Cormac woke up at 530, packed, and headed downstairs, leaving before I got my act together. I walked out the door of the auberge at around 6:30. As I rounded the corner to the camino, there were four guys singing merrily in Spanish. It was Sunday morning, so I thought maybe it had some religious significance. Later I found out that these gentlemen gathered there to serenade pilgrims, on their way to Santiago.
As I walked through town, I followed the scallop shells embedded in the street and the yellow spray painted arrows on the walls along the way. There always seems to be one there when you have a question of which way to go. There seems to be one rule in Spain: don’t fuck with the camino (well, maybe there are more rules, but I’m not privy to them).
If this was America, there would be arrows of all colors pointing in different directions. People would do it just to fuck with you. Maybe because god has a little less relevance in a place where money is god. So I’m hoping that in Spain no one fucks with the camino because they still have a modicum of respect for whatever god is to them, and for the pilgrims that are just trying to put one foot in front of another, and maybe learn a little something about the world, and themselves.
Not to far out of town was the wine fountain. Yes, free wine! I stopped for a sip and a few photo opportunities. After leaving (begrudgingly!) the path climbed a bit. It was cool, there was an ancient stone wall to my left, and a hedge row to my right. Beyond that were vineyards. I kept moving, there were some hills ahead, not too steep.
After a mile I entered sort of a forest of deciduous trees. The path was easy, 10 feet wide. I came across a village where I had a ham and cheese croissant, fresh squeezed orange juice, and an espresso. I walked out of town and headed down into the wide valley of rolling hills and wheat fields.
I walked for awhile with Ciara, a young Italian girl who was traveling with her 3 friends. It was getting hotter. Ciara told me that she was on the camino to make a new start. She didn’t get into details but seemed a little sad for a moment. I told her I was making a new beginning too, difference was she had her whole life in front of her. She laughed, and agreed that life could be worse.
After that i was walking alone for a good while, thought I might catch Cormac. At the very least I thought I might meet up with him at the end of the day. It didn’t matter, I was perfectly fine alone, in fact at times I prefer it. It made me think about Amanda and I, and relationships in general. I guess if you have a healthy relationship, both parties should be OK to be alone, knowing the other party is there for them.
Part of the reason you’re with them is simply that it’s more fun. It’s more enjoyable to experience life with someone. And if you’re paying attention, you can learn things from the other, and those experiences. Unfortunately, as you get older things get more complicated, you’re fragile because you’ve been hurt, so your guard is up. You think too much about why you shouldn’t…Maybe the idea is to just fuck all that, stop thinking too much. If you really love someone, just be with them. You’ll figure the rest of it out.
I passed Pasquel the laughing Belgian. We exchanged greetings and I forged on. I was now in the last stretch, and it was getting hot. I rounded a bend and ran straight into…Kento, sitting on the side of the road having a smoke. I still hadn’t seen him walking. I mean someone could have dropped him off. I had seen a horse cart a little earlier, transporting a few people. I’m still not sure if he’s actually walking the camino or if he’s being helicoptered into different points along the way. We exchanged greetings, I put on my headphones and heard a song that reminded me of Amanda.
Something there is about you that strikes a match in me
Is it the way your body moves or is it the way your hair blows free?
Or is it because you remind me of something that used to be?
Something that’s crossed over from another century? -Bob Dylan
Finally I could see the small town I was to stay at for the night. It got hotter. Only thing was it didn’t seem the town was getting any closer. It just kept getting hotter, and my two blisters were killing me. I caught up with a French girl I had been walking with here and there during the day. We trudged up the hill to Sansol and went to the auberge there.
I went over to the market and ran into Cormac. We decided to go the extra mile (literally) to Torres del Rio. We made the right call. The auberge had a swimming pool, mostly younger kids, and a few fellow pilgrims. We checked in, put our packs down in the room, and headed down to the pool. Hey- Pilgrims deserve a cold beer and a pool party once in awhile.
As the years flew by, I guess I was always searching. But not growing up too much. Looking back, I guess I’ve always felt like somewhat of an outsider due to, will, I’m really not sure. I mean I had a clique, but no real sense of belonging. My friends and I were thrown together because we had nothing to belong to. Rag tag, piece meal….
Back to relationships. I always just fell into them, I was always just fumbling along. I never really thought any woman would be interested in me (residual effects from my youth). When it happened it was usually at a party. Although I met Amanda at a party, but by that time I was older. It was different. I wasn’t drunk, didn’t even want to be there, and only asked her out at the last minute. I just wasn’t looking.
Does anyone really know what love is anyway? I’ve been through a lot. Maybe I wasted my time. On the other hand, If it wasn’t for everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t have met someone who I cared for deeply, and who has taught me so many lessons I need to learn. Whether she knows it or not.
