Friday, January 31, 2003

September 19th - September 25th 2001

Early on the 19th Bob and I leave for Denver. We take our dog with us as Bob plans to stay in Denver overnight instead of driving back the same day. I really do not want to go, a feeling that hits me whenever I am about to do any traveling. Traveling is moving. When I was a kid we moved around a lot and now; I seem to relive the anxiety of having to meet new people. Being the new kid is stressful. You are an actor, with no written part, stepping into a play where everyone else knows what their roles are. You have to prove to these other actors that you belong in the play. You have to fit in seamlessly and swiftly or you're dead. You have to be charming and a quick study. I dreaded the whole experience. This feeling of not wanting to go always disappears after I am out of the house and on my way. This day is no different.

About three hours later we are at the airport and I am saying goodbye. I give my husband a kiss and a hug, my dog a pat and grab my bags and head in. I carry my backpack with everything I need on the walk in it, a small bag with "regular"stuff for a week trip, and a large suitcase packed with things my sister wanted me to bring her from the States. The airport is crawling with people and the lines at the United ticket counter snake all the way back to the escalators that go down to the trains. I get into line and then remember my "Getting into Lines Rule", which is never to get into a line until you know what the line is for. I ask a United employee and he tells me the line is for people traveling on domestic flights. For the international flights ticket counter I should go back to the front of the building and turn right. I walk back and see a line that does not even extend past the entrance to the line maze. Right in front of me is a couple with backpacks and bike luggage. They tell me they are also on their way to Spain to walk the Camino but instead of going through London they are going to Madrid - small world.

The flight to Newark is uneventful until we are over the city and I see a fighter jet off the right side of the aircraft. I am glad I am not on the side of the plane that can view Manhattan because I do not want to see the hole in the skyline where the World Trade Center use to be. The flight to London turns out to be a real treat. I was planning on sleeping the whole way but I am picked to move up to business class so I enjoy all the extras; wine, food served on china, real forks and spoons (knives are now plastic), my own private screen with my choice of a movie, and a seat that actually lets you lie down almost completely if you want to sleep.

In London there is a change in plans. All passengers continuing to another destination where supposed to go through Customs without their luggage but now everyone has to pick it up and check it through themselves. When I get to Customs the place is a zoo. To the left, hundreds of people slowly making their way through a line maze. Straight ahead passengers with British passports are being sent through without delay. To the right, another line that seems to be for first class or VIP passengers. There is a young woman standing next to the VIP line checking tickets and passing out red cards. I say, "I'm not going to make my connecting flight, am I"? She asks me the time of my flight and I tell her. She hesitates and then hands me a red card and lets me through. I am grateful and thank her. I'm out of Customs in 20 minutes. This does not keep me from missing my flight to Brussels but I am glad not to be stuck in Customs for a couple of hours.

After I leave Customs I catch a bus that takes me to the terminal where my flight to Brussels is leaving from. I check my bags and get rebooked on a later flight. I stand in line waiting to get my passport checked and stamped by another Customs agent and watch the people in front of me slowly make their way through. Everyone is being past through without a problem until a Middle Eastern woman covered in black cloth from head to toe reaches the agent, and the line stops for several minutes. I understand why she is being examined so thoroughly, but her behavior is upsetting to me. She does not look at the agent and stands there in a posture of tense stillness, like a baby bird that senses danger and knows that any movement will attract unwanted attention. She is suspect just because of her style of dress and ethnic background. The agent lets her pass.

I finally get to Brussels and make it through Customs. I am worried that my sister might not be able to find me because I could not call and let her know what flight I was going to be on. She lives far enough away from the airport that by the time I landed in London she was already driving to Brussels to pick me up. I go through the doors that separate Customs from the rest of the terminal and walk into a sea of faces, all standing behind a waist high barrier. I am so tired at this point that all these people are a sensory overload and I want to turn around and go back to the relatively quiet of the Customs area. Just then I hear my sister call my name and when I turn my head I am looking straight at her and my brother-in-law. I have never been so relieved to to find anyone so quickly.

