I left my swanky hotel room (how many times do you hear the word “swanky” these days?) – 200 square feet of pure luxury. Well, not really but it served it’s purpose. It had a shower, a single bed, and a small desk which looked out over the street below.
I packed up and headed out to the old cathedral, since I knew the camino always goes by the church that the town was built aroun. Burgos is an awesome mix of old and new, traditional and modern, sacred and profane. The old part around the main cathedral is a blend of cafes, modern shops (in old buildings), and a swirling mass of people, at least on a Saturday. I recommend it, if in Spain.
It took me a little while (and some assistance from my GPS) to find the camino. As soon as I did another pilgrim appeared, so I was pretty sure I was headed in the right direction, although upon asking him he admitted he wasn’t quite sure we were headed the right way. Soon enough I spotted a now familiar scallop shell on the wall of a building, and followed the signs out of town.
On the outskirts of town I stopped at a Panderia and got a breakfast roll. It was a one man operation, the guy was busy, it was a quick transaction. It occurred to me that this was probably the way it has always been here, for centuries. It was in the early morning, he was in the back baking bread, doing whatever Panderia people do, to prep for his morning rush. It all seemed so effortless. It was just the flow of life.
It reminded me of a book I had read- Breakfast at the Victory- where the author (John Carse) describes a one legged (or one armed, I can’t remember-all’s that matters is that the guy was missing a limb) guy behind a counter at a diner in Manhattan who prepares his bagel, cheese and coffee every morning.
Carse describes the guy like he’s Mikhail Baryshnikov performing Swan Lake, albeit without the standard equipment we’re all used to having. I guess even a one armed bagel making counter guy can be imbued with as much grace as a prima ballerina. Just depends on how you choose to look at, and live your life.
To me, Carse’s book tries to get us to see beyond the obvious in the world and in our lives. He prods us to try and get a glimpse into the profundity of the moments that pass us by every day like ships sailing past in the night off in the distance. We never really give ourselves a chance to get a good look at them.
I headed out of Burgos and was into small wheat fields. Then things opened up…to bigger wheat fields, although a main highway was never far away as the camino was paralleling it more or less. The path veered off, under an overpass, and into a little river valley that was nice and shaded.
The camino went back to paralleling the highway and soon I had reached Villabella, the first town on todays tour. I stopped at the first and only little shop where pilgrims were sitting outside. It sort of doubled as a mini-mart. There was only one woman selling stuff, making cafe con leche, and warming up breakfasts. Intermittently she would bark out an order to an older woman (her mother I think) who was standing around sort of monitoring the situation, but not doing much.
After standing in line for 10 minutes to buy a banana and a Coke, my American-ness got the better of me and I wanted to bolt. In the land of the free I would have been in and out 9 minutes ago, and on my way to hurry though my day, to see if I could get to all those things we ‘Mericans deem so important, the things we fill our day with. Perhaps this is why we’re so unfulfilled. To riff on Karl Marx, being busy is the new opiate of the masses. We don’t stop, like Carse does, to consider the moments…
I resisted the urge and waited it out. Fortunately things sped up slightly, I made my purchase and was out of there. I ran into Yan who said that Cormac had stopped there but moved on when he noticed the lackadaisical customer service. So it’s not just Americans who are a impatient breed. It probably got his Irish up.
The path ran through the backstreets of the town, I saw a few locals starting their day. Soon I was heading out into farmland again and got attacked by little black flies. Well, not really attacked. They swirled around my head like electrons around a nucleus, occasionally landing in my mouth. A nuisance more than anything.
They stayed with me intermittently, returning just when I thought I was rid of them. I’m not sure if they were attracted to the sunscreen on my face, or my new swarthy good looks due to the new beard. Of course I’m joking, I just wanted to use “swarthy” in my blog. I decided to let them be, accept them, since I am invading their space, just another foreign body passing through their native land. Acceptance might very well be one of the main lessons I will take away from this walk.
Soon I was walking through Rabe de las Calzadas, pop. 200. The camino passed by the old church and I thought of stopping in and making an offering to whatever saint handled pain and suffering. Apparently there’s seven, to cover whatever ails you -back and spine, arthritis, and my favorite, the mysterious St. Jude, the saint of hopeless causes.
The Encyclopedia of Catholicism says, about St. Jude: “We have no reliable information about this obscure figure.” Unfortunately their is no patron saint of blisters, corns, bunions and hammertoes (I reasoned that if there was she would cover the entire foot) so I moved on, thankful for patron saints, in general, even though I’m not religious.
I walked through the town and by a cafe. Surprise! Cormac and Sinead were sitting down having a cafe con leche. I set down my pack and was talking to them and then out of nowhere, Asia showed up, the Polish woman I had met with Kento on the bus ride from Pamplona. She was staying in St Jean for a day or two after I started so I figured I wouldn’t see her again, but there she was.
She had that look of sort of disbelief. I think it was was like when you see something out of context and you have to readjust your brain. She probably had seen a lot over the previous week, and hadn’t expected to see me again. She hugged me a few times (later she told me she was a hugger and that she had been shorted on hugs recently). I told her that I understood, for I hadn’t seen too many hugs in the previous few months either.
Her and I left Cormac and Sinead and walked together, talking about our journeys so far. It felt good to reconnect with someone from the very beginning of my journey. It started to get hotter, and we walked on, making it to Hornillos. We stopped and Cormac and Sinead were taking a respite in the town, and said they were stopping for the day.
Asia and I moved on, I thought I was going to make up a day by doing 2- 30k days in a row. Hornillos was 20k from Burgos, so we made out for for the next town- Hontanas, which was another 10k. It got hotter still as we climbed up to the Meseta.
The Meseta is the high plains of central Spain. Hot, dusty farm land as far as the eye could see. It was pretty much a straight shot too, the camino just kept going and going, laid out in front of me. Like certain parts of life, there was nothing to do but settle in, hunker down, and…walk. Not much thinking about which way to turn, how fast to walk.
I’d been warned by Brierley that this was a tough part of the trip. I thought that in that case, one would be forced to go inside, and contemplate the questions we all entertain when our brain doesn’t have a tv show or video game to distract us.
