This is Mexico
Part Two by Uri Geller
This is Mexico
The porter had already started to take our luggage out to the taxi that was waiting to drive us to the airport. A few minutes later, Shipi and I should have checked out of the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City and been on our way back to New York after an extensive book promotion tour for the Spanish-language edition of My Story. I was having a final check through the drawers and wardrobes in my room when the telephone rang.
The caller was Raul Astor, the head of Televisa, the television company for which I had done a major broadcast the previous evening.
‘Uri,’ he began, ‘I’m calling you to tell you something very important.’
I looked at my watch. ‘Well, you’d better tell me very quickly,’ I replied, ‘or I’ll miss my flight.’
‘Please,’ he went on, ‘don’t leave the hotel, because there is a very important person coming to see you.’
‘Look, Raul,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t wait for anybody. I can’t cancel my flight now.’
‘Uri, listen to me very carefully. You have to do what I tell you. This is a serious matter.’ I wondered what on earth he was talking about. ‘The wife of the president-elect of Mexico saw you on our programme, and one of her aides just called me to say that she would like to meet you.’
I made some hasty excuse or other, but he would have none of it.
‘You’d better stay,’ he interrupted sternly. ‘This is Mexico.’ He went on to explain that in his country it was the president, and the president’s wife, who made the decisions. A president-elect was equally important, and you did whatever he – or his wife – told you.
Shipi and I had the fastest conference of our lives. He quickly checked the diary, and found that my next engagement was not for ten days.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘we’ll meet her and we’ll take a flight tomorrow. So we stay another day – what’s the big deal?’
I had loved my first trip to Mexico. There was a nice swimming pool at the hotel, and I had developed a taste for tortillas and guacamole. (I was not a vegetarian in those days.) I had visions of what might happen if I disobeyed Raul’s order. I decided to agree with him. I had better stay.
Almost as soon as Raul hung up, the telephone rang again, and a voice told me in broken English that Senora de Lopez Portillo was in the hotel, and was on her way to see me.
It had all happened so quickly that I had still not fully realized who my unexpected visitor was when I heard the rhythmic thump of feet – whoomp, whoomp, whoomp in the corridor. I peered round the door, and saw what looked like a military parade heading for me. It was a solid mass of army and police uniforms, crash helmets and walkie-talkies. There must have been at least twenty of them.
They marched up to my room and halted. Then they stood aside, like the Red Sea being parted by Moses, to leave me face to face with Senora Carmen Romano de Lopez Portillo.
She was not at all what I had been expecting. I had seen her husband’s photograph on enormous posters all over the city put up by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the party that had effectively run Mexico and chosen its presidents for nearly fifty years. I expected the wife of this distinguished and intelligent-looking man to be elderly, grey-haired and discreetly dressed. Instead, I saw a very exotic and beautiful woman.
With her curly black hair, huge green cat’s eyes and dazzling smile, she might have been a mature but well-preserved actress. She wore a very colourful and sexy dress, with high-heeled shoes and plenty of make-up. She held out her hand towards me, and only then, after all the commotion of this military-style invasion, did it dawn on me just who she was and what she represented.
We shook hands, and she came into my room. To my surprise, one of the men promptly stepped forward and closed the door behind her, leaving her alone with Shipi and me. Through the window, I could see that the area around the pool was already swarming with yet more uniformed men. We were surrounded.
She ignored the chair I offered her, planted herself on my bed, and lost no time in letting me know why she had come to see me.
‘I saw your television show,’ she began excitedly, in good English. ‘It was incredible! You know, I was holding my watch and it started working, and my son – his spoon bent – and oh, you were fantastico! My God, all my life I’ve wanted to meet somebody like you. I’m so interested in these things, and I believe in them. You must stay in Mexico!’ It was an order, not an invitation.
We talked for two hours. She wanted to know everything about me, and she wanted me to know all about her, her family, her background, and her feelings about God, religion and just about all the mysteries of life from flying saucers to bent spoons.
At last, she got up. I expected her to say goodbye and leave, but instead she gave me another order.
‘You come to my house. Now.’
Driving through the streets of Mexico City with the wife of the president-elect was an experience unlike any I had previously had. We tore through the traffic, surrounded by motorcycles with sirens wailing, while she sat back calmly with her walkie-talkie, constantly sending out messages, firmly in command of her entourage. Her Ford LTD had been fitted with all kinds of special compartments for radios, tape recorders, music cassettes, notepads, pens and pencils and make-up boxes, many of which were also strewn over the rear window-ledge. When I got my custom-built Cadillac later, I had it refitted in the same way, to remind me of hers.
