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Posts Tagged ‘Spain

How and why I’ve been telling my life story here and elsewhere!

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António Damásio, Portuguese neuroscientist.
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I like Antonio Damasio‘s thoughts about our brain and our behaviors influenced by the working of our brain, or brains!

Here is what I read by him on the Big Think web site:

we do not give the same amount of emotional significance to every event.

For some 45 years of my life I felt little emotional significance coming from my experience in Spain, France and then Canada when I was a babe in arms until I was 10 or so. It was as if I had not experienced anything but I did have nightmares and often.

And yes I remember being a fearful little boy, bigger boy and teenager. But since my birth family believed that we had to move on and not dwell on less beneficial history, I never had nor asked for, the chance to recover, consider and put behind me the frights that I lived through especially in France from September 1939 until we arrived in Canada in July 1940. I guess you could say that I had almost 12 months of little boy hell with my birth family during our prolonged “escape” during the Fall of France.

As I understand it from pieces of family recollections, my mother and my siblings lived in and around Verneuil-s-Avre about 160 kms south east of Paris during most of that time.

It must have been a reasonably quiet place until refugees from Belgium, Luxemberg and the north of France began trickling through starting around May 10, 1940 and then stampeding through after May 18 to the south and west of France chased by the German panzer tanks, infantry storm troops and terror bombing by Stuka aircraft.

But let me go back to what Damasio says about the amount of significance I must have put on those experiences, especially when my nanny, Pensa Gomez, left us to live with the Wanamaker family in France. To this day, I can’t hear some music without tears welling in my eyes. In my case that’s got nothing to do with John Boehner‘s supposed emotional outburst talking about how much he has done to protect and recover the American Dream. But I guess each of us has a right to our own significance!

Later in his discussion Damasio says that we tend to go on and change or reconstruct the narrative we tell about our life. Depending on other pleasureable or unpleasant events in our life. For myself, I cam late to the telling of the narrative of my life. I didn’t really begin until I was 65 or so.

From 4 to 65 is a long time to have left my narrative untold and unremembered. But I finally got here and now I feel better for having told my narrative, even if the first 5 years worth are mostly reconstructions from bits and pieces from my older brother, random family records and photos. At least I know what I looked like at about 8 or 9 months in Barcelona and then in Montreal and in the Pyrenees when I was 2 and after that when I was 4 in Paris in 1939.

I’ve just had a thought that I regret because I thought that I had put this stuff behind me insofar as my father was concerned. But I had another thought, and maybe Damasio is right in this way, about resenting my father’s placing more importance with his Bank and employees in France and not enough on me in my plight of feeling repeated losses too early in my short life till then. There I’ ve said it “I resent what my father did to overstay in France and Spain” just to satisfy his own interests and those of the Bank!

I will come back to this tomorrow or the days after!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/11/12 at 00:26

This morning I am wearing a Soccer World Cup t-shirt with the Spain crest

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Well for one reason they won in extra time but the strike was clean one. And I was born in Barcelona all those 75 some years ago. I didn’t live there long and have not been there since but I was born in Spain. So here’s a snap from NY Times front page web site:

But the sports news is not all rose this morning for Lance. He had a bad day yesterday and is now sitting 39th in the Tour de France. He had three bad crashes yesterday during the first Alps day. Not his usual form, but he is 39. Now he says he will just “enjoy his last Tour de France”.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/07/11 at 16:58

I have written here more than once about my being born in Barcelona in 1935

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Overview of the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada...
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That was less than 12 months before the  grim clouds of Spanish fascism morphed into a officer led rebellion against the liberal socialist Republic that had been voted into power in a recent election in the seesaw battle between all the opposing political forces in Spain pre-WW II.

It is with some pleasure that I read “Hemingway Reports Spain Part I” in TNR book section this morning:

Barcelona

It was a lovely false spring day when we started for the front this morning. Last night, coming in to Barcelona, it had been gray, foggy, dirty and sad, but today it was bright and warm, and pink almond blossoms colored the gray hills and brightened the dusty green rows of olive trees.

