Wednesday, August 29, 2007

a tiny confession

I'm admitting it publicly (pubicly, even). I have a small penis. I'm tired of responding in secret to email messages about my wee willy. I want everyone to know.

The sheer quantity of this spam has started to fascinate me recently. Day after day I am encouraged to grow my small penis. I'm beginning to feel like I should really take action, as though people can see through my dress and tell that it hardly exists at all.

"If you are in need for recommendation with respect to by which means you could accumulate a new dimension for your reproduction organ, buy the right stuff."

Do people respond to this spam? They must or else there wouldn't be so much of it. If I wanted my genitalia altered, I'm fairly certain that replying to anonymous, grammatically deficient, lewd email messages would not be my first course of action. But what would I do? What could I do? I realize that some men have small penises. I even know some of them. And I definitely know some women who have something to say about the matter. It's a problem, I suppose, but are there legitimate means of enlarging one's penis?

With a quick internet search, the most credible site I found was Wikipedia. That should give you some sense of the kind of rock solid medical evidence we're dealing with. There is terminology such as "micropenis." There is a link to a Spanish geocities site.

I think I'll keep my current size.

Monday, August 27, 2007

off the news diet

This morning, I turned on NPR. I listened to about a minute of a brief segment on Morning Edition. It was a tribute to an American kid who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq last week. I knew it would be sad. I braced myself. I listened to Jessy Pollard's family tell stories.

He was the oldest grandchild.
He loved to play with his cousins.
He enjoyed showing off that he had grown taller than his family members.

My immediate reaction wasn't to mourn for Jessy and his family. It wasn't their stories that moved me. It was the fact that their stories were my family's stories. I wasn't listening to a segment about Jessy. I was listening to my family talk about Rob. He's the oldest grandson in our family. He loves to play with his younger cousins, too. On 4th of July, Rob and I were sniping at each other about who was taller. He talked all kinds of trash. He said my hair made me taller. He said my walk made me shorter. We laughed and made a spectacle of going back to back to prove that I am still taller than him (admittedly, disputable).

Listening to this story, I was suddenly blindingly furious.

Not this war. Not my nephew.

Since I returned from Spain, I have done a decent job of continuing my news diet. In Europe, the people I was talking to were also unaware of what was happening in the world, but here in D.C., people are very informed. I get my news from the filtered views from others. I've felt disengaged regarding the presidential race, the war, George Will's latest musings, Paris Hilton. It's a funny feeling to have someone ask my opinion and realize I don't have one.

Every once in awhile I would hear or read something provocative, but my response was fairly brief and uninspired. I kept wondering when I would want to read the Post again, when I would want to listen to NPR. When would I feel some passion to pay attention?

I'd love to say that the remote evils of the world made me want to pay attention. I wish I could say that I suddenly was able to feel rage about genocide in Darfur or poverty in America. That's not what happened. A Missouri kid who grew taller than his grandfather made me care. I want that goddamn war to end because I plan to spend the next 50 or so years snarling at Rob for being taller than me.

I will not be that aunt interviewed on NPR. Actually, maybe I just will. Maybe I'll be the one talking about how I will not let my nephew die.

Monday, August 20, 2007


When I think of a shiny red convertible being pulled over by the police, I imagine an Italian stud zooming around in some loud, sleek sports car while blaring classic rock. Arlington County is sort of dorky, though, and apparently our law enforcement officers are, too. This morning one of them selected Daphne's boxy and awkward form, my yellowing mohawked head, and some bitchin' bluegrass to summon over to the side of the road.

"Why did you pull me over?"
"We'll get to that. Do you have your license and registration?"

I didn't have a clue why he had pulled me over. While I waited for the officer to run my background check, I sat in the car and rain began to fall. Sadly, I had to close Daphne's top for the first time since I drove her off the lot. I found a map of Virginia and passed the time by considering possible routes for next summer's walk.

"M'am, do you know what the speed limit is on this road?"
"It's 45. You were going 55. I'll only give you a warning this time, but you need to stop zooming down the road like you were doing."

