Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 2) – Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega

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.


Though I believed I’d seen my fair share of the Spanish countryside by the time we got to Villafranca Montes de Oca, this day’s walk was to be a lesson in avoiding assumption. Shortly after leaving town that morning, we entered a large swath of beautiful, undeveloped forest land, and it seemed like there was a new surprise around every curve. I walked down a long, quiet stretch of fern forest, saw the prettiest little flowers, and happily analyzed every new type of rock I stumbled across (sometimes literally). My college geology professor would have been amused at how a girl who’d often slept through class (you can’t blame me – it was at 8am, and you already know I’m not a morning person) would one day grow up to geek out over pebbles.

One of the biggest regrets of my morning was coming to a huge dip in the road and realizing that no photos I took were going to capture its stupefying dimensions. I’d walked up and down mountains before, but this was something else. It looked like a freefall I’d absolutely hate to take via rollercoaster. I was in awe, but still remembered an important lesson I’d found on my first steep downhill climb, going into Roncesvalles on Day 3. I unpacked my sandals and switched shoes, just in case, to make sure there was no way of hurting my toes on the downhill climb. I might have been masochist enough to go on this stupidly long walk, but no way was I going to lose toenails in the process. (Click here to learn about how I took care of my feet on the Camino Frances.)


It’s difficult to make out in this photo, but the dark spot in the trail ahead is where the trail drops completely out of sight. The little speck far in the distance on the trail is Natalie.

By the time I got to the big hill, Natalie was already far ahead on the trail. In fact, if you look very carefully in the picture above, you can just make out a tiny hiker wearing orange pants on the uphill portion of the next hill. I spent most of the morning alone, only meeting one other person, a woman pilgrim who was nearly done walking her intended portion of the Camino. She and her husband were vacationing through Spain together via RV, and she had split up from him a few days before to walk to Burgos, where they would meet up again and drive on. I thought it was such a pleasant idea for sharing an experience with your partner without forcing them into a specific travel style that didn’t suit.


Before getting to San Juan de Ortega, where I hoped to regroup with Natalie, I ran across two things I hadn’t expected. The first thing was situated just before coming to the big hill – an archaeological site and memorial plaque, at the site of a mass grave. I couldn’t understand much of the signage, but was able to understand that this site was the unfortunate location of an execution during the Spanish Civil War (here’s an article about the dig, as well as the possible victims). I took a moment to reflect and offer up a prayer, feeling sadly inadequate – it was striking me how woefully unprepared I’d been to be a traveler here. It felt like the ultimate disrespect, to spend so little time getting to know the ins and outs of the country that was to shelter me.

I did my best on the Camino to divorce myself from expectation, and to be present and aware that it was my job to listen, follow the locals’ leads, and most of all, to be courteous in all dealings. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I take some solace in knowing that I tried. There was so much history under my feet, and I had so little prior knowledge of any of it. I walked on, sober in the realization that I was completely incapable of showing proper respect to the dead here. As much as I have tried to be open to being a child of the world, much of history is alien to me, evanescent, ultimately untouchable. Of course, this is obvious – none of us are time travelers (if you are, call me!) – but it doesn’t keep me from deep regret. The best I could do was to interpret the scene through a human lens, and understand the tragedy that accompanies any theft of life.


This “Buen Camino” helped dispel a little of the unease felt on this part of the trail.

The second site I encountered was almost the exact opposite scene – an unexpected art installation, in the middle of nowhere. There were no explanatory plaques, so I still have no clue who made the art, or why, but it was a refreshing find. The path had become flat and very wide, and though the mud was drying, it was obvious that had we walked that way a day before, it would have been the same shoe-sucking muck that we’d encountered leading into Villafranca Montes de Oca. It appeared that there had been some deforestation along the trail in recent history. Where before, the trees had come right up to the trail, here there was a wide stretch of fern growth bordering the path on each side. At some point in this stretch, I began to feel uneasy. The quiet was overbearing. Something about the road just felt wrong. It wasn’t the first time on the Camino that I’d thought back to how medieval travelers hadn’t liked to travel through the woods, on account of the threat of brigands. At times, I felt time overlapping. It’s hard to explain properly, but I was afraid of the past of the woods, not the present. Present me felt no threat – in fact, felt no human presence lurking. But another part of me felt tapped into a primordial fear, like I was stepping into someone else’s feeling-shoes, and experiencing their emotional reaction to being watched from the woods of another time.



