The Teleportation of Gil Pérez

That had to have been startling.

On this very day in 1593, it was widely reported that a soldier of the Spanish Empire, in the Guardia Civil, was guarding the governor’s palace in Manila, Philippines when he suddenly felt exhausted and dizzy. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and when he opened them again, he found himself 8,845 miles away, in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. His name only popped up in a retelling of the story in 1908 (who knows how they figured it out), but supposedly he was a man named Gil Pérez.

I know. But suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine what it would be like for someone wearing the wrong uniform to suddenly find himself smack dab in the middle of the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. That had to have been startling. Lucky for him, no one has ever reported that they witnessed him arrive (or disappear for that matter), or he would probably have been attacked on the spot.

Instead, he was taken (supposedly) to the Viceroy, Luis de Velasco, to explain himself. By way of proof, Pérez gave him a bit of news. It seems that the governor-general of the Philippines, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated the day before. No one in Mexico City could have known that yet, as news traveled by Spanish Galleon at the time, and was usually many months old upon arrival.

Think of it as the 16th century equivalent of, “If you’re not a catfish, then send me a picture of you holding two fingers up, and also holding today’s newspaper in your other hand.” Unfortunately, that “picture”, in this case, would take about 3 months to arrive. Oddly enough, the Viceroy was satisfied with this explanation.

But then the religious authorities got involved. Unfortunately, this “miracle” occurred right in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, so these officials were already in a foul mood. They promptly threw him in jail for being a deserter (as if he would have had a choice under these weird circumstances), and for good measure they also declared him a servant of the devil.

Pérez, it is said, preferred being in jail to fighting (I’m quoting this article, so don’t blame me) “the jungle men of the Philippines”, so he was on his best behavior. Over time, the guards found him to be a good Christian, so charges were dropped, and yet he remained in prison, because what can you do with someone who has such magical powers?

Months later, the news of the assassination finally got to Acapulco, and Pérez was ordered back to Mexico City. In an amazing coincidence, some of the people on the boat with him recognized him as a palace guard from Manila, so with all that “evidence” he was set free and went back to his post in the Philippines.

This story has been repeated through the centuries by many writers. The one most recognizable to Americans will be Washington Irving, of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame. The tale has even found a home on YouTube. Check out this cute animation:

And this longer, more serious treatment of the subject from Mexico Unexplained:

I couldn’t let you down, dear reader, so I actually did “research” for this post. And I was immediately able to blow a hole in this myth. It all has to do with Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, who is a legitimate historical figure who was, in fact, assassinated. The problem is that he was assassinated at sea, and no one in Manila would have known this by the next day. And according to Wikipedia, the assassination took place on 10/25, not 10/23.

But I don’t know where anyone got either of these dates. I’m fairly certain the assassination took place on 10/19. The most reliable source I could find is a very legitimate looking report entitled, GOMEZ PEREZ DAS MARINAS, CAPTAIN GENERAL OF MURCIA IN THE LAST THIRD OF THE XVI CENTURY, by José Raimundo Núñez-Varela and Lendoiro, Official Chronicler of the city of Betanzos and the City Council of Miño. (It’s in Spanish, but Google can translate it for you, if need be.)

The point is, if you’re going to tell a true story, then you should at least get your dates straight. But if our hero can teleport, maybe he can time travel as well. But with such powers, why cool your heels in jail, man?

Regardless, interpretation of this tale has changed with the course of time. These days, rather than speculating about Pérez’ congress with Satan, those who care to theorize seem to rest firmly in the teleportation camp. Pérez would not be the first person to show up in Mexico City with a strange story to tell. (I can attest to that. It’s a long story for another day.)

But a few decades ago, people were less apt to theorize about teleportation and much more likely to believe that he had been abducted by aliens and returned to the wrong location. Pardon me while I scoff.

First of all, have you noticed that claims of alien abduction are all but nonexistent these days, now that we all have cameras on our phones? Second, if aliens have the technology to travel through space, why on earth would they need sadistic probes to see our inner workings? And more importantly for the sake of this story, why would they forget where to dump Pérez once they were done with him?