Then, outside of Reus, on a straight smooth highway with olive orchards on each side, the chauffeur from the rumble seat shouted, “Planes, planes!” and, rubber screeching, we stopped the car under a tree.

“They’re right over us,” the chauffeur said, and, as this correspondent dove headforward into a ditch, he looked up sideways, watching a monoplane come down and wing over and then evidently decide a single car was not worth turning his eight machine guns loose on.

Hemingway’s clear prose style gives me an indelible picture of the Spain of 1938 when my father was deciding, while enduring the onslaught of daily bombings in Barcelona by Italian aircraft from Majorca, when to leave that beleagured city.

Less then 12 months later he and the rest of our family were in Paris, which was clearly in the way of Hitler’s helter skelter plans to defeat the armies of the European democracies before undertaking the final fatal battle against the USSR.

It’s odd how writings from that time, like Hemingway’s don’t go away, They just keep popping up when and where I least expect. These writing only remind me about my unfinished writing job.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/06/10 at 19:26

The Internet, the resource that keeps on giving to me!

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The photograph shows children preparing for ev...
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How else could I find these words by Chomsky in a current issue of The Nation that offer a telling counterpoint to the  seemingly fascinating expat experience of me and my parents in Barcelona before, during and after the Spanish Civil War:

Among the most memorable of these materials is a collection of primary documents about collectivization, published in 1937 by the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union that is celebrating its centenary this year. One contribution has resonated in my mind ever since, by peasants of the village of Membrilla. I would like to quote parts of it:

In [the] miserable huts [of Membrilla] live the poor inhabitants of a poor province; eight thousand people, but the streets are not paved, the town has no newspaper, no cinema, neither a café nor a library…. Food, clothing and tools were distributed equitably to the whole population. Money was abolished, work collectivized, all goods passed to the community, consumption was socialized. It was, however, not a socialization of wealth but of poverty…. The whole population lived as in a large family; functionaries, delegates, the secretary of the syndicates, the members of the municipal council, all elected, acted as heads of a family. But they were controlled, because special privilege or corruption would not be tolerated. Membrilla is perhaps the poorest village of Spain, but it is the most just.

These words, by some of the most impoverished peasants in the country, capture with rare eloquence the achievements and promise of the anarchist revolution. The achievements did not, of course, spring up from nothing. They were the outcome of many decades of struggle, experiment, brutal repression – and learning. The concept of how a just society should be organized was in the minds of the population when the opportunity arose. The experiment in creating a world of freedom and justice was crushed all too soon by the combined forces of fascism, Stalinism and liberal democracy. Global power centers understood very well that they must unite to destroy this dangerous threat to subordination and discipline before turning to the secondary task of dividing up the spoils.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/05/10 at 11:54

Confraternisation de militants anarchistes et d’agents de la Guardia Civil

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Confraternisation de militants anarchistes et d’agends de la Guardia Civil

Originally uploaded by rue89video

This photo is part of a recently revealed archive of photos of conflict and fraternizing between opposing fighters during the early part of the Spanish Civil war in Barcelona.

I probably l had just gotten out, or was about to get out, of Barcelona by way of a car convoy to Andorra, on the Franco-Spanish border in the High Pyrenees with my mother, siblings and nanny, Pensa Gomez.

It’s amazing how bits and pieces from that time in Spain and Europe that touch ever so slightly on my own living experiences then continue to filter out. It’s only through the ubiquity of information on the Web that I can get this stuff. The Web has helped me put together more of my own story in Barcelona in 1936 and France in 1939-40.

PUEBLA DE CAZALLA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 10:  Rela...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/12/06 at 09:23

Photo archive from the Spanish Civil War – Death after bombardment of Lerida

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Not an ordinary scene. Those dark objects in the background are probably dead horses. I have a picture of myself and my father next to a car, in the French Pyrenees not far from Spain, that looks a lot like the one in this photo!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/12/05 at 10:30

Posted in history, photos/images

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Why did world democracies fail to help the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War 1936-39?

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Here’s some pithy historical analysis, which must have resonated for George Orwell!