Unfortunately my new blisters were a major distraction. I hobbled into the first place I came upon on the outskirts of Hontanas. It was new, just built in 2015, and only 8 Euros. I checked in, took off my boots, and lied down to count my blessings, and my
I told her that I didn’t have time to…for all the little things. That I was at a crossroads, and that time was the only thing I had left.
“What do you mean?”, she said
“Well, it’s hard to explain. Uhh, look, it’s kind of like taking a road trip”
“Hmm”. She looked at me strangely.
I tried to elaborate. “Like, when you start out, it’s all fun, full of anticipation. You get a little giddy, a little goofy…”
“OK” she replied. Quiet was her most effective tool for getting information out of me that I didn’t want to admit.
“Yeah”, I continued, “…you see, then…well, after a hundred miles or so, you fall into that lull, that comfortable complacency. Maybe your conversation drifts off, you start looking for things outside your window, things to keep you occupied”.
“Then…” she said, pausing…”then, well, I guess you’re telling me that we’re getting closer to the end of the trip…”.
“Yeah, well, uh, no” I said. “I think we need to stop and stretch our legs, so to speak. You seem to know where you’re going. You always seem to know. Me, I…I guess I’m a little lost”.
She thought about it for a moment and smiled.
“You boys. You’re always a little lost. You’re always looking for someone to take your hand. And for someone to push you out the door. I know it’s scary, but it won’t kill you”.
Somehow she sounded like my mother. Worse, she was right. My mother may have also been right, but like all kids I was too stubborn, and young, to accept the fact that she was right.
I thought about what I was going through, the road I was trying to travel down. I thought about how I had tried to make enough time to make it work with her along for the ride. I thought about how we all have different paths, and were all traveling at different speeds. I thought about the lessons we all need to learn along the way whether we recognize them or not. I thought about her and beauty and truth and magic and whether or not one should try and force things or just let them happen. I thought of life without her.
A note to Jack Kerouac.
You raged and shot like a bright bursting roman candle cascading against the blackness of the eastern sky looking to the west in one great volcanic eruptive groan that laid the seas green and the skies a beautiful indigo electric true blue, but cracking like the time you ran into Neil Cassady in the streets of Denver with a bottle of Tokai and dirty dungarees from times long past and sang a song that let me know you were the shining bursting gone in an instant flame heat and hot that just shot out of and to nowhere. Gone before you were mentioned. Sought after you were gone. Nobody knew you’d be home with your mother and that she would follow the ambulance to the hospital and lay you down one last time. No more hangovers for you. I feel sorry you couldn’t accept the moment for what it was.
And in the hard throes of the troubled fields of Iowa and Oklahoma where the babies cry and the parents bathe them in tears of knowing that they nor them will ever see the fields of their fathers, or the promises of our forefathers, or the setting sun, or the supplication we all must make int time, to the earth and to the dirt beneath our feet.
I forgot to mention that the previous afternoon after getting into Honatas, I had ambled up the road to the public swimming pool. It was glorious, my spirits were lifted. My blisters were appeased. I met two guys from the states, more or less. One of them was Irish but had spent a year in western Kansas where he had met Colin (not his real name and but for some reason I kept calling him Colin). And I’m calling the Irish dude Clancy, a solid Irish name (or maybe I just think its kind of a funny Irish name), cause I can’t remember his name either (the camino was not providing in this case).
It was Clancy’s 3rd camino trip and he had dragged Colin along. They both seemed to be having a hell of a time and were walking 30-40k/day. Clancy was a nurse but was studying to be a game developer. He said his dream was to create some awesome games, and be walking down the street and see a kid wearing a shirt for the game he has yet to create.
He told me that when he saw this kid, he would stop the kid and give him free games for the rest of his life. I told him to always keep that with him, and make that his goal and that if he did, everything else would fall into place. I think the universe conspires if your goal is a bit more noble, and has some truth and purity to it. Strive to make life beautiful, and not always about money. I know, I’m a hopeless romantic and a naive motherfucker.
It reminds me of Tolstoy’s definition of art. He says that art is fueled by passion, but is fettered (look it up) by things like money, etc. In other words, if your motives aren’t pure or good, then your art is compromised. I’m obviously extending Tolstoy’s idea of what art is to other pursuits like Clancy’s, although anything we do in life can be done “creatively”, like art, if we choose to live a creative life. But that’s a whole other tangent I don’t have time time to elaborate right now, as my cafe con leche needs refilling.
Colin spent his time between eastern Colorado and Western Kansas, I think because that’s where his mom and dad both lived. He had just quit his job and didn’t know what he was going to do next, except to put one foot in front of the other on the Camino. ______________________
Anyway, due to my new blisters (praying to the patron saint of blisters et al hadn’t miraculously cured them) I decided to walk only 10k today, which would put me back on schedule since I had walked 30k the day before (Brierley breaks the two days into 2x 20 k days.) So I woke up at 7 and went down to finish the blog from 2 days prior and upload it.
After it had finished, I hobbled over to get breakfast and sat outside and wrote some of yesterdays blog. As I did, Cormac and Sinead ambled up, having got up early and walked from the previous town, where they had stayed.
I had a cafe con leche with them and bid them farewell. We would probably meet in Castrojeriz since we were both planning on staying there that night. I finished writing and realized I had forgot to pay for breakfast so went back and paid up. Fucking American tourists.
Hotanas, my jumping off point this morning, was in a little valley, which I continued walking through alone for several kilometers. It was still cool out, and the wind picked up some. The path was a bit rocky, several ups and downs (another apt metaphor- camino = life).
After moving down the path through rolling hills and fields, the camino joined a paved road, which my blisters were thankful for. It was quiet but for the combines that were harvesting wheat. A guy was bailing hay…and singing. Reminded me of the Springsteen song…..
Listen to your junk man He’s singin’, singin’, singin’, singin’ All dressed up in satin, walkin’ past the alley
Maybe the point is that, in our busy lives, with our worries, the stresses we create which cause us to look at the world with disdain and lash out and hurt the ones we love, maybe we need to stand back, think about that junkman, that farmer who is…singing. And maybe that’ll help us put things in perspective.
After awhile the road went under a great arch, which was part of the ruins of Convento de San Anton XIV. The order was known for being able to cure the medieval scourge known as St Anthony’s fire (no relation to St Elmo’s fire for all you John Hughes fans, you know who are, don’t be afraid to admit it) which was a fungal disease kind of like leprosy.
