Summer Plans Part 1 (or San Antón Part 2)

This summer marks the first year I will be able to travel for multiple weeks in Europe without having to:

  1. Quit my job.
  2. Find a job upon my return.
  3. Live off my savings.

Why? Because I did a most stunning thing one year ago: I accepted a full-time teaching position.

I’ve been on the planet long enough and among enough teachers to know that you don’t take a teaching job for the vacation. But let’s be honest here: it’s quite a perk.

  • Eight full weeks every summer.
  • A week at Thanksgiving.
  • Two weeks at Christmas.
  • One week for Spring Break.
  • Plus a myriad of other holidays.

Oh — and they pay me over the entire year. In other words, while I am walking across France this summer, money will get deposited into my bank account. Twice.

Walk across France? Well, not exactly. Across 300 miles of it. Beginning in Le Puy-en-Velay.

I first heard of Le Puy-en-Velay in 2012 on my first day of my first walk along the Camino de Santiago. Complete strangers would begin conversations with me and inevitably ask where I started my walk. “St. Jean Pied-de-Port,” I said, thinking that was the only starting point. Nope. Turns out people walk out their doors in Toulouse, Paris, Geneva and head towards Santiago. I met more than a few people who started in Le Puy and said the scenery was stunning and the food was amazing. “One day, I want to walk that route,” I thought.

Note: I did not think that on the first day of my first Camino. On that day I carried mostly things I’d  borrowed or bought used because, I told myself,  I’m only doing this once, so no need to invest in gear and clothing I’ll never use again. Ha.

I also thought I’d never be a classroom teacher. But for the vacation, and a few other more noble reasons, I accepted that position. And within minutes, I began plotting my summer.

Mission one: contact Rebekah Scott. Why? Well, that’s a bit of a story . . .

There were two things I knew after I completed my first Camino:

  1. I wanted to do it again.
  2. I wanted to be a hospitalera.

A hospitalera is a volunteer who spends two weeks caring for pilgrims at a hostel along the Camino de Santiago. This means, on any given day, I could be a listening ear, a counselor, a cook, a cleaning lady, a tour guide, a first responder, a leader of evening reflection, or all of the above.

Tosantos, 2012: Our hospitalero is at the head of the table. To my left: new friends from Germany, US, and France. Across the table: another French friend and the four Italians who helped out the hospitalero by cooking us dinner that night.

I had the pleasure and luck of being under the care of more than a few incredible hospitaleros over the course of my Caminos–including one man who literally gave me his own shirt to wear when I thought everything I owned was infested with bedbugs. He also washed the entire contents of my backpack. And when his generosity overwhelmed me, and the tears started flowing out of my rash-covered body, he hugged and consoled me.

I never got his name. But I will never forget him. And I wanted to, in some way, pay it forward.

In September, 2015, I–quite unexpectedly–got my chance.

My friend Lois and I were walking the Camino Francés (wish #1: check). It was her first Camino (and only Camino, she promised me), and I was accompanying her not just as a friend but as her travel agent, walking coach and translator.

Long before we left on our trip, one of the places I told Lois I wanted to stay was the ruins at San Antón: an albergue (hostel) in the ruins of a 16th century church. No hot water. No electricity. And therefore certainly not someplace Lois would have chosen. “Anytime we can stay in a place that has sheets and towels, we’re going to do that,” she’d told me. Electricity was kind of implied.

But she also said she wanted to “experience it all,” so though I offered that she could stay elsewhere while I spent a night at San Anton, she insisted that wasn’t necessary.

Soon after arriving at San Antón on September 26, 2015, we registered to spend the night and chose our bunks. Then I went to do some research. San Antón is run by hospitaleros and I wanted to know all about their experiences. Sylvia (from South Africa) patiently answered all of my questions. She stopped sometimes to register new pilgrims, or I stopped sometimes to chat with pilgrim friends as they came in.

Sylvia (L) and Lois inside San Antón.

Michael and Lisa — a couple from Atlanta who became our best friends along the Camino route — walked in and over the course of our conversation the idea of volunteering came up. “I could do it at a place like this,” Lois said.

“Without power or hot water?” I asked.

