HOW WEIRD IS THIS?

Ok the weirdest thing just happened to me. If you recall I had a great lunch at this restaurant by the river. When I found out they open at 7:00 for dinner I decided to go back the next day for dinner. Bonus…they have paella on the menu.

So I go a little early and find a table outside and order a Red Martini (martini rojo), that’s Martini Red vermouth.

I’m sipping my drink, enjoying the people watching, and anticipating my paella. All of a sudden this older woman (I found out later she’s 85) asks if she can sit with me. In my pathetic Spanish I understand that she’s waiting for a friend who is late.

So we start chatting and my Spanish is so bad I ask if she speaks French or English so she starts speaking to me in French. We talk for awhile and soon another Spanish lady sits at the table next to me and my Spanish lady and she start talking.

Pretty soon she’s saying to me she told the other lady that she’s waiting for a friend but she’s speaking French with me until her friend shows. So my lady and I keep talking. I find out her name is Danielle and she is delighted to know my daughter’s name is Danielle. Then I tell her how Lucien/Lucienne is a family name in my family. In the meantime my paella has arrived.

Finally her friend arrives…and takes the chair opposite my lady at my table and the two start talking. I’m wondering if I’ll be having my dinner with two guests.

Eventually they both get up and thank me for allowing my lady to sit with me until her friend showed up and off they walk to find another table.

And now one at a time people are asking for an extra chair. So I’m sitting alone in my one chair. Another lady just came up to me, looked at my paella and said something in Spanish. I had to tell her I didn’t speak Spanish but the paella was bueno. She said “bueno” and got a chair from another table to join the ever expanding crowd at the table next to me.

Can anything else happen?

Oh yeah it just got a little more weird and this was of my own doing. The table next to me had 5 people sitting there and one chair had a lady’s purse sitting on it. Then there was the lady who commented on the paella sitting facing the street between that table and mine. I thought she was with the other people and when I realized she was alone I asked if she wanted to sit at my table.

She spoke no English and I didn’t have the Spanish to keep up with her. I did catch that she had 5 sons and 8 grandchildren and she pointed out to me at least 3 times that we were two women alone or possibly two single women. And she followed that up with pointing to herself and saying “solo” then pointing at me and saying “solo”. Plus she asked me 4 times if I had a hotel and said something that I didn’t really understand but the gestures and inflection seemed to indicate that I should avoid strange men which I heartily agreed with.

Finally I asked for the bill and told the waiter to put her drink on my tab. I tried to express to her that I had a pleasant time talking and I wished her a good night. As I walked away I saw the waiter and he gave me a big 👍

I may have been anticipating a quiet dinner but I’ll certainly say I had an interesting one.

ANOTHER BROKEN POT

Burgos, 7 September 2021

I like visiting museums, mostly art museums. My favorite is to see an exhibit by one artist or of one genre of art. In this way I learn about that artist or style of art.

This morning I went to the museum of Burgos which is all about the history of Burgos. I had low expectations but the entrance fee was only a euro. Pretty soon I entered what I think of as “the broken pots” room. How many shards of pottery can one room contain and why am I looking at them? I wasn’t terribly excited by it but then a small thought crept into my brain and changed everything.

Suddenly I was struck by how intricate the pottery was and how. It changed as time passed. The pottery was plain and rough but soon lines and grooves appeared around the pottery, and drawings began to show up. I never really looked at these things before. I started to ask myself, “Who first decided to take a stick and make a pattern of lines on this bowl?” Who was the first person to say, “I’m think I’ll draw a little bird on this. I think that would be real pretty. And maybe I could put some more birds on these bowls to match.” And how long was it before someone said, “Hey so and so drew a bird on their pottery”. I wasn’t looking at bits of pottery anymore, I was looking at someone’s creation in clay.

It spoke to me of humanity’s desire to be creative. We are each of us looking to put our own little mark on something. And it’s not just about a bird on pottery…it’s a descant added on to a song, a particular turn of phrase that speaks volumes, looking at a molecule and asking, “What happens if I do this?” It’s a bit of computer code or a silly joke. We all want to add something to this life. More importantly we all have something to add to this life. And…it all adds something to life.

