I Dream Of…

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite TV shows was the 60’s classic, I Dream of Jeannie. While I enjoyed the humorous plot and puzzled at the maladjusted love story between Jeannie the genie and her human “master,” Tony the astronaut, I mostly loved the show for its costumes and interior design. It only recently occurred to me what a huge impression the show must have had on my tastes. From collecting old, illustrated editions of Arabian Nights to having a distinct taste for embroidered silks in rich jewel tones, comfy floor pillows, and mid-century mod furniture and paintings, it all lines up with the looks that fascinated me as a kid.

Even though I was pretty sure I’d be moving out of my apartment this year, I’m getting ready to renew my lease, after all. My landlord only raised the rent by $10, and I haven’t been able to find anything available in my price range (something between “free” and “flat broke”) in a safe neighborhood. So I’ve decided that if I have to stay in my studio apartment for another year, I might as well make the best of it. What if, instead of thinking of it as a shoebox – tiny, cramped, inconvenient – I think of it as a magic bottle – still tiny, but full of possibility and romance, a place where my dreams can come true?

The first thing I’m going to do is redo my bathroom. It’s the tiniest room, and the easiest to make look totally different with just a few touches. I bought a fun/funny vintage shower curtain a few months ago that’s covered in a cartoon jungle theme. It lifts my spirits, and I intend to keep it for future use, but it’s time to make some adult decor choices. I found this shower curtain on Poshmark that fits the overall look of my house pretty well. It’s originally from World Market, but I got mine brand new and unused, for $11 – awesome deal.

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Geometric Multicolor Shower Curtain, from World Market – $29.99 (unless you get lucky, like me!)

Next up is new towels and a bathmat, a little piece of art, a medicine cabinet, a corner storage rack for the bathtub, a basket for under the sink to store towels, new bathtub handles, and a plunger.

I’m thinking strongly of buying Turkish bath towels, since they’ll take up much less storage space, and be so much easier to wash by hand than traditional terrycloth towels are. The last time I had to wash the towels, I had blisters on my fingers the next day. I’m not sure where I’ll get the bathmat, but the last one was $5 from H&M.

As for the art, I might end up making a collage, or framing a cool postcard. The piece that I currently have hanging in the bathroom is just that – a pretty vignette from a postcard I had sitting around.

The idea of a medicine cabinet just popped into my head yesterday, while walking around the local reclaimed building supply store. I have so little storage space in the room, and almost no counter space, but every inch is taken up by bottles and tubes and brushes. Maybe if I can find a small enough medicine cabinet to hang on the wall, I’ll get just a little more space. I’ll do some digging and see if that’s a good solution. This is reminding me that I also need to see if there’s a way to fix the cabinet drawer, which makes this terrible screeching sound every time you pull the drawer out.

As for the toilet, the flap needs to be replaced, and I really would love to have a decent plunger. I’ve been using the cheap, pointless plunger that came with the apartment when I moved in three years ago, but it’s time to move on. Which reminds me – I would LOVE to have a new cat-deterrent toilet paper dispenser, and a toilet paper holder that I can stack rolls in for later.

Oh well, that’s a lot of dreaming and planning for one little room. I’d like to have this done by the end of July, so I’ll update you guys once the bathroom is pulled together. I’ll even take some before and after pics, so you can see how it turned out.

Anna’s Camino: Day 19 – Burgos to Hontanas

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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There’s some surprisingly awesome graffiti all along the Camino Francés, but this simple piece was one of my favorites.

For awhile after I left Burgos, I didn’t pass a single person, not even a local out for a morning jog. It was early, but not so early that I shouldn’t have seen at least another pilgrim or two on the way out of town, so I worried that perhaps I was headed the wrong way. But the road markers told me I was going in the right direction. My optimistic side told me that maybe there was a reason I was leaving the city alone. If this was the start of Part 2 of my Camino, then perhaps it needed to mirror the start of Part 1. I resolved to enjoy my status as a once-again solitary peregrina.

In stark contrast with earlier days, I had no set goal in mind. As I started out, I resolved to walk as far as I wanted to, and stop when I was ready. I briefly checked over the map to see what was out there, and how much distance there would be between towns, but otherwise I kept my thoughts as light as I wished my backpack could be, and got a move on. The day was crisp and cool, a proper fall day, with just a few pretty clouds in the sky. Taking those two days off had done me good, and my body felt revved up and ready to go. I practically bounced down the trail.

 

As I walked, I enjoyed the little signs and symbols left behind by those who had walked before. There was one amazing work of rock art that reminded me my birthday would soon be here, and I felt flush with pleasure as I realized that I was alive and in a really great place to be enjoying that fact. I also saw another solitary poppy – my second of the trip – a reminder that St. Francis was there with me. Later, I looked back that that photo of that late-season poppy and realized that it was also a sign of a very special day. I couldn’t have known that when the flower first appeared, of course.

The first obstacle of the day was hitting a construction area that had destroyed the path markings and greatly confused the area. It looked like a crew was in the process of building a new road and overpasses, but the site was abandoned. Conflicting signs pointed two different directions for the Camino, and I wandered around for a few minutes, getting my bearings and looking out for notes and signs left behind by other pilgrims to mark the way. Some helpful soul had made a Camino arrow out of larger rocks, something that I’d seen before down the trail. This was the first time that it was amazingly helpful, instead of just one more thing to walk by.

After successfully navigating the construction zone, I put my headphones in, and sang along to The Edgar Winters Band at top volume, since I was pretty sure there wasn’t another soul around for miles. Then I rounded a curve and saw a trio of Spanish teenagers out for a walk, giggling. I froze for a second, then laughed along with them. It was pretty silly, after all. They wished me a Buen Camino as we passed.

It wasn’t long after they disappeared from view that I heard the gunshots. I quickly took off my headphones and froze there, listening.

