Thursday, May 31, 2007

the circus came to town

well. i think writing that entry about being alone kind of cursed me.

it took more than two weeks for it to happen--i sorely missed having my people.

here{s what happened.

i{m in this village tonight named castrojarez or something like that. it{s pretty. there are fields of poppies and many churches. it{s properly small and mostly vacant. i saw a sign for the circus. i saw a date. today! the circus is in town! today! probably a tiny, shitty circus! i talked it up with some brits and we found it and it was amusing but they wouldn{t pay to go in but i defied them and paid my overpriced entry fee because it was the circus goddamnit and i knew it would be so, so funny.

but without the right person there, it wasn{t. it was just pathetic and not even all that amusing that my hair made me a better clown than anything they were trotting out. i left. i got lost on my way back. my toe kind of hurts.

what can we expect from a day without a chocolate croissant?

i wonder where i can hang a sign indicating that i{m seeking a pilgrim to laugh at stupid don quixote jokes whenever we walk by a wind farm. that person would know how to laugh at an unfunny circus. sigh. i{ll speak to santiago about it first thing tomorrow.

la peregrina sola

Today, I was walking through a field, and a Spaniard called out "Buen Camino," which translates roughly to "Good Walk!" It{s such a nice expression of encouragment, a good tradition on the Camino. I always feel nice when people say it to me along the way, especially Spaniards. Today an old woman mouthed it to me through a closed car window.

Anyhow, the farmer said: Buen camino!
Me: Gracias. Buenos dias.
Farmer: Adios! Adios!
Me: Adios
Farmer: Va sola?
Me: Si. Mas alegre.

He asked me if I{m travelling by myself, and I told him that I am, that it is better that way. It was a funny little exchange, and it got me thinking how different it is to do the Camino alone. I{m sure there are benefits to doing it with someone else. I can think of one person it would be fun to do it with, but I{m still glad I{m alone. I have had opportunities to join groups, and I{ve spent some time with people for a few days, but I usually just let them move on and follow my own pace. It{s nice. I don{t have to worry about time. I have plenty of time. I can walk a long way on one day and then take a day off. Or I can choose to eat alone or with other people. I can hang out, or I can go off by myself and write. There are plenty of options. It offers more time for introspection and more opportunity to meet people.

how it works

Some people have asked me questions about just how this thing works. I{ll try to explain.

On any given day, I wake up whenever the other pilgrims start scuffling about, anywhere from 5.30 to 7. I pack my bags up, spend 10 minutes caring for my feet, put on my pack, and start falling the yellow arrows. I walk for awhile, maybe 30 minutes, maybe 2 hours until I find a town that has a bar or a store or a bakery open. There, I have some sort of drink and (if all goes well) a chocolate croissant. Depending on whether I want to talk to people or write, I might spend a bit of time there. Then, I go on walking. Sometimes I walk with people. Sometimes I don{t. Sometimes the Camino goes through quite a few towns. Sometimes it doesn{t. I usually have a vague idea of where I will end up and how many km I will walk that day. I bring some food along, but I don{t usually stop to eat it until I arrive to my final destination. I have a piece of paper that tells me where the albergues are and tells me the distances between them. It{s a good idea to arrive earlyish at the albergues because they tend to fill up. I spend my afternoons writing and chatting with the other pilgrims or scaring up some kind of trouble. Usually there is at least one restaurant in the tiny towns, and I try to buy food for the next day. Again, bathing and laundry are optional. (I recently told another pilgrim that my pants were dirty. He asked if I could identify the source of the stains. When I said that I could, he told me that I didn{t need to wash them yet.)

I walk about 20-30K per day. The past two days have been 20, and they seem too short. Unfortunately, the other option has been to go another 10, which can be a bit exhausting. (I do have a goal of doing a marathon 26 mile day, that that 40 K is quite stupid and I will only do it if there is a hotel and a rest day at the end. That may happen next week as I make my way into Leon, depending on the status of the left side of my body.)

What have I left out? Tell me.

Day 16. I{m in Castrojeriz. 439 km to go

Well, 15 days of walking and one day of rest.

I started in St. Jean Pied de Port with 764 km to go. Now I have 437 left. Tomorrow I will go to a town called Fromista. Check the map. It{s starting to look like I have covered a big chunk of Spain. http://www.ongerwaeg.nl/images/lenssen3/krt-2.gif

I can{t recall whether I wrote in here that my new plan is to head to Finisterre, the end of the world, which is about 80K past Santiago.

I{ve entered a part of Spain known as the meseta. People have been talking about the meseta with a tone of dread for days. Here{s what one guidebooks says: "The vast expanse and huge skies of the meseta are striking and strange, swinging from depresingly monotonous to exhiliratingly infinite in the space of a km . . . Mostly your senese will be overloaded by an endless flatness." Maybe I{m not far enough into it, but I{ve been pleasantly surprised to find sweeping fields of wheat with poppies dotting the landscape, cupped by rolling hills. The Camino winds through the fields and occasionally a convent or a town rises up to greet us out of the wheat. I have had much more monotonous experiences than this one.

Today a Spanish man taught me a song about poppies.

thanks

People have been so nice to read my blog and reply or write to me. It{s fun to tell you about adventures and to hear how you are doing. In general, I feel quite disconnected from life in the U.S. Unfortunately, everyone I walk with knows my least favorite American but none of my favorite ones. It{s frustrating.

Many of you have said how proud you are of me. Even though I was very nervous before I came, after a couple of days, I fell quite easily into the rhythm. It really doesn{t seem particularly hard at all. There are things that are uncomfortable, but overall it{s a wonderful routine. I wake. I walk. I think. I talk. I listen. I observe. I stop. I eat. I write. I loll. I sleep. Bathing is optional.

Rather than your being proud of me, I should be thankful for your support, grateful for the opportunity.

Click

I had 7 hours before bed. I had no book. I was tired of Germans. I could only drink so much wine (apparently an eighth of a bottle is my limit at 3pm). I had done enough writing. I had eaten more than enough chocolate. I had visited the bar-restaurant, the shop, and the albergue. In other words, I had exhausted every available entertainment option. Obviously, it was time to stretch out on the sidewalk and take a nap in the sunshine.

So I did.

When I awoke, a kind and soft-spoken (non-creepy) man with a gigantic, round belly and a phallic camera protruding from it sauntered over to my part of the tiny swept square where the pilgrims milled about, observing one another lazily in their own languages.

"I took your picture vile you vere sleeeping."

Having never begun a conversation in this manner, I was a bit unsure of the right thing to say.

"I´m good at it."

