From Camino to Collaboration

Four Hands Susan Suzanne
Four Hands Painting Exhibit Information and Facebook Invitation
Dear Friends,

This is a belated thank-you note for following me on my Camino  journey, both inner and outer. Many of you have asked how the Camino has changed me. I am just three months out of it now, and have resumed my art life. Events have “followed fast and followed faster,” as Edgar Allen Poe would say.

What changes are showing up at this point after the Camino?  I feel lighter and more complete with my life as it is.  I am more able to celebrate who I am, rather than mourning who or what I don’t have, or focusing overmuch on my mistakes.  This change seems subtle but profound.  I have created some new paintings, filled with gold leaf and gold light, that  may have emerged from the many gilded churches of Spain. Projects are coming to completion, including the Four Hands Painting collaboration with knockout artist and close friend Susan Cornelis.  Our show is called The Golden Thread– the thread that leads us out of the labyrinth.

It’s not all sweetness and light, though.  My world seems to be full of beautiful, artistic women who have contracted cancer.  If I were the kind of person who reads omens– and you know I am– I would say that life is issuing a kind of Carpe Diem announcement, a Tempus Fugit warning.   I remember the wonderful Franciscan chapel of Rome filled with little skulls and hourglasses of time flying by, made of browned bones mounted on sky-blue crypt walls.  Scott and I visited this crypt, and I was surprised at the beauty and delicacy of the art.  Part of my life feels like this.. a skull with butterfly wings.skull with wings

So what’s it to be?  Bliss or bones or golden thread,  skull or butterfly wings, or some delicate combination of all these?

I’m glad to be on the road with you again.    This time, the road is my life. Yours, Suzanne

My Camino Experience

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I´m heading out of this gorgeous station in Porto, Portugal to catch an overnight train to Madrid, a sleeper.  I can count on the fingers of one hand my overnight trains– once to Paris, once to Cochin in South India, and now once to Madrid.  There is always a romance to it, even if it´s just a little sleeping berth.  I want to wind up my Camino posts to you.  I am not really sure I can answer all your questions.  The ones about art and change will have to play out in the future.

I talked for a long time to Koos, a South African now living in Switzerland.  He hiked from Geneva to Logrono, Spain… 1200 km? A long way, anyway. He did not finish the Camino in a classical sense, yet I was struck by our similarities in experience.

What I want to say to you is this.  On the Camino, every day is like a world.  Koos and I both had the experience of worlds of thought and contemplation opening through the walking.  I see each day of the Camino like a drop of clear water teeming with event, yet magnifying a certain aspect of thought.  Connections are made.  You are walking in nature, so it´s healthy; beauty and your physical movement work together to support you.  Only connect. It´s better, for me, than writing in a notenook or talking to someone.

It´s as if you walk further into your purpose.  We lack the time for contemplation in our lives.  Walking is one way to give that time back. I believe it makes a difference that we name it a pilgrimage, and to do it for a month or more.  The historical and religious resonance supports us and makes it sacred. Everyone gets something different according to their needs; my insights might interest you, but they won´t be yours.

I´m winding up my trip now and may not write again, but I may store away some impressions for you from the Prado.  I doubt I can walk through the world´s great museums as gracefully as I did through the days of the Camino, but I can try.

We both had the experience of childhood memories comin g up.  Thereºs time to really think about them.  You are supported by the activity, so the deep emotions can come up and go through you as you walk.  Many people report memories.  And you slowly have the chance to observe how you order your world, to take little signs and signals from nature, or from the Great Mind, or God.

My next door neighbor Neil is walking the Pacific Crest Trail for five months.  I wonder if the experience is similar?

We both carried with us a list of three goals.  They are private:  I won´t share them with you, and he didn´t share his with me.  Slowly, as you carry these things with you as you might an object in your backpack, they may transform.   New metaphors, meanings, and interpretations of your life occur, all within the great open book of nature.

I think it´s important that we name it a pilgrimage.  ^The historical and religious resonances support us and gives it a lovely weight.  And it´s important to go for a month or more.

I went with the love, support, and daily Facetime conversations with my husband Scott.  Scott, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.

Thank you to my readers and those who have responded.  You are part of my proof of a gloriously generous universe.   Suzanne

 

Camino Questions, Part One

20140711-065444-24884971.jpgI think I opened Pandora´s box when I asked for questions! Here we go.  I´m loving Porto… parts of it remind me of Naples.  And it´s warm, so to sit out on the roof terrace at night, surrounded by lights, is a great pleasure. The first photo in the post is from the terrace at night; I´ve enjoyed three nights of this.

 

Was there anything you would have done differently to prepare for the Camino?

I think I was okay with my prep.  I started training in January for a June departure.  The best thing I did was to learn how to use trekking poles properly. This sounds simple, but it´s not intuitive.  Though I´ve had an ACL operation on my left knee, and my ankles are vulnerable, I had no trouble at all with joints or muscles.  I used little leather kayaking fingerless gloves with the poles and that enabled me to use the pole straps easily and well.  I saw a lot of people using two poles improperly.  Don’t bother to buy them right before your trip.  If you don´t practice with them so you are comfortable, it will provide no benefit. In the future I would BRING A SMALLER PACK.  I found that my 45 liter plus pack was on the large side.  Everyone always brings too much gear and has to leave some behind.  I was so jealous of people with smaller packs.  Mine, however, was smaller than some.  Don´t go for superlight weight at the expense of comfort.  Do not bring anything that is the slightest bit uncomfortable.  Don´t bring dressup clothes… you won´t use them, not even a skirt.  Buy something new when the Camino is over.  Ladies, one nice scarf, one pair of earrings (I broke two pairs underway) or your one piece of jewelry, and a lipstick or eyeliner will make you feel like a queen.

The best things I brought was my iphone, a Joby Gorilla bendy tripod with a phone holder, and a full-sized Brookstone folding wireless keyboard.  I didn’t need an ipad with this setup, and I didn’t need a camera.  It also made strangers come up to me all the time and take notes on the setup! I brought a semilarge sketchbook and was happy with that, a small set of watercolors.  I liked having a sarong along as a towel, privacy shield, scarf, skirt, blanket, picnic blanket, and so on. Many Europeans carry a smaller pack and a larger waistpack.  I used a larger moneybelt in front, under my shirt for easy access, for passport, credit cards, cash and phone.  You may not like the look of a waistpack, but they are secure and very practical.  Don´t carry your phone in your pocket, loose.  Zip it away routinely somewhere.

 

Hey folks, the Camino is COLD in the summer.  Bring an extra layer.  I would bring a light Merino wool top and leggings…. spiffy long underwear… at any season.  I only brought one pair of pants and the leggings… worked well.  By cold, I mean in the 40s and 50s.  Even if you don´t use them in the warmer parts, you will in the mountains and Galicia. To really prep, you have to hike a lot with your pack and your boots, with a fully loaded pack and poles.  By the way, I wore runners, and did okay, but I wish I had taken boots.  This was not necessarily for ankle support, but because parts of the trail are quite rough and stony underfoot.I felt I had to be careful as I walked of the bottoms of my feet.  But you have to decide for yourself. I had two blisters once, then not one other the whole trip.

 

BRING A GOOD PAIR OF WALKING SANDALS as your alternates.  I took adjustable Tevas.  Don´t bring flipflops… I met at least 4 people who threw them out and had to buy better sandals in Spain, because your feet swell and can need pampering and support after walking.  I also enjoyed having a somewhat hardier daypack than the ultra super flimsy ones… I got a packable one by Eagle Creek.  Also, all the Europeans have little ultralight synthetic sleeping bags that pack to the size of a liter of water.  They are not common here, but my Marmot nanowave 55 was quite similar.  Your sleeping bag should weigh under two pounds. If you are older, or a larger person, your pack will be bigger.  I bought an Altus poncho, which is a raincoat with a hump in the back that goes over your pack, in Spain, and I loved it.  They are not made commonly in the USA yet.  You can buy an Altus and a sleeping bag in Europe before you start.

Take MORE TIME and more money than you think you need. This is standard travel advice, of course, but be willing to be flexible with what your ideas are for the Camino.  You probably will want to or have to change plans.  I didnºt reserve anywhere and was glad.  You can always use booking.com a couple of days before.  Walk at your own pace.  You´ll see folks doing 40 or even 50 kilometers a day.  Let them. Use your smarts and intuition to tell you where to start and end.

