The Aftermath and, Literally, the Next Chapter

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Shadow shrugged. “I don’t know. Most of what I learned on the tree I’ve already forgotten,” he said. “I think I met some people. But I’m not certain of anything anymore. It’s like one of those dreams that changes you. You keep some of the dream forever, and you know things down deep inside yourself, because it happened to you, but when you go looking for details they kind of just slip out of your head.”

Neil Gaiman in American Gods

I finally, finally, finally finished Gaiman’s American Gods, and I can’t believe it took me this long. I’ve owned the book for so long, I actually forgot we already had a copy, and I bought another one. It sat next to its rival on the bookshelf in my office, and as I was weeding my library (a post-Camino by-product), I decided it was just the book to take to Colorado with me. I always catch up on my reading on vacation, and this trip, I’ve also included Gaiman’s Stardust in the pile.

The character, Shadow, makes a relevant and profound observation–a connection I might never have made, had I read this novel pre-Camino. Trade my name for Shadow’s and “tree” for the word, “walk,” and this statement sums up the feeling of Camino for me, now that I’m back. So many of the details have faded, and I’m grateful that I wrote a blog to capture some of what happened along the Way.

I want to take a moment to face this feeling of uncertainty, as I think it is one that I will need to make friends with. Looking to a future without a career or child-rearing responsibilities to anchor me to the world, the next chapter seems filled with unknowns and a lack of clarity. I deal with uncertainty by looking for the connections from here to there–like a mystery novel, I look for clues, or what I like to think of as those little God-breezes, that blow us where the Spirit wills, assuming we are listening. Planting the seeds of the future, requires being willing to let go just enough to allow the breezes to move us, as well as making time to listen to where we’re being called to new life. In retrospect, the Camino, instead of being the end of my sabbatical year, was just the beginning of this journey for me.

Looking to the future, I’ve made a connection with a group called “The Next Chapter, Discerning Your Future in the Ignatian Tradition.”  This new-ish organization in the St. Louis area provides a year-long exploration of retirement within a community of seekers–and seems to be the next clue in solving the mystery of a future yet unformed.

Losing close friends and family has brought me face to face with the reality of time passing more quickly. I want to seize the blessings of each day and let the dream continue to change me.

Do you have one of these dreams? Share yours, and join me for the journey.

 

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To be Aware of the Search is to be on to Something

After a 31 day walk, one day in Santiago de Compostela, two days in Vienna, and four in Madrid, I am packing to leave this morning. Including travel days, I have been gone for 40 days, the longest time I’ve ever been away from home, and certainly the longest vacation (if you would call it that) that I’ve ever taken. Other than calls to home, some blog and Facebook posts, and a few assorted emails, until yesterday, I’ve been totally out of touch with my normal routines and the people that go with them. If you ask about the news of the past few weeks, I can only tell you some of the highlights, which actually are only the tragedies, that have happened whilst I have been away.

Sequestered.

Incommunicado.

Alone.

To use Spanish words, silencio, solo. These are experiences I had long given up, even when at home, alone. I remember well the days of longing for just a few minutes of peace, alone in the bathtub, when the boys were little. But, after a while, I became so entrenched in the busyness of everyday life that I forgot to take time to step away. Even as I left my job and began a “sabbatical,” I was still immersed in the everydayness that Walker Percy tells us prevents us from seeking all that life offers.

What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

So as I move into the final few months of my sabbatical year, the idea of a search is now a fleeting thought that has grown larger in my mind’s eye. I’m looking for a few inspirational books to read (suggestions, anyone?), a bit of good conversation with people interested or already engaged in a search of their own, and more long walks, hopefully in a place a bit more conducive to walking in the summer (we still have that apartment in Colorado!!). Let the search begin.

My Camino Stats and Advice

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I’ve been back for two weeks now, and my Camino walk is still fresh in my mind and reinforced vicariously as I read the blogs of people still in the midst of their journeys. On my 41 day trip–2 travel days, 33 days on the Camino, two in Vienna, and four in Madrid, I walked over 950,000 steps (over 400 miles), a journey that also included planes (12,000+ miles), trains (250 miles), buses (72 miles), taxis (32 miles) and automobiles (110 miles or 2 trips to St. Louis!!). Better than all that exercise, was the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who were there walking alongside of me, and to experience the less travelled, smaller villages of northern Spain–places of great beauty and wonderful, open-hearted people.

