After my swim last night, I walked over and sat down at the little outside bar, next to the pool. Cormac was there and introduced me to Heather (who was typing on a laptop), and Jenny from Cologne.. Heather was also writing a blog about her journey. We chatted about her past- she lived in Brooklyn, had worked on wall street, bought a few homes, and was renting them out when she quit wall street and decided to travel the world (that was before her camino trip).
She was like a lot of east coast people I know- straight forward, no bullshit, tells you what’s on their mind. Jenny was smart, another noble soul (again, what the fuck is my selfish American soul doing out here rubbing shoulders with these people with purpose?). She was studying to be sort of a life coach, wanting to show people how to better there lives by looking at all aspects of their lives. A holistic approach. I figured I could use one of them, as long as they came with a .22 and a case of wine.
I got hot again so I went back in the pool, and then went to my bunk and took a 20 minute nap. Cormac woke me up to go see the church behind the hotel, a Knights Templar church. It was supposed to be open for another 15 minuets. When we got there the door was locked, but a sign on the door said to call Maria. We did. No answer. We gave up and went to dinner, upstairs behind the hotel.
We sat down at a big table with a bunch of pilgrims. Sven, a 30 year old special needs teacher. Michael the German, Chahab the chauvinist (he made a few misogynistic jokes, the intended humor lost in translation), his friend Alex , Pasquel the Smiling Belgian French teacher, and Jenny from Cologne.
It was a fun, pilgrim experience, 10 of us at the same table trading stories. A few bottles of Rioja came with the dinners so we drank up. Everyone was joking around, Pasquel joked that he tried to be a racist once but people were so kind that he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
I excused myself after eating and retired to the bar to finish the nights blog. As I was agonizing over a few words, who should show up out of nowhere but Kento. He was with a Korean woman I had not met, and Hee-geun (the illustrator). Her and I chatted, I said hello to Kento, and they left.
I decided that Kento is like the coyote in Native American myth. They’re knowns for their their crafty intelligence, stealth, and voracious appetite. In fact they often appear out of nowhere. The coyote demonstrates the dangers of negative behaviors like greed, recklessness, and arrogance. He’s often slovenly, dirty, and drunk. He is a comic trickster character, and his lack of wisdom gets him into trouble while his cleverness gets him back out.
Lets’ see. Kento indeed seems to appear out of nowhere (I still haven’t seen him walking), I saw him laying down having a smoke on the camino, Cormac spotted him sleeping in a field, after I left the bar he bought a round of beers for Cormac and Hee-geun. He chugged his and quickly bought another 2 beers for each of them. He told one person he’s a jockey, and another that he’s a jet boat racer…
I left the bar and moved back to the little bar. It was more like a little counter with 3 chairs next to a window where, during operating hours, the woman who checked people into the auberge would also serve as bartender, passing beers through the window.
The night was still warm and I finished writing, just as a French guy was sitting down for a smoke. He regaled me of his stories of the Camino (he had been a few times before) and gave me some tips. I was exhausted so I bid him adieu and headed back to my bunk for a good nights sleep, sans George Winston with a hip hop beat.
The next morning I left with Cormac a little after 6 to beat the afternoon heat. We never planned to really travel together, and/or wake up at the same time, but for these first days on the Camino, the heat of the day necessitated waking up early so we were usually on the road around the same time. In addition, we seemed to travel at about the same speed.
We walked out through the town, down the cobblestone streets, past the Knights Templar church. The road took us though the thin streets of the town, 3 stories of old Spanish homes on both sides of us. The lane we were on got steep, so I looked down at my feet, and at the ancient stones we were walking on, and looked above me and saw the silhouette of screaming swifts as we walked the streets of Torres del Rio in the golden early morning light.
We walked downhill through the outskirts of town and were quickly into farmland – wheat and grapes. We were getting close to Rioja, in fact our destination for the day was Lagrano, the heart of Rioja. We turned around and watched the sunrise over the ancient city, like pilgrims may have centuries ago. They probably weren’t listening to music on an iPod (which I only do occasionally in deference to the camino) and carrying a MacBook Air.
