Every day there is a newspaper or web article, a video footage in TV or the streaming services or a live conference that deals with the dramatic issue of refugees crossing national frontiers due to war, ethnic persecution or famine. The tightening of border controls in the European Community did not stop the flow of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa or Syria ready to cross the Mediterranean Sea; they are just lingering on in Libya, exposed to big harm.

We are becoming inured to their plight and oftentimes we do not want to see or hear any more tragic news as if the problem would go magically away. In our modern societies we have developed a subconscious yet powerful fear of the poor, of the disadvantaged, of the relegated to the fringes of economies. It’s natural to fear poverty but another different thing to fear its victims. The worldwide poor do not register in our minds. The picture above shows Syrian children in a refugee camp in Lebanon but they could as well be Venezuelans in a Colombian border town, fleeing their country’s debacle. We look at these pictures but we do not actually “see what they represent” any more.

Almost twenty years ago, Adela Cortina, a Spanish philosopher that teaches an Ethics course at the Universitat de València, had the occurrence to create a new word to refer to the increasingly common dejection of the poor in the public discourse and social media. She consulted a Greek dictionary and made the fusion of two terms: áporos (the resourceless one) and phobia. She started using it in her writings because she believed that our rejection of the refugees—often referred as “xenophobia” and “racism” in the media—is not produced by their status of undocumented migrants but by their dire poverty.

She said that ”I believe that it’s necessary to show the existence of this phenomenon, giving it a name. I find it noteworthy that we put a name to storms like hurricanes so people will take preventive measures in their presence. Therefore the rejection of the poor, which socially relegates them, should be prevented in the same way, because it is contrary to the human dignity and a challenge to democratic institutions. It’s unacceptable that a part of the population despises another one and considers it as inferior.”

The “Fundación del Español Urgente”, sponsored by the EFE news agency and the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBVA), designated it “the word of 2017.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.


The seer of Seattle

A few days ago, I was nonchalantly watching a rather lame Norwegian thriller in the Amazon Prime streaming service late in the evening when the screen started to display some flaky images, as if their perennial snow had percolated into my living room. Yawning, I gave up, turned the TV off and went to get some rejuvenating sleep.

But someone was surreptitiously watching. The all-seeing entrepreneur. Jeff Bezos.

One or two days later I received an e-mail from Amazon Prime apologizing for the inconvenience and offering a refund on the streaming fee, which surprised me in more than one way; according to their message the refund not only applied to their US clients but also the ones in Switzerland and Lichtenstein that had purchased the same rental movie.  First of all, I would have never bothered to complain about this minor incident and waste my spare time on a phone call for a refund. If the company is so attentive to such a minor service problem, I must applaud their outstanding customer service.

However, this degree of attentiveness means that the company has a lot of information about their clients (even a little bit too much) which they skillfully use to offer us savvy, practical solutions to many personal needs we might have right now and some others that we can’t even fathom at present. Amazon supposedly can foretell what we’ll need. A recent article in the Washington Post—owned by Jeff Bezos—questioned the validity of becoming a Prime member by paying U$ 100 per year, which I had gladly done. As the time of renewing my membership came, I started to have second thoughts. Do I need it?

Still dithering about whether to pay that seemingly medieval exaction, I went to bed.

In the wee hours of the morning, a thick mist started to drift into the bedroom and a raucous voice thundered: “Get up….Right now.” Startled, I blindly worked my way up to the door and opened it. The three bubbles-greenhouse of Amazon’s headquarters stood a few feet away. Trembling I managed to come up to the front door and meekly knocked on it. A maiden beautifully clad in white from head to toe opened the door and smiled.

– “Good morning, mystic wanderer…The Master is waiting for you—come.”

I quietly followed her through a maze of cubicles and offices decorated with exotic, lush vegetation until we arrived in front of  a huge steel bolted door. She gently knocked on it. The same authoritarian voice that summoned me from my bed resonated: “Come in!”  We entered into a dark, humid chamber where a humongous Australian livestock tank filled with neatly tilled, dark fertile soil took pride of place. The seer’s sleeping quarters.