I mean, come on… let’s be realistic, shall we? Hmph.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!



A delightful tradition that’s worthy of preservation.

Once again, listening to NPR during my morning commute has yielded dividends for me, in the form of delightful information. It seems that the mayor of Algar, a tiny town in Southern Spain, is applying for UNESCO world heritage status for the residents’ tradition of sitting outside their homes in the summer, to have outdoor chats (“charlas al fresco” in Spanish) with their neighbors. Not a specific spot on the map, not an ancient building, but an intangible cultural gem nonetheless.

The mayor says this tradition has continued during COVID, albeit with masks and at a safe distance. He fears it will die out if it’s not officially recognized, however. More people are starting to stay indoors, engrossed in their social media and television. The loss of this ritual would be a shame.

According to this article, the mayor contends that the tradition provides the residents with many benefits. It bonds the community. They discuss the latest local news as well as events from around the world. It saves energy as they usually turn their air conditioning off when they sit outside. It also decreases loneliness. These chats can turn into a sort of free therapy session. And when someone brings up a problem, the neighbors naturally try to help them out, whether it be an elderly person who needs a small home repair, or someone who needs a ride to tomorrow’s job interview. There’s also an expectation of increased tourism to their small town if UNESCO approves their application.

We are losing so much as we rush toward the future. When’s the last time you saw kids outside riding bicycles? When did you last have to break up a game of kickball in the street so that you could get to your driveway? I’m seeing fewer and fewer picnics in parks. These are all intangible parts of human history. We keep forgetting, as we modernize, that it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s rather heartbreaking.

I wish the people of Algar the best of luck in keeping their tradition of charlas al fresco alive. It certainly makes me want to visit them and have a chat. Imagine. Making new friends on a warm summer evening in Southern Spain. Sign me up.

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Mondragon Corporation: A Lesson in Cooperation

There are alternatives to capitalism.

Much has been made of late about the income inequality in the United States. I hope that the clamor becomes ever louder, because, as one meme about Jeff Bezos states, “If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to figure out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do the same thing, we put them on the cover of Forbes.”

Something definitely has to change. Nobody needs that many bananas. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would even want that many bananas. Eating too many bananas can only lead to bloating and constipation.

That’s the problem with this country. It is bloated on its own greed. It is constipated when it comes to compassion for the less fortunate. The system is not healthy.

We could learn a great deal from the Mondragon Corporation. I first heard about this organization by listening to a talk on income inequality by Noam Chomsky. He was discussing alternatives to capitalism, as he quite often does, and he held Mondragon up as the most advanced case of a worker-owned cooperative in the world. Naturally, I had to learn more about it.

According to its own website as well as Wikipedia and an article entitled, “Mondragon through a Critical Lens”, this corporation originates in the Basque region of Spain, and because of it, that region went from being the poorest in Spain 65 years ago, to being by far the richest region. Starting off as a small worker-owned company, it has expanded to more than 100 different cooperatives, employing more than 81,000 people.

We aren’t unfamiliar with cooperatives here in the U.S. Many of us bank at credit unions, shop at independent grocery stores, live in housing cooperatives, or obtain our food from agricultural cooperatives. Given the fact that cooperatives are responsible for more than 500 billion in revenue here, it surprises me that they aren’t given more press.

Well, it does and it doesn’t surprise me, actually. Given that unions are squelched in red states, and large companies, like Amazon, are terrified of them, people certainly don’t want workers to gain too much power in this country. Chaos could ensue. People might, like, start earning living wages rather than having that money go to stockholders. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Mondragon begs to differ. Its primary goal is to maximize employment and give employees the dignity of having a say in their own destiny, to further the well-being of the workers as a whole.

Their cooperatives are mostly industrial, but they also include the finance, retail and knowledge sectors. They have discovered that competing in technical niche markets make them competative on a global scale, and since their jobs require more than a basic education, they’re less apt to be competing with underpaid workers overseas.

