Monday, October 6, 2008

No Place Like Home

After a thousand trips up and down my new apartment's stairs, I'm finally moved in and mostly unpacked. A few pieces of borrowed furniture and some extremely groovy thrift store lamps later, things are looking ready to be lived in. This has been a tough one for me due to the fact that it's the first time since my first year of marriage that I've lived in a place that has absolutely no elegance or even shabby-chic charm to lend a hand. It's taken all of my decorating X-Men power to transform this 1970's cheap architectural tribute into an environment with a little dignity fueled by self-deprecating humor.

Four months have passed like a blinding flash of sun in the rear-view mirror. A suitcase, Spain, and the hospitality of friends have provided me with everything I needed to spin me around and point me in the direction of the donkey whose tail I expectantly hold aloft. The same amount of certainty those hapless party game participants possess in search of their target guides me in my pursuit of renewed life in Chico. What job will provide me with the income and inspiration I need? Are creative musical co-conspirators waiting in the wings for me to discover? Can my ego survive the downsizing and disappointment I face in the attempt to live within my means both monetarily and emotionally?

These questions are by no means unique I discovered over coffee with a friend on a break from moving mayhem. She too feels lost in between the nostalgia of an irretrievable past and an inconceivable future. "What's the point of settling in here if I don't know I'm going to stay?", she mused in a melancholy expression of doubt. A worthy rhetorical question, isn't it? Why do any of us dare to nail up pictures, get close to a friend or lover, get involved in community if we're bound to move or break up eventually?

As soon as the question is framed, the answer hits me with the simplicity and force that are the hallmarks of truth: quality of life. We do those things because life is short, and we can drift helplessly and hopelessly, or we can have a tea party while the grim reaper sharpens his scythe. That kind of attitude is what puts a secret smile on my face. It's the satisfaction I felt as I followed a creative urge to adorn my kitchen with geometric patterns of Mexican Loteria cards, to bring my guitar to a friend's chemo treatments, to make music out of sadness. So as I build my new life, all be it a house of cards, I’ll light some candles, place each Bicycle with style, and enjoy the structure in it’s precarious elegance as long as it lasts. It’s home for now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I found one of my favorite poems written on a rock on top of the Cruz de hierro which says basically, "Traveler, there is no path, the path is made as you walk..... and looking back you see the way that you will never pass again." Looking over these pictures to post, I certainly get that feeling. Towns, people, and scenery I may never see again seem very dear to me as I sit in a familiar coffee shop back in my adopted home town.

Here I am, back at the scene of the crime sounding like a broken record as I explain, "Yes, I thought I might be gone for a year, but I decided to come back." One of the reasons I wanted to go to Spain was that I had a hunch that once I got there, I might never return. It was a strange sensation to look around me and think how wonderful everything was, but at the same time, to have no desire to stay.

If this post seems disoriented, jumbled, melancholy, or sentimental in any way, welcome to the current landscape of my mind. For the most part, everything feels remarkably normal. On the other hand, I'm continually overtaken with a lump in my throat and an ache in my chest that I can't place. Do I want to be back in Spain? No. Do I want to be here? Yes. I've just never been here before.

There's a character in one of my favorite Paulo Coelho books, The Alchemist, who is a Muslim glass shop owner who has always dreamed of going to Mecca, but has no plans to ever actually do it. He fears that if he goes, his life will have no purpose once he has completed his journey. With that fear also in my mind, I decided to go on my journey anyway and confront that possibility with a brave face. I think anytime we choose to explore things we really want, we are signing up for the next question which goes something like, "What now?"

Let's be honest. Here's the answer to my question in a nutshell.

1. I'm living in my newly married best friend's guest room.
2. Um, employment anyone?
3. To quote the ever wise boyfriend, Dave, "Music for music's sake."
4. Did I mention boyfriend?

Basically, the honeymoon's over and this is my life. For quite some time that reality has been mitigated by legitimate excuses like being recently divorced, getting ready to go to Spain, moving out of my apartment, and the like. I feel equally daunted as I did when I first injured my knee coming down from the Alto de perdon and realized that I still had about 700 kilometers until Santiago and I had better figure out how I was going to get there in my sorry state. The idyllic picture I had of spiritual encounters with a backdrop of gorgeous scenery was going to be more like, "Shit, shit, shit!" with every step peppered with moments of, "Isn't that a beautiful sunrise!"

But the truth is, I did it. I figured it out, and I'm here relatively safe and sound. If nothing else, what I'll take from my camino experience is the belief that no matter what, I can do it even if it doesn't look like I thought it might, and like the poem says, I make my path as I go.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Third Day

The Lord rose on the third day, and God willing, so will I. Thursday morning will be the last walking day, finishing up with a mild 20k as the gates of Santiago de Compostela open and I sink my palm into the handprint on the column at the entrance of the cathedral. It´s been literally up and down for the past few days as the path and my attitude rises and falls.

