Lori sent a bunch of photos along the way, here are my favorites. How much fun would going on tour with Isabel be? Have a look:
Once more, Isabel allowed us to do a treasure hunt and the prize is a dedicated copy of her new book The Japanese Lover. Here is how it works: We will post a photo of a winning ticket in Facebook and we’ll tell you more or less where it is. Your job is to find the ticket (using clues from the photograph, landmarks, buildings etc.) and to follow the instructions in the back. Please indicate your preferred language in your email, we may be able to do it, otherwise is either English or Spanish. Here is what a winning ticket looks like:
I’m very sorry, but because we are doing this ourselves, we are only able to hide tickets in the few cities along Isabel’s book tour. Please, if you find one, don’t be a spoilsport and don’t go looking for another one, we will only send one prize per person.
Candy seems to be having too much fun at the office…
Hello! My name is Marcelo! I weigh five pounds, have four teeth and am four years old. I’m taking over the blog today!
Here’s the poop scoop on me:
My life started out pretty ruff. I was born and raised in a puppy mill in Missouri. I was malnourished, socially isolated and never knew human kindness. Lucky for me, I was saved in 2014 by Dutch Country Animal Rescue!
Once I was healthy and happy, they put me up for adoption and I found the perfect family. I now live in New York City with my Mom and Dad, a pug brother named Boogie, a cat named Kitty and our turtle Gabriel. We’re a big fat inter-species family!
Despite such a ruff beginning, my life is pretty great now! I’m a dog of leisure, and I spend my days napping, playing and demanding attention.
This summer, I was invited to come work in the Bay Area with Isabel Allende and her friends.
So pawsome! I knew it would be great because Isabel and I have a lot in common. We’re both originally from Latin America, we’re both small and we’re both amazing at what we do (she’s a writer and philanthropist and I’m a model and therapy dog).
I arrived and immediately got to work!
Being an artist and running a foundation are tough work! I’m so glad I was able to help while serving as eye candy for the rest of the office. I had a great summer in California and learned a lot, like how I am the cutest dog on both coasts and I have a better wardrobe than Isabel. I was so happy to leave my mark at IAF (I peed in every corner). Thanks for having me!
If you’d like to meet Isabel too, be sure to check out her touring schedule this fall! She’ll be in Europe and all across the USA debuting her new book The Japanese Lover. The tour schedule is here.
Check out more of my adventures in the Bay and at home in NYC, and follow me here. Guau Guau for now! And remember: always try to come out on top.
This summer, while I am on maternity leave, we have Candy Pilar Godoy helping at the office. We asked her to write her impressions and here is what she had to say:
This summer, I was given the task of scanning, archiving and organizing photos from Isabel’s many family albums. There were hundreds of photos spanning her entire life, from before Isabel’s birth to present day. Here are 10 things I learned about Isabel from some of the photos I encountered.
1. Isabel has always been a dog lover.
Isabel’s love for animals, especially dogs, was evident when I saw her with her rescue dog Dulce, and the recently departed Olivia. I’m not surprised to see that this love goes way back. Here she is as an infant with family dog Pelvina López Pun.
2. Family has always been important.
Isabel has always had a tightly knit family, even when she was young. She visits her parents in Chile often, and spends much of her time with her son and grandchildren. Here she is with her mother, stepfather and siblings in 1954.
3. Her creativity flows in more ways than one.
Although Isabel is known for her books, her creativity is not limited to the written word. From beadwork, to acting, to playwriting, to cooking, Isabel expresses herself in a myriad of ways. It’s in her blood—her mother is an avid painter to this day.
4. She has always been a hard worker.
Before publishing her first novel in 1982, Isabel worked as a TV personality, a dramatist and a journalist. She was always determined to work, calling herself a true feminist from the start.
5. She was born around politics.
Isabel’s father worked for the Chilean embassy, her stepfather was a diplomat and her uncle was the former President of Chile. She fled Chile after the military coup in 1973 when her family was targeted. Politics has surrounded her through much of her life.
