Tuesday, January 5, 2010


A Spanish speaking voice cuts through the drone of lawnmowers. Unmistakably Argentinian. Years ago, I might have rung the doorbell, introduced myself, asked her which city she was from, tried to somehow fill the yawning gaps in my past. But now I walk by the house with mild curiosity, looking casually into a room closest to the sidewalk. On first glance, what seems like a little girl sitting on a wicker chair is in fact a life-size doll. Struck by its familiarity, I take a few more steps toward the open window, the doll’s blue eyes seem to light up with recognition. Anabel? For a moment I’m no longer peering into the room but watching two girls play with a doll under the canopy of a massive ombu tree, the grass littered with greenish white flowers and crimson berries. As this scene fades, I see a woman in a beige sweater sitting on the bed, her hand resting possessively on the arm of the wicker chair. Where did she come from? Snapping back to reality and feeling terribly embarrassed, I stammer an apology. I used to play with a doll like that, I say, and stumble backwards, thankful for my golden retriever pulling me at the end of the leash. In a daze, I exchange good mornings with the other dog walkers while sounds, smells and images of a lost childhood push their way into the present. Somewhere, I hear a woman cry out, Rosana, and my mouth falls open in a hollow scream as I watch my mama being dragged away by her long golden hair, the sound of boots kicking and then blood and blinding bright lights. Like a Seeing Eye dog, Bailey leads me home, a street away at the corner of 29th and West Avenue in Austin. To the old couple waiting on the porch, I say in a shaky voice, Rosana…I think that’s my real name. They pat the space between them on the wooden bench. Childless, and well into their fifties, the little girl wandering near their home in Mendoza was a gift from God, their Graciela, a name that had, in the beginning, hung on me like ill fitting clothes, but now feels as comfortable as my skin. I sit down and grasp their hands in mine, weep softly.

On 30th street in Austin, that same morning, Lucia twirls a pencil through her hair as she proofreads the printed papers of her autobiographical novel, set in Argentina during the Dirty War years. She thinks of Rosana. People used to ask if they were twins, because they dressed in similar outfits and wore their hair short with bangs sweeping to one side of the forehead and, incredibly, their birthdays fell on the same day. If she thought a thought, Rosana would know it, they were so close. Lucia remembers that night very well, it was exactly twenty years to the day, they had heard shouts and screams in the neighbor’s house and then the eerie stillness, run to the ombu tree now, her parents had said, kissing her, and eight-year old Lucia had grabbed her doll, Anabel, and raced into the backyard and climbed inside the ombu tree whose many trunks formed a natural hideout, the spongy bark muffling the noises from outside. Even when the whole street was shrouded in silence, she stayed huddled inside the big tree with Anabel, sipping rainwater from the ombu leaves. Lucia had waited and waited for Rosana to come too. Even now she has nightmares of those days, Anabel had been her only companion until someone in the family came looking for her in the ombu tree. Later, she reunited with her parents who were thrown out of a moving car, naked and nearly dead, in a pre-arranged place, their release powered by people in high places in the military. Now, Lucia tilts her head and listens good-humouredly to her widowed mother talking loudly on the phone in the next room. On hearing footsteps, Lucia goes to the window to see a woman and a dog approach her house. She has seen them many times walking in the neighborhood. Lucia sits on the bed, one hand resting possessively on the arm of the wicker chair, both outraged and puzzled by the woman’s interest in Anabel, her doll. From where she’s seated, Lucia can see scarred skin all the way from the woman’s wrist to her elbow and up her forearm. Similar to what her parents had on other parts of the body. The woman backs away, stammering an apology. Did she imagine it or did the woman say Anabel? Lucia goes back to her desk and picks up her manuscript, but after a minute, or so, sets it down. What if she were Rosana? She thinks of the many strange coincidences that had brought together other families in America. A smile lifts the sag from her mouth and softens her face glistening with tears.

Note: Inspired by a portrait of Doris by the Argentinian photographer Marcos Lopez, I wrote Anabel for Vislumbres, an Iberoamerican magazine. To view the picture go to www.marcoslopez.com/marcosblackandwhite.htm and then click on the arrow to the right till you see a woman seated on a bed and a life-size doll in an armchair (I think it’s the 5th picture). I would have liked to have posted the picture here, but I'm not sure if that would be OK.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Airport Security

For the Christmas holidays, I packed my husband and my son off to Canada and had a grand time home alone. I had to pick them up couple of days ago. It was a dark and stormy morning (!) so I thought I’d take my husband’s all-wheel drive Subaru. My cell phone was dead, I grabbed my keys to the Acura to get the phone-charger from the car. But first, I locked the front door, deposited Murphy in the Subaru, and went over to the Acura but in that few minutes, I had lost the Acura’s key. Had I dropped it in the driveway? I switched on the Subaru’s headlights and searched a bit, no use. It was getting late, so I drove off to the airport where I waited and waited, no sign of my husband or my son. I used a stranger’s phone to call my husband, no response. I waited some more and then asked security if I could zip in and check. I re-united with my family at the baggage claim. My husband was surprised that Security had let me leave the car (all unattended cars are supposed to be towed away). One would think with the recent bomb scare they’d be extra vigilant. Should security use their judgment and act accordingly or should they absolutely not allow anyone to leave the car unattended?