We talked about Sweden and photography and the Camino. It turns out he is putting together a book of photographs about the Camino. When we parted, he said "Maybe you will be sleeping in my book" and then went off to talk to the emaciated sunbaked Italian, blue robed, half bald, half dreadlocked Jesus figure who is rumored to have been walking the Camino for 12 years now.

And then there were 8 more hours before bed. Sometimes, that´s how it is here.

un azucar

It doesn´t matter what kind of drink you order. It really doesn´t. No matter what it is--lemonade, tea, chocolate, and (my favorite) hot chocolate, it is always accompanied by one sugar packet. I have not had so much hot chocolate in my entire life as I have had on this trip. It´s addictive. And, no, I do not add the sugar. Except that one time. It´s important to try everything once; my dad told me so.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

two walking companions

Free internet this morning, so I thought I would take advantage.

Walking out of Burgos, I was joined by a Spanish woman. I love the first hour, my first hour of walking by myself. It reminds me of this poem where the guy gets up early and savors the time alone and later shakes his head at the newspaper with everyone else (one of you literary people can find the link). Anyhow, she joined me and started nattering on in Spanish (which I think is actually worse than English nattering because I have to pay attention to know when to nod dismissively. If i didn´t nod at the proper time, she craned her head around and stared at me--Me entiendes? Me entiendes?--Do you understand me? Do you understand me?) I tried to subtly indicate that I really like walking alone. I tried to go silent. I ended up inventing a need to go to the bathroom.

Then, I kept walking. An Austrian man came along. I was gunshy at this point, but it turns out that Manfred and I don´t have any languages in common, save a little English. Once we used charades to establish some basics about feet and countries, we enjoyed the best of all conversations, the rhythm of boots hitting ground to the accompaniament of singing birds. Cooing pigeons, in my case.

escargot

This morning I came upon a large sign with a map of the Camino. It showed how far I have progressed, which is satisfying, but then I noticed that there was a snail on the sign. I didn´t have the proper materials to affix a rainbow mohawk to its head and place it just west of Burgos. Alas.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Forgetting My Sticks

I forgot my trekking poles at the albergue one morning, so I had to walk back through town as all of the other pilgrims were setting out. The yellow arrows provide a very clear one-directional guide, and pilgrims are uncomfortable when that path is not followed. I only had to walk about a quarter of a mile, but I had 6 or 7 conversations (probably in as many languages) about what I was doing.

Once I was walking with a repeat pilgrim who had planned to walk back to his home from Santiago and said he couldn´t bear the idea of waving to hundreds of people, so he flew home.

What I miss.

Wearing dresses and skirts.

I´ve considered buying one for the Camino. And then I´ve looked at my thighs . . . there´s just not enough Body Glide to permit that.

For now, I look forward to my Compostela and a shopping expedition in Santiago.

idiomas, languages

I know that somehow I am descended from Europeans, but I lack that magic capacity to switch languages. I can do one or the other. English or Spanish. I can´t mix or change. I certainly can´t translate. I am incapable of having a conversation with someone in Spanish and then turning to another person and having a conversation in English. I end up speaking English to some old Spanish woman and then turning to talk to a 20 year old British kid in Castellano. It´s pathetic.

Worse, sometimes I´m called upon to speak or comprehend French, and that screws me up for the rest of the day.

I´ve been alerted that hay una mezcla de Spanish and English on the blog. No hay nada to be done. Tratare, tratare. I´ll try . . . I´ll try.

Writing

Many of you will be pleased and amused to note that my fellow pilgrims tend to complain that I spend too much time writing and not enough time playing with them.

Pilgrim Spotting

It´s funny to find the pilgrims in the big city. It reminds me of high school Opera Club trips. You can pick them out easily. Tell tale signs:

*convertible pants
*probably no shopping bags, or only those containing food or pharmacy items
*wearing flip-flops or crocs (the latter should be mandatory for every breathing human who wants to walk this trail. people try to buy mine from me about once per day.)
*walking with some kind of limp (as soon as the boots come off, the limping starts)
*something red. everyone owns something red.

It reminds me of The Sixth Sense. Even if we don´t know each other, we exchange glances. Ah, yes. You´re one of us. We´re in it together.

The recent W&M alums, and I agree that there are some Williamsburg parallels. There are pilgrims that you know but you don´t really know. You just kind of know who they hang out with and generally what they wear. (Also, in the towns, many people treat pilgrims in the same way that W&M students treat DOG St tourists. We pilgrims aren´t exactly invisible, but there´s no particular reason to acknowledge us.)

I find myself resentful of clean looking tourists wearing dresses and carrying purses and buying books. I can´t go into bookstores because I´m afraid I might end up carting around 5 more pounds.

Many people who I have been spending time with recently did not take a rest day, so I will have a whole new crop of pilgrims to move forward with in the coming days. People tend to travel about the same distance from day to day. That means that a loose group develops, though it seems verboten (even amongst those who aren´t German) to try to stay in touch in any formal fashion. Exchanging email addresses indicates some kind of giving up, as though you just know you won´t see one another again. There are plenty of pilgrims whose names I know and with whom I have spent time, but most of them took off today, even the people I only have a nodding acquaintance with.

It will be interesting to meet some new people . . .

Getting To Know You

The pilgrim culture is strange. One of my favorite parts is the intial interactions. When I first start walking with someone or getting to know them, there are only 5 things that we need to establish:

1. languages spoken
2. places we began
3. destination (and approximate date)
4. walking alone or with others
5. status of feet

It´s not unusual to know people and not know their name or their country or their job or their marital status. I know where their blisters are. That´s what really matters. Three days might pass between times that we see one another, and the first thing we establish (by word or gesture) is the status of our feet.

I´m going to lance my first blister tonight. It´s like a rite of passage. Conversation will be rich during tomorrow´s walk.

Burgos

I´ve arrived at the big city. It´s a beautiful city. I found myself on a hill overlooking it yesterday. It is buried in a valley of verdant hills with criss-crossing paths leading to it. The beautiful cathedral rose up in the middle. It looks like that part of the Wizard of Oz when they first spy the Emerald City.

I started on my way, wending through the countryside and green wheat, anticipating an easy entry into the city, just like the other cities so far. There was a bit of an industrial area on the outskirts with bulldozers and wires and such. Very suddenly I happened upon a huge, ugly road with two lanes in each direction. It felt like home, like America. In two weeks it was the first truly ugly part of the walk. It was as though someone forged an overdone contrast to the rest of the walk. Act I, Scene 3: Cars. Cars were whizzing by at dangerous speeds. Cars were stuck in traffic. Enormous tractor trailers abounded. There was construction and the stink of asphalt filled the air. Auto dealerships, auto rental places, auto repair places. Everything bad and car-related was concentrated in one place. Some of the other pilgrims complained; they wanted to catch a bus. I felt like it was some kind of penitence to slog through it all, to admit that I was, am guilty. I hadn´t even thought much about cars during the past two weeks. I didn´t long to be in one. I kind of looked at them from time to time, in the same way that I look at people drinking beer. Not jealous, not particularly interested. Apathetic. If they like nasty smelling yellow liquids, that´s their deal. Okay.

