a wandering woman writes

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Invasion of the tall and American

I'm lost in projects. How about a couple of photos to tide things over?

Sunday I hiked from La Alberca down to lovely Herguijela de la Sierra, population 299 (says Wikipedia). Before friends drove us back to our starting point, we wandered the town, where we were warmly greeted as a welcome Sunday anomaly. Company!

I love the size of my fellow American-Salmantino in this photo. That and the gorgeous faces and sierra hospitality of his Sunday bench companions.

I can report, based on this hike, that the peaks of the Sierra de Bejar are blanketed with snow, the rivers of the Sierra de Francia are filling fast, and at least one wild boar (jabalí) is snickering about the accident prone wanderer who tripped in one of his leaf-covered snout tracks.


Woman, Herguijela de la Sierra


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One peregina's Camino de Santiago slide show....mine.

Well, I've (finally) posted Camino photos at flickr. Thing is, I'd rather take you along on the Camino than show off my uncanny (point and shoot) photographic ability, so I've left a little story hidden in the photo descriptions. If you click here, you can simply browse through thumbnails, or you can click on the first photo, and see it open with the text below. From there, just go on a-clicking your way from photo and description to photo and description. The next photo is always shown as a thumb to the right, by the "browse bar". Click there and you'll get me along with you.

If you prefer a silent journey, descriptionless slide show here.

It took some cooking, but I'm ready to tell this story.


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Where everybody knows your name

A wandering American walks into a bar. The bartender has the Ribera poured before our hungry wanderer makes it from the door to the empty stool.

"¡Morcilla!", says the bartender to the wandering American, looking over the Ribera with a smile. "¿Morcilla, verdad?

Ummmm..this a good sign, right?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Watchgoat, Peña de Francia


Mountain goats, Peña de Francia



I translated the lines below from a text published on the back of a glossy photo of the Virgen de la Peña de Francia. I picked up the photo on a visit to the Peña's monastery, which sits with only a telecommunications tower for company at the summit of one of the highest peaks in the Sierra de Francia. I can't stop wondering who wrote it. The Dominican monk I'm told lives alone in the monastery in winter, facing all the Peña's contrasts in solitude?

Here's a lovely bit of poetic prose printed on the back of a kitschy photo of a black Virgin sheltered on the top of an enchanted mountain:

note: ignore the periods between the columns. They were necessary to create two columns in this - ahem - marvelous blogging software I use.


The universe and human life are a jumble of contrasts:

Light and darkness, ....................Youth and old age,

night and day, ............................. pain and joy,

mountain and plain,.....................war and peace,

winter and summer.....................life and death.

From the harmony of contradictory worlds and elements spring forth the beauty of things and actions, feelings of compassion, even peace. On the other hand, in the confrontation of different elements chaos is born, and ugliness. Wars. Destruction.

The Peña de Francia is a small universe, a stony and lovely mountain born of the river banks of a dusty and extended plain. Its world is full of contrasts. Here, in a moment, the breeze transforms into a hurricane, the rain into a fierce hailstorm, tranquility into thunder and lightning, summer into winter. In the Peña's sanctuary, pain becomes consolation, solitude becomes companionship, and joy, thanksgiving and blessing.


Carlos Saura: ¡Fados!

I can't blog now. I'm pacing the floor. Anticipating.


!Carlos Saura has made a movie about fados! And every article I devour about it includes what may just be my favorite word in all the world, saudade, a word I fell in love with during a far-too-brief first visit here.

Wait! What do you mean, Carlos who? Get with me here, guiris! ¡Españoles, porfa, decidles quién es! Carlos Saura, as in Tango and Flamenco.

Better yet, just hit play on the video screen. And feel free to join the pacing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Remembering flat

Along the Camino, after Carrión de los Condes.


The NY Children project

The NY Children Proyect has a relatively simple objective:

"Photograph one child from every country of the world. "

But there's a twist:

Each child must currently live in New York City.

The result is a stunning slideshow of some of the 151 beautiful little faces captured by the project so far. Each child is from a different country and each lives in New York.

Little expats. :)
The photos are spectacular, as well.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A good day in Spain

It's been a good day in Spain.

It all started bright and early at El Árbol, when an old woman asked if I'd help her reach the things she needed from the top shelves. I tend to be on the other side of that question, you understand. But, today, damn if I didn't reach every product. I was wearing my magic Camino de Santiago boots; I think they stretched me.


Later, as I politely looked for someone to whom I could quietly ask which of the 6 closed cash register lanes we should line up at, the same firey old woman gave me a lesson in living in Spain. She bellowed "¿QUIÉN VIENE A LA CAJA?" ("WHO'S COMING TO THE REGISTER?") without moving an inch. A cashier arrived in seconds.

And then...

Back at home, my Spanish teacher gave me nothing but praise for the day's piece of writing.


When I mentioned I was expecting my teacher, a client blurted out "But why do you have a Spanish teacher?"

