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!”
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 -John Mellencamp
“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 WorldLeader 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… -REM
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, orThe 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 -Eddie Vedder
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.
I left Cuatro Cantinas auberge in Belorado before dawn. At this point, Cormac and I were walking the same pace, ending up at the same places more or less since we were both consulting Brierley. We would typically be together by the end of the day and end up at the same auberge, not by design, it just happened that way.
He left before I did this morning, as his blisters were more than a little pissed off that he’d opted to go out and walk an extra 10 k the day before. Mine on the other hand, and acquiesced to my inattention and given up causing me grief. Having been hobbled by those globular corpuscles of cruelty and pain the few days prior, I knew I would catch up with Cormac soon.
Not too long after leaving town, I was walking on an old wooden bridge that paralleled the stone bridge that the highway ran over. I could see the faint light of the sky in the distance. The moon was to my left and the sun was coming up to my right. Yin and Yang, dark and light, love and hate. The swifts were waking up, singing their song, seemingly chasing each other in the early morning sky.
I was walking alone for awhile which, of course, causes one to think, or at least makes me think, probably the main reason I’m here, to pause and reflect. One thing the camino tells you is to live in the moment. If you’re walking a million steps (someone did calculate it) there’s pretty much no point thinking about step # 1 million, or even step # 543,296. No, the only thing to consider is the step you’re taking, at the moment.
I know that every step takes me away from a life I once knew. Those people, places that I knew may not change, but I will have. To what extent, who knows? I’m hoping for an epiphany, but an mot holding my breath. I’m really not sure what to expect when I get back.
As expected, I caught up with Cormac soon enough. The moon was still out, and the sun had risen behind clouds. The temp was cool, good for walking, especially if your boneheaded enough to walk 25k with 25 pounds of stuff on your back (including a Macbook Air and too many books and electronic stuff). I’m not going to say who I’m referring to…
I do know that when I get back a new journey will commence, the one that integrates the new me with my former life, and the lives of friends and family. I’m only 1/3 of the way through, and I’m hoping that that how to accomplish this, amongst other questions I have, will be answered by the time I get to Santiago. It’s simply a matter of whether or not I choose to listen.Several days back I had seen sunflower fields, their black seeded eyes not yet open to the sun, and had secretly asked the universe for a field of sunflowers that were open. Finally, my request was granted.
50 yards off the camino was a fine little field of sunflowers, open to the early morning rays of the sun. I hopped over to the field and spent some time in silence, only hearing my breath and the occasional crackle of boot on gravel.
My revelry was broken when a voice yelled “Hey get outa’ my field” in the best Irish/hillbilly accent Cormac could muster. I took a few pictures while Cormac walked on. When I got back to the camino I put on my headphones. Michael Stipe (REM) sang, as if channeling the camino:
With the walk
And the talk
And the tick tock clock
With the rock
And the roll
And the bridge, and the toll
With the brilliance
And the light
With the stink
And the hide
And the road ahead of you.
I cannot tell a lie
It’s not all cherry pie
But it’s all there waiting for you
While I’m nothing but confused
With nothing left to lose
And if you buy that
I’ve got a bridge for you
Every day is new again
Every day is yours to win
And that’s how heroes are made
After another few kilometers I hit Tosantos. Some of the houses looked modern, probably had new facades over the old stone I had gotten used to seeing, although here and there you would see houses that had,’t been fixed up. I passed through Tosantos quickly as there were no services. and I needed servicing in the form of a cafe con leche.
Out of town I caught up with Cormac again. He was talking with Juan who I’d been crossing paths with every day it seems. Meanwhile Kento has all but disappeared although I half expect him to jump out from behind some bush, or see him lying naked in a field somewhere, reminding me of his crazy wisdom and this beautiful/fucked up world.
As a matter of fact, one thing I forgot to mention the other day is that the coyote is known for one other skill- shape shifting. I’m pretty sure Kento has transformed into Juan, reminding us of another aspect of humanity- the more quiet, humbler, dignified side. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kento/Juan comes up with next.
I stopped for a few minutes while Juan and Cormac walked ahead. We were heading towards the little town of Villafranca Montes de Oca, nestled in a little valley. I easily caught up with Cormac and Juan, who is slow and steady, another apt metaphor for life. While Kento seemed to zip around like Wile E Coyote, appearing here with a six pack of beer, there in a field smoking a cigarette, or maybe checking into the same auberge as me. Juan was content walking at his pace, talking about his life.