I´ve walked about 40% of the way across this country without ever being in a motor vehicle. I´ve never walked even close to that in my own country. It´s shameful, appalling. It takes me 4 days of walking to accomplish my round trip commute to NVCC.

The stretch ended abruptly, and soon I was wandering the lovely, narrow stone and brick streets of this old city. The lacy cathedral is visible from many places. I´ve been enjoying the many shops. I´ve gorged myself twice at an amazing vegetarian restaurant. I stayed at an actual hotel with an actual double bed in a room by my actual self. I paid actual Euros for this instead of the 5-7 I usually pay for a night´s lodging. I took a rest day today and slept until 10. It was amazing.

Since I didn´t have my usual 10 p.m. curfew, I decided to go to a movie. I had seen a theater on the way into town, though I had forgotten that my sense of distance is a bit warped. It was pretty far. Once I got there, I bought a ticket for Pirates del Caribe and was delighted at the idea of losing myself in the movie for a couple of hours.

I hate Disney.

I had forgotten that in their quest to take over the world, they dub in foreign lands. No English for me with some Spanish subtitles. Just two solid hours of Spanish. Two hours. About halfway through I decided that I wanted my bed a whole lot more than I wanted to watch a sneering, leering Spanish Johnny Depp, and I limped back to the hotel.

Incidentally, I don´t think the sun ever sets on the Spanish empire. Except for one morning, I haven´t seen darkness in this country since I got here. I am in bed at 10 and up at 6ish. Always, always sun. It´s eerie.

Las Caderas

I have never, never thought so much about my hips as I have these past few weeks. Apparently, I´m not terribly bright because I should have realized long ago that Shakira was right. The hips don´t lie. I just wasn´t paying attention. My hips crack on any given day, and I thought that they were just mad because I was making them walk for long distances. It turns out that they were also pretty upset because I was cramming them in a sleeping bag and not letting them stretch out in the weird, sprawling, hip stretching position that I use in the real world. I now unzip the sleeping bags, invite the bedbugs to join me. Thus, sprawling has resumed. I am doing some yoga, too. I am much, much better. Not perfect, but better. I am a little cold while I sleep, and I look a little odd when I lie down in the middle of the road in some tiny pueblo to contort myself and hold positions, but I think I would look even odder hopping down the Camino . . .

Sunday, May 27, 2007

sacred texts

I have no Bible with me, but I brought along a few sacred texts. Here´s one I was thinking about today. ¨The Summer Day¨ by Mary Oliver.

giving things up

Somebody commented on the blog why I bother to get rid of things that weigh so little. Some of it is the physical weight, but some of it is the psychological weight.

The books count as both. They were heavy, but more than that, they were keeping me focused on what other people had experienced about the Camino, rather than allowing me to think it through myself. Getting rid of the books forced me act on my own, to walk until I find what I need to find. From time to time, bing bookless makes me depend on other people.

Some of the things don´t really weigh much, but it seems silly to carry them around. Why bother? Simplifying is such fun. I only need to have what I need to have. If I get desperate, I´ll be able to buy it.

The bug spray was 2 ounces worth of expecting the worst.

The suntan lotion is 4 ounces worth of annoyance that I have rarely seen the sun.

Ounces add up to pounds. I am very conscious of weight. I am perfectly capable of shouldering whatever I stuff into my pack at this point, but I´d rather not. Not only do appearances have different meanings for me here, but weight does, too. My pack is probably around 20 pounds, depending how much water is in it. When I look at 4 packs lined up, I envision those 4 packs attached to my body--80 pounds. As for my current weight, I have no idea what it is, but my pants are starting to droop a bit, and the hipbelt cinches a little tighter. Weight loss seems impossible given the quantity of chorizo and chocolate and wine I am consuming, but asi es. I doubt I´ll take another 20 pound backpack off in these 5-6 weeks of walking.

izquierda. the left.

It´s the left side of my body trying to tell me something, I´ve decided. My left hip hurts. My left foot wants to get a blister because my left foot is bigger than my right foot. What I´m saying is, even my body is angry about the failing left.

Give me a break here. I´ve got a whole lot of time to think about these matters.

Belorado to Ages. No idea which day we´re on. I´ve lost track.

This morning was stunning walking weather. Sunny but not hot. Windy but not blustery. Clouds but mostly clear. I walked the camino through waving, dancing wheat and thought that I could not have ordered better weather.

The scenery changes so quickly. This morning was waving wheat and little villages all in a row. Late morning was a mountain vista. Just as I was thinking that it looked like the Blue Ridge, I happened upon the W&M kids, and they said, "It looks like Virginia." Much of the day was spent on a flat, straight, dirt-packed path that went through a stand of pines. It was the first flat day, and everyone´s legs and feet hurt. We descended through a field of green and wildflowers into a fairytale town, and now, here I am.

I saw a sign on the highway today that read 50 kilometers per hour. For me, it is 50 kilometers in 2 days. Perspective.

Tomorrow, I´m off to the big city, Burgos. I´ll probably rest for a day. Maybe I´ll find some semi-qualified person to yank my hip out of its socket.

being known

It seems that we each give nicknames to the other pilgrims. We mark them by some specific trait. One person calls the foursome of British youth "the boy band", while another refers to them as "the yobs". I´ve decided that the Oily Man (referred to as the Silver Fox by others) is my favorite pilgrim with whom I don´t speak several times per day. We´ve never actually had a conversation, but we make a point of smiling and nodding and exchanging clumsy pleasantries in one language or another. He has excellent posture and white hair and a good tan and strong legs and is purported to oil his body up and strut around the albergues in his Speedo. I´ve not witnessed the last part. There´s debate about whether he´s gay. In the morning we nod and smile. This morning we actually had a pretty long exchange while listening to a cover of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme over breakfast. He pointed to the speaker and said "Simon. Garfinkle. Robinson. Graduate." I nodded. An hour or so ago he checked in to see if we would be progressing to the same town to spend the night. We won´t actually speak, of course, but we´ll be in it together.

I was laughing about these noteworthy traits with some other pilgrims, ones I do speak with, and I noted that I really had no business poking fun at others for having noteworthy traits. A whole table of them agreed. They said they always know me by my orange Obama water bottle. Rainbow mohawk? No. Of course not.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

pilgrim time vs. spanish time

pilgrims--
5 or 6--out and walking
12-3--arriving at albergue, ready to wander the city
10--curfew

spanish--
9--awake and functioning
2-5--siesta
9:30--dinner served, life starts

it is difficult to reconcile these schedules.

