a wandering woman writes

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day one!

Here's a quick post just to tell you I'm on the Camino! I'll get to comments next time online..
Tonight I am in Jaca, having walked from Canfranc Estación as my first day.
I owe the gentleman at the Madrid Friends of the Camino (and Diane and Steve from the comment box) a beer; my 7 or 8 kilos with water was completely bearable today. Meanwhile, all those young manly types carrying 15 or 16 kilos are nursing tendonitis! And wondering how the old chick knew what to bring (and not bring) to the Camino!

I will back soon! Now it's time to go put these poor legs up and fill up a few notebook pages!

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saramago on a Sunday

Every man has his own patch of earth to cultivate. What’s important is that he dig deep.

José Saramago

That's the bank of the Tormes, in spring. I spent at least week fascinated with that larger than life daisy, standing tall. He just seemed to fit the quote, which fits the day, and the start of the Camino.

Happy Sunday.


Camino de Santiago, Lesson Two: and when you reach your destination...

I wandered into Madrid on Thursday to pick up a Pilgrim's Credential at the Puerta del Sol offices of the Madrid Friends of the Camino.

A very warm collection of Camino veterans lined us up in the hallway, brought us in groups of 15 or so into a small room for a 20- minute charla, and later signed over to each of us the credential that will give us access to pilgrim albergues along the way and at the end of the road, the Compostela attesting to our pilgrimage.

There was detailed talk of blisters (¡Vamos, ampollas, vaís a tener!) and a heated discussion of tried and true treatments. There was a stern warning against bringing anything even slightly new, a warning that sent the wandering American who's had to buy plenty new into nervous gulps and extra-copious notes on tried and true blister treatments.

The promised lesson on how to find a place to sleep in albergues (Don't worry about where you'll sleep, by the third day, you'll sleep standing up) developed in a Vegas-worthy stand-up routine about the albergue-obsessed group of pilgrims he referred to simply as los franceses, who apparently rise at the ungodly hour of 330 in the morning to be sure they arrive at the next town in time to be first in line for a bed in the municipal (and therefore free, with an optional donation) albergue. The albergues open at 330 pm. The lines of early to rise Frenchmen, if the story is to be believed, start at 11 am, particularly on the Camino's (busiest) last 100 miles. I watched the two young French men who'd come in behind me share giggles and rolling eyes.

Our guide assured us he could tell with one look not one of us was going to beat the French to the albergues (¡Vamos, a las tres y media de la mañana!) and recommended, entonces, that we "work" the whole camino, like him (as he patted his well-fed middle). Work the pueblo bars, there to offer us a relaxed and tasty breakfast, and, a sandwich midmorning, and a taste of local pinchos, cheeses, and wine at the day's end. Work the system of private albergues which even in the busiest towns would offer us a bed for 12 euros a night, and the opportunity to call ahead and reserve the bed during the afternoon. No need to rush. Ever.

His final word of advice convinced me this is my kind of pilgrimage:

"Do you all know what to do when you get to Santiago?", he asked, after describing the walking route to the Cathedral and the location of the office where we would claim the Compostela at journey's end.

"If you arrive midmorning, los franceses will already be in line for the Compostela", he promised, his words meeting more giggles from the young Frenchmen behind me. "Because they got up at 3:30. "

"So you, what do you do when you to get to Santiago?"

"Go into the Cathedral to hug the statue of Saint James", replied two or three eager pilgrims.

"For that you have to stand in line behind the French", came the response, accompanied by that Spanish tongue clicking, head shaking "no" I've come to love.

"When you arrive in Santiago, you do the first thing you should do whenever you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, from anywhere. You walk right by the cathedral, turn the corner, and walk into the first bar you see. You greet the bartender. Then you order mussels, and octupus, and the best Ribeiro in the house. "

"Around 3, when los franceses have gone to bed, (because they got up at 330!), you pay the tab, and with your freshly renewed energy and appreciation for life, you stroll right into the now-deserted Cathedral office, tell your stories to the staff, and claim your Compostela.

"And then", with a nod to the eager pilgrims, " you kiss the saint."

Yep. I can do this.

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You know you've lived in Spain when....

This list showed up in an e-mail from a Salmantina who's been working for the Spanish tourism office in Chicago for just about a year now.

While I've enjoyed all of this Salmantina's reports from my "home town", not even this amusing list beats the photo of an ice encrusted bedroom window she forwarded last winter. If she dreamed of winning the eternal admiration of the Salmantinos she'd left behind, she did so with that photo. That frozen window is still the talk of Salamanca, and the courage and presumed clothes-layering talents of the woman who dared lived behind it are legendary.

Without further ado, here are a few amusing ways to recognize an American who's lived in Spain.

You know you've lived in Spain when:

1 You can't for the life of you figure out why bars and clubs keep closing down just as you get started with a night out. Surely the night's just beginning?

2 You aren't just surprised that the plumber, painter or repairman has turned up on time; you're surprised he turned up at all.

3 You think it's nice to tell everyone how great they look today.

4 Not giving every new acquaintance dos besos just feels so rude.

5 What's with all this butter on toast? And where's the olive oil? Toast without olive oil? Is this a joke?

6 You forget to say please and thank you when asking for things. You implied it in your tone of voice, right?

7 You don't see sunflower seeds as a healthy snack - they're just what the cool kids eat.

8 Every sentence you speak in English contains at least one of the following: 'bueno,' 'vale,' 'venga,' 'pues nada'...

9 You recognize clapping as an art form, not just a way to express approval.

10 You have friends named Jesus, José María, María José, Ángel, and Inmaculada Concepción. Many of each, in fact.

Let me add a few of my own:

You can't even think about drinking coffee with cold milk.