Mondragon’s workers also own their own bank, university, social welfare agency, supermarket chain and several business incubators. They have their own pension and medical plans, and on the average, executives are only allowed to earn 5 times as much as the lowest paid employee. The ratio in question is voted on by the employees.

One employee, one vote is the rule. And that means that the CEO has no more power in the fate of the company than the guy who scrubs the toilets. In fact, the administrators work for the employees, not the other way around. How refreshing.

Mondragon is also a lot more adaptable than a typical bureaucracy. They are very dedicated to collaborative decision making, and because of that they can break free of old-guard, stuck-in-their-ways attitudes. Since the employees have an equal say, the decisions are made based on the current facts, not on old habits.

Mondragon employees get much better health care than the average American, and their pensions are 80 percent of their former salaries. They have extensive unemployment benefits. In addition, if one cooperative fails, the vast majority of the employees are absorbed by the other cooperatives, so there is a great deal of income security.

Is Mondragon perfect? Not by a long shot. It is still having to compete in an international, mostly capitalist market, so it has had to make some uncomfortable choices. For example, it does have international employees as well, and while they are employed by the cooperatives, they’re not owners as the other employees are. Therefore they don’t reap all the benefits and they don’t have a say in the decisions. Supposedly they are still treated well, but it’s a disturbing trend.

Another issue is that women are severely underrepresented in Mondragon. I suspect that has to do with it originating in a macho culture, and also the fact that for various reasons, women don’t seem to pursue engineering educations as often as men do, and Mondragon is an engineering-heavy employer. But when women do get jobs within this system, they get equal pay. That must be nice.

And while everyone at Mondragon has a vote, that doesn’t necessarily mean that each person is educating themselves on the issues in question. So not all votes are informed ones.

Another hurdle is that when you only pay your CEOs reasonable wages rather than obscenely high ones, it’s hard to get the best and brightest people to apply for the job. It could be argued, though, that those who do apply have their priorities intact. That counts for something. But it’s a rare bureaucrat who has his or her priorities intact.

It may be a flawed system, but it seems a lot less flawed than what the majority of us experience in America. I definitely believe it merits further study. And I think the Green energy movement in this country, as it is relatively young, could start out as a cooperative and thrive. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we, the people, actually created clean energy while benefiting from our endeavors?

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!

The Dolmen de Guadalperal

2,000 years older than Stonehenge.

If, like me, you have always been fascinated by Stonehenge, you’ll be quite thrilled to hear about the one silver lining to global climate change. According to this article, the Dolmen de Guadalperal rose above the waterline for the first time since Francisco Franco had a dam built which flooded that area of Extremadura, Spain in 1963. Due to extreme drought, this archeological site was suddenly high and dry.

As you can see from this beautiful short video, what remains of these dolmen are about 100 standing stones. Not nearly as tall as the ones at Stonehenge. The tallest stones here are about 6 feet. But I’m grateful to whoever took that video, because to get to that site requires a hike of several hours. The idea of hiking that long in a place known for its heat, and not being sure at the end if the dolmen will be completely covered in water, is rather unappealing to me.

But this site is very significant. It’s believed to be about 7,000 years old, which is 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. Unlike Stonehenge, archeologists believe that this was once a completely enclosed building. The Romans may have damaged it. It was a mystery to them, too.

While Franco’s dam brought electricity and water to underdeveloped western Spain, it flooded this site as well as a Roman city that was called Augustóbriga. That city included a temple, which was dismantled and moved to higher ground when the dam was being built. The city also had an aqueduct and thermal baths and paved roads. What a loss.

The Dolmen of Guadalperal, when intact, would have consisted of a long, dark hallway that opened into a central room where the dead would be interred. During the summer solstice, the hallway would be lit up, and the sun would shine on the ancestors for a few moments. It must have been spectacular.

The people who lived in this area also left evidence that they were some of the first in the world known to make flour, and that was 1,000 years before the dolmen were erected. They were also using honey, and eventually brewing their own beer.