Is it better to go alone or with another? It depends, of course, but I have so say that for sheer contemplative time, going alone is great.  You have to be in tune with your hiking partner.  Many women go alone.  It is just interesting to go alone with your thoughts and your conversations with the Beyond.  It is very safe for women, especially if you are not in the first bloom of youth. Apples and oranges, alone or together:  It´s your Camino.       20140711-062631-23191604.jpg Most useful gear: a set of around 8 large safety pins to use as clothespins, and an elastic travel washline. You need the pins to keep your clothes on the line when thery´re hanging out a third story window or whipping around in an alpine wind, and you can use the pins to pin the still damp clothes to the outside of your pack. I prefer thick hiking socks and they take a long time to dry. I took a small shred of beatup towel to use first to dry my body, then throw on the slippery floor to stand on. All the showers are tile and tend to be dangerously slippery. I carried a regular old bandana everywhere and used it for so many things. Often bathrooms have no soap or paper towels.

Mentally or emotionally, what would I have left behind? It´s easy to whip out pat answers to this one. You need a lot of patience with yourself and others, and to leave judgement of yourself or others behind. I saw a lot of folks get into trouble with a competitive feeling, especially when you´re older and less fit and comparing yourself to athletic youngsters. But I will rant a bit about an attitude that caused me personal problems. This may not sound very spiritual. I wish I could say something more enlightened-sounding.

The thing that caused me big trouble was  taking a tourist approach to Camino lodging rather than a pilgrim approach.  The pilgrim approach is to take what is there, be grateful for shelter and company, and to laugh off any problems the next day.  After all, it´s only one night.  You don´t have to rush or reserve or prefer or angle to choose a better place.  You know God is taking care of you: trust.

The tourist approach is to read ahead, to plan, to try to figure out what might be the best place.  Of course, you want to stay somewhere that is not horrible.  But most hostels are fine.  I found that when I tried to pre-read, angle, plan, or consider reserving, it did not do me any good at all.  Rather, the opposite occurred:  I became critical, pissy, and discontent with what I got.

I am not even sure planning has that much to do with it.  I am sitting here in an exsquisite townhouse hostel, a Porto villa from the 1800s, and I am only here because it was the only one that kept popping up on Booking.com, not among my first choices.  I personally wish I could have left this demanding, deserving, entitled feeling behind.  As a pilgrim, you take what is there, and you are SO HAPPY just to stop walking.  My worst mental problems came from confusing being a pilgrim with the comforts of 21st century tourism. True hospitality is so simple.

Left Behind

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Here in Porto, Portugal, I´m sitting in a beautiful hostel, a real hostel this time, that has won many prizes. It´s in a renovated townhouse in the center of old Porto: high French windows in each room, billowing white curtains, views of the port and river. I am in a woman´s dorm of six, and am about to go upstairs to a breakfast, up the old wooden stairs to the rooftop kitchen area. Once again, I feel like I am borne along on some gentle river of right place, right time. And there´s a computer that seems to work.

I left things behind, and lost things, on this trip.  Let´s start with the physical.  That pack is your home, and when things are lost or stolen, the shock is disproportionate.  I lost three items, probably because I left them behind~~ sarong, prescription sunglasses, and a pair of underwear.

This whole trip I have been experimenting with flow. I decided that when things went wrong, that was a signal to stop and do something else, in other words, to actually change something. I think it was Einstein that said you can´t solve problems on the level they were created, but have to step outside them to another place.  This loss of items sounds laughable when I list it, but these losses caused my stomach to lurch.  In the damp weather, having only two pairs of underwear left me no margin of error for drying them.  The sarong was my security item~~ scarf, pillowcase, bedcover, blanket, modesty while changing, and a curtain for my bunk if I wanted privacy.  Oh, and it was my towel too.  And sunglasses.

When I encountered bad events, feelings, and bad days, I had the time to do a few existential experiments.  My idea was that if things were going wrong, or I was freaked out, I could change my ideas and plans to something that felt better.  This sounds so simple, but often in life we are bent on a course.  If you have an awful work day, you stay at work and tough it out.  But I didn´t have to do that here.

So when I lost things, or became fearful of hiking alone in the green, dripping Galician woods, I could read these as gentle nudges to change plans.  It worked well.  When I got an infected blister, it gave me two days in a hotel room to reconsider how I approached the walk.  I think one reason my walk was so wonderful is that I let painful signs actually give me a message to change, and I could act on them.

I also had some bad dreams on the Camino.  I think that we brush through layers of religion, history, blood and war when we walk through these places.  The cathedrals are full of blood, bones, skulls, body parts, and monsters, the gargoyles.  When you start to align yourself with the good, I think the shadow can be activated.  I am used to this.  I often have bad dreams when I start innovative creative projects.  When you step outside your comfort zone, your subconcious mind knows it.  There is often a kickback, like firing a gun.   I believe all dreams are meant to help us, and are messages, so I don´t worry as much about uncomfortable dreams as I used to.

The Camino is a metaphor.  How wonderful to leave things behind!  I could leave the dream in a church, or at a tree, or in a cafe, and hike on.  All of life is a process of leaving things behind.  We can read that as loss, or a new chance.  I did my final leaving behind of deep things at the alter of St. James.  I left behind the same things the ancients did:  old wounds and sins and temptations, atonement.  I feel like I literally left them behind for the saint, or history, or nature, or God, to return to the cycle of the universe.  We leave things behind and face the new day freer.

By the way, after I started this post, I found my blue sarong in a ball in the bottom of my pack!  My friend returned!  Ah, synchronicity.  Go figure.

Camino de Santiago: Money, Time, Distance

Several people have asked me to comment on some of the practical aspects of my June-July 2014 Camino. I must emphasize that these are my opinions only, and that many will disagree. There are many available sources to use to form your own opinion.

Money: from California estimate $1500 or more for a round trip ticket, $300 more for travel in Spain (train, bus, taxi). For a 40 day trip, I would budget $60 a day…. around 40 Euros. This is high, but you will want the occasional hotel and dinner out. That makes $2400 + 1800 = $4200. You may also spend 300-500 on the right pack, shoes, small sleeping bag. Make sure you have a good working credit and debit card. Credit Unions have far lower fees than regular banks for withdrawing cash or using credit cards abroad, so get set up with a credit union. You can of course spend less daily. I often relied on a tomato salad with bread and tuna , fruit on the side, that I made in a hostel kitchen.

Time: I would give it at least 40 days for the whole thing. The Brierley guide is excellent, but if you want to stop to smell the roses, I would walk two days for each of his stages. Choose shorter stages, or choose a portion of the route to walk.

Distance: If you were backpacking in the Sierra, you probably would not walk 15 miles a day. Unless you are sure you can do it, 30 km a day is a long, long way. I saw many people injured and ill from trying to do too much. Also, starting in the Pyranees seems to me to be a point where many people injure themselves or get ill. Go shorter distances, start very very slowly, and WALK AT YOUR OWN PACE. This may not fit the guidebooks. I must emphasize that it is crucial you do everything you can to remain healthy. I saw so many people almost punishing themselves, and harming their bodies, on this trip, pushing on when they should have stopped.

You get a Compostella for walking the last 100 km into Santiago, starting in Sarria. So thousands of people, and schoolchildren, choose this route because it is the easiest way to the document. The path is very crowded and is a very different vibe than other parts of the Camino. That is the rule of the Catholic Church– walk the last one hundred. The Camino is far more than the document. You might consider an alternative route and skip the Compostela. God will understand.

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The Inner Camino

I’m sitting here in the Santiago bus station, waiting for the express bus to Portugal. I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some thoughts about my Camino. I made a list of reasons to walk before I left, and reflected on them as I walked. But I’m one of the lucky ones. Two of the main reasons I walked were out of gratitude for my beautiful life, and for enjoyment.

People walk for many reasons. Many are in the midst of personal catastrophe, change, or deep loss. I met a woman who, in the midst of recurring cancers, was left by her husband for another woman. She had never been alone in her life, having married young. Her pain was tangible, but walking seemed to be keeping her positive in a way nothing else could. She said in amazement, “I still have my life. ” Another man carried the picture of his wife on the back of his pack. She passed away a few days before their 50th wedding anniversary. He was walking joyously in her honor. Several people were carrying remains of loved ones with them.

This post has now crashed twice on me, and I’ve lost blocks of writing. But I’ll try one more time to continue.

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Dear readers, could you help me out by posting questions in the comments column? I am feeling like Someone doesn’t want me to write right now. According to my experimental theory of staying in the flow, this means I should stop writing and do something else. Go ahead, ask me any question you are curious about: packing list, physical aspects, emotional questions. Be personal. I’ll answer everything in the next post, and share more about my inner Camino. Please help me out, and I’ll answer all in the next post. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Greetings from the End of the World

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I’m writing you from my favorite cafe at the end of the world, a cheery place to counteract all the endings. Seagulls shriek, cry, bark, howl, meow, and moan; I’ve never heard anything like it, all day and all night. A person with too much imagination could easily hear them as the souls of the damned, wailing before they are carried away. Did I mention that Finisterre is built on a graveyard? Hey, I watch movies: I know what happens when you build on burial sites. Or maybe only Americans notice.

