Monday, May 28, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 17

Today has been a day of strange and fantastic guest comments.

Earlier in the afternoon, during our tea time set, the orchestra was playing Glenn Miller’s “Little Brown Jug.”  It’s a simple tune (more like a riff dressed up in orchestration than anything else), and as we outnumbered the audience I decided to have a little fun with the solo by pushing the melody back a beat each chorus.  For those of you who aren’t musicians, this is the equivalent of Ives sending two marching bands past each other playing different songs at the same time.  It cracked the band up (our reed player hand his sleeve stuffed in his mouth to keep from laughing), which is what we need every once in a while to stay sane on these sets.

As soon as we finished an elderly man approached us.  “You guys sound great! You sound way better than the so-called ‘Glenn Miller Band’ that was here on the crossing!  They were way too loud and brassy, but you have the real sound!  I grew up listening to the original 78s and so I would know!”

We thanked him politely and he walked away.  Yes, I imagine our band IS a little quieter than the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  That’s what happens when you cut thirteen horns down to three . . . but the comparison is ludicrous.  They sounded fantastic.

Later, after our “big band” set (such as it was, with six pieces), a lady came up to us.  “I was really upset that you didn’t play In the Mood!”

We apologized and mentioned that we’d include it next time.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s really a big band classic!”  And she stormed off.

Lady, you have no idea.  I'm reminded of the old bandstand joke, where musicians wish that Glenn Miller had lived and his music had died.

Anyway.  My little remaining faith in our onboard audience is quickly melting away.  Time to get off the ship . . .

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Camino Entry 30

Entry 30, December 24th, 2011

Shopping List:

8 baguettes
Parmesan Cheese

White sugar
Brown sugar
Baking Powder (polva de horniar)
Chocolate Chips

2 bottles of wine
4 kg pasta
1 kg shrimp
1 L oil
Nata de Leche

1 Bottle KAS Limon (for Ernesto)

Our group is spending Christmas Eve in Belorado.  Belorado is a big pilgrim town; there is an impression of Martin Sheen’s feet here in cement from when he visited while filming the movie.  I reached the town first and left a message in stones for the others while I went to look for albergues – there was only one open.

Wan Woo and I went grocery shopping for Christmas dinner.  I volunteered to make garlic bread and cookies, while the Master made seafood pasta.  On our way back from the store, we ran into another pilgrim who was traveling on her own and brought her back with us to the albergue for dinner.

The cookies proved to be a challenge.  The only store was open for only a few hours and had a limited selection – in particular, it had no baking powder, brown sugar, vanilla extract, or chocolate chips.  We were able to find some dried vanilla, which we cut up and ground into powder, and a few smashed chocolate bars were more than sufficient to replace the chocolate chips, but when it came to baking powder and brown sugar I was stumped.  Finally I just went ahead and made them with doubled white sugar and no powder, and they turned out fairly well.  Not my best batch ever, but considering the ingredients and the number of kilometers we walked today I was happy with them.  So were the others.

Dinner was delicious, and noisy.  The new pilgrim is German, so we’ve added another language to the table.  What a strange Christmas I’m having!

Expenses, Day 30
Albergue: 6.00
Dinner: 6.00
Provisions: 5.00
Total:  17.00
Trip Total: 685.83

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 16

Two nights ago we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar again, headed for the Atlantic.  I went out on the bow and watched for a while, as it was the perfect night for it and I missed the transit last time.

It's a sight that I will remember for a long time.  On the right were the lights of Spain and Europe, glittering in an orange line along the coast and away into the distance.  On the left they were matched by the lights of Africa.  In the center, just to starboard, the rock of Gibraltar stood silhouetted against this backdrop, an inky blotch of darkest black against the soft glow of orange halogens. 

Behind us (off the port quarter) the moon was beginning to rise, fading out the stars around it one by one.  Rows of freighters riding gently at anchor stretched off to the horizon on both sides; little towers of light in a glassy sea.  The night was calm and the ship was making little headway, but there was a gentle breeze coming from land that carried the dusty scent of North Africa with it.