Something there is about you that moves with style and grace
I was in a whirlwind, now I am in some better place
My hand’s on the sabre and you’ve picked up on the baton
Something there is about you that I can’t quite put my finger on. -Bob Dylan
The first weeks and then, month or two with Amanda were heady. There was so much we were finding in each other that we had been missing. We clung to each other. We kept in touch, knowing what the other was doing practically every moment of the day via text, calls. We talked at night about everything, her kids, life in general, ourselves. It felt like how life was supposed to be. I loved every moment of it. I especially loved being loved again, having someone to hold, to make love to, knowing she was out there.
I guess that’s when we became sort of codependent. And it makes sense. When you’ve been hurt by others and you find someone who needs to be held, to be loved as much as you do, you hold on for dear life. At that point in time I had no idea that I was becoming so dependent on her, and that it would take a slap in the face from the hand of god to make her turn away from me, and push me out to the camino.
Did you know that you smile when you sleep , your eyes closed looking at the heavens? A smile that knowingly embraces it all, soft breaths accepting the night. You could never know how much others look to you- they know you know. But sometimes, the clear, lovely wisdom I see is blotted out by their hurt, fear, and rage. Don’t worry- they’ll understand as you dance through the moments of the day and quietly show them your grace. Maybe you know all this. But you don’t know that when you turn towards me and lay your head on my shoulder, I can feel that smile- baiting me, daring me to smile too.
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.
I woke up in the middle of a sound sleep. I could tell because I was in that state of confusion where you’re not sure of where you are. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was in a galaxy, far far away…It was nice to stay in a hotel again, but for now I’ll be back to staying at the auberges for awhile. They definitely enhance the pilgrim experience, the close quarters, shared meals, common reasons for being there. Cormac and I headed downstairs hoping to find a place close by for a little breakfast and cafe con leche.
We didn’t find anything open so we trundled on. It was already 24 centigrade as we walked the modern streets of Lograno, the sun rising behind the city. After we crossed the bridge, the city streets gave way to parks, and then wheat fields and some vineyards. Then the path wound up by nice shaded park. We turned a corner and a beautiful lake spread out before us. Reeds, calm, grassy, cool.
We walked out of the park and onto the side of a highway. After turning away from the highway we soldiered on through some healthy vineyards, much larger than before. We were in the heart of Rioja. The blisters on my left foot were making their presence known. In fact they were screaming “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING WALKING 25 KILOMETERS A DAY WITH A 25 POUND PACK ON YOUR BACK!?
Cormac and I had brunch in Navarette, about half way to our final destination of the day, Ventoza. As usual we met some fellow pilgrims: Pasquel the laughing Belgian, Renee from Paris. I got some much needed cafe con leche and a sort of breakfast sandwich, with a few fried eggs and ham on the local pan cateto. Cormac ordered a breakfast dish but they were out of potatoes and he was a little bummed. The Irony wasn’t lost on me.
We left Navarette, walking along the cobblestoned streets and out onto the highway. I told Cormac to move ahead, preferring to walk a little slower. He had told me that his girlfriend was to meet him in Burgos and walk with him for a week. I was happy for him, a little jealous (I wished someone was meeting me in Spain), but looking forward to meeting Sinead at the same time, maybe treating them to a nice dinner, then parting ways. Besides, it would give me a chance to put myself out there, and meet more pilgrims.
I realized that I had become just a little bit dependent on Cormac. He seemed to like researching the camino bible (John Brierley’s comprehensive guide to the camino- I recommend it) and was always considering where we might stop for the night (those times when one of us would catch the other during the day and end up walking together). I had the guide, but didn’t need to refer to it much because Cormac was doing the work for me. I also didn’t have to take responsibility for decisions which was fine- I was always spending a few hours at the end of the day getting the blog together which leaves me little time to consult Mr.Brierley.
So after I leave Cormac and Sinead, I’ll be on my own. Alone. And I’m looking forward to taking full responsibility for myself, and the decisions I make. I guess it’s a lesson in codependence. And it’s one of the main things I have come here to work on, due to the emotional reliance I had on Amanda, amongst many other things from my past.
A few kilometers out of Ventoza, we began a slow, constant climb. Now the vineyards were expansive, and I could see our destination in the distance. We had decided on staying short (10 k) of Brierley’s recommendation due to the heat and my blisters.
My blisters were a constant reminder of how I barged onto the camino, with little forethought. Like most Americans I just bought a bunch of shit from Amazon, and I threw it in a backpack that I got that from REI. We are sort of a big, boisterous, impatient, loud, arrogant country. Maybe a little unrefined. But these are things that also help make it great, awesome, wonderful.