“Yep. I would.”

A few hours later Rebekah Scott came by. I’d read her blog and knew her the moment I saw her. She was the woman in charge of coordinating volunteers for San Antón, I introduced myself and told her one day I’d love to volunteer here. It was then that I learned they, in fact, needed some volunteers. Tomorrow night.

From l to r: Patrick (Rebekah’s husband) Rebekah, and me

Usually there are two or three volunteers, and they stay for two week periods. For reasons I’m still not sure of (scheduling issues I think), after that night, there would only be one. One person to care for twelve pilgrims. Check them in. Make them dinner. And breakfast. Listen to them. Console them. Care for them. Clean the kitchen, bunk room, and bathroom after they all left. And welcome all the other pilgrims that just stop in to see the ruins throughout the day.

I saw my chance, but then thought of Lois, and watched my chance float on by. There was no way Lois would stay here another night. So when they asked me if I’d like to volunteer for a couple nights, I said I would love to if I was on my own, but I was traveling with a friend . . .

But then I remembered Lois’ earlier comments. And her saying to me, over and over, “This is your trip, too. So if there’s something you want to do, you just say so.”

I found Lois sitting on a bench in what used to be the nave of the church . “Hey Lois?” I started.

“What’s up, kid?”

“Well . . . ” my words tumbled out quickly before I lost the courage to ask them. “They’re going to be short a volunteer the next couple of nights and they asked if I wanted to do it, but I said I couldn’t because I was with you, but then I thought maybe–”

“Of course!” Her face lit up. Not, I think, because she wanted to stay two more nights but because she genuinely wanted me to be happy.

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely, kid. You’ve wanted to do this for years. And this is why we planned so much time for our walk–so if things came up and we wanted to spend more time some place, we could.”

I hugged her and we went back to share the news with the volunteers. Rebekah declared, “Tonight, you two will stay here as pilgrims. Then, tomorrow morning, after breakfast, you’ll be hospitaleras.”

After asking Sylvia a million questions about the life of a hospitalera, she handed me the hospitalero guide. Here I am reading it cover to cover.

——————

To be continued . . . 

Note: If you would like to contribute to the care and upkeep of the pilgrim hostel at San Antón, please visit here to purchase a fascinating little book about its history.

 

 

How to get to Europe for $183.53

If you want to go to Europe and think flights are too expensive, stop saying that. Here’s how I paid a grand total of $183.53 for a flight from Newark to Madrid (via Dublin) and returning to JFK (via Dublin).

  1. Apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. There’s no annual fee for the first year, and it’s a $95 fee per year after that–but you can just cancel the card before the year is up if you don’t want a fee-based credit card.
  2. Charge $4000 on the card in the first three months. I don’t usually spend that kind of money in three months. But I learned I could pay my rent via credit card, and in previous years when doing this I’ve contacted family members for help. One sister charged her new appliances to my card, another charged her LASIK surgery to my card, Dad charged some business equipment he needed, etc. (I don’t recommend this unless you have nice family members like mine who promptly paid me back.) Also note you can link your card to your Amazon account and to Paypal so anything you buy with those will help you get your points.
  3. Set up on-line access to your Chase account (you’ll need this later).
  4. Sign up for an Avios account (that’s British Airways frequent flyer program).
  5. Once you charge your $4000, in 4-6 weeks you’ll have 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (4000 for each dollar you spent, and a 50,000 point bonus for doing it in 3 months). Actually, you’ll have more than that–they give you double points for every dollar you spend on travel and food purchases.
  6. Now call British Airways. (Yes, call–their web site told me it’s not possible to do this online right now.)
  7. Find out if they have seats available on the days you want to go (I booked 4 months in advance). Do not look for flights on British Airways or Iberia — the additional taxes are ridiculous ($1000 on the flights I initially wanted). Instead, ask them to look at your flight options on Aer Lingus (as of December, 2016, British Airways can book Aer Lingus flights). You’ll have to get to mainland Europe via Dublin, but for $183.53 I’m sure you can handle a layover. (While you’re there, get something you can put butter on. Their butter is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted!)
  8. Once you know your flights are available, go online and transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Avios points (that’s the British Airways frequent flyer program you signed up for in Step 4). You can make this transfer in about 45 seconds while you’re on the phone with British Airways. The transfer happens immediately.
  9. Book your flight. Pay your $183.53 in taxes.
  10. Brag to your friends.
  11. Get in touch with me and tell me about the awesome trip you just booked.

