Gravitational influence of the Moon

Since Ancient Times, humans have realized that the Moon has a big influence on planet Earth. Modern science showed us that the Moon modifies our planet’s tides, weather and temperatures. Elizabeth Merriam wrote: “since the Moon’s gravitational force depends on distance, at any given time, the portion of the Earth closest to the Moon (i.e. directly underneath it) is most strongly influenced by gravity. This means that when the Moon is over an ocean, the water is pulled toward it, creating what is called the tidal bulge. As the Moon orbits the Earth, the tidal bulge acts like a wave sweeping around the Earth. This effect causes the tides.” The relative distances of the Sun, Earth and Moon can affect the size and the magnitude of our planet’s two daily tidal bulges; the shape of the shoreline, including the presence of bays and estuaries, can increase the size of tides.

In any given 24 hours-period there are two low tides and two high tides, separated by a span of about an hour; during the new moon and full moon, high tides further increase in size and the low tides further decrease in size. The first and last quarter moon moderate the size of high and low tides. The weather is influenced through the presence or absence of water currents that can alter the continental temperatures like the Gulf current and the El Niño phenomenon have steadily done. The gravitational pull of the Moon can affect the land and atmosphere in a much-lower levels. What many ancient cultures have done is to study the possible effect of the Moon on human beings.

Animal physiology is affected by the seasonal, lunar and circadian rhythms in varying ways; even though the seasonal and circadian influences were studied, the lunar one is less well known. The lunar cycle supposedly influences the menstruation, fertility and birth rates; researchers have proposed that the level of melatonin and endogenous steroids might be the hormonal mediators. During full moon days, the birds lose the variations of their melatonin and corticosterone levels. The structure of the pineal glands and the taste sensitivity of laboratory rats are affected by the lunar cycles. The gravitational pull  of the moon may trigger the release of hypothalamic hormones. What seemed to have been a “traditional truth” for old cultures is just being unveiled by science.

The correlation of the lunar cycles and fertility/births has been contested by meta-analysis of data. The records of 11,961 live births and 8,142 natural births (not induced by drugs or C-sections)  during 1974-1978 In the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center did not show any significant relationship with the lunar cycles. The study of 564.039 births in North Carolina from 1997 to 2001 did not show a significant correlation either. A 2001 review of 70,000,000,000 birth records from the National Center for Health Statistics also failed to find a meaningful correlation.

Two studies have found evidence that a full moon can exacerbate the aggressiveness of patients with Mental Disorders, especially Schizophrenia; a methodical analysis of data confirmed it. People with Epilepsy have less seizures when the moon is less illuminated and there is a clear sky. The Sussex Police in the UK claimed that there was a rise in violent crime in their streets during the full moon period, which has been reiterated by their peers in Ohio, Kentucky and New Zealand. A statistically dubious study found an increase of fatalities in Dade County during the full moon.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Superstitious artists – Frida Kahlo

When she had a miscarriage in 1931, Frida Kahlo asked her physician to see the dead fetus; he adamantly refused but he gave her a medical textbook where she could learn about fetal growth. She had three traumatic miscarriages during her lifetime, and she carried an emotional burden. She wrote in her dairy that: “ I am not sick, I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” Her profound angst and suffering were positively sublimated in her artistic creation.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a small city in the outskirts of Mexico City, to Guillermo Kahlo, a German-born photographer, and Matilde Calderón y Gonzales, a homemaker of mestizo (mixed-race)origins. Her childhood was particularly sad as her parents did not love each other and the Mexican revolution bankrupted the father’s photography business; at age 6 she contracted polio, which made her right leg shorter and thinner than the left one. She became a recluse at her home where she was mentored by her loving father in art, literature and photography. She started school later than her sisters and did not follow them to a convent school ( her mother was a religious fanatic) and went to a German school. After being expelled from it, she went to a vocational school where she was sexually abused by a female teacher. She was accepted in the National Preparatory School that fostered the indigenismo—the assertion of the cultural values of native people to counteract the European colonizing influences of the elite classes. When she was about to enter medical school, a traffic accident disabled her.