In a corner stood a tall figure, cloaked in a green robe,pacing up and down. He stopped, turned his face with tightly shut eyes towards me and pointed his right index finger.

– “How dare you trouble my rest in the wet earth?” the seer said. “What do you want?”

– “Er…just wanted to know if my novel will eventually get its due attention.”

– “When the Big Apple’s novice puffs his first Cohiba, you’ve finally arrived.”

-” A novice? Arrive where?”

– “When the time comes, you’ll understand…Why didn’t you pay the Prime fee?”

– “I don’t know…”

– “I gave your writings the big chance in Kindle…And this is how you repay me? By denying me the funds I need to keep this soothsaying operation running? If you don’t dish out the hundred bucks first thing in the morning, I won’t be able to pay my water bill…You’re the most disgusting refusenik I’ve known…. Shame on you, Escribidor!’

– “Sorry Master…Forgive my ungratefulness. I’ll pay up promptly…Got to go now.”

I skedaddled out of the chamber and ran as fast as I could to the front door.

When I woke up, drenched in a cold sweat, I picked up my phone to contact my bank.

What do you want me to say? Whatever your opinion of this guy might be, you must reckon that he has extraordinary powers that no mere mortal can ignore with impunity…

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.





La Befana

On this Christmas Eve millions of children in the Italian peninsula are (like their parents and grandparents once were too) waiting eagerly for a special character to show up late at night and deliver their gifts. No. It’s not Santa Claus. It’s a creepy old lady called La Befana.

She comes stealthily in every home in the middle of the night to deliver the gifts and then speeds away in her broom; however if the children have been naughty she only leaves  a piece of “coal” as a dire warning to mend their ways for the next Christmas season.

That tradition harks back to the ancient times when the Celts ruled over the “Pianura Padana”, the fertile land encompassed by the flowing Po river in Northern Italy. Every major Celtic settlement had a priestess that prepared a bonfire ritual after the Winter Solstice to implore the Gods for a mild Winter and a plentiful Spring-Summer season. In the Middle Ages that custom degenerated in the burning of “a witch” in the town square.

After the Holidays have passed Italians gather in a desolate part of the neighborhood to  celebrate the Epiphany with family and friends.  All the assistants contribute with a little money to pay for some wine, drinks and snacks. They serve a hot wine called “brule” which contains clover, cinnamon, sugar and in some instances also bits of apple. In the end they lit a bonfire to burn the Befana and watch which way the smoke is drifting to. If it’s the Southwest, it’s a good omen that the year will be good for planting and harvest.

In our traditional Italian culture, which has been nurtured by our mothers in the cozy hearth, the female gender has a double mental representation. On one hand it’s the loving and beautiful image of a young woman that gives us life and protects us all along. On the other hand it’s the disgusting image of an old witch that can take all that away. Personally I believe that our mothers sagely trained us from the cradle to be kind and affectionate with women in general so as not to awaken their hideous hidden self.

What will happen tonight at home? Will the Befana bring me a nice gift or a piece of coal? Hey, I’ve been such a good boy all year long… Don’t you agree, ladies?

As an exception we are posting this article on a Sunday to wish all our Christian friends, and those that are not but like the festivity, a very Merry Christmas with your loved ones.

Buon Natale!



Il Panettone

The leavened cake made with a base of water, flour, butter, eggs plus the addition of dried fruits and nuts is a traditional staple in the Italian—and by extension the Italian-American—tables during the Christmas season. We have all watched our dear grandmothers and mothers bake it at home or in modern times accompany them to our favorite bakery to buy them.

What is the origin of this simple yet delicious accoutrement of festivities? There are two major legends and both arise from Milano in the Middle Ages.