Our presidential motorcade swept out of town and into the suburbs, finally pulling up at a modern art-deco villa standing in about an acre of land and surrounded by a high fence. Several police cars were parked by the gate.
When she led me into her living-room, all I could see at first was a mass of pianos, of all shapes and sizes, modern and antique. There were more of them all over the house, and later I counted at least twelve. She was a pianist, she told me, and had studied with a well-known American.
I told her that my best friend was the distinguished American concert pianist Byron Janis, who had studied with the great Horowitz.
Her gorgeous cat’s eyes lit up. ‘Oh,’ she exclaimed, ‘you know Byron Janis? He must come and play for Mexico, at the Bellas Artes.’
She showed me around the whole house, and introduced me to her mother, a most lovable lady who received me very graciously. Then she showed me her husband’s private study, which was crammed with books. He was not at home, but at his office where he was serving the outgoing president, Luiz Echeverria, as minister of finance.
Although I stayed with her all afternoon, we had little opportunity for more than polite conversation, for we were constantly interrupted as officials and servants hurried in and out with papers and documents. Eventually, she announced that we were to go out to dinner with some of her friends.
As we walked into the restaurant, the clatter of cutlery stopped and there was dead silence. To describe Senora de Lopez Portillo as having a strong personality would be an understatement. It was not that she was the wife of the president-to-be; she simply had that kind of power. As I already knew, whatever she wanted, she got.
Before the end of that long and bewildering day, I learned that she had plans for me and, looking back today on what they led to, I realize how lucky I was to have missed that flight to New York.
Some Latin Americans forget their promises the day after they make them, but she was not one of them, and the following day she duly introduced me to her three children: her teenage daughters Carmen and Paulina and her son Jose Ramon – known to his family and friends as Pepito. He was a very bright and intelligent young fellow in his early twenties, an amateur astronomer with a keen interest in the scientific research that had already been done into my abilities.
Arrangements were promptly made for me to visit the president-elect. Jose Lopez Portillo, then aged fifty-five, had had a distinguished career as a lawyer and professor of political science at Mexico’s National University before taking charge of the country’s finances. Despite his age, he kept in good shape by running a mile a day, swimming, and battering his punch-bag. As Pepito took me into his office, I was struck by the contrast between his elaborate security system, with guards and policemen all over the place, and the simplicity of both his personal appearance and his furniture. He was sitting at an ordinary table, wearing a typical Mexican embroidered white shirt, with no tie.
‘Don’t bend anything in this office,’ he said with a laugh as we shook hands. We made polite conversation for a few minutes with Pepito, whose English was perfect, occasionally helping his father to find the right word. Senor Lopez Portillo said he was very pleased that I was in Mexico; he had not seen my television show himself, but he had heard a lot about it and gathered that it had made quite an impression on a number of people in addition to his own family. He hoped we would meet again, he added, but in his home rather than here.
Despite his initial order to me not to bend anything, I had a feeling that this was what he rather hoped I would do, and when I offered to give him a demonstration there and then, he promptly sent for a spoon. Secretaries and bodyguards then crowded into the office for a little light relief from the cares of state.
I held the spoon and stroked it, just as I always do, and before long it started to bend, much to everybody’s surprise and pleasure. The president-elect sat and stared. Then he told somebody to go and fetch another spoon.
I wanted to explain to him that I could not bend one after the other, just like that. Once I have done one, I am not in the right psychological state to do another. I believe that the physical and mental energies that I need are stored, and I use up nearly all of them every time I bend something. It takes at least half an hour for me to refill my energy pool. On the rare occasions when I had been obliged to bend several things in a short time, I had noticed that the first one would go to ninety degrees as usual, but the second would only go to sixty, the third to thirty, and the fourth would not bend at all. With me, a bent spoon is a kind of visiting card or proof of identity, and normally I produce it only once.
‘Excuse me, Senor Presidente,’ I began, ‘but I cannot . . .’
‘No, no, no,’ he interrupted. ‘I will do it!’
I have noticed several interesting things in connection with my spoon-bending. If there are negatively-minded people around, I often fail to oblige – not because I cannot, but simply because I feel I do not have to prove anything to anybody. Even if they do not tell me they are sceptical I seem to pick it up telepathically, and then usually nothing happens. If it does, sometimes one of them will take the spoon and immediately bend it back into shape by normal means, as if trying to pretend that it never happened.
