VARIOUS FACES OF LIES
Dr. Elizabeth T. de Bianchedi
Dr. Claudia Bregazzi
Lic. Carmen Crespo
Lic. Elsa Grillo de Rimoldi
Lic. Silvia Grimblat de Notrica
Dr. Delia Saffoires
Lic. Alicia Szpunberg de Bernztein
Lic. Alicia Werba
Lic. Rosa Zamkow
"If we add something to the truth, we will take something away from it"
"It may, in general, seem astonishing that the urge to tell the truth is so much stronger than is usually supposed. Perhaps, however, my being scarcely able to tell lies any more is a consequence of my occupation with psychoanalysis."
Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
This paper is the result of passional discussions about the topic of truth, falsities and lies, as an answer to Bion's invitation to think about these human phenomena, which so frequently appear in our everyday life, and of course also in our clinical practice.
"What is truth? said jesting Pilate (according to Sir Francis Bacon), and would not wait for an answer" says Bion in the second paragraph of his article Caesura (1975). And continues stating: "We probably cannot wait for an answer, because we have not the time. Nevertheless, that is what we are concerned with -- inescapably and inavoidably -- even if we have no idea of what is true and what is not. Since we are dealing with human characters we are also concerned with lies, deceptions, evasions, fictions, phantasies, visions, hallucinations -- indeed, the list can be lengthened almost indefinetely."
In this paper we want to discuss some of the difficulties, contradictions, dilemmatic situations and problems the Bionian concept of the lie and his formulations about the mental functioning of the liar presents us with.
We will begin with some definitions. According to the Ferrater Mora Philosophical Dictionary, a falsity is the lack of truth or of autenticity, a lack of harmonization between words, ideas and things. In logic, falsity is the term contrary to truth: if by truth one understands the correct fitting between a thought and reality, falsity is its unsuitalbility. The lie is a formulation or expression opposite of what one knows, believes or thinks. To lie is to induce to error, to falsify, to pretend or disguise something, making it look -- by external signs -- as something else; it is also to break a pact, to fail to keep one's word.
In the first part of his work (until 1965), the opposition Bion makes is between truth and falsity (E.T. de Bianchedi, 1993). In that period, the concept of truth applied by him seems to be the Aristotelian one (like the one we quoted from the Dictionary), where truth is defined as the correspondence of a statement and that what the statement refers to, the reality it names. It seems to be a 'common sense' truth, related with the concept of the 'selected fact'. The opposite of truth is a falsity. Later on, near the end of Transformations (1965), his concept of truth has become a different one, especially when he refers it to 'transformations in O' (obviously diferent from 'transformations in K'). This concept of truth is a more Platonic/Kantian vesion, which sees O, the truth, as the ultimate, unknowable and infinite reality. Any formulation of this truth, made by a human being, will necessarily be a falsity. In this new context, falsities are the only possibility the human mind has of stating and communicating truth -- in relation to the unknowable but intuible truth -- which exists independently of the thinker. The emotional contact with truth becomes a falsity in the thinking/publicating mind. The container (the human thinking mind formulating its experiences) necessarilly transforms this true content, achieved in at-one-ment with O, into a falsity. From this vertex, falsities (not as they are understood in common language, or in Bion's first formulations) are basically K transformations of the truth. However, in this presentation we do not want to discuss the philosophical problems, but investigate the importance of these phenomena in mental development and in psychoanalytical practice.
Bion has stated that the growth of the mind and of the group are in correlation with the capacity to think about emotional experiences. In this conception, love of truth is essential. The feeling of truth allows the mind to learn from experience; on the other hand, hate of truth and its corolary, the lie, starve and/or poison the mind. In Learning from Experience (1962b), Bion makes a beautiful description of the mother's mind and her reverie, meaning by this function her capacity to contain the baby's realistic proyective identifications and detoxicate them before returning them. He suggests that the human infant receives the communication of the mother's true feelings, not through her words (falsities in the sense we mentioned previously), but through her behaviour and emotions. Truth, like food and love, are essential for the growth of both members of this primary link.
Taking these different formulations into consideration, we can consider the concept of 'falsity' as a hinge-concept between the truth and lies. A formulated thought -- a falsity -- can become a lie, this depending on its nature, use and quality, and whether the link between container and contained, thought/emotion and thinker, is commensal, symbiotic or parasitic. In the commensal link, both are related without implying each other -- truth 'is there' although it has not yet been discovered. In the symbiotic link, the truth and the thinker are in touch and modify each other; both growing through their inter-relationship. In the parasitic link, one destroys the other. The first one of these three links is associated with a truth about to be intuited, the second one with 'falsities', and the last one with lies.