I’d recommend getting your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card through this link, because the guy who taught me how to use British Airways points on non-BA flights (Brad at RichmondSavers.com) will get a little money if you do, at no extra cost to you. It’s the least I can do for him. Oh, and if you want to get to get your whole family to Disney World for free, he’s your guy.

You can also learn a whole lot more about earning miles without leaving the ground by heading over to Chris Guillebeau’s site. His site is where I first learned about this concept (called Travel Hacking) many years ago. And it’s thanks to his site, travelhacking.org, that I earned over 200,000 miles the first year I tried all this.

A Camino Surprise

“When you think of the Camino, what’s the typical scene you see in your head?” Michael asked me. We had been talking about walking the Camino de Santiago together next summer and Michael, true to form, was beginning his research. Or so I thought.

“Well, there are lots of different scenes. It depends on which part of the trail you’re on. In the Basque country there’s more woods than on the Maseta. Sometimes you’re walking on dirt farm roads, sometimes on trails . . . ”

“Yeah, but if you had to pick just one scene you would say gives the best picture of what it’s like–”

“Well, I guess I’d say the scenes from the Maeseta. It’s flat — but not like Kansas-flat. There are some hills, and you can see the path stretching out into the distance. And there’s usually a church steeple in sight–that’s the next town. And of course you can see other pilgrims on the trail ahead of you–sometimes way ahead of you.”

We continued on and I didn’t think anything more of Michael’s question until my surprise birthday party. As I greeted guests in the living room, I walked by our bedroom, then did a double take. What was that on our bed? Yes, coats were piled all over it, but at the top of the bed, leaning against the wall, was a three by four foot painting. I recognized the style and the scene right away and tears sprung to my eyes. I knew instantly: Michael had somehow tracked down my friend Jane, a painter who had walked the Camino, and commissioned her to do a painting of the scene I’d described to him. There were the hills. The pilgrims on the path ahead, the church steeple in the distance. And in the front left corner, sitting on the side of the trail writing, was me.

My 40th birthday gift from Michael

How he found Jane I wasn’t sure. He’d never met her. At the Farmer’s Market a few months earlier we’d run into my friend Janet and I remember telling Michael, “She and her partner Jane walked the Camino.” And I must have mentioned that Jane painted scenes of it while she was there.

I later learned that Michael tried to find Jane on my Facebook page, but had no luck (she’s not on Facebook). Then he started Googling: Jane, Camino, painter, Asheville. And eventually he found a web site that might be hers. He looked through her work, and when he found paintings done of the Camino he knew he’d found the right person.

A couple weeks after my birthday party, Michael, Janet and Jane explained to me how it all happened. “I went to meet Jane at the Asheville Gallery of Art ,” Michael said, “to see her stuff and talk about what I wanted. ” Jane recalls Michael said he was thinking of something about “three by four.” She thought he meant inches. “And I thought, wow, that’s really small. How am I going to do that? Then he said ‘feet’ and I thought, Wow, that’s really big! How am I going to do that?”

Then he said he wanted me in it. “But in an abstract kind of way. She’s a writer, a blogger, maybe have her writing.”

Jane began her own research. She asked Janet to go on Facebook and find pictures of me on the Camino. Jane also pulled out the pictures from her own journey along The Way. She decided on colors. She sent Michael four possible poses for me. There are details only I would recognize. The orange stripe on my backpack. The red-orange shirt I wore almost every day. My green guidebook sticking out of the side pocket of my pack. Yet anyone who’s walked the trail will recognize the scene.

Jane and her masterpiece:)

Jane and her masterpiece:)

Whereas I wrote while on my first Camino, Jane sketched and painted. I’ve loved the idea of having a journal in which I could also sketch the images I see. The only problem is: I can’t draw. But Jane tells me anyone can learn to draw–and she teaches people how. So every Thursday evening in February, Michael and I and a few of our friends will become Jane’s students. And maybe one day I’ll be able to post not just my words on this blog, but maybe some of my sketches.