He proudly wore a t-shirt with a picture of his three sons. He walked alone, as his wife had opted to stay at home. It’s not that she had anything against walking, she just didn’t like sleeping in the auberges, apparently. After a little while, Cormac and I moved on.
Juan caught back up with us at a cafe in Villafranca Montes de Oca. We left shortly and had steady climb for a few kilometers. It was still overcast and cool. After climbing awhile, the path leveled out and made the walking easy. There were woods on both sides, forests of French oak and pine. The oaks were thinner than what I was used to seeing in California, these with uniform canopies, and growing relatively close together, not the big sprawling trees that dot the land north of L.A.
When we reached to top of this hill/mountain, we met Carl and Evelyn. Carl was from Germany and doing sections of the camino as time allowed, packing a guitar. Evelyn was from Netherlands, yet another giving person out here on the camino. She works for oxfam whose mission is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty of the world. They’re part of a global movement for change, helping to empower people to create a future that is secure, just, and free of poverty. Sounds like a good plan.
We stopped for a break at the Monumento a los Caidos (a memorial to some who died in Spain’s civil war) for a snack. As we moved on, the air grew colder as we headed downhill. We walked with a few woman from Germany and Scandinavia for awhile talking about where we were from, and where we were headed.
After awhile, we started left the girls behind, and climbing again. There was a colorful mix of wildflowers along edges of the path, and beyond that, a mix of oak and pine trees.
After referring to Brierley once again Cormac and I decided that Mr. Brierley should be ordained or christened or whatever those catholics do to make people sort of holy. He is sort of the modern day patron saint of the camino. Note to self- get online application for sainthood and forward to Brierley. Also, find out if you need to be dead to become a saint.
After another few kilometers, we stopped for lunch at a sort of rest stop- sitting down on some benches hewn from the local pines. Cormac’s blisters were screaming. A woman offered fruit, juice, and water in exchange for donations from the trunk of her car. There was a little plot where people had left tokens with messages.
Several of our friends from the past few days caught us and we walked together en masse, getting to know each other a little better. I met another Pasquel who was intensely interested in California. And then there were “the Italians” (aptly named because they were, Italian).
One of them was in my old business sort of – a Director of Photography. He told me his story of how he had become a DP at the ripe age of 21. Sven was there also, the special needs teacher from dinner the other night. He would only go as far as Burgos, having to travel back home, but was going to come back and walk the rest of the Camino with his girlfriend. He had realized before hand that he had to experience at least part of the camino on his own.
After another 2 kilometers, the rest of the group had moved on, and Cormac and I were walking alone. He launched into a spate of donkey jokes, apparently a popular genre of jokes in Ireland. After a few he offered to stop. I took him up on it.
The path took us down into wheat fields again, and then into San Juan. Cormac’s blisters were at the height of their journey (blisters seem to be on their own journey). Mine had healed for the most part, and I knew where he was in his pain and suffering. I told him that the next day he would suffer about half as much, and the following day, almost none. A little piece of wisdom gained from the Camino.m But, WTFDIK?
There was one auberge in San Juan, I wanted to move on, but I decided to stay in deference to Cormac and his blisters. It was the first time I was to sleep in an uber-traditional auberge- A church, only the basics. Heather showed up, as did the Buffalo couple. We ate, moved out front to the square, and Heather taught a few Italians to waltz while I waited for my clothes to dry on the rack I had dragged out to so they could get some sun, while sipping a glass of wine. How simple. How goddamn wonderful.
As the sun went down and we relaxed on the plaza, I had to laugh at the things that conspired to bring me here, and how I had left them behind. I’m not sure what those things will even look like when I get back, but I know they’ll be different.
Everyone went inside to their bunks, I sat at a table inside the entry to the auberge to write and hopefully get a wifi signal. As I was finishing, the woman who worked the desk was closing up and grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside, muttering something in broken Spanish. We got out past the church and she pointed to the sky. Every one else had gone to bed, so her and I were the only ones who took in the beautiful sunset that night. At least in San Juan…
I had been talking to the Universe. This was around Christmas a few years back, and things at home had not been going well. For some reason, instead of asking the Universe for some insight, I asked my dad. I posed one simple question to him: just tell me what to do, how to move forward. I didn’t really know what I was asking, I just knew I was torn up inside.