After a slow recovery, she began to socialize in an artistic circle with overtly leftist leanings; she joined the Communist Party and in 1928 she married Diego Rivera, a famous painter who was twenty years her senior and had two common-law wives. In 1929, Kahlo and Rivera moved to Cuernavaca, which had been the theater of some of the worst fighting in the Civil War; there Frida’s sense of Mexican identity surfaced as she  dressed with the traditional colorful dresses of the Mexican peasantry, especially from the matriarchal society of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In 1930 the couple moved to San Francisco, California, where Diego Rivera was commissioned with several high-profile murals and they were entertained by the polite society of the time. Extremely annoyed by her husband’s frequent infidelities, Frida started her agitated life as a lover of many men and women, a fact she never cared to conceal to anyone, including Diego himself.  In 1931 the couple returned to Mexico but soon left for New York City for the opening of Diego Rivera’s retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) Being very fluent in English and a good communicator, Frida interacted naturally with the American press, unabashedly claiming that she was in fact the best painter of the two. Brave girl.

In her self-portraits, Frida used many images and symbols of Pre-Columbian people like the Aztecs and the heavily Christian-influenced colonial culture; her work is embedded with Superstition. In order to search for her true identity and gender, she used different costumes and masks with a troubling surrealist perspective, mixing life and death in her work. Her painting evoked the strong yet protective matriarchal figures of tehuanas, mythical goddesses of Ancient Times in Mexico. In her well-illustrated  book, Suzanne Barbezat said: “as a teen and young adult, Frida experimented with different styles of dresses. She was clearly aware of the power of clothing in crafting her identity and enjoyed making a statement and even shocking people with her different looks.” The symbology of roots is present everywhere as both a testimony to her heritage and her feelings of entrapment. She considered that trees were the natural agents that linked us humans through the different generations and that they were a symbol of hope.

Frida bared her soul and body in her paintings in order to “exorcise” the profound angst that she felt all her life due to her many physical disabilities and her three failed attempts at motherhood. Her canvas is brutally splattered with human tissue and drips warm blood, one drop at a time. She was branded as the feminine voice of Surrealism. When she arrived in a traumatized Paris in January 1939, due to the looming signs of war, she had difficulty to retrieve her tableaus from the Customs Agency and the gallery’s owners that agreed to show her work vetoed all of them except two for the exhibition because they considered her work “too shocking for the Parisian public.” In spite of the limited exhibition, she was admired and the Musée du Louvre bought The Frame, the first time that the haughty European institution acquired a painting from a Mexican artist.

As a physician that delivered several babies with the aid of midwifes and nurses during many stints as an Emergency Ward attending, we can attest to the bloody brutishness of the birthing process. It is a terribly stressful experience for all of those present, foremost for the mother, but yet fabulously exhilarating. Our first delivery occurred  in a Saturday night shift in the city hospital of San Miguel del Monte in the Provincia de Buenos Aires of Argentina. Fast asleep in the on-call room, we were suddenly awakened by the on-duty nurse: “Doctor, a pregnant woman just came in…It’s happening.” Half-awake, we jumped into our shoes from the bunk and we followed her, shaking, to the Obstetrics ward.

There we found two scrubbed-up nurses , at the ready, staring at us, waiting for our instructions. It must have been one of the scariest moments of our life. By far. Gently, the nurses lead us through the tried-out routine from the clinical protocols that we have learned in Medical School, which allowed us to put our knowledge into action . Suddenly our mind’s dense fog cleared out and we found our purpose as a physician. After a few minutes of gentle coaching to the mother and a timely episiotomy to open up the canal  (the midwife slammed the knife on our hand and showed us where and how to cut), so the baby could have more space to pass, she was able to push the baby in our hands. In that instant we knew that there was a much higher entity that had enabled that miracle. Bedazzled by the first cry of the newborn, we showed him to the sweaty, happy mother.

