On Sunday I watched Inglourious Basterds with Toady and Friends. I have to say that I generally love Tarantino and I was quite entertained by this movie. They say that if you leave the theater still talking about the movie then that marks it as a good film (whether you like it or not, you're still there talking about it so there was something about it, right? Perhaps flawed logic. Discuss.). We, indeed were still talking about the movie after it ended and WOW wouldn't that have been a bangin' end to World War II? I think so.
But, seriously? What's with all the gratuitous violence? In like, ALL of Tarantino's movies. I can't help but wonder if no one ever hugged this guy as a child. Was he the kind of person who did horrible things to small woodland creatures and his sister's Barbies? Or is he just a bit of a sicko? Because, really: I KNOW this kind of stuff exists in real life but I don't really want to SEE it.
So I say, Mr. Tarantino, I take your gratuitous violence and I up you a cuteoverload.com and a litter of Teacup Poodles. Topped with a f*#cking rainbow and a unicorn. Maybe next time you could take it down a notch??? Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you'll get right on that.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Just as a little side note about nothing terribly important - have I really gotten so boring? I had thirty five reads yesterday!!! I haven't been so low in years...
I know I haven't been writing so much this summer but wow what is happening here!? My readers who are left, what say you by way of advice??? I think I need an intervention or somethin' here...
In exactly seven days I will be celebrating my one year anniversary of coming to Paris. I dare say it's cause for a celebration.
Meanwhile it happens to also be the first week of school for the boys I watch. Wednesday is the day and even though I don't really do anything differently for them in the summer than the during the school year, I still feel like something is changing. I've felt like I was a little on vacation the whole time that they were, despite the fact that I still had my normal work to do in the big house.
Now, even though essentially nothing will change, I am anticipating with pleasure the idea of being back on some semblance of a schedule. It's funny how little things - like children hanging out in your space in their pajamas - can make you feel ten times less productive. Well, I have to blame it on SOMETHING.
But the whole city has been different, too. Everyone (and their pretentious purse dogs) abandoned Paris for the last month, leaving the Metros calm, the streets filled with foreigners and the shutters boarded up on the batiments to say "Screw ya'll, we're at the beach."
Here they have an official NAME for the end of the summer vacations. Rentre, it's called. Everyone knows it as that, the store advertise summer Rentre sales, the billboards taunt you with last minute deals to weekend getaways (Malta! 400 Euros all inclusive!), a constant reminder that the chill in the air is right around the corner and we we all return to our comfortably monotonous lives longing for some heat and sun very, very soon.
Me, I have a list of things to do including getting my high heels resoled, organizing my closet, replacing my favorite grey sweater and getting my winter coats dry cleaned. But registering for courses again is up there with importance. Once I have my class schedule in hand I will fill in the chart I made (Yes I've made a chart and I intend to put on my wall, I am an enormous dork I know.) with the hours I will allot to moving forward on my "other projects". Have I told you about my "other projects"? That is for another post. Suffice it to say that the projects are, to no end, are giving me a great deal of anxiety.
Today I added to my list calling up my fabulous therapist from Austin and asking if we can have phone sessions.
It's a fitting way to begin a new year, I think. Nothing like a good cleanse of the old habits to make room for the new. No sense waiting till January to do that.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The shiny metallic objects rained from above, firing mercilessly. Each neuron shot a direct hit into the nerve center, paralyzing it, filling air with lighting bolts of electricity.
"WHHHHHHHEEEHAHAHAa!" Cried tinny voices from the bobbling blue heads that maneuvered the space crafts.
"Weez will conquerz youz allz!"
The blue sky was filled with spaceships which quickly consumed the light like a cloud of filthy silver flies. The ground began to dissolve around the nerve center, crumbing awake weakly. Long arms of tree roots clung desperately onto the last bits of sanity.
The neurons fired and fired again, destroying each of it's targets one by one. If there had only been one of them, if there had only been one tiny spaceship - then the nerve center may have stood a ghost of a chance, but this was WAR. Million of electric shocks - no TRILLIONS now - rattled it's core lighting it up like a broken pin ball machine. From the inside out it began to rattle, smoke, cry out for all the help it could.
Fizzling began with the rain and even as the aliens dropped to the ground (killed by a sudden drainage of power) we could see there was no hope for the nerve center. Quickly - much more quickly than the attack - it began to pool around itself in a pink puddle of oozing goo. Gelatinous and sticky it degraded until there was nothing left to fire at but a throbbing glassy lake, breathing it's last breaths of life. The aliens, had they been alive to see it, would have seen how futile their efforts had been. Because there, in the mess of slime that used to be my cerebral cortex, it was edvident that there had never been any creativity in the first place.
