I do not want to immerse myself in my painful memories of those light blue and cool days of March 2011 when I left Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, I feel that I should give you some introductory background, and speak honestly about the facts as they were at that time.
I had already been out of prison for six years after having been arrested in the United States in 1997 for the white-collar crime of financial fraud, and I had spent the next eight years and two months living in confinement in USA and Argentine prisons. Despite this traumatic experience that meant me losing my physical freedom for so long, since my release in 2005 nothing had changed in me. The headlines about me in the New York Times, and the main newspapers in Argentina, were still fresh in my mind. Typing my name into Google still meant seeing hundreds of different entries returned, mainly in Spanish. Most of them described me as the boss of the ‘Mafia of Gold’ conspiracy, or as one of the most infamous international smugglers in Argentina’s history – a person who had defrauded his country of many millions of dollars.
A long time was to pass before I discovered that internal freedom is the most significant freedom for all of us; indeed, it is the basic right of anyone’s existence. When it later dawned on me that this was so, then I started to understand how becoming free within myself first was the key that could unlock for me the process of change and my subsequent transformation. Nowadays I would say to you that freedom is a prerequisite for love –you may be free and not love, but it is impossible to love without internal freedom.
For twenty years my life had been a series of repeated errors that caused me, my children, and my family a lot of pain – they were years of darkness and suffering. Nowadays, I can define myself simply in just a few words: a former “money addict” – in other words, I used to be a person who was obsessed with having the money to fulfill my own personal desires at any cost and to display my power. It is from this obsession that I have become liberated.
I feel now that pain is finite and passing, whereas before the suffering got somehow stuck in me. It seemed that I was attached by that painful umbilical cord of suffering to those past years that had borne so many failures – so much so, that over time it developed into a negative and permanent feeling that I carried about inside myself constantly.
When I was released from the Argentine Federal Prison in 2005, I continued on with the megalomania of big international business filling my head – and, remember, this was in spite of all that had happened! I went on and on without understanding anything at all about taking care of myself, nor about love in general. It was going to take me time to feel in my heart a sense of my incipient ‘state of love’ and such divine concepts as ‘compassion’. Back then I had no notion of what the ‘vertical world’ was, nor could I have had any idea of the peace that such a space would later be able to generate within me.
This vertical world is what I call the spiritual space, the mystic experience, something that comes from the bottom of my heart and suffuses through the whole universe in a temporal way. I include here my vulnerability and openness to experience that I want to grow day by day, my liberation that gives me the sensation that I am able to re-create myself at each moment.
I have come to understand this dimension is different from the horizontal world, which is one of internal struggle, intense drama, full of confused perceptions and unconnected experiences.
That horizontal world was the one I inhabited in 2011 when I lived in Buenos Aires at San Telmo, which is the oldest district of the city. It is a nostalgically magical place, with impressive old buildings, quaint cobbled streets, and with a lively atmosphere because it is where a lot of artists, film students, and intellectuals get together. There are antique shops, many bars from last century, and it has the rundown chic of a typical area of contemporary urban bohemianism. All is interwoven with the one thing visiting tourists most want to experience of our cultural heritage: the music, poetry and dance of The Tango. On the perfumed and soft Sundays of San Telmo, the Antique Fair of Defensa Street suddenly appears in the small, picturesque Dorrego Square. It is as if the whole quarter is dressed with thousands of tourists who are looking for an entertaining day out connected with the idea of sampling our unique Argentine “porteña” – the spirit of Buenos Aires – sometimes achieved by eating a juicy sirloin steak and drinking a glass of Malbec whilst enjoying the background music and movement of the street dancers.
When I think back to those days in San Telmo, I would say that my life was in deep crisis. Even after the years of imprisonment my life carried on in many ways just as it had done before: very superficial and external – far away from that dimension which I mentioned to you earlier called the ‘vertical world’.
However, there were some differences.
No longer was it about basking under the title of Dr. Enrique Piana, the hugely successful businessman and entrepreneur; nor about having a couple of Mercedes Benz cars parked at the door of my two-million dollar mansion in the exclusive living quarters of the Boating Club at San Isidro; nor about spending some months of each year living at the Ritz Hotel of Place Vendôme in Paris and drinking 1978 Château Lafitte Rothschild wine every day, with each bottle costing more than 700 euros. Nor did I receive a $450,000 payout every month as I had done in the nineties, or have two hundred people working for me in all my companies: the ones in Argentina, including Casa Piana, my family business that was 113 years old and a gold mining company; as well as three more companies in Princeton, USA; the holding in the Swiss Canton of Zug; the offshore company in Uruguay; and the metallurgical company in Puerto Rico.