–“What is his name?” we asked her.

-“Federico,” she whispered.

That same night we prepared a long letter to our dear grandmother Yolanda who always reminded us of the feat. It was, and still is, one of the proudest moments of our whole medical career.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.





The “uninvited” visitors  

Some books, you pursue all your life. Some other ones. pursue you all your life.

A French teacher once told us forthrightly: “ I know you like Maupassant…He’s a witty, funny, concise narrator that had a flamboyant lifestyle and a tragically premature demise due to syphilis. But avoid Contes Fantastiques because you might never be able to calmly fall asleep again.” She warned us to never read Le Horla with a camouflaged whisper, as if she were fearful of the tale. Not inclined to have any surprises in our reading material, we dutifully followed her advice.

A few years ago, our daughter Noël Marie attended an Italian language course in Venezia during the summertime; when she came back to Miami, she proudly showed us the presents she bought. –“Dad, I went to an open-air bookstore in La Giudecca on a Saturday and found these for you.” She ceremoniously pulled out three vintage-looking bound collections of stories, a city map, and an innocuously looking soft cover white booklet. What was it? Contes Fantastiques… It found us.

Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850 in the Chateau de Miromesmil, Normandy, into a bourgeois family of freethinkers; his parents divorced when he was 11 years old and he briefly attended a Catholic school until he purposefully provoked his expulsion from it. He went to a lycée in Le Havre and in the fall of 1869, he started to study Law in Paris; the following year he volunteered as an infantryman in the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, which resulted in a humiliating defeat for France. He was demobilized in 1871 and returned to Paris to finish his Law studies. His father helped him get a commission first in the Ministry of Marine and then of Public Instruction. Laure, his mother, was friendly with Alfred LePoittevin, a close friend of Gustave Flaubert; she asked the latter to “keep an eye” on the young man and help him in his budding literary career. Introducing him to other writers, Flaubert said: “He’s my disciple and I consider him like a son,”

Maupassant enjoyed swimming and boating in the Seine with his coterie friends on weekends; oftentimes they invited des “filles gaies” to accompany them along their excursions. Once he became rich with his publications, he bought several boats and even resided in one of them. Like his brother, he discovered that he had syphilis at an early age but refused any kind of treatment. In 1880 he contributed his short story Boule de Suif to a compilation of six stories about the Franco-German war that Emile Zola was preparing; it was the best one and became an instant hit with the public. It narrates the vicissitudes of a prostitute in a stagecoach that gets raped by a German officer without being helped by any of her previously obsequious voyage companions. It depicts the hypocrisy of society at large and its somber tone would mark all his later works. A fierce naturalist.

As his brain was suffering the ravages of Neurosyphilis, he wrote his scariest stories with a clear mind, dismissing the naysayers’ critique that he had been possessed by maddening hallucinations. Le Horla was written in 1887, a few months before he turned psychotic and admitted to an asylum. In a gripping emotional crescendo, it tells the story of a young bourgeois that, after spontaneously waving at a Brazilian four-mast boat, has the certitude that an invisible entity jumped off the ship and took residence in his home. Horla is a composite of “hors” which means “outside of”, and “la”, which means “there.” He maniacally feels its presence in all the little details of his home.

The central character believed that this “uninvited” visitor was only the advance scout of a larger army of similar beings that were waiting for the right moment to take over our planet. He noticed that one glass of water that he had left full one night, was inexplicable empty the following day. He believed that the mysterious invaders liked to drink water and milk when he was distracted. He had nightmares and when he woke up, he felt observed or that somebody was kneeling on his body.

How many times did we have the fleeting sensation that there was a goblin at home? We can’t find our keys-chain, even though we swear that we had put it on the table the night before… We chastise whomever lives with us for drinking our beer, even though they said they didn’t …. We can’t find the 20 bucks we had in our pocket, even though our hubbies swear they didn’t search our pants… And worse of all, for those like us that like to bring a glass of water to the nightstand, we have the impression that someone might have drunk some of it during our sleep. Never happened to you?

