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Christina's Walk of Life (and all the perils, confusions and magic she went through...)
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My Butchie, my namorado,
I ran away from my mother as fast as I could and with the help of a man I barely knew but that changed my life. He understood me and my dilemmas more than my own mother did. He told me that he would take care of her, put me on a plane and send me to Israel, to stay as long as I wanted there, with his big, noisy family, scattered all over Israel. It was the best times of my teenage life.
Tel Aviv, Israel
I fell in love with Israel the moment I arrived. After a year, I wanted to be a Sabra, too (in Hebrew: צבר. Sabra is a term to describe a native-Israeli Jew - also a fruit, a pear cactus that grows in the country). What a fantastic country Israel is but not all Israelis were the same there, some modern, others, secular!
I spent some time with Jack's older sister, Bathia and her Orthodox fanatic husband in Tel-Aviv. She had many children. He older son, Shmuel, fell in love with me the moment he put his eyes on me and followed me everywhere I went. He was studying to be a Rabbi, in Jerusalem and he only did one thing: study and memorize The Torah, in Hebrew: תורה. It is the most holy of the sacred writings and the founding religious document of Judaism. As he spent all week studying in a school for men, taught by men and with men there, he went wild when he saw my long legs in miniskirts and my long blond hair blowing in the wind. He wanted me to marry him and was convinced that I would become a good Jewish woman and be a good Rabbi's wife, with 8 children (to start with)! He told everybody that and it pissed me off because he was first, ugly; second, narrow-minded and secular; third, he never touched his own mother after he learned in the Torah that women that bled (or have their periods) were impure so, that would happen to me, in the future; and fourth, completely old-fashioned, fanatic and nuts. He was nearly bald, had big, blue eyes, enormous black glasses, thick lips that he licked constantly and in the middle of his face there was a long, curved nose.
I decided to stay with Jack's other sister, Chava, after an accident that happened in their home on a Friday or on their Sabbath. Activities forbidden on the Sabbath derive from thirty-nine basic actions (melachot, loosely translated as "work") that are derived by the Talmud from Biblical sources. You do nothing, speak little, pray, rest, eat and eat, remain quiet, AND you don't talk, work, wash dishes, take a bath, make noises, laugh, sing and play music. What did I do??? I FLUSHED the damn toilet! OMG!
I had flushed their "loaded" toilet on Sabbaht! The family went mad! When I came out of the bathroom they were all standing there, angry, boiling red, ready to kill me. I had committed a mortal sin, ruined their names in Israel, their ancestors' names, I was a sinful, atheist girl, I was an eyver or from the other side(I guess here, from the other side of the world...), no ancestors, no traditions, a mad girl! What would the neighbors say? To flush the toilet on a Sabbath, no, never! Was I crazy? My only defense was: nobody told me about this.
Yet, one thing was good: Shmuel was having second thoughts about me after all...as his family was calling me a גויin or Goy (historically and up to modern times it is a synonym for Gentile or non-Jew) He was avoiding me like the Black Plague.
At this point I had to go to Chava's (and Asher's) home in Petah-Tikva. What a difference. They were modern born-Israelis and open-minded, patient and tolerant with poor foreigners from distant lands, different religion, different habits and different traditions with no religion.
After some months I had already gone to Jaffa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ramat Gan, Bethlehem, Nazareth, The Dead Sea (I floated in the water because of the so much salt, you don't sink...but don't go for a swim with an open cut, it will hurt like fire!), Eilat, Mount of Olives, Mount Carmel and Mount Hermon.
