HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EXCHANGE AT THE BORDER–Celebrating two years of success




It’s hard to imagine it’s two years to the day Exchange at the Border made its debut in the literary world. What took five years to conceive, mull over, collect jotted down notes, organize, write, rewrite, revise, edit, and publish, was finally a dream come true. I remember thinking at that moment being a published author at 55 was the culmination of a lifetime of preparation. Everything I had done up until this point, felt like training ground for what was in store for me as an aspiring writer and also for the literary scene. All the teachers I had along the way, who gave of themselves so selflessly, sharing their knowledge, demanding only the best in return, should know my success is also theirs.

All my experiences, from celebrations to disappointments, my travels around the world, my losses and grief, my daily inner journeys to hide from a sometimes hostile environment, everything was an instrument in the orchestra of my life. Now, I am finally hearing the music.

Exchange at the Border was born from an obsession to know all I could about the last royal family Romanov. Why my interest in them is an enigma. But for now, let it suffice that to quench my thirst for knowledge about Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, I stocked my night table with books, and books, and more books on the subject.

Thus began an exploration into one of the most talked about families in world history: Who was Tsarina Alexandra, and why was she so hated, so criticized by Tsar Nicholas’ family; her devotion to her husband and children, her shyness and withdrawal from the spotlight, her anguish about her son Alexei’s hemophilia, her fierce faith; her belief that faith and prayers would bring, accurately enough, the only healer capable to heal her son, a peasant from Siberia called Rasputin. And how can we explain her subsequent surrender to him in the form of a friendship that precipitated the decline and execution of the royal family?

Rasputin… such a mysterious character, hypnotic, peasant-turned-priest-turned-healer, and of Prince Alexei at that. A powerful man who could will himself sober at a moment’s notice, who could see what the human eye cannot, who could change the chemistry of the body to heal ailments doctors could not even begin to relieve; a man who defied his own death by surviving the large dose of poison he consumed inadvertently in his drink and pastries at a party made by his enemies especially for this purpose. A man who survived three shots in the back, and who after being pronounced dead was tied with rope, wrapped in a carpet and thrown in a frozen river. A man who surprised the world and baffled historians and scientists alike when he surfaced–dead but unwrapped– two days later for all the world to see.

Who was this man, and what did he want from the tsarina? Was his motive just to fulfill his mission as healer that brought him so close to the royal family? Or was it his insatiable sexual appetite fueled by her cool detachment despite her devoted obsession with him and his mesmerizing personality?

The rumors that infected the palace with lies about her romantic involvement with Rasputin changed the course of history. Despite the evidence–clear in her correspondence with the tsar while away with the troops–that her only love in life was her husband, we remember her as the queen who had an affair with Rasputin, and we remember him as an evil, sinister, manipulative, and perverted impostor. Why?

Through my research I discovered he did possess supernatural abilities that transcended human logic, defied the laws of nature, and produced results that left the most skeptic perplexed. But why isn’t it as well known the fact that he did heal the sick, many times without any monetary expectation, and he interceded with the tsarina on behalf of oppressed Jews to obtain exit visas from Russia? Why doesn’t history emphasize that? Soon he became so popular people lined up in the street outside his apartment in St. Petersburg. He saw everybody and helped everybody, did not ask for payment–except for sexual favors women were quite eager to fulfill–but accepted donations from wealthier gentlemen who appealed to his powers to solve different troublesome situations. Then he became so wealthy he could not handle the torrent of money and jewels that came his way, so he gifted it all to the poor frivolously, carelessly, generously.

So it occurred to me one day: what if he regrets this reputation? What if he would have a chance to come back and change the way things happened? And if he could, what would he do different? Could he be trusted?

Exchange at the Border attempts to answer these and other questions that plague the human being; questions about the battle between good and evil, about repentance, and also forgiveness.

What a journey it was indeed.




Watching the encore of AFI Lifetime Achievement Award by TCM on July 31 honoring actress Diane Keaton, opened a window into the way I view myself.

Let me explain: Throughout the show, snippets of past interviews with Diane Keaton appeared on the screen displaying her iconoclastic, unconventional fashion style. Always polished, her shoulder length, straight, light brown hair peeking under her bolero hat and minimal make-up, she exudes confidence in her all white or all black pants suits. Talk about simplicity–in her quirky and incomparable dressing style, she is the epitomy of good taste and elegance.

I found myself comparing my wardrobe with hers. Seeing the effect the white blazer had on her appearance with an all white or white and black polka dots scarf, I began to doubt my own looks. With my ever present hot pinks and corals, not to mention the blaring absence of whites and blacks in the clothes I wear, I wondered if my style has the bombshell effect on people as I assume Diane’s has. Living in the tropics, there’s never a chance to wear her ever present turtleneck, long sleeves, and neckties. But as she talked about herself and her career, her inner light shone through. Was it her baggy yet slimming pant suit, or the self assurance that comes when you find yourself and you don’t give a second thought to what people will say?

At the end of the show, she got up and walked to the stage to accept her award. She was wearing a boxy, oversized white coat below the knee, puffed up as if she were wearing a dress from the 1800s. A black belt circled around her tiny waist, and black, low heeled, tie-up booties clashed with her elegant hat.

Defiance at its best.

Or fashion statements.

Or is it courage perhaps, to just be your absolute self before an audience of millions on national TV?

That was it. An admirable trait that suddenly tied in with my own doubts about the validity of my own uniqueness. Yes, she looked great in black and white, but would I?

Epiphany of the day: your appearance defines who you are and vice versa. Your signature look, if you have one, is a faithful expression of who you really are inside. It reflects your inner landscape. It shows you glowing–or wilting. It’s the compass that tells you–and others–where you stand.

So stand, and stand tall as you wear your eccentric self, while you watch your soul soaring through your true colors.