They used the power of the Tau (love) in their healing practice. I looked for a nun but couldn’t find one, figuring she might be able to spare a little Tau. I thought about it and decided that maybe their magic only works on fungus anyway, not hearts, and I didn’t have any fungus that I knew of. Maybe love is kind of like fungus. It grows on you. Drum roll please. Or maybe it’s more like leprosy. Not sure, the jury’s still out.
The road continued straight into Castrojeriz. It was getting hot and none of the auberges were open yet (1400 was the usual time) so I walked around town. It was hot. Since part of my intent for this short walking day was to write, I found a hotel for 35 euro and checked in (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it). It had a beautiful patio in the back that overlooked the valley, which is where I’m writing from, a cold glass of rose oiling the creative juices, or more than likely putting me to sleep.
While I was writing in my cheery spot (made more cheery by a second glass of rose’) I spoke with Davido from Italy (the bartender, check in guy, resident bon vivant and apparently the only guy who worked at the hotel) while I was writing. He had left Italy and started walking the camino and stopped here to work, figuring he’ll finish in the fall.
He’s making arrangements to go to Alaska and work with a Caribou shepherd, and then head down and see the West. It’s funny, and humbling, I feel like such a fraud- everyone I’ve met has such noble, good intentions with their lives. Funny, I haven’t run into any wall street guys or lawyers yet.
I finished up and went down the street to have dinner at a very American looking place. Kind of hip. When I walked in “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas was playing and I had to smile, being half way around the world from my home, and wondering how much it would still feel like my home when I returned.
Theres a whole lot in life to be unsure of but theres one thing i can safely say i know that of all the things that finally desert us pride is always the last thing to go.
it won’t bring you love if you’ don’t love. and it won’t bring you time if you aint got time but it don’t bring you strength if you aint strong. And it don’t bring you kindness if you aint kind
And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns And I hope your dreams are always within reach And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms They scared you, but they never seemed to teach
That I can’t bring you love if you don’t love And I can’t bring you time if you ain’t got time And I can’t bring you strength, baby, if you ain’t strong And I can’t bring you kindness if you ain’t kind -Mary Chapin Carpenter
Whats she gonna look like when Im dead?
Still beautiful I bet
She’ll always be beautiful to me.
I had dinner with Cormac and Sinead last night, but was not staying at the same place as them, so I left the next morning by myself in the dark. Castrojariz is a pretty town, classic, a cobblestoned main street with two storied casa’s on each side, opening up to a plaza now and then, usually with a few hotels and shops.
I was near Plaza Mayor, on the far end of town, so I was out of Castrojariz pretty soon. I crossed the main highway, and was into fields quickly. I hummed a few songs to the silence, and thanked the stars for providing me the opportunity make this journey, to walk the camino.
Much of the baggage I carried seemed to shrink under the canopy of bright twinkling stars and a glowing half-moon. The only thing I could hear was the crunching of gravel under my feet and the wind through the trees.
I moved through fields for a kilometer or so and then went straight up a hill. As I climbed, the sun began to rise behind Castrojariz, painting the valley to my left in the gold and yellow hues of morning. Apparently the world had survived another day and I was lucky enough to experience it from a place just this side of heaven. A shiver ran up my spine and I gave thanks.
I turned around as I crested the hill and watched the sun rise. I guess I shouldn’t use the term “religious experience” (not that I haven’t been trite up to this point) but, well…I guess it’s easier to have a religious experience on a road to visit a dead saint in the middle of Spain as a sun rises gloriously behind an ancient city, than in a new million dollar church on a hill overlooking L.A.
As I walked over the hill it got colder and I broke out my windbreaker. I moved on, heading downhill into a great plane. Hay bales were off in the distance catching the first golden rays of the day. I stopped to take some pictures and take a short respite, while several pilgrims passed me (young whippersnappers!).
I walked on through the wide plane alone. l I stopped again for a few minutes and along came Cormac and Sinead. We traveled together awhile, they want on ahead, and I caught back up with them taking a break on a hay bale. I proceeded to do the same. You can’t pass up a chance to take a break on a hay bale.
We walked on through fields, I moved ahead, and came to a little auberge, (San Nicolas) which was popular, even though they had no electricity, as it was housed in an old church. It was simply one big room, with an alter on one end, bunks on the other. They used candles at night so it portends to be a very spiritual experience. Perhaps you charge your smart phone by some sort of divine intervention.
Just beyond the church the camino took me over the Rio Pisuerga (Rio means river for those who flunked high school Spanish), a beautiful little oasis before a long slog. I’m thinking Pisuerga means “a fucking long way until the next town”, cause that’s what it was.
After the aforementioned slog, we hit Boadilla del Camino, a little garden oasis where we had lunch. The “waiter” was a very flamboyant, gregarious dandy. The Gandalf looking dude (along with his clan) from a few posts ago) was there and we rekindled our friendship. I joke about him, but he really is, like many out here, a sincere, humble, noble guy. He has an organization (it has no name by design, not sure how he brands it) that helps people recover from physical and emotional abuse by being in nature, working in his garden.
He’s taking a cue from Thoreau, Emerson, and even the politicians who created our national parks, who understood mans emotional and spiritual need to be in open spaces, to remind us what it means to be human, and help us to understand our place in the world, maybe even humble us a little.
After we left, I walked along the river for a long while. It was a pretty straight shot. We finally made it into town and checked into a standard, no- frills auberges. One of the below average ones, but it had the basics: bathrooms, beds, a few showers.
On the up side, there was a guitar concert in the church next to the auberges. If you ever get a chance to hear any kind of music in a old stone church circa 1300, take it. The experience was kind of special since (in addition to the old stone church part), if I have my story straight, one of the parts of the performance was written by a guy several years ago. But he had stopped playing guitar when his mom was taken as a political prisoner (she was a journalist in, I believe, a middle eastern country). Somehow, when she was in prison she was smuggled in a recording of the piece. She was incarcerated for eight years.
She had finally been released and had walked to the camino to be at this church, in Fromista, to watch this piece being performed. and her son was in attendance. I choked up when she was introduced. I felt humbled, my struggles paling in comparison. I hope this experience is one more that I will take home from the camino that will help me keep my life in perspective, and color my heart to lead me down a path that will fill and enrich my life and those lives that are intertwined with mine.