A few days later after work, I went over to my friend Craig’s boat for their traditional boat parade Christmas party. He didn’t participate in decorating his boat and cruising around the little harbor, but he did participate in drinking on his boat after the parade, and inviting friends to do the same.
I showed up late and there were only a few people left and I knew all of them. I had a drink, and made small talk with everyone. After a little while, a couple walked on and spoke with Ken, Craig’s boat partner. They were dressed like they had just got in from the east coast- long winter coats. They were relatively formally attired for a California boat party amongst the shorts and flip flops. They told Ken that they had been to their friends boat, but the friends weren’t there. Ken, always the gracious host, invited them aboard.
We continued to talk amongst ourselves. Ken spoke with the guy, and the woman walked down to the poop deck or whatever part of the boat myself and the other few revelers were hanging out at. She spoke with a few people and then, when I was standing along, came over to me.
She then proceeded to tell me a few things that I find hard to believe, to this day. With absolutely no provocation, she told me that she knew my father had passed (the father I had just asked for guidance a few days before), and that he wanted to tell me that I should keep moving forward, forget about the past, and not to let my emotions distract me from what I knew, deep down, my purpose was. She also said he was sorry for not giving me much guidance when I was younger- (he was a good dad but he had never given me much advice as far as what I wanted to do with my life).
I had to excuse myself and walk outside to the deck. Hell, I liked being open to the idea of these type of things in life but I never had any real evidence that things like mediums, spiritualists, etc really knew anything more than you or I. But, well, there it was, right in front of me, slapping me in the face as I stood on the back deck of the boat watching brightly lit boats sail by.
I guess that was my Christmas gift from dad. But again, in life, you can go to therapists, priests, witch doctors, anyone who might give advice and guidance, but until you take responsibility for being happy and satisfied with yourself and your life, you will never realize that your happiness really depends much more on your attitude than it does on external circumstances.
Who knew that my next random run-in with a psychic would foretell of my future relationship with a beautiful woman with blond hair and a crazy accent.
After I closed my company I ended up taking care of Hannah periodically while Janice worked long hours at her freelance job. I was at home, looking for work like everyone else after the recession: job boards, resumes, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I would get her ready for school, take her if it was my turn to drive the carpool, pick her up, bathe her, put her to bed. Every Tuesday I would drive her to a class she had at a church up in the hills near me.
One particular time, we stopped half way up because Hannah was feeling car sick. We parked for awhile, but Hannah still wasn’t feeling well, so I made the decision to turn around. I drove a little further slowly down the hill and she said she was feeling sick again.
So I pulled over again and waited awhile. She didn’t feel any better, so I had her get in the front seat (knowing that often sitting in the back of the car exacerbates motion sickness) and drove home at 30 miles an hour.
Many months later, Janice and Hannah were lying in our bed. Janice called me over and asked me why I had done what I had done during that aborted trip to the church. I explained myself. Janice went round and round, me offering up rebuttals when I could get a word in (which wasn’t often). I told her that I was just doing the best I could, trying to make the best decision, at the moment.
She barraged me with insults, telling me that I was an unfit father. It was totally crazy, I could not comprehend what was happening. This attack, for nothing, was from someone who supposedly loved me. She demanded that I apologize to Hannah. Trembling, and not knowing what else to do, I told Hannah that I was sorry, and walked away.
Looking back, this was the beginning of Janice undermining my role as Hannah’s father. Since I had closed my company and wasn’t making much money, she had no use for me. She had gotten what she wanted, and she had repurposed her career (with my help) and she didn’t need me anymore.
I was a deficit. I guess it’s kind of ironic, seeing that I never had that overwhelming urge to have kids, what we went through to have Hannah, and that one of the reasons I agreed was to give Janice something she so desperately wanted.
But again,I harbor no ill will. I’ve learned much from all of these experiences. And, well, aren’t those experiences part of this thing we call life? The pain as well as the joy, the suffering as well as the ecstasy, the laughter and the tears?