After walking a little further I told Cormac to move ahead. I needed to take a break and apply some sunscreen. It was quiet. I was alone. Part of the reason I came out here. Its funny, before getting together with Amanda I was alone. I was used to it, enjoyed it at times. I was moving forward with trying to be a writer. But I felt I was only giving 80%, I was never giving all I needed to give. Story of my life. Moving forward with the writing thing, but never fully giving what I needed to give. I never needed to write.
But somewhere along the line after I got to know Amanda, I got to the point where I had to write, there was no choice, even though she was a constant distraction- a good one, for many reasons.
And in fact, just like the decision to walk the camino was not a choice, to write about it was never a choice either. I simply cannot find a good enough way to describe how walking the camino was never a choice, it just suddenly became a fact. I only wavered once in my decision, when I quickly realized I would not be meeting my commitment to Hannah, even though I’m sure she would be fine with it. But I subsequently found out that her and Janice would be making their yearly summer pilgrimage to stay with Janice’ parents. And lo and behold, this time they were going to spend 5 weeks, long enough for me to walk. I took it as a sign.
Again, I truly think this is another gift Amanda has given me, why she’s in my life, whether she knows it or not. It might just be that we come into each others lives for a reason, and that is to share, grow, and learn. And if you love that other person, it’s easier to accept the lessons they are confronting you with, the ones that maybe you don’t want to face.
She is part of the reason writing has moved front and center in my life. And it’s not just the act of writing. Obviously, this blog is part travelogue, part confessional. My relationship with Amanda has forced me to confront the truth about my past. And it’s part of the reason I’m out here- to get back to center and not to be so dependent on another, no matter how much I think I may need them. To understand what it is to have a mature relationship where you love yourself first.
I walked on, and we hit one of the few towns (Viana) that was on my itinerary that day. I stopped at the cathedral in Viana and found Cormac having lunch across from yet another beautiful cathedral, where Pasquel the laughing Belgian was taking a break. I left before they were finished, wanting to move on.
Leaving Viana I met two woman out for a walk who gave me a spirited “Hola, Buenos Dias, Buen Camion”. It looked like they were out for morning walk. I walked between houses, down alleys, and then into open fields again. I thought about why I was here, and how my life would be when I got back. I thought about a song by John Gorka:
You fill your clothes with keys and damned responsibilities
trading the maybe for the sure.
Freedom for freedom, call that an even scheme
Give me time to wonder and to dream
I’ll take the money
They’ll take the time
Down to the Land of the bottom line.
I have a few possibilities to toil at my old profession- maybe get a job or two from a few folks I used to work with. But in an ideal world I wouldn’t have to pursue them. I want to focus on writing. It’s what I want to do with the rest of my life. But we all know how life works. It’s easy to be idealistic out here, but I know that once I get back, remove my boots, and walk the well worn paths I’ve trod on back home, the vagaries of my old life will pull and tug at me, trying to lock me back into the cage I’ve built for myself. I just have to convince myself…hopefully the camino will provide me with an answer…
Cormac caught back up with me, we walked into Logrono together, stumbling on a beautiful fountain for foot soaking, built for us pilgrims. We whipped off our shoes and socks and luxuriated. My blisters thanked me.
We walked over the bridge into Logrono (pretty much every Spanish city or town has an old stone bridge leading into it). Logrono is a large town, a mix of old and new. I decided to splurge on a hotel room hoping to get some extra writing done, and invited Cormac to take the other bed.
We went to a cafe where I could research hotels and Cormac could write in his journal. Cormac looked out the window and saw…Kento. Who the fuck else? I swear, he’s being teleported to wherever I am. He is the zen coyote patron saint of our camino. I swiveled around on my chair and…he was gone. Cormac said he was walking with a pack. I don’t believe him…
I found a hotel for cheap that was centrally located thanks to my friend Cathy who loves this part of Spain and has been here many times (thanks Cathy!). Once again, the camino provides…
Cormac and I checked into the hotel and walked the streets, deciding to forego the usual pilgrims meal and instead try a few tapas places and get a glass of wine or two. We had a great time, and slept well in the quietness.