The next few days are great. It is wonderful to spend time with my sister and to get to know my brother-in-law better. He is a sweet man and I am glad my sister and he found one another. Most days my sister and I drive around checking out the sights. We visit a windmill that is near her town, we drive into Germany for a cup of hot chocolate, we take walks around the fields near her home, and we drive to small towns in her area and visit the churches. We enjoy examining old churches and we always light a candle for our mother. We find churches by driving until we see a church tower and then heading toward it. One church we tour has an alcove that is dedicated to St. James and the pilgrimage to Santiago, centuries ago it was a starting point for local pilgrims.

On the 25th we drive to Paris where I will catch the train for Bayonne and then go on to St. Jean-Pied-De-Port, the starting point for my walk. We stop at the train station where my brother-in-law helps me buy my train ticket for tomorrow's journey. We then drive on to our hotel on Rue Monge in the Latin Quarter, not far from Notre Dame. The rest of the day is spent doing a very quick walking tour of some Paris sites. We go to Notre Dame and light candles, we stand by the river Seine and gaze at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, we walk passed the Louvre, we stop at one of my sister's favorite restaurants and have a hot chocolate that is so rich and thick you would not be able to sip it through a straw, we walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc De Triomphe, we walk back alone the Seine and then stop on a bridge crossing the river and wave at the tourist on the cruise boats, some wave back. At eight o'clock the lights on all the bridges and streets are supposed to turn on but that time passes with nothing happening, so we catch a cab and go to dinner.

Funny, I have never been in Paris before but thanks to the movies I feel like I've been here many times. I've floated down the Seine on one of those cruse boats with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade. I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower with Alex Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob. I've lived on the Left Bank with Gene Kelly in An American In Paris. And I've visited jazz clubs with Diahann Carroll, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward in Paris Blues. You know, I have got to stop watching so many movies, it's affecting my real life.

After dinner at a nice little bistro we head back to the hotel and up to our rooms. As I stand at my window (French doors, of course) overlooking the street, something clicks and I am here, here in Paris completely. Since I landed in Brussels I've been like a "See 10 European Cities in 5 Days!" tourist. Someone who is moving so fast she doesn't have time to absorb where she is right this minute, but that click puts me right here and totally present. It is a thrilling feeling.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

September 2001
Week two

On Tuesday September 11th the world as we know it is put on permanent hold. As I sit in front of the TV watching the World Trade Center collapse I think of what Malcolm X said when President Kennedy was murdered, "The chickens have come home to roost." I have no idea why I think of this; the phrase just pops into my head. My husband is out hunting at the time and when he comes home a half hour later I ask him if had heard what had happened. He says no and I choke out the words, "The World Trade Center is gone", and start crying. None of it seems real until I say the words out loud. I then call my mother and ask her if this was what Pearl Harbor was like. She hesitates and then understanding that I was asking if she had felt disconnected, shocked, stunned, and angry, replies firmly, "Yes!". Like the rest of the country, my husband and I sit in front of the TV, numb, as the events of the week unfold.

I have never thought of myself as patriotic in a flag waving "My country, right or wrong" sense. I think that for some people patriotism is a cheap sentiment that they use to wrap their hatred in. My sister in Denver lives near a mosque and she tells me that the day after the bombings a lot of "patriotic" people waving the American flag had gathered outside the temple to shout obscenities and racial epithets at the Muslim worshipers entering. She also tells me about a woman she heard on a radio talk show who complained that when she went to put a small American flag on a coworker's desk, (something she thought everyone in her office should have on their desk) the coworker told her she did not want one. The woman calling the station was outraged and thought that her coworker should be made to have a flag on her desk and that her not wanting one was unpatriotic. What is wrong with some people?