As Maude said in one of my favorite movies (Harold and Maude): “L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room…”
I slept well. Apparently some other didn’t. I guess my kindle made noises again (if only for a short while) and I was snoring a bit – from what Cormac told me the girl in the bunk next to me was sitting up staring at me, perhaps wondering if she should kick me in the balls to make me stop.
I had forgot to mention that as we headed into San Juan de Ortega, we ran into Jose (the new Kento). He had been walking with a father and daughter on the camino and I snapped this picture. OK, well I guess you don’t snap pictures anymore. Let me rephrase: “my phone coordinated bits and bytes and digitally captured this representation of one interpretation of reality”.
My daughter was about the same age when I took her on the one hike that would be our first, and perhaps our last (I carried her the last 1/2 mile singing Katy Perry’s “Firework”). It was bad judgement on my part, but when your a patent, all you’ve got is your judgement, and you do the best you can. I’m surprised I wasn’t made to apologize for this major transgression, like when I endangered Hannah’s life by driving her back from her class in the front seat of the car when she was sick, at 30 miles an hour.
It seems like, for many parents, just by virtue of the fact they had a child, they think they know everything about parenting. Somehow they forget about the lessons instilled on them from their parents (those parents working out their shit). But who knows? I’m buoyed by a friend (he commented on one of the posts about this) that recently took his 17 year old daughter on a section of the John Muir trail. She cried at the beginning, and hugged him at the end.
The snoring was probably due to the fact that I hadn’t really slept well since I began the camino and had finally fallen into a deep sleep. I was kind of running on cafe con leche and adrenalin, along with the stuff that keeps haunting me, running through my head.
This would be the last morning Cormac and I would depart together. He would be meeting his girlfriend in Burgos, our terminus at the end of the day. He was still suffering some from his blisters, but the worst was behind him.
We left the old church we had slept at that night and headed down the camino, talking about everything and anything as had become our habit, Cormac and I had become like old friends at this point. He may have launched into some more donkey jokes, I don’t remember.
We came to Ages, a small town where some of our fellow pilgrims had chosen to stay the night before. We found the cafe (there was usually one open in every small town) and had one of the best breakfasts yet- a ham and cheese empanada. Cormac differed a little bit in his opinion, playing the expert card since he had lived in Argentina for awhile
The place was nice and cool, it kind of had a south pacific feel- it even had one of those wooden statues with a giant hard on, probably some sort to fertility thing. I stayed to finish uploading and posting the days blog, Cormac and Heather, who had joined us, moved ahead. The Buffalo couple came in just as I was leaving.
After leaving the town, I walked along a road. Finally the camino parted ways, climbing up and away from the road, into farm country. After about a mile there was a traffic jam- a farmer was moving his goats to an upper field. I stopped and watched the parade, as cow bells (goat bells?) lightly clanged in the air. Can I say it was magical?
The path made a steep ascent. To the left was a barbed wire fence with a sign that said it was a military zone. I had to laugh, the camino is a path of solitude, peace, wisdom, and here it was running next to a military zone. I walked on the part of the past that was sandy, making it easier on my blisters (the other side was rocky). It’s always better to walk on the soft part, as long as its not too soft. I guess in life, most of us need to walk on solid ground. That way you know what to expect. Not sure where that leaves me, choosing to walk across Spain to visit a dead saint.
Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down The wise man built his words upon the rocks But I’m not bound to follow suit The trees will bend, the conversation’s dimmed Go build yourself another home, this choice isn’t mine I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry -REM
Regarding relationships and solid ground: Although Amanda and I met at a party, one might think our relationship would be an example of one that, for the most part, was built on firmer ground, since both of us have kids, similar life experiences, had been separated the same amount of time, we had even worked in the same industry. Oh, and we also both had been hurt by former relationships, bad marriages.
The only problem is, when your older you have more baggage. And maybe, if you’re like me, you still have some growing up to do. You may be that same immature person you were when you dove into that former relationship. When your older and you have baggage (and everyone does, btw) you really have to love the person to accept their baggage. You each have to set down those bags and start taking things out, and revealing them to each other.
I guess thats what intimacy is, putting your heart out there knowing the other person could hurt you, and could use the things you tell them against you. I know I’ve been a victim of this. And this is where trust comes in. And depending on how you’ve been hurt, and if you’ve dealt with it, trusting that other person can be next to impossible.