Dat banana tongue, tho…




Dear artist – if you’re reading this, your beautiful sun/moon/heart/rainbow composition was one of the prettiest things I saw on the whole trip. Thank you! ❤



Either way, as soon as I got to the magical little clearing where the art installation lived, this eerie feeling passed. Perhaps it was the little burst of happy energy from all of the colors, or maybe I was just instinctively relieved to see signs of other humans nearby. I wish I knew who’d taken the time to leave this lovely little art collection behind, and I hope that it grows along the path, in the way that so many areas of Camino offerings seem to grow and accumulate more cairns and milagros. Soon after, I passed a really nice little km marker that gave me the burst of energy I needed to pick up the pace.


As I’d hoped, Natalie’s pack and hiking pole were waiting in front of a little cafe in San Juan de Ortega when I arrived. I happily dropped my pack and went in to find her, only to realize that she had been waiting for awhile, and was impatient to leave again. Before I’d arrived, she’d taken a short tour of the monastery, checked emails, and had a leisurely cup of coffee. Though we were both relieved to meet up again, I knew that our speeds were no longer aligning, and got the feeling that she had something new on her mind. It felt like the distance was more than physical, and I began the emotional practice of reconciling myself to what was to come, another Camino “break up.” But it wasn’t to be today. She waited with me for a little while, so I could grab an Aquarius and a slice of tortilla, and we took a look at the maps to confirm our plan to march on to Cardeñuela Riopico that afternoon. After my short break, we strapped on packs and headed off towards Ages, chatting happily about the things we’d seen so far this morning.

Click here to read about Day 16 (Part 3). 

Photography Friday: Abstract Orange

I must not take a lot of photos incorporating the color orange in my day-to-day. In general I’m really not a fan of the shade, so wondering if orange things just don’t catch my eye that often (kind of the opposite of how I go gaga over purple objects). Today’s photo challenge asks us to share a photograph that features the color orange, but a brief look through my phone shows almost nothing of use. However, I love this shot that my camera took on its own one day on a trip to the mall, and it’s orange enough, right?


My New St. Francis Statue – Plus, Vote On A Color!!!!

By now, most of you know that I really love St. Francis. Ever since visiting Assisi a few years ago, largely on a whim, I’ve been coming to terms with an ever-growing affinity for the 12th/13th century friar. He’s grown to be something of a hero to me. As a non-Catholic (indeed, I’m not even Christian), I don’t admire him for religious reasons, or seek him out as a conduit for communicating with the divine. However, I’m fascinated with his life, with his commitment to simplicity and minimalism, and with his deep and overpowering adoration of nature as an extension of God.

I love that his followers loved him for his honesty. I love that he didn’t bullshit – he called it like he saw it, even when it was a tough pill for others to swallow. I also love him as a historical figure. We tend to think of saints in mythical terms; in many ways they are Catholicism’s answer to the problem of the pagan gods and demigods that the Church wanted to clean up and package into the new religion. Francis is kind of unique as a saint, in that he has a rich history, with lots of exciting, almost magical stories that accompany him on his rise to sainthood, but he was recent enough that we know a lot about him as a man. The thing that sealed the deal for me, I think, was seeing his belongings in the Basilica at Assisi, including the paperwork that was signed to create the Franciscan Order. With the creation of the order (whose members embraced poverty) Francis began the movement that essentially saved the 13th century Church from the ruin of excess.

But enough of my waxing poetic. I really like the guy. He was complicated, and flawed, but so are we all. Having him in my life helps me stop and take stock of what I really need, and appreciate that almost everything is already waiting in my heart.

This being the case, when I happened upon a statue of Francis in someone’s trash pile last week, I was so excited to take him home. It was a pretty weird find, because my boyfriend and I had set out that afternoon to find something (I wasn’t sure what) to go beside my front door for decoration. I’d had this idea that it would be a statue, but all day while we were shopping, nothing was catching my eye. We’d given up and were actually heading back home when we passed the trash pile and I spied Francis sitting there, waiting to be rescued.