I backpacked and did, alone, most of Jesus' Walk of Life: where he grew up, where he lived, where he was crucified (and I became his number 1 fan and admirer) and I felt as if I had walked the steps of Jesus everywhere and anywhere I went that was sacred or holy. I would sometimes cry while walking around Jerusalem's streets... I had read J. J. Benitez's famous book - the Trojan Horse - Volume 1, so I decided to save for last to go to the most famous tourist destination: The Massada. (If you read these books, you will understand what I mean and the compulsive need to go there.) In Hebrew: מצדה, or Metzada, from מצודה, metzuda, and ("fortress") is a fortification in the South District of Israel on top of a large mesa, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada became famous after the First Jewish-Roman War (also known as the Great Jewish Revolt) when a siege of the fortress by troops of the Roman Empire could have led to a mass suicide of the site's Jewish Sicarii fugitives when the defeat became imminent. I spent an entire day there learning and meditating. I was full of energy, happy and in peace, really in peace, growing up, becoming 180 degrees aware of the Brave New World around me: I was a teenager in a discovery process...
I got a job in the Golan Heights in a Kibbutz (a Kibbutz is small society of people who live together communally according to socialist principles). It was an orange plantation one and I simply became part of this for many months. I drove a tractor, did the dishes, served meals, carried the oranges to the tractors in wooden boxes, washed clothes, took care of the children and sang in the choir. I was always busy, was taken care of by all and respected by my co-workers and by my participation. Kibbutzim were first formed in the land now known as Israel in the early 1920s by Russian immigrants. These societies were established on the principles of social equality - where each member of the Kibbutz is to be treated as an equal. This means they work together collectively for the good of all. As the work load and benefits of the Kibbutz are shared by all members, each Kibbutznik's contribution is considered equal. Although a small percentage of the country's population lives on a kibbutz, they are an integral part of Israeli Society. It was really one of the most relevant experiences in my life as a teenager.
It was time to go back to Brazil. I had to leave Israel and my new Non-Orthodox friends, the country, the lovely, irrigated, green areas spread all over Israel, the beaches, the brave Sabras, the red orange juice and falafel, the Wailing Wall and the deserts. I never went back to Israel again but I left a big piece of my heart there, forever. But before I left I had to do something radical: I carved my name in Hebrew, on a big, fat, thick Fig Tree, in front of Shmuel's mother's house!!!
I guess it's still there... ש"ע) כריסטינה, שם פרטי לנקבה --- and this one as I wasn't sure... YISKA.
I still laugh when I think of this today and wonder if my name is still carved on the big, fat tree! When I returned from Israel, my best friend Angela asked me if I had left a boyfriend. I said I hadn't. "Why not", she asked. Because men there were too engaged in their country and in War. Many men were too religious and there were more than enough lovely, nice, Orthodox girls there. I wasn't at all that religious, didn't like rituals and Bibles and nuns or priests. Now I hated not only nuns, but priests too, because of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (or the Church of the Resurrection) Affair within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. She asked me why so I told her the story.
The Church of the Resurrection is said to contain the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulcher). This church has been an important worship destination since at least the 4th century and was fantastic. So, when, in total awe and deep reverence, I was about to lower my head and go into the tiny cave or sepulcher, a short, thin, strange looking Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem's Priest, all dressed in black, with sweaty black hair and very dark, black eyes initiated this striking conversation with me:
“Blessings! You must pay here!”
“Oh Hello! What did you say?”
“You must pay now to get in.”
“To receive this special pilgrim's blessed, holy candle. Look at it. It’s beautiful! So lovely!”
“But I don't want a candle... I just want to go into the Holy Sepulcher and be in there by myself!”
“You need the candle to go in... there.”
“It's dark inside. It’s very dark. No lights. Buy the candle. It’s U$5 dollars. Pay now. Then you go in.”
“I don't have all this money. I am a student, you know. I am visiting the Holy Sepulcher. I thought it was free to go in.”
“Nothing is free here. Besides, you are a tourist, aren’t you? Tourists pay for things… they love souvenirs. Here, this candle is a souvenir. So nice. Buy it. Go in. Pay U$ 4 dollars.”
“Who are you?”
“I am responsible for the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher.”
“A Greek Orthodox Priest? This is a secular Christian church! It’s the oldest church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem!”
“Yes. We own the church. For years now. Pay U$ 3 dollars, then. It’s the rule. Pay now. Go in.”