Day 11: Santo Domingo de la Caldera to Beldora

Today had an excellent start. I stopped at the first bar /cafe that was open this morning. The woman behind the bar was lively, teasing. An excellent thing happened while we were talking. The talking turned to bantering, and I managed to make some jokes, exchange some wordplay. I don´t care if I never ever master the subjunctive mood in Spanish; as long as I can manage to trade barbs and quips, I´m happy. She gave me kisses and a special blessing and sent me on my way to wander by myself on well-packed dirt and gravel, through vineyards and wheat. The various green of the sloping hills, dotted by towns and climbing churches, is mesmerizing.

There were several teeny towns today and the second half of the day the Camino ran alongside the highway. The cars and trucks seemed so fast. It was funny to see the kilometers to the next big city, Burgos, count down as a I walked. Only 50 kilometers. A half an hour by car but two days of my life. It´s a strange juxtaposition as opposed to hiking in the woods. There are constant reminders of regular life while being trapped in this bubble, this alternative community. I am reminded of a time in Larrasoaña, an itty bitty town, where I asked the 20 something barmaid what she did for fun, mouth agape that she would want to stay there. She looked at me and said "We just go to Pamplona." It was a 20 minute car ride for her--a day long walk for me.

This terrain in Rioja is so different from Basque country. The land is flatter, and the road is almost always packed, easy to walk on.

Beldora is my least favorite town yet. It´s just odd. Flat and new-ish, kind of tacky in an inexplicable way. It is rotten with albergues. It seems a bit whorish. I was feeling a little sorry for myself in the gray, sad afternoon, feeling homesick for the first time, thinking that I should have kept on walking to fill the day, when I ran into some fellow pilgrims who I hadn´t seen in a couple of days. They grabbed me and took me with them. The sherriff of the town had offered to show them his sherríff´s star, so we proceeded to his dingy office. He showed us some posters of mushrooms and foraged around in his desk drawer until he found a ninja star and gifted it to my fellow pilgrim. Then he offered us a tour of the small theater in town, and I headed off to a bar where I wrote by myself for several hours until the other pilgrims returned and we drank wine and champagne and mysterious yummy shots and cider and some kind of bitters thingy and a local anise sort of thing and, well, you get the idea.

I had dinner with a German homeopath who lives in Valencia, and she helped me with my hip.

Once every five years, this town celebrates people who are going to have or have recently had a 30th birthday. Groups of people wear brightly colored t-shirts and wander the town in groups playing band instruments and drinking. There are orange people and green ones. The shirts say 18 with 12 years of experience. Fortunately, I was able to be here for this event. It´s like some sort of Battle of the Bands gone horribly, tragically wrong. They don´t even seem jubilant. They just wander about, dully and tunelessly playing. They have teams, but they don´t seem to interact. It´s just awful. An endless tailgate.

The rain, the gray continue.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Day 10: Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Largely an uneventful day. I walked through vineyards and rolling green wheat fields in the partly cloudy day. I spent the day by myself.

Most of the towns we have visited so far are distinct and old. They have no scary suburbs on the outside. The settlements simply begin and end. The manageable, walkable, community feeling of even the larger cities is impressive. Very rarely do we have to cross highways, and the highways are really quite modest.

Before I came, I had a very hard time picturing what kind of terrain we would pass through and what the Camino itself would look like. It looks like everything. Sidewalk and road and grass and pebbles and dirt and mud and muddy pebbles and dusty mud and gravel and gravelly road. Wood. Stairs. Pebbles. Mulch. Everything. I keep meaning to take pictures of what we´re walking on, as that is the real Camino.

Today we walked through a bizarre place, an older town that seems to have grown a tumor in the form of a golf community. It seems incredibly out of place. Also, it felt as though they had illegally redirected the Camino arrows to pass through the town. The arrows are ordinarily spray painted and posted officially all over the place. This town had cheap plywood placards with little yellow arrows. Suspicious.

My destination today is Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which is known for the Miracle of the Cock and Hen. The abbreviated version is that a guy was hanged. His parents heard some voices tell them that the son had not died. They told the man in charge. That man said the son was about as alive as the cock and hen that he was about to eat. As you may have guessed, the cock and hen then jumped up from the plate and started crowing. The town is proud of this tale, so proud that a white cock and hen are installed in the actual church.

ronceador. (spelled wrong)

Last night I slept in a huge albergue, about 70 bunkbeds in a single room. The beds were pushed together so that you are essentially sharing your sleep with a stranger. When I returned to my bed, a chorus of giggles accompanied my arrival. The middle-aged French woman on the bed across from me, the 20 something W&M alums (Is there anywhere these people are not hiding? Go Tribe.), the late teenaged British yobs/Boy Band depending on who you ask. As I approached, I understood. My bedmate was already asleep. And he was snoring.

Loud.

Now, I´ve been sleeping in these communal settings for over a week now, and I have had extensive conversations with other pilgrims about human noises. On the mornign after, it is not uncommon to report on the status of one´s blisters and then to assess the quality of the noise from the previous night. The loudness is important but the tone, the chorus are equally relevant. Snoring has a mood.

My bedmate was a soloist. He was no ordinary snorer. He was accomplished. People above me, beside me, across from me, people from bunks away came by to offer sympathy and counsel. The French woman performed complicated mimes involving earplugs. I smiled kindly and wondered what kind of spongy material could block that sound from 2 feet away.

We laughed loudly. We heckled.

He kept snoring.

We shook the bed, tapped on the metal.

He snored louder.

One of the W&M alums clearly earned her parchment; she advised me to find another bed. I begged the albergue steward and he agreed to help me. I climbed up on my new bunk, though I had taken quite a bit of sleeping medication. I passed out and didn´t wake up until an hour after I was supposed to have met my friends . . .

the very hungry caterpillar

I am insatiably, insatiably hungry. I encountered a waiter the other day who fully appreciated that I am a vegetarian--except for chorizo. He gave me an excellent hard time for the rest of my stay. The pig population of northern Spain is going to take a pretty serious hit over the months of May and June. They´ll have to put that in the record books next to the noteworthy amount of rain and thunderstorms we´re experiencing. Aside from the pigs, I eat yogurt and oranges and pears and apples and bananas and cheese and bread and eggs and potatoes and sometimes chef boyardee-like pasta and some pathetic iceberg lettuce salads. And chocolate, of course. The other day I drank two Cola Caos (hot chocolate powder mixed with hot milk and served with sugar on the side--even I don´t add the sugar), a chocolate bar, two chocolate ice creams, chocolate con churros, and a chocolate croissant. See? Just like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eventually I just stop eating because I´m bored of it and sleep is more important.