All that attacking they had done was for nothing, and what a damn mess they had made too.
Monday, August 24, 2009
I can't claim the finders fee for these hot chicks - I found them over there at DecoyBetty.
But after she posted I proceeded to watch everything on their page, plus some of the solo stuff by Kate Micucci who, consequently played Ted's girlfriend Gooch on season 8 of Scrubs. But I hope this didn't break up the band.
My favorites are a toss up between the above song and this one. Gah, these girl are funny.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
In the yard next door a dog whistle blows, silencing the little yapping thing for a solid five minutes. Horses neigh down at the nearby stable. Exotic birds imported from a place uncertain make low sweet calls. Above them, in the sky, the road of aeroplanes bellow. They are in a constant procession, still low from the take off, and just as the engines become a soft rumble in the distance another takes to the horizon. They bear their shiny white bellies down at us, shadowed like cartoon sharks as seen from the cold depths below. They are inanimate despite the hundreds of people they carry like tiny barnacles on the fins of flying fish. The leaves of the cotton wood are blown into a rustle above us - that tree whose back used to scratch us when we climbed as children - offering a cool shade now. we are elongated in a row on plastic chairs with bright yellow cushions - the color of luxury. A mourning dove coos. Another plane overhead. A page flutters and we snore softly in the breeze.
Friday, August 21, 2009
- I made my very first Ratatouille and it was good.
- The next day I followed it by making rabbit, which I dare say was awesome.
- I think I have the knack of French cooking, finally.
- This makes me so happy that I made Ratatouille again for Mr. Toad (and he loved it).
- After three separate days involving three hour waits and one near break up (I'm still sorry for that Toad!) I finally got my carte de sejour.
- Even though it's technically just a recipisse because in one month I will start the whole long-term visa process over again.
- No matter, it means I am legal and should I care to leave the Schengen countries no one will give me a bother.
- At long last I was motivated to take my 400 or so Euros worth of medical reimbursements down to the Social Security office and so now I just have to wait for the money to roll in. Or rather, Toady has to wait, because I owe him approximately that much money from the Spain trip. Ahem.
- I called my student loan company and asked for a deference. This is long long LONG overdue. How long you ask? LONG.
- I have now finished three and a half books entirely in French.
- (The last half belonging to Flowers for Algernon which is a book I enjoy so much I didn't want it to be lost in the translation and so opted to finish it in English.)
- I got some motivation back, which is to say that I am no longer having the fits of anxiety that plagued me just after I got back from Spain (What am I going to DO with my life!!?) and am starting very slowly to move in a forward direction.
- And the direction has an actual destination.
- Or, at least, a semblance thereof.
- So, for all that, I am happy.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
My friend C and I have instituted a weekly get together. She lives in the 20th arrondisment, not far from Pere Lachaise, which means that in order to get together during the week one or the other of us must stay the night. Naturally, because I love Paris so much (and because she has a real job to get to in the morning) I more often go to her place.
Like her, the apartment is lovely. Recently she re-decorated and one night we dined at her new table near the open window, little tea lights flickering out in the wind.
I had made bean salad that night - because we go pot luck style and each of us always provides something to eat and drink - and we ate it while re-hashing our respective weekly events.
"The black beans aren't cooked enough, I'm sorry," I lamented, "I should have made couscous instead."
"No, it's wonderful!" she replied graciously as a hard black bean shot across the table. "Wait, where did it go?"
I picked up the bean, which was next to her wine glass, and held it between my fingers, not sure if I should eat it or keep it for the trash.
"You can toss it," she said, motioning towards the window.
For a moment I wavered trying to remember where the street cafe was in relation to her winow and then into the fading light I tossed the bean off the balcony.
"AAAAHHHHHHHHOOOOWWWWW!!!!" replied an anguished cry from below, not three seconds later.
C and I dissolved into giggles. I didn't dare look to see if it was really my bean that had caused the cry.
"I guess I should have cooked the beans longer!" I laughed.
"I mean, yeah!" she replied, hysterical, "With that trajectory and from this height..."
"I hope he didn't lose an eye!"
"Death by black bean!"
"Well, there are worse ways to go!"
And all semblance of seriousness vanished out the window with the hard little black bean.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I will be the first to admit that I did not actually see very much of Barcelona. My hotel was smack in the middle of the gothic quarter and though I had heard of all the amazing museums and Roman architecture the city has to offer, that little corner was enough to fill me up.