Here is some of my random advice about walking the Camino (FWIW-not guidelines or rules).

  1. Remember that your Camino begins and ends at your own front door–which means that (almost) everyone uses various kinds of transportation along the way. If you want to, you can walk, run, hop, bus, taxi, or hitchhike. Every walk is unique. Start your walk wherever you want to start, and walk whatever distance is comfortable for you each day. Walk at least some of the journey alone if you are able.
  2. Your Camino family doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture–and it probably won’t be. Sometimes my best experiences happened when I parted with new friends to walk the route I had planned. However, I reconnected with certain people and groups over and over again, and when I got to Santiago, I found friends that I knew there as well. Community happens in lots of places on the Camino, but I found that evening dinners in the albergues were some of the best times for me. I also found that it was worthwhile to stay at an albergue in the 10 euro range, although I did stay at some municipals, as well as a couple of donativos.
  3. Use poles; try to find some sticks that are not terribly noisy (mine clacked a lot).
  4. If you see an empty bench, sit on it. There may not be another one for a long ways. Sit a spell; take off your shoes and socks, air your feet, reapply Vaseline or the like, and put on dry socks if yours are wet before resuming your walk.
  5. Always stop at the first bar in town (there may not be a second one). And always use the bathroom facilities EVERY time you stop.
  6. Don’t give up the journey based on your early experiences. It takes about two weeks to get comfortable with the daily routine on the Camino, and for your body to adjust. On the other hand, don’t finish if you don’t want to. It’s not a competition, it’s your life. Live it your way.
  7. Spend some time thinking about what you are grateful for. Spend a little more time thinking about forgiveness, for yourself and others. We all need a little of that.
  8. Never worry too much about letting someone else carry your stuff–use the pack services. Take care of yourself and your feet. See No. 1.
  9. Look for the God breezes and let the wind of the Spirit blow you where it wills. Once I parted with a friend just because I walked down a street named Espíritu Sancto and felt called to that route. She walked up into the sunny hills, and I enjoyed a Piscean shady day’s walk by the river–we both got what we needed!
  10. Finally, don’t let your planning get in the way of actually walking. I spent a lot of time planning and reading, but when I arrived, I just started walking and figured things out as I went. I booked my first and last night’s lodging (Pamplona and Madrid) and the rest was done day to day. When my son decided at the last minute to do a study abroad summer in Vienna, I shortened my walk a bit so that I could visit him in Vienna on the weekend, which left me four nights in Madrid (and lots of time to see the 3 major art museums there)–but no possibility of going to Finesterre or Muxia. Saving that as well as St. Jean for another time perhaps? Anyway, be flexible, and enjoy the Way.

 

Thursday Night in Madrid

I leave Hostal Luis XV at about eight this evening to take a stroll, have a snack, and see what’s happening. Calle de Montera, leading to Puerta del Sol is humming with people, young and old, out for shopping and a stroll.

I walk down to the Opera area browsing in a few shops, and the street musicians are tuning and adjusting their instruments. At the Opera, I turn up towards Plaza Mayor and the sight of a yellow helicopter hovering over the area. I walk thru the nearby market, busy serving up tapas and alcoholic beverages to the after work crowd and tourists. There’s something for everyone. I stop at the olive vendor and choose some olive samples for a Euro each. Two are delicious, and I buy two more. Continuing on to a packed Plaza Mayor square, the sky begins to rain bookmark sized pamphlets. I’m thinking lottery tickets, the way people are running after them. It turns out that they are poems–Spanish poems. Apparently Spain has a thing about poetry. In celebration of 400 years, Plaza Mayor is participating in a poetry “bombing”; see the highlighted link if you want to know more. This was the night and everyone loved it, even those who couldn’t read Spanish. That being me, and a Scottish couple I met as I was collecting a few poems myself.