I find myself drinking Coca Cola. At first, I just wanted the caffeine, but now I am actually enjoying the taste, which is weird because I usually abhor it. Then I discovered that the Coke here has actual azucar (sugar) instead of high fructose corn syrup. Dad--check that out with your pusher.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

100 miles and change

how far we have come--at least 100 miles so far . . .
This is a pretty decent map: http://www.ongerwaeg.nl/images/lenssen3/krt-2.gif .

Day 1
St Jean Pied-de Port to Roncevalles

Day 2
Roncevalles to Larasoana

Day 3
Larasoana to Pamplona

Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina

Day 5
Puente la Reina to Lorca

Day 6
Lorca to Los Arcos

Day 7
Los Arcos to Logroño

Day 8
Logroño to Ventosa

Day 9
Ventosa to Najera (maybe Azofra)

more culling

*the sink plug is gone. i think i can go from now until july without doing laundry. i´m learning that there´s a pretty good reason for that tradition of burning one´s clothing at fisterra.

*bug spray is gone.

i´m still considering the convertible pants and the long sleeved shirt. i could honestly go without washing my pants for weeks. i have another pair to wear at night in case i do want to wash these. as for the shirt, it shouldn´t be cold enough that i really need it.

Bert Likes Pigeons, and I Do, Too.

This morning was sparkling and hazy and gray. I had it all to myself as I wandered from my albergue through the wildflower fringed path that edged the vineyards. Distant, massive mountains climbed into the pink dwn sky, their outlines resembling well-defined clouds. (Incidentally, I have no clue which mountains those are. I just hope I´m not about to climb them. They look big, very, though I´ve recently realized that wherever those tens of thousands of yellow arrows tell me to go, that´s exactly where I´m headed, so I may as well just accept it before they even start pointing skyward.)

It was silent on the Camino, and my hip wasn´t hurting yet. I just moved along, thinking. I thought about at least two things that mattered to me, things I wanted to write about, things that I wanted to consider more deeply. Last night I was talking to a man in his late 70´s who had done the Camino 14 times. He explained devoutly that the Camino exists within, that the hours of looking at one´s self are what´s important. Then he proceeded to confide that most of those hours of thinking are crap with brief flashes of insight. He´s right. Sometimes I spend hours thinking about nothing important at all, random scraps of nonsense. But sometimes there are moments of clarity. This morning had some of those. I was enraptured.

But as I was thinking, I became aware of two things. My hip had started hurting, and I wanted to stop and take some drugs. Then I realized that there was another pilgrim behind me who would surely catch up to me. I didn´t want to deal with her. Sometimes it´s good to break the monotony with a greeting, but sometimes it´s better to be entirely alone. I decided I would offer her a curt Buen Camino and trust her to move on. I stopped. I took the drugs. I began walking again. She overtook me. I said, ¨Buen Camino.¨ She mumbled something, and I recognized her as a French woman who had snarled at me twice at the albergue on the previous night. She kept going, and I exhaled, relieved. Then she stopped, dropped back, put her walking sticks in her other hand and pointed to my left foot purposefully and said:

"Mettez-le là" as she made her crooked hand point straight forward toward where we were walking. She was pointing out that my left foot turns inward. What a revelation! In 32 years and a recent 105 miles of walking, my hip and I hadn´t even considered that my pointed in toes might be an issue.

"No puedo." I answered in Spanish. The French never speak Spanish. It´s a small victory to taunt them with it.

I sighed softly and explained gently in my pidgin French that in the tradition of St. James, I have dedicated my Camino to representing the spirit of pigeons, those unappreciated of God´s creatures who are maligned from the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty, that with every step I take, I am enacting my devotion, my sacrifice. I cherish the pain in my left hip as a sign of my committment to the lowly pigeon.

I asked her whether she had heard of the tradition of dedicating one´s Camino to the spirit of a particular animal. I suggested she consider the ass, as she would be easily able to act out a pain in an ass.

She dropped back, presumably to re-examine my swaying, pathetic gait from a newly respectful perspective. I continued onward, fantasizing about having a chiropractor yank my hip from its socket.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

pensamientos

It´s easy to describe scenery and pain and places and people, but it occurred to me today that I haven´t really written about what goes on. What goes on is miles and kilometers and miles of walking alone and thinking.

Thinking.

Thinking.

Then some thinking.

Sometimes important things bubble up. Sometimes I stop and scribble them down. Often I continue and let the thoughts keep coming. Occasionally I talk about them with other people later on. The right listener almost always appears at the right time.

The other day, I left very early. I was walking in the dark by myself for a long time. I had a moment where I realized that I had just one thought in my head. I wasn´t trying to concentrate or squint at it. It just occurred. One thing. No multi-tasking. No frantic juggling. Just one thing. Of course, then I started thinking about thinking about one thing and it was all shot to hell, but really. It´s not an endless path of mysticism here. Be real.

odds and ends

Many of you are frustrated with trying to reply to the blog. Don´t bother. Just email me directly.

I smell awful, though last night we stayed in a luxury overflow location featuring mats on the floor and a clean shower with SOAP and SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER and CEREAL and MILK. Wow.

Last night, an absolutely unbelievable thing occurred. My hair actually got more extraordinary. I didn´t think it was possible. I wish I had a picture. It now looks like I have rainbow dreadlocks poking out of the top of my head.

I´ve had a couple of eventful days involving, in no particular order, two kooky British brothers; a terrifying and unexplained sudden eye swelling that nearly had me to the doctor (I really am sounding like the Brits) but ended up being treated by 3 vodka naranjas and then some; a homecooked (albergue cooked) Italian dinner; some international calling (some of you know my fears of this); finishing up a full week and more than a hundred miles. I have had two consecutive nights of searching around for a bed after walking about 30K.

It worked out. I think it almost always does.

It´s amazing how much easier the walking gets as time goes on. If it weren´t for my pigeon toes and my painful hip (I think there´s a connection), I would be gliding down the Camino. But that wouldn´t be much fun at all, would it?

Monday, May 21, 2007

a chocolate-based society

I´m happy to report that Spain is indeed a chocolate-based society. This is excellent news indeed. As far as I´m concerned, if I walk for 8 or 9 hours per day, I can eat however much chocolate I can stuff in my gob. And that is a sizeable quantity. So far, this chocolate feature is in my top 5 favorite parts of the Camino de Santiago.

the rain in spain

is all over the damn place, ms. eliza doolittle. enunciate your little rhymes however you want, but i´ve got miles of mud to prove it.

culling

a partial list of what´s been ditched so far.