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Ghost Cafes and Silver UFOs

I can hear the shriek of seagulls outside in the pre-dawn light as I sit writing to you from the ghost cafe in Santiago. It’s a very ephemeral city, forbidding when cold and grey, a huge party town with people from all over the world when sunlit, and everyone, everyone, with strong legs and a look of relief.

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The cafe is actually part of the wonderful Hostal Susa. Hostals in Spain are not youth hostels or albergues, but rather grouped with pensiones or lower-priced hotels. I have a tiny, immaculate room with a bathroom in the middle of the old town of Santiago for 20 euros a night… the lowest price yet. There is a bar-cafe attached to the hostal, but visually blocked and closed off from the street. It is only accessible if you have a room, yet two people work there. Dishes are washed, but there is nothing but coffee and scanty, used-up bottles of liquor on the shelf… if you can get in. There is a menu, but when I picked it up, the barman, with a look of alarm on his face, asked me to put it down, as nothing on the menu was available. And yet, I sit here writing to you, with the magic of Spain tolerating me..

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I realize I am skipping the days before my arrival in Santiago. I’ll share that in another post. I arrived on July 3, but saved my entry into the Cathedral until 7AM the next day, to avoid the crowds. The seagulls were shrieking and it was raining, with the echo of a Galician bagpipe filling the square.
Every pilgrim is supposed to do 4 things, more or less in order. The first is to admire the portal with the Tree of Jesse, designed by the master artist/architect, Master Matteo. There are so many portals to the Cathedral that I had no idea which one that was. Then you enter the vast, new universe of space that is the cathedral. They actually designed it to be a Cathedral of Stars, for Compostella, field of stars. That’s the positive reading. It was really built on an ancient Roman cemetery . Anyway, it is about the transition into other worlds, whether the starry Way or the passages of death.
In the old days you could walk up to the Saint and touch his feet. That is no longer allowed, to preserve the sacred marble. Personally, I think that to touch the place where millions have touched with a full heart is worth a lot more than the sculpture.
It’s an amazing place. So much of the gothic stonework was painted in the old days, but for some reason the paint is never restored. I know from illuminated manuscripts how vivid the pigments were. Yet the original paint is faded and almost gone, increasing the forbidding aspect of the cathedral.
So now I have not been able to do two out of the four things that pilgrims traditionally did. On to number three. This was news to me, but apparently there is actually a chance to touch your forehead to the head of an image of Master Matteo in order to receive divine artistic inspiration! Bring it on, said I. So I set out to search for Master Mateo.
But I couldn’t find him, lost in the echoing dampness of the Cathedral. It’s dark in there on a rainy morning.
Then God intervened. A German woman cathedral docent approached me and asked in German if I needed help. Apparently there is a mass in German in a side chapel at 7:30 and she thought I was looking for that. She spoke no English, but I could use my German to ask for the location of Master Matteo.
One of the towers is under renovation. You can see it here. I had hardly noticed, as any Gothic cathedral has so many towers that having a couple of spares is not a problem.

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So I went under the draped tower and there, barricaded in darkness, was Master Matteo, a delightful, lovingly executed sculpture around 4 feet high, just right for the shorter midieval pilgrim to lean over and get some forehead inspiration. But there were iron barricades and almost total darkness. So I asked myself, what would Matteo do ? He would find a creative solution.
First I used my bendy tripod and a low light program to take a picture of him. But I couldn’t stand being so close to him and not touching him. I reached out my arm, and I swear I was within an inch of touching him, but no dice. Time for another plan. You are talking to a woman who actually managed to take rubbings from Assyrian bas-reliefs under the noses of the guards in the British Museum. This was not going to stop me.
I checked the area and no one was around so I stepped through the first layer of iron bar barricades. I was close enough then to press my hand against his forehead. I left it there for awhile until the cold of the stone seeped in, then pressed my hand to my forehead. I could swear the Master smiled.

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Part of the deal was to draw him as well, so this is my journal page.

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The last of the four items is to visit the silver box full of bones, and say your prayers. So I did.
My timing has been so good… I found out from Severin, the Swiss colossus youth who always knows everything, that every Friday night they have a mass where they swing the giant incense holder. The Botafumerio is an icon of the pilgrimage, and you also saw it in the film The Way. So I went 1 1/2 hours early to get a place in a pew underneath the action, having learned from Christmas in Rome that you don’t fool around with the big masses if you want to get a seat. The timing was good…. the Cathedral filled with around 1200 people. They don’t swing the thing every day.
You have to wait through the whole Mass to get to the good part– the Catholic Church knows how to keep people in their seats. They are firm. “Silencio! Silencio!” But finally the B.F. is lowered. Up there in the vast cathedral space it looks around 2 feet high. Then it is lowered and you see that it is bigger than a man. They pour coals into it and heap on the incense, then raise it and begin a controlled swing over your heads.
What the films can’t show you is that it is on fire, sparkling with red flame from the bottom, and emitting these giant clouds of sweet smelling smoke: copal and frankincense, if I’m not mistaken. It’s just the most joyful thing to be under… you instinctively duck as it goes over your head. Everyone was smiling and laughing… you have never seen anything like it, and never will again. Talk about an unidentified flying object!
I’m always glad to leave the church… I felt like a ginormous golden Baroque angel was glaring at me through one eye. I wish we could skip the Baroque decoration and just take the music. This photo gives an idea of how full the church was.

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I feel full, happy, and yes, blessed by the Cathedral. The seagull shrieks are calling me on to the coast, so I’m hopping a bus to Finisterrae, the end of the ancient world. Many consider it to be the natural, prehistoric end of the Way. The two workers in Ghost Cafe have spent the last hours reading the newspaper, and I, the only customer, am ready to pay up and get on the road. I’ll write you from the Atlantic coast, and I’ll tell you more of the saga of my journey.
Santiago is like a goth girl, full of spikes and jewelry and Celtic signs, very emo, and tattooed with the marks of millions of pilgrims. I leave her now, but will probably return. Buen Camino, Suzanne

Beautiful, Eerie Galicia

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Since I last wrote you, I’ve been on the road for four days in the manure-pungent hobbit-land of Galicia. In spite of the thousand years of Camino passing through, it is still remote, with stone houses topped with grey slate roofs, a lot of mossy rock. The photo above is of tombs, many decorated with the twin towers of Santiago: the tomb as a cathedral, which Santiago is. Created around the dubious bones of a discovered saint, and on the site of old Roman cemeteries, there is more than a bit of death built in to the pilgrimage. But nature redeems the melancholy at times. It is spectacular here.

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I am mostly walking through green tunnels. I discovered yesterday that I could make it rain on me, even when it wasn’t raining. As I passed under certain trees, a pattering would start, as if the tree was raining only for me. It was strange and delightful. Often no drops would fall on me, but water was clearly dropping in a delightful way. I experimented and found out that my footsteps and two walking sticks were enough to send an imperceptible signal through the roots up into the branches. I could feel myself enclosed in a delicate, quivering bubble of green world, where I felt the reality that a flap of a butterfly’s wing can start a chain reaction… viscerally felt it. This tree language felt communicative and magical, as if the trees were greeting me.

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On the other hand, some trees really scared me. They seemed positively threatening, especially this one with the pentangle hung in the branches and piles of salt at the roots. Witches are common here in Galicia, and with due respect to nature worship, I am not sure all of them are benificent. The Galicians would agree, even though they have shrunk their local witches into little cute souvenir dolls. This is the kind of tree that might grab you in these old-growth forests.

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Misty mornings, cold– in the 50s– and often rain. I was walking through the forest and came on a little old lady selling raspberries and a beautiful fuschia colored raspberry liquor in a little bottle. She took me for five euros for a basket of strawberries and a small bottle of whatever that drink was. I don’t know if she was a good or bad witch… I suspect just mischievous. That was a hard day, over 15 kilometers and late in the day. I had to do some business for a morning in Sarria, the biggest city around. Travelers, do you remember how much time and energy it takes just to get into a new town and find an ATM and a store? I was buying a new pancho for the rain, one with sleeves and zipper, like a raincoat that can cover a backpack.