Nor will you entertain the possibility of a meal without bread. How will you get the food to your mouth?

You plan nothing until you are about to do it. And you think nothing of spontaneously calling friends, and yes, expecting them to drop what they're doing and join you.

You say goodbye at least a dozen times before actually leaving. Anywhere.
Often these goodbyes last long than the visit that preceded them.

Ah, and my favorite:

You plan a 5-week unpaid vacation to walk a pilgrim's route across the country, alone, and nobody blinks an eye. Even the most casual acquaintances merely make note of your start date, to be sure to call during the walk and egg you on.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Camino de Santiago: Lesson One

Lesson one, hard learned as I dig into the provisioning, gathering the 12 lbs I shall honor with a long ride on my back (note to self: please let me keep it to 12 lbs), demanding weights of shopkeepers and webstores, lifting each and every item that comes within a foot of the rapidly filling pack....and doing one heck of an impression of a two pan balance, if I do say so myself.

The lesson? Hard-learned, but true.

Everything weighs something.

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Monday, September 03, 2007


"Walking", by Henry David Thoreau:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.

They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.

For this is the secret of successful sauntering.

When I offered to gather up (unrelated) favorites for a friend the other day, I found this Thoreau quote hiding as the long-ago tagged first favorite on my bookmark list.


Seems I'm going for a walk.

Today is one of those days I will long remember. Today I spoke with one of my clients, the last client whose buy-in I wanted to secure. He immediately agreed to a busy September and a very quiet October.

I leave September 23 or 24 for a 5-week saunter along the Camino de Santiago. I hope to start with the Camino Aragonés and finish with a walk from Santiago to Finisterre.

As soon as this incredible stroke of perfect timing and delicious luck sinks in, I'll be back to blog about the getting-ready.

How's tomorrow for you?


Saturday, September 01, 2007

When language and work style collide

I just thought I should ask.

Just ask.

It was hanging there, you see. A loose end. A roundabout sentence dangling mid-air, senseless, in this lyrical language I've learned to love.

I was working in my American working-way: direct, precise. Action oriented. Full of "who will do what and by when".

It all started when I noticed that some material a client and I had decided would be posted on the client's website after public release wasn't posted. My American side couldn't remember being told who had been assigned the job of posting it. My Spanish side longed for conversation, as she inevitably does mid-workday, so my naive typing finger wrote to ask.

All three of us had climbed directly into a castellano "who's on first".

Spanish has an oft-used passive voice, if you've yet to have the pleasure. A passive voice that is soft and subtle in literature. It's also annoying as hell in business.

"I was just wondering", I wrote to my client in Spanish. "How did we decide we'd post the new material on the site?"

"Well", came the calm and yes, lyrical reply, "it is supposed that it is made to arrive ("se hace llegar" ) to the programming team".

"But how does it get to the programmers?", I asked.

Within minutes Outlook was singing me the next verse: "It's made to arrive to the manager of the team, and she handles the responsibility of assigning the work."

"I know that", I replied, stepping every closer to the trip line, the eager net quivering above my head, anticipating a quick but gracefall fall. "But WHO makes it arrive? Doesn't someone have to prepare the text and send it to the manager?"

No reply.

That's when the net fell.

"Am I the one who's supposed to do it?", I typed. "That's all I want to know."

The reply was immediate.
"What a spectacular idea! YOU do it, cariño. I'll let everyone know. Do you need anything else?"

We're sure this language wasn't designed simply to trap unassuming English speakers, aren't we?

I have this vision of the rest of the project team gathered round a bar table, full glasses in hand............toasting (absent) asesora me.

Oh, well. At least I've found an advantage to having an American on the team. Must be nice. So precise, those Americans.


Pueblo out of time?

Too often we forget humans can be part of Nature's song, can dance with the music as well as drown it out. I believe, as Lawrence Durrell once wrote of France, that if you were to wipe it bare of life and start over again, in due course, Nature there would give you, once again, essential Frenchmen, surely as she would a good Bordeaux. Just so Smith Island, where the spirits of place are strong indeed.

...The Bay never essayed truer, nor flowered more gloriously, than in its creation of Smith Island and Smith Islanders. . . places like the island are art--made all the more artful for contriving nothing, for simply being.

Tom Horton
from the book: Island out of time

This gem has been sitting in my draft folder for a couple of weeks. I've yet to read the book it's taken from; I chased down Tom Horton when I received an invitation to a writing workshop he was co-teaching on Smith Island in Maryland and soon snapped up this lovely excerpt.

Ortizzle's comment today on my Music of Time post has motivated me to finally post it. She muses in the comment box about what tales the walls of old houses in Galicia might tell.

The quote made me think of La Alberca when I read it, but it could just as well be lots of villages, couldn't it? In Europe, or elsewhere. Or neighborhoods in Chicago.

There are places that so eloquently remind me that we become part of the places we live. We bring them to life, perhaps literally, leaving our hopes and dreams and fears in the fabric of the place, stuck in the sidewalk with the cobblestones. People make places art.

As I prepared to title this post "Pueblo Out of Time" a couple of weeks back, it hit me that La Alberca is a pueblo very much in time: alive, prosperous, full of children, with an in-town school and construction and new businesses all through town. A pueblo famous for enthusiastically and faithfully continuing to practice its centuries old traditions, La Alberca has found a way (rural tourism) to prosper in the 21st century. Perhaps as a result, it is a warm and welcoming place to visit.

Somehow I suspect Nature would remake both town and townspeople just as they are - time and time again.

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