The “what” that gets added isn’t as important is the “who” who added it. Don’t be afraid to add your piece of creativity. The world needs you.

Buen Camino

BURGOS

Burgos, 6 September 2021

How does one describe a good day? I think it’s easy to describe it from the inside out.

  • I successfully taped my foot and it feels better.
  • I had a lovely breakfast of cafe con leche and a pastry made with a flakey crust and dark chocolate on the bottom.
  • I found a laundromat and washed my clothes and found my way back to my hotel WITHOUT GPS.
  • I went to the Cathédrale de Santa Maria in Burgos, downloaded the app and had a wonderful audio guided tour.
  • I wandered around the neighborhood and found a posh looking restaurant that was opening in just 30 minutes so I returned to my room for a little extra cash and found my way back WITHOUT GPS.
  • I had a table overlooking a little park along the river and lunch was amazing. White asparagus with a cream sauce and a small lettuce salad, the most tender beef stew with extra crispy fries, and 2 glasses of red wine. Now I know why people in Spain put so much emphasis on the siesta time.
Santa Maria
Best meal so far

All of that sounds great, but it really doesn’t capture how I feel outside in.

Inside I feel strong, accomplished, healthy, satisfied, well fed, and peacefully happy. Taking delight in the day is as much a part of the camino as overcoming obstacles, carrying on when the hill seems too steep, and asking for help when you have no strength left inside.

The outside is just stuff. The inside is the gift the camino gives.

Oh…I forgot…I had ice cream 🍦 too 😋

Buen Camino

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Santo Domingo de la Calzada 3 September 2021

Yesterday I walked in to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Two years ago when I arrived I was limping with a bad blister on my right foot. I couldn’t believe that I had a blister as I’d been walking for almost 10 days and I thought I had dodged that particularly malady. I’m glad to say that I’m blister free but I am nursing something that feels like tendinitis in my right heel. So count me as one of the walking wounded.

Having this problem has frustrated me. It feels like a sign of weakness and I fall back into berating myself. I should have trained more. I should have checked in with my physician before going. I should have brought some ibuprofen. I should have asked for ice for my foot. I should have used my voltaren gel before this. What am I doing on Camino?

Here’s the rub (no pun intended)…I’ve heard scores of pilgrims say those same things to me and I would never chastise them. I would offer encouragement. Take your time. If you need a day off to recover take a cab or a bus to the next town. Use some of my gel to calm the pain. I’ll help you find a pharmacy.

I’ve been the recipient of that kind of grace. Puy in Estella walked me to the bus stop and helped me get a ticket. The next day in Los Arcos Oisu drove me to Logrono and helped my get to my hotel. Beautiful acts of kindness that helped me to recover from the heat exhaustion I was suffering from. Grace

So I have a prayer for this camino…

Help me to acknowledge my weakness with grace.

Buen Camino

WHAT’S THE DATE AGAIN?

August 31, 2021 Navarette

I’m back on track with this camino after being ill for two days and taking two days to visit Bilbao. Today was a short day, only 8.5 miles and mostly flat with a few climbs. I feel good.

I went to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Navarette. It is an incredibly beautiful little parish church. It’s a little hard to see in the picture but the chancel is surrounded in intricate gold designs and a beatific Madonna and child. There was also some taize music piped in the sanctuary. That’s only part of what made this visit special.

Before leaving I went to get a stamp for my credential (pilgrim passport). There were three French girls seemingly bewildered at the lack of a real person to stamp their credentials. So I explained that I often had to stamp my own passport and that I almost always have to fill in the date myself. Then one girls said, “I will write the date on yours and you can write the date on mine.” There was a brief discussion of whether to write to whole date out or just the numbers. She thought the whole date was much prettier. So today I was gifted with what I am sure will be the prettiest date on any of my Camino stamps.

Buen Camino

ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS IN BILBAO

What do you think about when you are alone with your thoughts? Do you try to distract yourself with your electronics or do you engage with the musings that seep into your consciousness?