I’ve lived in New Orleans since I was 17, and though I’ve been lucky to never witness gun violence, it certainly does happen here. I am always cautious of who might have a gun, who looks angry or is raising their voice, who might have a reason to make a bad decision and hurt those around them. To make things a little murkier, I also grew up in rural North Carolina, where everyone has a gun or two (or ten) in the house. Even though I was taught how to safely handle firearms as a child, and then taught to shoot as a teenager, I have never liked guns. I don’t like the look or feel of them. I hate the sound of them. I don’t like seeing them in a hand or on a wall, whether modern or antique. I understand that they’re useful in some cases, but that doesn’t make me dislike them any less. Even so, a lifetime of hearing them go off has given me a certain pragmatism, I guess. My initial fear at the sound of a lone gunshot eased off as I heard a few more. I could tell that whoever was shooting, it was a rifle. It was a gorgeous fall morning, on the weekend, and I could see there were woods just up the hill. I quickly decided that someone must be hunting. There were a few more gunshots, nothing, then a few more as I got closer to the patch of woods. I wasn’t worried about gun violence by that point, but I was worried that someone might mistakenly shoot out of the woods and hit the lone hiker. I was happy to be wearing a bright pink jacket, so at least I’d be visible if I went down.

All at once, a big, shaggy labrador retriever bounded out of the woods, then another, both wet and muddy up to their underbellies. The dogs were soon followed by a group of rugged, handsome men with their rifles broken and dead ducks slung over shoulders and carried on strings. A few more dogs trotted along. One big, golden dog had a duck clamped firmly in his jaws, and practically danced along next to his owner, his eyes so full of joy that I couldn’t help but want to congratulate him for being a good dog. The whole thing looked like a scene out of an Eddie Bauer catalog. I was simultaneously saddened by the carnage and oddly attracted to the conquering heroes. There was a certain pastoral romance to the scene. The men walked down the trail ahead of me for awhile, until they reached their parking lot. I walked on, trying to wrap my head around it all. After all, duck is one of my favorite dishes.

Later in the day, I ran into Terry again (of course). We walked together for maybe an hour, talking about her time in Africa in the Peace Corps. It turned out we both really like Afrobeat music, so she told me about a couple of concerts that she’d been to in years past. Along the way, we picked up a third hiker, Annie (not her actual name) a young woman in her 20’s who had been struggling to keep up with two other pilgrims. The other couple kept up their speed and were out of sight before long. Annie walked on with Terry and me, and when Terry got to Hornillos, her intended destination, Annie and I kept walking together for a nice part of the afternoon. I wish I could remember her real name, because we had a great talk. I really liked her. She was in the process of moving to another country for a job, and was walking the Camino, then going home to pack up the rest of her stuff and make the final trip to her new life. I loved how practical and driven she was, and remember wishing that I had a little touch of that in my scattered life.

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Before long, we got to the little hamlet where Annie’s two friends had told her they’d bed down for the night, so I walked with her to the albergue where they were waiting. They invited me to stay with them, but it didn’t feel quite right. I had the energy to keep going, and I thought of how nice it would be to meet back up with Natalie, if I could only work a little harder at it. So I grabbed an Aquarius and sat with them for awhile, enjoying their albergue’s little garden seating area, and took a look at my maps. There was a town not too much farther down the road: Hontanas. Something about it sounded right to me as I rolled the name over my tongue – Hontanas, like Bananas, like Anna Banana, like me. It was just right. It’s weird thinking about it now, since I certainly didn’t understand it then, but I had a very strong gut feeling about Hontanas. I needed to be there. Mind made up, I traded out my sneakers for Tevas to revive my tired feet, strapped my pack back on, gave my trio of new friends hugs goodbye, and kept on keeping on.

By the time I reached Hontanas, I was absolutely battered. Every step was a monumental effort. Even with sunblock on, all of my exposed skin was a couple of shades darker. It was taking everything I had just to not drop my pack and sleep right where I was. It would be sunset in an hour or so, so I fervently hoped that this was where my gut had been insisting I go. Luckily, the sign that I was supposed to be here was loud and clear. Right there at the edge of town is a Tau, the pilgrim’s cross, the symbol of St. Francis. As soon as I saw it, I knew I’d find whatever it was that I was looking for just down the street.

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The hermitage of St. Bridget, Hontanas.

I don’t remember if I went looking for Albergue El Puntido, or if I found it by accident, but if it was the latter, it was the luckiest of accidents to have. The albergue has a restaurant and bar, ample outdoor seating, and even a little general store for basic needs. I went in and bought a bed from one of the hospitaleras who was manning the bar, and went about getting tidied up from the day. I showered, got my bed set up as quietly as possible, since there was already a guy sleeping on the bottom bunk, and pulled everything out of my bag that I wanted to have laundered. It was a little late in the day, but the hospitalera was still willing to wash things for me.

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Talk about a pilgrim tan!

All of the major things taken care of, it was now time for the best part of my afternoon – a beer. Taking a cue from English Mark, I asked for the largest mug they offered, then took my ice cold treat out to the front of the bar, where a gaggle of pilgrims was already congregating, drinking and talking. As soon as I came out of the front door, I realized that Nestor, whom I’d met in Pamplona, was sitting alone at a little table opposite the door, writing in his journal. We’d only barely met, but there was something so familiar about him that seeing his face made my heart leap. I softly called out hello, not wanting to disturb him too much, then headed over to the larger group of pilgrims. Out of the din of conversation, one thread rang above the rest – a woman, speaking English with a southern accent, her voice dancing with friendly, playful notes. Well, whatdaya know, an American! I took a plunge that is completely out of character with my personality, and just pulled up a chair at her table without asking if I could join. It was a “What the hell, let’s try it!” moment that paid off in a few ways.