Now why had someone thrown him away? Kind of easy – he looked like this:

St. Francis Statue

Sure, he’s missing a head, but he’s still pretty darn cool!

I love him just the way he is – missing head and all. I’ve decided I’m going to sand him down and repaint him in a really pretty, glossy, bright color. Pretty sure that even though Francis would have thought adding tchotchkes to your life is a terrible waste of time and money, he still would have seen the humor in making someone’s castoffs beautiful again.

What color do you guys think I should paint him? I’m a fan of magenta or teal, but what do you think? Hot pink? Yellow? Grass green? Multi-colored with sparkles? Leave a comment below.

Living Alone

Female Rage, New Orleans Graffiti (photo by Anna Harris)

Female Rage – New Orleans Graffiti (photo by Anna Harris)

Lately I dwell
On who I will become.
How will I live
When I am old and gray?

I am scared –
So much on my shoulders.
Where will I settle
To wait until I die?

Once I thought
Things had been mapped.
I wasn’t happy
But at least I’d be taken care of.

Then I gambled;
Still gambling, I guess.
My life is now my own –
The path a mystery.

Where will I go?
Who am I alone?
Will this struggle consume me?
Is mine the sidewalk, the unmarked grave?


(NB: Today’s post is a response to today’s Daily Post prompt, Rare Medium.)

Photography Friday! Color Atlas @ White Linen Night 2013

Last Saturday night was White Linen Night, a yearly arts-centric celebration that takes place on Julia Street, the heart of the New Orleans Arts District. In homage to the heat, everyone who is anyone shows up to walk down Julia wearing their finest white clothes and check out the art installations in galleries up and down the street. My little marketing firm, Cathedral Creative Studios, is located at the back of a gallery / events space called L’Entrepot, and this year it was left to me to decide what we’d be doing to get the biggest bang for our buck during White Linen.

Happily, I came up with the idea for what turned out to be a pretty cool art exhibit. I contacted several local arts collaborations – artist teams – and asked them to design an installation based on a place. The place could be large, small, imaginary, spiritual, elemental, physical, but it had to fit inside a 20′ x 20′ square and focus primarily on one color chosen from the Pantone Fall 2013 collection. Around 1,000 people experienced the event, getting the artists and our gallery some great publicity. I’m pretty happy, overall. Here are some snapshots from that night.


Owl by artist Kyle Nugent. You guys probably know that purple is my favorite color and owls are my favorite animal, so when I walked in the gallery and saw this for the first time, you can only imagine my reaction 🙂







To find out more about the show and its artists, please visit:

Also, if you’d like to see the show from more angles (and in film):

Photos on L’Entrepot’s FB Page

Video of White Linen Night, featuring the Color Atlas show (and a silly clip of me around 1:37) by my friend & coworker Gary

Photography Friday! This Week’s Random Pics…


A tiny view of my altar, taken this morning. The compass necklace is a new addition to my life. I just bought it from local jewelry artist Beau & Stella. Isn’t it gorgeous? Click here to see more on Etsy.


A snapshot of a sketch on glass, drawn by my co-worker Gary. He’s an amazing artist and video game enthusiast, and he makes some funny videos, too. Check out his YouTube channel, Gary Does Things.


A snapshot of Munky, my younger cat, first thing in the morning. He’s on my chest, demanding my full attention.


Stormy weather. This is pretty much every summer afternoon in New Orleans.


“Gangstas do what they want. Suckas do what they can.” Spotted (in chalk) on the side of a building down the block from my office.


Miss Izzy, taking a nap on my shoulder (on the puffy part of the couch back). She’s my sweetheart, even if she’s a cranky weirdo for everyone else!


As I mentioned a couple of posts back, I got my first book of fairy tales as a very young girl. My father is really into books, as am I, and when I was a kid, our house even had its own library. The shelves were floor to ceiling, corner to corner on two walls, and there were still so many extra books that we had stacks and stacks in the center of the room and on the desk and in boxes all around the room. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that my parents are collectors who can’t stop collecting. I grew up surrounded by boxes of treasures gleaned from weekly yard sale & auction trips. It made (and still makes) for great exploring. There’s not much better than getting a big cardboard box full of mysteries – especially when they’re all leatherbound.