The streets were filled with color. On the women, wrapped in short pink skirts and billowy cotton dresses and on the young men wandered around in board shorts carrying bright beach towels, skin dark and beaded with sweat. White linen pants and shirts hung loosely from the sophisticated men with slicked black hair. Buildings shot up towards the brilliant blue sky in all the shades of a faded rainbow.
Once at the hotel I immediately laid down and slept like the dead for hours. The bed wasn't the most comfortable in the world but it was clean and there was air conditioning and I didn't have to share it with anyone.
When I woke I went in search of tapas, following my cunning internal map which was drawn in squiggles and dead ends and with a compass that read "look for all the people. Get food there." It didn't take me far, actually, just around a few hundred corners that somehow stayed within the same ten city blocks. Evening was falling, the city humming.
There, while drinking alone, I met a group of English speakers - two from the Netherlands and a girl from Sao Paolo - well into their pitcher of Sangria.
They invited me to sit down, which I gladly did, and we proceeded to drink another three pitchers of the sweet stuff before moving on to meet the lovely Brazilian girl's Barcelona friends at a hooka bar. I didn't stumble back to the hotel until well after three. I think.
Needless to say, the next day found me wrecked, and so I did what any good hungover person would do and laid by the pool.
For the whole day. I picnicked and read and waded and worked on my tan. I followed that day up by doing nearly the same exact thing except at the beach, feeling only slightly guilty that I wasn't touring the cities magnificent sites.
I considered this: though I was vacationing alone I hadn't been completely by myself but for the few nights I was traveling. There is always companionship when you want to find it. But in the same vain, it can be exhausting to find new friends every night, and I found myself wishing that Toad (or any of my other friends!) were there with me to share the fun, to encourage me out to see historical monuments or have dinner with me. I was ready to go home.
Then it was over. At three in the morning a cab picked me up and took me to the airport to fly back to Paris. Stuffed into my sack was the paper trail of my trip: maps, a pilgrims passport, receipts and tickets from trains and restaurants and the hotel. Sentimentally I kept them all, knowing someday I would look back at them because I am that kind of person. A book for my mother was wedged in beside dirty pants and socks and a sack full of Spanish Rosemary I had pulled from an enormous plant in Castrojeriz. Three new dresses from Barcelona laid neatly on top of my dirty hiking boots.
Even though I didn't really go far, I felt like I had been all over the world in ten days. So many different faces and voices mingled in my head as the plane took off and touched down, sinking into my heavy sleep of exhaustion.
I was home again. And, just like when I had come home from Munich, I found myself oddly happy to be surrounded by grumpy, grumbling Parisians. I love this place, it's confirmed. After a year it's my home. For one more year I can make plans for my future, and like those short days on the Camino de Santiago I will put one foot in front of the other (no matter how tired or heavy the weight) until I get to the top.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Dawn came and because I had been awake since 3 a.m. I tiptoed out of the room as quietly as possible to repack my bag one last time and be ready to get on the road. One of the young men I met the night before, kindly searched on the internet for me to see when the next trains to Barcelona were. The next one was at nine and I planned to be on it.
My original plan was not to hitchhike. I had been told that one bus passes through Castrojeriz each morning at eight and goes to Burgos and so I had in mind to catch it. When I left the albergue, exhausted and anxious, I went directly to the bus stop. The streets were dead. I was an hour early.
In the rising sun a feral greyhound searched the dumpsters for food and then took off into the field to do several joyous mad laps. I waited. While I waited I did something remarkable, which is that I actually considered my next action. I thought about the bus, considered that it came at eight and probably stopped in any number of the small towns before Burgos which would take far longer than the hour I had and then I decided I didn't want to chance missing that train. So, nervously - awkwardly - I stuck out my thumb.
I was passed by every decent looking car on the road. Since it was pushing towards eight by now most of the cars, I assumed, were heading to work. I began scratching out "Burgos" in the back of my journal when a dirty little truck honked at me to get in.
"Oh sweet jesus," I thought as I looked into the window. "Of course this would be the car that stops for me."
The entire vehicle was covered in a layer of dirt. In the back there were six bottles of something I couldn't quite identify. Maybe gasoline. There was a scent I couldn't quite place.
