Archives for December 2017

The mountain will tell me when I am old

I have chosen a mountain to define my limits. In 1989 (I was just over 40yrs and I had already published The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage in Brasil), I was on my second sacred pilgrimage in the Pyrenees. I saw a mountain in the distance called Pic du Gez and I said, ‘okay, I have nothing to do today, so I’m going to climb that peak’.

First, it was very difficult to get close to the base – from a distance it looked so easy. When I finally arrived at the bottom, I had about five hours to climb about 2,000m. Not a big deal. So I started climbing, and I got lost. I had no water, no food, I had nothing. Eventually, I made it to the top and looked around. It was summer. There was no snow, it looked like the moon and I thought, ‘I don’t know my way back. I can’t take the same route that I took to get here’. I spent nearly four hours climbing and I had no energy for the descent (which is more difficult than the ascent). So I sat down, and my first decision was that I wasn’t going to smoke – I needed to preserve all my energy.
As I looked around, I saw a city in the distance and I said ‘I’m going to that city’.
And again, it seems easy to navigate when you see something like that in the distance. So I started my descent, heading towards the city, but soon after I began I could no longer see the city anymore. I said, ‘my God, I may die here’. And then I thought ‘well, that’s not so bad. I die on a mountain. Winter will come, my body will disappear and I will become a legend’.

Eventually, I made my way to the city, but I couldn’t sleep that night. My body was completely tense. I had gone beyond my limit.
I called my wife Christina the next day and said, ‘yesterday, I was lost in a mountain, I almost died’.
And she said, ‘okay Paulo, great, but don’t call me very often because our telephone bill is getting very high’. And I thought: “I almost died and here she is talking about my telephone bill because I was always calling collect’ (laughter).

After this experience, I decided that this mountain would tell me when I get old.
So once a year, I return to climb this mountain. One day, I will be unable to climb it and when that day comes, it will be a turning point, telling me that I can no longer overstretch myself that way and that I need to find something else.
I will find something else.

Odessa is like that

Catherine the Great received some boxes of freshly harvested oranges in the dead cold of winter. The note that came with it said they were from a distant port. The note said, ‘See what we are capable of bringing to you? We need your help to grow even more.’ Impressed, she sent a massive amount of money so that this port could develop further.

However, the oranges had been brought from other countries through the Black Sea. Without telling lies, the note to the empress did not explain the whole truth, as I learned when I disembarked there. The phrase I most heard during my 90 days of aimless travels was ‘Odessa is like that.”

When I decided to travel, I knew I needed at least one official commitment each week to help me resist the temptation to return to Brazil too soon. In this case, I agreed to come to Ukraine at the invitation of the government to attend the 20th anniversary forum of the disaster at Chernobyl. The event lasted only one afternoon and the wind was telling me to stay, so I decided to stay another week there. When I was asked what I wanted to do, I explained that I wanted to have some surprise meetings with my readers, giving them only two or three days notice that I was there. Many asked where I wanted to hold these meetings.

“Odessa,” I responded, without hesitation.

Everyone seemed very surprised. They wanted to know why. I told them I chose it because of Sergey Kostin, a person I met in Switzerland. In keeping with a tradition that began in Puente la Reina, the local bookseller there organized a party/book signing for 50 readers, chosen by lottery.

A friend of mine lent us his plane. When we landed, my representative in Russia asked to see an invitation for the party to make sure that everything was on schedule.

“It doesn’t have the date, time or place on it!”

“Odessa is like that,” answered the bookseller, “those who received the invitation will phone the number on the invitation 3 hours before the event and receive the necessary information. Otherwise, we will have many counterfeit tickets.”

We did not think there would be many people there, but I asked my representative not to worry since we didn’t have any expectations. I visited the staircase from the movie Battleship Potemkin,” the only reference I had to the city. Since ‘Odessa is like that,’ the party was a success and there were many more people there than we expected. The bookstore owner introduced me to a gigantic man that he said wanted to make a sculpture of me.

I never accept these offers because they usually mean standing and posing for days at a time, and I intended to return to Kiev the next morning, but the bookstore owner insisted.

“You will only need to stand for one hour, Odessa is like that.”

It was Easter, and Orthodox Easter is an important day for Christianity. I felt like I should accept just to give the man pleasure, as my need to return to Kiev would be a real excuse to limit my stay in his studio.

I went there with some friends. Alexander Petrovich Tokarev, the sculptor, says he spent a sleepless night praying (a custom in the Orthodox Church). Even without sleep, the work begins. I’m a little anxious; I don’t think he will achieve anything in such a short time. His hands were sweating profusely, and though they were moving quickly, his movements were precise, a kind of spiritual ballet. The other works in the studio surrounding me showcased his genuine talent and love to achieve the impossible. I began to feel sad because I would soon have to tell him to stop working because I had to leave.

However, exactly an hour later, the sculpture was finished! I was reminded once again that if you wish to do something, the universe will conspire in your favor.

Why should I have been surprised? After all, Odessa is like that!

The two paths

When they asked Abbot Antonio if the path of sacrifice led to heaven, he answered:

– There are two paths of sacrifice. The first is taken by the man who mortifies the flesh and pays penance because he believes that we are condemned. The man who follows this path feels guilty and judges himself unworthy of living happily.

– The second path is taken by the man who, even though he knows that the world is not as perfect as we would like, prays, does penance and offers up his time and toil to improve the world around him. So he understands that the word sacrifice comes from sacro ofício, holy work. In this case the Divine Presence helps him all the time and he obtains results in heaven.