A falsity undoubtedly adquires many tones and degrees as it moves farther away from truth. Bion (1970) speaks of the nature and degree of this estrangement, this formulation being of the essence of Bion's thoughts, because it includes the notion of movement or trans-lation.
The lie is obviously a complex phenomenum. Bion speaks of lies throughout his works, giving the topic a whole chapter in Attention and Interpretation (1970) and refering to it often in The Grid (1971). However, there are a number of questions we have, and want to pose them in this paper.
The many dilemmatic situations of lies
For Bion, the lie is a particular transformation of the truth, used in various inter-related senses. Among these, we can mention falsities known as such, myths, fabulations, social lies, 'little white lies', compassionate lies, hypocrisy, 'lying to oneself', defensive lies (sometimes used to save one's life), those related to perversions and those due to omniscience (an omnipotent mental state which also generates a vast kind of lies, although those who sustain this mental attitude would swear by the 'truth'of their prejudices), etc. What, then, is a liar?
Is a liar someone who has once said a lie? But, ¿is there someone who never has? Perhaps only a baby, because he still has no language -- if, as Bion (1970) holds, the existance of a thinker/speaker is absolutely necessary for the lie. Is a liar somenone who uses this mental functioning only occasionaly, or somenone who does so usually? And someone who lacks to truth in analysis, who does not associate freely ¿what is he? A patient who cannot yet make contact with his truths, because of shame, repression, fear or inhibitions? Again, there must be no patient who at least once has either not mentioned something he was thinking about or feeling, hidden something, said the opposite of his thoughts, or concealed an association during the psychoanalytic session. Should we consider him a lying patient? Or is the lying patient someone who usually lies to the analyst, in order to evoke/induce certain ideas in him or promote certain interpretations (an aspect of the reversal of perspective described by Bion --1963)?
We will comment on the various dilemmatic situations the lie and the liar present us with. Our numerical order does not imply degrees of greater or lesser importance, being only a tentative classification.
First dilemmatic situation: lies and Lies
One of the first problems we met with was the permanent oscillation of Bion between two kinds of formulations described as lies: on one hand, those which are a defensive strategy to evade a painful situation (the mechanisms of defense), and, on the other, those destined to denude the own mind, but basically that of the receptor, of the possible contact with truth. Therefore, to widen the conceptualization on this topic, we are going to differetiate the 'lie' (with a small letter), related with defense mechanisms, from the 'Lie' (with a capital lettter), specifically related with concious and denuding lying. We will use this mode of expression in the rest of this paper.
In practice, it is essential to discriminate one from the other, since they have different motivations and depend on different functionings and states of mind. Obviously, they also imply different kinds of links: the lie, as a defensive strategy in face of the threat of a catastrophic change, puts the mind into a paradoxical situation, since it faces the problem of accepting the truth with the risks this implies, i.e. emotional turbulence; or to choose the lie, which starves the mind at the cost of its integrity but guarantees its equilibrium.
For Grotstein (1981), the difference between falsities and lies is that the second ones use psychotic mechanisms, which include disawoval; Meltzer (1978), analyzing Bion's work, holds that lies (which for Meltzer also include hallucinations) are always defensive, and places them on row 2 of the Grid -- something which Bion (1963) also did, but later on (Bion, 1971) found was not correct. For Bleandonu (1994), the psychotic patient and the liar attack the bases of psychoanalysis by destroying free association. Whereas the psychotic patient does so uncounsciously, the liar falsifies associations on purpose.
We find that as analysts we yet do not have clear enough theories to account for these different phenomena. One option would be to circumscribe the term Lie to those statements which imply or produce, in the one who makes it and/or in the one who receives it, a denudation of the true feelings, an un-learning of what had already been learned, an un-thinking what had already been thought, an un-linking what had been linked. If we accept this option, then the Lie is a product of the psychotic part of the personality, suffusing the non-psychotic aspects with morality/superiority. And lies, products of normal defense mechanisms, would therefore not be included.
As to placing lies and Lies in the Grid, there are a number of problems, some already visualized by Bion himself. In 1963 he put falsities, defense mechanisms and lies alike in column 2; in The Grid (1971) he found column 2 not adequate for all those formulations. He himself then suggested that: "Column 2, like row C, requires an expansion into a 'grid'of its own.", and others have thought about the possibility of constructing a Negative Grid in order to include Lies and other psychotically based formulations. Another possibility would be to place defense mechanisms in column 2, and Lies in column 6. This is yet an open problem.
Second dilemmatic situation: Lies, the contact with truth and symbolic functions.
