The Confession

The Confession: any time I spend with this picture reminds me of the man who dared to be vulnerable.

The Confession, I asked the man from Barcelona if he'd had his moment? He said no. "I am dry", he said.

I met a man; a young and handsome man from Barcelona. It was the day after the singing nuns, and my public display of weeping, and he was amused by me.

He was cool and sophisticated, shaped by the cynicism of the world. Hardened by real life, doubtful of possibility, distrustful of sincerity.

He asked me to explain why I had cried.

Endearingly, when I finished telling him he simply replied that he hoped to have such a moment.

I met him again at the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross), one of The Camino’s most emblematic points. It is where you place your stone traditionally and leave all it represents behind. Many leave something meaningful at its base with their deepest wishes. People watch the sun rise, go through the rituals, and turn and hug those they know, hoping their wishes come true for them.

He was supposed to leave at León after five days, but he stayed on the road and I met him again here in the church at the top of the highest peak before the descent into Santiago.

We happened to be standing by the confessional box under a small window set in the deep, protective walls, when I asked him if he’d had his moment?

He said, “No. I am dry.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. I didn’t know how to respond and simply said, “Interesting”.

He said, “I don’t think it’s interesting, I think it’s sad.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. We caught sight of each other along the road occasionally, and I saw his face grow softer and his eyes sparkle more each day.

He arrived in Santiago the same morning we did. I came down the stairs of the pilgrim’s office and saw him below me in the line for his certificate of completion, the Compostela. I stepped up to him.

It was all there between us in that moment, unsaid.

He burst into tears.

We hugged for the longest time!

For me this very small story describes the big picture… perhaps.

Feet and Philosophy

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To Larrasoana

On the first day we were so proud of Harry, on the second Ben deserved our admiration. He dug deep and he came out the other side,

It was gratifying to see how well he recovered, yes he had a bed to himself while Harry and I shared the other single, but he slept well and shouldered his backpack in the morning without flinching.

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I on the other hand went from Lara Croft to fallible over next two days.

I stoically developed blisters on the balls of my feet coming down off the Pyrenees with the weight of the two backpacks. They’re about the size of 50p coins, then there’s a couple on either little toe that dwarf the poor things, and two double-concentrate, mighty, tiny ones inside my heels.

But the Little Voices repeatedly worrying about notching up the allocated kilometres, carrying our backpacks and sticking to the plan is a force to be reckoned with. On top of that I was trying to get in step with what we’ve taken on.

It only occurred to me to wash out our socks at 10pm that first night, I had to use the hotel shower gel sachets as I hadn’t got anthing, we weren’t up at 6am, we ate breakfast where we stayed, we weren’t in the rhythm at all. We were the last to leave, by a long way, and we had to ask if it was left or right out of the village as we didn’t even have our eyes tuned to looking for the yellow shells on a blue background that mark the way – mostly.

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3km down the road, outside the much needed cash dispensing ATM, we were sitting in the mid-morning heat at the fork in the road where we turned right to go down the trail, watching the digital temperature reader over the pharmacy door opposite click over another degree. We had every reason to make today easier.

I got the bank to call a taxi to carry our backpacks to the next stop.

We had to wait 10minutes and at 9mins 30 I asked the boys if it would be a horrendous idea if we actually got in it too?

The relief of speeding through the baking hot hills in the cool interior of a taxi made us deliriously giggly. Although, I couldn’t shake the nagging Little Voices that said we were cheating.

However, by the time we picked up the trail again we had the 10km left of the day in us, and the littlest things were a delight!

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A trickle of a stream was a wonder of naked nature. A foal was a symbol of young energy, the butterflies danced. It was getting hotter and we took advantage of any shade.

And it’s not all picturesque, nor was our patience with our different paces yet settled.

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but that’s OK, even in paradise there are mosquitoes.

Suddenly the English man, Matt of the Lucozade tablets, caught up with us. It was like seeing an old friend. When we had arrived in Roncevalles the night before Ben had said he’d like to shake the hand of the man who gave him Lucozade tablets. Then we had attended the “blessing of the pilgrims” mass, we’d never been to one obviously so we were open to the experience. During a traditional Catholic service you shake hands with those around you. As we turned behind us there Matt was. Ben got to shake his hand.

So it was fun to walk along with him for a while and find out he’s a pastoral carer in a school in Cambridge. We chatted about motivations, and circled around faith and religion, and swapped expectations of The Camino to find we all shared a hope that we’d do things like swim in waterfalls.

Around the next corner was the unmistakable sound of falling water.

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We spent a happy hour sitting in what felt like a natural spa, just off the path, at the base of a small waterfall.

We said we’d send Matt a picture of him in the waterfall, we’ve lost him and don’t have his contact details so; “Matt, here it is and we hope you find it.” If anyone recognises him, please say thank you from us.