“But, this place is for pilgrimage...to see Jesus' holy, blessed tomb... besides, there is a sign outside which reads Free Entrance – 5 minutes. I’ll stay less time, then. Oh I just want to go in the cave for a short while – be in the very same place where Jesus’ holy body was buried after his Crucifixion and death. I want to pray in the silence of the cave, maybe kneel down for a bit. OK? I came from so far. Miles away. I am only one – among so many that come to Him everyday. I just need 2 minutes… maybe 3. Come on!”
“Sorry. It’s the rule. The rule must apply to all who enter the cave. Then pay U$2 dollars, but pay. It’s for the church. Pay. Other tourists want to get in. See, they have the money! They want the candle. They want to hold the candle and pray in there. See them?”
“Pay… to pray? Pay to reverence Jesus’ Holy Sepulcher? Really? It doesn’t make any sense at all. He wouldn’t have liked this if He were here, you know. I can’t believe this place! This church has been an important worship destination since at least the 4th century. These walls are sacred. It’s History. His story! Have you guys been doing this ever since?”
“Oh my God. Nothing is free in this world! You know better than that – especially there, I mean, in the cave! It’s holy! I’m sorry but you must pay something, anything.”
“I only have U$ 1 dollar to spare. Please. Accept it. Let me go in. I need to go in!”
“Alright. The line must move. Give me the money. OK. Go in now. And remember, for this price, only 3 minutes – not 5! But, you get no candle! Candle is very expensive!
I guess he is still there irritating the poor pilgrims...
because I knew deep in my heart that this was something He wouldn't want people doing in His sepulcher.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jack and my mother met me in Lisbon, Portugal, at the airport. My mother was pleasant but contrite and never said a word bout the restaurant business transaction. She seemed happy to see me. Was she really, I wondered. We were going to spend some days in a beautiful resort hotel in Algarve Beach before going to New York City. I was going to finally meet my brother and my biological father. I was both scared and nervous. Would they like me, accept me after all these years? Would we have things in common? How was this new father of mine?
I thought of the day my mother told me The Truth, in Rio de Janeiro, a month after we buried my father Colmar:
- Christina come here!
- Yes, mamãe.
- I need to talk to you about something...
- He asked me never to tell you, he begged, but now... I must.
- The truth about you and him.
- Oh, I know...
- You... what?
- I already know this truth...
- What? How?
- I was cleaning a closet to put my things inside, in Spain when I found a blue box written Tina on it. I opened it. I saw many unopened letters to me from a Henry and from a Bruce, many pictures of me with them as a baby and also in Recife; my birth certificate with my real name, my father's name, the real father, not Colmar's name. I understood. He didn't want me to know because he loved me. I put the box back and forgot about it, for Colmar and for me. I loved him, mother. First, I thought I was an adopted child, then, every night, I would read a letter from each of them to me until I finished all the letters. I understood more and more and saw how much they suffered and missed me. I also understood about Mamãe Lurdinha...
- So you knew all these years?
- He really loved you.
- I know.
- More than me, I think.
- Because I wasn't born to be a mother...I don't know how to be one, never really wanted this. I just wanted to leave Recife.
- I didn't know how to be a daughter and I still don't...
- It's different. And now, you take care of me.
- Yes, I do.
- You are doing well Christina but you are a very strange child...
- When will I meet them?
- Maybe in some years.
- I'll get in touch with him. It's time. It has been many years. Are you sure you want to do this?
- You are nearly 17. Maybe he doesn't want this. He is angry.
- Because your name was changed in the process of having another father. Colmar adopted you legally and wanted you to ave his name. (The things that are done to a child in the name of love...)
- I know.
- You'll meet him soon.
- Will he love me?
- Look at you! Of course.
- Now, GO, Christina.
(There it is again...the go word!)
That night I cried, sorry for me, sorry for my mother, sorry for the future without Colmar. I missed him and I missed the years without the other father, Henry, the father I never met. Were we family? What would happen? Would he look like me?
Colmar never did...
