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

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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

California, an Essay (an Assay)

To attempt to capture it. How quickly we arrive, as if we awoke and those golden hills were right there before us. Poached eggs and decaf coffee. A wander through campus where, like at other campuses, I imagine a life I never quite got to live. Graduates students holding coffee mugs stroll in deep conversation. Above Berkeley we walk a fire road that twists higher. Rusty gates and reservoirs and the shimmering moment I realize to sit on a bench with the man I love and stare across an unbroken vista is really all I could ever want.

In Napa, there are chicken wings—Daddy’s recipe—at the picnic table and a white, then a red, then a white to keep us going. So much to talk about. And downtown on a picnic blanket I wonder at a baby named Cecily, at a grandmother with a tattoo on her ankle, at a place just small enough to be able to have enough people to say hello to. And then Carly, so fully herself, we barely recognize her. It’s not just the long braid that is gone.

In California it isn’t just what happens. It’s what we discover we want. To step out of the house and smell grapes in the morning. To climb each day higher and higher until we pause to see the mountains in the distance. To have friends stop by. To sit on a Friday evening while the air cools and talk to family. To walk down for a latte and a glazed donut. Peaches at the farmer’s market that have more flavor than words can say. We only get to live once, and why shouldn’t we live it in a place we find beautiful? And yet don’t we already? What is it about California that makes us forget?

There is a notebook open to a fresh page. A cellphone gathering data over the airwaves. A book picked up from a box in a driveway and started and discarded. There is a fish named for a man I’ve never heard of that sits in a delicate broth I sip with a spoon. There is Ben and Jerry’s passed across the table while we draw cards and laugh. There is another walk up the hillside, another vista. And then a drive through single lane roads while the phone carries its sad stories and I watch the landscape to settle my stomach. Waves crash. Rocks rise from the tide in striking shapes. Children scurry toward the water and back again. The sun pinks my nose.

California and its imagined lives. That we will sit by Tomales Bay sipping white wine and slurping oysters. That we will laugh until we hold our stomachs even more, even more, shake our hands in the air to say, “Stop.” That those neat lines of grape vines will be part of our view. A small house with a yard dotted with plumbago. A Christmas Eve of seven fishes, a summer evening with a sweater on. We plot and scheme, we wait. Then we drive to the airport, ten pounds of artisan beans in our bags, ready to book again for next year, and the next.

September 7, 2015

New Shoes

0826151After my last big trip* I came home and wrote myself a note. It said: Vivé, no one cares what shoes you wear. My intention was to hang it somewhere I’d see it when I prepared for another trip. My intention was to fend off what I’m doing now: frantically searching for the perfect pair of travel shoes. You know the ones: versatile, supportive, attractive, able to go the miles. (A pair of good shoes not unlike a good man, it turns out.) When I spent a year traveling I brought a pair of Timberland lace-up boots, matte black, waterproof or close to it, and a pair of Birkenstock clogs. That’s all I wore for a year. I don’t remember the search for those shoes, but I am sure it was equally fraught. These days with the internet it’s possible to read lists of the best travel shoes, watch punchy videos about why a cork footbed or bendable sole will change your life, seek images of a pair worn with pants, worn with jeans, worn with skirts. I fall over and over again. Shoes for me are the ultimate seductresses, calling me to a passionate affair though often fizzling out at first touch. The two options on my feet were worn over cobblestone streets by others who raved of their performance. And yet, for me, not so much. I remind myself, Vivé, no one cares what shoes you wear. Oh, but I do. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

August 26, 2015

*When I write “last big trip” I do so with an awareness of the great fortune of being able to use that phrase.

Self Portrait at 47

062815To get used to: the reading glasses, the hair I no longer wear long, the too-red fingernails. But there is the birthday necklace, tea in a white pot, the exposed brick wall. When I was 27 I sat in an Asheville cafe with my boyfriend, bagels and coffee likely before us. We were so young. At the next table a couple, early 60s, sat reading the New York Times, glancing up occasionally to share something of note, to sip coffee. They held themselves with an easy comfort. Someday that will be us, I said to my boyfriend, and he smiled back at me. It was never us. But somehow it became me anyway, and across the table the right sweet guy reading too.

June 28, 2015