I´ve fallen in and out of some remarkable groups of people and shared meals and war stories with people in a pidgeon dialect of whatever language is best understood between Italians, Eastern Block, Spanish, and you-name-it. This afternoon was barrel of laughs with a suprisingly homogenious group of Spaniards(minus moi) over pulpo(octopus) and Ribadeira, a local wine. It´s been a nice balance of conversation and intense isolation over whatever book I´ve been able to scavenge along the way.

My injured knee has been cooperating nicely for the last five days, although it hurts like hell various moments/hours of the day. I need three more days out of it, and I hope it holds out. We have little conversations that go something like this:

ME "Well, how are you doing this morning as we start off our 25k day?"
KNEE "I fucking hurt, if you haven´t noticed, but you still keep making me walk ridiculous distances."
ME "I hear you, love, but we have to keep going until we reach the next cowshit town in Galicia where I promise I´ll get you a nice cafe con leche and let you rest for at least 15 minutes."
KNEE "Ooh. I do like those, but, hey, wait a minute! Then you´re going to make me go again! But maybe if you get me a beer the next time I´ll do my best. Maybe."

I won´t bore you with the rest, but it goes on and on in endless bargaining sessions that have ended in bus rides to the next town in the past. So I´m a little edgy because you´re supposed to walk the last 100k if you want the real experience. (I´m down to 65k if you must know.)

Anyway, thanks for the wonderful comments to my last blog-on-the-run entry. I laughed out loud as read your responses, and you better believe I´m calling your bluff when it comes to the chow. The spiciest thing I´ve eaten so far is the dish called Pimientos al Padrino that consists of roasted green peppers and some of them are hot, but not all! It´s like a little game to play while having tapas. I got a "hot" one that almost made me blink. Really hard core, Spaniards.

Here´s a poem that came to me while walking one morning.

Where Old Men Meet

It is always early morning where old men meet.
Absent words with wives
appear from thin air,
and suddenly there is time
and pretty young women
who find them

Coffee, bitter as the waitress who pours
flows eternally into the stained mug,
and if we are smart we all know
we will sit on the stool
next to the cane
that rests precariously
on the counter´s

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the Road

Joder= An important Spanish swear word that I have aquired, and appropriate for my state of mind.

After almost two weeks on the road, I have finally come across some accesible internet here in the historic town of Astorgas. I arrived via bus from Leon after giving myself the luxury/necessesity of a couple of days involving a hotel room where I can use the bathroom when I want, as well as some errands that needed to get taken care of during the blessed hours between siesta and evening. This has been a, well, interesting trip. So far I have:

1. Seen some beautiful scenery.
2. Walked about 200 k.
3. Injured my left knee during the descent of the Alto de Perdon.
4. Met a fascinating/fun assortment of Spanish, American, Italian, Australian, and French people.
5. Slept in more crowded, smelly albergues than I ever thought I could stand though I have 12 more days.

I was waiting for some real spiritual awakening, but instead I´ve discovered the following things:

1. I am SO done traveling alone in Spain.
2. I want to eat spicy food so badly that I would kill someone without batting an eye in exchange for some Thai yellow curry.
3. I can handle about a week of nasty living conditions and then I start becoming an animal.
4. I want to actually have a relationship with Dave instead of talk on the phone. (I won´t mention the other things I´m thinking about regarding Dave, but I´ve been gone since June 1st, so you do the math.)
5. I want to play MUSIC.

The Camino de Santiago has proven so far to be somewhere between a masochistic tourist trap and a cheap way to travel Spain and meet alot of cool people you would otherwise pass by if it weren´t for your joint suffering. I´m doing my girl scout best to try to have a good attitude, but it´s hard, god damn it. I´ve had some nice suprises along the way in the little things, like the fact that the bus station cafe was open this Sunday morning and I drank a kick-ass cafe con leche, and smoked two cigarettes before 8AM to the grooviest assortment of 80´s tunes. The guy behind the counter and I were equally enjoying the "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, oooooo, whoooa" of "Don´t You Forget About Me", and when you´re in my state of mind that means alot.

I can´t count on this miraculous internet time again, but if I do, I´ll tell you the rest of the story. Until then, say a little prayer for me while I´m "en camino."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Turn Towards the Sun