A last-minute development: that copy of Contes Fantastiques is nowhere to be found now. Is it lurking in a darkened corner of our flat ready to jump on us when we are at our very weakest?

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Talking with the Departed

-“Doctor…Need to talk to him… Just one more time—please help me.”

Pamela X. is the smart middle-aged lady from Coral Gables that we featured in one of the earliest, and most heart-wrenching, posting of our series of Emotional Frustration in an article titled as “The Gone Son.” We narrated how one Saturday morning her only son had committed suicide. The lack of apparent signs or causes for that tragic decision had baffled her distressed parents, especially because he had left no note and had not shared his intention with any other family members or friends. In honor of him, we addressed the issue of Suicide in our book “Emotional Frustration-the hushed plague.”

In spite of being followed and medicated by the best psychiatric team of Dade County, she always occasionally came to visit us in the following years, despite the fact that we could not add anything. Well, that is not entirely true…She progressively hinted that she wanted us to recommend a good medium in order to contact her deceased son. She was still hurting from his tragically unannounced decision to take his life and she desperately wanted to ask him a few things. Initially we played dumb evading the request altogether (for which we have a lifelong experience with opinionated ladies), but we came to the conclusion that if we did not help her, she would end up cheated by charlatans. We reluctantly gave her the contact info of a friend-of a friend-of a friend-of a friend… We did not want to be present at the séance nor do we want to discuss what she told us.

Mediumship is the practice of supposedly being able to actively communicate with the spirits of the departed by gifted individuals called mediums that act individually or as a part of larger conglomerate in Shamanism, Voodoo, Candomblé and others (we will discuss them in other posts) The most common interventions are the take-over of the medium’s body by a spirit who engages directly with the interested party or the relaying of the spirit’s messages by the medium. It became a very fashionable entertainment with the upper European classes in the Nineteenth Century; some serious scientists of the time like Pierre Curie researched it and eventually became converts. Other scientists concluded that the phenomenon could be explained by suggestion and telepathy. In a 2005 study Drs. O’Keefe and Ciaran, from the British Psychological Society, concluded that there was nothing supernatural in that practice and that mediums could not possibly contact with the departed.

The continuing fight between believers and non-believers of Mediumship misses an important anthropological fact. Above all, it should be considered as a cultural phenomenon that has been reproduced in countless settings. Humans, unlike all the other animals, are constantly anguished by the idea of death and what lies beyond; moreover, we always feel that there is something else that we should have said. Or done. Some persons take refuge in religion, others in esoteric cults and still others in unproven ways. When we finally relented to ease the access of Pamela X. to a medium. we wanted to protect her from shady operators that would have raided her purse and spiritually harm her even more. Even though we have our serious doubts about the practice, which seems like a sophisticated form of hypnosis to us, we believe that it might have some healing effects for some patients, like the Charcot’s sessions in La Salpétriêre had for his.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Fertility rites – the Maasai

In 1895 the British government took over the possessions of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) and formed the East Africa Protectorate over them, inheriting a longstanding bond of convenience with a special tribe. The colonizers had always avoided to directly confront one of the most fearsome group of warriors in the continent: the Maasai. As they started to build the vital Uganda Railway in 1896, they could not afford to alienate the Maasai who controlled their lines of communications. Their politics of appeasement eventually led to the Treaty of 1904 and its ratification in 1911. This saga serves as the backdrop of the film The Ghost and the Darkness starring Michael Douglas and Van Kilmer, which is a very enjoyable adventure film to watch with your family.