We started chatting, and I joined them for a beer. They were in Madrid for a week’s vacay, and had visited many times. They told me about their favorite places (jazz bars and seafood restaurants), and they were curious about my Camino. We parted company as they left for dinner (at 10 pm) and me to find a dip of ice cream and head back to my hostal.

I found the ice cream easy enough, and as the shops were closing, made my way back to Sol. It was crazy busy, with a busker playing music while guys did roller skating tricks. Music booming, a large crowd had gathered to watch. Others were watching them. Still others were heading to dinner or drinks and tapas. Dogs being walked, beggars aiming for a few quick bucks, and shopkeepers rolling down the storefront gates for the night. Madrid isn’t yet ready to sleep, but it’s 11 pm, and I am.

There’s No Place Like Spain

Me encanta España. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the beauty of the country that I’ve seen while strolling from village to village, the excitement of Madrid, with its vibrant, humming streets and plazas (Gran Vía, Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor), its unbelievable art museums (Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sophia), the opera at Teatro Royal where I saw the American opera, Street Scenes by Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes/Elmer Rice–I love…Everything.

Desayuno…at a cafeteria this time…note the Don Quixote theme continues.

The Prado

Goya. The Prado had rooms dedicated to his art, so one is able to really get a sense of his style (but no photos allowed).

Lions in front of the Spanish Congress building. No entry possible except by prearranged tours; armed soldiers posted 24/7..

The Fuente de Neptune.

Georgia O’Keefe and others from the Museo Thyssen. (Pics allowed!!). Edvard Muench for my bro, Rich.

More food…I love the Menu al día, essentially a three course dinner, available at mid-day for ridiculously cheap prices–less than 12€ in Madrid:

Primero, a hearty lentil soup, served with excellent house wine and warm, fresh bread.

Segundo, a beautiful serving of fish (whole), with a delicate sauce and couscous side (no pic, but imagine the whole fish looking at you with one 👁 up!).

Dessert, a wonderful (as in best in all my time away) flan. With café con leche.

And voilá, you are ready to walk for a couple hours more. Or take a siesta, your choice.

Santiago de Compostela

A good night’s rest after a fine meal with new friends makes for an excellent morning, albeit a Spanish morning. I’m having a hearty breakfast at the local restaurant, and 11 a.m. is perhaps a little late for Americans, but right on time here.

Last night’s dinner began with tapas and wine at about 7:30, and we asked for a table and were seated about 9. Roberto, an American who has an apartment in Barcelona and so speaks fluent Spanish, joined our group, and we left the ordering to him.

There was also an amazing dish of something pork that was tasty. We sopped up the leftover juices with bread, ordered to lemon pies to share, and laughed and talked until well after 10, when I mentioned I was glad to have keycard access to my albergue after hours. Janet was a little worried, as she now wasn’t sure if she would be locked out of hers–oops!! Hope you got in, Janet. This didn’t prevent us from stopping again at the Cathedral plaza, where a group of musicians were preparing to play.

Of course, we stopped and joined the fun. Then moving to the other side of the plaza, we heard an opera singer doing excerpts from Figaro, I think. On to bed for me.

But now it’s on to Mass at the Cathedral!!

I arrived at 11:30, despite warnings that 2 hours in advance would get you a good seat. Making my way to the kneelers behind the first section, I stick a toe inside the end of the kneeler, securing my position. The lady next to me made room, and I wasn’t part of the group escorted out right before services began in order to keep the aisles clear for safety purposes.

The service was typical, except for the angelic voice of our worship leader, a nun. The communion hymn was “Ubi Caritas,” one I know, and so I was able to sing along.

And at the end of the service, the famous botafumeiro swung, and it all hit me like a brick. The pilgrim blessings are done, the pilgrimage is done–all that is left is the return journey home. I wonder if this is how my mother felt after the pilgrimage weekends at Starkenburg, which always end with a solemn Mass.

My Swedish friend, Lotta, finds me in the crowd afterwards, and we celebrate the end of this long journey that has connected us with each other and a larger community of people throughout the world. We are tired and rest is on both our minds, but we have lunch and make plans for an early morning taxi to the airport. Then we each return to our own albergue. I plan to go to the Anglican pilgrim’s home later today, but will mainly rest up for my 6:40 a.m. flight tomorrow.