To see more of Jane’s work, visit JaneSnyderArt.com.

Becoming an Italian Citizen — Part 2 — “The Locals”

The first time I took Michael to New York to meet my family was on the occasion of Grandma Gallo’s 90th birthday party.

“How many people will be at this party?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Fifty?”

Fifty?” 

“Well, her four kids, and their spouses. That’s eight. Then there’s sixteen of us grandkids. So now we’re up to twenty-four. . . And some are married. . . Or bringing somebody. So that’s another ten or so. And then there’s the great grand-kids. . .And her sister. With her son and daughter-in-law. Maybe some other relatives.”

“And all these people are coming?” he asked again.

“Yeah.” I looked at him incredulously, “Why wouldn’t they? It’s her ninetieth birthday!”

“Well, it’s just a long ways to travel for one afternoon,” he said.

“Nah. They all live within twenty miles of Grandma.”

All  of them?”

“Well, yeah. Pretty much. Jessica’s in Albany, I’ve got a cousin flying in from Nevada, . . .”

Michael was amazed. “We’re Italian,” I said.

“Yeah, but still, people don’t stick around like that anymore.”

As is his custom, Michael asked me about this twice more prior to our arrival in New York. “They never left?”

“No . . . All my dad’s siblings have businesses in the area. You know that thing they say about Italians? Whenever we need something done, we’ve got an uncle who can do it? If I ever built a house up there my dad could do the plumbing, my Uncle John would do all the flooring, Uncle Dominic would do the electrical stuff . . . ”

“But what about the cousins?” he asked. “They never left either?”

I thought for a minute. “Well, some of us went away to college. But a lot stayed around, or came back.”

By the time we arrived in Poughkeepsie, Michael was ready. Every aunt, uncle, or cousin I introduced him to got the same two questions: “Where do you live?” and “How far is that from here?”

“They really do all live within twenty miles!” he said to me, as if it wasn’t true until he heard it directly from them.

This picture is only the grandkids and great-grandkids.

Grandma with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

This propensity for the Gallo’s (myself very much excluded) to stay so close to where they were born has been incredibly helpful when applying for my Italian Citizenship. Of the thirteen birth, marriage, and death records I need to get, nine were obtained from just three government buildings–located within three miles of each other. Apparently Grandpa Gallo’s father got off the boat at Ellis Island, came up to Poughkeepsie, and never left. He got married here, had his kids here, those kids got married here, then had kids here, and so it goes.

Most of the records I need, I got in these three buildings:)

Most of the records I need, I got in these three buildings:)

My Grandma Gallo’s family, however, did things a little differently. My grandmother was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1924. A few years later her mother, Frances, after bearing and losing another baby, got what my grandmother referred to as “milk leg.” Google tells me it’s a clot in the femoral vein. Frances was very sick and was told she wouldn’t live too much longer, and the best thing to do would be to move to the country. So they moved 90 miles  north, to Poughkeepsie. Frances lived to be 92.

What does this all mean for my Italian Citizenship? That my grandmother’s birth certificate is in Brooklyn, NY. If you grew up in NY State you know everything is different in “The City.” Including the level of difficulty and time it takes to get legal documents.

I could have ordered the document on-line, but, since my grandmother is still alive (at 92!) the credit card to which one charges the $15 fee must be in her name. She doesn’t own a credit card.

So in June of 2016 I got a copy of Grandma’s state issued photo ID (what most of us call a Driver’s License, but she doesn’t drive anymore) and then I took her out to the bank to get her notarized signature on the form, which I then mailed to New York along with a copy of my license and a letter asking for a certified copy of her birth certificate and a “letter of exemplification.” I didn’t know what that was–just that everything I read on-line said I needed one if I was getting any documents in New York City.

Long story short, it never arrived. Or did and Grandma thought it was junk mail. I called to follow up and was told, no, they cannot send it to me–only to my grandmother. Nor can they send it “in care of” me. So in October my dear parents took dear Grandma to get her signature notarized once again. And once again I sent in my money and the forms and prayed the process would not take so long–my appointment with the Italian Consulate was now less than four months away.

