The Banksy Down the Hall

The Banksy on the first floor of the Carlton Arms Hotel.

The Banksy Down the Hall

I’m staying at the Carlton Arms Hotel in NYC, Gramercy. Stepping out of our first room and walking toward the shared bath, I encountered a bear politician, Elvis-Mickey, and a stick of dynamite in a ballot box. It’s the Banksy near the bathroom.

Banksy detail

These days are upon us, again.
I thought this light switch might have been a Banksy, but it was painted by a transgender woman with a great sense of humor.

The Carlton Arms is not an art hotel; it’s a hotel for artists. Any artist can tell you that though they find a place rich and evocative, that taste is not necessarily shared by the general public. Artists love an edge. When I had a studio at the Barracks, an old naval airbase complete with a creepy overgrown bunker, I loved it. But it was quite difficult to get patrons out there, even for open studios. It was just a bit too intimidating.

Fourth floor Egyptian themed hallway, where we moved from our first floor room; the room was needed for a gallery show.

The bubble wrap ceiling

So what I’m saying is that the hotel is not for everyone, and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s in a largely unrenovated 1880s building, with 54 rooms tied up in a tangled net of pipes and architectural elements. There are two cats who will visit in your room, and astonishing art, everywhere. It’s like wandering around in a building made of artist’s neural pathways and memory banks. It is literally and metaphorically held held together by paint, a living body made of art. And so it shocks, delights, and inspires, because it is art.

One of the two or three hotel cats visits our room Sign near the street level entrance

The coffee room raccoon says hey

The hotel’s colorful past is carried forward into the future by yearly shows, where rooms are transformed into art installations, then returned to lodging spaces. The hotel staff were friendly and gracious. They allowed us to tour unoccupied rooms during a lull between checkout and check-in

First room we had, first floor near lobby Inhabitants of all species Inside a room

Magical “neon” murals that glowed, all paint. We had never seen anything quite like them.

Inside a room

Beauty, humor and anguish are everywhere.

Our charming “Hygge” room (my name for it) on the Egypt floor, 10D. More doileys, lace, handwork, Scandinavian style. Charm and giant cookie burgers, plus instructions on life. The top moldings are all quilted fabric art cartoons.

Our spectacular hallway.  The rows of face masks mounted as pharaohs are the manager and workers in the hotel.

Our hallway. You can see me at the end

Room of purple mirror walls

An encounter

Hotel life problems

I’m not doing a travel hotel review here. I am so tired of yelp-style critiques. We love it; we are temporary dwellers in a living history. Tonight a chapter of the NY Adventure society tours here. On Thursday the latest Artbreak Hotel art installation and opening reception is happening . I’m climbing 64 stairs to our room, and I’m awed that this is still here. Also, clearly, Carlton Arms Hotel knows who the heck Banksy is.  Thanks, Carlton Arms.

Flatiron building , near the hotel

Eclipse, Fire, Beauty, Eclipse

Beauty

“What imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”  John Keats

I painted Beauty in early August, shortly before the total solar eclipse, which we caught in John Day, Oregon.

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Watching the solar eclipse from John Day, Oregon
Beauty full sized
Beauty, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on board, 16″ x 20″

The eclipse was a summer zenith of awe, cosmic mystery, and great American road trip.  Scott and I met up in Portland after I finished taking a painting workshop with Jesse Reno, and took off from there into the high desert of central Oregon.

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Jesse Reno working in his True Measure Gallery, Portland, Oregon

 

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Our eclipse camp in John Day.

 

My painting Beauty, with images of teeth shining as if for a selfie, a band-aid on a cheek,  scratches and boo-boos,  precariously balanced on a tipsy pedestal, and a sort of sweetness in her mismatched eyes,  is how I have felt for nearly six months.

In October we were caught in the devastating Santa Rosa wildfire.  Thankfully, our home and my studio were not harmed, though Scott’s place of business was badly damaged.  In December I tripped and fell on cement and hurt my face under my cheek, just like Beauty, who was painted in August. I am recovering from pneumonia in my left lung. And on the day of the Blue Blood moon, the second moon of January and a total lunar eclipse,  our cat Nora was killed by a car.  From eclipse to eclipse, it’s been a wild ride.

Sometimes paintings hold the future.   Beauty’s  childlike sweetness and  humor made me smile between the eclipses, through precarious times.  Seize that beauty.

I’ll be sharing new paintings and exploring ideas in more depth in my upcoming Tinyletters. 

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”  Albert Einstein

Spiritual Congruency and Road Trips

 

Road to Ojai Foundation
Road to Ojai Foundation

On our road trips last summer, Scott and I developed an idea we called “spiritual congruence.”  Every place, every direction we headed, every style of experience– from rough travel to luxury— moved either toward greater congruity with the flow or time or what was needed… or away from it.  For example, spiritual congruence on a camping trip might produce a campsite like this one, on the Olympic National Park peninsula.

This was a campsite that “just happened” to be open in the busiest campground in the National Park, just when we needed it, without reservation.

Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park
Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park

We first invented the term when we landed at a cabin that looked great on Yelp, but felt really soulless. It was expensive and unsettling… it was supposed to be the “honeymoon cabin” but it was coldly over-decorated in black and grey, graveyard colors, an attempt at modernity and elegance that failed and became merely frigid and depressing. We had hoped for a cozy, kitschy, pine paneled little place. We were surprised at how disturbing it was.  After all, we had weathered true travel crises with equanimity and humor.  But the vibe was bad.  We started talking about it.  There was no congruity with who we were or what we wanted from the trip.  We sacrificed a hundred bucks, took the hit, and checked out.