Amanda and I found ourselves in this vicious cycle. How it seems to work is that a person will get close and then…pull back, fearing getting hurt again. And then maybe they’ll get close again. And then they’ll get scared again, and pull back. Once again, TVITBOYH whispering shit in your ear.
The detritus is tears, confusion, hurt. I think the key is to figure out a way to let that other person in, to trust them, no matter what it takes. Only then can the healing begin. The journey you both go through will not only start to heal the wounds of the past, but will also create the bonds that make for a strong relationship.
When I got to the top of the hill I was climbing, I found Cormac talking to some bearded Gandalf looking dude and his tribe. Amongst other things, he offered up some wisdom in regards to the camino, what it is, and what it means.
During the first section (St. Jean to Burgos, the section we were completing) you prepare yourself to die, to cast off some of the things you’ve been lugging around for too long, things you have no use for anymore. Kinda like my fucking Kindle. I haven’t even used it, probably won’t, and it just keeps waking people up. I should probably toss it as a symbolic gesture.
When you arrive in Burgos and travel to Leon, your old life will die. Many things will change. You will meet new people, you will separate. You will have resistance within yourself to leave that baggage on the camino. You will be scared, scared of the future, the unknown. You might even cry, vomit, have a emotional crisis. It’s sort of a purging.
From Leon to Santiago, you will become a new person, a rebirth. You will look at your life, the camino and assess it. Once you arrive in Santiago, if you go no further, you will go home and recover your old life.
If you continue to Finisterra (another 50k after where the dead dude is buried, and on the ocean), its like a contraction, before birth. You go to the water, and you wash your hands and feet of your old life. You wash your head of your old way, your old concept of life. You are like a new baby. Damn, does that mean I need to walk another 50 miles if I really want to come clean (pun intended)?
We left this wise guy, and stopped in another village, Atapuerca, and ate the sandwiches we had made earlier. A farm town, the road through town was wider for trucks, harvesters, farm equipment. One story houses lined the street, there was farmland beyond.
After 1.5k we hit Cardenuela Riopico, a mix of old and new buildings. Music was playing from speakers at the cafe, it gave the morning a lightness, and gave me a little bounce to my step despite the remnants of my blisters.
Pretty soon we were walking on the main highway into Burgos. Trucks and cars were speeding by. Not too peaceful of a camino. We were walking along when we came upon the back of the airport. The last 8 miles or so into Burgos was supposed to be butt-ugly- mostly belching smokestacks (a few of which we could see in the distance) and industry.
But once again, Brierley to the rescue. He mentioned an alternate route which skirted the other side of the airport, ran through a small town, and into a park. I definitely will be nominating him for sainthood.The airport was to our right and wheat fields were to our left. And apparently it was time to harvest the wheat. We kept moving off to the side to allow combines and other farm equipment to pass
After a few k, we entered a small town, sort of a suburb. Modern homes, a few small businesses. We crossed over another road into Burgos and were soon strolling next to a river. We decided to take a break and soak our feet in the river. It was cool, the current swift. We rested for awhile.
The path continued through shoulder high grass. Different paths intersected the camino. We ran across a gathering that was just convening, a few cars, 10 or 15 people, one dude had a guitar. We moved on and found ourselves walking in pretty much a straight line through a park. The river ran to our right, and park benches and open fields were to our left. We walked straight for several kilometers, until a bridge over a river took us into Burgos.
Cormac and I stopped at a coffee shop with wifi and located our hotels. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I had dinner that night with him and Sinead, some of the best food I’ve had on the trip- a ham elbow (didn’t know pigs had elbows), a roasted vegetable platter, something that had blood in it (can’t remember and ain’t gonna look it up. I walked 32k today).
After dinner we parted ways. I’ll most likely run into them on the camino, but I’m thankful for spending time on the path with Cormac, the laughs we had, that caustic Irish attitude of his, even the bad donkey jokes. I know my that my camino is a richer one for having gotten to walk with him for awhile.
I wrote this a few months ago. It’s a little obtuse, it kind of wrote itself as a metaphor. For me, I think it’s about me finally starting to heal, beginning to understand what I was coming out of, and seeing with more clarity where I stood. I was understanding myself better. And some of it is about the changes that Amanda and my relationship had been going through.