*purple bandanna

*one month worth of skin meds. weren´t working anyway.

*little notebook for jotting stuff down.

*a pile of wet wipes. nothing will ever be clean anyway.
*extra moleskin (i know, i know it´s light. but every little bit counts and my feet are fine.)

*a pair of underwear (that was unintentional. i lost it. keep comments to yourselves.)

*squeezed out some arnica and antibiotic ointment

*gave away athletic tape to a needy dane. i´ll probably regret giving it up, but she had had so much bad luck and was still so positive that i needed to trade her some tape in exchange for some of her optimism. i know i´ll need it later on at some point, probably more than the tape.

*gave away a little flashlight. the head lamp was enough.

*visine. honestly, bridget. visine?

*a bunch of ziploc bags.

*some ativan, extra tylenol

*gauze roll

*gave away some earplugs

*my proudest accomplishment in this department is ditching my guidebooks. two of them. they were heavy. there are a whole lot of yellow arrows. i have two pieces of paper that tell me where the towns are and where the albergues are. and there are plenty of efficient germans with heavy books should i have any questions.

candidates for throwing out:

*sink plug. like i´m going to do laundry in a place that requires a sink plug. be real.

*one pair of convertible pants. i can just wear one pair. i don´t need two. besides, it´s been raining so much, it´s practically like washing them.

*bug spray? this was for bed bugs, but even deet won´t stop those, i´m pretty sure.

*long sleeved shirt. i don´t think í´ll be anywhere that i really need it.

*i have some matches that are burning a hole in my pocket.

Jose Ramon

After slogging through the mud, I ended up in a little town called Lorca. A nice guy named Jose Ramon gave me a private room, a private room. Do you hear me? A private room. I had only walked half a day, but it was peaceful there. Even on the Camino, I manage to be laundry-enabled. I have gone for days without washing anything. It just gets dirty within minutes. Yesterday, good old JR threw my stuff in a washing machine and pointed me toward a sunny spot to lay it out. I should be good for another week now.

This morning I took advantage of my privacy to get up super early and start off. I quickly found out that the sun is not up at 5:30 a.m., I strapped on my head lamp and kept walking alone, carefully following the yellow arrows in the dark. The quiet was nice, and I managed not to get lost. I´ve spent a couple of hours in Estella so that I could deal with Wachovia. They don´t want to give me my money. Fortunately, this down has a lot of fresh chocolate croissants. Soon there will be more walking, though.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

how far we have come--65 miles so far . . .

This is a pretty decent map.

Day 1
St Jean Pied-de Port to Roncevalles

Day 2
Roncevalles to Larasoana

Day 3
Larasoana to Pamplona

Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina

Day 5
Puente la Reina to Lorca

Day 6
Lorca to . . .?

arco iris

Today, during a huge thunderstorm, I had taken cover with a lot of other pilgrims. The lightning was fierce, and people weren´t sure whether to move on. One girl looked at me seriously, pointed to my head, and said, "You don´t have to worry. You have a rainbow on your head."

Day 5---coffee and bread

I started in Puente de la Reina. Or something like that. Now I don´t even know where I am. Lorca? Lorton Prison? It´s on a hill. I can tell you that for sure I´ve stopped here for lunch. Mmmmm. Chorizo. My first vegetarian chorizo in Spain. ("I´ve stopped here." I´m already beginning to sound like the damn Brits. Next thing you know I´ll be knackered.)

Today´s been excellent so far. About an hour into the walk, I went through a small town, and a bunch of pilgrims were gathered around a table in a courtyard. A Spanish family had a coffee table set up with some doughnuts. They were celebrating a first communion today by serving breakfast to pilgrims. The identity of these towns is so bound up with the Camino. It´s fascinating. As I pass through the little towns, people bid ¨Buen Camino.¨ Anyhow, the family giving away coffee was excellent--loud and laughing. It set a good tone for the day. Most of the people I´ve met have been excellent good gente but there just arent enough loudandlaughing ones. I´m partial to that particular sort. (Not sure why that could be. Any suggestions on that?)

Walking along a bit later, a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon. Pilgrims went through the routine of grabbing the ponchos and and the pack covers and the raincoats and whatnot (shout out to Mi-Suk for pointing out that my superduper bags mean I don´t have to deal with that). A couple of French pilgrims happened by. I had a naked baguette sticking up out of my pack, and they kept pointing to the the bread and pointing to the sky and saying in horror "Le pan!" Once the skies opened up and we had arrived in the town, I stood in the rain as the others huddled under cover. More pointing and exclaiming. Finally, inspired by the generosity of the Spanishloudandlaughing coffee folks, I pulled the baguette out of my pocket and started tearing off pieces of bread and placing it in the hands of the line of dripping pilgrims, offering a sort of communion to each of them. No transubstantiation, but I was pleased that they partook. I didn´t eat any. It tasted a whole lot better to give it to them.

Admittedly, I was really friggin hungry two hours later, but I managed to suck down the Nutella without the bread though. We all make sacrifices as we march on toward´s Jimmy´s bones.

It´s only 1. I have kilometers to go before I sleep (with retired German men).

(I love the anonymous comments on this blog. They seem to melt into one huge sarcastic voice. It tells me a thing or two about my friends . . . )

Saturday, May 19, 2007

hips

Today I was thinking about appearances, about how here the body´s functionality is much more important than its appearance.

I´ve never been fond of my ample hips until the past couple of days when I´ve watched the girls with bony hips struggle with raw chafing from having the hipbelt pulled tight around them all day. I smirk and pat my sides.

But then, see, I´m a little angry at my hips, too. My left one is creaky and angry. It´s usually a bit difficult, but apparently it doesn´t like to walk for 8 hours at a time for 4 days in a row.

Form, function.

Who wrote that hip poem? Lucille Clifton? Maya Angelou? Somehow it´s much easier to feel el sentido rather than just appreciate the sentiment.

day 4--puerta de reina or something

Today was easily the best day yet. We started the day in Pamplona and walked through the city early in the morning. I´m finally getting my routine down, so I was able to get moving more quickly. We walked by the university and directly out into the countryside, such a refreshing change from the sprawling ugly suburbs one encounters when leaving an American city. The walk was absolutely beautiful. For much of the day we were going up the side of a hill/mountain, trekking through nasty, sloppy mud on a windy path that was bordered by fields of yellow wildflowers with farmland and mountains and villages and Pamplona stretching out into the distance. It was gorgeous. There was just no way to photograph it effectively. There are lots of wildflowers everywhere--poppies, yellow ones, purple ones, blue ones. Everything is lush and green.