Maybe America needs a lesson in grace. Grace is one thing Im learning on the camino. What is grace? The first things that comes to mind is “By the grace of god”. Maybe it’s living a life that is sort of imbued by the hand of god. Not necessarily the god that’s been transmogrofied into something we can’t understand or relate to. I’m talking more about the god that is best represented, to us westerners, by Jesus I guess. That dude (as well as, it seems to me, most other prophets and “spiritual teachers” – Buddha, Allah et.al.) seemed to have more to do with love than anything else. But as I’ve said before, what the fuck do I know, anyway?
Anyway, I think grace is about leaning a little more towards the spiritual side of us, the light and airy. Maybe even the optimistic (pessimism is so much easier!). As opposed to base, instinctual side of us. The rough part, vs the light and airy. Its the mind vs the heart. Its man vs woman. Maybe in the end it’s about love being the driving force behind our lives, instead of the other things that always distract us.
Grace seems to manifest itself in this way: it’s a bull in a china shop vs. a ballerina. Some of us live more graceful lives than others. The graceful ones are the ones that are positive, the ones who give, the one’s who always have something nice to say. We have to grow into grace. Its kind of like wisdom.
I think I stumbled upon grace, or at least recognized it as such, when I took out my ipod. I thought that maybe grace is taking a breath, looking at your tangled headphones and slowly untangling them instead of pulling and yanking at the chords thinking they will magically untangle. Grace is, instead of hurrying down the camino to get to some predestined place, accepting the fact that you will get to where you are going, even if it’s not to that place you had in mind, which by the way, leaves you more open to the things you can see and experience there.
If you’re lucky you meet someone who opens your eyes to grace. Amanda reminded me of what grace is, which in turn led me to the camino. She’s been through a lot, and still she accepts every day and what it brings, and is working on fixing the scars of the past, helping her kids return to a semblance of normalcy. I’m hoping that every day here I’ll learn a little more grace. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not easily found.
Cormac and I arrived in Ventoza as it reached 33 centigrade in the shade. The auberges wasn’t open, so we sat down on the street and commiserated with our fellow pilgrims. It may have been hot, my blisters screaming insanities, but it felt good to arrive. Every day on the camino is a day of departures and arrivals. There’s no need for goodbyes. As in life, you move on, realizing you may cross paths with that person again, or not. The difference is that when you’ve thrown your soul to the universe and decided to walk 470 miles across Spain, the moments you spend with others on a similar journey will stay with you forever.
pick a lucky star
be it near or far
just pretend on the long nights that i’ve gone away
i can see it too
and wish the same as you
a different star for every long night that i’ve gone away
how many tomorrows do we have
how much precious time
how much precious time -Darden Smith
A story, maybe it’s about grace, maybe it’s a little magical, or maybe it’s just a story. It is a story about those worse off than you and I.
Anyone who’s reading this is probably fine. You probably have a decent job, are making your way in the world. I’ve always thought I had empathy, and for some reason I would always stop when I saw a group of handicapped people walking the streets of my hometown and wonder how they coped with living in this crazy mixed up world.
So one morning I was in New York (Janice was from New York and still had a small place there when we got together) and I woke up with a fully formed concept for a Public Service Announcement for the Special Olympics in my brain. I have no idea where it came from.
I drew out a storyboard (I’m not a drawer- I used to be but looking back I realized it was always a struggle, between my right and left brain). But I did it. It meant something to me for some strange reason. I filed it away and went back to California, to work.
I had a director who had done work for Nike, did sports stuff. I arranged to get a free 35mm camera. This was in May, most of the Special Olympics were over for the summer. But I found a Special Olympics in Vancouver and convinced them to let us shoot there. Myself, the director, an Assistant Cameraman and my brother drove from Seattle to Vancouver and shot footage.
Later, a sweet friend edited the footage together for us. We called the agents in town and found a biker who was getting started doing voice overs and he laid down the lines I had written. We cut it to an Enya song, in fact the same song that was used in a Ron Howard movie. This was at a time when you paid a lot of money to use a popular song in a commercial. Somehow, my brother got ahold of Enyas’ people and they gave us permission to use the song for free if it was ever broadcast.
Part of the reason we did it was selfish: it was a spot we could put on the directors reel to sell him. We sent it off to Vancouver and got a nice note in return. Life moved on. 2 years later we got a call from the new director of the SO in Vancouver. It seems he found our PSA sitting on a shelf. He said that the concept was exactly how they had decided to portray these athletes: not someone to feel sorry for, but as heroes. Which is exactly what i had written. Not by any plan, it’s just what the universe had communicated to me that morning in New York. It ran for two years. They sent me a sweatshirt that I still wear to this day.