On to Vienna!

Journey’s End

It is good to have an end to journey towards but it is the journey that matters in the end.

Ernest Hemingway

Yesterday, just as I was checking in to my albergue, I was surprised by the arrival of my South Korean friends, amigas Li, Monika, Clara, Mathilda, and Julia. I haven’t seen them since Astorga, and I had incorrectly assumed that they were either ahead of or behind me. They had a 30+km day, and providence brought us together at the end!! We are walking together this morning, and we will attend Mass at the Cathedral.

Last night, I enjoyed dinner with a trio of Canadians–father, daughter, and son-in-law, and a Seattle couple, Becky and James Peet. Becky did her undergrad and med school in St. Louis, and James is a geographer but now budding author of what will be a series of sci-fi novels–the Corps of Discovery series. The first book is titled, Surveyor, and James gave me a sampling of the first chapter. The writing is good enough to entice me to buy it when I return. It involves time travel and weaves in some Lewis and Clark history along the way. Right up my alley.

So today this part of my journey comes to a finish. I think it will take some time to digest the experience, as it is quite different from anything I’ve ever done before. This walk has been like opening a door into another world–not quite time travel, but given the historic nature of this pilgrimage, that actually isn’t a bad comparison. Just as time travel would, the experience has shifted my center of gravity. I know that while everything will be the same when I return, nothing will be quite the same again.

And for that, I am grateful. The journey hasn’t ended, but the Way has changed me. My faith in humankind is surer, my body is stronger, and my heart is fuller. I know that if this many people are drawn to the idea of pilgrimage–no matter what draws them–there is more to it than meets the eye. Love wins. God is not dead. The Spirit still moves in this world, and sometimes, if you want to experience that, it helps to step out of the “everydayness” and take the road less traveled. Just my $.02. FWIW.

I have arrived at Santiago, but the journey continues…

The Rush to Santiago

On the road again.

It’s gold fever all over. We are 28 km from the city of Santiago de Compostela, translated as St. James of the field of stars, based on the legend which says that St. James, apostle of Jesus, spread Christianity to the Iberian peninsula. Later, returning to the Holy Land, James was beheaded, but the disciples were able to get his body to Jaffa, where a mysterious stone ship conveyed it back to the area of Galicia and the bones were promptly lost. A hermit and a bishop are led by a star to the site of the Saint’s bones, which were then considered relics by the church, hence the Cathedral of Santiago, and later the Way of St. James as an alternative to pilgrimage to the Holy Land or Rome. The Way of St. James as a pilgrimage is over 1,000 years old.

But I digress. The rush to Santiago is on. I sense that this is an age-old experience; the early pilgrims had some idea that they were close to Santiago when the land became greener, and the people, more Celtic in appearance and customs. Some modern-day pilgrims are actually planning to leave at 4 a.m. this morning to arrive there tomorrow, which is a feast day. It’s a very long 28 km walk scheduled for a 4 a.m. departure. For comparison’s sake, my hike today had me leaving this morning a bit earlier than usual, at 6:30, and I arrived at 3:30 or so after 25 km. That’s 9 hours of walking, eating, and resting, or almost 3 km an hour. I think they are nuts.

I plan to hike a very reasonable 18 km to Lavacolla, then 10 km on Thursday to arrive in Santiago in time to get a seat for noon Mass at the Cathedral. I expect that I will have to leave at about 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

Arrival on the feast day guarantees that the Botafumeiro, or thurible, will swing at Mass that day, so I risk missing this bit of ceremony, in place since the 12th century, but you can see this for yourself on YouTube here: Video

The walk through Galicia has been some of the prettiest scenery so far. The crowds from Sarria have spread out (and newcomers have slowed their walks due to blisters, etc.). You can still spot fresh hikers by their large packs and funny gait, but they are catching on to the routines quickly. And the cost to transport your pack has decreased from 5 to 3€ a day, although albergue costs seem to be eating up the savings.