The first legend says that the cooks preparing a big banquet hosted by Ludovico il Moro, the powerful duke of the city, had forgotten to take out the dessert from the oven, which ended up as pure carbon. A humble kitchen helper called Toni prepared an impromptu cake with the kitchen leftovers. The head cook was reluctant to present that novelty in the master’s table but he finally agreed, hiding behind a curtain to peek at the guests’ reaction. Everybody loved it including Ludovico who inquired who had prepared it. The cook came out of hiding, saying: “L’è ‘l pan del Toni”, i.e. il panettone.

The second one tells the passionate love that a young nobleman called Ulivo degli Atellani de Futi, a.k.a Toni, had for Algissa, the gorgeous daughter of a baker from the quarter of Contrada delle Grazie. Observing that the girl was permanently courted by many aspiring lovers that she invariably rejected, he devised a novel plan to seduce her. Camouflaging himself as a humble man, he was hired by her father to tend the wood oven in the early dawn, One day he mixed the best flour he could find with eggs, butter, honey and sultanina grapes and he clandestinely prepared the dough; then he baked it in the oven. When his boss came to check on his work, he was very impressed by it; he put it for sale in his stalls, becoming an instant success for the establishment.

When Algissa found out what he had done, she became infatuated with him. Except for the occasional gold-digger only interested in material goods, most women would appreciate that noble, original gesture inspired by his strong affection for her.

As the great playwright Jean Baptiste de Poquelin (Molière) sagely told us: “La grande ambition des femmes c’est d’inspirer l’amour.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

The first man that listened to women

Sigismund Schlomo Freud—born on May 6th 1856 in Pribor, Moravia and passed away on September 23rd 1939 in London, England—is one of the most respected and at the same time debated physicians in modern medicine. He was one of the earliest founders of Psychoanalysis and his pioneering work in the intricacies of the Unconscious mind still perturbs us all deeply.  He was definitely the first man that considered women as human beings with their own particular sexual desires and listened eagerly at what they said.

If you peek briefly at our screen presentation, you will see a depiction by Brouillet of a theatrical class by Jean-Martin Charcot in the Neurology clinical ward of the Pitié-Salpetrière hospital of Paris, where he had showed the power of the techniques of hypnosis to extract information from “hysterical” women that expressed neurological symptoms. Charcot dismissed the sexually-related complaints of women—“la chose genitale”—as not relevant to the therapy. But there was one Austrian physician in the public that, after spending time studying with Charcot, went back to Vienna and teamed up with Joseph Breuer to design the free association and interpretation of dreams. The recall of the early psychological traumas uncovered the origin of clinical neuroses.

In the puritan social atmosphere of early 20th century Vienna, Freud was considered a dangerous, rebel practitioner and he struggled to make a living. Even today he still has many ardent detractors that view him as nothing more than a clinical impostor that has been unfairly idealized by the public. Frederick Crews writes in his book “The making of an illusion” that we must strip Freud of his perennial image as “a lone explorer possessing courageous perseverance, deductive brilliance, tragic insight, and healing power.”  He even claimed that Freud had plagiarized the data of Pierre Janet, a French psychologist, in his articles, which is refuted by the fact that Freud gave due credit to his colleague in his early writings about the origin of neuroses.

Keenly trying to disparage him Crews writes about Freud’s experimentation with cocaine, a new drug then, his Victorian views of women and even his purported affair with his sister-in-law. He questions his whining about being a “lone outcast” dismissed because he was a Jew, considering that 20 % of the student body in his medical school class were Jewish, even though only 10% of the city population professed that faith. As a member of the Italian-American community, I understand how Freud wanted to assimilate while at the same time  keeping a resilient sense of “not belonging.”

What really flustered me when I was reading this book is that the author claimed that Freud had little contact with patients and that he fabricated his clinical data. In the Library of Congress, we can see Freud’s 1886-1889 patient record book where it shows that he treated almost 500 of them regularly. There is no way that Freud could have learnt so much about women and their ideation without going through the slogging task of actually listening to them. I know. I have been there. In a humble physician’s office like Freud’s inner sanctum.