I spent most of day walking alone, which was nice. Time to reflect, contemplate. It´s just so beautiful.

Friday, May 18, 2007

pesa, pesa

A veces parece que aun los fosforos pesan demasiado, no es cierto?

pamplona--day 3

Much as it troubles my perfectionist self to write unedited remarks, asi es. I have limited time. In no particular order . . .

***I´ve been doing quite a lot of walking. I´ve lost count of exactly how many km, though it seems to be in the neighborhood of 60ish over 3 days. Today was a very short day in comparison. I think we only walked for about 4 hours.

***The scenery sort of reminds me of a Vermont landscape in some places. It is very beautiful. Most of the time we are walking through fields listening to cow bells or along streams or up wide open grassy mountains. I find myself trying to memorize the landscape to remember it, but it slips from my head. Today there were a couple of towns. That´s a welcome change.

***On a day to day basis, the routine involves waking up early, though not as early as Boot Camp. I think that´s going to change for me tomorrow, though, as I have concocted an idea for a more efficent ritual for getting ready. Anyhow, after putting together the pack, I spend the day following yellow arrows and yellow scallop shell signs. It´s well marked.

***I adore potable tap water. I just never get tired of it. Ever.


***The other folks are a varied sort. I look like a kindergartener tagging along behind most of them. The vast majority of folks are retired or at least in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I keep trying to imagine my parents walking for 8 hours at a time and then flopping down in a comfortless room full of snoring humanity. I¨m struggling.

***The pilgrim community is truly odd. Chaucer was right. It´s a sort of amorphous group of people. I never know what language to begin a conversation in, even just to greet people. I chose French in France and Spanish in Spain. When in Rome . . . One dude has been walking since Rome. Egad. I¨ve learned that my English is excellent, my Spanish is serviceable, my French really sucks, and that there are a whole lot of other languages in the world and none of them make much sense, but people insist on talking to me in them whether I understand or not.

***So far only minimal physical complaints. Just one little blister. A special shout out to all my blister advisors. You´ve done good work. By far the most time consuming part of my day is preparing to don my boots. It´s a little ridiculous, to be honest, but the duct tape and Body Glide and liner socks (perfectly straight) and the smartwool (also perfectly straight and the tightly laced boots and and and all seem to be working well. I´m sore, but not even close to as sore as I imagined I would be. It feels like the day after a particularly tough day at Boot Camp.

***I´ve spent a good bit of time walking with other people. The first day I walked through the Pyrenees with a guy in his 60´s_ (Pretend that´s a question mark henceforth.) named Arnaud. He´s from Holland but has spent much of his life teaching in Ghana. It was good to have companionship as I began just as I was getting the hang of things.

***Yesterday, day 2, I walked from Roncevalles to Larrasoana and spent most of the time with a couple from Canada and New Zealand. They are well traveled. They are finishing up a year around the world, including a recent unguided trek up to Everest Base Camp. I took particular joy in hearing the two of them proclaim that this hike was harder than Everest. I even made them repeat it for me. I doubt it very much, though. The walking isn´t really that hard, and the Spaniards have this amazing invention called oxygen. I´m beginning to think that they stole oxygen as well as gold from the mountains of Peru.

***Today I finally managed to walk some by myself and then met up with another couple about my age from Brazil. The guy has already done the Camino before. It was interesting to hear his perspective on the second time around.

***Really the only negative so far is that it seems very competitive to find a place to stay at the end of the day. The available beds fill up fast, which leads to people hurrying along on their walks. It´s frustrating. After helping a bedless girl to find a place to stay last night and talking to a bunch of people, I´ve decided to shift my mindset a bit. I´d rather take my time and enjoy myself than race along from place to place just to have a spot to sleep. It won´t kill me to sleep under the stars.

***People tend not to forget you when you have a rainbow mohawk. This has pluses and minuses, though if I get lost, I feel absolutely confident people will be able to recount the last time they saw me. Unfortunately, everyone else thinks I remember them, even though they do not have distinctive hair. This is problematic. Fortunately, I am not winning the prize for the biggest freak. That distinction goes to a Barry Birch look alike who spends his life--and his Camino--walking barefoot.

***The albergues are a sociological study unto themselves. The one on the first night--at Roncevalles--was an enormous room absolutely full up with bunk beds. I believe there were more than a hundred of them. I think there were only 4 bathroom stalls and 2 shower stalls. There´s no room for modesty. Fortunately, I don´t have any to begin with. Also, the ability to sleep through anything--snoring, people packing early in the morning--is useful. Fortunately, I am also very skilled in this department. Earplugs come in very handy to block out the snorers.
SCENE--MAN SNORING IN BUNK RIGHT NEXT TO ME. MAN SLEEPING ON THE OTHER SIDE GESTICULATES (I BELIEVE IT WAS A GERMAN GESTICULATION) THAT HE IS LOUD, THAT WE ARE IN FOR A LONG NIGHT. GIRL WHO SLEPT IN THE BUNK ABOVE ME THE PREVIOUS NIGHT INDICATES: You think he´s loud: You should listen to her, gesturing toward me. It was brilliant.

***It´s odd to pass stores and wonder why anyone would buy anything at all. It all just looks heavy, except for pain chocolat (my only French. can´t remember how that works in Spanish.) As I walk along pondering whether I can squeeze out half of the antibiotic ointment and muscle ointment that I have just to cut a few ounces, people are purchasing bags of clothing and whatnot.

Okay. That´s plenty. Time to find more chocolate.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

first two days . . .

Day 2. So far I have walked over 30 miles, over the Pyrenees and across the Spanish border. Lots to report but some pilgrim is breathing down my necks. Tomorrow we´re headed into Pamplona--a particularly exciting day since it´s only 10 miles or so. Thanks to all of you who provided blister advice. So far so good. Hopefully I can write more tomorrow. Until then . . . buen camino!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

St. Jean Pied-de-Port

Just deql zith the keyboqrd:
Things I hqve leqrned so fqrM
  • High school French zqs q long; long ti,e qgo: Sorry Mada,m: Hoz ,qny hs teqchers qre going to surfqce here: Zhen do ,y students re,e,ber ,e§ Frightening:*
  • I love trqveling zith potqble tqp zqter:
  • I pity people on the botto, bunk zhose top bunk,qte drinks 5 liters of zqter per dqy:
  • Even I cqnùt stqnd the keyboqrd qny,ore:

Big; big; big dqy to,orroz: Qt leqst qs the end people zill be speqking q lqnguqge I understqnd : : :

Sunday, May 13, 2007

the packing list

Here's the list. There may be small adjustments since this, but it's mostly right. There's a small cache of items that will be shipped ahead--saline, more dr. bronners, body glide, etc.