My parents and I notified all those that visit Grandma, as well as her caretakers, to be on the lookout for it.

Thankfully, the document arrived last week–and I now, officially, have every record I need.

San Antón (Part 1)

I knew the Camino Lois and I set out to walk in the Fall of 2015 would be much different from the one I walked in the Spring of 2012. We’d be walking the same 500+ miles along the exact route I’d walked three years earlier, but I was alone that first time. And those of you that have traveled alone and with others know how vast the differences in those two experiences can be.

Lois, 73, requested that we sleep in places that provided sheets and towels whenever possible. Thankfully, though, she was not opposed to sleeping in the albergues (aka hostels) on occasion. “I want to experience it all,” she told me.

“Oh, good,” I said. “Because there’s one place I want to stay that I didn’t stay the first time.”

“Sure,” she said.

“It’s in the ruins of an old church. But it has no electricity. And no hot water. And definitely no sheets or towels. So if you want to stay in a different place the night I stay there, it’s fine with me.”

“Nope. That sounds like quite an experience,” she said. “I’m only doing this once, kid. And like I said, I want to experience it all.”

So on September 25, 2015–our 20th day on the Camino de Santiago–Lois and I left the town of Hontanas at 8:30 AM for the walk to San Antón. The albergue has only 12 beds–given out on a first come, first served basis–and I wanted to get there as early as possible in order to secure two of them.

Leaving Hontanas (Photo courtesy of Lisa Reagan)

Lois and I leaving Hontanas (Photo courtesy of Lisa Reagan)

An hour-and-a-half later we saw the arch stretching over the Camino.

Approaching the ruins an San Antón on the Camino de Santiago.

Approaching the ruins an San Antón on the Camino de Santiago.

The green wooden door that welcomed me inside the ruins three years earlier was now closed, but the sign pointing out the albergue around the corner was still there. So we veered around the side of the ruins, and the next sign we saw–taped to the the tall black iron gate–nearly broke my heart. “Completo.” Full.

I did my best to hold back my tears. “Let’s at least go in and see it,” Lois said.Entering the ruins

We walked through the gate and the magic I remembered from three years earlier was still there. The 16th century stone walls towered above us, gold against the blue morning sky. Dark blue sheets billowed on a clothesline. Tau crosses were carved into the top of the arched windows, now devoid of glass. We stood in awe.img_2383

 

“I get why you like this place,” Lois said quietly. I could only nod, afraid if I said anything the tears would fall.

“Welcome,” said a woman in accented English. Sylvia, we learned, was from South Africa. She was serving as a hospitalera (volunteer) welcoming pilgrim visitors and those who wanted to spend the night in these ruins. After listening to her give a little history of San Antón and its albergue I asked her, “How early do you have to get here to get a bed?”

“Oh, it depends on the day,” she said. “Right now we don’t have anyone booked for tonight.” I looked at her, my face screwed up in puzzlement.

“But the sign on the door . . .” said Lois. “It says you’re full.”

“Oh!” She rushed away from us calling out, “that was last night. We forgot to take it down this morning!”

I followed her, my heart racing. “You mean we can stay here tonight?”

“Of course! Now you know we have no hot water? And no electricity.”

“Yes. That’s part of the reason I want to stay,” I said.

She took us into the kitchen–a cement slab around which had been built cement walls, supporting a Spanish tile-covered roof. A long table ran down the middle, its center dotted with dark wine bottles holding white candles. A small propane stove filled the back corner, a sink next to it.

Sylvia pulled out the registration book, and with a big smile I handed her my credential. Little did Lois and I know this would not be our last night in San Antón.

Sylvia registering (a much happier) Rebecca in the kitchen at San Antón.

Sylvia registering (a much happier) Rebecca in the kitchen at San Antón.

 

Another Surprise

Several weeks ago Michael began researching hot tubs. “Just because we rent doesn’t mean we can’t have the things we want,” he told me. Even if such purchases require us to reinforce and extend the deck.

