school system will be using educational television and radio programs for school instruction. ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: School TV. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Expecting

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: One night last month I dreamed I was pregnant. Since this would be an impossibility in my waking life, I had to wonder what it signified as a dream. Could I, I wondered at the time, perhaps, be pregnant with a book?

    To date, I’ve given birth to one child and four books. And though the analogy is not unique to me, it’s certainly been apt in my experience: Being pregnant with a book is a lot like being pregnant with a baby. There’s the excitement of new life growing within, the anticipation of that beautiful new life’s emergence, the high hopes mingled with some normal concerns that build with every passing day.

    In the past couple of years, since my last book, the historical novel Jamie’s Muse was born, whenever anyone asked me whether I was working on a new book, I’d answer swiftly and flatly, “No. I’m not pregnant with a book.” This usually ended that conversation. ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Expecting. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Waiting

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: In Samuel Beckett’s famous two-act tragicomedy “Waiting for Godot,” two scruffy men stand beneath a scraggly tree and scrap with each other for two hours while they anxiously await the arrival of the mysterious Godot.

    This Godot (pronounced GOD-oh) continually sends word that he will appear, but he never does. The two men, Vladimir and Estragon, keep waiting.

    At the end of the play, Estragon says, “I can’t go on like this.” ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Waiting. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Garden Ladies

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: She calls them her “Garden Ladies.”

    Artist Colleen Sorenson (67) has been making such bright, beautiful, whimsical three-dimensional ceramic tile wall hangings featuring women’s faces accompanied by apt quotations since the Women’s March that was held in San Miguel de Allende on January 21, 2017.

    The Women’s March here was a momentous occasion, one of hundreds of “sister” marches around the world in support of women’s rights. An estimated three thousand people – mostly women of all ages, but also many men and children, expats as well as Mexicans – participated in that event in San Miguel, filling this old city’s beautiful Parque Juarez with hope and joy on that balloon-festooned sunny Saturday afternoon. ...

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  • A matter of balance

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: My new neighbors and I are planning a party. It’ll be a dinner party for just the four of us, with a Paris-in-the-‘20s (the nineteen-twenties, that is) theme, inspired in part by Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

    Hemingway’s memoir, set in Paris at that time, was less about eating than about hunger – his own hunger as a struggling, young, American-expat writer too poor to dine at the fragrant bistros and brasseries he passed, achingly, on the streets of La Ville-Lumière, the City of Lights.

    “Hunger is good discipline,” he wrote in one of the book’s chapters, “and you learn from it.” Paris itself, Hemingway later wrote, was the “moveable feast.”

    In addition to the Paris part, our dinner party will indeed be moveable because ...

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  • Count blessings

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: In 1970, when “Sesame Street” was a new children’s educational program on American public television and I was living with my young daughter in then-Salisbury, Rhodesia, Africa, my mom in New Jersey, USA, sent us the freshly minted “Sesame Street” long-playing record album in the mail – to the delight of all the neighborhood preschool kids.

    My daughter and her little friends sat cross-legged on my living room carpet in a semicircle, as if my record player were a hearth, mesmerized by the happy music so new to them and to the world: “Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away — on my way to where the air is sweet! Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

    In the fifty years since then, “Sesame Street” has become the most widely viewed children’s program in the world — broadcast in more than a hundred and twenty countries — and those little kids who sat in my living room have become parents and, some by now, grandparents. ...

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  • Another meditation on home

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Ram Dass, the famous American guru, famously claimed, “We’re all just walking each other home.” He died last December at the age of eighty-eight. So I’m wondering today: Is he home now? Is that when we’ll feel most at home, when we join him wherever his spirit is?

    Home seems to be a subject I’ve been obsessed with, especially in recent years, since I emigrated to Mexico. Of the more than three hundred WOW posts I’ve published since 2014 when I began writing this weekly blog on all sorts of subjects relevant to older women, at least twenty of my short Views (point-of-view personal essays) have attempted to approach the big embracing topic of Home, each from a slightly different angle.

    But I still long to know: Where is Home? And what is it? Is it a physical place or a state of mind? Is it something we take for granted until we don’t have it any longer – like clean air or drinkable water? Is it just a leak-proof roof over our heads? Or something immutable we carry around inside of us, deep in our hearts? ...

