“I don’t know why she lets them do that?” The woman sitting in front of me has been talking non-stop since we took off from JFK. Apparently, her new daughter in-law isn’t living up to grandma’s expectations. We're somewhere over the ocean, air conditioning chilling the microwaved single serving mystery chicken. The free TV and first run movies pass the time as the little plane slightly moves following the dotted line to our destination. The roar of the engines is deafening in the cheap seats. The first swell of a headache from the slight perfume of the exhaust will last the flight only slightly easing with the staid air in the terminal. Even with the help of pharmaceuticals, flying isn’t much fun.
The last few days before leaving on this trip were frenetic. The same old patterns I have always had, the same ending that will always happen, but I do it anyway, because it is what I do. This is the second time in three years I have packed everything and decided to take a very long trip to escape my reality. Packing my life into the 16 familiar plastic tubs and three large duffel bags, has always been a cathartic ritual. The end of one thing and the beginning of another leaves a blank space, the cusp of life. Inside these cusps I find my niche. The niche that allows me disappear into the world, the Camino, the Trail, the road where no one knows where I am. Bobby Mcgee says freedom’s just another word for nothin left to lose. To me freedom is anonymity.
A few days earlier, as I slid the rolling door of the 10x 20 storage locker closed I wondered if I will see any of these things, my possessions, again. I reveled in the idea of not returning to this life where I leave an Andrew sized hole in an existence that will hardly notice my absence. I had spent the previous few days packing and moving into this storage locker, unbeknownst to my girlfriend. Life had fallen into disarray, and disappearing into the Camino was my way breaking the ties that hung loosely enough to slip through. In theory, this has always been an easy thing. Just pack your shit, load it into the locker and split. In practice, with others involved it should have been more difficult, maybe I was looking for that dramatic moment that never happened.
Yesterday, she leaned against the counter sipping her weak coffee as I walked into the kitchen and poured a mug. She looked at me and started talking about the weekend and her ‘call outs’ from her work. The calls usually began at 6 am and were the topic for our morning ritual long rooted in my indifference. I sat quietly waiting for my chance.
“I won’t be here when you get home tonight” I said quietly.
She continues talking for a moment and slowly her words drains away. The blank look on her face told me she understood our moment had come. No tears, no argument, she just picked up her gym bag. ‘Are you gone for good’ she asked already knowing the answer. “yes’ I said. It’s just not working.” I had found love with her, moved to the prairie to invent a new life with her, a stable life, maybe find a home. Our magnet connection pulled us together only to repel, driving love as it was, wasn’t enough sustain us in our lonely life on the prairie. She slid into the chair, sadness wrinkling her face.
“Where are…” she pauses,’… you going?”
“Up to Boulder..” hesitating,”…..I’m heading back to Spain,’ I said as I lifted my gaze from the floor our tearing eyes meeting. “…doing another Camino.”
She stared at me blankly.
“I’ll be gone a couple of months.”
Rising from the chair, her hands on my face, a long kiss on my forehead. The shhhh of the door being quietly opened then closed was our final sound.
My hotel, if you call it that, is in the Muslim part of old Barcelona. The obviously American, blue-eyed, devil that I am, I wander the streets hoping not get mugged. Skinny jeans and square glasses, funky shoes and misspelt American t-shirts, mingle with the men in thobes, in the flow that is the wide walking avenue of La Rumbla. Needing to rest my legs worn sore from a long day of walking the city, I find a table at one of the many open air restaurants. Earbuds in, I tap my finger on the table, eavesdropping on conversations that I can’t understand. The woman sitting with her friend at the table next to me nods her head feigning listening, her body is turned toward the crowd, a cold shoulder to her friend who chatters away. I listen to their staccato and watch faces change through the conversation. Much of the time I think I get it, most of the time I'm probably wrong. Her friend stops chattering as the words land on deaf ears. She turns to the Rumblas and joins her friend in their voyeurism. The three of us watching the world walk by, maybe thinking the same thoughts.
My beer empty and tapas plates stacked, I pay the bill and head into the crowd. My boots treading on Roman streets, the pavers flat, worn shiny from carrying centuries of life, twist and wind their way through alleys to small plazas in front of worn churches. In a few hours I am lost. The streets lined with Kabab shops and mini marts folded into the run-down buildings. My sunglasses shielding me from glares from tough pimps watching their hookers on the next corner. They use the universal nod, trying to catch my eye, try to tempt me into an hour of smelly bliss for 50 euro. I walk a bit brisker, sunglasses now darkening the shaded street, knowing I could be whacked on the back of the head, my money and passport stolen. Just another casualty of being on the road, just another tourist caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes when you're looking for the magic of life, it pays to know who is behind you.