On Saturday the 15th I call United to change my flight tickets and am rebooked to leave on the 19th. I express my sympathy for the people they have lost, thank the woman for helping me and ask how other passengers are reacting. She says everyone who calls responses the same way I have; with patience, sympathy and understanding. When I tell people I have rebooked my trip and would be leaving next week, some are worried and think I should cancel the whole thing. My mother is very worried but accepts my decision. She suggests that I sew a small American flag on my backpack. I ask her if maybe I should just sew a bull's-eye on it instead. She laughs and admits that maybe it wasn't a good idea. I talk to my friend Gino, who lives in New York state and works in the city. His feelings about what has happened are a lot stronger than mine since it occurred in his own back yard. He does not think I should go at all- it's just to dangerous for Americans overseas. I ask him if he is not the man who has a generator and about 2,000 bottles of water sitting in his basement; left over from Y2K. He admits this is true but still does not think my going is a good idea. I'm worried a little about going too, but think that right now is probably the safest time to fly.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

September 2001
Week one

I am up to ten miles a day now. I'm not sure if I will be up to 12 by the time I leave but I think I'm close enough so that it won't make a big difference. I have walked about 150 miles since I started and I feel good. These practice walks have been more enjoyable than I thought they would be because they are so meditative. When I walk I let my mind go were ever it wants to go. Sometimes I walk on autopilot and I am surprised by how much time and distance has gone by when I finally connect with my surroundings again. When I reached six miles a day I started taking my dog with me only on the morning walks. Each morning we start a daybreak when the sky is glowing but the sun still below the horizon. Each night I start at sunset just as the sun is starting to slip below the horizon and walk into darkness.

I like walking at these times when the light is changing. In the morning the light starts out as different shades of pink and turns yellow as the sky brightens. At dusk, the light is a soft yellow/orange that slowly dims as the sky fades to dark. At both times, the world is quiet and pauses as the day slides from one state to its next. The early morning is a deep intake of a breath just before the day explodes into life. At twilight, it is a soft exhale as day relaxes and prepares for sleep.

One morning I stand in a spot that lets me see for miles to the east. I am waiting for the sun to rise. This morning I decide to focus on the fact that the sun is not "rising" but standing still as the earth rotates towards it . I concentrate on the line that the horizon makes and a sliver of sun appears. Then more of the sun materializes so quickly that I feel the land rushing forward at a speed that causes me to lose my balance, and I take a quick step back to keep from falling. For an instant I am afraid that the speed of the earth turning will overcome the force of gravity and that I will be hurled into space. The whole thing is exhilarating and I laugh. Who needs drugs when you have a mind that works the way mine does?

Sunday, January 12, 2003

August 2001

I've got to get my butt in gear. I have been procrastinating and not doing a thing to get ready to go. I haven't even bought airline tickets yet. I'm not sure if I should try to go next month or wait until next spring. I read that most shelters shut down at the end of October. If I decide to go next month I have to get the airline tickets now or I will run out of time. I just can't seem to decide what to do. On August tenth I wake up knowing I have to do the walk next month. I have such a sense of urgency about the whole thing now. "Get going," "Get going", a voice keeps whispering in my head.

I call my sister "T" in The Netherlands and ask her which city would be the best to fly into; the one that would be the easiest for her to pick me up from. She says either Brussels or Frankfort and to just pick the one that is the cheapest. I spend the afternoon checking out airfares and Brussels is the cheapest but I can't seem to pick a day. I go back and forth agonizing about it. This is the no turning back point, once I pick a date to fly I am committed to doing this. I pick a flight that leaves Denver on September 12 for London. From there I will connect with another flight that goes into Brussels. In Brussels, my sister and her husband will pick me up and we will drive to the southern part of The Netherlands where they live.

I start taking longer walks with my dog, twice a day. We walk three mile in morning and then three miles in the evening. My plan is to walk every day until I am up to 12 miles a day. I figure this will be easier to do in six mile chunks.

Once I buy the airline tickets everything hits warp speed. I walk each day. I check web sites for information about The Camino and find four sites that are helpful to me; Friends on the Road to Santiago,The British Confraternity of Saint James, Spain's OK Spain tourist site, and Renfe-Spain's railway. I go to Denver to hit REI with my sister "M". I end up buying a pair of hiking boots, a backpack, an ultra light sleeping bag, an ultra light sleep mat, two pairs of pants, two long sleeve polyester undershirts, a rain poncho, three pairs of travel undies, three sports bras, a small flashlight, some little packets of high energy goop, a sun hat, a water bottle, and a four oz. bottle of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap because it says it can be used for cleaning hair, skin, teeth, and clothes. I write the Spanish Consulate in Chicago and ask them to send me everything the can about the Camino. I get a big envelope back with all sorts of brochures and information about Spain. I also get a copy of Millan Bravo Lozano's book , A Practical Guide For Pilgrims: The Road To Santiago, which is a guidebook that includes route information, maps, and other useful information.