6. She has a great sense of humor.
She is charming, funny, sassy and quick-witted. Her books are a pleasure to read, but seeing her speak in person is truly fantastic.
7. Her relationship with her mother is incredibly strong.
Isabel and her mother still write to each other every day. They have kept all of their letters, which were sent across oceans and borders for years. They confide in each other about everything; they are best friends.
8. She is a proud feminist.
Isabel has been a self-proclaimed feminist since she was very young. She has worked for and with women all of her life. She continues to fight for the education and empowerment of women to this day, through the Isabel Allende Foundation, which focuses on achieving a world in which women and girls enjoy economic and social justice, empowerment and protection.
Here she is with the seven other powerful and successful female flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy (left to right): Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, American actress and activist Susan Sarandon, human rights activist Somaly Mam of Cambodia, Olympic champion Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco, Italian actress-icon Sophia Loren, Olympic champion Manuela di Centa of Italy and Olympic champion Maria Mutola of Mozambique.
9. She was involved in the making of her books to movies.
The House of the Spirits and Of Love and Shadows, two books written by Isabel, were both made into feature films. Isabel was involved in both, visiting on set, reading scripts and speaking to the actors portraying her characters. Here she is with the cast and director of The House of the Spirits in 1995.
10. She is an academic.
Isabel has received 14 international honorary doctorates, and has taught Creative Writing and Latin American Literature to many, many, students. She belongs to the Academy of Arts and Letters and has always felt that education is important, and has made it a priority in her own life.
Isabel’s friend Pia, who lives in Chile, has always been a powerful force. I have met her several times and each time I felt…unnerved, maybe? I am not sure how to describe it. Maybe it was more a feeling of awe, since Isabel has told me years ago that Pia can see ghosts.
Here are a few ghost stories I got Isabel to repeat:
My grandmother was a crazy-crazy and beautiful and wonderful woman, who spent her life experimenting with the paranormal. She would, for example, train herself and her friends to use telepathy instead of the phone. It didn’t always work but at least they tried. They also had seances. So I grew up in a house where the idea of spirits visiting was familiar in a way. So when I use that in my books people think that it is a literary device. Or they think I really see ghosts. It is something different—it is the idea that I am open to the possibility of other dimensions of reality, as my grandmother would say, and I know that some people can see extraordinary things.
My friend Pia can see when someone is going to die; she feels it. It is a very strong feeling that almost never fails, so she is very scared of it. We keep in touch always and I adore her. Pia once told me that she was very worried about her husband Gerardo. She said, “He is going crazy, you know he says that at night these tall Africans come to visit. Masai warriors, two of them, and a child. The child always sits on the night table. I don’t know what he is talking about. I have not seen anybody like that. I only see the British ladies that walk through the walls.”
Pia lives in a very old farmhouse with very thick walls and she has a huge collection of beautiful old saints, life-size, carved in wood with wigs and clothes and glass eyes, very realistic and beautiful. She has one, Saint Anthony, and according to everyone, not just Pia, St. Anthony walks around the house at night. And so they have had to tie him to the wall with a chain. Houses all around get broken into but no one would dare break into Pia’s house because they all know there is a saint protecting it.
Once Pia and my mother were visiting us from Chile and we took them to a winery in Napa Valley as a treat. The drive was long and by the time we got to the vineyard we all needed to use the loo. The bathroom was located on the second floor of the estate but Pia would not go up the stairs. She would not go near the pool either. My mother and I, who were used to Pia’s idiosyncrasies, decided to go on with the day. Lunch was provided for us by the owner of the estate, who proceeded to tell us the story of how the place was haunted. According to the owner, a woman haunted the winery and wandered the estate at all hours. Although Pia does not speak any English, with my help she was able to make out a little of the story. Pia said it was a young woman in a pink dress haunting the estate, and the owner said yes, that is her! She was the daughter of the former owner and she committed suicide after her son drowned in the pool. And so Pia, who didn’t know anything about this story, had seen both ghosts. She told us that the woman was standing on the stairs and that is why she would not go up the stairs. As for the boy, Pia saw him outside by the pool.