Later, I found the car keys stuck in the rear fold-down seat of the Subaru.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Something To Think About

Obama wellwishers should be grateful to the Salahis. Just think, it’s because of the Salahis that they are now tightening security at the White House. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to go to some fancy party like that, invited or otherwise, but I’m glad the Salahis did.

Monday, November 30, 2009


We are a recycling family and we try to act responsibly about what we trash. In fact, I have often felt that garbage bags should be tagged and the City should do random checks and fine people who trash recyclable items (untagged bags will not be picked up). And then I trashed the thought, it’s not as if I’m always recycling conscious. One of the things I do not recycle is Murphy’s food cans. It would be great if he were vegetarian too, but he enjoys meat and I know it’s horrible that I’m indulging one animal with the meat of another. But as I have mentioned before, I find it hard to be rigid about anything. Anyway, I do get Murphy canned food but I just cannot bring myself to wash those cans and have all the residual meat in our drains So they go straight into the trash can.

We are extra careful about broken bulbs and especially the newer compact fluorescent ones. Last evening, my husband had left a used up bulb on the kitchen counter for me to dispose off safely. I was preparing breakfast this morning and I knocked the bulb over. Crash, there was a muffled silvery sound when the bulb hit the floor. I immediately went about cleaning the broken bits with a paper towel forgetting that these bulbs have mercury. The amount is very small, of course, but it was a very unwise thing to do. I ought to stepped out of the kitchen, aired the place and used gloves to later clean up. And another no-no was that after the initial hand-cleaning, I vacuumed the place. And ours is a bagless vacuum cleaner, duh!

Gosh, I just remembered....as kids we’d play with mercury on our aluminum school boxes!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Yucca Plant

Instead of repotting the 7ft tall Yucca – there were four of them -- that I rescued from the neighbor’s garbage bin, I decided to plant them in our backyard. Our backyard is small, really, really small. Originally, we had wanted a small house with a huge backyard, but we got talked into buying this property. Who needs a huge backyard in hot and humid Houston and with so many vampire mosquitoes? Yes, indeed. And we have always regretted not having an expanse of greenery to look at through our huge windows. Anyway, in this small backyard are various lines: gas, power, phone, cable. Anytime we need to dig, we have to call the various companies to have them flag the areas. Since we recently had the place flagged – when we replaced a portion of our fence – I didn’t bother getting the yard flagged again. On picking the perfect spot for the Yucca, my son got busy digging, I went into the house. Moments later, he rushed into the kitchen where I was. ‘Mom there was a small explosion and flames shot out of the ground’, he said. I called the city and they sent a fire truck and the police to secure the area. It was a Sunday morning, and the sirens got all our neighbors out of their beds. Pretty embarrassing. As it happened, my son had struck the main power line to our house. It was buried a few feet away from the fence and hence perhaps not flagged. Anyways, the tip of the shovel had completely melted. The entire shovel is metal with a rubber wrapping around the handle. My son had had one hand on the rubber part and the other on the metal arm, but had let go of the shovel the moment of the explosion and did not suffer any injuries. The emergency crew repaired the broken line. It’s a temporary fix that could last for several years or just a few months. The best thing would be to have an electrician put in a new power line. And the cost? A few thousand dollars. The Yucca is now sitting in a bucket of water, as we were instructed to do, to help it grow some roots before we plant it in the earth.

In another home, there is a family preparing to lower a coffin into the ground. These are the times when I am blanketed by a feeling of helplessness, and then I look at the sky, the trees and throw Murphy a tennis ball to fetch. He lifts his big head up and looks at me reproachfully and asks, Do you really want me to do such stupid things? No, I shake my head and tickle his ears.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009


Happy Diwali to you all, been meaning to blog but just haven't had the time. Heartening to receive eco-friendly Diwali greetings with a go-easy-on-fireworks message.

I was working in my garage-studio all night and I rose sleepily this morning to prepare my son's breakfast, pack his lunch, see him off and then I went straight back to bed. I woke to the chimes of my doorbell. Three of my neighbors were lined up outside the door, one neighbor had brought a guy to repair my fence, another needed the name of a good plumber and the third was trying to get her dog off my driveway (when I opened the door, the dog dashed in). I stood there dazed trying to process what they were saying, and I had not even tied my hair, I must have looked like Surpanagai (a demon).

On returning from my walk with Murphy, I saw a huge Yucca plant sticking out of my neighbor's garbage. I immediately rang her doorbell and asked her if I could have it please? She's not much of a plant lover, she said, helping me carry the plant to my house. I didn't know that the Yucca plant has no spreading roots, the entire plant is like an amputated limb.

I love plants but I wouldn't want to own plants that need a lot of attention. They'd probably die under my care. I love the Yucca for its Giacometti grace (and the Margarita Palm) and besides I need some huge plants for my bathroom patio...so this is great.

* Incidentally, garbage is bagged in heavy duty plastic and collected in a bin which is cleaner than most people's cars :)