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

Arriving 

 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

Praise Song: Spanish Tortilla

040715Praise how they sit on every counter at every bar and every restaurant — city, country, tiniest village where one single man stands at a machine steaming milk. Tucked into crusty bread, heated or not, this simple combo of egg, potato, and onion can fuel you through a morning, or an evening, or hundreds of miles on the Camino. In Rabe de la Calzada, the town where they prepared for the feast of Santa Maria de los Milagros by carrying a giant paella pan across the square, I ate tortilla at an oil-cloth covered table with other pilgrims. I had seen the hospitalera cooking the tortilla from a side door to the kitchen. Praise her easy shrug when I asked if I could watch. Praise her powerful wrist as she turned the tortilla from skillet to plate then slid it from plate back into skillet. Praise how she tried to give me the recipe despite my faltering Spanish, then served it to us brightened with strips of red pepper. Praise how I remember her each time I make a tortilla, which I do most weeks. Tonight, after teaching, almost 10pm, Chris and I sat down together to this one, last of the CSA leeks tucked in. Praise the brown edges of the potatoes, the perfect slice on the plate.

April 7, 2015

Tarta de Santiago

020115I ate it first for my birthday at Barlata, where I knew that if the year brought the Camino, it would also bring this cake. I ate it on a stormy night in Navarette, sharing a table with a boisterous German man named Tony who ordered extra garlic for both his soup and mine and told me stories I was tempted to disbelieve. I ate it on checker-clothed tables in humble albergues and while sitting at a picnic table in a tiny village a day’s walk toward the coast, the clothes hanging on the line behind me. I ate it on the last night of my Camino in Finisterre at the end of a meal that offered no seafood, though the ocean was roaring just past our shoulders. And finally, rushing in the rain toward the Santiago cathedral for a pilgrim’s mass in which the giant incense burner would sail in the air, I stopped for a quick coffee. The barista placed a tiny wedge of cake on the saucer beside my espresso cup. Back home, months later, I took advantage of a quiet Sunday afternoon and baked my own tarta de Santiago. The cross of St. James was designed by Chris and cut out of an index card. He used a butter knife to lift it from the sugar-dusted cake.

February 1, 2015