The driver - an plump old man with short fat fingers - was wearing an apron, though I couldn't figure why. When he tried to speak to me in Spanish, his tongue pushed through a big gap where his front teeth should have been. After a moment of anxiety I assessed him as probably the least dangerous character I could have gotten in the car with. His face was completely absent of malice and if I had been able to speak Spanish I might have had a conversation with him. Until I recognized the smell in his car: Trash.
I couldn't understand why, aside from the layer of dirt and the questionable objects in the back, there was nothing that indicated that his car should smell of raw sewage. And yet it did. So in lieu of being more polite I buried my nose in my scarf and scribbled in my notebook for the forty minutes of driving to Burgos. When he dropped me off right in front of the train station I gave him ten euros and wished him "Buenos Dias".
In the end my little loss of a day cost me an additional 63 euros (plus the 75 euros extra night stay at the Hotel) but I didn't give one single shit. I was tired of hopping from bed to bed and tired of sharing a shower. Because I wasn't going to continue on the trail I was ready to move onto relaxation. Barcelona - and my hotel - met me with open arms.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
How long have I had this blog? I think around two and a half years now. Seems like forever and I know that some of you have been reading since the very beginning. Wow, we've been through a lot haven't we? And we've ended up here, in Paris, chasing the ever fleeting dream of finally being able to make a living at the things we love.
I have decided that, as a means to both extend my stay in Europe and actually finish my book, I am going to start applying to some Artist Residencies. I will have to come up with a way to fund it, of course (this alone will be no small task) and I will need to pull some things out of my ass to make myself worthy of a spot in any of these Residencies (Ahem, Writers CV I'm looking at you.) Not just anyone can get them, obviously. You have to be a legitimate artist, writer or musician, with a legitimate project in the works. I have more than one, it's true. I have several art projects I'd love to make real but for my residency I will focus on my book. It is the one thing I know I would regret not doing at the end of my life. So I have to find a way to make it happen.
Enter small problem number one (small problem number two being above mentioned CV): I need letters of recommendation. I think that I can find at least two "professionals who have known of your work for at least five years", but that won't be enough. I want these strangers to know that I not only have what it takes but that Goddamnit people like me! And this, my dearest readers, is where you come in.
If you feel strongly enough about my abilities to put out a book, one that you would love to read, I would love to receive your eloquent (because I know you all are!) and sincere letters of recommendation. You all, here, are the reason I write, that I keep writing, and though I admittedly SUCK at responding to your comments and emails (and I'm really sorry about that by the way! Working on it!) each one I receive means the world to me. Having your letters of recommendation would be the sweetest gift you could ever give me.
So, if you think this is something that you would be up to doing, please email me at the address over on the right sidebar there, and I will email you directly with a physical address. What say you dearest readers? Can I make an artist residency happen? Not without you, it's for sure.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I was bit by bed bugs at three in the morning.
"Oh shit," I thought. "They said there were bedbugs here, and sure enough there are."
I scratched myself, suddenly getting that sensation that there were bugs crawling all over my body. It was hot, despite the open windows. No breeze came in. I listened to the people snoring. I was wide awake.
Those wide awake midnight thoughts filled my head. I couldn't escape them and didn't try. Until one. I looked frantically at my clock and then out at the darkness.
"I'm supposed to be on a train right now." Fuck, I thought to myself. Somehow - somehow - I had managed to change my train ticket to one in the morning. And not the one in the morning of the following day as I had concluded. The one in the morning that was three hours ago. Yes, I had missed my train.
There, as four o'clock in the morning moved past my cell phone clock, I decided to never again book a vacation alone. I am not capable of being responsible for dates, times and / or maps. Next time, there will be a navigator who is not me, I said to myself.
But there was nothing I could do. And so I laid there until sunrise when I would hitchhike to Burgos in order to catch my train on time.
On the second day of the trail I discovered exactly how good of an idea it was to stay the night in Hornillo. Though I started early - thanks to a room full of Spanish people who all woke up at 5:15, turning on the lights to ensure that I wouldn't be going back to sleep - the first six kilometers (3 miles) were hard. It was a fairly gradual incline, but it never seemed to end. I was exhausted and cold. On one particularly long hill I created a mantra:
"Don't look up, keep your eyes right in front of your feet. If you look at the top of the hill you will be disappointed. Don't look up, one foot in front of the other..."
I said this to myself for a good hundred paces (that seemed like forever) before I gave in and looked at the top of the hill which, indeed, did disappoint me. I zipped my down puff vest up around my neck, thankful that I had grabbed it at the last minute before leaving France. The top of each hill crested to another rolling plain.