The Maasai are a distinct ethnic group that emigrated from the Nile Valley in the 15th century down to present day Kenia and Northern Uganda, numbering approximately 2 million people. They used to be totally nomadic, herding their cattle, but in the past century they have given up some of their customs to become semi-nomadic after contact with the modern society. They are a patriarchal society that lately has given up the practice of polygamy and polyandry; the barbaric custom of female circumcision has been progressively eradicated due to women’s empowerment. Their diet traditionally consisted of raw milk and meat from their cattle but the government’s effort to improve their lifestyle have introduced maize products like porridge, butter and cooked meals. Their dismal infant mortality of previous generations has been tackled by the access of Maasai women to modern clinics, including the pre and post-natal care in government funded programs. They are monotheistic, worshiping a single deity called Engai, which has a dual presentation; Engai Narock (Black God) is benevolent and Engai Na-nyoke (Red God) is vengeful.

The fact that they were a uniquely defiant player in a very tough neighborhood (with plenty of opposing tribes) and their high neonatal mortality rates prodded their elders to emphasize all the social rituals regarding the promotion of fertility in their young women. They had two major rituals for it: the pilgrimage of young girls to their sacred mountain and the offering of a bull’s sacrifice.

Inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania lies the Oldoinyo Lengai—the country’s third peak and its only active volcano—which is called the Mountain of God by the Maasai. The 1.970 feet-deep caldera measures approximately 100 square miles and the surrounding grasslands, forests and swamps have one of the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa, including the Big Five. That term includes the following animals: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. When they are reaching puberty, the young Maasai women engage in a special ritual with the elderly women before trekking together, but unescorted, to that holy mountain to spend one night. Once they return from this auspicious ceremony, they are deemed capable of bearing children.

The fertility rites in Africa, where the earlier versions of Homo Sapiens appeared on Earth, are common in the tribes still maintaining a strong bond with Mother Earth like the Maasai. Accepting the modern care for women available to them, they still pay their respects to our original enabler. The Maasai women have been traditionally burdened with all the household and nurturing tasks at home and the agricultural/cattle herding duties outside of it. However, in the past few years many of them have been feeling more culturally empowered and ready to challenge the patriarchate.

The page has a superb article about the Enkomono Enkai—the Maasai blessing ceremony—where you can appreciate their superb pictures, including the one that adorns this posting (thank you Dr. R.D. Dransfield for graciously granting us the permission to reproduce it) It explains how their elders prepare the hide amulets that their beautiful women wear as collars to promote their fertility. After a white bull is sacrificed in a ceremony, the elders prepare the olkereti–good luck amulets–with its hide. The amulets are slowly distributed to a long line of women ( holding a stick) that desire to bear children and wait for the blessing. Once the elder places the amulet on her head, the anguished woman might prostrate to the ground and weep as a humble sign. When she goes back to her home, she proudly shows it to the whole family. At night, she places the stick next to her bed to encourage a young man to make love with her and conceive a child together. The Maasai consider that the number of children and animals a man has is the true measure of his worth and standing in their patriarchal society. We enthusiastically invite you to leisurely look at that posting by clicking here.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Superstitious artists – Pablo Picasso

On April 8th, 1973, Pablo Picasso, a successful multi-millionaire painter, died in Southern France. Due to his longstanding aversion to the idea of death, there was not an adequate enforceable will. Under the French law, half of his immense fortune should have gone to his second wife, the former Jacqueline Roque, and the other half to Paul, his only legitimate child born out of Olga Khoklovla, his first wife. His three illegitimate children and his nephew could lay a claim for a piece of his vast fortune. They all did, entangling his estate in bitter years of legal proceedings that ended with negotiations.

Why wouldn’t a prominent figure like Picasso—who had the privilege of earning vast amount of money for his works during his lifetime, unlike many other painters—sit down to prepare a will? Because he was terribly superstitious and had always forbidden any talk of “death” in his presence.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25th, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, to two artists, his mother Maria Ruiz Picasso and his father Jose Ruiz Blasco, a professor in the Arts and Crafts School; popular lore says that the artist learned how to draw before he even could learn a single word. Under the aegis of his gifted parents, he developed quickly as an artist in prestigious schools. But there was another trait that he inherited from them: a superstitious nature. When we first visited Málaga, we searched for his home, which is located by a central square, right in the middle of the most kalé-influenced city in the Iberian Peninsula, renowned for its many superstitions. Location does matter.