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You know you’re doing real travel when the locals don’t really care that much about you. Though not pleasant, you can be sure that you are in the midst of true travel. There is a good tourist structure here and there in the woods though… adequate albergues. But some parts of the day I was just grateful to hear traffic somewhere, anywhere, or see another hiker. I am still hiking mostly by myself…wonderful for contemplation, but sometimes eerie in the green, stony world of Galicia.

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Donkey and Company

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This beautiful girl, Jenny, came all the way up the Le Puy route, over 60 days into her journey with her French master. They stayed at the country place because there was a stall for her and a couch for him. I told you it was the right kind of inn.

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This hound would lay directly in front of the albergue entrance so you had to step over him to get in. Later I saw the three huge German shepherds roaming through the fog like spirits of wolves. I’m walking in fog and chill wind, but thankfully no rain. I am sitting in the first place in the mountains of Galicia that has weefee , so I can post a few pictures.

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The fire, as a primal element, deserves its own photo.The owner would heap huge logs covered with moss and lichen into it, and urged us to dry our shoes in front of it. Here’s a travel tip: stuff old pages ripped out of your guidebook into your shoes to help dry them.

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Beautiful brown cows make a beautiful fresh cheese with the consistency of soft tofu. A heap is served on a plate with a little compressed square of quince jam to eat it with. Delicious!

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This is a beautiful 12th century virgin. She is the patroness of O Cebreiro, and her feast day is celebrated on my birthday. Since it is the custom to dress up many of the more doll-like virgins in costumes, I felt free to dress her up digitally, and a halo appeared. The landscape is just honeycombed with virgins, each dripping a blessing into a little village.

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The thunderstorm that soaked me.

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A sadly graffittied shrine to a virgin of the Camino. You can see the mural on one side and the defacing on the other. This was on my creepiest walk, right in the middle of the day. I saw only vandalism and violation and not one other person, either caminante or citizen. It was during the siesta apocalypse outside Ponferrada. Suburbs are the scariest walking of all.

<img src=”https://saltworkstudio.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/20140629-091934-33574463.jpg” alt=”20140629-091934-33574463.jpg” class=”alignnone size-full” />This isn’t my sketchbook, but an image from the Templar Library. I was struck by the ancient illuminations. They have a dream-like quality. These illuminated manuscripts must be the most beautiful books ever made.
Have to get back on the trail now. Suzanne

Getting soaked and warming up

No pictures today. The heart of Celtiberia here in Galicia rejects internet waves, just as the Templar church would cut off any phone reception. I can’t put in pictures so I will have to, as Ruskin put it, word-paint. I have been reading Ruskin and Yeats, the kind of books you can get from Gutenberg. org, the source of thousands of copyright-free books. I loaded a lot of classics I had never gotten around to before I left. I did have a few KIndle books I bought, but I knew the classics were lurking. It’s sort of like eating all the junk food in the house first and then being left with actual nutrition.
Today I walked for four hours in a windy, chilly downpour in the middle of June. Heading down the mountain I climbed with the steed Carlotta, I felt like I was paying for the angelic ascension by a sort of hellish descent. It must have been in the forties, with horizontal rain and pretty good winds. Once again, I seemed to be walking alone for hours. I felt like the giant black slugs I saw on the pavement… moving soooo slowly. I just had a quick coffee before I started, so at a certain point in the morning I found myself with a hot chocolate, bread and cheese from yesterday, one hardboiled egg, a soaked travel salt, and a small glass of cognac to warm up… brunch. I got back on the road and the rain got worse. I slowly soaked up water, wicking it up from extremities as my shoes filled with water.
And yet… it’s all so beautiful. Spurs of a brilliant fuschia foxglove flower are everywhere, and hidden waterfalls are running. Because this is not a plain old backpacking trip, I am working on a good outlook as I walk. It’s not to Pollyanna up an uncomfortable situation– walking alone on a strange mountain in a big storm– but to try to notice the beauty around in the middle of my discomfort.
The first room I tried to stay in didn’t work out, and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve landed in a solid country paradise, with a huge wood stove pumping out heat, home made Galician soup, chickens pecking among the tables, and heaters in the albergue room that are actually pumping out heat. This reminds me of the Wanderhutte my former in-laws, Hans and Paula, used to run. That place was always full of farmers and travellers, like this one. The so-called town has about 50 people so it’s the only game in town. It’s a throwback, the kind of country place that hardly exists any more in California: real, hospitable, cheap, a grandma in front of the fire, and local guys from town at the bar. They’re discussing things in Galician, yet another Spanish language.
Ruskin would say, if you can’t actually draw, paint a picture with words. Shoes and boots are drying in front of the cast iron stove. I watched someone take off their shoes and their socks literally steamed! An orange rocker is reserved for the grandma. A Swiss youth who looks like the hope of the blond nations is chatting with a dismayed middle aged German couple. The chickens were let out of the bottom of the farmhouse as soon as the rain stopped , and are pecking and crowing among the plastic outdoor cafe furniture. The plain molded plastic chairs sensibly have holes in the seats to let rain run out. Now why don’t we do that? The hostess yells at me, not because she’s angry, but because if you yell, the foreigners understand better. Three huge, dispirited German shepherds are lying sadly in the courtyard, too tired to interact with guests, A black and white kitten is in the woodpile. And behind it all, the beautiful hills of Galicia loom, spotlit with gathering thunderheads filtering the late afternoon sun.
I could never have found such a perfect place to stay if I had spent days on the internet and in guide books. I am working on abandoning myself to the travel spirit, intuition, and guidance. I have good friends in the books I’m reading.
The poignancy of this journey is that it can hold so many emotions, and so much beauty and fatigue, in a single day, or even a single moment. Last night I saw one of the historical contenders for Holy Grail, a golden chalice with a golden sun like disk in it . It was lovely, and the setting was amazing… the original 9th century church, arguably the oldest church still in original form on the Camino. I watched people kneel before it and pray, while outside, drunk tourists were posing and singing. What use can this ancient myth have for us?
In the churchyard, the cemetery, the graves are raised slate boxes, one for each family. I have also seen tombs that look exactly like vertical bank or gun safes, including a lock and stainless steel handle. While the revelers sang, an old grandma went into the churchyard and spoke quietly to someone who lived in the slate box of her family. Her ancestors may well have lived in the same place for over a thousand years.
Yeats, in Celtic Twilight, said, that it was not so much what one believed, but that one’s beliefs can somehow be knit together, to make a cloak that keeps us warm. Here in this Celtic land, I am willing to believe a bit in fairies, virgins, and miracles. I am traveling through and inside a landscape of rich metaphor. And I am so glad for the soulful spirits that knit me together and keep me warm. It’s really cold here, and I’ll need it. Suzanne

Ayee, Carlotta

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This is Carlotta, my sort-of friend for three hours climbing into the ancient hilltop village of O’Cebreiro. The landscape looks like this. To Carlotta it all looks like food.

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It was three hours of pure bliss. Julia and I both hired horses from Victor, who guided us and the mounts up the mountain. I haven’t ridden a horse since childhood and it was great. We went through dark tunnels of forest, breaking out to amazing views on the switchbacks. Carlotta likes to eat. My only instructions with her were 1) don’t make any fast moves or she’ll throw you and 2) don’t let her eat. Both were easier said than done. She wanted to lean in to eat all the way along, and Victor would shout “Ayee, Carlotta!” I like to graze too, so I could sympathize. Eventually I got better at controlling her, but as Victor said, wisely, “Horses are big.”

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That’s Bonnie trying to drink water from a flowing pilgrim spigot, although there were plentiful horse troughs. I found myself going up a mountain on a horse by accident. I had walked a few miles out of town and someone called out to me, “Are you on the Pilgrim’s Forum?” It’s an online information site about the pilgrimage. We started talking at a bus stop. Julia is from Britain and Nadine is Australian. Turns out they had this plan to take horses up. I asked if they minded if I joined in… the rest is history. Horse’s shoes on stony paths really do sound like the coconut shells of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And they have a 10th C. chalice in the church. Close enough.
I bought Victor and his daughter Carlotta a beer afterwards. He would like to develop a sort of Pony Express for the Camino, with horses, half day rides and food and lodging. I loved this ride so much. Victor told us that you can ride horses directly into one entrance of the Cathedral of Santiago. Can you imagine the steps of the horses echoing in Gothic arches? I would love to do this.

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Dawn now, and veils of mist drift through. I have decided to stay one more day. This place has a sort of poignant, piercing beauty I have felt in only a few places: Big Sur, the Lofoten Islands in Norway, Karpathos in Greece, Hampi in India. I’ll catch up with my writing and sketching.