Whenever I look at a map and see the strait, this is the image that I’ll remember.
Note: not my picture.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Camino Entry 29

Day 29, December 23rd, 2011

Grape vines in winter.
I picked some grapes this morning, left over on the vines in a vineyard.  They had almost thawed from last night's frost.  So good, so sweet, so cold.  I am reminded of William Carlos Williams:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


Whenever I feel homesick, the solution is to ask, "Am I absolutely certain that this is exactly what I should be doing right now?"  The answer is always yes.

I wonder if my demon on this camino is the need to arrive . . .

Expenses, Day 29

Café con leche: 1.10
Provisions: 5.00
Albergue: 10.00
Dinner: 7.00
Total: 23.10
Trip Total: 668.83


You know that it's cold in the albergue when you piss in the toilet and steam comes out.

We had a warm dinner, though.  Ernesto made paella, which I record the process of which here for posterity:

One stick of butter and a minced onion -- grill in pan.
Add raw rice and a cup of wine.  Mix.
Simmer meat and matching type of broth in pot with garlic.
Add broth and meat bit by bit to the rice and onions.  Cook down and eat.

We also had wine, ice cream with peaches, chorizo and artichokes with bread, and a Korean feast.  All in all, it was a triumphant feast.  Good comrades and good conversation, if a bit too much wine.

Two temporary additions to our group = Mardas, a Latvian, middle-aged guy with a pony tail who has been living on the camino for the past five years as sort of a traveling steward (he's a bit of a loner), and a young Japanese guy who has cycled from St. Jean Pied-de-Port.  He's gotten this far in only three days, and on a 30 euro bicycle that he bought in France!  And here I am, 29 days in . . . I daresay the thing will fall apart on him by Compostela, by the looks of it.

So, around the table we had (in no particular order) (and I include our nicknames):

1 American (me) (Superman)
4 Koreans (Warrior, Beauty, GPS, and Master)
1 Japanese (Samurai)
1 Brazilian (Joker)
1 Venezuelan (Beast)
1 Latvian (Mardas hasn't got a nickname yet)

No Ursula today, although she stopped by the albergue.  She is in a hotel for Christmas, and took a field trip today to see some incredibly old documents -- supposedly they are the oldest written Spanish in the world.

Languages spoken at the dinner table included: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Korean, and Japanese.  I am so lucky to be here, and I cannot imagine living without having this kind of experience.  How can people live their whole lives without realizing how big the world is?!?

I cannot imagine not having lived the past year in the company of people from all over the world.  They are my brothers and sisters.  I would not be a complete person without this experience.

And I definitely chose the coldest spot to spread my sleeping bag.  Ego and my reputation as a Michigander are at stake here, after all.  We'll see what ego thinks about that in the morning.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 15

I’ve really fallen off of the blog bandwagon lately.  I have no excuse other than the half-finished entry about Istanbul (first of two parts!) sitting stubbornly on my desktop, refusing to complete itself.  While I wait for that pot to come to boil, I’m going to write about today and my visit to the monastery-mountain of Montserrat.

View of Santa Cova from the cable car.
I’ve been to Montserrat twice before; once while working on the Grandeur, and once while on the Camino.  You can find the first visit here:

And my second visit here:

The Crystal Symphony is headed West again from Istanbul and with most of the day off today in Barcelona I decided to pay a third visit to the monastery.  It seemed only fitting – on my first visit, I had a powerful experience that led me to the Camino, and the second visit was the first major milestone on my road to Santiago.  A third, concluding visit was in order.

The train ride from Plaza Espanya takes about an hour.  It is amazing to me that I can cover that distance by train in only an hour when last time it took four days to walk.  Cataluña is either in the very end of spring or the very beginning of summer – either way, the thick, verdant green foliage is fresh and fragrant with the muscular power of summertime.  It’s going to be hot here, and soon.

The first view of the mountain was impressive, as always.  Tourists had their cameras out (that is, the tourists who didn’t have their bags lifted on the third stop . . . it was quick and surgical, I didn’t even notice the thieves until afterwards) and were snapping shots through the train windows, craning their necks at the peaks above and clicking their tongues in frustration when we went through tunnels.  Luckily, the cable car ride up the side of the mountain is a much better photo opportunity, and I was not disappointed with the flurry of shutters filling the tiny cabin as we sped through midair.