I hate you!! She screamed at me, throwing her pack to the ground and strewing its contents on the beach. “ I’m tired of doing this!! I want to go home!!!” Home was Los Angeles, we were on an island, 800 miles from Antarctica. Grabbing a now sandy summer sausage, she stands up and throws it at me. I duck under hurled smoked meat as she turns and yells at the ocean in front of us” … “AAAAHHHHHHHHAAAAA….” Until, hands on her knees, she catches her breath from the wrenching sobs. She stands wiping the tears with the sleeve of her shirt, dirt streaking her face. She holds her hands to her eyes, eyes searching the rolling surf, maybe looking for home, maybe hoping for boat to take her away. Turning slowly she walks down the beach, not looking back, no more glaring eyes, … just a back, walking down the beach.
“She’s pissed at you mate.” I hear from the dunes above and turn to see a bleached surfer shaking his head. “If I was you I’d go after her……”.
The thrump of a bridge overhead wakes with me a start. The rugged countryside flows Past the window. The train whizzing through tunnels, the high-pitched whine of the wheels mixes with low mummer of conversation in the bar car. Leaving a greasy forehead smudge on the glass, I lean forward in the booth rubbing my eyes. The empty espresso cup sliding on the counter. Sleep had come quickly, but only lasted a short time. Wiping my mouth, I stretch, muscles straining blood rushing to my head causing a momentary swoon as I stumble to my seat. The quiet ding dong of the trains alert bell told me we were coming into the Pamplona Station. I stare blankly as the outskirts of town roll past the window. The graffiti ranging from pregnant swoops of color to the stark messages scrawled in desperate letters. Communism was alive and well in Spain.
“ Treinta Euros” The lady said from behind the bullet proof glass cashiers office, Pension Berea has always been a favorite stop. The Avenida de San Nichols rings with the sound of revelers sitting at wine barrel tables, eating the tapas and drinking the Spanish wine. I open my balcony doors into the afternoon rain and am greeted by the waft of wet warm spicy food. The sagging restaurant canopies fill with water and spill onto the cobbles stones, washing away today indiscretions. Its Pamplona, home of Bullfights and San Fermin, and Hemingway s corner in the café Iruna. This corner in the plaza, has seen artists and dilettantes, saboteurs and revolutionaries trying not be one more of Franco’s disappearing masses. I head there to lean against the bar, boots on the rail, beer glass in hand raising it high to old Ernest.
“ Oh look, it so tiny..” She walked into the small side bar and was greeted by a life size bronze of Hemingway, full beard and turtle neck sweater, leaning against the bar looking out the door. They are the bucket list Pilgrim. Recently retired with time on their hands, they take on the Camino. I can’t blame them, this was my second. “Now who is this?” one of them asks as she leaf’s through her guide book, landing on the Pamplona sights and sounds page, and reads intently. “Oh its Hemingway,” she looks at the statue and the man standing at the bar, leaning into the bronze as if they are swapping wet tales, shirts wrinkled, curious bearded grins.
“Hi” I said pushing off the bar, bringing my beer with me. She extends her hand, “ I’m Margie and this is Charlotte, and we are here to suck the life out of the Camino.” She says triumphantly. “…we just had everything thrown at us coming over the mountains.” It had been raining pretty hard for the past few days. A steady stream of muddy pant bottoms and sodden pilgrims flowed through Pamplona.
We introduce ourselves, Margie and Elizabeth were spending time away from the husbands. They both retired from teaching at the Minnetonka middle school and this was their reward for a life of service in the community and a thirty-year pension.
Wiping the beer from my moustache, “Hi I’m Andrew.”
“Are you here for your spiritual experience?” Charlotte asked intently. It must have been written in the brochure I missed. I had had a spiritual experience the time before and was hoping for a nice relaxing walk maybe an epiphany, a bright light would be nice. This walk was still unknown, its reasons and rationalizations. Tomorrow I start, 500 miles to Santiago. Long open countryside lined with trees, rain and red mud, sunshine and new friends found and lost only to meet again. It was time to ponder the meaning of all things. It was time to Camino.
Everything will be OK. Above all things Nosce te ipsum