The last time we experienced this deep disquiet, an anxiety bordering on fear, was on another road trip when we were heading to the Badlands of North Dakota.  We wanted to see Mount Rushmore.  As we drove, an overwhelming oppression enveloped us.  It was so profound that we decided to cancel our trip.  We checked into a motel, where we both had nightmares all night, and turned right around the next day.  Perhaps it was the blood-soaked, coal-ripped country around us, the country of so many Native American massacres.  Or maybe the earth itself was bleeding from strip mining.

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Spiritual congruence is a flow state where outer world and inner move together. We got up before dawn to go tidepooling on Beach  4; light, water, and tidal treasures.

Sometimes it doesn’t come too easily.  We were only 10 miles away from Dungeness Point, yet could not find fresh, cooked, whole crab for a whole week.  We only found overpriced restaurants with crab salads and such.  I even tried crabbing, with no luck!  We finally found a roadside stand after hard searching.  We cracked our crab congruency and ate it without butter on paper plates… ahhh.

Sometimes you can make your own little snail shell world so you can be spiritually congruent on the beach even on a rainy day. This setup of campfire in a can, beach shelter, and lowboy chairs makes even a windy, cold day a beach day.

My beloved "campfire in a can"
My beloved “campfire in a can”

 

I am very interested in those states where, even where there might be discomfort, there is a larger flow or current of rightness, agreement, moving together: spiritual congruency.  How can our little lives be folded in like egg whites to the cake batter of the wide and glorious world?  I sense it more in travel than in my daily life.  But it must exist everywhere, in minor and major states of grace.  I think a lot about how to make my life more like the road trip it really is.

Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studio
Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studi

I am open for Art Trails this year in Studio 33 one more weekend, on October 17 and 18.  Come visit.  I have the Camino notebook pages up, and have decided to take the plunge and make a book.

 

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.

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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Continue reading → Greetings from the End of the World

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

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

Not tourism, not backpacking, not blisters

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Sitting here in another no-name place watching the World Cup, after eating a meal of morcilla and eggs. The picture of the labyrinth in the oak landscape expresses for me the puzzle at the heart of the Camino. Some of you have asked for more of an inner-process report. I’ll try. I’m at the exact middle of my Camino, and will need to skip ahead to finish and get my Compostela. This will be introspective, with a bit of navel-searching, so you can feel free skip on to the photos if you like.
The Camino Intensifies

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The Camino intensifies life, your relationship to your body, your desires and fears. By assigning the meaning of pilgrimage to your trek, you travel with a metaphor. It gives you time to be introspective. Every decision resonates with contemplation, because the Camino gives you time to think about things for hours.
For example, why have I chosen to travel so slowly? In my life, I’ve been an achiever. I am fairly certain I could work my way up to the 20-30 kilometers a day many pilgrims walk. But I don’t want to.

I am traveling half as far as everyone else, except a few people, who I see again and again. I’ll tell you about them in a minute. But back to slow travel. I think in my life that I have crammed two lives into one for a while, my work and my art life. I’ve been so fortunate in both, and am grateful. But I’m tired. So my whole body says, go slowly, and if I push, I am immediately brought down with blisters and exhaustion. If I stay within my limits, I am happy and productive.

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My Camino Pod
I never developed a Camino family, because I travel too slowly and too erratically. The Camino Family myth was fostered by the movie The Way, where a troubled Martin Sheen meets exactly the right group of affable characters to help him grieve. It also helps if you follow the guidebook exactly, because then you will be with a common group over many kilometers. But I do see the same people over and over, and that has a meaning too.
Apparently my Camino Pod is composed of elderly hikers, both alone and in couples, all happy and healthy. One of the reasons I wanted to do this walk was so that I could continue to hike well into my seventies, which, at this point, is right around the corner. And so I see Ana, and the Italian couple, all over 70 and hiking the whole Camino. And that has its meaning, even if it’s not the way my ego pictured it.

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Hey, there she is now, at the counter. I just snuck this photo. She’s so adorable. Her whole pack (not the one on her back) must weigh about 12 pounds. She is so organized! What an inspiration. Okay, get this: the 70 year olds leave me in the dust while hiking. The only people who hike more slowly than me, with my writing in notebooks, photos, frequent breaks, are young dreaming men, the Siddharthas. They walk really slowly, thinking of God, the meaning of life, and the girl who broke their hearts. I constantly have to try to explain to other Caminantes (great word– a word for those who walk the Camino) why I am walking so slowly. I am just not in the same groove as others. This is nothing new.

Decisions on the Way
Every decision resonates. I had originally thought I would break the Camino about now to fly up and try to go to the caves of Altamira and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It’s a seductive concept: The entire span of Western Art from the Paleolith to the 21st century contrasted in a few days. But that has a few disadvantages. It re-identifies me with my artist life, and I don’t want that right now. I want to get some space from it. And it puts me back into multi-tasking and a sort of frenetic changing of identities, which I experience too many times in my daily life. I don’t want to change from pilgrim to culture tourist, like Superman changing in a phone booth.
What does the Camino say? It’s so simple. Just keep walking. Solvitur ambulando– it is resolved by walking.

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I’ll be taking the train to Ponferrada tomorrow to resume walking the next day through Galicia. I’ll be finishing the Camino from here. This feels like a turning point in my Camino, and I feel a bit sad. For three glorious weeks I could do exactly what I wanted to do, drifting along in a sweet little eddy in the river of time. Now I really have a goal, Santiago, and a time frame, a couple of weeks.
I’ve been so lucky all along. I’ve really had almost uninterrupted beauty and help from others. I haven’t even had to walk in the rain, though that will change in Galicia, Gaelic Spain. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Stay tuned! From your Slow Camino, Suzanne
P.S. 16km today.

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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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