A Call to Arms

Oct 16th 2008

From The Economist print edition
We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War
By Paul Preston

 

Constable; 436 pages; £20

Buy it at
Amazon.co.uk

 

“IN SPAIN two vast world forces are testing each other out: if Franco conquers, Europe will be black or Europe will go to war as soon as Hitler and Mussolini are ready.” That was the correct prediction in 1936 of Louis Fischer, an American journalist so convinced of the dangers of Franco’s fascist rebellion that he joined the International Brigades to take up arms on behalf of the Republican government.

Fischer was hardly alone in his devotion to the Republican cause: in an excellent account of the foreign reporting of Spain’s three years of savage fratricide, Paul Preston cites an impressive list, from America’s egotistic Ernest Hemingway to Britain’s self-effacing Henry Buckley. By contrast, enthusiasts for Franco’s rebels were few (Mr Preston singles out William P. Carney of the New York Times for special, scornful mention). As Mr Preston explains, foreign correspondents were given relatively free rein by the Republicans’ press office, with easy access to the front lines. On the Francoist side they were often threatened with prison and execution.

So why did the reporting of so many pro-Republic correspondents not persuade outside powers, notably Britain, America and France, to lift their arms embargo on the hard-pressed Republicans? A prime reason was the fact that the Republicans were backed, more in materiel than men, by Stalin’s Russia: an antipathy to communism was, it seems, a good enough excuse to overlook the presence in Franco’s forces of German and Italian troops. Outside opinion was also offended by the anticlericalism of the Republican side, with its attacks on priests and vandalism of monasteries. Some of these attacks were horrible enough; others were exaggerated by Francoist sympathisers. Mr Preston notes that Carney invented many of his stories, which pro-Catholic editors at the New York Times printed despite the anguish of Herbert Matthews, its more objective correspondent on the Republican side.

Mr Preston’s own preference for the Republican cause is obvious, but it does not deter him from detailing the spying for their governments of several pro-Republic correspondents. He devotes a fascinating chapter to Russia’s Mikhail Koltsov, a Pravda correspondent for whom Republican Spain was an inspiring antidote to the terror of his homeland—and whose loyalty to Stalin was rewarded by torture and execution. Fischer, writing mainly for the Nation, was not a spy, but he was so well-connected in both Europe and America that his advice was welcomed by American and Soviet politicians alike.

One weakness of Mr Preston’s book is his concentration on the English-language press (Koltsov apart, non-Anglophone journalists are mentioned mainly in passing). Another is an overlong chapter on the dispute between Hemingway and John Dos Passos on the disappearance of Dos Passos’s friend, José Robles. But these are small criticisms. The author paints a marvellous portrait of the world of the war correspondent: the risk to life; the temptations to infidelity (Hemingway’s affair with Martha Gellhorn was hardly exceptional); and, in the days before satellite phones, the constant struggle to get the story out.

The story was tragic, not just as a prologue to the second world war but also because it condemned Spain to decades of dictatorship. Implicit in this book is the thought that, if the correspondents had been listened to, the outcome could have been different. As Mr Buckley later wrote, the outside world cared more for Spain’s art works, spirited to safety in Geneva, than for its thousands of refugees.

We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War.

By Paul Preston.
Constable; 436 pages; £20

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/11/10 at 07:44

A word picture of Barcelona in 1937

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Arquitectura militar de la guerra civil españo...
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Since my father worked, as a manager of the Royal Bank of Canada, and lived in Barcelona during 2/3rds of the Spanish Civil War, I have often wondered how working and living conditions were there. Of course, it is factually accurate that I was born in Barcelona October 8, 1935.