If any of you are reading beyond the telling of my walk on the Camino de Santiago, a little bit of clarification might be in order. I understand if you’re not reading “below the line” as it were- I go back and forth on this peripheral stuff I’m writing about- at times I think it’s just the rantings of a self-absorbed crank. At other times, I think some of this may be of interest to others, maybe a few will gain something from hearing of my experiences. At the very least, I figured, it’s an exercise in writing, something I’m working towards as a profession.
My initial intent with this blog was to make it about more than just my walking the camino- that’s been done before- you may want to check out “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. If you want to see a movie about the Camino, watch “The Way” with Martin Sheen, directed by his son Emilio Esteves. I watched this film in the whirlwind month or so between my decision to walk the Camino and when I left for Spain- it inspired me and cemented the fact that I too could make the trek.
So, I decided to intertwine two significant journeys I’ve undertaken over the past few years- the last 10 years of my marriage that ended in divorce, the last year, when I’ve began to take back my life and understand things with more clarity (therapy and my relationship with Amanda contributed significantly to this); and weave those two threads with a third thread: the physical journey that is my walk on the Camino de Santiago.
It was supposed to be well organized, the characters were supposed to be introduced, and there was to be an arc in each thread that would become apparent as time went by. But time ran out for me. I even spent the better part of two days in Madrid trying to get my shit together, but, well…once again, life got in the way.
In preparation I went through my journals and pulled out significant events and thoughts from the 10 years prior to my separation 2 years ago, mainly concerning my marriage, my daughter, and the eventual crumbling of my marriage. I reviewed my emotional state and subsequent growth with my therapist over the last 3 years. In addition, I went back to my journal to review the last year of my life, notes to my therapist, and reflections on my relationship with Amanda.
A note about therapy. You can probably surmise that I’m a proponent of therapy. I was always intrigued by psychology, even considering it as a potential degree in college, for about five minutes anyway. I’m fascinated by the way the mind works, which is also why I’m interested in storytelling because ultimately, its about us crazy humans, how we make decisions, act under pressure, and try to become the person we’re supposed to be, our authentic self.
And all of that is regulated by the human mind, and how it works (or usually how it isn’t working- influenced by erroneous learned life lessons). This is the heroes journey, to reconcile his inauthentic self with his authentic self. It’s how life really works. Look at yourself, maybe you can discover the things that you keep doing that hold you back from being the person you’re supposed to be.
By the way, I’m not one who sought out therapy, who thinks its the answer to every thing. Some people glom onto it as a crutch. As I mentioned in one post, it was Janice’s idea for me to go. Maybe she thought I would see the light and that I would find that I was at fault for our martial problems. But I can’t speak for her.
I’m hoping that the thread about my marriage and subsequent divorce doesn’t put Janice in a bad light. Again, I’m just reporting what I experienced. Anything that my therapist provided was simply her interpretation of my emotional state based on events that had happened to me, as told to her by me.
As I’ve walked the camino, I think I’ve come to understand at least part of what I think happened in our marriage. Janice was just doing what she thought she had to do to get what she needed, and I was not providing what she needed. I don’t harbor any resentment towards her, and I feel less and less disdain for her, and hopefully by the end I will have forgiven her – I better, it’s in the title of the blog. And I hope she will have forgiven me.
As far as the last year goes, and my relationship with Amanda, let’s just say that I just fell in love with her and she gave me something I had been missing, restored my faith in having a relationship again, helped guide me, and just made life so fucking fun again. It would take more than a paragraph to say what I really feel. To limit it to a few words, I’ll just say this: thank you Amanda.
We all have stories to tell. I’m just trying to do the best I can in telling mine. I’m not trying to hurt anybody, not trying to make any points, no hidden agenda. I’m just throwing my heart out there.
So, if you’re still reading, I hope you’re at least entertained as you follow me stumbling through life, and down the camino. I am truly grateful to those who are reading, and hope you may have the opportunity to find your own camino, and uncover some answers to questions in your life, like those that I’ve begun to find out here on the Camino.
Sinead and Cormac decided to splurge and have a “real meal” and asked me if I’d like to join them and I accepted. Up to now I had pretty much dined on the Pilgrims meal- usually 3 courses, a choice of 3-5 dishes for each course. The first would typically be a choice of salad, pasta, paella (rice with a little seafood).
Second would be a meat: pork, beef, or chicken, and then a dessert. I always went with ice cream since it was still usually at least 80 even at 20:00 or 21:00 (that’s fancy european time telling which means 8 or 9 when dinner is typically served).
Cormac had read about the restaurant in the gospel according to Brierley, and we walked through the deserted town to the place. We arrived and were seated in a room to ourselves until a couple showed up half way through our meal. It was rather formal, white linen tablecloths, dark wood walls circa a long time ago.
I chose a $18E red blend of tempranillo, syrah, and merlot to start out with. It was tasty, the syrah and merlot giving the tempranillo a much needed kick in the ass Tempranillo by itself can be pretty neutral unless enhanced- sort of like a beautiful woman pushing 40.
The waiter was very serious and did the whole shuck and jive with the opening of the wine, pouring a little for himself, holding the bottle like a newborn, decanting it (I mean, it was a 18 buck bottle!). I loved the fact that the dude had passion for what he was doing- something many of us don’t get a chance to do, spending our lives at jobs we don’t really enjoy. And yes, I know this is an idealistic rant by a fucking hopeless romantic..
I had tuna, medium rare, Cormac had beef in a dark, tasty sauce. We argued about what was in the sauce, and decided it was maybe nutmeg, cranberry, xmas spices. Somewhere in that realm anyway. Sinead had pigeon, a local delicacy. All dishes were delicious. Yeah that was intended.
We got back to the auberge a little after 10 and it was locked up (somewhat typical). I felt a little anxiety coming from Cormac’s direction, but I kind of knew that the camino would provide. So I walked around to the back and knocked on the door to the garden and someone who was still out in the courtyard opened the gate for us.