2 short sleeve wicking shirts
1 long sleeve raspberry shirt
2 pair convertible pants
3 pair of REI underwear
2 bras
3 pair liner socks
2 pair outer socks—SMARTWOOL
pilgrim credentials (get there)
Passport
camera w/ batteries and memory
NO SHAMPOO!!!
Dr. Bronner’s
Pack towel
2 bandanas, Motown sweat band, buff
Sunglasses
glasses
contacts and spare contacts and contact case
saline
Toothbrush (one of dad’s sawed off)
Toothpaste
floss
antibiotic ointment
Tylenol and ibuprofen
diarrhea meds (3 immodium)
toilet paper w/o cardboard
OB
sun hat
Chaco’s
uyuni t and black target pants
waterproof stuff sacks!
black fleece
rain jacket
Hiking boots and insoles
journal
ballpoint pen (no green pen)
Headlamp
ATM and credit card
sleeping bag
3 liter water bladder, orange water bottle
extra Ziplock bags
Moneybelt
Trekking poles—and duct tape around pole
Purel, wipies
meds, meds, meds, more meds. some meds
guidebooks: confraternity and slim book
large safety pins
cash
bug spray
spoon/fork
sink plug
ear plugs
knife
my monkey
mouth guard
travel insurance
3x3 sterile pads
stretch gauze
sports tape
ointment for pain
second skin
moleskin
body glide
purel
euro, km, Celsius conversion charts
Chapstick
little notebook
sackpack
gum

anticipation

I feel like I'm about to start junior high, and I don't know my locker combination.

The packing is mostly done. Those of you who have direct experience with me and packing will be amazed to note that I have not had any particular tantrums or tears--not about the packing anyway. I'm not sure how to take that. Usually packing is the hardest part. Either things are about to be fantastic or . . .

Fully packed, I'm carrying 18.4 pounds without water. When was the last time I walked more than 5 paces without carrying water, never mind 5oo miles? (It's 24.6 with 3 liters of water, and 3 liters may be on the dry side).

I've received lots of good advice recently. It falls into two general categories:

  • If it gets hard, just keep walking.
  • If it gets hard, just quit.

There are correlaries to each of these. Folks in the first school of thought like to talk about how to treat blisters. Folks in the second school of thought provide recommendations of lodging in the south of France.

They both seem pretty good to me. Whether assiduously medicating carbuncles or sunning myself with Brigitte Bardot, no matter what happens, it'll be grand.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

going for a long walk

Last May, I went to Cusco, Peru to study Spanish and bum around. At a dinner to welcome new students to the Spanish school, I sat next to a woman in a green fleece jacket. She was using trekking poles to get around town, so I asked her if she was planning to hike the Inca Trail.
"Yes."
"Are you nervous?"
"Yes," she said, "but I went on a long walk last year . . . "

Carolyn did go on a long walk. She hiked the
Camino de Santiago. She hiked 500 miles from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

I'm going to do it, too.

On Sunday, May 13, I will fly to from DC to Paris. When I arrive on Monday morning, I'll take a train to St Jean Pied-de-Port in the southwest corner of France. On Wednesday, I'll go for a long walk . . .

People ask me a lot of questions about the Camino. I don't have a whole lot of answers. I figure I'll have plenty of time to learn as I go.

It is a medieval pilgrimage to the bones of St. James. I know little about the historical and religious details of the Camino. I do know that if I reach the finish line and give Jimbo a high 5, I'll get to spend less time in purgatory. As soon as I begin to believe in purgatory, I'm going to be psyched that I have to endure less of it.

Most folks seem to walk about 15 miles per day. I will have a 23ish pound (ojala) pack on my back as I walk. At night I will stay in refugios--very simple hostels as far as I understand. I will get up early in the morning, brush and floss (I thought I could give up flossing for 2 months but Dad says no), repack, and walk. That's it. Eat, sleep, walk. And bandage blisters. Some reasonable people have told me to expect the walk to take 5 weeks. I am scheduled to be in Spain for 7 weeks.

I am going by myself. I won't start out with any companion or group, though I'm sure I'll meet fellow travelers.

Why walk a medieval pilgrimage while sporting a rainbow mohawk? Good question.

Am I newly Catholic? No. Am I newly gay? No. Am I protesting against the Catholic church's stance on homosexuality? Not really, though that's a pretty good idea. Maybe I'll tell people that.

Am I crazy? Yes, but that isn't really news.

I have a few honest answers:


  • Because the academic gods provide me with 3 round and sparkling months every year.
  • Because, as my sister puts it, I am not chained to little gnats.
  • Because I like speaking Spanish and have never been to Spain.
  • Because I like traveling so that I can meet new people and new communities.
  • Because I like hiking, but I'm unfond of camping and very devoted to beds.
  • Because lately I am not quite as (clinically) crazy as usual, and I am feeling thankful for it.
  • Because I'm 80 pounds lighter than I was 2 years ago.
  • Because it sounds really cool to get half off purgatory.
  • Because I'm turning 33; I heard a rumor that can be a pretty tough year for Christian heroes.
  • Because it gave me an excuse to horrify my mother by transforming my head into an imitation tropical bird. (She's tough to shock. I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. If she would just pretend I'm a quetzal, the birdwatcher in her would appreciate the beauty.) In fairness, other members of my family are probably trying to prove we have different DNA. Others think I'm supercool, though, including my students. All of these are fantastic motivators to be ridiculous.
  • Because I hear that having painful foot blisters is an outstanding experience.
  • Because I've never done it before.
  • Because it makes me laugh and roll my eyes whenever I think about it.
  • Because it scares me.
  • Because I'm not sure I can do it.
  • Because I'm certain that whatever I do, I will love it.
  • Because it will be grand.


There are plenty of honest answers but the true thing is that I'm doing it because I have questions about beer milkshakes. I hear they serve delicious ones there.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

pilgrimages, pilgrim souls, the Pilgrims

I don't know much about what it means to be a pilgrim, to go on a pilgrimage. I do know these three things:

**********
1.

I know that McSweeney, my 12th grade Honors English teacher, made me memorize the beginning lines of the mellifluous Middle English Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And
palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
-----
Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in distant lands.

**********
2.

I know what Yeats told me, tells me about a pilgrim soul:

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

**********
3.

I know that I am descended from John Robinson, who was minister to, leader of a small group of pilgrims, the Pilgrims. He blessed them as they sailed away on a boat called the Mayflower. I know that his wife was named Bridget Robinson. I know that our name is an eerie coincidence as my mother learned of our lineage years after she inked my newly minted name on a birth certificate.

traditional pilgrim hair: rainbowhawk