Upstaging The Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony

PresidentialMedalOfFreedomThere’s been a flurry of activity here at the office ever since Isabel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama! Sure, she is concerned with learning all about her fellow awardees and being able to address them personally. Sure, she’s proud that the award is the highest honor bestowed on a civilian in this country. BUT, mostly, right now she is worried about what to wear…So far consultations have occurred with various fashionistas—or, more appropriately, friends we consider fashionistas because they are so cool—around the country, and while it isn’t appropriate to wear white after Labor Day, let’s just say I think she settled on the white.


I have been promised a-behind-the-scenes guest blog from Isabel’s six-foot-tall, gorgeous granddaughter, Nicole, complete with photos. I asked Nicole what she is wearing to the party and she wrote back the following: I am wearing a black dress that goes to my shins, tight fit but pretty conservative, long sleeve and turtleneck but there’s a cut out back. I’m also wearing black stilettos and RED LIPSTICK muahahaha!

Hmmmm, I predict an upstaging!

PS. The ceremony will be live-streamed on on Monday, November 24th at 1:45pm ET (10:45am PT).


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Espiritu 2014

The Isabel Allende Foundation’s annual Espíritu Award this year went to Thistle Farms, a truly inspiring organization and social enterprise dedicated to helping women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. The award event, which was held at Isabel’s home this past weekend, was filled with love. Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest and the founder of Thistle Farms and its residential Magdalene program, was refulgent, and spoke of her work with modesty and hope. You can read about Thistle Farms here; click here for the Foundation’s press release.

Honoring Becca and the work of Thistle Farms and was a beautiful choice for the Foundation. Isabel holds Thistle Farms’ work in the highest regard, since the Foundation, which was founded in 1996, honors Isabel’s daughter Paula, who passed away at the age of 28. The Isabel Allende Foundation supports and in many ways carries on Paula’s mission of providing vulnerable women and children access to reproductive rights, healthcare, education and protection from violence. Thistle Farms hits all of these issues, making it a perfect choice for the Foundation, and it was an honor to be involved in the decision and giving process. Thistle Farms is an organization we will support for many years to come and one that we hope others will as well.

The Magdalene program is grounded in 24 spiritual principles, including Come Together, Love Without Judgment, Lose Gracefully, and Forgive and Feel Freedom. At the end of the evening I followed yet another one of Thistle’s guiding rules: Leave Thankfully.

Here are some photos from the evening that show the atmosphere and aura of love and hope:

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Photo stills from the evening taken by Mike Kirsch. Mike will be producing a short video about both the event and Thistle Farms that we will share with blog readers and on Facebook in the next month.

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A Wedding

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Isabel writes every day to her mother Panchita, who is 94 and lives in Chile. On October 25 Isabel wrote a very special letter, which she shared with me since…it is about me! You may notice that she closes the letter by writing she wants to get married again, though she doesn’t specify to whom…

Hi Mom,

We just got back from Sarah and Alan’s wedding. It rained, so it couldn’t be held in the park as they had planned, and it took place at Alan’s studio.  Alan is a printer and has beautiful printing presses in a loft in Oakland, where he works. Grace came from the Zen Center to officiate a ceremony filled with deep spiritual meaning. Sarah looked lovely in her short white dress with cowboy boots and flowers in her hair. Alan, who is truly a prince, wore a stripped shirt and jeans.  Nora, Sarah’s nine-year-old daughter, wore a golden dress and gardenias in her braid. Kristoffer, Alan’s son, a seven-year-old redhead, wore an elegant white shirt and boots, and had a wooden pirate’s sword that his father made for him. It was a happy, relaxed, charming and unpretentious wedding, perfect for Sarah and Alan’s temperaments.  They met in a time of loneliness, they fell in love immediately and they decided to get married after less than two months. Grace, in her wheelchair and helped by Lori, said that we were all witnesses to the couple’s vows and that we should hold and help them.  With touching and poetic words she explained that the commitment they were making for life would allow them to grow as individuals, as a couple and as a family.  Alan and Sarah exchanged their vows and then Sarah told Kristoffer that she would love and respect him as she loved and respected Nora. Alan said the same to Nora. The four of them make such a wonderful family! The kids gave the rings to their parents and the rest of us showered them with rose petals. It was so moving that I want to get married again.

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Don’t Judge a Purse by it’s Cover


Question: What does Isabel Allende keep in this pretty velvet and satin purse? Her friend Pia made it from precious scraps of vintage suits and dresses. The silk cord, jeweled button and the golden stitching had me intrigued.

Answer: Dog treats, baggies for clean-ups and a leash!