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Didn’t take a single photo of El Puntido or my new friends, but I did take this snapshot of the recycling pile out behind the albergue. With the way our night went, I’d say this was about a week’s worth of bottles, lol.

Dena was a charming, vivacious Tennessee native, currently in the process of leading the table of pilgrims in a game of 20 questions. I joined in, and began to make guesses towards the common goal – what did Dena do for a living? Another woman from Nashville, Cherrie, sat to my left. She stayed out of the game, since she and Dena were friends. Between my failed attempts to figure out Dena’s profession, Cherrie and I shared stories about our pets and all of the animals we had met so far on the Camino. The other two people at the table were both guys – Josh (not his real name) an American from California who’d hurt his leg, taxied ahead for a rest day, and was waiting for his parents and uncle to join up the next morning, and Jakob, a German law student. Eventually, we were joined by Alison, a serious, athletic young woman from Colorado, and Nestor, who had packed up his writing and come over to join the fun. We drank beers and talked and laughed until the sun went down. I finally had the courage to ask Nestor why he’d had a black eye when I met him, and it turned out that he’d been mugged for his watch in Barcelona before even starting his pilgrimage. When the group expressed dismay, he lightened up the mood by sharing another disastrous vacation story, about how he’d gone out hiking on a mountain without the proper clothing, and had almost frozen to death after misjudging the terrain. It was evident that Nestor’s special talent was finding the humor in almost any situation, and he kept the table laughing with his cheery retellings of vacation mishaps.

We sat around, soaking in the fellowship (and the beer) until someone mentioned that we should probably let the hospitaleras know if we were going to order dinner or not. I remember feeling total panic – of course I wanted food! What would I do if no one gave me a pilgrim meal? Ack! Chairs were quickly pushed from the table, and one by one we sought out the hospitaleras to obtain sustenance. Jakob and I were the last two at the table with Dena when she finally broke her silence and cleared up the mystery of her job. It had been at least an hour and a half, and way more than 20 questions, but no one had figured it out. I remember finding something so charming and genuine about her laughter as she informed us that she was a real estate agent. To this day I still have no clue how none of us figured that out.

While I had many wonderful meals with fellow peregrinos over the course of my walk through Spain, I can say with absolute certainty that nothing came close to beating dinner in Hontanas. Something brand new began to blossom in me at that table. There were layers to the magic, of course. We were all tired. We’d all been broken down a little by now, and I know that I was in a space where I felt more comfortable and unafraid of being my genuine self. Most of us were solo, except for Dena and Cherrie, who were walking together. Some of the other pilgrims had walked in with others, but no one else was part of a dedicated pair. We were all a little buzzed from afternoon beers, and feeling comfortable after hours of pleasant conversation. By the time we were seated at the albergue’s long farm table, plates of warm, delicious food in front of us, wine flowing, we were all old friends. Alison and I started talking about Game of Thrones, Nestor and Jakob jumped in, and we were off! Dena and I talked about pack weight, and what was and wasn’t necessary in our bags (she couldn’t live without her skincare routine, and I couldn’t live without my PJ pants). We emptied all of the wine, requested another bottle, then eventually Nestor bought us another one. Dinner was long done, the rest of the dining room empty and clean, by the time the last hospitalera on duty came over to suggest that we all go to bed soon. It was after 10pm, about two hours after my typical Camino bedtime. Oops 🙂

On the way up to bed, I realized I’d forgotten about my laundry. I discovered it in a basket at the bottom of the stairs to the dorm rooms, freshly washed, but still wet. I hadn’t realized that there wasn’t a dryer when I’d handed the things over to be laundered. Feeling like a total idiot, I went out to the back patio and draped my clothes across one of the available clothes racks. There was no way it would dry by morning, and I glumly reconciled myself to walking in cold, wet pants the next morning.

Alison and Jakob were staying in my dorm room, and we all finished up our nighttime routines as quietly as possible, while still shooting each other knowing looks and stifling giggles. It was like being part of some secret in-crowd. I went to bed feeling satisfied, and woke up feeling thirsty and slightly hungover. As expected, my pants were cold and clammy off of the clothesline. Still, I felt pretty good. As we were standing around, packing up and getting ready to head out, no one wanted to say goodbye. Josh waited out front of the albergue for his other family members to arrive, and he and I started to talk about funny t-shirts we’d seen. I told him about my favorite t-shirt from back home, and showed him a professional photo I’d had taken in the shirt. He was blown away – it turned out that one of his best friends owned the t-shirt company, Buy Me Brunch, that I’d gotten the shirt from. It was a smaller company, so it was a fun realization for both of us. I shared the photo with him to send to his friend, and soon after, walked on for the day on my own, for my second day as a solo peregrina.

An Attitude Adjustment

There’s a new employee at my part-time job, and they’ve got a defensive streak that really makes them unpleasant to interact with. This has created unnecessary turmoil in my life lately. Of course, I’m treating it as an exercise in learning how to filter my language to avoid unnecessary drama while still attempting to get things accomplished with difficult people. But more than that, I’m choosing to use it as a lesson in letting go, on a couple of levels – in letting go of expectation, negative emotion, and memories of things that are just not that big of a deal, in the scheme of life, the universe, and everything. In other words, I’m giving myself an attitude adjustment.

The other day, my coworker was nearly 10 minutes late, which might not seem like much, but is a big deal since there’s only one of us at a time. Whoever is manning the desk overnight can’t leave until their relief gets there, which is a problem if that person has a day job (as all of the night auditors at this hotel do). The person didn’t bother to call to let me know, so when they finally walked in, I was already late to Job #2.