I don’t know what opened me up to hearing the voice that gave me that idea. I sure as well wasn’t interested in listening at the time. Like many of us, I was fighting against it, refusing to grow up. Its taken me a long time to really start that process. So now i would just like to give thanks: to Mike, to Gary, to Chuck, to Jennifer, to that Biker, to Enya, to the SO who unwittingly gave me a chance to grow, at least a little bit. I have no other reason to tell this story than maybe to pat myself on the back. Oh, well…maybe to remind you, gentle reader, to give a little, to reach out and lend a helping hand next time you get the chance.
After 4 or 5 months Amanda and recognized we needed to be apart. At least not as dependent on each other as we had been. In fact I suggested I shouldn’t stay over as often. That worked for a few days and then we were back in each others arms full time. Amanda was dealing with so many things at the time- getting a career going, dealing with her kids who had been damaged by the divorce and a MIA father. I tried to help, but Amanda is the type of woman who needs to fix things herself. She finally found the strength to begin to distance herself from me and the dependance she had on me. This is what i wrote in my journal at the time:
We both needed each other. And I loved/love it. Im sure you didn’t intend it, but somewhere in the back of your mind you thought I could replace your husband. But I can’t. And I think you see that now. Which is part of the reason you are re-prioritizing. That and work. You’re picking yourself up and getting back to the you that you used to be- someone who was self-sufficient (even though you were married), someone who felt true and authentic to by taking 100% responsibility for yourself and your kids lives.
It’s nothing you were trying to do. It’s just who you are. And it’s awesome and an utter necessity that you are getting back to that place. And then there’s my journey. I am seeing through the fog, looking at the banks across the river. I think I’ve figured out a few things about myself and us. I am still working on becoming stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I am much stronger than when I met you. As we got to know each other you saw some of my weaknesses. And being the nurturer, you held me. And helped me. And help me still. Even when you don’t know it. Im not like you. I can’t shut things on and off.
I still have some work to do. I think I have a handle on my where I need to go. And some days I am so good. I can do anything. And then I fall. And then I have to crawl back up. During that time I can’t offer you all of the strength you might need. But Im getting better. One day soon I won’t need to crawl back out. I will have healed. That may not soothe you at this moment, but I hope you’ll wait.
I was a necessary, welcome part of that old you. You needed me, I needed you. And now we’re both changing. And for the better. Back to where we started, trying to find our authentic selves. And I guess I question whether or not there is a place for me there.
Last night was a reunion of sorts. After settling in at the the little town of Ventosa, another quintessential Spanish town with winding, cobblestoned streets and built around a church on a hill, Cormac and Pasquel prepared pasta with a bolognese sauce, the Portland girls made a tasty salad, and I bought a bottle of red and a bottle of white, smartly labeled with the name of the auberges. We ate outside in a little courtyard just big enough for 5. It was still hot- around 90 but we had a fine dinner, the wine flowed, and we got to know each other a little better. The Camino does that (so does the wine).
Before dinner Cormac had chatted up the proprietress of the auberges. According to her, pilgrims these days ain’t shit. They aren’t out here for the right reason. Apparently she knows the right reason. I posit that if you’ve come out here to walk 470 miles in this heat, just the fact that you are going to go through, well, getting here, pain, blisters, etc puts you here for “the right reason”.
No matter what you are going to have to, at the very least, look inside yourself, dig deep and reach for the things that you need to simply get to the end of your day, your destination. No matter what you’ll come away with a better understanding of yourself, physically, mentally, and possibly spiritually. Hell, I figure anyone who’s out here for whatever reason should at least get a few points on the cosmic scorecard.
After dinner, I was on the phone when Cormac told me he was going to leave early. He’s got a little catching up to do – he’s using Brierleys (‘A Guidebook to the Camino” by John Brierley) itinerary, which means he has to walk an extra 10 k tomorrow. Brierley is god, or el diablo, depending on your mood and feeling about his sometimes curmudgeonly opinions about things.
Since I was on the phone I really only got the gist of what he was saying- that he would be leaving early and he said we’d meet up in Burgos. He needed to get there by Saturday to meet his girlfriend who, I think I mentioned, was going to walk with him for a week. So I would be on my own the next morning.
The Portland girls woke me up at 430 (Barras bunk was directly above mine). I couldn’t get back to sleep so I followed suit. I had to apply new Compeed (like Brierley, a godsend or a curse, depending on your experience) to my blisters. Compeed is a weird rubbery bandaid frilled with some sort of emulsion. So my preparations to get out the door took a little longer than usual.
I left the auberge and it was a clear morning with a full moon as I walked down the windy streets of Ventosa alone. It was beautiful. I looked for the little spray painted yellow arrows that marked the way and followed them out of town. The path led along vineyards, big wineries with warehouses, fancy signs, wine tasting! Maybe some other time.