This morning I googled into an essay by Albert Weisbord and encountered this word picture that seemed quite authentic and credible to me:

The appearance of Barcelona in May 1937 proclaimed unmistakably that the proletariat was now asserting itself. All the important buildings in the center of the city were occupied by workers organizations. The top floors of Hotel Oriente had been taken over by the Syndicalists and on Via Durutti (renamed after a popular Anarchist leader who fell in battle a year ago) the National Confederation of Labor (C.N.T.) made its headquarters in the magnificent building which formerly housed the Chamber of Commerce. Hotel Falcon had been converted into a center for the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.), especially for its soldiers on leave from the front. On the exclusive Pasco de Gracias a beautiful building had been taken over by the Unification Socialist Party of Catalonia (P.S.U.C.) and was now the Case Karl Marx. An enormous propaganda sign covered its basement and first floor but when the fighting began in May, at once the sign had been ripped and the machine guns concealed behind it had opened fire on the revolutionary workers who were behind the barricades in the streets.

One startling innovation was the huge picture of Stalin three stories high which stared at one from the facade of the Hotel Colon, the swankiest hotel in Barcelona which had also been requisitioned by the P.S.U.C. It seems the picture had been accompanied by a picture of Lenin of similar size, but Lenin’s picture had fallen down (let those who will look for a hidden symbolism in this incident) and had never been replaced.

Las Remblas and Plaza Catalunya were a riot of color not only with the red flags of the Communists and Socialists and the red and black flags of the Anarcho-Syndicalists, but with other enormous banners and signs placed over the avenue and center of the square. Here in bright pictures and large letters the masses were called upon to fight fascism and to build a new society. The old street names had been replaced to honor Spanish revolutionists or even Russian celebrities who had caught popular fancy (such as Calle Pavlov or Calle Tolstoy).

The sunny calm that in 1932 had pervaded the city’s thoroughfares had given way to a contagious atmosphere of strain. It was civil war now in all its grimness. Many streets were still torn up where the recent barricades had been erected. The barracks of the old guards near the Columbus column were in a state of complete destruction, a reminder of the July days of 1936, with huge shell holes marking the spot where the cannon of Montjuic in the hands of the workers had smashed the resistance of the guards and had forced them to come down from the top of the column where they had placed their machine guns and to surrender.

The straw-sandaled picturesque dancers in the streets, the gay crowds hanging about the sidewalk cafes, all had vanished. Now groups stood tensely to hear the radio reports of casualties from the front and the stern directives for the citizen on how to win the war. At night all lights were out; searchlights played over the city and on every corner placards notified people where to go in case of an air raid or bombardment. Soldiers, home on leave from the front, were everywhere.

But if the old civil guards in the patent leather hats had disappeared to go with Franco, new guards and police, the Asaltos and Carbineros, had been formed by the conservative elements in the government. These bodies were now apolitical and deadly enemies of the old Workers Patrol Control which had been dominated by the trade unions and revolutionary parties. Once again there was appearing the ubiquitous spy and the night raid. Daily, nightly, individuals known to be active members of this or that revolutionary organization would simply disappear never to be seen again.

Even for the moneyed stranger life was not what it used to be. Few hotels could boast of hot water or warm baths. Food was becoming poor in quality even in the pensions and restaurants where meals were restricted to two courses with one small piece of bread per customer. For the rest of the people there were bread and milk lines while olive oil, tobacco, charcoal, soap and medical supplies had become very scarce. In general only simple fare was obtainable consisting of rabbit, muscles, plain cuts of meat and rice, the standbys of the poorer classes. Nevertheless in certain restaurants patronized by the officials and by well-to-do strangers in the know such delicacies as lobster, chicken, ice cream and strawberries might be enjoyed. Evidently Catalonia was still far from having realized the Socialist Commonwealth where all would be treated alike.

Gone were the pleasant diversions which formerly used to ease the stay of the tourists in the city. In the fashionable neighborhood near Tibidabo the buildings had been sequestered as sanitoriums or hospitals for the wounded, homes for refugees or orphaned children and similar institutions of social welfare. The cable cars, deserted, no longer operated. The fountains of Montjuic likewise were silent… who would want to spend money on colored waters when there was dire need for arms and munitions for the front and hundreds of thousands of the best blood of Spain were dying on the field of battle? The fortress of Montjuic was still there (The Anarchists had captured it for a brief moment during the fighting of the May Days) but as for the old prison, the bastille in which so many champions of the people had suffered torments in the old days, the populace of Barcelona had stormed it and released the prisoners.