Nearing the end of the six kilometers I guessed that I still had a long trek to go. I wanted to sleep, but there was no respite from the cold wind. In tired desperation I huddled against a rock, laid out on the borrowed inflatable mat and pulled my scarf around me like a head tent. For a few minutes it worked, but no rest was had. Reluctantly I got up and kept moving.
But I had reached the crest of the valley. The worst of it was over for the day and, thankfully, I came upon one of the hikers I had been chatting with the night before. Casually, naturally, we fell in step together. Both of us were more than pleased to have the company.
For the last eighteen kilometers my new German friend and I walked. Sometimes we spoke and sometimes words were tiresome, but somehow we knew which was which. We meandered through the fields of wheat, of wind turbines and of sunflowers, talking about life, our respective loves, our lives. Despite not knowing each other at all, there was a comfort found in companionship out there in the middle of nowhere.
Because we had miles and miles to go, the only thing we could do was talk. We talked while walking, we talked while sipping coffee in the little towns between the miles, we talked while smoking cigarettes and stripping our layers to adapt to the mounting heat of the day.
This was what it was about for me. Life, having someone to ask the questions to, finding the answers in the quiet moments. A feeling struck me - the same way it had the day before when I was walking alone singing to the sparrows: I was happy. I was happy in a way that I had to say it out loud. And I did, because I could and I needed to. Life felt so sweet.
Around 2p.m we approached Castrojeriz. A feeling of accomplishment filled me, laced with a tinge of sadness. I wanted my mother to be there. I wanted her to see the places she has written about for years that, for her, exist merely in internet photographs and and her imagination. I knew that it would be a while before she could visit these walls, if at all. She was the reason I was there, in this remote village in Northern Spain. She is also the reason I have a heart like I do, the reason I write and the reason I keep moving towards my dreams for better or for worse.
So for her I stopped on the road - while a long line of pilgrims rushed past me to get an available bed - and did what I came to do. I took pictures.
For the next two days and nights I took pictures. Hundreds of pictures - of the walls and the streets and the strange characters I met shifting from albergue to albergue each night. My German friend had moved on to find his answers in Santiago (leaving me with something he carried from his dreams that night "Nothing is as serious as it seems.") and so each night I met my company anew.
It turns out that I don't like being alone for too long on vacations, not when there are interesting people to meet, but I had always the constant of my photographs to keep me occupied.
To make sure that the extra weight of tent had not been in vain, I camped one night. I loved the campground for it's colony of tiny Spanish (feral) cats, but I hated that I couldn't escape the heat and the night time bartender who shoved me out of my camping space the next morning. I had made the best of it though, sharing a couple of bottles of wine with a 19 year old American boy and a long haired, blonded and gay german boy (at most 18) suffering from infected blisters. We laughed the night away. But after the grumpy bartender and I nearly came to blows ("Why you gotta be such a dick?" I asked in English before storming out of the cafe where he accused me of squatting in his campsite) I realized there was no way I could spend another night in the town. I had taken all of the pictures I could.
The Castillo was closed for an archaeological dig and the Eglise was locked up like any good fortress. I was ready to stop moving every night and get to my final destination. I changed the day of my train ticket going from Burgos to Barcelona and, for some reason, took one last place to sleep for the night.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I awoke from the sleep of the dead. I was alone. Somewhere in my dreams I had heard the Hostelera say they were locking me in, but I didn't know for how much longer. I made use of the silence and the clean wooden floor and did slow, methodical sun salutations, stretching my poor aching back. It helped.
At one p.m. the doors were open to the rest of the incoming pilgrims. I had slept through the days cleaning process where normally the albergue was closed. I was so grateful for the rest. Outside I heard a cry of 'Yea!!" and a flood of people shuffled in. I tried not to look like I had been there all morning.
Aside from the little family I had met earlier in the morning (which already felt like years ago), it was my first encounter with real pilgrims. These were the faithful walkers, some of whom had been hiking for hundreds of kilometers already. These were the people who had already gone at least twenty kilometers that day, desperately in need of a shower and to take their boots off.
I felt a little guilty knowing that I was only going a total of 40 kilometers - the distance that the strong walkers went on a good day. I was not going all the way to Santiago, which I discovered quickly was the number one question on meeting someone, just after "Where did you start?"