Being alone in the dark by myself I was a little apprehensive. There were enough signs- it seems like every time I looked up I would see the yellow spray painted camino arrow or the “official” tiles often laid into the street. But still, with blisters on my feet (even though I felt good, strong) I was hoping to see some indication that I was heading towards Najera, the next town along the way.
I was also a bit concerned since I hadn’t consulted Brierley. I guess when you’re in a strange country and you’re walking across it you should consult a map once in awhile. This was a good test though. I would be independent, not relying on Cormac for direction. not that flying to Madrid (having never been to Europe) and embarking on a 470 mile walk across Spain doesn’t show some independence.
As mentioned, the days I had traveled with Cormac had allowed me to defer to him for logistics, but I will be on my own once we hit Burgos when Cormac meets up with his girlfriend. It’s funny that things work out. Cormac and I ended up traveling a good chunk of the first quarter of the camino together, and will part ways soon. It was probably good for me to travel with someone this first chunk, allowing myself to ease into this otherworldly (for me) way of being, and then be forced to go it alone. And this is another example of, well I can only say, what makes the Camino special. It seems like it provides for you what you need, what you are looking for (even though you may not know it) gently, when you’re ready. With grace.
One of the reasons I came here was to move towards a place, within myself, where I am no longer codependent, and can fully move my life forward, be 100 % responsible for my actions, and decisions. It’s part of the reason Amanda said we should both have some space during the summer, so both of us could get our shit together.
At the time I didn’t want to believe her but, again, I knew she was right. I don’t know how to explain it, but I have never known a woman who can look inside me like she does, and help me become the man I know I can be, even after other’s have convinced me that I’m worthless. And that’s probably why I fell in love with her. Well besides the fact that she’s beautiful, sexy, smart, and loves to laugh.
As the sky got light and the moon got covered by clouds, I was sure I was going the right way but still had that voice in the back of my head throwing out his fucking two- cents worth now and then: “You haven’t seen anyone, you must not be on the camino”, “You may be on the path, but you’re going the wrong direction”….This is one way, it seems to me, codependency manifests itself.
That voice in the back of my head knows I didn’t look at the map. So the voice in the back of my head is questioning my knowledge, my insecurities. And it’s right, I had deferred responsibility to Cormac, I should have taken a look at the map when he told me he’d be leaving early. So the voice in the back of my head is just trying to protect me from harm, the unknown- as I mentioned I didn’t consult the map so he had some foundation for telling me I was a fool. But again, it’s the scared little child throwing rude comments my way. I reasoned with him, and we made peace. I continued on.
For the hell of it I stopped to look at the GPS. I found that the camino is actually marked on the map. As I was checking it out, who should walk up but Cormac who had lended up leaving after me since the Portland girls had given me an early wake up call. We wandered into Najera together and had breakfast after crossing the requisite bridge into the town. A pilgrim who had walked through the night to experience walking the camino under a full moon stumbled in to have a cafe con leche and we spoke to him briefly about his adventure.
We walked out of Najera, and all of a sudden we were in the hills. In a short time we got to the crest and looked over the other side into a long wide open valley. We walked for 8 more kilometers of rolling hills, wheat, some vines. We hit Azofra, another small town where we stopped for a break and met two Californians we chatted with for a little while.
Speaking of underwear, I had my doubts about my underwear selection for the walk. I packed 4 pair of Ethika underwear (2 pair were given to me by a lovely woman I know, and I bought the other two). They’re tight fitting, snug. I was taking a chance though, I thought they may be too warm, make me sweat in…we’ll you get the picture. Fact is, they were the perfect choice. They don’t make me sweat, they’re comfortable, and they feel good. So, if you’re going to hike across Spain, even in the middle of summer…
We left Azofra and were quickly into walking through wheat fields and rolling hills. After a few miles we came to a guy selling fruit, cokes, etc by the side of the road. Anna and Pasquel were there and Anna told how one of the woman at the auberge we stayed at the night before (the one who I spoke with while waiting to get into the auberge, and who had kindly brought my pack inside for me when the auberge opened early and Cormac and I were at the local cafe) had gotten a call saying her daughter had died in a car wreck.
When I heard this, I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t even breathe, I started choking and spitting up coke. Cormac had to slap me on the back. I had to walk away. I was crying. I realized I had related this story to myself. I too have lost a daughter. She is twelve, almost a teen so she does have some attitude. But she has been distanced, I feel, from me by other things, beyond my control.