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Fragrant Dulce


Another day in the life of a dog owner as told by Isabel:

Willie went to the 50th reunion of his Hastings Law School class – I realize I am married to a very old man – and came home at midnight. Our dogs Dulce and Olivia needed to pee, so Willie opened the door and they ran into the garden. Unfortunately there was skunk digging peacefully up our lawn. Dulce tried to attack it, thinking it was a squirrel, and got sprayed in the face. Now, you have to understand, Dulce may be an ordinary little mutt, but she has a refined soul and is very allergic. She ran screaming into the house, her eyes shut, her muzzle crimson, and rubbed her body on the rug, the couch and finally on our bed before we could catch her. We had heard that tomato sauce is the answer to this kind of crisis but it only made things worse. Finally Willie got in the shower with her while I tried to clean up the mess and ventilate the house. Willie’s sense of smell is almost nil, so he didn’t suffer much, but I pride myself of having a hound’s nose. I will be camping on somebody’s couch for a while with Olivia, while Willie stays with Dulce in the house. Does anybody know how long it may take for the skunk smell to dissipate or for human to learn to appreciate it?


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States of Grace

If you can get a ticket, you must see States of Grace by Helen S. Cohen and Mark Lipman, which chronicles Dr. Grace Dammann and her remarkable recovery following a near-fatal head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge. Grace is a dear friend of Isabel’s—she’s more like family, actually—and the documentary will leave you with renewed faith in the human spirit. We just saw it at the Marin Film Festival and it is slated to show in January (we will keep you posted as to where and when) at theaters on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge once the movable barrier is installed—a barrier that would have prevented the collision that left Grace, a pioneering San Francisco AIDS specialist, crushed and forever changed. The film documents the struggles that Grace and her family are working through to this day. If you’re able to see the movie, look for Isabel’s interview. 

States of Grace

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Isabel needed to renew her driver’s license. She was so scared of the test, that I had to help her to memorize all those complicated rules. Fortunately she passed it brilliantly and didn’t have to go behind the wheel, (she is not my favorite driver), The driver’s license came promptly in the mail, but it had a small error: she was a male. We went back to the DMV to have it changed. She had the following exchange with the guy at the desk, who was probably overworked and underpaid.

Isabel – There is a mistake, I am a female, not a male.

DMV – Prove it.

Isabel – Well, you can see that I am a woman.

DMV– Nowadays you can never be so sure…

Isabel suggested that she could undress, but he didn’t think it was funny and demanded her passport. We rushed to her house to get the passport. An hour later she handed the passport to the guy, who examined it thoroughly, then asked for the old driver’s license and then… You won’t believe this! It also said “sex: male“. When he checked for old records in the computer, he found out that Isabel has been a male for 25 years and no one ever noticed, not at airports, when opening a bank account, when buying or selling property, when paying with credit cards, not even when she got a traffic ticket (which happens quite often).


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Writing Away


Isabel just the other day, writing away.

Isabel is busy writing. Very busy. Now that she is locked away in the “cone of silence,” we have not had the “privilege” of having her sneak up on us at the office and surprising us.

It seems the book is going well and, barring any technical difficulties, I think another book should be rolling out of the Allende workshop sometime next year. As her part-time research assistant I can hardly wait to find out what the assignments I was given have in common. Some of the topics Isabel asked me to look into include Japan, silk, debutantes and bone marrow. Hmm…should be good. I sure hope there is some romance thrown into the mix. And while I am wishing, I might as well hope for some lust, too.

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Just as we had our tremor in Napa, California, I got this letter from Isabel who is in Chile visiting her parents:

Dear ones,
The latest earthquake, (6.4) hit near Santiago when I was with a friend in the tiny elevator of my parent’s old building. The building suffered some damage in the 2010 earthquake, one of the biggest ever recorded, that also provoked a spectacular tsunami. The building is a little slanted, just a little, but enough to alter the alignment of the elevator. Imagine the scene: no electricity, pitch dark and we, stuck in the elevator screaming for help, while it rattled against the walls with terrible noise. It was like being inside a tolling bell. In the meantime, my parents – 94 and 98 years old – were alone in their apartment in total darkness. Chileans keep calm in geological catastrophes, I think they even enjoy them. Nobody panics, everybody helps… we love drama! My parents held hands and prayed, while all the males in the building volunteered to rescue us. There is no emergency device for this prehistoric elevator, so they had to move it manually from the top and finally, when it reached the fourth floor, they could open the door a foot or so. It was high, but we crawled out and fell in the strong arms of our heroes. All this was achieved in only half an hour with one flashlight and two candles. Now I take the stairs. This is my workout: eight floors up and down the stairs several times a day.


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Amy and Isabel

Isabel and Amy at the Americas Society in New York City, April 15, 2014, just before Isabel received the Gabriela Mistral award. Photograph by Elsa Ruiz, courtesy of the Americas Society.

Isabel and Amy at the Americas Society in New York City, April 15, 2014, just before Isabel received the Gabriela Mistral award. Photograph by Elsa Ruiz, courtesy of the Americas Society.

We all love Amy Goodman and the folks at Democracy Now!, a progressive and independently syndicated daily newscast, which airs on Pacifica Radio here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Focusing on topics largely ignored by the mainstream media, the nonprofit Democracy Now! starts with a 15-minute wrap-up called the “War and Peace Report,” which is translated daily into Spanish. Amy is the host and executive producer of the award-winning program.

P.S. Democracy Now!’s website is also available in Spanish.

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