I think it was the first time Amanda and I went out of town together. We did some wine tasting in Santa Ynez. It was fun being a “wanna be Sommelier”- something my wife or her lawyer called me in one of the divorce proposals they had sent (it looked kind of funny, seeing that on a legal form. I work at a wine bar one or two noghts a week). Didn’t know that was the sort of statement you filed with the court. I wanted to write back a letter that started with: Dear Bob F. Morris…the “F” stands for fucking, doesn’t it..?
We stayed in Santa Ynez valley the first night after wine tasting during the day, sipping wine and talking more about our pasts, our present, and the crazy, mixed up lives we had been living over the past year.The next day we drove to Santa Barbara and stayed at a place near the beach that I had found online. It was a small place, and when we checked in the owner of the place was manning the front desk. Frank was a jovial guy, full of suggestions on where to eat, what to do.
When I handed him my ID, he giggled. Amana and I both look young for our age. And now Frank knew that I was 57, 14 years older than Amanda, although she could probably pass for 35. So, Frank must have assumed…well you can figure out what Frank assumed. It had come up before in conversations with friends, and I was always cagey. I had probably implied that I was younger than 57. So of course Frank made the requisite joke about her being my daughter.
When we went back to the car we were talking about Franks reaction. I could have probably talked my way around it (Amanda wasn’t pressing the issue) but I figured it was time to come clean. I told her and she took it in stride. We agreed that, as you get older, age doesn’t matter as much. We had a fun dinner and night together and headed home the next day. I’ll always remember Frank, that weekend together. In the end, it’s memories like these that tell our stories, and breathe life into our short time on this planet.
A little bit about my dad:
We saw it coming. He was 10 years older. A cancer scare a few years before had woken everyone up, but not really. We never really wake up do we? We see things, we admit things, we recognize things, but we always have this inkling that we aren’t really feeling, experiencing, touching life.
It was around Christmas. I have video of him with my beautiful 10 month old daughter in his arms, Janice standing by, a big smile on her face. She was proud to have dad see his only granddaughter before he died. He was already in the wheelchair, sitting in the kitchen with a blanket on his lap. I zoomed in, the closeup shows a gaunt remnant of a once strong, vibrant, philospher- king man holding her up and looking into her eyes, beaming like he would live forever. My dad was gone in another few weeks.
The hospice workers were nice and thoughtful, still it seemed a little strange to have strangers in the house for such a profound and personal experience. I didn’t realize things would be handed over to us in the end to witness the last few steps alone.
I stayed on, past New Years. My brother showed up a week later. As my dad got weaker, he was pretty much bound to the hospital bed that had been wheeled into the extra bedroom. He would occasionally roust himself and insist on going to the bathroom, supported by my brother, myself, or my mom.
After his eyesight went and he was essentially blind (really, does this disease have to steal your dignity piece by piece?) I got in the habit of turning on a Jazz CD my he had always liked. It’s on my iPod and I hear it from time to time.
I wasn’t there when he moved on, only my brother (we’re twins) and my mom were (my brother and I were partners in a small company, one of us had to head back to the office). When the inevitable call came from my mom and I hung up, I thought about the time 8 months prior when I was driving down the 405 freeway and my dad called to tell me that he had cancer and chosen to forego chemotherapy. He said that he thought 85 years on this earth were enough and he figured it was time to move on.
The other thing I thought of was the time, back home in Whittier California, when I was washing the VW bug him and mom had given my brother and I to share over the summer before selling it and going off to college. It was one of those warm breeze, smell of cut grass, bright southern California summer Saturday afternoons when all of the mysteries and magic of life lay out in front of you.
I was putting the finishing touches on the car, getting ready to round up a few friends and dash off into the mad, crazy summer night with all the hope, sound, and fury of kids that age. My dad was coming from somewhere (probably the hardware store) and stopped to admire my work. I told him about where I was going and what I was up to. After pausing a moment, he looked at me and said…”Well Mark, just remember to take it easy. But take it!”
Thats how I best remember my dad.