My mother and Jack were successful in their new business - a Shrimp Farm - in the North of Brazil with 3 boats, many sailors, workers, a big office and they would travel a lot and were really busy and always away from Rio. I was studying a lot and deciding what I wanted to do with my future. My brother started to write me letters and after some months, my father, too, but it was still weird. We exchanged pictures, wrote twice a week and started to build a relationship that was cut many years ago. I was happy, though. I lived in Rio de Janeiro, in a nice apartment in Ipanema beach, in Prudente de Moraes street, corner with Montenegro street, where, in a Bar in that corner, Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Morais wrote the song Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema), when he saw Helô Pinheiro passing by in a bikini. She lived nearby...That's where I lived, too.
Everyday I went to school, then to the beach. I was sun tanned. Thin. Long, blond hair. Full of boys after me. I once had 3 boyfriends with the same name: Guilherme! I played volley ball and "fresco ball" everyday. I swam in the cold, wavy, deep blue-green sea and wore a black and yellow polka-dotted bikini. I listened to the Beatles, to Abba, Bee Gees, Roberto Carlos, Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and to Elvis Presley songs.
I wore bell bottom jeans, hippie blouses and Dutch shoes, I was reading books like Sexus, Plexus and Nexus by Henry Miller, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Treblinka by Jean-Francois Steiner, Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Animal Farm by George Orwell, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Don Quixote by Cervantes, War and Peace by Tolstoy, The Complete Stories by Franz Kafta, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, 1984 by George Orwell, all the books by Arthur Hailey, all Morris West books, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and the Wisdom of Life by Arthur Schopenhauer. I was curious, smart, intelligent, young, growing, funny and open, happy and free. When my mother and Jack gave me a diamond ring on my 18th birthday and told me that their business was doing just great, I thought that this was complete happiness in life.
Some months after, Jack told me that they were moving to Belém do Pará, Northeast of Brazil and that my mother had plans for me. I couldn't go with them. I was going to Switzerland, to a boarding school pour le jeune filles, to learn French. It was decided, school paid for, ticket bought. Two years. He asked me to do it. For him. For her. But, what about me? Two years? What could I do but go? I thought I was free but wasn't. Well, maybe freedom is only freedom in our minds and soul... Ah, if only I had the True Understanding Your Mother and The Other Existential Reasons for Putting Daughters into Boarding Schools Guide...but it was not for sale or nobody thought it was an important book to have. I once read a list of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written and this Guide was not in it. I'm sure that many, many daughters around the world would buy it and read it and be able to console their poor spirits and other afflictions of the soul and hearts if they had a mother like mine.
I wanted to say goodbye to Pamela... where was she, my friend Pamela Huber? I needed her friendship. Where was Teresa? All my friends were long gone. I felt so alone, really alone and bullied by my own mother... These friends were my past and I wanted them in my future...
And there I went again. Another boarding school in the country of chocolates, cows, milk, watches, boots, cheese, snow, Raclette, trains, and horny nuns...
When would I stop rolling like a rolling stone, here and there? It's hard for something to grow when something is always moving...
What can I say about Switzerland? Too cold, too lovely, too perfect and totally boring. I guess it was better to stay at the Pennsionatt International de La Chassotte than in Fribourg or Neuchatel or Bern or Lausanne or even in Geneve. I really mean it. It was much more interesting!
When I left Brazil it was sunny and hot, when I arrived in Fribourg (after hours and two days of planes and trains), it was cold and rainy. There were 79 girls there; I was student number 80 in the boarding school. The nuns were from Les Soeurs Fidèles Campagnes de Jésus group and were modern, interested and active. The girls were put in Dortoires (or rooms) with names of the colors. My room, with other 15 girls, was called Dortoire Brun. I had a bed and a closet, a desk and shelves and all this would be surrounded by a cloth curtain and when I pulled it around my bed (it looked like a shower!) and I felt like a penguin. A nun was in charge of each room and Souer Christine was in charge of ours. She had green eyes, red hair and a nervous tick: she would move her tongue around her lips in a complete 180 degrees lick movement. Very disturbing. I wore a uniform, all gray, skirt and sweater, white socks, black shoes and a red jacket to be used when we went out. We had classes in French and I had no other extra classes in languages as I spoke well the ones they taught. I had tennis lessons instead.