The excitement of the early days is waning for all but the newest pilgrims. Plans are being made for post- Santiago: future travels, home, and for some, hiking on to Finesterre and or Muxia by the ocean. For me, this means a quick flight Saturday morning for a two days in Vienna with Dene, who will spend the better part of the summer there, then back to Madrid for a few days’ rest before the flight home.

Home. As in there’s no place like it. But not yet. On to Santiago!

At the Bar Again.

This caption sums up life in España. Everything revolves around the bars on Camino. A couple of examples, outside and inside:

I usually have a small bite before leaving my albergue–an orange or a banana, then set off for the nearest bar which is usually an hour’s walk. Then time for some real food. Zumo de naranja naturale (fresh orange juice), espresso (most people have café con leche or an Americano), and tortilla patata (potato tart). Throughout the day, there are frequent (well at least now they are) stops for more energy-laden food or drink. Caffeine is our primary fuel, and ibuprofen our mainstay. There is always something that aches, or is about to ache.

The bar is also a point of assistance–water, bathrooms, taxis, and a potential source of “hidden” habitacciones, in the event that all available albergues are “completo.” Some residents even leave a key at the bar, when they are on vacation, and the barkeep will rent a bed or two if the opportunity arises. The bartender is a trusted pillar of the Spanish community, and do they work hard?? Yes, they do–from early mornings to crowds on sunny afternoons–some even serve dinner to their patrons. Tonight is such an evening for me. I have a private room at a pensión for 25€, and dinner can be had at one of two nearby bars. Usually, they serve a standard pilgrim menu, 2 courses and dessert. The primero is usually salad or soup, followed by some kind of filling main course, usually a little protein with rice. Always, there is bread and plenty of the local wine. Some of these meals have been outstanding; some barely edible, but either way, you have to replace calories burned or go to bed starving.

Yesterday, I had my first taste of pulpo, or octopus, the regional specialty.

Delicious, and pure protein–they add a little olive oil, paprika, and that is all. Well, except for the bread and 🍷.

Some other samples of great food that I’ve had:

There is Galician stew–white beans, potatoes,collard greens, and whatever protein is available that day, and cooked beef, with roasted red peppers without the skin, peas, mushrooms, and rice. roasted chicken and potatoes:

Roast chicken is another standard. Usually, the meal served at an albergue is hosted by the owner, soup is ladled from a big pot, followed by great applause for the second course. These albergues are the special ones, owned by fellow Camino peregrinos who found a way to combine love and money on the Way.

Casa Susi and Fernán, followed by Christine’s dinner table and Christine with guest and my table partner, Roberto.

So there you have it, I’m a bar hopper.

In Airexe tonight, on to Melide tomorrow. I arrive, God willing, in Santiago on May 24.

Casting Out Fear.

Well, it just happened. The first person announced on the blogs that he had booked every night for the rest of his walk. Whew!! The ripples of stress will reverberate throughout the remainder of our walk.

I have thought a lot about this reservation thing. Since I have to send my pack forward most days (leg is only good with megadoses of ibuprofen support, so I’m not packing it), I have to know where I’m planning to arrive each night so that it can meet me there. So far, I have resisted the urge to reserve a spot in advance. This is not yet high season. Certainly there are plenty of beds available. But now I will worry. But not too much.

The scenery in Galicia is lovely: lush, green, and dewy. There are cool paths to walk on, and little springs pop up along the way. Wildflowers are everywhere, as if planted in a well-tended garden.

At O Cebreiro yesterday, I took a quick pic of a grave in the ancient church. It is a newer burial, and contains the remains of the man who, in modern times, revived the Camino way by placing yellow arrows to direct pilgrims. Over time, this age old tradition has been renewed by people of many (and no) faiths. All along the path though, there are missionaries of all kinds–some priest, sister, monk–and others simply kind and peace-loving people who have big hearts and wish to do their part to create a better world, to bring us closer to heaven on this earth.

As I hear whisps of news from home, I hear of another shooting, and the local newspaper headlines a devastating plane crash in Cuba. It puts me in mind of one of my favorite prayers, taught to me during a time of crisis, when prayer was almost impossible.

May we be safe.

May we be peaceful.

May we be healthy.

May we take care of our lives easily.

And so the new day begins.