For two days I’ve been in Bilbao away from the Camino and all the pilgrims I have met along the way. It’s been good for me as I have taken these two days to recover. The only conversations I’ve had have been to order food and ask directions. This morning I was a bit lost and I asked a man, “Which way to the river?” He chuckled and traced the river on my map to show me which direction the river flows. Haha. Then he graciously showed yes me which direction to go to get to the river. Other than that I’ve been alone with my thoughts.

So when you are alone with your thoughts what do you think about? For me I think that my deepest yearnings rise to the surface. The most common theme is hospitality. I have long had a dream of opening a restaurant. It would be small, maybe a dozen tables inside with a few tables outside, a well stocked bar, an intimate atmosphere, classical music softly playing, and somehow designed so that the sound of one table doesn’t drift to another.

I would have a limited menu of maybe half a dozen dishes some of which would change daily or weekly. I would bring my experience of traveling in Europe to create a mix of French, Italian, and Spanish dishes. These two days in Bilbao have introduced me to pinchos. These are uniquely Basque. Pinchos are small plates, bigger than appetizers (tapas); for me 1-2 makes a nice little lunch. I actually learned that the best time to eat pinchos is in the morning when they are freshest unless it’s a very popular restaurant where they make the pinchos all day. So for breakfast yesterday I had some kind of croquetta with ham on a slice of baguette and a puffy thing filled with potato and a fried shrimp on top

Its not an Egg McMuffin but it was very good.

I think about bringing all of these things to my family and friends. I want to create an environment where they can slowly savor the flavors and heighten the experience with the best wine to go with it. I want to share the history, geography, and culture of where these epicurean delights come from.

Marriage, having a family, having grandchildren, and probably a healthy dose of fear of failure mean that my dream of a small restaurant will not bear fruit. On the other hand my thoughts still speak to me of hospitality, warm friendship, good food and wine.

What do you think about when you are alone with your thoughts?

Buen Camino

Grilled octopus on egg salad and a croquetta with ham
Olive oil on toasted bread with a tomato sauce and ham. The wine is TXAKOLI (cha-coe-lee) wine from the Basque region.

TOOTHPASTE AND TRAIN TICKETS

Let me make myself clear, clair, claro…I do not speak Spanish. I grew up speaking French with my mother and English with my father. My friends in England would probably insist that I don’t speak English, rather I speak American. No matter I do not speak Spanish.

I took a half year of Spanish in high school because I was graduating early and needed 4 years of a foreign language for a college prep diploma so to round things out I added a half year of Spanish to the three and a half years of French I would have. Years later in college I studied in France for six months and a group of us found out we could take classes at the local university so we bravely went over and signed up for Spanish.

When I travel to a foreign country I gamely try to learn a few key phrases in the language so I don’t seem like the type of person that expects everyone to cater to my needs and speak English. I try to go beyond just asking where the toilet is and wine please. In Spanish I even learned how to ask for “more” wine please 🍷🍷😉

All of this is to say that I managed to do two difficult things yesterday. First of all I made my way to a “farmacia” (pharmacy) and bought a small tube of toothpaste that was for adults and not kids. Secondly I was able to navigate a Spanish website to buy train tickets (think “Expedia” in Spanish for trains). The latter took considerably more time as my keyboard cannot read my facial expressions or gestures, and doesn’t care if I look like I’m going to cry if I can’t get to Bilbao for two nights. And yet here I am writing to you from aboard a train that costs me about $25 for a round trip ticket, three hours each way.

I really want to encourage you that with a little patience, some hand gestures, pointing, and a hefty sprinkling of gracias (thank you) and por favor (please) you can manage to get along without knowing the language. In fact I’ve found that most people are yearning to practice their English with you or even to give you a little Spanish lesson to up your skills.

It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to communicate with another person.

Buen Camino

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

The camino does not seem crowded like I expected it would be. Normally about 400 pilgrims start out from St. Jean Pied de Port each day. Today I heard that it is 30-40. About half of those walking are Spanish followed by French/Americans, and then the rest of Europe. I often walk alone which I did not expect and sometimes I cross paths with some very interesting people.

