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Life

I was born in Barcelona the year the Spanish Civil War broke out. Both my parents were émigrés. My mother had made her home in what was then Republican Spain after renouncing her native Germany at Hitler’s rise to power, while my father had settled there in preference to his previous adoptive country, the U.S., to which he had immigrated as a child when his family replaced their rustic Jewish existence in Lithuania with a new life in New York’s Lower East Side.

My first two years of life were spent idyllically in the wooded mountain hamlet of La Floresta, a short distance inland from Barcelona, to the increasing roar of overhead bombers and other disquieting signs of the advancing civil war. The fall of Spain to Franco initiated my journey of perpetual uprooting and dislocation, with the first stop in the coastal town of Collioure across the Pyrenees. The start of WWII and the German occupation of France led my mother to seek refuge, always tagging me along with her, in one place after another, while my father looked after a home for Spanish refugee children in Biarritz. My mother finally gravitated to Marseilles with me in Vichy France’s Free Zone, where she managed over a year to obtain the necessary documents for our escape to Mexico via Casablanca: its ambience at the time so famously captured by Humphrey Bogart…

refugees

In Mexico City I relearnt Spanish, went to primary school, and started adapting to this lively place that had opened its doors to refugees from both the Spanish and German wars. I was growing up in the acutely politically conscious ambience of my mother’s friends who had escaped Spain, Russia, Austria, France and Germany. Towards the end of WWII my father joined us and installed my mother and me in a small outlying village south of Cuernavaca.

It was here in Acapancingo where I spent my prepubescent years and I became most intensely aware and in tune with my surroundings: the vibrant beat of life in this wild nature, the sun’s fierce heat, the brilliant clashing colours and strong scents of tropical flowers and ripening guavas mixed with the stench of decaying matter, dogs’ distant barks and the delicate whirring of dragonflies: the immediacy of life and the closeness of death ever present and keenly felt in this Mexican milieu.

From here I was abruptly moved across the vast Pacific Ocean to the Antipodes, poles apart from all I had learnt so far. In Christchurch, New Zealand, the pace of life was gentler, more measured; the colours - my aunt, whom we had come here to join, proclaimed – were pastel shades; people were kind and softly spoken and everybody rode bicycles through the quiet leafy streets. I attended Christchurch Girls High School in my navy blue uniform and brown lace-up shoes and, in my resolution to break the cycle of pain and assist in the pursuit of wellness and contentment, I decided to launch myself into a medical career with no regard to the dauntingly selective entrance conditions of the sole medical school in New Zealand at the time.

I immersed myself happily into student life in Dunedin and found the detailed study of the structure and workings of the human body engrossing. After my hospital residence in Auckland, I returned to the Northern Hemisphere in search of my origins. I worked in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical School Hospital and sampled living in a country where a sense of belonging was in order after my life of exile. Strengthened by my experience, I moved on to Europe and Britain where I met and married an artist who had been working with Kokoschka, gave birth to two daughters, Rebekah and Anna, and embarked into my postgraduate studies and work in anaesthesia, which satisfied both my interest in physiological sciences and my desire to relieve pain and promote healing and life.

sunset

I became a senior lecturer and consultant at the Royal London Hospital in my subspecialty of obstetric anaesthesia, helped my husband establish a school in Italy, the sequel to Kokoschka’s Schule des Sehens, and, in my last years of hospital work, translated an Argentine author’s literary works and launched into my own writing.