Most people had religious reasoning behind their journey and I tried not to feel like a bad Christian for not going to mass that evening. I take that feeling of guilt as the leftovers of my Catholic upbringing which I no longer can relate to. Though, over the years I have come to a place of acceptance about my spirituality and faith. I know that each person has their own beliefs about God, the greater power and where we fit in it all. I do not try to change anyone's mind about their deeply personal spiritual paths because each of us finds our relationship with said God in our own way. Who am I to tell you it is wrong? Belief at all is important enough.
And so when the Hostelera came to me with a tiny brass heart asking me to take it with me on my journey, I accepted it with an immediate prayer for her. Though I personally knew it wouldn't be going to Santiago, I suspected this long time pilgrim would find her heart was already there.
That evening I dined with a Canadian, and a fistful of Germans, drinking wine in the fading light of a chilly night in Burgos. I discovered the second thing about being a Pilgrim - open hearts and minds. Though many of them were traveling alone like myself, no one was really by themselves unless they wanted to be. Should I need companionship, it would clearly be there. I decided that, for my two days on the trail, I too could be a "real" pilgrim. It's about the journey, I kept hearing.
The next morning I woke late, much to the surprise of the other pilgrims. To walk a good distance before one's next destination one must get up before the sun is high and hot. This part of Spain in the summer time can be unforgiving, proven by the crisped and peeling shoulders and noses of those who'd already been walking for weeks. Myself, I was not concerned about the distance. It was my first day of walking and I had more concern about my back than making it to an albergue.
I asked for the hiker's expertise and readjusted the heavy pack to rest the weight where it needed to be. I portioned out nearly all of my food to other hikers, realizing that I wouldn't need it - I wasn't in the middle of nowhere after all - and immediately felt the difference six pounds of unnecessary weight made. I set off.
For the first six kilometers I stopped nearly every thirty minutes to adjust something. The straps on the bag, which kept slipping; the bandages on my feet, which provided little relief against the wear of the boots; taking my sweater on and off. By Tardajos my body was comfortable enough that I felt like I could really keep going and so I after a light lunch and coffee in Rabé, I did. The most pleasant surprise was in finding that with the pack secured correctly my back actually felt better, if not nearly normal.
Though I was at the same pace as a few other hikers along the way - a few of whom I had seen at the albergue the night before - I walked alone that first day. I was happy to do so. I wanted to take pictures and stop whenever I felt like it. I didn't want to keep up with someone else, regardless of how remarkably strong I had found myself (after all!). I was utterly charmed by the landscape. Though it was summer and the fields were crisp, there was a golden beauty to the rolling hills of wheat. Those that hadn't been harvested already blew lightly in the wind, the radiant sun casting no shadow on them. The sky capped them in endless blue.
Dotting the miles and miles of farmland were the tiny antiquated towns that were supported by them. Each one I passed shocked me with that inexplicable "This place really exists?!" sensation. They seemed to be trapped in time. Little old women chatting with each other in rapid fire Spanish in the shade of a narrow street, dressed in homemade dresses, sporting aprons and sturdy cotton bandanas in their hair. Men all wore hats and button down plaid oxfords, despite the heat. The buildings were washed in pale blues and greens and yellows, covering the years of degradation by weather and disregard. No need to build new where these still functioned just fine. Laundry was strung out across alleys and off balconies.
Between Rabé and Hornillo there was nothing - just the empty fields to keep me company. I watched as the sparrows drifted joyously on the crosswinds, chirping and following me along the trail. They took turns landing on single blades of blowing wheat, watching me as I whistled and sung to them. I was mildly bored, I'll admit, and so had begun belting out the repertoire of songs I knew in full at the top of my lungs.
In Hornillo I drank a beer. I sat with a group of Germans (there were a lot of German's on this trail) explaining that I had planned to camp that night and would probably keep going.
"Try getting up now and then tell me if you will keep going," remarked one.
I stood, feeling the weight of my body on my bare feet. I had mistakenly taken off my boots and realized that there was no way in hell I wanted to put them back on.
"That's what I thought!" he said, laughing. I ordered another beer.
I group of little boys, accompanied by one young man, wandered into town looking exhausted. I had passed them once or twice on the trail and decided they were French (the turned out to be Belgian), but marveled at the idea that anyone would take so many children on such a trail alone. As I drank my beer they filed two at a time into the main albergue for showers. I relaxed in the shade of an umbrella and watched the Pilgrims pass.
Later in the evening as it cooled, I did some yoga on the terrace in front of the church. The little boys, intrigued, slowly inched toward me until they were close enough to speak. The young man who was their guardian watched amused as they imitated.
"No, it's like this," I said in French, laughing.