Zooming. That's me. 55 in a 45 on Route 50 during rush hour. Whoo boy. Lunacy. A little bit of Turbo, and I'm an Italian stallion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Road to Nowhere"

Peter, Luke, and I had a little pilgrim reunion this weekend. After only 15 minutes of eating and exchanging some stories, Luke said, "Can we walk around? I get restless sitting still." Preacher, meet choir.

So we walked a bit. We wandered and reflected and laughed and gossiped. We admired one another's clothing and cleanliness. We agreed how wonderful it is to speak American, to use contractions, idioms, and puns freely.

The night was warm and soft. What should we do next? What's the right activity for a reunion of people who have traipsed across a country together? The answer was clear to all of us.

We climbed into my new car, put down the top, turned on some Talking Heads, and took Daphne F. for her first joyride. I think we rode more than a day's worth of walking in a couple of hours. It was brilliant.

still begging al's forgiveness

A prototype of my next new car. I swear.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"broken things"

broken things, things that have recently been broken, most of them after having recently been fixed:
credit card

things that are mostly unbroken:
legs and feet

I wouldn't trade.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

customer support

"If you are calling about problems connecting to your wireless network, press 1."


"We're experiencing a high call volume. You can access our troubleshooting techniques at www . . ."

Um . . . ummmmm.

"Let yourself go . . . "

For the two weeks since I bought my new car, I've been feeling guilty for being a hypocritical fraud. If I like walking so much, it shouldn't really matter what car I buy, right? And, if I really don't want to buy a car at all, I should just get a cheap one. Most important, if I really care about the environment, I should buy a hybrid--or at least something fuel efficient.

All true. I should be an environmentally-minded consumer. I should just get something super cheap. The creature comforts shouldn't influence what I buy. Here's the thing: I'm not; I didn't; they did.

Screw ethics. I wanted a convertible. I wanted something on wheels that would not break that would get me to work with my head in the air. Those were my requirements. Ladies and gentlemen, the 33 year old single American professional female demographic speaks out to the automotive industry. You heard it here.

I found a car. I planned to buy it. People asked questions.

"What kind of engine does it have?"
"No idea."
"Did it get good reviews?"
"Is it pretty?"
"It's okay."
"What's the gas mileage?"
"The top comes down."

I bought a new 2006 PT Cruiser, and there really were some good, practical reasons. I got a decent deal, good enough that I may feel a bit guilty next time Chrysler has layoffs. I do kind of like it. It has a great warranty, something I am particularly attuned to right now.

She's growing on me. Now that I've named her Daphne F., we're official.

She's pretty big, but big can be okay. She's an automatic, which is weird, but it is kind of fun to feel like I am constantly in a video game. Driving is so easy. She laughs at potholes and scoffs at speed bumps! She's fast! She's shiny! She tells me the names of the songs playing on Hot 99.5! She has a little glowy analog clock!

Still, the guilt. I have to turn away from images of Al Gore and whisper, "I'll leave Barack for you if you run. I'll vote for you. I'll walk for you. Forgive me, Al. Forgive me."

Daphne F., I am starting to reluctantly love your brassy, bossy, odd, slightly awkward, zooming self, but must you have a gauge to inform me precisely how much gas you are chugging down with your turbo?

Whenever I drive her, I feel like I’m having a moral crisis. Why do I have to be so spoiled? How in the world can I justify driving a car with a license plate reading TCHPAX if I’m violating Mother Earth with every mile?

This morning, Daphne F. and I drove to work for the first time. Last time I tried to go to work, Dieter passed away, so I felt a tad apprehensive. Besides, no matter how much I love my job, going back to work after a 3 month vacation is somewhat painful.

Already, on the very first day, it was one of Those mornings. Everything, everything I own that is of any material value is broken lately. (Almost everything. The laptop still functions. Pray for us.) Worse still, even after I dump time, money, and sanity into fixing the things, they break again.

I had Dieter fixed, and then he died two weeks later.