The first group I ran into is 6 men ranging in age from mid 20’s to 60-ish. I can’t quite tell if they are Spanish as I don’t really understand them. They may be basque. We pass each other 2-3 times a day mostly because I’m slow and they stop frequently to eat and they always travel with a couple of bottles of wine.

I call the next group “my four Spanish sons”. These young men are in their 20’s traveling together. I saw them one day taking pictures in front of a beautiful old church and asked if they’d like one of them in front of the church. Si! First I did the long shot, then the medium, and finished up with a closeup of the four of them for “las mamas y los papas. We always smile at each other.

One day as I was going down a steep descent I met a young French girl ascending this hill. She was huffing and puffing. She stopped for a breath and I asked why she was going in the opposite direction. She said she’d been to Santiago and was walking back home. Brave young woman and I remember her when I want to complain about the hills.

Juan and the young man with the “Gard-zen”. Juan is the man I wrote about 2 years ago. It was a day that I was almost out of water and hungry as well. I saw him again in the same place. Of course he didn’t remember me but was pleased that I remembered him. BTW he didn’t get his bananas from Nicaragua this year, they come from Costa Rica. The Gard-zen is a food stand outside of Maneru. He hopes to add to his stand with more seating, a small (really small) theater where musicians can play, and a meditation spot. I wish him well.

And speaking of music…I’m in the square in front of the cathedral in Logrono. There’s a large Spanish family seated next to me and they are all singing. I don’t think my family has ever sung like that in public. They are so happy.

I’ll end with the Spanish family that I walked with. Husband, wife, and daughter. We limped along in my broken Spanish and the mother’s broken English and then realized that we both speak French very well. The daughter is an electrical engineer working at a university. She wanted to know where I lived and I told her I’d lived in Ohio my entire life except for 5 years in New Mexico. Her eyes really lit up and she said that ever since she was 11 and had seen the movie Contact with Jodie Foster she wanted to work at the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico.

So many more people I have met along the way. So many of them so very kind. Even though the camino is a challenge (especially for the under-trained like me) it is truly filled with grace. I was ill for two days. I think it was heat exhaustion. Even though I tried to drink a lot I guess I just sweated more out. And there were many people looking out for me and taking care of me. I am so grateful.

Buen Camino

DAY 3 ON THE CAMINO

Today I walked to Zubiri. It was another long day for me. Remember the alternative route into Roncesvalles that I forgot to take? I swore I wouldn’t make that same mistake in Zubiri. I’m pleased to say I didn’t make that mistake…because there is no alternative route. The great rocky descent is all there is 😮

When I arrived I went straight to the pensione where I was staying but it turned out that was the owner’s home. He walked me over to the pensione and I’m sorry to say I was sorely lagging behind. Occasionally he would stop and wait for me to catch up. I was embarrassed.

Later I went in search of food and found my fellow Daytonians along with a lady from Dallas and a man from France (named Michel) who spoke no English. So I got to play translator. Sometimes it’s easy to just translate instead of having to contribute to the conversation when one is tired.

The bread man delivers

Buen Camino

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

…or does it? I took a picture of myself this morning and sent it off to my family and a few friends with the caption “Today I begin my camino.” Before I sent it I sensed that there was something wrong with what I’d written. I began my camino two years ago. To “begin” today begs the question, Did I “finish” my camino?

I have read countless memoirs and listened to hundreds of podcasts in the last two years and it seems the consensus is that one is never “finished” with the camino. In fact I have come to see that unknowingly I began my camino at my birth and thought of it as simply “living my life”.

Here I am on the train to St. Jean Pied de Port. It’s been a long day but it’s really just the latest leg of my Camino. And I’m not alone

The train is full people and the overhead shelf is packed with backpacks, water bottles, hats, and more. Everything needed to climb the Pyrenees, cross the meseta, and walk into Santiago de Compostela. Even more we bring our minds, hearts, bodies, and souls. We tenderly bring those last things and ask that they be shaped by this part of the Camino.

Buen Camino