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The next corner found Larrasoana simmering the other side of a bridge at the bottom of the track. As we crossed the river running clear and cold under it the air tingled with the frisson of an invitation.

We checked into the municipal Albergue, which only houses 54. It was the first hostel experience for the boys. It turned out to be the widest collection of body shapes, ages, ethnicities and temperaments, packed into a large shed of metal bunks with plastic coated mattresses and pillows. One cold tap sink outside to launder clothes, and a washing line.

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It was however a little haven. There was one place to have dinner, a grocery store with wifi and the river.

Which was one of those moments I’ll remember for its extraordinary contrast with the time around it. It was nature applied with its gentlest touch.

You don’t actually need anything else.

Larrasoana was the perfect space to teach us the basics. Our boots were outside, I vaguely covered the smell of sweat with the smell of shower gel in an attempt to wash a few clothes, and we wandered off down the road to buy breakfast about ten minutes before they closed.

It was 7pm and the temperature had risen a couple more degrees to 37C

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We were trying to find ways to cope. I cut 4inches off Harry’s hair, Matt gave both boys bandanas. I popped my blisters, fluid spurted across the space and big sacks of empty skin hung on my feet. I slapped Compeed patches on them, and thought I was lucky compared to some of the other feet around me.

I was still wrestling mentally with the the power struggle between sticking to the plan and having to compromise on accomplishing the task somehow. But I was deep down grateful we had made the call to take the taxi, I actually couldn’t have walked much more on my feet, other people’s were bleeding and swollen with puss. The reality was absolutely clear that if your feet can’t carry you it’s game over. They take us through everyday, we really can’t take them for granted.

The pain in my hips was not easing either, and we were also staring down the track of three of the hottest days on record.

We decided to set the alarm for 5am, and walk in the dark.

At the end of the day when I look back, I see that if we’d stayed at the monastery hostel at Roncevalles we’d have been up at 6am and got pulled along with everyone walking and would have had a lot more to deal with. So their curt dismissal turned out to be our advantage.

PS It turns out Compeed is only for hobby hikers and commuters in heels, it really doesn’t stand up to the heat and pressure on The Camino. As I found out the next day, when they had melted, and opened up my blisters peeling the skin back further as they were removed.

PPS it’s going to take me at least another day to finally learn the lesson … I know from researching Toasters Don’t Roast Chickens that your mind and body are inextricably linked, that pain is a communication and you would do well to listen. Your body really is the only one you have. We have to live with our body for the rest of our life, treat it well.

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The Rocks In Our Pockets

The boys each have a rock from home in their pockets (OK, yes I do too) representing “burdens” and meant to be left at an iron cross somewhere on the road. Symbolically preparing a pilgrim for the final phase of the walk – the joyful approach to Santiago.

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It’s midnight in Folkestone, and we’re occupying ourselves. To be fair it’s midnight other places too but we’re here, between sleep and anticipation. Harry is writing about a rock.

The boys each have a rock from home in their pockets (OK, yes I do too) representing “burdens” and meant to be left at an iron cross somewhere on the road. Symbolically preparing a pilgrim for the final phase of the walk – the joyful approach to Santiago.

That’s what Harry has written about his rock

Harry is 12. These are his thoughts about going on The Merry Road To Santiago

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Only one tunnel and two trains away from three new pilgrims arriving on The Camino

Bavarian Marble, Berlin and Big Hearts

Because someone has taken one of the three Wunsiedel marble Stand AppArt tiles into his home we have been able to get to the start of The Merry Road to Santiago.

Stand AppArt on Bavarian Marble

Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon ~ Emily Dickinson

While I was in Berlin for Tallulah Rendall’s album launch we went to the printers to pick up a piece for her exhibition and I noticed a marble tile and right there and then emailed three jpegs from my phone to Gunther at the printers.

Tallulah very kindly picked them up and brought them with her when she came over to play How The Light Gets In festival in Hey on Wye shortly after. I actually opened them up for the first time in the cafe and all the staff came over just to hold and feel them.

They are so tactile, it was so lovely to see and feel the images in my hands, the texture just makes you want to run your hands over them.

This was the first time I had seen my work in the real world, not just inside my phone.

I had my first three pictures, on Wunsiedel marble (which probably originates from wunne = glades, and sedel = noble seat, which seems elegant and elvish) from the Upper Franconian district of Wunsiedel in northeast Bavaria.

They are the only ones of their kind as it is far too expensive a process. Today one of them has gone into a private collection. A very special person with a big heart who has been a tremendous supporter, the sort of person an artist is truly lucky to have in their life, has persuaded me to let them have one.

Because they have taken one of the three Stand AppArt marble tiles into their home they are keeping us on the road. Or more accurately we have been able to get to the start of The Camino. We have been able to book the three trains, two underground trips and an overnight bus to get us to St Jean Pied de Port to start out on The Merry Road to Santiago.