My ipod has been driving me bonkers for 3 years. After endless aggravation, lots of cash, and a new hard drive, when the unhappy face appeared on the screen last week, I threw it across the room. I have finally given up and bought a new one and a warranty that lasts from now through my forgiven purgatory.

The router ceased working a few weeks back; I spent days getting it functional. Then, this morning, there was no wireless connection available. That means, of course, that I can’t register the new ipod. The connection died as I was online trying to change the information from Dieter to Daphne F. on my Smartag account.

I stormed off to work, telling my roommate that given my current luck, I was probably going to get into a car accident on the way to work.

I climbed into Daphne F., and I put her top down. We drove away. My hair did not wave in the wind because there is far too much product in it for that to be possible, but it did feel nice on my face. Then, I sped past a Jag and laughed. I popped in the Beastie Boys “License to Ill” and screamed out the lyrics.

I have remembered exactly why I needed a convertible so badly. Driving through the warm air serenaded by the Beastie Boys can fix quite a lot of things that incompetent repair people cannot. Broken router? Defective ipod? Car malfunction? The pain of returning to work? Irrelevant. Forgotten. Momentarily cured.

Principles? I’ve traded them in along with Dieter. I loved him as much as my ideals, but sometimes it’s time to let go. Principles? Please. Let’s be honest with ourselves. I gave those up as soon as I started feeling healed when I grooved to this misogynistic crap:

"Girls - to do the dishes
Girls - to clean up my room
Girls - to do the laundry
Girls - and in the bathroom
Girls, that's all I really want is girls
Two at a time I want girls
With new wave hairdos I want girls
I ought to whip out my girls, girls, girls, girls, girls!"

Environmentalism? Feminism? Come now. Compromises.

As I finished writing this, my cellphone spontaneously turned off. No joke.

I think I need to go for a walk to center myself while listening to some sexist tunes. Actually, I should go for a drive instead since I can’t listen to the Beastie Boys while I walk until the ipod is functional. And the ipod won’t be functional until the wireless is fixed. And and and.

Here's the moral. Sometimes you have to hang up the hiking boots and the principles and put the top down. And that's okay.

"Let it flow - let yourself go
Slow and low - that is the tempo"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

summer 2008: a new pilgrimage

During nearly every summer adventure, there is a moment when I realize what I am going to do the following summer. On day 2 of a 2001 trip to the south of France to try to revive my language skills, I stood in my room in my host family’s house, looked out at the Mediterranean, realized that French was useless, and decided to devote the next summer to learning Spanish. While I was learning Spanish in Guatemala during the summer of 2002, I became fascinated by indigenous culture. That led me to Ecuador in 2003. By 2006, I was interested in Spanish, indigenous culture, and moving my body, so I found my way to Machu Picchu by way of the Inca Trail in Peru. Last year, while talking to another traveler about the Inca Trail, I learned about the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

This year, I spent a couple of months walking through Spain, struggling along in Spanish, trying to reach Jimbo's bones. I walked across a country I know nothing about, speaking a language in which I'm not fluent, devoted to a cause I don't especially believe in. I loved it. Still, I sometimes felt like a bit of a fraud when people called me a "pilgrim." Pilgrims travel in hardship and sacrifice for some cause or belief. The pursuit of a tasty chocolate croissant barely qualifies.

Next year, though, things will be different. Next year I'm going to be a real pilgrim; I'm going on a real pilgrimage. I'm going to walk in my own country, speaking English, devoted to a cause I care deeply about. I'm going to spend the summer of 2008 walking around Virginia, talking to and listening to other Virginians as we discuss how our swing state can elect a good president to the White House. I plan to paint the Commonwealth with blue arrows.

While walking in Spain, lugging around my Obama-stickered water bottle and enduring criticism of Bush from people from all over the world, I was regularly reminded how ashamed I am of my country. I was also reminded of how desperately I want to be proud of my country. I don't have much money to contribute to a presidential campaign, but I do have time, passion, two feet, and a profound faith in democracy. On the morning of November 5, 2008, no matter what the outcome, I'm going to look at myself in the mirror and know that I tried my hardest.