Two weeks after I buy my airline tickets I fill my backpack with everything I will need on my trip and start doing my practice walks with it on my back. The first time I do this I think I have made a terrible mistake in deciding to do the pilgrimage. I can't even walk three miles with the pack on my back. I panic and think about all the money I have just wasted. Then I realize that I am trying to walk at the same speed as I did without the extra weight (about 12 pounds) and the next time I go out, I slow down my pace and have no problems.

By the end on the month I am walking eight miles a day and know I will be up to 12 a day by the time I leave for Spain. Funny thing, since I started these practice walks I have not worried about lightning at all.
July 2001

I finally decide to go. Now all I have to do is tell my husband. For the past few months living with me has been hard for him. I have lost myself and he is suffering the fall out. I just don't seem to fit into my own life anymore. Sometimes I feel angry, about what I don't know. Sometimes I feel like banging my head against a wall, but why, I'm not sure. Sometimes my skin feels tight, like it is smothering me and I want to climb out of it and leave it behind. I keep slamming into furniture and doorjambs, leaving bruises on my body. I keep emotionally slamming into my husband, leaving bruises on his psyche.

When I finally tell him about my plans he is dismayed and blurts out, "You want to leave me."
I tell him no, I don't want to leave him. I tell him that I have to go and that I don't really know why. Also, that I am not asking him if I can go but that I think it would be easier for us both if he feels OK about my decision to go. And that he should think about it for a while and then we could talk about it again. For a while things are even more tense at our house. Then a week later I walk up to him as he is cleaning up for lunch and ask him if he is still mad at me. He thinks a minute and then says, "Remember, don't worry about money. Buy the best boot you can find, that's the most important thing."

Sunday, January 05, 2003

June 2001

My birthday is this month and my sister who lives in The Netherlands sends me half the price of a round trip airplane ticket to Europe as a present. Now what do I do? With all my reasons for not going, not being able to afford it was my best excuse. Now I only have to come up with $200 or $300. I could visit her for a week or two and then head down to Spain. I think about this all month.
May 2001

I am still trying not to think about running off to Spain. I am surfing the internet for information about the pilgrimage though. About this time I develop a fear of being struck by lightning when I am out walking my dog. Since most days are clear and I have never been afraid of lighting before this surprises me. Every time I go out I visualize lightning striking the truck keys in my pocket and then, in its haste to be grounded, exploding down my leg and into the dirt. I am so nervous about this that I start leaving my keys in the truck each time I take the dog for a run. I also worry that the dog is going to be hit and think about taking her collar off. This I realize this is stupid, almost as stupid as worrying about lightning striking me out of the blue.
April 2001

The NWK Rotating Library van brought a copy of Shirley MacLaine's book The Camino with them and I borrowed it. Halfway through it I felt disappointed. The book had an unfinished hurried quality to it.* I read one of her other books before and found it well written and interesting, so I was surprised by this. A good book is like diving into a deep lake, you become immersed in the words. This one was more like sitting in a shallow pool. You get a little wet but that's all. The part that did grab me was her description of touching the marble pillar with the statue of St. James standing on the top of it. All pilgrims touch this column after entering Santiago Cathedral at the end of their walk. So many people have done this over the centuries that there are finger marks deep in the marble. I thought that I wouldn't mind adding my fingerprints to all the others.

*After waking the Camino and re-reading the book I have revised my opinion. It is hard to share your walk with other people. When asked about it I don't really give out much information because I feel everyone's walk is personal. Your experience will not and cannot be the same experience as mine. You can say that you want to do the walk but you can not say I want to do the walk the same way as so-and-so did.