On my way out the door, I asked if they had my number and explained that from now on if they’re running late they should call to give a heads up to whoever is working the desk. My coworker immediately started making an excuse about a car broken down, with an offer to show me photos of the car that had broken down, to which I replied, stupidly, “I don’t care.” Not meaning “I don’t care about your problems,” but rather “I’m not your boss, you don’t have to prove that your car was broken down.” It was an unfortunate turn of phrase, and I regret that I didn’t realize immediately that what I’d said could potentially be hurtful.

It didn’t hit me until later that I’d said something that could be interpreted a different way if you didn’t know me, so when I saw my coworker today, I explained myself and apologized for using the phrase “I don’t care” when we were talking. The person rolled their eyes at me and snorted. Awesome.

Of course, also today there were several things that a couple of our newer employees had mistakenly done over the last few days that I had to spend about an hour fixing last night. Part of my job is to fix the problems on reservations, but also let the morning shift know what’s going on. When I let my coworker know what had gone on overnight, they started passing the buck immediately. Keep in mind that this person is brand new. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know how to do something – it’s expected. But instead of “Oh yeah, I might have messed that up,” or “I think that was so-and-so who did that, but I don’t know how to fix it, could you show me?” all I got was “It’s so-and-so’s fault. I was training him and he did it wrong. Etc.” Mind you, I have no clue why a brand-new employee who doesn’t know the reservation system is training another new employee, but that’s out of my control. Also, if you’re “training” someone and they do it wrong, as the trainer, you should be equipped to correct the problem then and there, or at least leave a note so someone else can fix it instead of waiting for the night auditor to catch it in passing.

Oh well. It’s not my fault that this place is crazy, and there’s nothing I can do to fix the crazy. It was that way before I started, and it will be like that long after I’ve moved on. The only thing that is firmly within my control is letting go of the angst I’m feeling over working with people who are not interested in accepting responsibility and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn and excel. This is my part time gig, not my career. It’s not my life, and it has very little bearing on my future, other than helping me pay off credit cards. It is within my power – and indeed, my responsibility – to watch my language, and never say things like “I don’t care” again – because obviously I do, very much. But it’s up to my coworkers to accept apologies, and to volunteer to learn things that will help get the drama and shambles under control.

It is also within my power to spend all day tomorrow looking for writing and editing gigs, so that if I have to keep working these long hours, at least I can do so from home, where I can control the quality of my surroundings and work output.

My Camino Playlist (2015 Edition)

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Considering all the cats I petted on the Camino, I have to think that Mr. Schweitzer was on to something…

There are many controversial subjects among pilgrims and prospective pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago: raincoat or poncho, backpack weight, shoe type, best bedbug prevention, pants or skirt, and the list goes on. If you’ve ever asked yourself “is XYZ a good idea?” chances are that there are a few forum threads on XYZ, and equal numbers of people saying “Of course!” and “Hell no!” We humans are a difficult bunch.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from walking the Camino started to get drilled in before I’d even boarded the plane to Paris, through reading tons of Camino journals, blog posts, and forum comments. Pretty early on, it became obvious to me that this journey was mine to make, and mine alone. It’s one thing to pay attention to advice, but it’s up to the individual to decide what’s useful and proper in their situation, and what is merely interference (no matter how well-meant). Just because someone else insists that their way is the only right way – especially when they’re knit-picking you about things that aren’t life or death – doesn’t mean they’re right. In fact, it seems to me that when people try to bully you into accepting their inconsequential choices as your own habits, it’s usually out of fear, and the subconscious belief that having others conform to their whims will somehow validate their life path. In other words, don’t believe everything you read. Make your own decisions. Walk your own damn road!

When you know yourself and your proclivities, sometimes there are choices to be made to ensure comfort and happiness that will go against the grain. Have the courage to do things your way (but don’t be too proud to admit when your way kind of sucks in the end). Deciding to do things my way meant that I wore sneakers instead of boots, despite some strong advice against it. I went with my gut, knowing how miserable I get when my feet are hot. It worked out splendidly, and I’ll do it again. I also wore thin, dual-layered socks, rather than two pairs of thick socks – another fantastic choice that I have continued on later hiking trips. I wore leggings instead of pants. I used a poncho and a raincoat, and threw them both away (insert mad laughter here)! Another thing that I knew I’d be doing from the outset, despite the naysayers, is listening to music. I just don’t operate without it.

On the various Camino forums I frequented prior to leaving on my walk, there were some hot debates about music or no music. Some people argued that it was unsafe to walk around with headphones in, blocking out the noise of oncoming traffic. That’s valid enough, and you should always be aware of your surroundings when listening to headphones, no matter where you are. But I found that a stronger contingent of the “no music” crowd argued against it for spiritual reasons, with the idea that doing anything besides walking and listening to the sounds of nature around you would interfere with the pilgrimage. At first glance, this seems like an OK point. However, for some reason, this thought was seldom shared as a kind suggestion, but rather as a bold insistence that if you weren’t walking in silence, you were doing it wrong. Needless to say, that’s one concept that got pitched out of my window early on. While I often did walk with nature as my only soundtrack, and I also spent a lot of time getting to know my Camino friends as we walked, I also had times when my music was the only thing that pulled me through. Singing is one of my preferred forms of healing and meditation, and I had some beautiful moments out there, singing along to Petula Clark and Neko Case, barely managing to put one foot in front of the other. Some days I knew that the notes had helped pull me along to my destination.

I have a Camino playlist on my Spotify account, and it’s been growing since 2015. Before it gets too big for me to remember what the list originally contained, I wanted to write it down here. Aside from this playlist, I also listened some albums that were already on my iPhone, including a Petula Clark greatest hits album, a Spotify playlist that my boyfriend made me when we first started dating (including several songs by my all-time favorite band, Dry the River, who as it turns out, broke up around the same time I walked into Santiago de Compostela *argh*), a couple of albums by Miranda Lambert, a few songs by Fela Kuti, “Aguas de Marco” as performed by Elis Regina, Ween’s White Pepper album, and Chicago II. The following list was my official Camino playlist, though. Most of the songs therein were chosen for their messages, and all were chosen for the fact that I like to sing along. This will give you a little taste of how eclectic my tastes run (though this isn’t the half of it – I also love nerdcore rap, speed metal, Brazilian pop, Afrobeat, 40’s jazz, 60’s pop, 80’s English ska, and bluegrass).