It’s funny, I realized at that moment, hearing the anxiety in Cormac’s voice, how I had, so many times in the past, experienced the same thing. When we’re confronted with a situation, and something, usually from our past, causes emotions to stir up, and the VITBOYH raises his voice and starts to chatter endlessly, our minds get cluttered, confused, which causes that pessimism, that hopelessness. The mind can only obsess about the problem and not offer any solutions. Our minds literally get closed off, clarity is diminished, and we cant see the positive, the possible options. That way of thinking had become a big part of how I had learned to perceive the universe during the past few years of my life.
The next morning, I left Fromista in the dark with Sinead and Cormac. Besides the dinner and concert, the town itself was not very interesting. It kind of reminded me of Rialto without the junkyards. I saw that I had a call from Cape Cod, where Hannah and her mom were vacationing. I was hoping that Hannah had called as I had suggested to her mom, but doubted it. Turns out it was a telemarketer. We left town, walking over a highway and into the country.
On Cormac’s suggestion we opted to take an alternate camino, 500 additional meters, but along a river. It ended up being a straight shot, there was a sort of forest of trees to the left (they looked almost like crops, they were so well organized and laid out), but it was definitely more peaceful and enjoyable than skirting the highway.
There were colorful wildflowers along the sides of the way- blue yellow, white, red. The breeze was cool it was to be an easy day (20k). Beyond the river were mild rolling hills, some with hay, some mowed.
It reminded me of a Robert Louis Stevenson quote- author of Treasure Island, a drug addict and pissed off divorcee who walked around France with a donkey – I guess the donkey replaced the wife. He had this to say about travel, and it applies to the camino: “Travel for travels sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints”. (Thanks for the quote Sinead).
We veered away from the river a hundred meters into a town and reached a little oasis. There were ducks, roosters, chickens, a few dogs, some geese. I sat on one of those hammocks that are kind of like swinging chairs hanging from an eave. I closed my eyes and heard Stairway to Heaven playing. The gregorian chant version. Yes there is one. Not sure if they were involved with the recent lawsuit. It was apropos, since it sort of foreshadowed the monastery of the singing nuns we were hoping to stay at that night.
I lingered for a little while after Cormac and Sinead left, chatting with Michael, a polish guy who spoke excellent English, and his wife, for a few moments.
After another 5 or 6 kilometers of walking in the baking sun, we reached Carrion de los Condes. The auberge of the singing nuns was near the first plaza we reached. it was promoted as being the auberge where nuns sang you to sleep. I was in, since I hadn’t been sleeping more that 4 or 5 hours a night and I thought this might just be what the doctor ordered- take two Ave Marias’ before bed, preferably not with alcohol.
The nuns didn’t sing us to sleep, but the pilgrims did join together in a rousing sing along the nuns held (every night) in the ante room of the auberge. They had a printed out sheets with songs from different countries. We sang along with French, Spanish songs mostly. The sisters wielded an ax (acoustic) ukulele, tambourine, and some other percussion. They were spirited, and had beautiful voices. When you see people singing like that, with such joy and abandon (especially typically reserved nuns) it reminds you of the joy of music.
Before the sing along we all introduced ourselves, where we were from, and told why we were there (if we wished). The son of the journalist who was held captive for eight years was staying with us and performed a beautiful guitar piece.
Near the end they said that they hadn’t played an American song yet and looked to me for a suggestion, being the only American in the crowd of 30 or so. I thought better of getting up and playing WTF Did you Do to My Life, or You shook me all night long (which I do know) on ukulele. I didn’t volunteer either, so we sang “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (hey, he’s Canadian but, close enough).
They sang in Spanish, and I’m pretty sure they made up some of their own lyrics (am pretty sure the verse that goes “Maybe there’s a god above…” wouldn’t sit well the be big guy. I had always wondered about the song, and now thought about the first verse which goes: “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the lord, but you don’t really care for music do ya’?” Of course he’s alluding to David from the bible, known for his musical prowess, and who wrote most of the “songs” (psalms) in the bible. He also slew goliath, went on to become king, etc.
My interpretation of the first verse is that it’s as if he’s imagining a conversation, or something he might tell a woman that he’s recently broke if off with, if they were speaking face to face. And the message is that she isn’t hooked into the beauty, the thrill, the ecstacy of life that’s provided by things like music, dance, art. The things that remind us of the moment, the things that, if were lucky, hint at what our existence here means. In this case in fact, it’s something that, by the way, is the songwriters raison d’etre. So maybe he’s pointing out the profound differences between him and his ex-lover.
Anyway, we finished with a song about pilgrims and the camino:
After the sing-along, I walked through town and to the supermercado and walked down to a beautiful park on the river and sat against a tree to write. Even though it was around 8, it was still hot out, people were having fun, swimming in the river. When I had finished I walked back towards the auberge, found a place to eat, and finished the days post over a pilgrims meal and some cold white wine.
I went back to the auberge and Cormac told me about an altercation he had with some drunk dude who was sleeping it off on a mattress in the hall. I guess the sisters were sisters of mercy and trying to help him- he was a local, not a pilgrim.
Cormac had noticed that his phone was missing from the charging station. He confronted the drunk guy (who had been sleeping next to the charging station and was now walking up the stairway.
The drunk dude pleaded ignorance. As Cormac was wondering what his next move would be, Sinead walked up, having overhearing the conversation. She quickly dialed Cormac’s number, and his phone rang noisily from the back pocket of the drunk. He gave up the phone, and was reported to the nunthorities.
I climbed up to my top bunk and tried to sleep in the sweaty heat. I’m not religious, but I love the fact that there are religious people in the world like these nuns, who seemed to overlook some of the anachronistic traditions of the church in favor of doing things like bringing together people who are seeking some meaning (like most on the camino are) from this fucked up world by getting us to sing along- the universal language of the cosmos.
MY THEORY OF HOW EMOTIONS CAME ABOUT
Something I’ve mentioned about Amanda: she is intuitive. Like I said, she’s told me things about myself that she couldn’t have known. I can’t count the times I said to her (or repeated in my head) “your right”. It became a joke. It was almost like she kept saving me from myself, saving me from making bad decisions for myself. The reason I would joke about her being right is because…she always was. My instincts were sending me in the wrong direction, it seemed like always. Why is that? I think because the we are continually fighting against our authentic self. But our old self, our inauthentic self, the self made of old habits and emotions, is clinging on, trying to defend us from getting hurt. It is the voice in the back of our head, the one that’s operating from lessons learned when we were young. Most of them are not relevant anymore.