Flying over an ocean to speak a foreign language while walking toward a saint I don't care about struck me as a perfectly safe adventure, but it seems like absolute madness to walk out my door and talk to other Virginians in my native language about something that is deeply important to me. No more albergues, beds, paths, or yellow arrows. My new pilgrimage involves a tent, a sleeping mat, busy roads, and lots and lots of maps.

It's a whole lot easier to meander along a marked Camino and make fun of someone else's faith in Jimbo's bones than it is to create my own Way as I seek the dream of America. The very idea of doing it terrifies me. I can't wait.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fat March

Spain? Santiago? Pilgrimage? It's all a big lie. I've been participating in the following television program and am finally back here in Washington D.C. Here are my before and after pictures. One taken in Moron Cuba in August of 04. One taken in Finisterre Spain in June of 07

Okay, so I wasn't really on the show. It takes them 10 weeks to walk 500 miles. It took me 6 and a half.

The program actually sounds pretty interesting, though they seem to encourage healthy eating while walking instead of gorging on chocolate croissants. I'm not sure that would work out for me. We'll see. Maybe next time I need to drop 80 pounds, I'll see if they'll let me be on the cast . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2007

camino greatest hits--blog and pics

44 Camino days, 500+ miles, dozens of chocolate croissants, 7-ish blisters, a free pass to heaven, a swim at the end of the world, and 180 something blog posts later, here I am.

I appreciate that many of you have followed along with some (or all) of my journey on the blog. I know I ended up writing quite a bit. Several of you who have dipped in from time to time have requested a list of highlights. Here are a few of my favorite musings or experiences. A grab bag:

These two tell the tale of the most mystical thing that happened to me on the Camino: chocolate croissant and un milagro de santiago

Others . . .

going for a long walk
Bert Likes Pigeons, and I Do, Too.
Getting to Know You
quickly going slowly
flechas amarillas--yellow arrows
mi cresta
I found God.
finding peace
Rabanal del Camino
birthday cards
the end
what i look like now
"How did you like it?"
the compostela
only a walker

Now, for the pics . It pains me to think of my photojournalist friend looking at these shots. My general approach is to just grab the camera, point the thing, push the button, and see what turns out. I'm more interested in having an image to jog my memory than I am in creating art, and it shows.

I recommend the "greatest hits" for those of you who are interested in seeing a quicker and dirtier version of my experiences on the Camino. I have written brief descriptions of each photograph in that set. (IF YOU CHOOSE TO VIEW THEM AS A SLIDESHOW: WHEN THE FIRST PHOTO APPEARS, MAKE SURE YOU CLICK ON IT ONCE SO THAT YOU CAN SEE THE TITLE AND DESCRIPTION. AFTER YOU DO THAT ONE TIME, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE TITLES FOR THE REST OF THE SLIDESHOW. NOT SURE WHY IT DOESN'T DO IT AUTOMATICALLY.)

Those of you who have an unnatural curiousity about my experiences can look at the complete collection. I encourage you pilgrims out there to download whichever ones you want. Here's the link again to the pics . . .

Ultreia y Buen Camino a Todos . . .

Saturday, August 4, 2007


People here ask me if my faith has changed as a result of the pilgrimage. The best answer is a statement I heard somebody else say while I was walking the Camino: "I think it's all a bunch of crap, but I believe it all anyway."


Friday, August 3, 2007


There was a pilgrim named Antonio, a Spanish guy in his 30s. He had a shaved, shiny bald head and a fantastic smile, a smile and spirit that made everyone start to laugh before he said a word.

One day I found him sitting at the side of the Camino looking at his leg. He had hurt his ankle, but he was still radiant, even though he was wincing. We walked together for several kilometers. We passed "El Convento de Antonio," and he offered to sell it to me. He limped along, smiling.

Antonio had this fantastic habit of looking up at the sky with his arms outstretched and crying out "San-teeeee-ahhhhh-gooooooh!" He did it when he was asking for help. He did it when he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He did it when he was expressing frustration. He did it partly as a joke, but he did it in seriousness as well.