In order to Lie, one previously has to have been near, or directly in touch with, the truth -- in order not to stumble into it by accident. Besides, there has to have been sufficient development of alpha-function, which produces symbols and allows for their formulation/publication in linguistic terms. But for a Lie an audience is also necessary, someone who listens to it and believes/values it.
One of our questions refers to the destinies of the mental functioning of the Liar, who has reached sufficient development in order to have contact with truth. Grotstein (1995) refers to this problem when he says that the psychotic and the liar are closer to O and confuse it with K, whereas the normal and the neurotic individuals confuse K with O, and are never really in touch with O -- with the exception of geniouses or mystics. The liars and/or psychotics, says Grotstein, have lacked an adequate passage through the squizo-paranoid and depressive positions, and therefore confuse our sense of external reality with the 'thing-in-itself' without an adequate imaginary or symbolic disguise.
Another possible way of thinking about this could be related to Meltzer's (1986) ideas about lies and hallucinosis, and try to apply these concepts to the type of Lies we are trying to consider. Meltzer holds that the dream image generated by alpha-function is produced (image in which the sense is trapped), but this mode of functioning, in face of the risk of the emergence of some not accepted thought, could be reverted half-way to produce a tram of lies and false representations ('reverted alpha-function'). For Meltzer, it would be like covering symbols which have begun to be formed with a cloak of lies; these symbols have not been destroyed but are only disguised, and therefore are potentially possible to become availabe to knowledge.
Third dilemmatic situation: the 'creativity' of Lies
The Liar is sometimes (always?) creative in his constructions. How can this creativity be related with the Lie, the poison for the mind? We can connect this with Meltzer's (1986) thoughts about the construction of primal lies or false symbols: "Examination of the techniques of the pamphleteer and pornographer, the demagogue and the propagandist, suggest that what looks like high intelligence is in fact a compound of speed and negativism that 'dazzles' the mind and interferes with rational honest thought". We can therefore stress that the true symbol requires time for its processing, and that speed interferes and 'dazzles it, impeding the possibility of access to thought and truth.
Another possible solution of this problem is to think about it related to the characteristics of the link: if we consider that only the symbiotic link generates a conception of something new, then the existance of creative Lies (lies?) must be the result of a symbiotic link. But the un-truthful aspect of these creations make us suggest a '- symbiotic link' (minus symbiotic link), tainted by -K. The symbiotic link aids integration in an ever evolving complexity implicit in growth and development, in the context of a PS<-->D relationship, and we think that a '- symbiotic link' can be thought of as the growth of cancerous cells (as Bion states in chapter 13 of Attention and Interpretation, 1970), pulverizing truth and fragmenting the continent and the container.
Fourth dilemmatic situation: social lies
The social aspect of the lie is also very important, and poses a series of problems. On one hand, very 'creative' lies, like some philosophical or theological writings, have apparently saved humanity of succumbing to the anxieties related with knowing about one's own limitations and finitude/mortality. For example, the resistance of the Establishment in face of the truth of certain scientific theories -- those of Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and Freud, among others -- have prevented a social catastrophic change, modulating their later acceptance. In these situations the social lie does not seem to be poison for society, and does look more like a passport for its survival. The container (society) is not prepared to receive the truth, and a period of time is necessary to develop one which can assimilate it.
However, in the story/myth Bion (1971) makes of the burial in Ur, the belief in the lies of religion, magic, etc., took whole groups to death. Social lies, then: ¿save the group while poisoning the individual?.
This could also be linked with the use of ideas. If the use is fanatic [Sor and Senet de Gazzano(1993)] their instrumentation can also be destructive of the group or groups. To put these Lies in action can lead to the extermination of whole populations, as ocurred during the Inquisition, in diverse genocides and in the Holocaust.
Fifth dilemmatic situation: structure or mental state?
Another one of the (already very many) questions we pose, due to the co-existance in the mind of truthful and lying functionings, is if it is possible to speak of a lying mental state, or if it would be more correct to consider it a structure of the kind described as 'perversion of thinking'. Another possibility is to think that lying is a mental state which can ocurr in any psycho-pathological condition and also in a normal mental structure.
We do believe that the lie-Lie, being a human product, is part of our mental functioning. But the sometimes imperative need of the Liar to recurr to this kind of functioning can fixate it in a rigid structure which estranges him irreversibly from real or honest contact with truth.
Sixth dilemmatic situation: analyzability of the Liar
Can a lie be analyzed? We believe it can. Can a Liar be analized? We have no answer yet, but hope the following discussions may help us to get nearer to one. Bion's ideas allow us to reflect about the difference between one situation and the other. The decision to accept being in analysis puts the individual in the (dangerous) position of knowing that it (psychoanalysis) is a domain especially designed for the search of and commitment to truth. It is as if through analysis, or through the analyst, it were possible to distinguish everything which (as through a contrasting medium) signals that which is not associated with truth.