Theres’ probably something hard wired in men that makes them always fight this attempt, wrestling with themselves to reconcile their inauthentic self with their authentic self. Maybe it’s just men trying their damnedest not to grow up. It seems that most women have come to terms with this. Back when this stuff was becoming hard wired (were talking over millions of years), men were the providers, the ones that ventured into jungles, the wilderness. They had to see the natural world as dangerous. If they didn’t, they would be killed. The scared and weak might not be killed, but they wouldn’t be able to provide for their mate and continue their lineage. And this seems to be one of the things that is at the base of men, at their core. So they developed strength, and they were naturally (physically) built to deal with the external world.
On the other, women, by virtue of being mothers, have always been the nurturers. Some modern women fight against it, or because of upbringing, perhaps combine some of these survival traits of man. What if, as men developed their physical strength to survive in the jungle, women developed emotions to help them survive and combat the brutality of men, and of nature when they had to. It may have been the first round of women’s liberation. It would also explain why men, for the life of them, can’t figure out the complex emotions of women.
We often jokingly refer to men being simple (food, fun, and fucking), and women, as well, more complex. Which explains why men cant figure them out. The physical world (where man is king) is tangible, concrete, therefore “simpler” than the hidden, nebulous world of emotions. We can’t see or touch emotions, for they exist only in each of our minds. And again, just as men developed strength, women developed emotion. And which do you think is stronger? Usually it’s the things you can’t see.
Later in the evening, after I was I was served my papers at the wine bar where I work a few days a week (if you can call sampling a little wine and telling customers about it work), I went over to a bar that’s walking distance from my house. I was ambivalent about being served. Janice and i hadn’t really discussed divorce as a certainty up to this point, so I was taken by surprise. I guess she had made up her mind. I ordered a beer and sat by myself. There weren’t many people in the place.
I got up and went downstairs to the bathroom. Then I went outside to breathe, walk a little, and then walk back to the bar, taking the outside stairs. When i got to the landing up top, just before entering the bar, a woman was standing there, crying. She stopped me and asked me if she could ask me something. I said sure. She told me that she knew something devastating had happened to me earlier. I was startled. I hadn’t spoken with anyone, and I wasn’t crying in my beer.
She proceeded to tell me that she saw a man standing over my shoulder. She went on to describe my dad. What’s funny is that it was a description of my dad when he was much younger, before I even knew him. The description perfectly matched a picture of my I had ran across a week prior, one that my mom had given me. I had hung it up on my wall, and saw it every morning when I woke up. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Then she told me that my dad was saying ”you can’t let past mistakes get in the way. You have to do the right thing right now, for yourself, and Hannah”. It was similar to the first experience I related, in another post. But then she diverged from the “script” of the last psychic. She went on to tell me that I was still to meet the true love of my life, and that she would be a beautiful woman with an accent. It’s funny, I’ve told this story to a few people, and by the time I met Amanda (with the crazy Swedish/ Slovenian accent) I had all but forgotten about it. The host of the party (one of the few I had told the story to) reminded me of it after Amanda had left.
I went back into the bar and had one more beer. After awhile, the daughter of the woman I had met out on the landing walked over and told me that her mom had been in a car wreck, and in a coma a year prior. Apparently, when she had come out of the coma, she started seeing things, and approaching people and telling them things. Like what she had told me. I went home and talked to dad for a little while, wondering what the hell was going to happen next.
I walked out of the “parish of singing sisters and stolen cell phones” in the dark. The camino snaked through the rest of the town, past several plazas, then headed downhill to the river I where I had sat down and written the previous days’ post the afternoon before. There’s something about a river, maybe cause we don’t have any in Southern California. L.A. River? Hah! Maybe if we have some rain… Sam Cooke said about a river, and life:
“I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna’ come, oh yes it will”
There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna’ come, oh yes it will
After walking across the bridge over the river, the path moved into a tableau I’d come to know: the usual wheat, hay, maybe some corn, and most recently , sunflower fields. The sunflower fields I walked by were poised, waiting on the sun as it made it’s presence known. But it was still early, and the sun hadn’t rose above the horizon yet.
After 5 or 6 k out of town the road fell out of the soft rolling hills and straightened out. Cormac and Sinead caught up with me, and they consulted Brierley who let us know that we were walking on an original Roman road that was older than dirt. It was also made from dirt, and sand, and gravel….It dated back somewhere like even before the 60’s! We’re talking’ ancient. I looked behind me to see the sunrise coming up behind the town I had just left.
As we were walking and talking, we exchanged some interesting tidbits I’d like to pass along. By the way, one thing I’ve learned from life is that if you pepper your conversation with words from different cultures you sound more worldly. It’s sort of like asking a girl at a party: “Didn’t I meet you in Istanbul?” So, here’s a little something to you from my Irish friend: “clanger” means bad joke, in Irish slang. As in (provide your own Irish accent): Ay, that fooking Danny O’ Boyle thought the joke he told was good crack, but I thought it was a clanger”.
We continued to walk, the sun rose higher in the sky behind us and, as it tends to do, it got hotter. But as they say in Arizona on a scorching 120 degree day, at least it’s a dry heat 😉
A few kilometers after that scintillating conversation about clangers and crack, we stopped at a rest spot and ate some snacks we had packed. It was getting hotter still, and the road was straight, unshaded, and there weren’t any towns. We only had the wheat fields, sunflowers and each other to keep us company.
I was sad to know this would be my last day traveling with these new friends, but happy that I’d be going it entirely on my own from tomorrow on out. We finally reached Calzadilla de la Cueza and found a stone tablet that showed an alternate route off the highway, and took it. Brierley promised a more peaceful setting (at least it wasn’t on the highway) which I guess it was, but still it kind of reminded me of Riverside, sans crack houses and tattooed dudes in wife beater shirts.
The path wound through groves of short deciduous trees, and small fields of cut hay. I forged ahead and left Cormac and Sinead behind me. The road headed down to Ledigos where I thought I would stay. I sat at a cafe (the auberge wouldn’t be open for another hour or two) and wrote for awhile and had a Coke. I’ve never been a Coke drinker but out here…well…the Cokes are cold, and they’ve got caffeine. I usually end up having 2 or 3/ day.