On the other hand, every time I have bent a spoon in front of people who are at the top of their professions, whether they are presidents, prime ministers, generals or chairmen of boards, their reaction is quite different. They always want to do the same themselves straight away. I’m the top man around here, they seem to be thinking, so why can’t I do this too?
Lopez Portillo was no more successful than any of the others. He kept stroking his spoon for several minutes until he gave up, with a good-natured laugh. I think he really wanted that spoon to bend.
* * *
I was duly invited to his home for the second time in as many days, and on this occasion my new friend Muncy, as she asked me to call her, made two more promises. One was to send me an invitation to her husband’s inauguration, on 1 December 1976, which she subsequently did; and the other was to introduce me to President Echeverria. So before I had fully recovered from my surprise at being taken to meet a man who was to be head of a major state, here I was on my way to meet a man who already was one.
I was treated once again to one of those hair-raising motorcades, and this time my destination was Los Pinos, the Mexican White House. I was shown into the huge and spotlessly clean vestibule of this magnificent building, with its shining floor and elegant but unpretentious Mexican furniture and decor. It was absolutely silent, which was a welcome contrast to the noise of the journey.
Suddenly, I began to feel a bit under-decorated myself, realizing that I probably ought to be wearing a tie. Like most Israelis, I am an anti-tie person, and at that time I do not think I even had one. I did not even own a suit. Well, I thought, Lopez Portillo had been wearing an open shirt, so perhaps this was considered an acceptable form of dress even in the presence of the head of state? I hoped so.
The silence was broken as the huge wooden door swung open, and I was ushered into the presidential office. There, I had another uneasy moment. There were several men sitting around, but none of them sat behind what looked like the presidential desk. I had never seen a photograph of Echeverria, and had simply no idea which of them he was.
Okay, Geller, I said to myself hurriedly, use your psychic powers, and for heaven’s sake go up to the right man. This seemed to work, for I did manage to get it right, telling the president through his interpreter how honoured I was to be invited to see him, and how much I had come to like his country in the short time I had been there. I expected some equally formal reply, but the first thing he said to me was, ‘Could you find oil for us?’
He said it with a smile, and I thought he must be joking. He probably thought I was also joking when I replied, ‘Of course, Mr President. At least, I can try, though I can’t guarantee anything.’ As I will explain later, neither of us was in fact joking.
I spent about twenty-five minutes in the president’s office, during which time I managed to bend a spoon, demonstrate some telepathy, and also perform an unexpected service for him. At one point, he suddenly handed me an old watch, telling me that it had not worked for ages and asking if I could make it tick. I managed to do so, and left him and his colleagues with plenty to think about after my brief audience.
Shortly after this, I was contacted by Rene Leon, one of Mexico’s top impresarios, who arranged for me to do a show at very short notice in the largest theatre in town.
On the morning of the day the show was to take place, there was an unpleasant incident of a kind that people who become well known have to learn to live with. Somebody telephoned me at my hotel and spoke in rapid Spanish, ignoring my protests that I hardly knew a word of the language. I promptly called Muncy, who sent a couple of her security guards over straight away with strict orders to look after me. When I repeated the few words I had been able to catch, including brigada and bomba, they turned rather pale.
Anyway, they obeyed their orders. The show went ahead as planned, but when I walked on to the stage all I could see at first was a mass of blue uniforms. There must have been two or three policemen for every member of the public, and there was even a line of them in front of the stage, facing the audience and holding their machine-guns in a way that suggested they were quite prepared to use them. I was later told that there were even light tanks patrolling the streets outside while I was giving my show, which I managed to do successfully in spite of the heavy police presence for which Muncy had been responsible.
She was delighted by the show, and soon afterwards she made it clear to me that she would like me to settle in Mexico for good. I told her I was honoured and grateful to her, for I already felt at home in her country and would like to spend as much time there as I could, but there were problems. I had several commitments, for my book was due to be published in a dozen languages, and promotion tours in a number of countries had already been arranged. Moreover, although I would come back to Mexico as soon as I could, I could not yet afford to hop on a plane every time I felt like it. I was making a reasonable living with my demonstration-lectures and television shows, and my book was selling well, but I was no millionaire, as yet.