One would have to investigate the motives which bring a Liar to analysis. One of them could be a certain discomfort (an ego-dysthonic situation) with his Lying aspects, recognized as such by other parts of his personality. Perhaps an indicator of analizability could be the degree in which a person wants analysis to endorse his Lies, or hopes to question them and change them.
We also wonder: if getting close to truth or making contact with it is food for the mind, and changing it into Lies a poison: ¿who is the victim of this poison? ¿the one who expresses them., or the one who listens/receives them?. The Lying patient: ¿poisons his own mind or that of the analyst? ¿or both? From a psycho-pathological point of view, we consider the Lie a perversion of thought.
How can the analyst (working in good faith, and therfore supposing his patient communicates the possible truths of his thoughts, feelings, etc.) realize that his patient is a Liar? Sometimes, a long process is necessary to arrive at this conclusion. There are, however, some indicators, which can be recognized as emotional counter-transference reactions (in the larger sense of this term) of the psychoanalyst, like feelings of lack of understanding, incoherence, perplexity in hearing certain narratives, ethical conflicts in face of the content of the patient's material, feelings of risk of complicity with the patient, etc. The greatest risk is obviously that the analyst, not being aware of the situation, falls into collusive corrupt or perverse pacts with his patient, never discovering or revealing the Lie to himself or to the patient.
We have selected some clinical vignettes, which we believe induce dilematic situations in the analyst.
(1) Similarly to the patient Bion (1970) describes, Julius, during a number of years, was usually at least 20 minutes late to his sessions; a fact he exlained in various ways, always mentioning his difficulties which the trip to the office (he lives out of town...) and the time of his sessions imposed on him. On the other hand, when he was in session, he was a collaborative patient, capable of making connections with his conflicts and feelings, and making evident progress in his analysis. His coming late was persistently interpreted by his analyst, who understood that the difficulties for using his sessions completely was fundamentally related with very deep fears of dependence and severe separation anxieties. The interpretations given him about the possible meanings of his coming late are uncountable. In spite of the fact that Julius partially changed his behaviour, when his coming late re-appeared, it was always followed by the same excuses with no possibilities that he could think by himself about the relationship between coming late and his inner world. It was necessary that the analyst became able to discover that the patient, in these repetitive episodes, was acting out a Lyful aspect of himself, expressed in the fact that time and time again, year after year, he would express different versions of the same reasons, failing to recognize the analytic work done and his understandings of these attitudes.
In our understanding, what in the beginning of his treatment could have been understood as a defense of the acknowledgement of his resistances, degenerated later into Lies. By his 'excuses', the patient left apart a psychical reality of which he already had ample experience, denuding his mind of any content that could connect him with the truth of his emotions and destroying the significance of the analyst's interpretations. Only after having painfully analyzed this aspect of his personality, there was a striking change in his behaviour. Arriving late once again, he came to session very much disturbed, telling the analyst that at the time of his session -- having turned off the alarm clock -- he had had a an obvious transferetial; a dream which put in evidence very primitive phantsies related to his 'symptom'. In the dream, he was in the house of the analyst, who showed up in a nightgown. He felt very uncomfortable and inadecuate in this situation.
(2) Martha, 19 years of age, at the beginning of her psychoanalytic treatment, lies about the economic situation of her family. Her parents comply with this lie, stating that they are in a very precarious economic situation. They say that the grandmother has to have an operation, and if Martha starts a treatment more often than two times a week, they could not pay for the operation. Implicitely, this meant that it was either a psychoanalytic treatment of their daughter or the grandmother's life. The analyst was convinced this was true, and Martha began her treatment two times a week. During the process, it became evident that, instead, her family had a very high economic situation. This Lie was based on the supposition that the analyst would take advantage of this fact if she knew of their real monetary power. When the analyst detected this situation (through indirect data) she felt anger in face of the attack that had being made on her, anger which interfered with her thinking capacity. During the treatment, different versions of the same Lie appeared, for example hiding adquisitions of material goods (i.e. a new car, the place they were going to go for vacations, etc.). These not understood situations sometimes generated 'counter-actings' in the analyst, like accepting partial payments, or temporary debts.