Cormac and Sinead walked by as I was writing. They had chosen to head to Terradillos. I pondered my options (there wasn’t much to ponder- should I stay or should I go) so I decided to follow them, and dine with my friends one last night.
As I was walking alone to Terradillos, I was still trying to figure out exactly why I am here. There was no decision to be made. It simply landed in front of me. When the decision came, It was like it just appeared, like an unexpected tornado in a midwestern town. I do know I had no choice in the matter. The decision to fucking go was just there, and it wouldn’t budge. What’s weird is that I wasn’t even planning on taking a vacation this summer, and the camino was certainly not even on my mind (a dude had told me about it a few years prior-I think I discussed this in a prior post).
But there it was staring at me. It was base, instinctual. I didn’t even need to think about it, or analyze the decision. I was just going, and that was that. And then, logic and “common sense” rolled in and told me I couldn’t possibly go, as I had just been granted more time with Hannah after going to court. I would have to backpedal on the stipulation, and discuss it with Janice. But then I remembered that Janice and Hannah’s annual summer vacation back east would be around the time I wanted to walk, and was usually over 4-5 weeks. I emailed Janice, and they were scheduled to go back east on vacation mid-July to mid-August.
If this wasn’t the universe sending me a message, it sure was yet another funny coincidence, one of many that I’ve experienced over the past year. Maybe it’s best we don’t always rely on over examination and too much thought when it comes to decision making. It seems to me, in our society, that maybe we’ve become over analytical. Which doesn’t provide for us fucking up and learning. Check out Alan Watts here, about choice, and making decisions:
A note in my journal when Amanda and I began to drift apart, a few months before my journey to Spain:
We usually don’t change our lives unless an event, usually a big one, forces us to face a fact about ourselves that we know needs fixing. She didn’t indicate that one of those things existed. I was told that “the chemistry had changed”. Faded I guess, gone away. At one time, we did crash into each other, no intentions, with guns blazing, open to anything. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. We needed each other.
And we fell into it. I gave every moment to her. I made compromises, I opened my soul and gave her every iota of my being. I never said no. I sat through bitter howls and screams for attention from her kids, reactions to her divorce and the uncaring attitude of their father. And I tried to dissect it and offer advice. Maybe me being there didn’t help the situation, but at the time it seemed it might help. I could at least be a man in the house that might help attenuate the situation.
Looking back I guess I was wrong. I thought I was reaching a new level of maturity. I was being thrown into a maelstrom, none of it my doing. I felt good and confident, not reacting to the venom and acting out that the kids threw at her trying to manipulate her and deal with their own sadness due to the divorce and loss of their father. And we’d sit up at night and talk about it, I’d offer advice the best I could. I felt in the moment, alive, helping, healing, loving. Something I had been missing.
But it didn’t matter. “Chemistry” got in the way. What the fuck is chemistry? Some sort of mature love is, what I thought, I was participating in. There was no doubt I loved her. And here I was, taking all of my time and energy, and giving to her, and trying to help her heal and mend the wounds from her failed marriage, and those her ex were foisting on the kids. But apparently it was some simple, “chemistry” that meant more than what I had given.
But only time would tell me the rest of the story, and why something that seemed so incredible for the both of us would come down to simple chemistry. I should have learned from high school class that chemistry is never simple…
Just as a magician must practice his tricks, we must practice the acceptance, the good thoughts, the things that set the stage for magic to happen. The magician doesn’t just wake up with some mystical powers that enable him to take that card from behind his ear and present it to you as the one you pulled out of the deck. Pretty sure he’s practiced that trick a thousand times.
But magicians are feckless. And I’m not talking about the ones that do magic tricks. I’m talking about life’s magicians. You might know one. He/she are out there, beyond the space you and I walk in. Not that we all don’t have the capability of being a magician. Just some of us have practiced the tricks a little more.
The tricks that life’s magicians do are the ones that that bring you and I a little closer to being real, authentic, to know ourselves a little better. You may know one or two of them. I do. And it’s not like they have everything figured out, they’ve got their own problems. And I’m not saying they are or know life any better than your or I do. They just know a few tricks…
While I’m sitting at a cafe in Burgo Ranero writing this I’m hearing “Wrecking Ball” drifting over on the back of the warm Spanish air that is reaching out, caressing me. I guess you just can’t get away from some shit out here on the camino. Not that I’m not a huge fan ;). You can probably guess that it’s the Miley Cirus version blasting over the cafe loudspeaker.
I guess I just prefer the Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young songs that have to do with wrecking balls. Apparently the term has made it into the pop music vernacular. It kind of detracts from my revelry, feeling like I’m one of the lost generation in some cafe in Paris or some other far off place. I always said my generation was like the lost generation. Only problem is we didn’t realize we were lost.
Anyway, I feel I’ve lost something in my posts (a little humor, some pathos). I hope I can get back to where I started. For those still reading (those who aren’t, well, won’t read this anyway!) thanks for hanging in. I’m grateful.
So last night, I was hanging out on the front of the cafe adjoining the auberge in Templarios having a glass of wine waiting for Cormac and Sinead. We were going to have dinner- they were leaving for Madrid the next day. I called Amanda- we had texted each other about actually speaking on the phone (for those who don’t know, it’s this old fashion form of communication, it predates texting). We talked about dogs, children, backyards, the camino, life. I gave her a few ideas on a new business thing she was considering. We didn’t talk about us, as we’ve chosen to set that aside.
Cormac and Sinead showed up and let me know they were sitting down for dinner so I had to say goodbye to Amanda. There was one of those pauses, the ones when your waiting for the other to say something. I was hoping maybe she would say she missed me, or maybe even that she loved me. I wanted to take that pause and squeeze it until it exploded into a million stars like the ones we saw on our first date walking down that sandy path, and tell her that I missed her laugh and when we first got together and couldn’t keep our hands off each other and holding her in my arms in bed her head resting on my shoulders her eyes closed and a smile on her face and the dogs and the kids and the trips together and the discussions late into the night and…
The phone started to cut out (as it will in Terradios de Templarios) and we quickly said our goodbyes. If you watched the Alan Watts video in the last post, you already know what I’m going to tell you. We let so much shit get in our way, and as Alan says, it’ll all come out in the wash. I should have said something (maybe “I miss you” or “I love you”), but I didn’t want to give Amanda the wrong idea. Im not out here pining for her. In fact I’m out here to walk by myself, and free myself from the fucked up habits my brain has acquired from a lifetime of not looking out for myself, of depending on others too much for emotional support.