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I keep losing photographs and writing because there’s no wifi here. I’m doing everything on a wavery data signal from my phone. Time to stop.
More later, I hope. Suzanne

Life’s Not Just Blossoms and Busty Beer Taps

This morning was a very flowery walk, on this bright Sunday right at midsummer. The Solstice is called Sommerwende in German–summer’s hinge, summer’s turning point. in a tiny village I ran into a personal Gabriel angel carrying lilies.

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As I’m sitting here at this very moment church bells are ringing madly. Congregants are carrying an effigy of the Virgin into the hills to a shrine, some combination of Solstice with the Virgin. The Catholic Church always covers all its bases.

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Flowers were strewn in the path of the effigy. I think that’s what I saw in another village I walked through today, the sidewalk blossoming with wildflowers for a block or so. The trailside flowers are spectacular too. See why I said it was a flowery day?

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The bells just stopped… they literally pounded the heck out of my ears for a half an hour. There’s no way to miss that it’s midsummer. I started out in the church to see it, but I felt like a voyeur. This celebration is for the village, not for me. The ancient bells turn 360 degrees, mounted on a huge wooden top that rotates on an axis. Centrifugal force keeps them turning. They have not stopped after all. The turn of the season is worth a little noise.
I was so lucky to stop in this village to witness this. I got a lovely bed in its own cubicle, with a view out the French doors. This hotel is built in an old monastery and the owner is a pilgrim himself and built in some luxury pilgrim lodging.

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I am walking much too slowly to do the entire Camino in just six weeks, what with flowers and paintings and magic soup and monasteries. I am about twice as slow as the guidebook. I’ll be going on to Galicia to finish up and get my Compostela. Galicia is Celtic and believes in its witches. The main witch of Galicia is made into beer taps. She’s very inspiring, and whispered to me that it was okay to skip ahead.

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It’s this kind of breezy day, with high horsetail cirrus clouds all prancing toward the west, in the direction of the Camino.
Your slow Camino wanderer, Suzanne

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Soupa Magica

The thunder rolled down the valley like waves crashing on the beach, with lightning flashing an irregular strobe. We didn’t care, tucked away into the smallest (10 people), most magical albergue, an ancient village building where all the rooms slope and exposed beams are not a designer fashion.

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The village has only 50 souls and no stores. The Pan (bread) truck, a white van I’ve seen everywhere in Spain, skids into the plaza and begins earsplitting honking. For many minutes. Bread is a matter of urgency.

I’ve had the feeling this whole trip of being enclosed in a kind of bell jar of bird song, and even more strongly here. Swallows thread the sky with the invisible silk of flight. The village is cradled in rolling farmland, much of it in poppies. I walked through many fields of blossom today. I could not help but remember the Wicked Witch of Oz crooning “Poppies…”

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This albergue is the home of Acacio and Orietta. They are good friends with the author Paolo Coelho and there’s a book in which you can leave a message for him. Their business is run entirely on donation. Both of the couple have walked he camino many time. Their house is full of books, warmth, easy chairs, and superb hospitality.

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Cameras can’t catch the implacable golden sweep of the wheatfields, and a photo can’t convey the warmth of that dinner. “Soupa magica” is Acacio’s term for pilgrim soup, a combination of soup and the Portugese sopa.

It’s difficult to write about the Camino. A lot of your inner experience is private. The writing tends either to become Shirley Maclaine-ish or degenerate into a kilometer-sore foot-lodging blog. Orietta told me that a way a pilgrim can give something back for all the kindness extended is by the sharing of experience: being hospitable and open in your heart to sharing what you know.

Thank you, Acacio and Orietta. Acacio is an passionate advocate for the inner necessity of the Camino. He also has much hidden knowledge about the history and soul of the Camino, but you’ll have to ask him yourself, over a bowl of Soupa Magica.
Suzanne

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Chicken Church

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Writing you from Santo Domingo, where the magnficent Gothic cathedral keeps live chickens inside to commemorate a milagro, a miracle. I’ve been waiting all trip for this because I had a dream about it some months ago
The day started badly but ended well. Every night I take off my glasses and put them in a stuff sack in the bottom of my sleeping bag along with phone, passport and money. When I took them off this morning, an earpiece had broken off. In a foreign country, this can seem to be a really big problem, but I closed my eyes and thought “What would Scott do?” He’s the guy who can fix anything.
Here’s what I might do, before I became a wise Peregrino: panic, don’t change schedule, stick glasses with duct tape, have lousy, sticky and disfunctional glasses for the rest of the trip. Here’s what Scott would do: while away several hours until an optician opened and have them fixed. So I had a coffee, potato and egg tortilla, and an Aquarius (fizzy Gatorade type drink, supposedly with electrolytes). For two hours. And painted a few notebook pages. The nice thing about the illustrated journal is that it always gives you something to do. And I got them fixed.

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By that time it was late in the morning, so I decided to take the bus to Santa Domingo. And I’m so glad I did. It turned into a completely relaxed, pleasant day. I had one of those extended lunches at a cafe facing the cathedral. I went to the small prayer meeting offered by the brothers who ran the albergue. I did laundry and visited the backyard chicken coop that supplies the cathedral chickens, who are not even on ground level but in a ridiculously backlight sort of alter a story high so you can’t even interact with them. Now that was disappointing, but I went back to talk to the patio chickens.
The albergue is lovely. The cathedral is grand and I think I saw Santa Domingo’s skull, but I’m not sure. He was a supercool saint. He came from a poor, lower class family and so the church nixed his becoming a priest. He said, fine, and proceeded to build a pilgrim bridge, a hospital, and improve the roads and highways… and founded a town and a cathedral. The church’s loss was the pilgrim’s gain. Domingo was a do-er and fixer, as is Scott, and like Scott, he can often be found with a few chickens at his feet. It was a day where a possible mishap was transformed into a fine, unexpected travel day.
True confession: I LOVE deciding things on the spur of the moment. What a luxury, what freedom. I’m grateful that everyone has been so kind– the optician fixed the glasses without charge because I’m a pilgrim. It’s the little things. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Scenes from Logrono to Navarette

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Anti-bull killing for sport. I agree. It must be a horrible way for an animal to die.

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I love these abstract pilgrims! I’m the one on the right.

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The virgins are growing very strange, dense, and encrusted, very asiatic. I am in deep water here. Though adept with Christian symbols, I often have NO IDEA what’s going on. The churches are magnificent, creepy Twilight Zones, where it seems the saint figures might well come alive and walk around. Often they fill an elegant Romanesque shell with gold Baroque madness floor to ceiling, as if an insane pastry chef had frosted a plain loaf with dozens of giant glittery sugar roses.

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I just lost paragraphs of writing. NO wifi and 90 beds in a room.. but free! Wish me luck tonight in the sea of (hopefully serene) sleepers. I’ll write more when I actually have wifi to support all the photo uploads. Buen Camino, Suzanne

From my Travel Sketchbook

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When I get my Pilgrim Passport stamped, I also have them put their stamp somewhere on a blank page of my travel sketchbook. This starts a painted travel collage-sketch of that place. I do one or more most days, another reason why I enjoy shorter hiking days.
This painted sketch of apples in a basket got me a jar of garden flowers and a free glass of wine from a Basque grandma. I am not above making sure that when I bring out my notebook at check in time– my Pilgrim Passport is stored in it– that the person sees the paintings. I’ve gotten some special treatment from it, I think: a slightly better bed and so on. They are really just for me, a sensory-rich artifact of that fleeting time.

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Turtles in an ancient pond in the middle of a walled garden, orchids on the counter of the Kind Albergue Keeper Jose, a gargoyle from an octagonal Templar chapel— all were drawn from life. My little travel kit is always close at hand. People want to watch me sketching and photograph me; I’m an oddball pilgrim. These are no masterpieces, but they are expressive and unify me with the place for a brief moment.

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I am reading The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton on my Kindle app. It’s marvelous. He provides brief meditations on famous travelers, then links them to a travel experience of his own. I live on Humboldt Street, named after the amazing traveler and scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. De Botton tells a story of Humboldt’s travels, then concludes with this remark.
Instead of bringing back 16,000 new plant species, we might return from our journey with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts.
That’s the travel sketchbook. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Hotel: Thrill of victory or agony of da feet?

Wednesday, June 18
Just words, I think, for now, no images. Whew! I just escaped teeming Dorm Land, no place for me or my phone to recharge. Am in a delightful small nowhere bar, sitting on a chair near an electrical outlet. I have no table– there are outlets near tables but none of them work. They were cheerful, though, and directed me proudly to the random outlets that did work. My “table” is a bar stool. I am nursing some kind of tart rose. Thank you, Bar La Oca, for the smiles. I find Spain enormously welcoming.