  • Price Tag – Jessie J, B.o.B.
  • America – Simon & Garfunkel
  • Scenic World – Beirut
  • Graduate – Third Eye Blind
  • Free Ride – The Edgar Winter Group
  • Spice Up Your Life – Spice Girls
  • Saint Simon – The Shins
  • Voce Abusou – Maria Cruza
  • Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Shakira, Freshlyground
  • Show Your Colors – Genevieve
  • Go Places – The New Pornographers
  • We Owned the Night – Lady Antebellum
  • Some Days I’m Golden All Night – Josh Rouse
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  • Millennium – Robbie Williams
  • Flowing – 311
  • Dancing Song – Little Comets
  • Cool Change – Little River Band
  • Brave – Sara Bareilles
  • Show Me Love – Robyn
  • Takin’ It to the Streets  – The Doobie Brothers
  • Front the Least – MC Frontalot
  • Gypsy – Shakira

The list has since grown to include a number of other just right (to me, at least) songs that say “this is the way” to me. Thus far, these include:

  • God Gave Rock and Roll to You – Argent
  • Try Everything – Shakira
  • Wise Up – Aimee Mann
  • Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
  • Je Joue De La Guitare – Jean Leloup
  • Kyrie – Mr. Mister
  • Give A Little Bit – Supertramp
  • Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In – The 5th Dimension
  • The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
  • Dreams – The Cranberries
  • Ramble On – Led Zeppelin
  • Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
  • I Go to Extremes – Billy Joel
  • Serenity – Godsmack
  • All This Time – Jonathan Coulton

Anna’s Camino: Day 18 – Burgos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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When I woke up in Burgos on the second day of my mini “vacation” from the Camino, I very nearly strapped my pack back on and left town. Even though my legs and feet were still hurting, and I wanted to take some R&R, the urge to keep moving was intense. It felt lazy to just sit around for the day, even if I wasn’t exactly going to be sitting. I laid there in bed and did some mental accounting, weighing up the pros and cons of cutting my stay short, and eventually decided to keep the pack where it was for just one more day.

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Instead, I packed up my little travel purse with a few things that I’d need for a day of exploring the city, and headed out to see what there was to see. I knew nothing at all about Burgos, so I just went where I felt on a whim. I found a t-shirt shop that had a Rolling Stones-type logo on a shirt, and texted it to my English friend Mark, with a note to hurry up and get to Burgos so I could buy him a pint for his birthday. He responded that he was taking a break, so I wouldn’t be seeing him in Burgos any time soon. I do wish I’d have gotten to see him just one more time, as he passed away in 2016. I wrote about that here.

My explorations led me to a seminary campus a little ways out of the downtown area. The front gardens were beautifully landscaped, and boasted several beautiful little rose bushes. I spent some time carefully inspecting all of the flowers still in bloom, and taking photos here and there. There was an order to the gardens of Burgos that I found highly pleasing, as well as reminiscent of the royal gardens from Alice in Wonderland.

As I was just wrapping up with taking photos of the flowers, and wondering what I should do next, a tall, handsome man strode down the sidewalk. He had bronze skin and high cheek bones, which made me wonder if he was part Native American. Though he was dressed in street clothes, his haircut and bearing made him look every inch like a military man or undercover cop. He carried nothing – no camera or bags. He wasn’t a tourist, or if he was, he had planned his route ahead of time. He made a beeline back to the city gates, and I didn’t think twice – I waited until he was about a block away, then began to follow him, trying not to look suspicious. That, children, is how I ended up pretending that I was on a secret mission with MI6, and tailed a stranger for half an hour through the streets of Burgos. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and there’s honestly not much of the story to tell, other than the fact that I kept myself amused for far longer than one would expect. I lost him about a block away from the Military Museum of Burgos; he turned a corner and was gone. I amused myself by thinking that he must have been on to me, but eventually I came to the conclusion that perhaps he was just on his way to visit the museum, and made it through the front doors before I came into view.

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Spy adventure over, I wandered around town for the rest of the afternoon. I walked over to the municipal albergue to get a new credencial, since the one I’d brought from home was already full of stamps. At the albergue, I once again struggled with being on my own here. I was acutely jealous of the incoming peregrinos, and briefly considered leaving the hotel and coming to stay at the albergue for the night. I reminded myself that the first part of my Camino was over, and it was now time to pen the second volume. It made me feel slightly better, but I still missed being nestled in with all of the other pilgrims at night. After picking up the credencial, I hiked up the hill to see the castle, but it was closed for the afternoon. I took some photos out over the town, then hiked back down. At some point in the afternoon, I also got a FB message from Terry, who was in town. Once again, I mused that it was completely pointless telling anyone goodbye on the Camino. We’d already said goodbye forever twice now, and here we were, making plans for dinner.

After heading back to the hotel room to clean up and get ready to meet up with Terry, I walked down to the cathedral square. I wanted to get a stamp in my new credencial before the cathedral museum closed, and take some pictures of this really interesting bronze statue of a naked pilgrim sitting on a park bench, just past the center of the square.