Amanda had told me that I would have to make peace with my daughter and mend my relationship with her before I could move forward with my life. And I know she’s right again. So another one of my main objectives for coming out here was to reflect on that, come to terms with it, and figure out how to proceed. Hearing this story out here seemed yet another way for the camino to nudge me in the right direction.
We left there and walked a relatively straight shot thorough more wheat fields. Finally we got to Cireuna. We walked through a few tracts of houses that looked relatively new, but abandoned like out of some twilight zone episode. It was the first city I had ran across in Spain that felt sad. Sad and desolate.
We kept walking, still it seemed that no lived in this crazy sad town, it was like the city didn’t want any people there and no people sure as hell wanted to be in that city. But we finally did find one place open for lunch. There was one woman manning the bar (and making the food I think) who had the personality of a bag of hammers. In fact, when I ordered she didn’t even acknowledge me, so I figured it was a 50/50 shot I would even get any food. It did arrive, and was actually quite a good chorizo sandwich, although later I questioned the wisdom of having chorizo in the middle of walking 25 kilometers on a 95 degree day.
We ran into Mike and Diane, who we had met in Azofra earlier in the day. They were the first Americans I had come run across, besides the Portland girls. They had some roots in the South Bay where I’m from, so we had something in common. They weren’t walking the entire camino, but had walked a section before. It felt good touching base with someone from the states.
We said goodbye and headed out and onto the highway, then into grapes and wheat. It was a slow steady. The sky was light, but overcast. We walked a few miles, and then along a highway, then onto another broad road through fields. Got a few drops of rain, put the rain covers on our packs, which of course made the rain stop.
We left and ran into the Portland girls again, and walked with them for awhile. It was a straight shot to Santo Domingo. When we got to the outskirts of town, we stopeed for a moment to rest. We had walked 30 k, my blisters were hurting, and Cormac was getting his first taste of them . Sometimes when your spent, tired, and in pain all you can do is laugh, which we did as we walked into town. We ducked into the first auberge, climbed into our bunks, and fell asleep.
Just try to live each and
every precious moment
don’t be discouraged by the future,
forget about the past.
between a laugh and a tear,
smile in the mirror as you walk by
Thats as good as it can get for us,
ain’t no reason to stop trying
“At the start of therapy, Mr West presented with acute distress and anxiety due to marital discord. His wife had labeled him the problem and “sent” him to therapy. The treatment is supportive psychotherapy with a focus on issues of self-esteem building, trauma recovery, codependency, and adjustment to ongoing, major life changes. In the couple relationship the wife has been berating, controlling, and humiliating Mr. West for years. Though Mr. West has never used the work “abusive”, I maintain that his wife was emotionally abusive…
-Psychological assessment, 2/10/15
Janice suggested I go to therapy. I’ve always a proponent of it (but had never been) so I agreed. i think (of course I’m just guessing) she thought I would see the errors of my ways, admit I was the one causing discord in our marriage and would begin to acquiesce to her demands.
Much later, after we had been separated for a few months, we met in the park near my house. We talked about the separation, Hannah, other things. Janice asked me if I would consider moving back in. I said I would if she would consider therapy.
I was served divorce papers that evening.
4 or 5 months after we started going out, Amanda and I made another trip to Santa Barbara. We went wine tasting to a few places in Santa Barbara, had a great, fun dinner (best brussels sprouts ever!) and then retired to the Fess Parker Inn. We had a little more wine and were sitting on the balcony feeling the warm wind wash over us.
I think at that time, I felt closer to her than I ever had to anyone. It’s funny though, I knew that it wasn’t just her. I had grown up a lot over the past year, and I think others may have shown me the same, Maybe even Janice, but I just wasn’t ready to accept it. To accept love.
But I also knew that I had never known anyone like her. We shared things, we talked about things I had never discussed with another woman. She has a deep, intuitive, soulful nature. She taught me things, showed me parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. Parts that needed mending. And no matter how hard I fought her on those things (I didn’t want to admit to them), in the end she was always right.
Out on the balcony we talked about life, everything. And she started crying. And she told me how much she loved me. And she started making plans that included me. Flying to Slovenia to visit her 93 year old grandmother, to Switzerland to see her daughter.
But what I learned over time is that whenever we got close, she would retreat into some place that I wasn’t allowed to go. I wanted to, to help her, but the walls were thick, the barriers impenetrable. It happened more than once and I now see it for what it was. But back then, I could only see it as rejection, and the reinforcement of my own insecurities. But there, on that balcony, it was as if we were sharing our hopes and dreams for the future, the scars of our pasts, while holding on to each other for dear life in the present.