Picasso’s superstitions involved even menial tasks like getting one hair’s cut by a barber. Being visually accustomed to his bald profile in later years, we forget that he had a lot of hair as a young artist living in Montmartre with the golden generation of artists from la Belle Epoque. In her book, Françoise Gilot, one of his former lovers, wrote that he believed that hair had magical powers and he could only trust a well vetted barber with its cutting and proper disposal. The assignment of power to hair is a constant theme in Mythology, starting with the story of Samson and Delilah.

However, most artists, including Picasso, are convinced that superstition can play a positive role to safeguard their gifts and to promote the much-coveted inspiration to continue producing work. The atelier of Rafael, the great Italian painter, has a bespoke machine to produce colored mineral additives that he had used in his magnificent tableaus. When Picasso visited his home, he planted both hands on the mineral residue, pressed hard and then lifted them ceremoniously; he laid both hands on his son’s forehead, expecting to magically transmit his predecessor’s inspiration to paint.

A much-camouflaged fact that shook his early career in Paris was the denunciation that he had arranged for the stealing of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Musée du Louvre in 1911. The police arrested Pablo Picasso and the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had earlier arranged for the theft of two African statues that he eventually gave to the painter for inspiration. During his public trial, Picasso broke down in tears, but he never confessed to the crime; they were both acquitted and the painting surfaced, unscathed, in an Italian home in 1914. Did they do it?

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

The mystic wanderer – part I  

After re-starting countless intravenous lines that were blocked, after flushing many urinary catheters that were not working, after writing up long lines of follow-ups in charts, the barely breathing Surgical Interns wanted to hit the bed for a few paltry hours. But there was still a last task to complete before trying to catch some refreshing sleep. With a stash of blank Consent for Surgery forms and a ball-pen, we had to make the rounds of the rooms where patients scheduled for surgery in the morning were supposedly resting. Most of them were in fact waiting for us, anxiously awake, to ask a few questions about the coming procedure. We did not have much patience to oblige. Those were the wild times before the HIPAA guidelines mandated that both the patients and the professionals had to be fully awake and conscious of their decisions.

In a December dawn, a fellow intern approached me at the other end of the ward.

“There’s a woman that refused to sign,” he told me. “She wants the French version.”  –

“So what?” I shot back, barely popping my head into the awake state.

-“She knows there’s someone that speaks it…Don’t know how…She’s some kind of VIP from Haiti…Don’t want her family to file a complaint against us… Come on, man!”

With a deep sigh, I snatched the half- filled form from his hands and went to her room. My fellow intern warned me that she looked like an ugly witch with a disgusting mouth. Surprisingly I was greeted by a beautiful middle-aged lady that smiled broadly at me.

-“Come on in, dear,” she said in French. “I was expecting you.”

-“Er…do you know me?”

-“Of course, dear…I picked up your scent the moment I was admitted to this ward.”

She was a member of the Port-au-Prince elite who also dabbled in an “esoteric religion.” She used her powers in a benign way to help abused poor women from settlements ringing the capital, who sought her help in a non-profit institution that sheltered them. If there was a recalcitrant mate that did not heed persuasive ways, she tried other ones. We chatted for a few minutes in such a friendly way as we’d known each other for years.

-“You have a blessing, which is kind of a curse too,” she said.  “You’re restless, son of Samonios. Most of your colleagues here toil very hard to reach a comfortable financial position. But you will not be satisfied only by material wealth or a position of power. You are troubled by the meaning of life. You are seeking answers. You pursue the Light.”

-“Oh, dear. I’m in trouble then…No pause? Who will protect me in such a long journey?”

-“Plenty of friends. You’re a people’s person…And you have a special protective halo. But you are not meant to retire and go fishing, like the majority of physicians hope to do. You will continue to wander and search until the very end of your life, mystic wanderer.