Santiago, Jimbo challenges us along the Way. For me, the challenge didn't really come in Spain. The challenges have been right here at home as I try to readjust. The past couple of days, as I have been deciding what to do about my broken car, I keep imagining the moment when I walked into Castrojeriz with Antonio. He was pretending to move jauntily alongside me. We saw these poppies. They were amazing, stunning. He kept trying to teach me the Spanish word, but I couldn't get it right--amapola, amapola, amapola. It sounded too much like ampolla--blister. Antonio taught me a song about amapolas and made me sing it aloud to the fields of flowers, conducting with his trekking poles as I shyly, then loudly shouted it out. I think he was actually in a good amount of pain at the time--and not just from my singing.

Pilgrims can pick a lesson out of absolutely anything. I think it is easier to find a lesson than a blister on the Camino, and that's saying something. "San-teeeee-ahhhhh-gooooooh! Why must you make me think about cars when all I want to do is think about walking? Why?"

There's a lesson in here, and I'll find it eventually. In the meantime, sing the damn song, Bridget. Sing the song, look at the pretty flowers, enjoy the good company, and keep smiling. You'll get there one way or the other. Maybe that's the lesson after all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

oh dieter

Yesterday morning my legs walked four beautiful hours out of the woods of Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Then Dieter, my car, drove four lovely hours back to Arlington, Virginia. The balance was fantastic; it's nice to appreciate the legs and the car.

Dieter and my legs and I have been out playing quite a lot recently, and today it was time to go to work. We headed west this morning, but about a half hour into our drive, Dieter whined a little bit as he stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, and I released the clutch, he stayed stopped. He didn't go anywhere at all, though a slightly smelly smell rose from beneath the hood. I sat staring at the green light and realized quite suddenly that Dieter and I are probably going to part soon. I was sad. Not angry, just sad.

I called AAA. They agreed to send out a tow truck to bring me and Dieter to the service station. I figured I would just walk the 2 miles home from the car repair shop. By the time the truck arrived, though, I didn't feel much like walking 2 miles. I felt like walking 15 miles. I fished an old, flimsy cloth backpack out of Dieter's trunk. I took the keys to my house and the yellow arrow keychain that usually lives on my car keys. I grabbed my camera, a water bottle, my phone, and my wallet.

I waved goodbye to Dieter on the tow truck and crossed the busy street to the shopping center. I found a coffee shop, and I asked directions to the W&OD--a rails to trails path nearby. As the clerk was drawing me a map, I looked in the pastry case and saw a chocolate croissant. I bought one, and I smiled a big knowing grin as I started on my way. The first chocolate croissant I've eaten in Virginia. A happy omen.

The trail was a straight, flat, black ribbon of pavement sewn with threads of power lines. For most of the day, it was just me and the asphalt. Occasionally there were office parks or houses backing up to the trail or small ponds or soccer fields. Mostly it was just the strip of trail, foliage on either side, and the sun above me.

It was hot. Baking, mid-90's, sweltering, egg frying, pick your cliche hot. My dress was soaked through. I didn't care. My feet complained a little that I was wearing sandals instead of hiking boots. My thighs complained a little that I was wearing a cocktail dress instead of shorts. I didn't care. The temperature, the discomfort of my physical injuries, the work I hadn't done today, my impending car purchase. They didn't matter. I was walking. That's what mattered.

I ate fresh blackberries from the side of the trail. I marvelled as I walked over the Beltway. I watched cars. I watched baby deer. I watched baby bunnies. I watched the metro. I indulged in the food I had fantasized about in Spain. Chipotle! Robeks! Real ice cream! Ice water!

I've never experienced a runner's high, but I think I feel something similar while walking. It doesn't matter how hot or how rainy or how miserable it is or how uncomfortable I am, there is some magic in moving my body for long periods of time. I crave it. When I got to Arlington, 7 sweaty hours later, I could have kept walking. Now that I've started shopping for a car, I sort of wish I had.