I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I’ve used them well
Reach out for me
Hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me
This is my world,and I am the World Leader Pretend
This is my life, and this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed…
Cormac and I left Santo Domingo and picked up the camino just outside the door of the auberge. We opted to wander around a bit to find an ATM after being told there wouldn’t be one until Burgos, two days away. After we found it, we were out of town quickly, heading over a bridge back into farmland. it was a straight road, the crops were more diverse than in the past (more than wheat and grapes). We saw some lettuce, chard, peas, even some hops.
After a few kilometers we continued on through wheat fields, down the relatively straight, paved road that ran along the highway between Logrono and Bergos. I walked with a couple from Buffalo for awhile. Retired baby boomers looking for adventure. The sky was still overcast but not threatening, the familiar rolling hills rose in distance. As I wished the couple “buen camino” and moved on, the village of Granon came into view.
We hit Granon about eight. Another old cobblestoned town, two storied, those classic Spanish balconies. Looks sort of like Hermosa Beach, at least like my place- Spanish influence, places with wrought iron balconies. We paused for a brief rest before continuing on into a pretty valley. Fields, rolling hills, rows of trees off in the distance where there must be a stream. I slowed down, and Cormac moved on ahead.
Some of the fields were freshly mowed, golden, and about waist high. There were brightly colored plants along side of road- purple nettle, yellow dandelion type weeds, some blue flowering plants. It’s funny, nature made this land wild and man imposed his coordinated, rowed, symmetric version of nature to nourish himself.
After another 2 K I hit a big sign that showed me the way to Bergos, the next big town where Im going to take a day off. Off in the distance, beyond the wheat fields there were tree lines on top of rolling hills. It kind of reminded me of Nebraska. I was walking with Jenny, from Cologne and she told about her life. A teacher, but she was working on becoming a life coach. Sort of like a holistic therapist- helping people not only with their emotional state, but also with their physical and mental health. She would keep tabs on the person as a whole, recognizing that all aspects of ones life works together, and affects the other parts. Sounds kind of crazy to a westerner like me;).
It seems in America, we compartmentalize everything. Like a big business, which by necessity becomes more and more bureaucratic as it grows. Unfortunately, bureaucracies seem to be rather inflexible when it comes to individuals. Check out Kafka: The Trial, or The Castle. And, well, I thought that individuals (you and I) are what this country is supposed to be about.
So when individuals (read humans) are out of the picture, bureaucracies become more and more like a huge hurkin machine. And like any big machine, it gets the job done well, but sometimes it belches out smoke, makes a lot of noise, and pays no heed to anyone or anything. It just needs to get its job done. And any human emotion just mucks up the works. So it goes.
I rolled down the straight path to Viloria de la Rioja, half way in between Logrono and Burgos. I caught up with Cormac and we stopped at a place for breakfast and cafe con leche. We ate excellent the poppy/sunflower/egg sandwiches we had gotten in the last village we had stopped in.
Viloria de la Rioja is famous for being the birthplace of Saint Dominic de la Calzada, a good dude who spent all of his life in the area helping pilgrims by building bridges, making roads, etc. More importantly he made a roasted chicken dance.
As the story goes, back in the 14th century a German 18-year-old named Hugonell went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with his parents. A Spanish hottie at the hostel where they were staying wanted to bang Hugonell but he rejected her advances. She was pissed so she hid a silver cup in the unsuspecting slobs bag and then informed the authorities that Hugonell has taken it. So he’s sentenced to hang in accordance with the laws of the day.
The parents sadly decide to examine their son’s body which is still hanging on the gallows. Suddenly they hear his voice –he tells them that Saint Dominic has saved his life. His parents haul ass to Santiago de Compostela to see the magistrate. The magistrate, who at the time is shoving some mashed potatoes into his mouth says: “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Your son is about as alive as this rooster and chicken I’ve been feasting on before you interrupted me.”
And in that moment, the two birds jumped from the plate and began to sing and crow happily. I assume they were doing the chicken dance. This might be something of a fable, apparently “King Herod and the Cock” is an earlier story along the same lines. I decided I’d look for roast chicken on the pilgrims menu that evening in honor of St. Dominic de la Caldaza, patron saint of roasted roosters and dancing cocks.
We finished our breakfast and moved down into a wide expanse of fields amidst rolling hills. We came upon fields of sunflowers, a few just opening their bright yellow faces to the sky. Kind of like those kids you knew, the ones who blossomed first and just kept running, who seemed to know exactly where life was going to take them. I certainly wasn’t one of those kids.
The road ran straight into Belorado. We met up with Sven (from dinner the other night) and his friends and rolled into town which lay in a little valley bordered by cliffs on both sides. The first auberge was sold out so we moved into the center of town to the Cuatro Cantones auberge. It was the same place that had sent out a van that gave us bottled water with the name of the place on the label- good ol’ ‘Merican style advertising. My meal at the restaurant was the best I’ve had so far, a fresh salad, paella, a bottle of wine, and dessert. Not only was it tasty, the presentation was like at an upscale California restaurant.