I had a dream last night. I was walking through a forest and came upon a house. The light on the porch was warm and inviting. I had been out in the cold awhile, had been in a few fights and was bleeding.
I walked through the front door and into a hallway. I walked down the hall and into the first room on the left. It smelled of new paint and fresh carpet. I looked out the window and saw a shooting star. The feeling was almost magical. I wanted to stay but knew I had to go.
I slowly moved back out into the hallway. A few steps on the right was another door, standing open. I was pulled into the room, it seemed by an invisible hand. The walls were painted bright colors, the light softly floating in through the windows. I didn’t want to leave. Somehow, the air in the room filled my senses, as if breathing new life into me. My wounds began to heal. But then, that same invisible hand pushed me out, back into the hall, with me fighting all the way.
I had no choice but to continue down the hall. I was kind of in a daze, and wandered for awhile. Finally, another door appeared on the left side of the hall. I pushed on the door and it swung open easily. I walked in and stood in the doorway, half in and half out. I wanted to enter, but something was telling me not to enter all the way.
Then, without warning, I fell asleep, standing right there in the doorway. When I woke up I was in in the most beautiful room of all. The walls were covered in billowy linen, warm light floated in through the windows. And then a soft, distant voice carried on a warm breath whispered in my ear. And it told me everything about the house I had come to find, there in the woods. Every deep dark secret conceived there. And I felt compelled to do the same. I opened up and spilled my guts.
I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to leave the room. I wandered, dazed and smiling down the hallway. But then something happened. I wasn’t sure what it was. I wanted to remember that room forever, but the memory faded. Somehow I couldn’t recapture it. I walked back up the hallway, but the doorway was gone. And then I woke up.
Now, my mind keeps drifting back to that hallway, looking for that doorway. But I can’t find it. And I don’t know why. But I’ll keep looking, and one day I’ll find it.
The universe threw me another hint that things weren’t right at home (apparently I needed to be clubbed upside the head like a cute little baby harp seal to figure it out).
My brother and I were on a job in Oregon, working for a guy who had been partners in our other production company (we made commercials for the golf industry) . Mack still hired my brother and I to work with him once in awhile (even though our experience wasn’t necessarily germane.). He knew we were responsible, willing, could figure out stuff. In essence we knew each other, and he knew we would do whatever it takes to get the job done for him. Thats what you do for people you love and respect.
My brother and I were sharing a bottle of wine in my hotel room. He had been reading a biography of some writer (Can’t You Get Along With Anyone?: A Writer’s Memoir and a Tale of a Lost Surfer’s Paradise by Alan Weisbecker). In it, Alan meets up with an old friend on Long Island and she follows him down to his compound in South America. She becomes his lover. She fucks around on him. He goes into detail about her manipulations, her gas-lighting. Before she joined him in South America she specialized in perception management.
I confessed to my bother for the first time that Janice and my marriage was on the rocks and told him about some of the things that Janice had done, and that I had finally recognized these things as being beyond the pale of usual martial strife. After I told him of the first occurrence, he said “thats in the book Im reading”
I told him another occurance. He said “thats in the book” . After 4 or 5 times of my brother repeating the same mantra, I had to take note. It was probably one of the first times i came to the realization of what was really happening in Janice and my marriage. I had refused to admit it, and still had a long ways to go to finally admitting that it was true.The author describes that he was a victim of gas-lighting, which is defined as manipulating (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity or reality.
What happens to us, to make us do these things to each other? To those that we love. Are we working things out for ourselves, and we don’t recognize that we’re hurting those we “love”? Are we trying to fill a void by whatever means necessary, damn the consequences? Do the ends really justify the means?
If I listen ling enough to you, Id find a way to believe that its all true knowing that you lied straight faced while I cried. still I look for a reason to believe. -Tim Hardin
Were all just looking for love. As life gets more complicated and we reach out for love we have to tread lightly. Trying to celebrate the romantic vision we all have of life and love are put to task by the demons that fight within ourselves. It’s sad, but maybe it’s life just showing us the way, teaching us the lessons that must be learned. Our hearts must bear the burden, our souls have to show us the way. Thanks for reading…