Thank you Pierre …

Flying, Friendship and Time

By buying two of The Merry Lives of Windsor photographs we have been able to book our first refuge on The Camino, half way up the Pyrenees. I can’t wait to toast Tina up in the mountains on our first night on The Merry Road to Santiago.

Dead water swamps MI

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

I met Tina Harvey at a Comedy Night in The Limberlost bar on the beach of Houghton Lake, Michigan. We both laughed at the same joke, and then caught each other’s eye.

How can one silly moment seal a lifelong friendship that has survived the distance between our different parts of the world?

I was only in town to shower and catch my breath, then I was going to travel up into the Upper Peninsula to find bears. But, Tina showed up at my hotel the next day, the extraordinary haven that was the Best Western.  I was on a lounger by the lake, it wasn’t that warm and I was reading the August copy of ‘O’ magazine wondering where life was going to take me.

We chatted. I ended up staying for 9 days.

Traverse City MI from the airIn that time Tina drove us in her gleaming, sensual, golden Corvette up to Machinaw City to see the Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere. We went to see Aaron Murdick’s 120-year-old family tradition of making fudge on marble slabs, and ate huge steaks at some restaurant on the way home. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember the steaks and the laughter.

It was a real Thelma and Louise day out (without the rangy hustler sadly, but on the plus side, skipping the cliff edge)

She is also responsible for 48 of the most terrifying seconds of my life.

She persuaded her husband, Jim, to take us up in his little Cessna 172 Skyhawk. It’s a really little plane to find yourself in a very big sky in.

When he handed me the joy stick, I absolutely refused in my head while arguing with myself that I could not ever face my boys again if I didn’t say yes to the chance to fly a plane.

Like I said, the most terrifying 48 seconds of my life as I waited to fall out of the sky.

Sunset over Michigan lakes

Clearly we survived. It is one of the most extraordinary experiences flying over the lakes of Michigan at sunset in a plane that is at play in the air.

This isn’t the world’s greatest photograph but I love it for all the memories it means to me.

We flew over the Dead Stream Swamp, an 11,680-acre stretch of uninhabited land that the waterways curl through like ribbons carelessly left out on a lawn. Seeing it from the front seat of a single-engine, high-wing aircraft had the hypnotic effect of drawing me down into the very heart of its northern white cedar forest.

The next day one of the last licensed trappers left took me in a small outboard into Bear Lake, a bog pond bordered by a sphagnum-heath mat.

There are no souvenir shops with shot-glass memorabilia.

It takes a special kind of person to take a stranger on trust and put yourself out to give them time. Either with Tina or because of Tina I have banked some incredible memories that will keep me rocking on my stoop.

Today I just posted her two of “The Merry Lives of Windsor” photographs.

The trouble is you think you have time, The Merry Lives of Windsor, by Melanie Gow
The Trouble is You Think You Have Time

 

The trouble is you think you have time, The Merry Lives of Windsor, by Melanie Gow
The trouble is you think you have time

Unsurprisingly she was taken by “The Trouble Is You Think You Have Time”, she has a rock solid ability to count blessings. More than that she is one person who will tell you if life knocks you down roll over and look at the stars. Tina has been a comfort blanket in the evening rain when I was in an emotional hole, and has encouraged me to keep making the leap of faith into life.

By buying two of The Merry Lives of Windsor photographs she is keeping us on the road. We have been able to book our first refuge on The Camino, The Orisson, half way up the Pyrenees. I can’t wait to toast Tina up in the mountains on our first night on The Merry Road to Santiago.

Thank you Tina ..

 

Nothing puts the comfort into a blanket like being left, The Merry Lives of Windsor, by Melanie Gow
Nothing puts the comfort into a blanket like being left behind in the evening rain

Cinderella Is Proof That Shoes Can Change A Woman’s Life

I had to have THE conversation with my sons, explaining that they can really get into trouble with a woman for ever saying “don’t you have enough shoes?”

Walking shoe on The Merry Road to Santiago

I had to have THE conversation with my sons yesterday, explaining that they can really get into trouble with a woman for ever saying something like “Don’t you have enough shoes?”

It is the best advice I can give them, probably. I tried to explain. Shoes never let a woman down, they are never too small suddenly or have a bad shoe day. In fact, the opposite is true, they help you stride through life, they uplift you,. They always fit your mood, and you are better together.
I have had some for so long I’ve dated men younger than a few of my shoes, it’s true.

But, I’m an inches girl, and I have one kind of shoe I’ve never even considered. Walking shoes. I believe you should just say no, walking shoes are a gateway experimentation that can lead to a wardrobe full of fugly, flat shoes. Next I’ll be lusting after moccasins.

And Yet.

Here I am, breaking type, with a pair of walking shoes … on The Merry Road to Santiago

Two weeks to go