All my companies had collapsed after I was arrested, and the biggest tragedy of all was the bankruptcy of Casa Piana. Now that all my millions had disappeared my life totally revolved around ensuring my basic survival – getting a bed and food. Of course, in keeping with the general process of self-destruction that seemed to be occurring, anything connected with romantic love was also chaotic and unstable. My life as it was seemed not to have any exit strategy in those days of 2011 – there seemed to be no way out.
In the middle of this cycle of crisis, my daughter, Carolina, appeared in Buenos Aires – she was already living in New Zealand by that time. She was only 24 years of age and yet full of emotional intelligence, and one day she affectionately looked me in the eyes.
“Papa,” she said gently, “ Why don’t you do what I did – leave Buenos Aires, fly away and start a new life? You are the type of person who has a great potential for change, and you are blocked by yourself.”
I was surprised and remained silent, and so she went on: “Ah! Do not resist this process, Papa … please start right now.”
At that moment Carolina resonated for me as a ‘Teacher’ and it was as if she had held up a mirror before me in which I could see myself.
Around that same time, almost simultaneously, I met an adorable English woman. She was a famous international artist, who was passing through Buenos Aires, and after I got to know her I affectionately called her ‘Red Balloon’ because of her joy and her playful way of feeling life.
These two things – the beginning of that unconditional love, and also hearing the words that Carolina had said to me – both had synchronised in an almost divine way as a mystic sign to follow! It seemed to me that I should heed it and become a pilgrim – travelling through the world without a clear path to follow – and changing my life in a deep way, starting the reform from my heart, and with the self-confidence to act without thinking about the existence of a destiny.
I did not have a job to go to. I did not know where I would live. I did not know what would happen to me. Indeed, I was very afraid. However, there was one thing which I somehow understood, and it was that I would be carried away by the river, and that the river was Life itself which surely would undertake to carry me safely. There was no certainty about the outcome. And that is how my incipient adventure was born.
In short, I was much afraid and I was still not confident.
However, in those days I was reading a lot of books about spirituality which spoke about the concept of transformation and the possibility of rebirth – a process requiring strength and courage – and which was the only way to get to one’s true self and live in peace.
So, in spite of my uncertainty, I bought myself a sturdy suitcase and tried to get my head around the process of how to put all the belongings of a lifetime into a compact space, called a ‘Samsonite Cabin Suitcase’ – in other words, a piece of hand luggage with dimensions 50 x 40 x 25 cm! I began the enormous and onerous task of getting rid of everything I owned, spurred on by the thought: “My detachment has arrived!”
Paintings, furniture, kitchenware, more than three hundred books, as well as most of my clothes started dwindling day by day. Scoundrel buyers bought my great grandfather’s Christofle silver cutlery for two dollars a piece; petite bronze statuettes signed by the artist disappeared for only a few Argentine pesos; and almost all the pieces of furniture were bought by a young couple of newly-weds whom I knew for the total amount of fifteen thousand pesos. Anything that was not sold I gave away to friends and neighbours in San Telmo. My favourite saleswoman in the oldest bookshop of the district was very much surprised when she received the unexpected gift of a small 1930 sculpture made by the famous Argentine sculptor, Alfredo Bigatti. I left each one of the $200 Hermes tie collection at various street corners of the city, along with many of the remaining books which I had not yet been able to give away. I laughed happily seeing how all of those things were picked up by surprised passers-by, who freely chose and took away the books or ties that they liked.
Later on, with the passage of time, I would come to understand that all of us are really ‘object passers’ and that material things move from hand to hand in a fluid way. These days, for example, I get a great deal of pleasure in passing on, receiving or giving away books and clothes and creating a river that flows.
How my life has changed! Eighteen years ago I used to live in a mansion with three dining rooms, including a French-style one with walls covered in the finest green silk; and I employed three domestic staff to work for me, as well as one more person whose sole job it was to look after the fragrant white roses that were growing down at the riverside. After that I spent years living in seven different jails. Now I am chuckling here with you as I type these words thinking how today I could live very happily in comfort under a lettuce leaf!
To conclude this introduction, I must tell you that, of course, falling head over heels in love with that English artist was just the push I needed to leave the country and start my pilgrimage through the world. Also, the distance of my children, Matias and Carolina, who lived so far away in Australia and New Zealand respectively, encouraged me in my decision even more.
So, after paying off any debts and buying my air ticket, I began my pilgrimage with just these few things in my hand:
1. One item of hand luggage with some basic clothes;
2. An air ticket from Buenos Aires to London, with a return in 30 days that, of course, I did not intend to use;
3. The grand total of $2,177 in my pocket for my future expenses (my dear friends, Carmen and Carlos, having kindly helped me out with $2,000 on my last day).
My true intention was very clear: it was to start my internal journey.
Dear Reader, would you like to come with me?
I invite you to join me on my travels.