I did a downward facing dog, and nearly died when I was joined by half of the boys, lined up beside me in their best version of the pose.
"Now keep your back very straight," I instructed, "And stretch. Big stretch!"
The entire group degraded into giggles.
"This is HARD!"
And then, like that, they dispersed, having completely recuperated from their walk, running up and down the one tiny street of Hornillo until dusk.
The sun set brilliantly over the old grain storages and busted old walls. I went walking - for a second time, actually - into the ruins to take photos of the blades of light stabbing the jagged edges of broken walls and crusted grass. The evening cooled with a chilly wind. Night fell and I followed suit in my bunk.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Around 7 a.m., people began to arrive to open up the Train Station. When I say people I mean two people, exactly - a man and a woman to open the cafe and the ticket counter, respectively. As the ticket counter was labeled "Infomation" I thought to go there first. I hadn't seen any buses so far and maybe, just maybe, she knew where the Camino de Santiago was?
But like any good American tourist I had come equipped with nearly zero knowledge of Spanish. In Barcelona this was not a problem but here, in small town Spain, they didn't need to learn English. Though Burgos draws it's share of tourists, it's not enough to warrant English being taught as the second language. In this part of the countryside French is more commonly heard than English.
I tried that.
"Parlez-vous Francais?" I asked after motioning to her futily for several minutes about where I needed to go.
"No..." She responded, clearly already fatigued by my presence.
"El autobus?" I tried.
She said something rapidly that I couldn't even try to comprehend in my battered state.
"Quel qu'un habla englais?" I tried desperately, hoping that the word for 'someone' was remotely close to the French. It was not, but my frantic gestures towards the man on the other side of the station in the cafe made it clear enough.
She shrugged, as if to say "Good Luck with that," and sent me on my way.
In the cafe, the sun was already heating up the room. A huge floor to ceiling window opened up to the hills, drenched with light, reflecting in on us. I walked up to the counter and tried my luck.
"No, los siento," he said. No English here, and not even French. I ordered a coffee, the one thing I was capable of doing in Spanish.
"You speak English?" the other man at the counter asked me after a pause. He had been there in the station when I arrived, sleeping on his bags on one of the benches.
"Yes!" I replied with a sigh of relief. I read his posture briefly, hoping that the one person present to speak my language wasn't an axe murderer. He was clean, shaven and drinking a cup of hot cocoa, and didn't bear any tatoos that might suggest jail time, and so I moved closer to him.
"Where you from?"
"Paris. Well, the States. America. But I live in Paris."
"Okay. And why are you here?"
Which, at the moment, seemed to me like a terribly good question. Why was I there, in the middle of nowhere, without transportation, without a map, alone? With a busted back and a 30 pound rucksack.
I explained to him where I wanted to go, telling him about my back and that I was - at this point - hoping to find a place to set up for the day. It hurt to stand up straight and so I decided that trying to walk that day might have just land me in the hospital. I was clearly and amateur.
"Let me finish my drink," he said, agreeing to speak to the other attendant in Spanish for me.
Patiently I waited while he sipped his hot cocoa, asked him what he was doing there, and then slowly dragged my bag back across the short terminal with him to the ticket desk. He asked all the questions I had, but in Spanish, and after about ten minutes I had a slip of paper in my hand with the name of an albergue. I hoped that there I could find information about where I could go to set up my tent, or at least to find the trail head. The bus for town left at eight.
I thanked the man and went to wait by the curb until the bus came, and he accompanied me. He told me about how he was from Senegal, but now lived in Southern Spain. I told him about the purpose of my trip and my plans. We did not exchange names. We didn't have much to say, really, but I was thankful for the help and the company. When the bus came he got on with me.
"I will come into town with you, to see a little bit, and then come back. My train doesn't leave till ten."
I paid for his ticket. Once in town he did all the talking, showing people who looked nice our little slip of paper, hoping someone would know what we were talking about. Eventually we found ourselves in a shady plaza, headed in the right direction.
"Oh my God, look! People with backpacks!" I said to him as if I had just spotted water in the desert.
It was a woman with her son who couldn't have been more than eleven. They were American.
I asked them all the questions, told them my pathetic story and waited for the information. Yes, the trail is actually just right there. This Albergue is closing until noon, but the Hostelera is very kind, you should try to get a bed now. You can your pass for the Hostels at the Cathedral. Good luck and Bon Camino!
At some point my Senagalese guide disappeared. He had made a brief gesture and parted, without even letting me offer him a cup of coffee for his kindness. The mother and her son hitched up their packs and went on their way.