Anyway, after that first book of fairy tales came many more. I read all kinds of things when I was growing up, but fairy tales remained my favorite books to find and hold onto. I especially liked anything with out of the ordinary illustrations, like the set of books my great uncle sent that featured photographs of elaborate fairytale sets, with slightly-fuzzy felt dolls playing the characters. In college, during one of my art history courses, we briefly discussed the 3-color process used in printing color illustrations for books, especially – you guessed it – for late 19th & early 20th century fairy tale books. Not long after, I took a class that focused solely on fairy tales throughout history. I was in heaven. One of our assignments was to pick a fairy tale illustration that told a story particularly well.

That assignment deeply impacted my life, and gave me my first major taste of what it means to be a collector, too.

My favorite fairy tale is Bluebeard, in all of its many incarnations, but I couldn’t find an illustration that really suited the story AND my taste. While searching the internet, which was then still pretty new as far as school research went (I know, it’s crazy, right?), I ran across another “blue” fairy tale image that just blew me away.


This is Scheherazade, an illustration from The Arabian Nights, by artist Kay Nielsen. It was never published in conjunction with the book, but only later, in its own collection after his death. I first saw his work in a beautiful hardbound copy of In Powder and Crinoline, a gift from my Grandma & Grandpa, my mother’s parents, at some point in junior high. You might notice that this style of illustration is different from more typical fairy tale illustrations of the time. For comparison, here are illustrations by two of my other favorite illustrators, Edmund Dulac:


Dulac’s interpretation of Scheherazade.

And here’s an image from Bluebeard by Arthur Rackham (famous for illustrating the classic, The Wind In The Willows):

Rackham's heroine, about to discover something deliciously terrible...

Rackham’s heroine, about to discover something deliciously terrible…

After discovering Nielsen’s illustrations online, I needed to find out more. That one image was a springboard for me, but not necessarily where you’d expect. Though I love his work, what really captured my imagination was the fact that a character or story could be “told” again through images. I had already understood the concept that a folk story or fairy tale might be changed slightly with each retelling, but in examining the illustrations from The Arabian Nights, I grew to understand that the inferences they made could vary just as wildly.

Over the last 10 years I’ve come to own about 40 copies of The Arabian Nights and related books, including very early copies with crumbling covers and no illustrations, all the way to mid-century children’s picture books. In some books, the characters all wear turbans and pointy shoes. In some they’re blond-haired, blue-eyed, in others they have olive skin, in some they’re Asian, with Chinese costumes and Japanese architecture. Some books feature detailed black and white engravings, some feature the 3-color process, and others are full of wild neon colors. I love them all. Each illustration tells multiple stories – the Arabian Nights story, the artist’s story, and world perception at the time of the work’s creation.

If I’m lucky, each book tells a story, too. Many have inscriptions on the inside cover. Some are filled in with childish scrawl, but more than one was given as a gift. One of the books in my collection was given on the occasion of a first communion. Another proud owner had won a spelling bee. Some belonged in school libraries, or were given as birthday presents. I do hope they got as much enjoyment out of the images as I have.

For more on Arabian Nights‘ illustrators, visit this nice article from The Guardian.

If you’re not familiar with the complexities surrounding the discovery, translation/interpretation, and historical importance of The Arabian Nights, the Wikipedia article is a good start. Be warned, you might not want to stop there!


Just Signed Up For The 30 Days Project!


Get ready for some more origami, folks! Just signed up again for the 30 Days Project. This round of the project lasts the entirety of June, and if you haven’t read up on it I really do encourage you to check it out. It’s a 30 day promise to create one thing per day, with no real guidelines on what kind of thing you have to create. It happens twice(ish) a year, and last time around was so much fun. Last November was my first time participating, and if you were reading the blog then you probably noticed me posting a photo of a piece of origami every day of the challenge. A friend of mine created a video every day of the challenge (craziness), and some of the other participants drew, painted, wrote poems, told stories, and more. The 30 Days Project website suggests that participants can:

-Complete thirty software tutorials.
-Record thirty cover songs.
-Photograph subjects that have always intimidated you.
-Write thirty poems from a new point of view.
-Paint thirty versions of the same object.
-Write thirty short stories.
-Sculpt thirty maquettes.
-Copy thirty pen drawings from the Masters.
-Animate thirty walk-cycles.
-Make thirty how-to DIY projects from the internet.
-Develop abandoned ideas from old sketchbooks.
-Anything you like, as long as you post finished work every day.