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  • Uncommon books

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: Most graduates, I’m sure, can’t tell you the day after — much less years after — what the commencement speakers said at their graduation ceremony. In normal times, it all becomes a big blur of ill-fitting caps, swirling black gowns, solemn processionals, deep exhalations, and celebratory balloons.

    But I remember clearly one commencement address because the man who gave it gave me a lasting gift.

    At my graduation from the MFA program at Antioch University in Los Angeles on June 24, 2007, one of the commencement speakers urged us graduates to maintain a commonplace book. I’d never heard of such a thing, so I was intrigued and paid attention.

    Keep a commonplace book from this point onward, he advised. Use it to write about each book that you read. Preserve what you learn from those books. They are your teachers….

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Uncommon books. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Kings of their mountains

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: “Truth,” I used to say to my college English Comp students on the days I taught personal-essay writing, “is like a ginormous PIZZA.” That got their attention. Then I’d go on:

    “All we can claim for ourselves as individuals is a tiny sliver of that big Truth. Personal essays can never even try to be the whole Truth; they can only honestly say, ‘This is my truth, this is my sliver, this is my point of view, this has been my experience, this is how I see things…’

    “And in that way, as we read others’ personal essays, which may well be totally different from our own, and learn their true stories, we all can get that much closer to the huge, round Truth. We can learn from each other.” ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Kings of their mountains. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Before food was hot

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: This much I remember: It was a six-hour seminar on a Saturday in 1984 at the New School in lower Manhattan. The title of the class was something like “Careers in the Culinary Arts,” a subject I was seriously exploring at the time. The teacher was Carol Durst-Wertheim, who was then the owner of her own catering business in the city, called New American Catering.

    I remember, too, that there had been some mix-up with the room assignment, and Carol was called to task by someone in the administration. I watched her closely from my student-seat – the way she smiled and kept her cool and soothed the agitated administrator with kind and conciliatory words. After he left the classroom, she turned to us her seminar students and laughed it off.

    “Just another day in the life of a caterer,” she said. “You learn that just about anything can go wrong!”

    I wondered whether I, high-strung from years in the super-stressful corporate world, could ever be as calm and easy-going as Carol was in that moment. ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Before food was hot. More #WOWFactor.

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  • Art everywhere

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: On my first walk in my new neighborhood two weeks ago, as I turned a nearby corner, I was greeted by a welcoming message imbedded in tiles on the exterior wall of a private home. I took it as a sign. “Welcome to the Guadalupe neighborhood,” the message reads. “Here there is art in all its streets” ...

    Now that I’m settled into my new studio apartment on the other side of town in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, my daily walks have taken me in new directions and opened my eyes to new ways of seeing. Art, I believe, does this for us; it makes us see things differently. It aids in adaptation.

    I had, as most of my regular WOW readers know, loved my previous place, my cozy little old “penthouse” and its close proximity to lush Parque Benito Juarez, where I basked in the beauty of verdant nature every day. That has proved to be too long a daily walk in May’s afternoon heat from my new address, so I’ve had to discover new perambulatory joys. ...

    Read the rest of this post from Bonnie Lee Black at The WOW Factor: Art everywhere. More #WOWFactor.

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  • The silver swan

    Bonnie Lee Black wrote: In 1961, when I was sixteen, I spent the summer at a grand mansion on the Penobscot Bay in Maine. My German maternal grandmother was one of many live-in servants who worked for the wealthy couple whose summer residence this was. My grandmother was in her early seventies at that time and tired; I was there to assist her with her laborious work.

    This experience immersed me in a world most of us never see in person: the world of the super-rich. And I came away feeling deeply — and indelibly — that their lives are far from enviable.

    To me, as a shy and naïve (but observant) sixteen-year-old, the woman of the house, or “Madam,” as my grandmother and the rest of the household help called her, seemed to be straightjacketed by conventions and expectations. Why, she can’t even walk into her own enormous kitchen and make herself a ham-and-cheese sandwich! I thought to myself then. The cook would have had to do that for her. The Madam appeared to me to be helpless. Even pitiable. She wasn’t free. ...

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