Muncy, as I knew by now, had a unique way of solving problems. On this occasion, she simply ordered me to go along to the offices of Aeromexico, where I would be given a card entitling me to free travel – first-class, of course – on any of their flights to anywhere in the world.
I didn’t believe it. Nor did the person I spoke to at the company’s headquarters. ‘Only the chairman of the board has that kind of card,’ I was assured.
Muncy was not satisfied with that explanation. ‘Come with me!’ she said. She got into her car and drove me back to the office, where she expressed her wishes in eloquent Spanish, and I duly received the precious card. In exchange, I signed a contract whereby I was to promote the airline worldwide, which I did with the help of T-shirts I had imprinted with the slogan ‘Uri Geller Flies Aeromexico’ and later wore on several major television shows.
Mexico is a democratic country. Even so, as is the case in every country I know of, democratic or not, it does help if you know the right people.
Word soon spread around that I was a close friend of the Lopez Portillo family, and this led to the opening of all kinds of doors. For example, I was offered the free use of a really splendid triplex penthouse in the plush Zona Rosa district, with swimming pool and all. The owner, I believe, felt that by being nice to me he was setting up a useful hot line to the president’s ear. If I was corrupt by nature, I could certainly have celebrated my thirtieth birthday by retiring to a life of luxury, privilege and wealth. Luckily, however, I did not, for I like to go to sleep with a clear conscience.
All the same, I seemed to have become a fairly influential person in Mexico, without trying at all. In fact within a very short time of my first arrival in the country I had things that some people have to work all their lives to obtain, such as unlimited air travel facilities and a free home, not to mention what to almost any Mexican is the ultimate status symbol: direct access to the First Family.
For some time to come, I was to shuttle back and forth between my new home and my professional commitments in other countries, and although I have never established permanent residence anywhere since I left Israel in 1972, flying into Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airport came to feel like returning home. It was somewhat different when I arrived in December 1976 for the inauguration of President Lopez Portillo: on that occasion I was given the full red-carpet treatment as soon as I stepped off the plane, and I will never forget how I felt when Muncy spotted me in the audience at the ceremony and waved at me from her seat beside the man who was about to take over the country’s highest office.
Shortly after the new president and his family moved into Los Pinos, I was invited there again, to meet the entire cabinet and give a demonstration of my abilities. So I came to know personally everybody who was anybody in the top echelon of national government. It soon became clear that, like Muncy, I was in a position to get anything I might want.
One morning, I had a very disturbing dream. It was of a huge fire breaking out somewhere, and I had the strong impression that Lopez Portillo was nearby and was in danger. I telephoned Pepito right away, told him about the dream, and begged him to ask his father to take extra care. I do not think he took me very seriously, although he did pass on the information. The very next day, a major-fire did break out in a hall shortly before the president was due to speak there. Pepito was more impressed by this episode, I think, than by all my demonstrations of metal-bending and mind-reading.
On another occasion, I gave the president himself a spontaneous demonstration of mind-power at work. One of his favourite ways of relaxing was to shoot his bow and arrow on the lawn at Los Pinos, and one day he asked me if I could direct an arrow into the bull’s eye by psychic means.
‘I certainly can’t do it any other way,’ I replied truthfully, for I had never fired a bow and arrow in my life and could not even hold the thing properly. However, my attitude was much the same as it always is when I am faced with a new challenge, such as when ex-president Echeverria had asked me if I could find oil: ‘I can try.’
I took the bow and arrow and tried, using all the power of concentration I could manage. My mind went back to my school days in Israel, when for a time I had become quite famous for my skill at basketball: I was a terrible player, in spite of my height, but my speciality was to throw the ball right into the net, time after time, from the half-way mark. I could do this only if there was nobody near me, though, so I was fairly useless as a team player.
Wham! The arrow slammed right into the centre of the target. I was as amazed as the president was. Spontaneous incidents of this kind have happened all my life, and still occur regularly today, as they have done and do in the presence of most of my close friends. They always make a more lasting impression than anything I do in public or in a laboratory, where there always seems to be somebody around who says (later) that I must have been cheating. I could fill the rest of this book with accounts of these incidents, if I could remember them all, and a selection of them will be mentioned in due course.
As far as Muncy was concerned, I had no need to convince her of anything. We became real friends, and she began to tell me about her most intimate troubles and worries, of which despite her wealth and position, she had her fair share. Like anybody else, she needed somebody to confide in, and it is not surprising that rumours gradually began to spread that I was something more than a family friend.