The 90 person dorm room tonight will pose a challenge to my mild claustrophobia. It’s now a dangerous maze of packs in the tiny walkways. Paranoid, adult thought: hope there’s not a fire. The hip young have ruthlessly taken over all the communal tables for complex, delicious dinners…. I never cooked like that in a hostel. The albergue is donativo, free. My own dinner was a melon with some Serrano ham strewn over it and eaten in front of the shallow river. I guess I managed to download some photos after all. All are at the end of the post.

I know that before I walked I wanted to know some details. Just to say, I did walk 17 km today, about 11 miles, going very slowly for my feet. It was mostly through vineyards and the paths were either gravel or paved. Weather has been perfect the whole trip, in the 50s at night and warming during the day, not dissimilar to Santa Rosa. Here are some practical details for you.

Showers are complex because you have to stay decent before you step in, and carry all your valuables, as well as your toiletries and the clothes you change into, with you. So you are jamming and balancing. Everything of any value comes into the shower with you. The tile floors are uniformly slippery. Then you get in and press a knob like the controlled flow knobs in sinks in public restrooms, and 10 seconds of either freezing, lukewarm, or scalding water comes out, then cuts off. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

American’s packs are too big. The Europeans are cruising along with packs about the size of a daypack. I have lightened mine up some… never mind what. But I have pack envy. There are no silk sleep sheets. Everyone has an ultralight bag about the size of a football or a bottle of water. They have a tiny lining, very similar to my Marmot Nano 55, which has worked great for me.

Girls, my most prized outfit is a loose tank and a running skort with shorts under it. I use it for after hiking, swimming, and to sleep. The all purpose wardrobe! Dress it up with a scarf!

My day: wake up at 5 AM. Take my roll of clothing and toiletries out of the dorm, to a restroom or kitchen, to dress. Drag pack out. Drag sleeping bag off bed and stuff in other room. Rearrange pack, sometimes for a half hour or more. Wash. Wish for coffee, but drink a liter of water if I can choke it down. Other people are up, tripping over each other. Tend to feet for the day with whatever combo of fixups you have: tape, moleskin, compeed, bandaids, antibiotic cream, anti friction cream, what have you. Put on shoes. This isn’t easy, as you aren’t allowed to keep your shoes with you, but must put them on a shelf in another room. Same thing for poles. When you get your shoes on, marvel how good they feel without a pack on.
Then lurch out and start your day. Stop for a coffee at the first bar and sneak eat your yoghurt, then walk on. Sun’s getting warmer now… stop on trail, pee, put on hat and sunglasses. And walk.

Today I met some beautiful people, and it was just like the films where you have soulful talks while walking through lush vineyards. Oliver, French, was great: we discussed mind-body issues and how the brain can’t interpret where pain originates. He’s in the straw hat. Then Billy, an American college student I’d seen twice, struck up a series of questions about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Joseph Campbell’s mythology. “Have you heard of Joseph Campbell?” he asked politely. He made a beautiful metaphor…. he said that he thinks the Camino is, for him, a coming out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur, following the golden thread. And the golden thread is just one step in front of the other, and you don’t know where you’re going, but he trusts it.
I probably won’t ever see them again, but that statement lacks the high drama it might have in other contexts. You just never know. You spent some good time, and that’s enough. I talked to some women, as well, but none of them would allow me to take her photo because we all, er, don’t exactly look our best. I, for example, resemble a plump nun while walking, completely covered head to foot with long loose pants, long loose shirt, and one of those dorko cover-everything hats with a wimple, I mean flap, in back. In purple. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I just wanted to say, I have never felt in danger this whole trip. I have felt cared for and protected the entire time.

I usually stop walking around 12 or 1. I learned a lesson about pushing too hard. You can read the story below

This took place last Sunday and Monday, after realizing I had really wrecked my feet– and my aplomb– with the fabled 21k day.

I took a taxi to Logrono today for another rest day and checked into another pilgrim dorm. My mood was low. There are several kinds of dorms, municipal– run, perhaps for hundreds of years, by the city, parochial, run by the church, and private dorms which have sprung up everywhere. I chose a private dorm, and it wasn’t a good choice. I’m finding out that often the better bet for true hospitality can come in institutional packages, from people who’ve been housing pilgrims for a couple centuries or so. The dorm I chose was a private one, which can be great, but can also be oriented more to the tidal wave of pilgrim dough than the pilgrim. They can be sloppy about hygiene.

I unloaded my stuff, had a shower with soap I bought from the Euro version of a dollar store. The shower was not pleasant, with a dirty floor and warmish water. Then I went for a walk. When I returned,the room had that body smell, which unfortunately was a stinky redux of the night before.

I’m finding out that a disturbing night has a real impact. The night before, it was the awful body odor, like unwashed clothes of the homeless, emanating from the towel and pack of a man across from me. The Italian guy in the bunk directly over was grossed out too. Luckily my bed was by a window. We asked the manager of the albergue to talk to the guy about moving his pack outside, but he never did. The Italian guy’s girlfriend offered me some Vicks to rub under my nose, the same thing the coroner uses for examining corpses. I should have taken it.

I don’t know how much I want to write about a bad mood or event. They happen in travel and in life. But my feeling of oppression increased in the Logrono dorm I had chosen . By chance, I was the only woman in the room and it felt, not dangerous, but just too much. I was filled with regret about not just waiting around for a few hours for the normal church dorms to open. My impatience tripped me up, just like it did with the 21 km day. Hmmmmmm…. could there possibly be a lesson there?

My mood darkened, dangerously so. When you travel alone, you have only yourself to rely on, and a bad mood poses a real handicap. My feet were really hurting– I could feel an infection starting in the sole of my foot, the same sole that would have to step into public showers. So when I saw a hotel, I just walked up and checked in, then walked back to the albergue and picked my stuff up.

Scott had to talk me down. I stayed off my feet in a sterile business hotel, with deep bathtub. It took two days for my feet to heal up. I felt guilty, impatient, grateful, sad, stuck in sterility when life just teemed outside. And it was a hundred percent my own bad decision.

I am so lucky I have the bucks to take a hotel when I want or need to. But it still feels like a tiny bit of defeat. Strange, I meet many people who feel defeated if they can’t do 30 to 40 km, 20-plus miles, a day! We all have our points of pride.

I think that 30 Km is a very long day even for the twenty somethings. People are really getting injured going that far. In my own mind, which is still full of judgement, I call them “The New Penitents,” punishing themselves through painful walking. I’m sure they think of me as a dilettante. By the way, all the “recommended” divisions of the Camino are 20 to 30 km. I have so enjoyed going more slowly.

I think I’m really more of a wanderer than a trekker. I’m considering visiting the one of the oldest monastery sites in Europe tomorrow, back to the 6th century. It wanders off the beaten path. But then, so do I. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Divine Beauty vs. Iphonzilla

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Each day of walking is like a world, and you can never tell what will happen. All of these photos are from one day, yesterday. But they don’t tell the whole story. In the midst of all of it, there were mishaps, enough of them to really jar me and test the travel spirit.

I left the adaptor plug for the Iphone in a socket in that village that starts with a Z. Panicked, I ran around stores to try to find an adaptor. A lovely lady at an art store had some, but Iphonezilla didn’t like them. Finally I went to what they call a “China Store” and bought a fake Iphone charger with the proper prongs. Now my phone takes hours to charge, but no it works. I wrestled with that horrible question of attachment to the device. I do a lot on it: photograph, blog, Facetime with Scott. Perhaps some of you know the feeling of running around in a foreign culture with that emergency feeling in the pit of your stomach. It took hours. I bought watercolor paper I didn’t need to patronize the art supply/ hardware store lady, and some cologne I probably did need at the China store for all their help with my phone. Iphonezilla ate a large part of my day, then would not charge, keeping me up late, as you should never leave your phone unattended. I wanted to talk to my husband Scott on his birthday.

My weird vasculitis was acting up again. I’m vain enough to not show you a picture of it; it’s disfiguring but not dangerous. In fact, it was a conversation starter. I got 5 versions in 5 languages of “Are you all right? And what is that?” Then everyone would tell me it was heat rash or an allergy. But it got me introduced.

That hostel was industrial and no nonsense. When you’ve hosted a thousand years of pilgrims, you know how to do it. Already fried from the phone thing and the leg thing, the snoring thing in my room of 8 women almost did me in. I slept not more than 2 hours last night, really pissed off at the snore monster, a spry French woman in her seventies.