As I headed towards the cathedral, another interesting person caught my eye. This man was still somewhat far away, and wasn’t carrying a pack, but something about his gait and posture (plus the fact that he was obviously there to see the cathedral) told me that he was a pilgrim. He shuffled across the square in flip flops, khakis, and a plaid shirt. He carried something in front of him with deference – a credencial? A camera? He didn’t pick up his feet as he walked – I think that might be what first caught my eye, because his steps were awkward, like he might pitch forward at any minute, but the rest of his movements implied confidence and openness, and a body that normally had a much surer stride. It was obvious that his feet were killing him, and maybe that he wasn’t used to wearing flip flops. From a distance, I couldn’t quite make out his face, but from the preppy outfit and what I thought from a distance was graying hair, I pegged him to be older, about 40. It struck me that he had an old/young look to him, like an elf. I watched him shuffle across to a park bench, then my gaze was caught by an older couple and their toddler grandson. By the time I turned back, the man was gone. My mind fell off of him completely, and I went about getting my credencial stamped before Terry showed up. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d just caught my first glimpse of one of the most important people of my Camino, Jakob, my German shepherd. It wasn’t until I was already off of the Camino that I put two and two together, and realized who I’d seen there in the square at Burgos. I’ve been keeping it secret ever since, since he’s always bugging me to hurry up and get to the part where we meet. Surprise! (I guess it’s kind of creepy in retrospect, though…oh well.)

Maybe ten minutes later, Terry came along, and we went off in search of dinner – no easy feat at 6pm in Spain. Most places weren’t open yet, or were open and only serving drinks and tapas. After an hour of wandering around, chatting and looking in doorways, Terry eventually strode into a cafe that was open for drinks only, and pleaded a combination of age and pilgrim status to the manager. He took pity on the poor, starving peregrinas and served us a pilgrim menu with no choices. We sat, he brought us what he had, and we ate. I loved that dinner, as it was always a treat to get to spend time with Terry, and also it tickled both of us, I think, to be given pity, but only so much. Also, as I remember, the dessert was excellent.

I walked Terry back to her hotel (which, unlike mine, was both modern and cushy), and headed back home to pack. I’d sent my laundry out to be washed by the hotel that morning, taking a cue from The Way, and wanted to spend some time cleaning out my pack and repacking it a little better before it was time to hit the hay. On my way home, I stopped in at a bookstore and bought an English copy of the maps-only edition of Brierley’s Camino Frances book. It was a fantastic find, one which I wished I’d known about prior to beginning my Camino. I much preferred the advice of the Wise Pilgrim app to anything I read in the full version of Brierley’s work, but it was handy to have paper maps on hand on occasion.

I don’t remember falling asleep that night, but I do remember waking up an hour early the next morning, willing time to move faster so I could get a move on, already. Eventually I gave up and started walking before sunrise. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road, even if it meant giving up my chance at having chocolate and churros for breakfast.

Click here to read about Day 19. 

Anna’s Camino: Day 17 – Burgos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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One of my favorite interior details from The Cathedral of St. Mary of Burgos.

It was still dark the next morning when Natalie, Ruth, and I left the albergue to begin the day’s trek. We started the day with the routine pitiful breakfast that was the norm across the length of the Camino – toast, juice, coffee – and between the vague irritation from not enough protein, the biting cold morning, and being generally exhausted, starting the day’s walk was quite difficult. There was also the not-so-little issue that this would be my last day with Natalie for some time. I greedily soaked up every second of our walk together, endeavoring to regulate my pace so I could cling to her side for the few hours it took to walk from tiny hamlet of Cardenuela Riopico to the big city of Burgos.

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Breakfast. The ham and cheese in the background are from Natalie’s pack – bringing your own protein is absolutely essential if you want to fuel your body properly first thing.

No matter which way one enters any large city, you’ll still find yourself humping it through the ‘burbs for quite some time before reaching city center. In Burgos, it’s no different. The “industrial area” – office parks, some scrapyard areas, a place that felt like the disused back lot of a small airport – that you’d drive through in less than five minutes takes more than an hour to conquer on foot. It’s not pretty, it gets monotonous, but if pilgrimage is life in a microcosm, I don’t think I need to spell out for you why it might be helpful to endure the boring, ugly bits. That’s up to the individual, though – every pilgrim walks her own road. My lessons are not yours. I found a strange joy, even in the not-so-great stretches, something I think has its roots in a childhood spent playing on the railroad tracks and in abandoned houses. I’ve always loved the overgrown and forgotten, the underdog places. They suit my soul.

Two days before, at dinner with Natalie and Terry in Villafranca Montes de Oca, we had spent some time discussing the pros and cons of the route into Burgos. Terry had very strong views on the subject, having done it before. She’d found the route spiritually deflating on her last trip, and advised against walking there. That’s part of why she’d taken the bus from Villafranca. Natalie, who’d also walked this portion of the route before, had heard that there was an alternate way to get into Burgos that was much prettier, and had resolved to find it. I was happy to tag along on the search. As it turns out, the way was quite interesting, in turns ugly and beautiful. There were still industrial areas to slog through, but then the route took us through a beautiful natural area that turned into a city park, first with nature trails, then bike trails and foot paths.

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The park route into Burgos.

All morning long, we saw Ruth, then lost her, then saw her again. Finally, about 30 minutes before reaching city center, Natalie and I plopped down on a park bench to eat a snack, and Ruth came along just as we were finishing up. It was nice to join up and walk the final stretch together; I took the opportunity to ask Ruth about the many hiking badges on her backpack. She had at least 10 patches, maybe more, denoting the various places she’d hiked. I loved the idea, and still do.

Our path through the park followed a small river, and as we got further into town, there were more and more foot bridges crossing the river. We could have crossed a bridge and left the park at any time, but kept moving along, scanning the sky for the spires of Burgos Cathedral. Twice we stopped to ask directions, but both locals told us to keep walking, not to cross any bridges yet. The last gentleman we talked to was so emphatic that we HAD to stay in the park for awhile, so we were careful not to stray. At first it seemed like he’d been afraid we’d get lost, but once we got into town proper, we realized that he’d had a different purpose in mind. Though we could have followed the river on either side of the city, entering city center from the path we were currently on gave us an absolutely breathtaking view of the gates of the old town, the spires of the cathedral just beyond. We’d lucked into asking a proud local for directions, and he pointed us in the precise direction required to fall in love with the city the way he had. It was the first time, but not the last, that I’d find myself close to tears over the sheer beauty of a place. I don’t think that I could have had quite the same experience had I not walked so far to get there. It was a triumph unlike anything I’d yet felt on the Camino, thus in my life.

