|The San Agustin sails into San Francisco Bay|
1. Your birthday
Today is your eleventh birthday and I wish you a happy, long and fruitful life. Your grandmother and I are glad to join you and your parents, to celebrate the event at the Bethesda home where three generations of our family have already lived.
During the recent flight from Europe, it came to my mind that it is time for you to learn that our ancestors’ association with this country goes far back, much before the arrival of the Mayflower, which is usually associated with the beginning of the American nation. During the fifteen hundreds, as owners and captains of ships commissioned by the Crowns of Portugal and Spain, they explored and mapped the coasts of the New World and, in a disputed footnote of history, one of them actually named California after a beachfront next to Sesimbra, a Portuguese town.
For your birth in Los Angeles, our immediate family came literally from all over the world, your aunt from Washington D.C., your grandmother from Paris and I came from Tokyo. During my night flight, the pilot gave the alert to a stupendous aurora borealis that could be seen while cruising close to the North Pole. That was a grand entrance in life, the stuff from which in the past legends were made.
You were born in the year 2000, of the calendar presently in general world usage. Dates with round numbers are always the origin of much myth and display of ignorance. This time, there were again fears of calamities brought up by the change of millennium and other nonsense of the kind. First of all, dates are by definition artificial, the result of a convention about when to start counting time. Early humans understood easily the succession of days, the lunar cycle and the return of the solar seasons constituting a year.
Counting time always related to an important event shared by each community. It could be a catastrophe, the need for a migration or other seminal occasion. Later, were counted the dynasties of rulers (Pharaohs of Egypt, Emperors of China or Japan), the political turning points (the Era of Caesar), religious events (the birth of Christ or Mohammed’s escape from Mecca to Medina), all representing mythical beacons of their civilizations.
Our calendar started with the conventional birth date of Jesus Christ, a prophet born in Judea, a Middle Eastern province of the Roman Empire. Jesus preached an adapted version of the beliefs of Buddha, an earlier Indian visionary, ideas brought along by the merchants of the Silk Route, on caravans that linked the Mediterranean eastern shores all the way to China. The man and his ideas conflicted with the dominant religions of the Empire, were prosecuted with needless violence, which is always a sure method to disseminate any doctrine, the more repressed the faster the expansion.
And so, here we are, after much fighting between parties organized as tribes, nations or empires, using religions and sects as tools in the endless competition for territory and resources, recognizing with our calendar the permanent interaction of peoples from all parts of the world and their reciprocal influence in shaping each others minds. This is what passes for the history of mankind, a lesson in humility.
Having grandchildren brings up a sense of increased personal responsibility towards the future, the need to have your voice heard and to contribute to the body of reasoned knowledge that is the best bulwark against the barbarism still dominant and threatening in large parts of the world.
Never before existed a correlation increasing so fast, between the overall knowledge and consequent way of life of the most intellectually advanced people or societies, on one hand, and the superstitious beliefs and resulting general deprivation of those staying behind, on the other hand. Add to that the widespread availability of information and communications, the shrinking of traveling distances and you have a large probability of having to deal with continuous confrontations during your lifetime.
One year ago to this day I started this limited access blog, to share with family and friends some memories of past events and the occasional analysis of the present as it unfolds before our eyes. The intention was, that such experiences and opinions could encourage the readers to participate in the discussion of the main issues of our time and the significant changes of which we are a part.
There will be, I hope, opportunities for other letters to you, about family roots and languages, history and legend, science and fiction, politics and economics, doctrine and ideology, religion and bigotry, social responsibility and gullibility, diplomacy and manners, important issues and whatever will cross my mind when I sit in front of a computer. Just have the grace of bearing with me and there is a chance you will not regret it.