Almost forty years after that fateful day, I am totally convinced that she was right. The very existence of this medical and literary web page is a testament to that prediction. My journey will only end when I finally face, totally naked, Saint Michael at the souls’ scale.

-“Tell me, Mario, what have you done for your fellow human beings during your life?’

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.


Born into the convulsed celebration of Samhain

Our dear mother Gladys told us that she had been admitted for delivery in the eve of the Christian celebration of the Day of the Dead, which remembers all those that departed from this Valley of Tears into the Otherworld. The celebration of All Saints (All Hallows) was introduced by the Catholic Church in 609 and was originally celebrated on May 13th . In 835  Louis le Pieux, son of Charlemagne and King of France, moved the holy date to November 1st and in the 11th century November 2nd was also designated as All Souls.

The converted Carolingian nobility was trying to “sanitize” an ancient pagan tradition that celebrated the beginning of wintertime on November 1st, one of the four main festivals of the Gaelic calendar. The Celtic tribes had divided the year in two halves: the first one was called Samonios and the second one was dubbed as Gamonios. Samonios marked the end of the harvest season and the preparations for the harsh winter conditions in the plains of Europe, which were undertaken by the whole family in a communal effort.

The cattle herds were brought back from the mountains where they had been grazing for six months. In the Piemonte region—where our grandfather Morizio was born—that custom is called alpage and had been methodically carried out by all the peasant families since Ancient Times. That region of Northern Italy was part of the Gallia Celtica, one of the largest clusters of Celts in Europe, which, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, became the roman province of Transalpina. Yolanda—our grandmother—told us that as a child Morizio and his brother Vittorio occasionally stopped to guide the cows uphill to briefly lean over and look at a small stone that had caught their attention. When  Beppe—his father and our great-grandfather—noticed that there were laggard cows breaking the pace, he would come over to kick the brothers in their butts, saying: “andiamo.”

In Celtic times, the cattle was safely guarded in barns with winter forage and a few animals were slaughtered to prepare meat for the long wintertime; vegetables and fruits were kept in preserves. In order to celebrate they lit big bonfires to cook meals, provide warmth and offer protection. The Celts believed that during that period the boundary between the living and the dead loosened. The spirits of the departed returned to visit their old homes and interact with their families and friends. In order to placate the aos si—spirits or fairies—they offered food and libations in their homes.

Our dear mother Gladys affectionately told us that she had stayed purposefully extremely still and quiet in her hospital bed because she did not want her first son to arrive in the Day of the Dead. When she told us, we embraced her warmly and kissed her. However, being a very intuitive individual (also called an empath) she warned us: “beware, you were born in the restless souls-period.” In the early hours of a Friday on November 5th 1954, we were born in the Asociación Fraternidad, a mutual association located in a grandiose Italianate building with three stories in the very center of Montevideo and the starting point of its topographical nomenclature-kilómetro O.

Our grandmother Yolanda stayed with our mother during the delivery process to greet her first grandchild and once it was over, she walked to the nearby Plaza Libertad to catch a taxicab to return to her home in Colón. She had to take care of her ailing husband Morizio who had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. A few days later Gladys brought us to his room and he proudly cuddled us against his chest. Watching us he said: “My beautiful grandchild…. Must be asking who is this silly man holding him.”

During our adolescence, we went many times for outpatient consultations in that same building for common ailments and not once, we could convince our mother to come along.  She always avoided talking about the subject until one day we told her that we had the impression of hearing strange voices whispering in a strange tongue there.

-“Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you,” she said. “Just want to connect with you.”

-“Why do they want to do it?” we asked her.

-“Because you share a psychological trait with them, dear,” she replied.

-“What trait?”

-“You have a restless spirit…And they are the restless souls on a constant search.”

As one of my novel‘s character said: “You can lose your tongue but not your blood.”  Those roaming Celtic spirits were perhaps trying to connect with a Samhain boy.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.