The day I arrived, a month after classes had started, I felt like a needle in a haystack. None of the girls looked at me, they all had made friends with other girls and as in street gangs, they were already divided into country/elite and country/poor groups. And as I came from Brazil: poor. When I left Brazil I was really sun tanned so I maybe looked mulatto and they thought my hair was probably dyed. I didn't speak French (yet) so not brought up properly. I was downsized. I became a loner but I liked it. I knew things would change soon.
After a month, when the girls noticed that I was normal, that my father was a Diplomat, that I wasn't poor (I was in the same school...), that I spoke many languages and that my grades were above theirs, they changed their opinion about with me, maybe a bit too late. I liked being on my own but I did get very close to Agnes Trouvé, a short, nervous, thin French girl from Poitiers, in France. The older girls had their own room; the younger or new ones, slept in Dortoires. My dream was to have my own room.
Agnes and I did many things together. She taught me how to smoke Gitanes in my window when it was snowing, scatter talcum powder in the air so the nuns would not smell the cigarette smoke; how to get favors from the nuns by going to mass every day, early in the morning and because of her I spent a month in her house and with her family and not alone in the boarding school (because I was only going home in two years...). Her father, Monsieur Trouvé, went fox hunting in elegant brown hunting clothes every weekend and her mother, Madame Trouvé, was the one that worked and provided. Every night, she came home from work and from the bakery with a long, thin baguette that she put under her fat, sweaty armpit, which was wrapped around a used magazine paper and set on the table. We had to eat that baguette with the soup, of course! That's how French bring their bread home, under the arm (no bag or nice wrappings) and smoking stinky cigarettes without filters while having meals. The bread was nasty to eat... with all those odd smells...but I did. Once, Monsieur Trouvé returned home from a fox hunting, all sweaty and full of mud and holding a dead, bleeding fox in his hand and held it up for everyone to look at his trophy...and I started to cry. That family never really understood me...
I also became very friendly with a Spanish girl called Nuria. She was from the Canary Islands. She was short, chubby, with long black hair and dark eyes. Probably she liked me because I had lived in Spain and spoke Spanish. She invited me to go with her to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Islas Canarias and where I spent Xmas. She was just as noisy and happy as her family (or vice versa) and they became very close to me. Nuria's cousin, Hugo, became my first and only Spanish boyfriend and he (Spanish) French kissed me in El Dia de los Reyes, or January 6th (the equivalent to Xmas day), when we exchanged gifts, had a family lunch and went to mass. I loved that island but after some time I started feeling restless... Nuria told me it was the so called "island fever" where, if you're not an islander, you start feeling compressed, trapped and feeling like an in-mate. I did. I had to leave.
I learned many positive things (many negative things, too) such as learn how to speak French very well, how to ski, how to behave, good manners and basically, how to "survive". A boarding school is like an elegant prison...for girls. I learned how to keep my room clean and spotless and how to manage being without a bath for more than 3 days: I would buy the scheduled bath day from a German girl called Isle Züriche. I got 5 Swiss Francs per week as pocket money and I gave her 1 Franc, every Wednesday. So, I took a bath on Fridays and Wednesdays. She sold her bath day to another girl, from Venezuela, Ilse Hartmann. We were the only girls from the other side of the planet or South America that took two showers a week! Some girls there, the ones that came from Europe, didn't have a clue where Brazil was. I knew all about their countries, whichever country they came from. What was wrong with Europe's teaching methodology?
On some shorter holidays I would be the only girl in school. I appreciated the quietness and reclusion of those silent holidays to read. And so I read in French: Honoré Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Rousseau, Simone de Beauvoir and Candide by François-Marie Voltaire. The pleasure of reading, of learning, of feeding our souls with enlightenment and words...and no words can describe this.
