By Nancy LeRoy, Guest Blogger
October 2, 2009. The Donors’ Weekend started with cocktails for the 120 attendees in the meeting room named “Huxley,” right off the deck overlooking the ocean.
After a dinner of lusciously rare roast beef au jus, mashed potatoes and a variety fresh greens and kale grown in Esalen’s farm and garden, roasted beets and squash and peppers, also from the garden and desert, which I passed up in favor of a second helping of meat and mashed potatoes, we all strolled up to the huge Dance Dome accompanied by drummers and tambourines and a ten-foot long horn of some kind blowing a low, vibrating tone. The white dome, next to the Art Barn, hugs the edge of a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. As we approached, the sun shone a thin red-gold inch above the edge of the ocean and blue-gray horizon.
To open the weekend Friday evening, Isabel Allende spoke. A small woman, brown hair pulled back casually at the nape of her neck, she’s a combination of feisty and perky. She’s quick and funny and intensely serious, all at the same time.
She opened her part of the evening, which was labeled, vaguely, “Voices of Change,” by talking about there being a “holocaust” that’s killed woman, both before and after birth, burned millions of them as witches, raped them and continues to perpetrate a variety of violence against them worldwide. After the death of her daughter Paula Frias in 1992, Allende created the Isabel Allende Foundation in her daughter’s honor to support organizations that help women and children in need, by providing education, healthcare, protection and the means to empowerment.
Someone asked Allende about “race,” and she said she never thought about it until entering the US when a black American customs official looked at the form she had filled out where she’d written “race: white.” He said, “You’re not white.”
She said, “Yes, I am.”
“You’re not.” He insisted that she was not white, even when she pulled her blouse down to reveal a bit of her breasts, “my white-ist part,” she told us. She finally had to write: “Hispanic.”
She started out a journalist, but the poet Pablo Neruda whom she was interviewing told her he didn’t want to talk to her because he didn’t trust her to write the truth. “Be a writer,” he told her, not a reporter, “That way you can take advantage of your defects.”
Her most touching story took place in India. In some village where she’d gone to investigate women’s issues, as she was about to leave, a woman ran after her and literally shoved a baby into her arms. The driver took the baby and ran after the women to give the baby back. When Allende got in the car, she asked the driver why the woman had tried to give her the baby. “Because it’s a girl,” the driver told her. “Who wants a girl?”
Allende says every January 8, she begins writing. She says she has no “muse,” just discipline. “I work 10 hours a day. Sometimes nothing comes, sometimes something. It’s work!”
I drove back to South Coast, so pleased and happy I’d been given the opportunity to be here this month. Check out this website http://www.well.com/user/suscon/esalen/esalen.html if you’d like to know more about what kind of place Esalen is.