If you’re getting involved, please let me know! I’ll do my best to visit every day and check out your work, and even though I’m being incredibly dorky right now, it really is a ton of fun 🙂

Photography Friday! Week 3 – Mostly Kitties

Lots of drama this week, but I don’t feel like talking about it here, honestly. Instead, I’m going to share photos of my cats – yay! OK, and some other stuff.

On Saturday morning, The Man and I cleaned the house, and I washed all of my clothes. Izzy helped:

Izzy Loves Laundry

Later that day, I picked up my new FitBit Flex, then oversaw opening night of my gallery’s new exhibit, Necessary Tangent, featuring the work of Danny Baskin, Martin L. Benson, and Peter Barnitz. This was the third event that I’ve curated at the gallery, and I really enjoyed working with three fantastic artists. If you’re in New Orleans, please stop by to see the show before it ends in a couple of weeks. The works are very affordable, which is becoming a rarity in today’s art scene…


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On Sunday, I spent the day hanging out with The Man. The day started out with this guy, then a shopping trip, followed by a couple of long naps and some TV-watching. Pretty awesome!

Cat in Laundry

Monday was all about work. On the way to the office, I saw that the World War II museum’s newest gallery, the Boeing Center, is finally open!


On the way home from work, the WWII Museum’s Victory Garden looked too enticing to pass up.

WWII Museum Victory Garden

On Tuesday, I started the day off with a rare morning run. This is how I felt afterwards:


That afternoon on the way home, the sun was setting on St. Joseph Street in a spectacular manner:

St. Joseph & Magazine, New Orleans

Wednesday morning I awoke to this gorgeous little face. It wasn’t really love, though – just a plea to wake up and give him food. Izzy didn’t seem to care that the bowl was close to empty, so I found her enjoying her favorite new pillowcase once I finally got out of bed. Recently I started using satin pillowcases to help my skin and hair retain moisture, and she’s really into pushing me off of the pillow in the middle of the night. So I gave her a second pillow in an attempt to save my neck. She must have been a diva in her last life, because she sure is now!



Later that day, I ate a sandwich that made me sick for the rest of the afternoon. I left work early, took a nap, then laid around with The Man for the rest of the day. He left for NYC yesterday morning, and since I was still feeling icky, I stayed home and took it somewhat easy. I didn’t end up taking a photo on Thursday, so here’s one from earlier in the week – my work space at Cathedral!

My desk at work

It’s a little messy, but it’s also full of items that mean a lot to me. There’s a photo of my two best friends and me last summer in Croatia, a funky little painting I purchased not too long ago, a ruby glass cup (holding pens, which is probably not the best idea) from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, a ton of origami pieces that I made way too long ago, the Ultimate Yogi DVD set that I practice daily, and if you look closely, you’ll see my planner in the bottom left corner, proudly bearing a sticker from the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus!

Hanging Out in Jackson Square

I’ve been meaning to post these photos for awhile now. These were all taken in Jackson Square, New Orleans, on January 8th, 2012. The Man and I went down to the French Quarter on our bikes to check out the college football crowd and enjoy the gorgeous weather. While we were in the area, we stopped by our artist friend Michael Schiavone‘s booth to see what he was painting that day.

Oranges on a Table, by Anna Harris

Paintbrushes, by Anna Harris

Black & White Paintbrushes, by Anna Harris

Artist at Work, by Anna Harris

Our friend Mike Schiavone, painting a wooden sign called "Jambalaya". He specializes in New Orleans-themed signs when he's selling art in Jackson Square, but has a much greater range than the pieces he aims at tourists. Besides being a fantastic artist, he also gives great hugs, which I find to be an admirable quality in a friend.

The Painter's Table, by Anna Harris

Blue Skies, by Anna Harris