I could hardly blame the rumour-mongers. I went around with her quite openly all the time, and wherever she went she was surrounded by official photographers working on behalf of the National Archives. No relationship could have been less clandestine than ours, and we were both fortunate that the Mexican press treats its public figures with considerably more respect than is the case in most countries.
When we went out to a restaurant, as we did regularly, she would have her bodyguard ask the band to play one of those romantic mariachi numbers, or our special private song which went ‘That’s the way – aha, aha – we like it’. As it did so, she would sit and gaze at me as if trying to tell the world she was in love with me. One evening, I felt she was overdoing it.
‘Look, Muncy,’ I said, ‘if you want me around you’ve just got to stop acting like this.’ I had noticed more jaws dropping than usual at nearby tables.
Her reply was typical of her. ‘I don’t care!’ You did not argue with Muncy.
She knew where to draw the line, however, for she was too proud of her family, her husband’s position and her country to risk a major scandal. After becoming First Lady, she tackled her responsibilities, especially in the field of welfare, with her usual enthusiasm, and as she saw it she had a right to enjoy herself in her own way after a hard day’s work. So she did.
One day, she invited Shipi and me to join her for a flight on the presidential Sabreliner jet. I loved flying in those days, and a trip on a Sabreliner is something few people get a chance to enjoy. During the flight, I went forward to talk to the two pilots.
‘You know,’ the chief pilot remarked casually, after giving me some technical details, ‘these planes are built like fighters. I’ve heard of American pilots making a slow barrel roll in them.’
I thought it would be fun to do one, but he said it was strictly against aviation regulations. I went back to sit beside Muncy, who was making notes on her pad for her next public speech, and waited for her to pause and look at me.
‘How would you like to make a slow barrel roll?’ I asked her. She looked puzzled, so I explained that it was a kind of ‘wall of death’ routine in which we would be flying upside-down for a time as the plane made a full rotation on its longitudinal axis.
Muncy also thought it sounded like fun. ‘Let’s do it!’ she said at once.
‘Is that an order from you to the captain?’ I asked.
‘By all means,’ she replied imperiously. I passed on the order, which the chief pilot felt obliged to confirm personally, whereupon he pulled up the nose and over went the twin-engine Sabreliner on its back, which I am sure its manufacturers never intended it to do. Muncy enjoyed the experience as much as I did, and when we were flying the right way up again I noticed that one of the pilots had taken the opportunity to give us a physics lesson: before going into the roll, he calmly poured himself a glass of water and held it in one hand throughout the operation without spilling a drop.
Not all my experiences in that Sabreliner were as enjoyable as this one. On another occasion, Muncy was away from home and decided she wanted to see me right away. She called me and announced that the plane was waiting for me.
Shipi came along for the ride, and during the flight we ran into a sudden hailstorm. The plane began to leap up and down like a leaf caught in a gust of wind, and then, to my total horror, lights started flashing and alarm signals ringing. Two large red squares lit up to show the words ENGINE INOP- that is, both engines had become ‘inoperable’ and had stopped.
The pilots just sat there without saying a word.
I turned round. ‘Shipi, we’re going down,’ I said. ‘We’re dead.’ I really believed it. For some reason I never understood, I tried to put on my shoes, which I had taken off during the flight. I closed my eyes and prayed as hard as I could. This is it, I said to myself. God, help us!
It was all over as suddenly as it had started. We were out of the storm, both engines came back to life and the pilots regained control, apparently quite unaware of my state of panic. I will never underestimate a Mexican pilot.
Inevitably, I saw less of Muncy after her husband’s inauguration than I had before it. She had become involved in a number of social and welfare committees and projects that kept her fully occupied during the daytime. We could only meet in the evenings, when she liked to relax at the ballet or a concert or enjoy a slap-up meal in a restaurant. This in turn meant that I was seen less often with her, so the rumours surrounding our supposed relationship began to die down, although, as I was to discover to my cost, they did not die out altogether.
I was frequently out of the country on book promotion tours or television engagements, and when I was back in Mexico I liked to take things easy. My bank account was growing nicely, and I did not have to work every day as I had during the first two or three years of my career. So I began to slow down.
I suppose I was ready for a change, and although the local gossips no longer seemed interested in my connections with the presidential family, I was soon to learn that these had come to the attention of at least one person who took a serious professional interest in them.
So it was that, one sunny morning, Mike strolled into my life.
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