Then the day began again, and after walking, a compassionate hospitalero (inkeeper for pilgrims) snuck me into a private room to catch up on my rest. This simple act of kindness touched me deeply, and saved my day. The following photos are from this, my 4th day on the road. Estella tomorrow— maybe. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Camino Secret Gem

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Hola from the extremely slow pilgrim. Today I didn’t walk 12.8 km. I’m between Pamplona and Puente de la Reina. That’s all you need to know. And I’m in a little gem of an albergue, drinking white wine on a red tablecloth in the late afternoon and writing you, dear reader.

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This giant baguette filled with chorizo will last me for 2 more days. The soda and sandwich cost 2.70 E. It could have been beer, no extra charge. I get a full course dinner for wine and desert here, my first meal with other pilgrims. I slept like a baby last night in a room full of elderly Frenchmen; apparently I was in a French “wave”. Today I ran into- not literally, thank goodness– herds of the not-rare-enough species MAMILS– Middle Aged Men in Lycra, normally on bicycles, sending their luggage, include colognes, ahead. Not all of them, of course.. everyone has been sweet and polite, the way life should be. And I am a MAWILC, a middle aged woman in loose clothing. We are the only ones wearing long sleeved shirts and pants. Ah, those limb-exposing, sleek youngsters are lovely.
Got up at a respectable 6:30 and the whole albergue was leaving. Everyone leaves at once, but the waves soon vanish, especially if you’re hiking slowly. And I stop, I confess, to photograph and sketch. It”s my Grand Tour, after all; I choose to be Ruskin-esque and enter the world through my pen. But it takes TIIIIIIIME.Time to see the wheat and smell the poppies. If I stopped to smell every rose in Spain, you’d never see me again.

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Tip: I tear out pages with maps from the Brierley guidebook and carry them in my pocket. It’s helped me several times when I’ve had to ask directions: nothing like a hard copy. And my small compass mounted right on the chin strap of my backpack is really invaluable. I feel like a child with an address label sewn in. Do they even do that anymore?
Since you read this far, I enclose the abstract photo of roses blowing in the wind. Ultreia!

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Walled Spanish Garden, with Pilgrim Totem animal

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How far have I walked today? I think I’ll keep that a secret for now and tell you how far I haven’t walked. I haven’t walked 25 km. And I ended up in paradise, the Mirabel Roncal. It has a walled garden from long, long ago with museum like lawn ornaments, beautiful rooms, tables and gardens everywhere, and a great pilgrim totem, a turtle pond.

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I am the turtle, eating a fine lunch in the garden with a beer from a soft drink machine, and olives and olive oil bought from the same snack automat. I added my own spanish seedless pear–Scott, take note!–and cheese, and a garden full of roses. Why would I want to leave?

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I don’t really deserve such beauty, but there it is anyway. It’s a hard life, being a pilgrim.
Re the not-walked kilometers: the standard guide, Brierley, divides the Camino into stages. I will be sure to tell you each day how far in the current guidebook stage I didn’t walk. Remember my icon, the turtle.

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I am saving my complaints, philosophical ideas, spiritual opening, etc. etc. for another blog. Don’t worry… you’re not getting off that easy. But for now the birds and butterflies drowse in the sun, and there may be a basque dinner to eat. The owner liked my sketches of the place, so maybe I can dine out in fine Basque fashion on those. Now back to bliss. Buen Camino, Suzanne

Pamplona Unbound

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I have a crush on Pamplona.
Pamplona is seductive. In fact, the whole journey I’ve had nothing but good luck. People have helped me. Small dark men are courtly and helpful. My hotel is beautiful. I see swallows over tile roofs and hear peacocks calling at night and roosters in the morning.
And when I got to Pamplona, the whole city was engaged in a local Black and Red night, with concerts on every corner, and dancing in the street. You can’t describe it: a euphoria and a warm wind, everyone smiling.

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Best of travel: a room with a view, travel luck stays strong, easy connections. I watch the stream of pilgrims go by and know I’ll be joining them tomorrow.
Worst of travel: traveling alone, there’s no one to watch the pack or carry my passport and money. I have to drag the pack into every bathroom. I used to give Scott my passport to carry. No more. I’m in the “training” stage of the journey where I have to constantly check my money belt, securing my phone, etc. Yes, I’m sometimes lonely, but I already feel captured by Spain… happy prisoner.
My room has a view over Roman and Navarro forts, to the hills, where I’ll head tomorrow. Buen Camino, Suzanne

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Packing for the Camino: The Seventeen Pound Riddle

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I’m leaving tomorrow! But I’ve been packing for months.

There are so many excellent packing lists online already for the Camino de Santiago that I won’t add another one. I used several of them for ideas and reference. I was aiming for a 17 pound pack and am in that range. Rather than a list of things I’m taking, I’ll share with you a list of questions I developed for each item.

Positive = Plus and Negative = Minus.  Each item had to come out strongly on the plus side.

Positive Indicators

  • Is it multifunctional? Can I use it for more than one thing? example: a tank top and shorts can double as swimsuit, while a sarong can be a towel, a seat, a privacy cover, a skirt and a shawl.
  • Will I really use it daily or almost every day? I ended up not taking a dress or skirt, as I didn’t think I’d wear them enough. I didn’t bring a tent or bivy sack.
  • Will it keep me warm and dry? I have been cold in southern European summers a lot.  I’m taking a small sleeping bag rather than a sleep sheet, and plenty of layers of clothing.
  • Will it add a lot to my physical or mental comfort? (Iphone for contact with Scott, a pillowcase, a little typing keypad for blogging on the Iphone.)

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Camino art supplies: sketchbook, paints, IPhone, no camera!

20140525-111218-40338875.jpgWell, I joined the 21st century this month and got an Iphone. I decided to leave the camera behind for several reasons. It’s not really a photo-documentary trip, as I want to sketch far more than photograph. I don’t want to be tied to a camera, and a camera is heavy and bulky for (more…)

Where a pilgrim begins

Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio:

I started this pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela last year in September– in my mind. They say that the pilgrim way begins right from your front door. The post below was written in September 2013 when I first decided to start. In the meantime, I have bread dipped in Spanish olive oil, and walk among the twisted oaks of Spring Lake. Join me as I walk, write, sketch, and wander in the land of bull, oak, red wine, relics, grails, and pilgrims. Suzanne

Originally posted on Toward Compostela: A Pilgrim on the Starry Way:

I called my niece Rachel Welsh, who is, conveniently enough, a scholar of the Middle Ages, to ask her advice on this crazed idea I had to walk the length of the Camino de Santiago.  She said, “You’ve already started your pilgrimage.”

My front steps, a winding path through an arch towards the sky.

My front steps, a winding path through an arch towards the sky.

In the Middle Ages, you started from your own front door, or perhaps from the steps of your local cathedral.  Rich or poor, doing penance for sins or seeking your fortune, man, woman or child– you started where you are.  And so here is my own front door on this bright September day in Northern California, the wind whipping the rain clouds and the first reluctant leaves along the pavement. A little glitch of the light entered— a protective travel spirit?  It is the first day of fall. Or this might be the real start, the chair…

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Art According to Starbucks

I’m in an anonymous Starbuck’s in a LA suburb town.  It’s next to my mom’s old folks home and I use it for handy breaks and internet.  I look up and suddenly  I notice that I’ve  somehow I’ve fallen into a mixed media collage.

The drawn teapot is "finished" to the right in the negative space of sign and window.

The drawn teapot is “finished” to the right in the negative space of sign and window.

Okay, I decide to analyze the art.  Above we see a very popular style.  Its components: handwriting, chalk effect, white lines over a surface.  So ironic. Handwriting is arguably dying and it is probable the artist who designed this never saw a real chalkboard.  “Courier New” typeface is also popular with the crowd who’ve never used an actual typewriter.

Torn collage pieces

Torn collage pieces

Irregular transparent torn pieces, stencil underneath, and a painterly wash of white obscures the “canvas”.

Wall-sized mural detail

Wall-sized mural detail

It struck me that mixed media has entered mainstream art.  Notice use of maps, “encaustic”– the waxy seal– and graphite-looking line work.

Fantasy animal

Fantasy animal

The animal looks like it was assembled from transparent transfers of non-copyright material, similar to transfers from Dover beloved of Trader Joe’s brown paper bags.

Starbuck's mixed media

Starbuck’s mixed media

The original of this whole wall might have been under a yard wide.  It does look as if it was done as a physical rather than digital artwork, but I might be wrong.  A small piece photographed at high resolution can become huge.

Transparency, graphite lines, white lines, torn pieces, transfers, encaustic, canvas, washes, chalky lines:  mixed media today, and all can be imbibed visually along with that decaf soy latte.