And recognizing and understanding the dysfunctional things that made Amanda and I cling to each other is a big part of that lesson. And I thank her for that. And what the fuck- the fact that I’m half a world away from someone who has meant a lot to me over the past year doesn’t mean I can’t miss them.
Cormac, Sinead, and I had a relaxing dinner and reminisced about the days gone by, what was in store for them when they got back home, and the friends we had made along the way. We said our goodbyes, and that was it. Another apt metaphor I suppose. Friends come and go in our lives. Cormac, and to a lesser extent Sinead, and I had crossed paths for a good portion of my journey. And like friends you had when you were a kid, some move away. But a part of them stays with you forever.
The next morning when the alarm went off at 5, I left Templarios in the dark, walking along the highway for awhile and leaving Cormac and Sinead behind me. After 1 kilometer or so, the road veered off into fields, pretty much a straight shot for awhile. The path underfoot became lighter with the coming of the new day.
Out here you only have to put one foot in front of the other. And at the end of the day, concern yourself with a shower, eating, maybe laundry. It’s that simple if you want it to be. And sometimes when you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you remember to turn around:
After 1 or 2kilometers more, the road curled into small fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers. I stopped to take a few pictures and started to see a few other pilgrims passing me by.
After another 1k or so, I walked through a small town, Moratinos. Not a very interesting town, and nothing was open so I moved on, into more fields. After another 3k the path went through San Nicolas where I stopped and had breakfast. The young girl serving the pilgrims didn’t seem too happy to be there, that early in the morning, standing by to serve us pilgrims our cafe con leche and croissants. She’d probably rather be playing Minecraft. Or maybe looking for the latest Miley Cyrus video on youtube.
As I left breakfast place there was a little incline for a half a kilometer or so to some fields. There was one field that was full of small bushes with yellow flowers. Once in awhile, the happy face of a sunflower would be popping up. It reminded me of another scene from Harold and Maude:
MAUDE: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They are so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be? HAROLD: I don’t know. One of these maybe? MAUDE: Why do you say that? HAROLD: Because they are all alike.. MAUDE: Oooh, but they are not. Look. See – some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals – all kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, and allow themselves to be treated as that…
Our society, it seems to me, tends to not favor individuality. In fact in the past I’ve thought (simply in passing) that some of the things we come up with to label kids with (things that weren’t “syndromes” or whatever a few years ago) are simply “problems” that are “discovered” due to over analyzation and the fact that these kids are not fitting into the prescribed parameters our society requires to have them be future efficient cogs in the machine, that in one sense is our society. And this seems to be what our schooling system (another big machine) promotes.
To me this seems to be the way our society chooses to look at humanity, which in essence is how we choose to look at ourselves, and how we choose to live our lives. It will always be that way as long as our goal is money, power, prestige, even celebrity. It seems like these have become the things we value. As those things become more and more important (and I don’t smell much change in the air) whatever god was slips further and further from our hands, and hearts, and no longer provides any kind of meaning we may get from life as we trudge towards Bethlehem.
The machine that is our society needs us to be like all those flowers. The same. Just write this off as another rant from some curmudgeonly dude who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the wall. If you really want a good read on our society, check out the Noam Chomsky doc on Netflix: “Requiem for the American Dream”.
I walked for another few kilometers and ran into the polish dude I had met a few days back at the oasis where I listened to Stairway to Heaven sang by monks. His full name was Macivjsamolej , but I called him Mike. We walked into Sahagun, a small big city, together. Mike is a young, energetic, talkative guy who had walked the camino before, in fact he had even published a guidebook about it in Poland.
We walked together for awhile, into Sahagun. It was fun hearing about life from a Polish dude walking the camino. And Mike had a lot to say. Not that I didn’t have a few words to throw in edgewise. It seems everyone I run into out here (at least those like Mike-his English was impeccable) that I can communicate with, are thoughtful, honest, caring. I secretly hoped that everyone I ran across saw me in the same light. I just don’t know, at this crossroads on my journey, why I seem to know myself less than I ever have in my life.
We got to Sahagun and stopped at a little cafe for refreshment. Mike was going to meet his wife in town and continue walking later in the day. We bid goodbye, but I was pretty sure I’d see him again. I left town along a paved road, and got into the country. I was alone again, but there were the trees, wildflowers and butterflies to accompany me. Damn, there always seems to be a lot of butterflies here to accompany me. Kind of funny- in the one screenplay I’m writing, a monarch butterfly is the main symbol of the script- and it stands for the main characters rebirth (caterpillar,- cocoon- butterfly)
I slogged on. It was hot, but there were beautiful blue puffy clouds that reminded me to smile. After about 5 kilometers, I hit El Burgo de Ronero and stopped at a busy cafe to get some information about accommodations in the town, as Brierley’s information regarding this berg was a little weak. I ran into Bridget, who I had met a few days prior in Templaros. She spoke very little English (and me very little French) but we communicated well enough to know that we were both trying to figure out where to stay. We talked to the proprietress of the cafe who recommended a place on the edge of town so we walked over.
The Albergue La Laguna looked sort of like a converted motor lodge for pilgrims. It had a courtyard in the middle with grass, and sleeping quarters around the perimeter. I checked in with the proprietor- an Italian dude with slicked back hair- think Steve Buscemi only not quite as handsome (yeah that was a joke). I shelled out a few extra Euros for a room with only 4 beds, cause that’s all he had left.
After settling in, I hobbled over to the locus of the town and got a bite to eat, and write. I ran into Bridget and sat with her, although again, we didn’t talk much due to the language barrier. She left and I continued to write while sipping on a beer in the hot Spanish evening.
When I had finished I hobbled back to the Albergue La Laguna. As I walked, my blisters reminded me that today was over a 30 k day. My heart and soul reminded me that it had been another beautiful day on the camino.