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Me and my banana, about to storm the front gate of Burgos. I’m not sure why I look so serious. The banana certainly looks to be having a lovely time of things.

We arrived early enough in the day for the other two ladies to get to tour the cathedral and grab food before leaving town. Since I was checking into a hotel, I offered my room for baggage storage, so everyone could change shoes and walk around Burgos without packs. The Meson del Cid is a fine, old hotel that fit my needs. It wasn’t the most modern or cushy, but I had my own room with a giant bed, no snoring neighbors, and a fabulous bathroom all to myself. Even better, the hotel is directly beside the cathedral, which is situated in the city’s main square, so I was right in the middle of all the action. When your feet and legs are screaming with every step, not having to walk too far is worth its weight in comfortable walking shoes. We all took a second to admire the generous accommodations, then headed out to take a peek at the town.

First stop was a walk around the cathedral and surrounding neighborhood, where we happened across the most adorable little cafe any of us had yet seen. It was a tea/cocktail shop that was decorated in a very feminine motif, pastels and floral patterns, with beautifully appointed china. Even the barista had a sweet smile and very welcoming demeanor, fitting the overall spirit of the place; the entire experience was enchanting. They also had one of the best slices of tortilla of my entire Camino, with a thin layer of ham baked in between a thick layer of egg/potato, and a thinner layer of egg/cheese.

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After a cafe con leche and a little snack, it was time to tackle the cathedral. There are no words to properly explain the awe I experienced, so I’ll just give you photos…

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I quickly lost the other two peregrinas, as I soaked in every tiny detail and read every available scrap of info that I could find. By the time I finished the self-guided tour through the church, Natalie and Ruth were long-finished and sitting, waiting for me near the exit. I could tell they were a little impatient to get back on the road again, but they were also both so forgiving and kind in their manner that I felt guilty and forgave myself in almost the same moment. We went in search of kebabs, as one of the two ladies had heard there was a really good kebab shop right around the cathedral. The one that we found was OK, but nothing to write home about. After lunch, it was time for them to walk on. It was already mid-afternoon, and they had a long walk to get out of the city. We went back to my room to get their bags and have an emotional goodbye. I promised to catch back up with Natalie in a day or two. Maybe I believed at the time that that was a possibility; I don’t know.

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That night after dark, I walked around the city center, exploring on my own for the first time. One thing that struck me about Burgos, and many of the smaller towns I walked through that had even a smidgen of night life at town center, was how families were out together en masse. In a U.S. city at night, you’ll see couples out together, or maybe groups of people if they’re headed out to eat or to a club. You might even see a family or two, or a single mom/dad with kid or kids. And the same was true here, of course – except that there were many children present, and kids were normally accompanied by both parents, or two grandparents, or parents AND grandparents. The kids were always dressed so nicely, and it was rare to see any little ones acting up (at least in public). The whole scene was completely alien to me, but heartwarming, too.

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The fountain in the square outside of the Meson del Cid.

I went looking for a place to eat dinner, but felt so out of my element without a friend. I wandered down a bustling strip and through a couple of squares, admiring various menus and shyly standing around, getting a feel for how fancy the establishments might be. Several restaurants had ads for chocolate and churros, which I craved to try. In the end, though, I was just too out of my element to force myself into dining alone in a foreign language. I walked around until I found a little grocery store that was still open, and bought a selection of junk food to eat in my hotel room. I took a long, luxurious bath, then curled up in bed and ate chips and a chocolate bar, letting the crumbs fall as they pleased with no one there to judge me.

It felt strange to be so solitary. For the first time in a long time, being alone, something that I enjoyed in my “real life” back at home, filled me with an acute sense of loneliness. Looking back on that memory brings to mind the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” I was hurting on the inside that night. I never did get to try chocolate and churros. I also didn’t sleep at a hotel again on my Camino, and even now, I tend to stay in hostels, where I can meet new people. Seventeen days in, and my way of encountering the world was changing.

Sometimes I Go To Extremes

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I went to work yesterday morning at 7:10am, left at 3:45, went home and slept for two and a half hours, then worked from 11pm last night to 6pm tonight. I feel oddly fine, but that could just be the psychosis setting in. After all, on the walk home tonight, singing along to Billy Joel’s 11th album (which I just discovered, since I am nothing if not a super-duper late bloomer in all things…and the reason I’m not including the album title is because Googling it brings up a white supremacist group, which I just do not have the mental capacity to handle at this precise second), I spent at least 30 seconds marveling that I’ve been too tired to feel anxious or depressed for the last two weeks. (Did anyone else get the joke-not-joke here?)

Anyway, this lack of life outside of work and sleep is a drag, but I’m resolved to see it through as I pay off my credit card debt once and for all, opening up a world of possibility. You know, possibilities like owning more than one pair of work pants, or maybe affording to go to a proper laundromat instead of washing my towels by hand in a large stewpot in my bathtub. I’m actually not sure what the possibilities are, because I just don’t have any of those particular brain cells – the ones that fly me into flights of fancy – available right now. I think they’ve all been sleeping out of self defense since around noon today.

Anyway, today’s Daily Post prompt is “natty,” and I figured it would be fun to explore word associations using this thoroughly work-pickled brain. What was the first thing you thought when you read “natty”? I thought about Daniel Day Lewis as Natty Bumppo, and how the actor is actually quite the natty dresser in real life. Did you know he’s a cobbler? Like, he has the ability to craft shoes of fine Italian leather. I’m very picky about needing comfortable shoes, but I don’t think I’d say no to a pair of sensible heels made by President Lincoln.