So, do they exist? I don’t know. Maybe it is all in our minds but the possibility is nice—that there is a connection of some kind. I often feel, very vividly, my daughter. I don’t see her but I feel her presence.
The photo above is one I found of a wooden Saint Anthony that I imagine is similar to the one in Pia’s house. I briefly researched the winery in Napa Valley but could not find any story about a child’s drowning or his mother’s suicide. There are several wineries that claim to be haunted, however, and a few are linked to a suicide on the premises. You never know. I like hearing these tales, much like I enjoy reading a good Ray Bradbury story or even stories by Edith Wharton, who wrote some very spooky ghost tales. Hmmmm, Maybe Isabel should write a ghost story?
Isabel has told me the following story several times. In my mind I have added a few details: Isabel dangling in the little car–above Santiago, from a long line attached to a crane, applying lipstick in the askew rearview mirror, completely calm and rather beautiful.
Here is the story as she tells it:
I admit that I am a terrible driver. It took me a long time to get a driver’s license. I eventually got my license in Chile only because the guy did not want to take the test with me. He was that scared.
In the 60’s in Chile it was a big, big deal to have a car. Cars were very expensive and many people did not have them. My first car was a Fiat Topolino. It was very small and very old. My second car was very small as well; it had three wheels and the door opened from the front. You had to get in the car from the front, which made it sort of crazy when you parked too close the car in front because you couldn’t get out or in. We called a car like this “huevito”, or little egg.
I have had more than 30 minor crashes in my life and a few that were more serious. One of the more serious ones was when I was in el huevito. I had stopped behind a military truck, and of course my car didn’t have an automatic gear and when I turned around and took my foot off the brake, the little car rolled slowly under the truck. Before I realized it, I was stuck. People were screaming and fortunately the driver realized what was going on because if he hadn’t he would have dragged me with him when he drove off. The soldiers got out and tried to pull me out from under the big truck. After a while they were able to do that but the front of the car was smashed and I was trapped inside. I was towed to a garage with the car hanging by a crane, which lifted the whole car up, with me inside. I had to call my husband and tell him there had been a “minor incident.” The car was completely crushed.
Really, the car was so small it was like a scooter with a shell around it. Actually, if you bumped the car, you could fix the dent with a hairdryer. The shell was made of plastic of some kind and heat would pop the dent back out. Not that time, though.
The good thing is that I have never had an accident here in the States. The traffic is so organized and people stay in their lanes, which helps. I am older and a better driver now, and I drive a safer car. Much safer.
For the record, Isabel drives a hybrid Lexus that looks a lot like my hybrid Prius. The day I recorded her telling me this story I had seen her in the next lane over as I was driving to work. I could clearly see her at the wheel, the dogs dancing around the front seat, Isabel holding a container of coffee; to her credit, no cell phone was visible. I recently bought Isabel a net barrier to keep the dogs in the back seat, but she says it doesn’t work. Instead, Dulcinea, Isabel’s scruffy mutt, uses it as a hammock, living a life of reclining comfort as she is chauffeured around town.
I always wonder how Isabel travels the world with such seeming effortlessness. For example, I once took care of Isabel’s dogs when she was in Chile. My goal was to be out of sight before she arrived home. I had just taken the dogs for a walk and there were leaves in my hair and my clothes were covered in paw prints; I was completely disheveled and Isabel, as you know, is never disheveled. I didn’t want her to see me, so my goal was to be gone before she got back. Of course, she arrived home just as I was leaving. But after a long flight, Isabel should be disheveled, too, right? Um…no. She arrived straight from the airport looking refreshed—in fact, she looked stunning, with perfect makeup and her clothes magically unwrinkled. She even looked well rested. I was flummoxed.