I climbed the spiral staircase to a quiet room where people were readying to leave. I asked the for the Host, hoping to find out that I could book a bed for later.
"Well, we have to clean for tonight," she said to me, her soft accent only slightly hesitant, reading my face which had grown pale from exhaustion, "But you clearly need to rest. Take off your bag, relax. Have a shower if you want, it might help."
I sat down as the rest of the people vacated the hostel and after the last one parted I wandered towards the beds.
"Can I just lay down for a minute?" I asked.
"Yes of course," said the rosy young girl who was cleaning off the bunks, adding fresh pillowcases, and sweeping.
I rolled out my sleeping bag, climbed up to a top bunk and took a huge ibupropen. Around me the Hostelra and her helper were making ready for the day. I listened to them chat for a while, listened to their purposeful movements and the jazzy spanish music that was playing. I realized that I didn't have to go anywhere else, that my body could finally rest and I whimpered out a quiet cry of relief. I could stop. My eyes gave up, closed and I slept for the next five hours.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
It's been nearly a full week since the last post. I apologize for that. I have been back since last Friday and clearly could have written. But life happens in the pause waiting to document it. To compensate for my lack of posting I am going to spend the rest of the week telling you stories about my adventure in Spain.
True to my habits it was an adventure. I met people, people, people and more people (and somehow ended up feeling a bit bored and lonely by then end). I saw the most amazing landscapes my camera could never capture, and bathed in the warm sun I had been missing so much. And, of course, as was the goal of my adventure, I took pictures. Four hundred, to be exact. So many that I decided it was just finally time to get a Flickr pro account and I posted them all in one lump there. I am still sorting them, batching them and labeling them, but I won't with hold them from you if you'd like to take a peek. Bear in mind that the stories that go with the photos are the best part.
Today - because rabbit is again on the menu - I don't have time to choose the beginning of the story more eloquently, and so I'll begin it as it was. One sack and a bad back:
I took some talismans of my family with me, one from my sister S and her kids and the charm my niece Abby gave me for Christmas which normally lives by my bed, a precious piece of quartz from my Best Friend Katie and around my neck one of the many charms that my mother gave me. I tucked it into my bag and lifted it, immediately feeling that it was too heavy. Thirty pounds. My back cried out in pain.
But as I am always late for my plane and I absolutely would not be late this time, I went on my way. I sent frantic texts to The Frenchman and Toady, asking if I needed the tent, really? Yes, of course! Was the response. Two hours later (because, like always, I got lost trying to find the OrlyBus) I arrived at my the security check, sweating, everything still in the sack.
In front of me, a girl dressed in next to nothing, perfectly tanned and blonde, was waiting with a cart full of luggage. She wore Chanel aviator sunglasses and her wrist was wrapped around a designer handbag.
"Where are you going?" she asked, in English.
"Barcelona," I replied, feeling slightly grungy next to her pink silk dress. "But I'm actually hiking."
"And how old are you?"
"27." She couldn't have been much older than myself.
"And is this, like, a 'finding yourself' trip?"
"No, no definitely not."
"Oh good, you're not a cliche."
"No," I said, mentally calculating what kind of cliche she was. She was hidden behind her huge sunglasses and her red finger and toenails were chipping. I kicked my bag forward.
"It's heavy," I explained unnecessarily.
"I couldn't do that," she said motioning to the battered, mismatched bag. "Not that I am high maintenance or anything I just have to, you know, wash my face and fix my hair and stuff."
I decided all she was lacking in the way of high maintenance was a dog in a purse. "Yeah, all I have in here are changes of underwear and two other shirts."
I could see her mentally shudder. It made me happy.
We moved along in the line and after a fitful nap on the plane and a short ride to the main station in Barcelona,
I was on an old rickety train heading to Burgos. I settled directly onto my bunk, sleeping as best I could in the hot cabin. The woman below me had gas, which at once made me feel bad for anyone who'd ever slept with me. I was slightly worried she had pooped her pants, and more than happy to get off the train at six in the morning.
It was still dark. And silent. My plan had been to begin walking that day, but it didn't take long for me to realize the train station was not anywhere close to the heart of the town. There wasn't a map in site and everything was still closed. No buses, no taxis. I had no idea where I was in respect to Burgos proper or the trail, and no idea how I would get there.
I lifted my bag, ready to wait it out. A lightning bolt of pain shot through my entire body and made me cry out. I started thinking about plan B's and sat to wait for the sun to rise and the station to open up.