During the tenth year of analysis, when this Lyful situation had already been cleared up, and the analyst knew of the real economic situation of the family -- because the patient no longer hid it -- Martha came to a session saying that since the previous I have felt drowned in a cloud of dust or flies, which did not let me pay attention to any of the things I had to do in my job. She links this with a lie she felt pressed to tell her sister in law. The sister in law's father had died two days ago and she was very depressed. The patient tells her sister in law that after returning from the wake the telephone rang, ... and, you know, I couldn't tell her that it was my father who had called, I told her it was my mother. I couldn't tell her because.... if she had lost her father, how could I tell her that my father was calling me? And while I was speaking to her I became more and more confused, and I was in a big mess, everything was getting mixed up. This is what happens to me.... I can't show what I have. Martha questions the lie she told her sister in law. She connects this with the Lies she said during the first years of her treatment. At this time of the process she can perceive what happens to her head when she hides what she 'has', lying and changing the truth. It is similar and yet different from what used to happen before, when this aspect was proyected into the analyst, provoking confusion and anger in her. Actually, she can patially contain this in her mind, with awareness of the confusion into which she falls.
(3) Laura, 41 years of age, calls for an interview the day she learns of the (unexpected) death of her therapist. She does not state a clear motive for needing help; she describes herself as crammed with external pressures, which she feels she has to fulfill, because she was thus educated. These pressures are fundamentally economical ones -- she says she has important debts -- and the need to start a parental lawsuit to the father of her third son. She says there have been many close deaths in her life, mentioning that of her father (whom she describes as a dishonest professional), two pregnancies of her mother, her grandmother, J.F. Kennedy and Luther King. She says that her therapist's death has brought her no internal conflict.
It did not take the analyst long to realize that the mentioned supposed debts were in reality the result of fraudalent activities of the patient, who had used (and perhaps was still using?) money her clients gave her for investments, believing she would return it in the future. The analyst is also aware -- because this is said by Laura and then disawoved -- that the realized swindles don't end there. Having been married, she had a three year long love affair with the husband of her cousin, a man who carried out delictive operations in important financial centers.
The analyst suggests continuing having psycho-therpeutic interviews until the economic situation of the patient is clearer -- the patient only in this moment is seriosly intending to look for a job -- and when Laura's expectations in reference to a treatment are also more clear. During the interviews the analyst's asks herself a large number of questions. The patient seems her someone severely disturbed, with a dishonest and psychopathic structure, and in a double risk: an internal and an external one. Laura is someone who has hurt others and also herself, and may continue doing it. However, the analyst also sees her as someone burdened with all this, and willing to change. She asks herself: is this repentance and willingness to change a true one, a lie or a Lie? Having at the same time realized the degree of the economical and emotional disaster the patient suffered and caused, she wondered if she was not being called to be an accomplice, sustaining a treatment and accepting fees with money of dubious procedence. On the other hand, she felt that psychotherapeutic sessions could be a certain anchor which could partially protect Laura from falling into a destructive spire.
(4) A patient comes to the consultation. He is about to begin analysis but has not made up his mind. He has already seen some other analysts. He makes a long, complicated and rich narrative, with details about what he feels and suffers. The analyst listens but does not understand. He asks him to come to another interview. The patient continues with his story, exagerates it. The analyst still does not understand. What the patient is telling him are things as credible as any others, but the problem is that they don't harmonize.
The analyst says: "It's curious, you tell me many interesting things, but I must tell you that I don't understand anything of your history". The patient relaxes, smiles, and says: "You are the first sincere man I have found: I have already told all these things to a number of colleagues of yours, which immediately saw the evidence of an interesting and refined structure. I told you all this as a test, to see if you were, like the others, a quack and a liar."
The analyst of this episode was M. Balint, quoted by J. Lacan in his 1953/4 Seminars (Book I), on The technical writings of Freud. The emotional reaction of the analyst, of a) not understanding, b) the acknowlegement of not understanding and c) the awareness that the different elements of the story do not harmonize is an exqusitely receptive answer in face of a Lying material.
Some questions related to the clinical vignettes
Does the consistency of Lies change and become lighter during analysis?
Does the Lie, for these patients, have the same imperious need that objects have for the perverse patient?
Is the Lie a succesful realization of the individual, which allows him to evade suffering pain?
Should we deepen in the interplay of the identifications which remitt to a primitive super-ego needed of the Lie?
Is it a mode of comunication of patientes, using realistic proyective identification (Bion, 1962a) -- with real effects in their analysts -- like the attacks psychotic patients make on ego functions, with a mixture of arrogance and ominpotence?
What, if anything, is the artificial character of the Lie symbolizing?
Is Lying a way of preventing psychosis?
And, finally, to which of the dillematic situations we have suggested in our paper do the clinical vignettes (1), (2), (3) and (4) pertain to?
We really hope that the following discussion will open the possibilities of some answers.
Balint, M. Quoted by J. Lacan, see specific reference.
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