Madrid was experiencing an early spring, the trees were budding and the birds chirped even in the commercial center of the city. It was in the late ‘seventies and I was there for two very different meetings, reflections of my double life. The first was with the country’s airline managers, hosted by Iberia as national carrier. I was there as the representative of IATA to try and convince them not to give discounts and thus avoid tariff wars, which are debilitating to all, to be alert to security problems and to train their people in Fraud Prevention. It was a long morning because Iberia had recently initiated a new working day: from 7 a.m. till 3 p.m. without a lunch break. The idea was to concentrate travail to the morning when people have more energy and give them the afternoon off. The concept’s fallacy was that Madridleños dined and went to bed late and were bleary-eyed and slow-witted in the mornings for lack of sleep. Fortunately, pilots weren’t subject to the same regimen.
We began at 8:30, the earliest the other airline managers could be cajoled into arriving, and half of them arrived late anyway. I spoke about the three subjects at some length, there were questions and answer periods, and all swore on their mothers’ graves not to give discounts and to be suitably vigilant where security and fraud prevention were concerned. The Iberia commercial and sales managers invited me for lunch at a first class restaurant afterwards, something I fully expected – because it was their opportunity to get an excellent lunch at their company’s expense and have the truncated afternoon off. And it was indeed excellent, four courses, the best Chilean wine, French cognac and Cuban cigars to top it off. Afterwards we all went our unsteady ways, they home and I to my hotel, with the same objective - la siesta.
In the evening I went to the second meeting, that of my other life - at Sandra’s CosmoRitmia studio. Sandra was a Lithuanian expatriate who had worked when young as a stewardess, for SAS I think it was, then for a Venezuelan airline as goddess. I could well imagine the young statuesque blonde beauty deplaning in the jungle and being worshiped by the natives. She met and married a Swedish businessman and lived in Lima, Peru for a number of years, where she bore two children, opened a yoga studio and finally encountered Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. When her husband was transferred to Madrid, she opened a yoga studio there as well, but since Rudolf Steiner had once opined that yoga was an atavistic initiation method and not appropriate for modern times, she called it “CosmoRitmia”, but it still looked like yoga to me.
I spoke about social issues to about thirty people sitting on the floor, mostly young, although I couldn’t see them very well, because Sandra’s sense of atmosphere dictated that lighting in the room, about the size of a large living room, be by candle. My subject was Steiner’s idea of a threefold, or tripartite society, in which Liberty, Equality and Fraternity could be applied successfully, whereas the French revolutionists, who used the words as a motto, failed because they tried to apply all three concepts to a unitary political state, when only Equality is an appropriate description of the state’s function, Fraternity for the economic sphere and Liberty to the spiritual/culture sector. Actually all I did was put the basic idea into a somewhat more up to date format based on my own experiences. I of course recommended Steiner’s book on the subject, Basic Issues of the Social Question.
Often when speaking to young idealistic naïve people on this subject, who were more interested in things like reincarnation and Mary Magdalene, I had the impression that most didn’t know what I was talking about. But there were always a few who did, and they were the questioners. Several intelligent questions were posed by a young man with experience in commerce, a lawyer and…her. I’d asked Sandra to put the lights on for the question and answer period, so I could see the people I was interacting with. She looked familiar, I was sure I’d seen her somewhere before, but couldn’t place her. She stood to ask her question: What if a dictatorship rules the country you want to apply these ideas to?
Spain had only recently been rid of the Franco dictatorship and I answered that such a system is impossible under a dictatorship, but at least possible in a democracy, which now exists in Spain, if enough people want it.
“So you’d have to get rid of the dictatorship first.” she said.
“Of course, obviously.”
After the lecture I was surrounded by a thin mob asking the questions they should have asked at the appropriate moment and I saw her hanging back, apparently waiting for me to be free. In the good light I saw an attractive young woman, not more than 21, if that, with frizzy dark hair, clear blue eyes and a somewhat aquiline nose, which a stickler might describe as a mite too large. I excused myself to the others and pushed through to her, ready to ask if we had met before.
Hola, Frank, she said with an ironic smile. Don’t you remember me?
Yes, I do, but I don’t know from where.
I blinked, then recognition came. Miriam, the eldest daughter of the Valenzuela family in Buenos Aires. I had last seen her when she was around twelve. She and two brothers were too old for the Waldorf school we started, but the two youngest sisters, twins, had been pupils there, so I knew them better. Their parents were old friends – at least the mother was. We embraced.
Well, I said, I have an excuse for not recognizing you, Miriam: you’re a woman now. I asked her what she was doing in Madrid and she said she had left Argentina because of the “situation” there. She was referring to the cruel military dictatorship which ruled Argentina at that time. Many Argentines, young and old, had emigrated, some of necessity, others just to escape the suffocating atmosphere. Spain was a favored destination because of the common language. Most of the other South American countries were also ruled by military murderers, so they weren’t considered safe. She said she hadn’t been in Spain long, so couldn’t tell yet whether she liked it, and was mostly involved with other Argentines and hoped to find a job soon, which wasn’t that easy because she had arrived as a tourist. But it’s better than home, she added, and smiled. I explained that I lived in Switzerland, but came to Madrid frequently and hoped to see her again there at Sandra’s studio. I don’t remember if I gave her my phone number or asked for hers. Thinking back now on the conversation, I have the impression that she was evasive.
I never saw her again.
Years later, after the dictatorship had fallen of its own stupidity – by both ruining the country economically and challenging Britain in the Falkland Islands War, I learned that Miriam had been a member of one of the armed resistance groups and had escaped from Argentina by the skin of her teeth. Shortly after I met her at Sandra’s, her group’s Maximum Leader – from the safety of exile – ordered her and several others to return to Argentina with false passports in order to continue the fight there. They tried not to look nervous when passing through immigration control at Buenos Aires’s international airport. But nervous or not, they were doomed, for the secret police knew they were coming and arrested them on arrival. They became a few of the estimated thirty thousand NNs who were never seen again. So Miriam also led a double life – an infinitely more dangerous one than mine. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d known what she was involved in, if I could have influenced her, convinced her that the violent tactics her group espoused were hopeless, for Argentina wasn’t Cuba and had no Fidel Castro and Che was elsewhere. Maybe I could have gotten her a decent job with an airline and… But no, I probably couldn’t have changed her outlook or her destiny.
Today bones of the tortured and murdered are still being found in mass graves around Argentina. With the new DNA technology many of them have been identified. As far as I know Miriam is still an NN. Surely though, some of the bones are hers.
* Not her real name.