How Far Away Is Spain?

It is the distance of diesel fumes sharp on the nose in the morning, the distance of grela growing on tall stalks beside houses. Spain, Spain is an espresso cup stacked and waiting, milk in square boxes. For days we walked in Galicia where the corn was harvested, only the darkest, sweetest grapes still waiting on the vine. Mist and eucalyptus and the tapping of my sticks on the road. This is a different Spain than the one that gave us gorgonzola and apple croquettes on a bustling square in Madrid. Old women in smocks stood with shovels in hand, dogs didn’t raise their heads when we passed. So many chickens. If I could I would return to the small bar where they made us a fresh tortilla and a table of Spandex-clad cyclists stepped away to reveal leaning men at the counter sipping coffee. I’d walk again down the giant hill past white goats, away from the hotel where they served us greens from a can. Dawn breaking, a bakery a half hour away already stacking their plates with pound cake and chocolate donuts. How much sugar can a morning contain? How much sweetness? Spain is green olives, toasted bread spread with tomato. It is Roman Road XIX winding us through pine trees and over fast rivers. How rounded the stones. Vermouth on tap. Another dinner at an empty restaurant while the locals wait, wait. It is a shuttered afternoon that opens onto evening clatter, so many people talking on benches, such a long way from this quiet couch in the morning.

October 20, 2015


 Whichever way you come, it’s a long way to Santiago. Hills and high roads and all the varieties of water running beside the path. Sheep and goats and horses and ponies, a burro, a black pig, chickens and chickens and chickens. Dogs who don’t care. Dogs who do. Cobblestone and roman road and highway and driveway and asphalt and dirt path and back roads rutted with mud and pine matted forest floor. Wherever home is, it is far away, the concerns of the day more primary — food and feet, rain, the next yellow arrow and the next. A year after my first Camino I walked with my love, surprised to find us tromping the last kilometers past business women and school kids in the Santiago afternoon, then reuniting with those we’d met on the plaza. We all stared up at the cathedral, still partly shrouded in scaffolding, but waiting here all along.

October 14, 2015

Padron to Santiago

When Walking

There is a rhythm that comes — not in the first steps or maybe in the first days — pole foot foot pole foot foot – a rhythm that is the sound of your own body moving itself through your own life. You can only go forward. Pine needles under your shoes, shadow of trees. Asphalt and fast cars and glimpses of wild mint in the ditch. Pathway empty and waiting. There is a line between figuring it out and following the arrows where they point you. Pole foot foot pole foot foot. Catch a glimpse of what’s ahead. Keep going.
October 12, 2015

Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

Sometimes It Rains

  And the trees drip and the roads run with little rivers and the mud gets slick and there is no place to go. For a bit a group of us huddled in the tiny chapel of Santa Martina but then we stepped back into it again. Packs covered, shirts getting wet, we took the detour to the trail beside the creek. Clear water rippling with raindrops, forest floor matted and damp. Every now and then we would stop and grin at each other, hair pasted to our heads. Soon enough we would be dry again. For most of our life would we be dry. About that we were sure.

October 10, 2015

As Chivas to Pontevedra 

Day 2

 We walked beside too many roads, along highways and past lumber mills and through suburban neighborhoods where the houses had bread boxes beside the mailboxes and lazy dogs slept in the shade. Sometimes the arrow would point us onto a path lined with trees and often along the Roman road with rounded stones. The way to our hotel appeared in my inbox like a riddle: Good afternoon, as I mentioned on the phone, give some directions to the house from Redondela, you have to follow the road to Pontevedra, when already on a path that is no longer road will find a playground and a source, leave it on the right and go up the first street on the right, reach a junction with a large cross, there is a dirt road on your left, he catches it and not leave it for 2 km always on the right side to get home. We bickered at a small cafe about how to proceed, the hill before us long and steep. Finally we called a taxi. Up, up, up he drove. Best seven euros you ever spent, Chris said. I wish I could say the place was worth the climb, the food the food we had waited for all trip. I’ll only say that we headed out early and for awhile the walking was all down hill. 

October 9, 2015

Porriño to Redondela/As Chivas



 He notices different things than I do. The columns of steel and stone at a construction site, the small tires of go-karts stacked against a fence, the burn marks atop a toilet where men have rested their cigarettes. He bends to put his hand on the Roman bridge. 2000 years of feet passing over. All day we walk through villages with stone houses and rose gardens, through vineyards already harvested. Corn. Kiwi. Apples. Collards. He carries his pack to prove something to himself. For awhile his feet are on fire, but after coffee and vegetable soup at the tavern he is bold with new ideas. Beside the river, through eucalyptus and pine, all the way to Porriño, where he rests for the afternoon and the traffic idles below. 

October 8, 2015

Tui to Porriño

Portugal: Food 

   This from the land by the sea: fish of many names. Dorado. Bream. And octopus. Barnacles. So much salt cod, so many canned sardines. Olives, of course. Cheese, ham, sausages. In Lisbon the little pies they call pastel de nato, flaky with a custard filling. Sprinkle them with cinnamon from the shaker on the counter. In Porto, tripe. Even with white beans and cumin, we are not sure. Potatoes. Shredded kale. Veal they braised for hours in port wine and cloves. Chorizo. Omelet. Eclair. Bread on every table. Tuna mixed with black eyes peas. Lupine you squeeze salty from the skin into your mouth. Salad of sliced tomatoes drizzled with oil and vinegar. Wine. Always wine. Coffee and wine. 
October 6, 2015

Lisbon: Faded Glory and Fado

 It is anachronistic in the best and worst ways, this city. The stores that my grandfather could have walked out of 70 years ago, the old women clipping laundry to lines above the tourists’ heads, the whole fish served with its eyes staring your way. Though they still walk down the street carrying cell phones, little is fresh and new. Narrow walkways, cobblestones slick in the rain.  

 At A Baiuca they sing fado as if they really are sad women mourning their men gone to sea. Hands to heart, mouths open to plaintive o’s. All night one singer after another stepped in from the narrow lane to stand before us. The old man in a suit and tie, grandmother in a worn sweater, short skirted 20-something. They meant it, those songs, they meant every note. Even the large restaurant manager who bumped our table each time he passed. And especially Elvira, hair net and apron, plopping fresh decanters of wine on the table. She could barely keep from dancing all night. When she stepped to the front she crooned, then she led us in song. Maybe we weren’t tourists in 2015. Maybe we understood the words that she sang. 

October 3, 2015


  The taxi driver made us doubt the continuation of our existence, swerving and racing and yelling obscenities out her open windows. It’s a new country–the rundown airport and apartment buildings painted with graffitied dragons. Lisbon, faded grandeur. Lisbon, cobblestones dipping, old patterns woven into the street. Curtains draped in open windows. We lunch near the statue of Fernando Pessoa, fight to stay awake in the afternoon. Our host, Pedro, takes us to where a new exhibit hangs copies of great art in the street. We touch our fingers to a Dutch master. Who would have guessed?
October 2, 2015