How can anyone look so good after a long trip? Especially given how little Isabel takes with her when she is on the road. I’m not kidding. Her travel bag is practically the size of my purse! I asked her for some advice on travel and here is what she had to say:
I travel a lot. Mostly I travel for work. The worst traveling is the book tours, because then you are in 14 cities in 17 days and there is different weather and different audiences and different times of the day and it is just very hard. The good thing about a book tour is that you can repeat the same clothes. Each day is a different audience, which is an advantage. I always travel with a small carry-on, very small, because I am so short that I cannot put my piece of luggage in the overhead compartment and I am embarrassed to ask for help, so it has to be something that I can lift easily. I have prepared (and it is always ready) a bag with all my makeup and cream and soap in little containers, very light and flexible, so I can tuck it between things. Then everything is rolled up, which it keeps my clothes smooth, not wrinkled. I choose one color, mostly black, because I will bring only one extra pair of decent shoes. And one bag, one purse. I also carry one little embroidered bag, one that my friend Pia made, where I keep my passport and money and glasses and essentials, and that is always on my body. All my clothes, as I said, are one color and are made of silk so they are always layered. Most of the time I am indoors so I don’t have to worry about packing warm clothes. Finally, I lighten things up with bits of color, an array of pretty scarves, light and bright, that I can wear with black. When I travel for pleasure, it is a totally different matter. But I still bring very few clothes.
Someday I will ask Isabel’s advice on dressing for day-to-day living because I am pretty sure I am doing something wrong. Isabel always looks completely put together. Come to think of it, I have never once seen her in anything that is not silk. NEVER in anything like a casual T-shirt and jeans, or, horror of horrors, sweat pants. I have even seen her walk her dogs dressed head-to-toe in Eileen Fisher and wearing heels that should never be worn by any woman—they’re much too high—and Prada sunglasses. (In all fairness, that was just one time.)
Just for fun, I asked Isabel to play professor and come up with an assignment that she would give an aspiring writer. As an example, I told her that once, while working on a book about the photographer Ruth Bernhard with Lori (Isabel’s daughter-in-law), we were happy to receive a list of photography assignments that Ruth would give her students. One, for example, was to photograph a white shirt against a white wall.
Here is what Isabel told me about her teaching days:
I don’t teach anymore, but I did teach a couple of creative writing courses. Usually in a writing class not everybody has the same knowledge of the language, and they don’t have the same level of creativity or discipline. So the homework that is turned in is very uneven, and because the class is maybe only an hour you don’t have much time. I wanted the students to write under pressure because my training is as a journalist. I was a journalist in a huge newsroom full of people, manual typewriters and NOISE, phones ringing and people walking by and so much pressure, tight deadlines, and you really had to tune everyone out. Actually, having a deadline really helps. And although I start all of my books on January 8, I also give myself deadlines throughout the writing of the book. That helps me also.
I would give my students a variety of assignments. For example, we would pick a sentence from any book—just open a random book and not read the story, just that sentence—and then create a story around that one line in five pages, let’s say, or during the class even, so there is more pressure. People are always scared of writer’s block because they can’t come up with an idea. Well, how do you get an idea? By forcing yourself to think of something that is unusual. That would be one thing, one idea. Or I would say: write a violent scene. When I did that, almost always the men in the class would write about a fight or something that happened in a bar, maybe. Women almost invariably spoke about being assaulted, even if it had not happened to them. That was the most violent thing they could think of.
Once I got an extraordinary piece that was written by a woman who had been a Catholic nun for 12 years. Her piece was about how they would gather for the evening meal in this big dining room. The meal was eaten in silence, although one person was assigned to read from the Scriptures. In the piece she writes about one young nun who forgets to bring the book to the meal. When it is her turn to read, the nun falls to her knees and says, “Please forgive me, I have forgotten to bring the book.” The Mother Superior says, “It is not for us to forgive, only for God. But we cannot eat without hearing the words of the Lord, so there will be no dinner tonight, no one can eat.” The nun sinks into despair and falls to the floor prostrate, her arms open, and cries. And so the tension, the violence of that scene was so incredible, and at the same time there was no hitting, no screaming, just mental stress—very harsh.
I have also asked students for love scenes or to write about someone looking at a love scene. There is a twist there that creates a tone for the story.