As for the music halls with their accompanying prostitution, after July, 1936, when the workers had crushed the fascist revolt throughout Catalonia and were on the road to becoming the chief power, there had been a determined effort to stomp out these hotbeds of vice. Many of the pimps were killed and the women liberated. Educational posters were spread throughout the city advising the soldiers that prostitution was the disgrace of the army and the degradation of the women; it was an agency of Franco and must be stamped out. But in the months that had elapsed since then, during which the influence of the workers’ organizations was waning, there had been a general relaxation of discipline and the dance halls were now open once more with their languishing sirens. By June the Syndicalists had been ousted from Hotel Oriente where now a hot abaret flourished.

How far the revolution had emancipated the women of Spain was an intriguing question for all those who had followed the heroic participation of these women in the actual fighting in defence of their country. To what extent had the old semi-harem status of the feminine sex, so strongly rooted in the traditions of the country, actually broken down? It must be confessed that, in spite of the efforts of the progressive forces in Spain, the enlightenment of the women has not proceeded very far. In everyday life the customs of centuries still had their grip on personal relationships.

Women in Spain were still divided into two simple groups, prostitutes and respectable women, the latter consisting of cloistered virgins and fanatically loyal mates. Revolutionary soldiers could be found beating their wives and even so-called professional revolutionists were still ready to kill their life companions if they were caught conversing with other men. It is true that a certain breath of freedom has blown over the women. Its first expression have been rather freakish ones inspired by Hollywood, heads bleached blond and pained faces glaringly incongruous among the natural dark beauties of Spain. Women constituted still but a small percentage of the membership in the revolutionary organizations, and the women secretariats which had been recently appointed were having an exceedingly difficult time of it to make the men understand the need of drawing the women into the movement and the women to understand their place in the new social order.

Similarly with the school system. The Generalidad was making efforts to introduce new methods and curricula, yet in only two or three of the nine high schools of Barcelona had they succeeded to any great extent. Old fashioned methods of drill and an antiquated routine still prevailed in the rest. Attendance of children at school was not strictly enforced, although a great part of the people was still illiterate. Yet one could see that much more reading was being done on the whole by the adult population. In Las Rambles, adjacent to the flower stalls, large numbers of book stalls had now opened up selling revolutionary literature of all sorts. But it must be admitted that among the serious pamphlets and books, “literature” of a quite different sort was common: pornographic novels and magazines that purported to speak of physical culture, of nudism and the emancipation of women but in reality were cheap commercial ventures calculated only to stir up the sexual passions of the “liberated” readers.

Gone was the censorship of the clergy, as were the priests, monks and nuns themselves. The churches were no longer anything but blackened shells, where fire had finished whatever bombs and dynamite had left of their walls. Not a church was left standing intact in Barcelona except the old Cathedral which, singularly enough, had been preserved by all factions as a work of art.

Nothing so sharply characterized the change in regime that had taken place as the nature of the newspapers in circulation. All the old sheets that one used to read, El Debat, A.B.C., etc., were nowhere to be seen and their place was taken by the papers of the workers’ groups, formerly poorly printed sheets issued weekly in small numbers, but now grown to powerful dailies. Now it was “Soli”, Solidaridad Obrera, organ of the C.N.T. leading the way with a circulation of about 225,000, La Batalla, paper of the P.O.U.M., El Treball and Las Noticias, P.S.U.C. papers in Catalan and Spanish, that were most read. Many of the radio stations in operation in May – later they were all taken over by the government © were controlled by the same workers’ organizations. The programs that blared out most frequently consisted of news from the front, international news and propaganda or proclamations.

The workers factions were by no means in harmony among themselves, the chief quarrel being between those who wished to retain the present republic while fighting Franco, and those who wanted to pursue the revolution further along the lines of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. These latter groups (The Anarchists, the Syndicalists and the P.O.U.M.) had been mainly responsible for the collectivization of industry which is one of the most fundamental changes that have been effected in Catalonia. Restaurants, means of transportation, as well as all key industries have been thus collectivized.