It was one of the nicest places I’ve stayed at. The usual bunks in a room with 20 or so others, good showers, a courtyard in the back and a pool, beautiful tiling, a great kitchen. Comfortable, family run. I slinked off to the old town square to write. I thanked the universe for bringing me to this place at this time, and for those I’ve met, and have yet to meet. And for the bottle of Rioja I had bought, that I was going to drink when I got back to the auberge.
Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow
Gonna rise up
Burning black holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold
From my journal a few months into Amanda and my relationship:
MY LIFE WITH AMANDA
It’s crazy. She’s got 4 kids (3 at home).
And I love them. And her. And the two dogs.
It’s nothing I ever would have expected.
Nothing I ever would have wanted.
If life is supposed to teach you something, well…
It’s a swirling, roiling, mess of feelings, activity, growls, laughter, tears.
It’s dog shit on the lawn.
It’s wine and ping pong.
It’s sitting outside watching the dying ember of the day.
It’s holding hands.
It’s feeling her warm breath on my neck.
One of the first times i realized that something was up with my marriage was the summer Janice made arrangements to see her parents in Cape Cod, our usual summer sojourn. When our frequent flyer mileage was cashed in for tickets there were only two- for her and Hannah.
I didn’t argue about the “oversight”. By this time I had learned not to. I thought about it and decided that it would be a good time to think about things, look for work. It was a few years after the recession, and I had pretty much closed my company, having halted any sales efforts. I thought I might be able to repurpose my career.
While they were gone, I started to to think about what had happened to myself and Janice. After failing to teach Hannah to sleep alone (it worked for a little while but then one night she wouldn’t go to sleep, she kept crying, and Janice slept with her). I guess maybe everything changed that night.
I would sit in the kitchen, drinking a glass or wine or two, waiting for Hannah to fall asleep and Janice to come upstairs. Never happened. I brought it up several times, still, after that, I pretty much sat at that kitchen counter every night and went to bed alone. Those days did produce several fine youtube videos that I wrote, shot, and edited at my kitchen counter as I drank myself to sleep.
Then in the spring, I met Craig, who would become my good friend, and whom I subsequently heard was partially responsible for breaking up my marriage. He lived across the street and was only a few years younger than I. Most of the other guys- fathers- I naturally socialized with were at least 10 years younger.
Craig just happened to stop by one night. I had known him in passing, but never really got to know him. He wasn’t one of the fathers on the street, just single guy locked to his work, who lived across the street. I joked that he started coming over to my house because his best friend had moved 2 blocks away, which was true, and it was simply a shorter walk to my place to have a beer. He’s an engineer after all and would appreciate the efficiency of it all. My nickname for him is hypotenuse man.
We became good friends, and instead of sitting at my counter alone, we went over to his ramshackle deck across the street and drank beer, often tackling the worlds problems and pretty much solving them. If you want the answers I’ll email them to you. In addition, he was someone I could talk things over with to help me understand better what was happening to me.
When spring turned into summer, and Janice and Hannah left, I started to think more about our fighting, the marriage, why Janice was treating me like she was. I mean I know that money was an issue (it seemed like it always was) but I tried to remain positive, looking at the big picture, recognizing that we were better off than most, and that everyone had lost money from the recession, and that maybe we needed to understand that the world had been shaken at the foundation and was different, and that we should look at things a little differently.
That suggestion ended up in many fights, and much pain and hurt. When I look back I now see that I was bullied and belittled. But as I’ve said before, I hold nothing against Janice, I think this was simply the way she learned how to deal with the world, the things she had no (or maybe was losing) control over. But at the time, all I could feel was a numbness, and a sadness.
What’s funny is, at that time, I really didn’t understand what was happening to me. But one morning I woke up and there was a song in my head. No not one of those that you’ve heard that keeps replaying over and over. Like the Special Olympics PSA I told of earlier, these were lyrics to a song that had been written in my brain overnight.
I jotted the lyrics down, grabbed my guitar (the one I play badly) and strummed some chords that I thought might go with the lyrics. I had never really wrote a song before but this one had just spilled out. What get’s me to this day is that the song revealed the state of my subconscious mind at the time, things I had not articulated, I had not recognized, that I had certainly not come to terms with. It was as if my subconscious was trying to tell me something.
Maybe I didn’t get to go to Cape Cod that summer, but I was given this song for what it’s worth. I play if for people and they always laugh. It’s a little mean spirited, so at some point (maybe during the forgiveness portion of this blog alluded to in the title) I will put it away, never to be heard from again. But for now, please enjoy it, and have a laugh on me.