One night, Souer Christine came to pay me a visit but things didn't work out the way she wanted. She wanted me. I wanted to sleep. She was a Sister but that night, she was a needy, irresponsible, horny woman in search of mundane pleasures. And, she wrongly chose me. I woke up with soft, light touches of fingers over my body. She had already lowered my sheets and had lifted my nightgown. She was sweating and licking her lips rapidly, breathing heavily and moving on her chair heavily, next to my bed. She was drooling. Disgusting. I trusted that Sister and respected her orders, for Christ's Sake! Come on! I hit her on her left eye so hard that I heard the punch and I heard her fall. Silence. I heard the sigh. I heard her sacred cross bumping on the floor when she quickly got up and ran out of the Dortoire...
The next day she had a horrible looking black eye and my hand was hurt and swollen. I couldn't write my papers but I never said a word. She never looked at me and one week later she had been transferred to another school and maybe, to harass other international jeunne filles... I hope that all of them punched her, too. Bad, bad Souer Christine. After this event, without any explanation at all, the Head Sister, Souer Claire, started asking my opinion on things, put me in my own room with a real door, I was head of table and served first and head leader in Outings. I was in total bliss! You really had to work your way out in this odd, strange world. We went skiing in Lac Noir, shopping in Lausanne; Raclette eating in Berne, and to many other interesting places but the best place was when we went to Grindelwald where the Jungfrau Mountain is in the Bernese Alps.
The new ski teacher, a handsome looking guy wearing red ski clothes, took us in the bus to Grindelwadand up the mountain. We were going to see the famous ice galleries inside the Ice Palace of the Jungfraujoch. While we were visiting the rooms of the Jungfraujoch, I went in another direction and got lost in the ice halls. Suddenly a hand pulled me into an ice room. It was Frank Klaus, the ski teacher with his red skiing clothes and his tempting, wet lips. His kiss was hard, nervous and brief. I closed my eyes and felt the difference in taste. It was a tasteless kiss in an icy room. The taste of tasteless taste. Did we need to love, to want, and to care and desire in order to feel the intensity of a kiss?
Was there something more in a kiss, in a stolen kiss, in any kiss? A Secret? The secret of a kiss...what was it? What were the rules, the things to do? Where did you put your tongue? How can you tell what is going to happen inside a kiss, in the mouth? Do the tongues touch? For how long do you kiss? Are kisses stolen, spontaneous, passionate, nervous, soft, long, gentle, wet, very wet, sexy or what? Which is the best one? Are there special techniques?
It took me many years to really feel that caress and touch of a man's lips on mine. The true meaning of amorousness. The real "butterfly in the stomach" kisses.
I told Agnes about the stolen kiss up the Jungfrau and we giggled in the bus all the way back and I started to write, that night, the Girl's True Guide to Real Kissing to know if you were a good kisser. I took a week to write the 15 questions (with Agnes' help) that most worried us, girls, and I asked Agnes to ask every girl in the boarding school to answer the questionnaire so that we could evaluate our basic doubts and needs. It became so popular that we took it downtown to have it formatted and printed. It was the most popular "book" in the boarding school and the girls would laugh and giggle and hide it from the nuns with their lives!
After the success of Quiz 1, the girls begged for more, so we became the new voices of the girl's boarding school and we made11 Quizzes. The next one was called Quiz 2: Do you know where to put your hands while kissing? It had 11 questions and the girls had to pay 1 Swiss Franc to read it and they begged to have their names or pictures printed in the Guides. Amazing change of fortune and destiny for a poor, non-European, illiterate, weird looking, Latino student from an unknown South American country which capital city they thought was called Buenos Aires... in Brazil.
If I didn't have to go to Brazil all of a sudden, for a month, before the second school year in La Chassotte, I would have become a journalist or a young writer with my unpublished Guide to French kissing...but my grandfather was dying, in Recife, and he wanted to see me in Brazil. He wanted to see his favorite granddaughter before he died. I had to hurry up...