God bless her and all of her offspring.


When I explained I was working on my Spanish writing, she neglected to comment on the brilliance and grammatical perfection of my business letters. I'm taking it as a sign the classes are a good idea.

But wait! There's more:

A few minutes after two, homemade morcilla and chorizo del pueblo walked through my front door, across my grill and onto the table, where they puffed up proud alongside boquerones en vinagre, fat, tasty olives, a bit of aged manchego, a good loaf of bread, a crunchy salad topped with toasted walnuts and the thick, rich balsamic I bought in Assisi and a lovely Ribera del Duero.

I told you it was a good day.


The food and I were joined by two charming Salmantinas who tripled the decibel level in this working-space apartment from the moment they came into view. Voices were raised. Points were argued. Arms flailed about and items unlucky enough to be in arm's way crashed to the floor.

And then...

One of these two cielos, one of these raucus angels laid before me a plate with queso fresco and a few of the figs, the figs, oh, the candied figs her mother made by the jarful late last summer.

And the gods smiled. And launched into a rousing rendition of Nina Simone's I Feel Good.

And together we nodded, the gods and I, and gave each other knowing looks.

A good day.


Wise words...from a politician?

"If you know who you are, if you know what you believe in, if you know what you are fighting for, then you can afford to listen to folks who don't agree with you.....It won't hurt you."

-Barack Obama

Okay, he was talking about reaching across the aisle in American politics, but read it again. Damn good advice, across the board, don't you think? The knowing and the listening.

Why, yes, he is my senator from the great state of Illinois, and yes, he is impressing the expat heck out of me. You might say he's given me hope, and it's anything but false.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Big Think

When I was in my twenties, I spent long nights going through The Book of Questions with the man who was then my closest friend. Today I stumbled upon a website that takes that same idea - simple, direct and thought-provoking questions - and brings it to the web, and best of all, to well known "movers and shakers".

On Big Think, Mary Robinson, Deepak Chopra and poet Billy Collins (just to tell you with whom I spent this afternoon) along with politicians, writers, business moguls and nonprofit leaders answer easy and not so easy questions in short videos. The videos are relaxed and informal, leaving the "experts" to comfortably stumble and wander through their answers. My visit gave me the odd sensation of having shared a cup of coffee with Mary Robinson, and gotten up up the nerve to ask her about her philosophy on life.

Then, after telling me he believes life is about learning to "smash moments", Billy Collins accepted my invitation to recite Questions about Angels!

Altogether, quite an afternoon.


Invisibles and a free book

One day a week or two ago, my friendly neighborhood kiosk man handed me a DVD with my daily El País. Free gifts are common with newspapers in Spain, usually to promote the sale of some product to be offered the following week for purchase with the paper.

This freebie truly was a gift, so I want to share it.

If you have a chance to watch "Invisibles", a documentary film produced by Spanish actor Javier Bardem and presented by the Spanish Doctors without Borders organization, don't miss it. It's just been nominated for the Goya (Spain's film awards) for best documentary, if you need more than my opinion to recommend it.

"Invisibles" is not an easy to film to watch. That's exactly what makes it worth watching.

Watch this film, and then ask yourself why doing so was hard. I quickly realized some things are simply far more comfortable left invisible for me. Yet this film, a collection of five mini-films directed by Isabel Coixet (La vida secreta de las palabras, Mi vida sin mí), Mariano Barroso, Javier Corcuera, Fernando León de Aranoa (Los lunes al sol) and Wim Wenders, brings 5 humanitarian crises you never hear about to life, up close and personal. It's worth watching not only to inform yourself about them, but to watch the dignity and humanity of the people living them. Dignity, I kid you not. In the face of indescribable horror. The dignity stunned me.

The stories cover 5 of the 10 crises Doctors without Borders identified as the year's most underreported.

If you live in Europe and want my copy, holler. I'll even cover the postage.

And the free book:

While I'm at it, I have a copy of Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope" I read last year while visiting the States. If you're American and abroad, and you want to read it as part of your long distance voting prep, send me an e-mail and I'll send you the book, postage paid. If you're not American but would like to read it, let me know. If none of my paisanos take me up on the offer, it's yours.

Yes, yes, Di, La Alberca is coming, as is a lot more about the Camino.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Green, La Alberca

I'm fresh back from being treated like a queen in La Alberca. Todavía estoy en Las Batuecas, así que...una foto.

I've been in a place so magical (Las Batuecas, a valley below La Alberca) that to be "en Las Batuecas" in this colorful language I love is to have your head in the clouds, floating blissfully.

Photo today, words tomorrow, then. ¡Feliz año a todos!

Meanwhile, Rebecca's written up a full report of a very festive New Year's in her little corner of Castilla y León, complete with fire water, open flames and the baby Jesus.

Thought for a new year

We must assume our existence as broadly as we can; everything, even the unheard of, must be possible in it. That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.

Rainer Maria Rilke