Life changes in an instant, and I went from summer camp English teacher to a preparing pilgrim in a flash. My "month in a monastery" came to a delightful culmination Thursday evening when, Forenex, the company that runs the camp took all 20 of the teachers out for dinner at the unexpectedly chic restaurant here in population 500 Ulces. The food here has been -there's no other way to say it, bad, so the contrast of a tower of grilled vegetables topped with a round of toasted golden goat cheese made the girls at my end of the table groan in a decidedly sensual manner. It's hard to believe that I won't be seeing this great bunch of people together like this again this lifetime. Certainly lasting friendships were formed and there is the anticipation of reunions in New York City, San Francisco, and maybe even Madrid or Barcelona.
It was no easy task grabbing and holding the interest of 10-13 year old Spanish kids for five hours a day as they missed home, got sick, got frustrated, and generally bothered me to death. They did end up charming me in the end, and I think I made alot of new fans after both sets of clases sang one of my songs for their end of term talent show performance.
What I will really miss are the incredible acoustics in every room and hallway inside this beautiful building. I have become completley spoiled by pulling out my guitar and lightly strumming and singing in a wash of natural reverb whenever I want. I can see why monks would like it.
Now I've got one day to sort through my luggage and prepare a backpack that will supply me with what I need for twenty five days, but not break my shoulders. After living out of a suitcase for the last two and a half months I'll be happy to put on the one pair of pants and the same tank top without digging through a pile of clothes.
After talking to the Ever Patient Boyfriend on Skype, I realized that it would be wise to note my pre-camino state of mind. I feel a little less green as far as foreign travel goes, satisfied with the experience of getting TEFL certificated and having taught for a month, both delighted and tired from meeting and saying goodbye to so many wonderful people and kids, ready to kiss Dave and see friends, and am slightly excited about the last phase of the trip. A month in Ucles has certainly quieted my mind, but I simply don't know what to expect as I sail off to hours walking, looking, and thinking. As I look out on the fields of sunflowers you see in the photo above, I'm reminded of the simple, but lovley idea of a multitude of similar yet individual flowers slowly stretching to catch every ray of light offered to them. As I become a pilgrim along with so many who are walking the path, I will seek to do the same and become a breathtaking scene to whatever divine audience is watching.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quincena 2

#1 My class!
#2 View from my window(no joke)
#3 Entrance to the monastery

I'm finally taking a breath after two weeks of teaching and figuring out how things work out in the middle of nowhere. As I mentioned before, Ucles is the home of a monastery of the Order of Santiago(yes, it's related to the Camino de Santiago that I'll be doing in August) and it's beautiful. The view from my window stuns me every time I look out as the light changes on the ancient walls and birds constantly circle the towers. There is a tiny store, two bars, and a church in the plaza. The town people are very friendly as they are used to a lot of newcomers every summer because of the summer camp. I've already taught my first class, gone running past the old ruins, drank from the town fountain that everyone stops by to fill up jugs of water, and had a late night song sharing session with the locals-one gypsy/flamenco tune per KJB. Internet access here is quite limited, and I normally work about ten hours a day. It's a lot of work figuring the maze of schedules and preparing five hours of instruction a day.

More to come, but I have to go down to the cafeteria for lunch(that's a story in and of itself), and we'll see if I can fit in a few more moments of computer time before the next set of students arrives this fine Sunday evening at 5pm......

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sensory Overload

#2 Caves outside Leon-Creepy, huh?
#1 Gigantes(giants) at Leon's festival

More pictures to come when my connection's not running out.....

No! It isn't true! I didn't get hit buy any of the crazy drivers in Madrid, run off with gypsies, or drown in a plaza fountain during the mayhem following Spain's victorious claiming of the Eurocup. I was quite simply carried off on a proverbial wave of events, some business, some pleasure, some mundane.

Having finished the TEFL course last Friday, I got down to some serious celebrating, shopping, site seeing, and errand running. The fair friendships that blossomed have been mercilessly plucked as buses, trains, and planes take each of us now certified TEFL teachers to the four corners of Spain. It also makes for continuous reasons to stay out late seeing each one off along the merry way.

EUROCUP. That's all that needs to be said for anyone who knows anything about soccer, but since so many don't in the states(really, including me), I'll add a little more. To say Spain is obsessed with soccer is a serious understatement. With that in mind, imagine a whole nation, not to mention the rest of the world, poised in front of television sets in bars, apartments, and even big screens projected on the side of a building in Plaza Colon. The chanting, cheering, and general mayhem started with the game at 8:45pm, and continued well into the next morning because Spain WON. They haven't won since 1964, so people were a little excited. I watched in a small family bar and drank beer, smoked, and cheered, "A por ellos" or "ES-PA-NA" along with the best of them. Then I took a stroll with a couple of classmates and watched guys with huge Spanish flags stand in the streets making cars pass through like a bull and torero. Every fountain in every plaza was filled with people splashing about like escaped lunatics. An experience not to be soon forgotten.

I'm feeling melancholy as I'm about to leave this fair city Sunday morning to make my way to camp where I'll be teaching five hours a day as well as acting as assistant camp director, i.e. the person they get to do anything they don't feel like doing. As I've mentioned, it's in a small town called Ucles in Cuenca. More specifically, in a monastery on a hill that looks like the setting of Hogwort's in Harry Potter. True to my Jekell and Hyde self, I'm reluctant to leave my hostal where I can walk out the door and within five minutes eat incredible food, see magnificent architecture, and shop like I'm in New York City. However, I've also started to feel the jitters that hit me when I don't go running or hiking in lonely places, and where it is actually quiet enough to allow a person to think.

I'm also happy to report that my writers block as far as poetry and song goes has started to dissipate. I've written two complete poems the last two days, and if I don't loose my courage, and my classmates/volunteer managers, Jaime and Eric, don't back out, I'm planning on playing in the commercial area on the street to see if I can't make a few extra euros. I'll let you know how it goes, and hopefully, continue to update the blog if the internet connection proves better than the vicious rumors have stated about camp.