Talking about shoes, the second I think of a handsome hunk of man holding a gorgeous chocolate leather spectator pump in his strong, yet elegant, hands, I head straight off to a scene in one of my all-time favorite movies, Only You, staring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei (and of course we can’t forget the inimitable Bonnie Hunt, or Billy Zane playing at playing the best douche-nozzle west of the Apennines). Downey plays a shoe salesman on holiday in Italy, and Tomei is the high school teacher/dreamer he runs into by accident, in a great scene that involves him running after her, holding a shoe, shouting “Signora, la tua scarpa!” There’s a great scene later in the film that apparently doesn’t exist on YouTube (bet you’re breathing a sigh of relief, but you won’t be for long, HAHA!) where Marisa Tomei is getting dressed in this bone-colored jumpsuit thing that only she could ever have worn, and she’s looking all dreamy and 90’s and European, and she’s heading out to FINALLY meet the man of her destiny. Or so she thinks.

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But anyway, there’s Robert Downey, Jr., in love with her and still helping her get ready for her date, doing that nonchalant kicked puppy thing he does so well. She’s in the bathroom getting changed, so you don’t see her. You’re watching him talk to her through the closed door, idly walking around the room and picking out the things that she’ll need to complete the ensemble – scarf, shoes, jewelry – so she can go out on a date with this other man. And it’s so intimate, the way he’s casually thumbing through her jewelry pile to find the right earrings. Of course, there’s a duplicitousness to the scene and the emotions he’s giving off, but but that little, stupid task he’s completing is one of the most romantic motions I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I bet now you wish I could have found the stupid clip, but whatever you do, don’t watch the movie trailer. It’s a terrible, terrible trailer. Just the worst. It’s almost as jarring as the first notes of Andrew Powell/Alan Parsons score for Ladyhawke, but nowhere near as satisfying. It’s just a silly romantic comedy, but the trailer makes it look even dumber than it is. You lose sight of all the tender moments that make it great. Plus, there’s Italy. Just – Italy.

And talking about Italy, you know what I just thought of? This mummy I ran across by accident at that little church in Murano a few years back. By now y’all have to know that I love saints and religious relics/reliquaries, but I don’t always search them out when I’m traveling. Most of the time, they find me. I suppose I should be thinking about that next time I’m pondering big, blinking signs from the cosmos. But as cool as this particular preserved dude was, I didn’t catch his name and have had no luck finding him online. I remember feeling sorry for him, because he was German, and stuck on a tiny island in Italy, so far from home. On the other hand, I did have luck finding another pair of dressed martyr skeletons whom I’ve visited a few times now, at Peterskirche in Vienna, Austria. Talk about natty dressers! They’re just loaded with jewelry and perfectly tailored gold duds. Here’s a great Smithsonian article about similarly dressed holy skeletons across Europe.

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Click here to find Horny Goat Brewing Co.’s fine beverages at a shop near you!

Back when one of my best friends lived in Vienna, also when we were young and had strong constitutions, we spent a fair amount of time there drinking beer (mostly Stiegl, as it was local and cheap). A few months back, I tried Stiegl again for old time’s sake, and though it’s not the worst thing ever, I just can’t get excited about anything lighter than a porter these days. My taste buds always insist that anything lighter tastes about as delicious as that gold standard of swill, Natty Light. Every time someone tells me that I just need to try this IPA/APA/Cream Ale/Fruit Beer/Wheat Beer/insert beer type here, I give it a go and end up sad that now I’ve got to finish this thing before I can go back to a drink that I enjoy. It turns out that I prefer malty or nutty flavors, and can’t stand hoppy beers. I’m not one of those snobs who’s going to insist that there’s not a single hoppy beer that would suit me, and I’m not going to turn down a free beer if someone’s been nice enough to invest in changing my mind, but I’m never going to waste my money trying to find the one magical beer out there that will get hoppy beer pushers to lay off and let me enjoy my own damn drink. My latest favorite find is the Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter, by Horny Goat Brewery.

If goats attract gnats, does that make them gnatty?

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Guys. Guys. GUYS! This goat got arrested, y’all. This is a picture of a goat in a cop car. Holy crap, this might be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in the last five minutes as I’ve struggled to finish this blog post and just go to bed, already. Also, “therapy goats in cruisers” – I think I love this cop just a little bit more than is wise at this junction.

Also, I just got curious about Daniel Day Lewis maybe owning goats and making goat cheese, since that would obviously push him firmly into the “sexiest man alive” category for me (nope, not stopping to explain this, you’re just gonna have to go with whatever’s happening in the old brainpan) and found out that GOAT is an acronym meaning Greatest Of All Time. Who knew? Apparently lots of people, but let’s just ignore that for a minute. Those people clearly aren’t fantasizing about men who know their way around a foot massage AND can whip up a mean goat milk ricotta, but do think that no one can beat Daniel Day Lewis. You know, except for Amsterdam Vallon.

Sidenote: I’m sure if I scrolled down, I’d found out that GOAT is also an acronym for other, less savory things, as that’s the way of the interwebz. Thus, I will not. I will stay safely in my snug cocoon of film references and cute goat memes, oh, and cats, of course. Interwebz made me think of Ceiling Cat and Basement Kitty. Still the best interpretation of the bible, IMO.

Who are you guys, really? Why is it so weird up in this joint? Where’s the DJ, and why does he keep playing the Eric Prydz “Call On Me” remix on repeat? Wait, does this one have slightly more bass? I’m not saying this is the worst dance party I’ve ever been to, but I certainly am not a fan of the lighting in here. I think I’ll just close my eyes for a bit…