When people ask me to write their stories or to coach them, which of course I cannot, I always tell them what has worked for me, as well as something that I once heard from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. What I say is that writing is like training for sports. If you want to play the game you train and train and train, and while no one sees the training, a muscle is being built. The same is true of writing. You write and write and write, and everything you see you write it down. And sometimes writing TO someone is very helpful; I write to my mother every day. You are all the time thinking and training and you write thousands of pages before there is one page that deserves to be shown.
Here is what I heard from Gilbert when she was asked the same question: “Do not expect your writing to support you or give you fame, you write because you love the process. The result is not the point, what is important is that you really love the process.” I know that is true for me—for every word you don’t write it weighs on you.
Ps. Here is a link to a talk that Isabel did with Elizabeth Gilbert last year at the 92t Y in NYC. It’s fun to see them together, they have a nice back and forth.
“A Whim of Steel” is how Olga Murray’s husband described her way back when. Olga, who has been featured before on this blog (check out a past story here), is the founder of the Nepali Youth Foundation, which provides many life-saving programs to the beautiful people of Nepal; programs include Nutritional Rehabilitation, the Indentured Daughters Program and the shelter J&K House. Recently the organization has been involved in disaster relief following the devastating earthquake and aftershocks that hit Nepal in April. See Olga interviewed on CNN about the situation on the ground and her experience during the first round of quakes.
Last week we celebrated Olga’s 90th birthday. It was an honor to sit at a table with her and hear stories from her long life of service to the people of Nepal. Olga is one of our heroes here at the Isabel Allende Foundation. She describes the work she does today as her “failed” retirement. After retiring from her 37-year stint as a staff attorney to the Chief Justice of California, Phil Gibson and Stanley Mosk, and further work with the State Supreme Court, Olga set off in 1984 for an adventure in Nepal. That adventure would change her life and mark the beginning of her love affair with the country and people of Nepal. Read more about Olga here, and if you want to help the children of Nepal, particularly now, post-earthquake, here is a link to Olga’s beloved Nepali Youth Foundation, a group we know will use the money for the very best good.
Happy Birthday Olga!
Ps. The donation page of the Nepali Youth Foundation asks you to: Spend a little. Give a lot. That is the theme of a recent speech Isabel gave in Baltimore where she addressed the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Here is a clip about Olga and Nepali Youth Foundation from that speech.
Isabel asked me to post this on the blog about her friend Mary Ellen Mark.
Today I say goodbye to a beloved friend, and extraordinary artist, the renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark. In the short time we knew each other, I came to love her deeply and now I regret that I never told her so.
Mary Ellen was a force. And I admired every breath of that strong, courageous, gutsy energy she had. She demanded much of her friends and her students, but she demanded of herself much more. She expected nothing less than perfection from her work every single day. And she achieved that.
She believed deeply in the humanity in each of us and in the ever-loving healing power of all dogs, big and small. I still wish I could have brought my high-maintenance pup, Dulce, to meet her in NY. They would have loved each other.
She observed and listened with her whole being. Through her work, Mary Ellen Mark taught her students and friends to pay attention to the world with an open heart. She gave each person she photographed back the precious gift of seeing themselves with compassion. The photographs she took of my family in December are among my greatest treasures. We were unaware of it that day in the studio but she saw something in each of us and in our relationship to each other that is only now becoming clear to me. She saw and touched our souls. Not to mention we all look like movie stars; I don’t know how she achieved that miracle. In a decade or so my grandchildren will appreciate these pictures as an important part of their legacy, something to cherish forever. I am sure they will remember that Sunday photo shoot with much gratitude. And in two decades or so, when Willie and I will not be in this world, my descendants will look at Mary Ellen’s photographs and think that they had very interesting grandparents.
I so often hear Lori, my daughter-in-law, say that Mary Ellen believed in her and through her generous teachings gave her back her creative voice. For Lori, who attended Mary Ellen’s workshops every year, that has been one of the greatest gifts of her life.
Mary Ellen Mark lived fully with passion and humor and grace until her last day on earth. We, the privileged ones that got to participate in her unique world of images and stories, will love her forever.