Painting Journal 2: Over Underworld

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48"

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″

The Over Underworld series features high horizons and chaotic, rich undergrowth. You can climb up and down the layers of it, and the black ink spatters underneath sometimes look like animal forms. The top has modern, intereference paint; the top invokes architecture, the conscious mind, technology and civilization. It’s shiny and bright, while the underpart is rough.

The concept behind each art piece is as vital to me as the finished work… often more vital. Abstract work has its own demands because it is unmoored from the anchor of representation and floating out at sea.

Students ask me, “How do I know it’s finished?” I think my true answer is that it’s finished when your dialogue or conversation with the painting is somehow complete. This is true whether or not the painting is a “success” at the moment. Ask your questions not ABOUT the painting, but TO it. If you can know it as complete, whole, and satisfying, your viewer will as well. Knowing an abstract painting is finished is also an abstract idea!

I believe we shouldn’t dwell too much on the underworld, the unconscious, the uncivilized. We don’t need to invite it. It will always come to us unbidden, as these paintings did to me.

Art Hearts

A White Ago by Suzanne Edminster

A White Ago by Suzanne Edminster

This is “A White Ago.” The title was taken from an e e cummings poem. He was one of the most romantic poets of our time, and a painter.

Painting with hearts is tricky. You always are in danger of falling over the boundary into treacly greeting card territory. I liked this notion of a heart in a field of white, time sweeping away old loves and perhaps bringing in the new.

Salamander Winter by Suzanne Edminster

Salamander Winter by Suzanne Edminster

I titled this one Salamander Winter. Again a heart, but there are little salamanders hidden in the base… small fire dragons. My husband, Scott, places boards in wet places to provide little houses for real Arboreal Salamanders in our yard. In alchemy, the salamander represents fidelity and the animal that can survive the flames of adversity. Here’s wishing you luck in love.

A Heavenly Lake of Beer: St. Brigid’s Day Blessing

Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio:

A wish for the blessing of rain this spring.

Originally posted on Saltworkstudio :

Saint Patrick, meet your better half!
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  Brigid is a jolly saint of babies, poets, cows, scholars, travelers, and beer (the last attribution mine).  She’s a vernal saint associated with the green fire of rising spring energy. Her Day is February 2,  Imbolc. In Celtic mythology this the beginning of pre-spring, lambing, and lactation… birth and milk in the animal folk. She is a patron Saint of milk and milk givers, beast and human.

Groundhog Day was formerly Bear Day.  It’s time for us all to come out of the winter hibernation now.  Artists, this means you.  And in this year of drought,  a bit of St. Brigid’s spring rain would be very healing.

She studied under St. Patrick, founded her own convent, and tended the poor.  Some– I am one– think that she surpassed him in his time.

I often do series cow series that I associate with her, but what I…

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“Art is Disorganized Religion”

Suzanne Edminster with portrait from by Bob Cornelis from Studio: 50 Sonoma County Artists

Suzanne Edminster with portrait from by Bob Cornelis from Studio: 50 Sonoma County Artists

I owe this delightful quote to Chester Arnold, a Bay Area narrative painter. What a great metaphor!  He extended it a bit:  there are cults and fanatics, for example. And, paraphrasing, he noted that “Art is essentially an irrational activity, like religion.”  Laughter erupted in the audience.

This was in a panel discussion from the STUDIO: 50 Sonoma County Artists photo project by Bob Cornelis at the Sonoma County Museum.  I was lucky enough to be  included in this book.   It resulted in 15 minutes of fame for me, as my studio portrait was chosen by the Sunday Press Democrat to publicize the show.

The panel discussion touched often on the idea of the Studio as a sacred site.  Hmmmmm.  If “art is disorganized religion”, then the temple must be the studio.  The paint or materia prima (stone, ink, etc.) would be the sacrament and the artist the priest.  Patrons, then, are the churchgoers.  Chester Arnold also called the Internet “God’s Brain.”  I added for myself that it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  Chester stole the show, at least for me.  His own paintings show a textural wit and intelligence:  story deeply grained like rings in wood.

Oh studio, studio… what and where and when is your studio? Do you like visitors or not?  How public or private, neat or sloppy, sacred or profane is it?  I no longer have the studio in the portrait.  Several artists I know have recently changed studios.  We might romanticize the studio, but they’re a wink in God’s eye.  There I go, getting serious again.

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World’s Oldest Painting in Spain: Abstract, of course

The world’s oldest painting is now found to be an abstract red “dot” or circle dated reliably back to 40,000 BCE. This makes it older than the previously dated Chauvet Cave paintings so eloquently documented by Werner Herzog. It’s also provoked speculation that Neaderthals may have been artists– the ultimate reversal of art from highbrow to lowbrow. Or perhaps abstraction is, once again, seen as “lower” art, thus the Neanderthal question… just kidding. Sort of. You can see the red area and the mouth-blown hand stencils below.
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The work, age-verified last year in a series of North Spanish caves, seems to be a mixture of abstraction, hands, and animals. The figures below are called “seals”. Huh? Maybe. Or maybe female figures with a vulva mark at the end… or, even, abstractions. There is an assumption that the abstract is more primitive and came before the figurative, but if the exquisitely worked animals of Chauvet are only a thousand years off, I think it’s likely that all the styles, including the popular figuative animals, existed simultaneously, as they do today.
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Here are horses, almost always found paired with aurochs. Look at the cute little zebra leg. It’s easier to love the horsie than the red dot, except for abstract fans. You have to interpret the dot yourself.

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Let’s hear it for the red dot! A red circle is primal, like the sun, like hands, like animals.

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A red dot also means the painting sold! Do you think it means he sold his wall of marks? Here’s my red dot– Over Underworld, a meditation on cave paint, civilization, and what’s underneath. You can see it during ARTrails this October in Studio 92. I hope to see you in my cave then. P1000487

News Release on World’s Oldest Art

Ancient drawings discovered in Spain have been crowned the world’s earliest cave art. Scientists claim the images date back 40,800 years and may have been done by Neanderthals. The find in 11 caves in northern Spain has beaten the previous record held by Chauvet cave in central France, which boasts drawings of animals thought to date back 39,000 years. Scientists say Spain’s cave art is now the oldest known in Europe, and probably the oldest in the world. The drawings feature animals, round red dots and a series of handprints known as a Panel of Hands. “We find one of these [handprints] to date older than 37,300 years on the Panel of Hands, and very nearby there is a red disc made by a very similar technique that dates to older than 40,800 years,” Dr. Alistair Pike, archaeological scientist from Bristol University explained to reporters. Working in the caves, scientists had to solve the difficult task of dating the ancient images. Pike explained that unlike bones or tools that can be carbon-dated and associated with artifacts found nearby, cave art is “not associated with anything but itself.” The team of scientists used a special technique to date the drawings. They analyzed the calcite patinas that form with mineralized water dripping over the art for thousands of years, just like stalagmites and stalactites form in caves. Over time, the calcite accumulates naturally occurring radioactive uranium from the water. Uranium atoms with years decay into thorium at a very precise rate. The ratio of the two different elements in a sample forms a so-called clock that can determine the sample’s age quite accurately.

Wealth

Crazy Mixed-Up Media to the Jury

Wealth

Wealth

I just submitted to a locally famous, heavily juried open studio tour that I will call Art Paths.   (more…)

Europa

Jung, Creativity and Play

Europa, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36"

Europa, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 36″

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” 

C.G. Jung, from Psychological Types

This quote made me pause.  When we lose play, and give it over to force, we lose our contact with the creative world.  On the other hand, the “inner necessity” has to include work and bringing the play or fantasy to  fruition.

“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”  This painting is called Europa.  I wanted somehow to play with the Greek myth of the bull swimming with an abducted river maiden— and play simultaneously with abstract form.  I experienced both these desires in a visceral, childlike way.  I wanted to physically play with the figures in the myth, like playing with dolls or action figures, and I wanted to splash paint and watch it pool and run.   The two plays came together in this painting.  (Sometimes they don’t.)

This painting, an abstract mythic narrative, will be shown at The Gallery of Sea and Heaven in their upcoming  Myth and Legend show opening February 16.  They took two paintings.  The other one is a private narrative , where the visuals construct a strange story; it did not exist until I collaged it.  In other words, there’s definitely a story, but I don’t know exactly what it means, like the  stories and plots of dreams.

I think of Jung with his Tower on the lake and his mandalas.  He loved to play, and having a rich wife didn’t hurt the cause of “playing” with architecture .  When we play, we always trust that the practicalities of survival will take care of themselves, like children. What “objects” do you love to play with?