During the fighting of the July Days of 1936, many owners of industry, shopkeepers and restaurateurs, tired of the perpetual tumult and fearful of their lives should a social revolution be successful, fled the country. To take over the abandoned enterprises and operate them was at once a natural step and a necessity for the continued economic existence of Catalonia. The expropriation was carried out principally by the C.N.T. which in the course of the past year has become the leading industrial corporation as well as the most powerful proletarian group. The change of direction was not effectuated without considerable confusion during the early period of workers’ control.

Oh my goodness! Doesn’t that sound like a place just east of hell on earth. My father’s superiors at the RBofC did urge him to leave Barcelona and he told them that he felt he must stay there to protect the lives and livelihood of his Spanish employees. Yes, this does sound like something my father would do and give as his reason for doing it. A bit sanctimonious, well meaning and taking himself more seriously than he should have, probably.

All during his lifetime he never told me anything about his experiences in Barcelona, not one thing! I inherited some papers from him that said little of fact or feelings.

After sending his wife and children back to Canada in July 1936, he came to get us in the fall of 1937 and brought us back to live in Vernet-l-bains in the French Pyrenees about 80 klicks west of Perpignan, a wonderful Provencal city of the “Cote Emeraude”.

HL & me '37

That’s my mother’s handwriting at the bottom of the photo.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/08/28 at 08:15

“Fun and Games” in Pamplona, Spain

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The Associated Press wrote this description about these goings on in Pamplona, the Festival of Saint Fermin:

The Festival of San Fermin attracts thousands of visitors to Pamplona, Spain every year. The nine-day festival includes a carnival, bullfights and of course, the famous Running of the Bulls. Deeply traditional, it has been held since 1591, and remains a popular, if dangerous and controversial event. This year, dozens of runners and revelers have been injured, and one has been killed – a 27-year-old man who was gored in the neck, heart and lungs on Friday.

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/07/14 at 10:00

To answer why psychology became the subject he wanted most to study …

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Steven Pinker has written this in NY Times Sunday Magazine:

The very fact that I had to think so hard brought home what scholars of autobiography and memoir have long recognized. None of us know what made us what we are, and when we have to say something, we make up a good story.

Steven Pinker
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An obvious candidate for the real answer is that we are shaped by our genes in ways that none of us can directly know. Of course genes can’t pull the levers of our behavior directly. But they affect the wiring and workings of the brain, and the brain is the seat of our drives, temperaments and patterns of thought. Each of us is dealt a unique hand of tastes and aptitudes, like curiosity, ambition, empathy, a thirst for novelty or for security, a comfort level with the social or the mechanical or the abstract. Some opportunities we come across click with our constitutions and set us along a path in life.

Given the story of where I was born, Barcelona, Spain, and of how I got to live in Canada – my parents were born on Ile Madame next to Cape Breton Island – beginning in mid-July 1940, I have been messing around with the notion of writing the story of my “path in life” to this point.

I am 73some now and in 4 days I fly off to live and work in China, Dalian in Liaoning Province next to the Yellow Sea. So my “path in life” is going to take on a whole new orientation. And there is no doubt that I will blog post about the quirks and turns of that “path in life”.

photo-8

Barcelona
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So writing that memoir, whether it will be semi-fictional and how semi-, takes on a new life.

But it occurs to me that not the least important fact today is that I feel that I have reached a milestone as an “aspiring writer“. In the last week I have wakened, with the help of a continuing conversation about why I write, to the sense that I am now a learning writer and I won’t refer to being an “aspiring writer” any more.

I feel in my gut that that means I have given myself permission to write that memoir in a more deliberate way than I have been doing since I began messing around with it about 12 years ago.

Now I accept that I have to write my way into a way of telling that memoir story in way that compels my interest to write it and then get a sense of it’s value to me most of all, once I have finished the writing of it. If I can do that then I will have a better chance that my completed memoir will have some redeeming interest to my own children and grandchildren, who are the primary audience I am aiming at.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/01/10 at 05:52