What really prodded me to write about women’s emotional frustration in my novel “Madame D.C.” and in my 2nd manuscript, is that, after stoically listening to them in my office for years, something has percolated through my brain. In our male-dominated society, that caring predisposition to really listen to them can make you a lot of enemies.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.





Happy “Day of the Physician”

Dear medical colleagues of our great American continent:

Yesterday, December 3rd, we celebrated the “Day of the physician” in the Americas in honor of all the dedicated and hard-working professionals tending to the health care needs of people from Alaska in the extreme North to Ushuaia in the extreme South.

The “Panamerican Health Organization”, or “Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud” in Spanish, designated this day in honor of Carlos Juan Finlay Barres, a Cuban physician and researcher who had discovered in 1881 that the Yellow Fever was transmitted through an insect vector like Aedes aegypti; he was born on December 3, 1833 in Puerto Principe, Cuba, and studied Medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Dr. Finlay, dubbed as “the mosquito doctor” by his detractors, had a hard time to prove his hypothesis but he finally collected enough clinical data to submit to the “Yellow Fever panel” headed by Dr. Walter Reed that finally accepted his findings in 1901. That medical breakthrough prodded the Panama Canal authorities to set up the proper sanitary conditions in the workers’ camps in order to finish the humonguous project. In 1902 Dr. Finlay headed the precursor office of the present day PHO.  Dr. Remo Bergoglio, an Argentine physician acting on behalf of the “Sociedad Medica de Cordoba”, submitted a proposal to celebrate this day on the floor of the PHO congress in Dallas in 1953.

To my dear colleagues of the Americas, thank you for your devoted daily work. Cheers!

A mes collègues de l’Amérique, felicitations pour votre travail dévouée de tous les jours. Salut!

A mis queridos colegas de las Americas, gracias por su trabajo abnegado de todos los días. Salud!

75th Anniversary of “Casablanca”

For Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart time has come to a standstill. We always view and remember them in that final, excruciatingly romantic adieu. The film “Casablanca”, shot entirely in a backlot of Warner Brothers and that made its debut in the middle of World War II, turns 75 years old now. It was released on November 26th 1942 in the Hollywood Theatre and later won three Academy Oscars: best picture, best director and best screenplay.The sudden success of this melodrama surprised its producers and continues up to this day, as younger generations are bedazzled by its romanticism.

In “Everybody’s comes to Rick’s”, the theatre play that inspired the movie, Rick Blaine was a successful lawyer with a wife and children that decided to give everything up to open a gaming operation in Casablanca. Ilsa Lund, his lover, follows him to that city in order to continue their hot affair. Initially the producers wanted Ronald Reagan to play the central character. The character of Sam was supposed to be played by Ella Fitzgerald or Lena Horne, not a man who did not even know how to play the famous piano.

Ingrid Bergman complained several times to Michael Curtiz, the director, that Humphrey Bogart was not putting enough passion in the love scenes; the actor had a good reason to hold off, as his wife Mayo Methot was jealous. Well into the filming process the producers and director did not know how to end the movie. Will Ilsa and Rick come together? Will they separate? They re-wrote that scene many times until they found a credible way; the actors received the final script just a few hours before the shooting.

The famous line at the end of the movie—“I believe that this is the beginning of a great friendship”—was added in the post-production stage and Humphrey Bogart was expressly summoned to register it with his voice. There was a scandal in the Oscar awards ceremony when Jack Warner, the harsh head of the studio, sprinted out of his seat to receive the statue while Hal Wallis, the producer and rightful recipient of it, was blocked in his seat. When Humphrey Bogart stepped out of the car with his wife at the ceremony the crowd surged forward and was contained by a phalanx of police officers, The admirers clapped wildly and shouted: “here’s looking at you, kid.”

In this “modern” age of unbridled input of visual and auditory stimuli that literally overwhelm our capacity to process so much information in a hurry, a little slowing down to properly appreciate this masterpiece, affectionately cuddling with some good company and the drink of our choice, is a welcome alternative for a rainy weekend afternoon. A little romanticism can soothe our hearts and recharge our spirits for the long term survival.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.