The dolmen, which are made of porous granite, are suffering from being constantly submerged in water. They are toppling and cracking. And now the damage is accelerating as they go from cold, wet conditions to hot, dry ones. There was talk of moving the stones to higher ground, but it would have had to have been done extremely carefully. Only the government can decide their ultimate fate, and governments tend to move slowly.

Alas, per this article, the government chose to do nothing, and the dolmen are already covered by water again. This makes me sad.

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Sound Memories

This coming June, I’ll have officially lived longer without my mother in my life than I did with her. What a concept. I can no longer remember her voice, except for the sound of one painfully high note she would hit when we’d sing a particular song. “Ain’t gonna GRIEEEEEVE my Lord no more!”

I think she did that on purpose to make me laugh. At least I hope she did. No one in my family is known for singing, but that… that was excruciating.

I miss it.

It’s funny, the things you remember and the things you don’t. Sounds, smells, songs… Sounds particularly stick with me.

I remember the sound of cowbells on a distant slope in Switzerland when I was 19 and more in love than I had ever been before or since.

Travel sounds, in particular, seem to stick with me. Coqui frogs chirping on one swelteringly hot evening in Puerto Rico. A fog horn on the coast of Canada. The call to prayer in Istanbul. Mariachis in Mexico. Flamenco dancers in Spain.

I can hear those things like they are happening right this minute. I also remember hurtful things that have been said to me. I wish I didn’t.

I remember heading out for work one day, just like any other day, except my dog Sugar ran up to the fence and threw back her head and howled like her heart was going to break in two. Before I could leave, I had to run over and give her a hug.

I remember being told I’d never leave the little redneck Florida town where I grew up. Ha! You got that wrong. But you’re still there. And you voted for Trump, too.

I remember a loved one beside me, snoring. I was irritated at the time. Now I’d give anything to have someone beside me, snoring.

“I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more…”


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A Story About Reframing Misfortune

This month, the theme for the monthly storytelling group I attend was “Starting Over”. I’m the poster child for that, but I didn’t feel like being too intense this time, so I thought about a blog post I did a while back on the Evil Eye. That’s the story I told, with some modification. If you have the ability to listen to the audio below, let me know what you think. And if you have a chance to join a storytelling group in your area, like Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, I highly recommend it!

Spanish Proverbs

One of the things I love most about the Spanish language, and one of the reasons I chose to learn it, is that it is full of wise sayings. There is no exact translation for some of them, and that’s a pity, because a lot of them are gems. We can learn a great deal from Spaniards who bristle with platitudes. Here are a few of my favorites, which I’ve translated as best I could.

  • Mejor perder un minuto de la vida que la vida en un minuto. – It’s better to lose a minute of your life than your life in a minute. (In other words, patience is a virtue.)
  • Cada martes tiene su domingo. – Literally, every Tuesday has its Sunday. (In other words, every dog has its day.)
  • Lo comido es lo seguro. – The thing you’ve eaten is the sure thing. (In other words, you can only count on the food that’s already in your stomach.)
  • En tiempos de guerra, calquier hoyo es trinchera. – In times of war, any hole is a trench. (In other words, any port in a storm.)
  • Mucho ruido y pocas nueces. – A lot of noise, and few nuts. (In other words, much ado about nothing.)
  • Entre bueyes no hay cornadas. – Between oxen there are no horns. (Hard to say this one. Basically, you can trust those you have something in common with.)
  • Un paso a la vez. – One step at a time. (Exactly as in English, but it just sounds so much cooler in Spanish!)

That cultural tendency to want to share wisdom is one of the things I love most about Spain! There are tons of Spanish Proverb sites on the web. Check ’em out. You might learn something.


[Image credit:]


There was a period in Spanish history between the beginning of the eighth century and the end of the fifteenth century known as the Convivencia, which, roughly translated, means the time of living together, when the Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace. Not to say that Spain hasn’t had a past checkered with as much violence and intolerance as any other country, but there was that enlightened period, at least in the southern part of the country, and that has always appealed to me.