The chapel of Santa Cova was my goal.  This is apart from the main monastery and is built against the cliff at the spot where an image of the Virgin Mary was supposedly found over a thousand years ago.  It is a powerful place, one that inspires people to prayer, and even though I didn’t find what I was looking for last time I visited, it is still an important place in my personal history.

This time I had the chapel to myself.  Everything was just as it was the first time I visited – the grotto with its simple stone altar, the two rows of simple wicker furniture, the rack of candles burning softly in the back of the room.  It was quiet, quiet, quiet!  So quiet that I could hear the candles burning.  There have been very few times in my life where I’ve felt the need to pray, but something about the chapel of Santa Cova usually brings it out in me and this time was no exception.

The first time that I visited, I was just beginning to wake up and I prayed for the strength to act despite fear.  The second time, I was footsore and discourage, and I did my best to renew that wish.  This time, though, I sat there in that silent chapel, listening to the candles burn behind me, and had no idea what to ask for.

I got bored.  My mind wandered; it was stuck at a brick wall and so it went sideways.  I started thinking about all the places I’d seen since the first time I visited – the beautiful people I’d met, the weird things that had happened on the strange road to Santiago . . . I thought of the red brown dust of Cataluña, the relentless wind on the meseta, and the strange Basque language called Euskara.  I thought of the complex, captivating scent of Buenos Aires.  I thought of the sound of a carnival drum line starting up in Rio de Janeiro.  I heard the first call to worship in Istanbul echoing from the minarets around me.

And that’s when I realized it.  I had not come here to ask for anything, but rather to say thank you.  I said it, and then I said it again out loud.  I wanted to laugh, it was so simple.  That’s what prayer is; not asking, but giving.

There is a small room off the main chapel where people leave gifts, tokens to the goddess (er, the Virgin Mary . . . I’m reading too much Joseph Campbell lately and all the traditions are starting to blur together) in thanks for boons received.  I still had the last seashell from Finisterra . . . it had been tucked away in a tiny plastic bag along with my tuxedo studs, packed in my luggage when I left home again in February.  I didn’t know why I had brought it along until earlier that morning, getting dressed in the pitch blackness to the snores of my roommate.  The shell was an offering, a gift from the end of the world given to that which sent me there in the first place.  I left it with a string of other camino shells in the chapel – apparently I am not the first one to have had this experience.

Now I can finally come home.  This is an idea that will be developed more fully when I finally get around to posting those camino entries from Finisterra, but suffice it to say that I reached the end of the world only to find that the way back from a pilgrimage is just as important as the way there.  That’s why things felt so wrong when I arrived in Michigan in January – it wasn’t time to be home yet.  The way back had to be considered.

And with this visit to Santa Cova, I have found what I was looking for.  Now I can come home.  This journey, started March before last and almost three times as long as originally planned, is coming to an end.

Also, I finally got some pictures of a portion of the camino that I walked!  It was good to see the signs again.

A paving stone with the camino symbol, just outside the monastery.  This is one of the signs I followed on Day 6 of the camino.

A sign for the GR6, the trail I followed to Montserrat from Barcelona.  I passed this sign on Day 4 of the camino.

A sign I found in the cable car parking lot for an alternate path along the camino.  I did not take this path, but this is an excellent example of one of the ubiquitous yellow arrows.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Untranslateable Word of the Day 5/4/12

Untranslateable word of the day: Sohbet.

From Sadiq Alam:

the sufis say:
there are three ways to relate to the Divine:
one is prayer,
a step up from that is meditation,
and a step up from that is sohbet *.

* what sufi mystics mean by sohbet is difficult to translate in english. simply put, it means conversation of 'a totally different nature'. its conversation between friends of spirit and heart, its deep listening and transmission of heart as well. everything in the created cosmos are also in conversation always and those with attuned ears of the inner heart are able to listen to them.!/2008/07/stay-close-to-any-sounds-sohbet-is-deep.html