I try really hard to live in Convivencia, not just in terms of tolerating other religions, but other philosophies and lifestyles as well. One of the most beautiful things about being well traveled is that you learn that your way isn’t the only way, and it may not even be the best way. Once you realize that, you become a lot more open minded.

I have never understood people who use the term “politically correct” as if it were an epithet. They assume that that tendency must be insincere and false. That speaks volumes about them. It really is possible to accept diversity without being disingenuous about it. It might take effort sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be unnatural. It may not be your custom to fast during Ramadan, for example, but how hard is it not to eat in front of someone you know is fasting? It’s common courtesy and it shows that you have the maturity to be aware of those around you.

I’m always befuddled by people who get angry every year when someone says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Why is it so unpalatable to them that you want to include everyone in your well wishes? I personally appreciate any well wishes that come my way.

For that same reason, I don’t get people who oppose gay marriage. What they are basically saying is that they don’t want “those people” to have a chance at the same happiness that they have. That makes no sense to me. Why do they care?

The tendency to embrace the wider world is much more positive than practicing a xenophobia that not only limits you, but pours the acid of hatred on your very soul. Allowing for other points of view can only increase your emotional intelligence and open you up to a broader range of experiences. Try it. You might learn something.


I Was Here

Approximately 40,800 years ago, someone, possibly a Neandertal, painted the oldest known cave art in a place called the Cave of El Castillo in northern Spain. This is the first evidence we have of someone saying,  “Death shall not silence me.” And we’ve been saying it ever since.

Wanting to survive beyond your expiration date is a natural instinct. It’s what art, architecture and writing really is. By writing this blog, I get to say, “Barb was here” every single day. If you read it on one of the rare occasions when I’m asleep, I’m still talking to you. It’s like sending radio waves out into space. These messages will go on and on and on, with or without me. That’s a heady experience. When you leave your mark, you are cheating death. You are poking fun at the grim reaper.

Long before we developed writing, we were telling our stories through art and monuments. Archeology is the study of the physical stories that long dead civilizations leave behind. “This is who we were.” “This is how we lived.” “This is what we thought was important.” “This is how we want to be remembered.” “These are the mistakes we made.” “Learn from us.”

What an amazing first step that caveman in Spain took! Did he or she realize how important this was? Probably not. But maybe. And that, above all else, is why it’s so exciting.

Cave Paintings

[Image credit:]

The Evil Eye

Location: Some Nameless Godforsaken Village in Northwest Spain

Year: 1986

So I’m with a friend, sitting in a café that overlooks a green slimy swamp. To say we were in the middle of nowhere would be generous. You couldn’t even see nowhere from where we were sitting. I had no freakin’ clue how this restaurant survived. There weren’t even houses anywhere in sight.

It was all my fault, really. I got it into my head that since we were in this part of Spain, we should go somewhere where we could at least look into Portugal. So, trusting my guidebook, we hopped on a bus. Sadly we’d have to change buses. Even more sadly, the layover was 5 hours. On the side of road. Next to a swamp. This was something I had somehow overlooked.

So we’re sitting there, trying not to snipe at each other, when along the road comes this little old Gypsy woman, straight out of central casting. Black dress. Humped back. Grey hair in a bun. Patch over one eye. She asks us if we’d like her to tell us our fortunes. I say, “No, thank you.” My friend says, “Sure! Why not?” I’m thinking, “Oh, God…”

So the fortune was told, with me acting as translator. Nothing exciting, nothing dramatic. Until she asks for her fee, and my friend takes exception to the outrageous amount. My friend hands her about 1/10th of the asking price. Oh, God…

The lady, predictably, freaks out and starts speaking more rapidly than my Spanish skills allow. She may not even have been speaking Spanish, for all I knew. And then she lifts her eye patch, fixes her cold blue (and in retrospect, perfectly functional) eye on us, lifts her hand, extending two fingers and…I swear to you…hisses.

Then she walks away.

I don’t believe in the evil eye. But when things aren’t going well for me, I sometimes wonder.


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