So a few days ago when I walked out onto the front porch and saw an outdoor heating lamp, I just rolled my eyes and went back inside. Michael had mentioned this potential addition to our life a few days earlier. Little did I know it was bought for a particular occasion: a large party Michael was having. Completely unbeknownst to me. In honor of my upcoming fortieth birthday.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary: My parents calling to say they wanted to come down to visit, Michael making plans for dinner and a show while they’re here, Michael hatching a plan for a male bonding adventure with my dad–helping reinforce the aforementioned deck–while Mom and I take off shopping.

So when Mom and I turned onto Shelburne Drive, I didn’t think anything amiss. I could’ve sworn a sign we passed said my name and the word “Compostela”, but that didn’t make sense. And all those balloons and cars? Well, the neighbors stopped by weeks ago inviting us to their fall party. And when I turned into the driveway and saw a fire pit that wasn’t there when we left? Well, by now I’m used to new purchases showing up around the house without my knowledge.

But then I saw Michael on the front stairs, and I read the large sign hanging from our deck–a sign that announced to anyone walking by exactly how old I will be in two weeks time. And just to be clear you knew who they were talking about, my picture was on it.

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But behind that sign is what brought tears to my eyes: a crowd of people larger than I would have ever expected to see at our house–because Michael always says it’s too small to host a large party. Turns out he was wrong.

There were people there from every part of my Asheville life:

  • David and Deanne, the wonderful couple in whose house I lived for seven months when I moved here.
  • Their son Fletcher who had no problem sharing his parents with me.
  • Mark and Linda, Lauren and John, Barbara, Chris S and Chris Y, with whom I’ve spent countless Tuesday mornings recalling Camino memories.
  • Barry and Margaret, Michael’s best friends who, four years ago, convinced Michael to move to Asheville.
  • Rick and Pamela, a couple Michael and I met while hanging out at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar a couple years ago (because talking to strangers is a perfectly normal way to meet people here).
  • And then all my friends from the Asheville Hiking Group (and the friends they’ve since brought into their lives, and now into  mine): Brooke, Julie, Sarah, Ashely, Ruth, Jewel, Anna, Jeff, Kim, Doug, Tracey. And Mike The Hiker. Who received that nickname when I lived with David and Deanne so they could distinguish him from “Dr. Mike”– and (eventually) Michael–when I sat around at their dinner table telling stories of my Asheville adventures.

On my 36th birthday, many of these same hiking groups friends sat around the table as Mike The Hiker told us about the woman he’d just met.  Three years later, she became his wife. And thank God for that. Because I understand Michael decided, just a couple weeks ago, that he needed some reinforcements for party preparations. And he called Mike and Ashley. Mike, who had his ACL replaced a couple weeks ago, and Ashley, whose first experience with our hiking group friends was an 8 mile hike that turned into 14. They didn’t hesitate.

“In your brace?” I said when I saw Mike on my deck. “You came and helped when you just had surgery?!”

“Oh, this was so entertaining!” he told me. “Watching Michael and your father trying to put that fire pit together, and then when the sign fell off the deck, and then . . .” My mother wished she had hired a videographer to catch all mayhem that she knew would ensue because Michael chose to have my dad stay back and help instead of her.

“We needed you out of the house for five hours,” Michael told me. “And you can’t survive alone with your dad for that long.”

“Oh, you should have seen Michael this morning,” my mother said. “He didn’t want you too hungry or tired because then you’d be crabby. But he didn’t want you too full because we were having all this food. And he didn’t want us to go shopping too early because then we’d get back too early.”

 

Well, he pulled it off. I arrived neither hungry, nor full, nor crabby, and spent the rest of the evening marveling at the event Michael (and Mike, Ashley, my parents, and friends) had all managed to put together.

Postscript: The heating lamp still stands on our front deck. Reinforcing the back deck? A hoax. The hot tub? Not a hoax. It will arrive in two weeks.

A New Year’s Valentine’s Day Gift (How We Met: Part 4)

My second date with Michael (or the third, depending on which of us you’re talking to) was one of those marathon dates newly-dating people do. We began mid-morning with a trip to Good Will to find sweaters for an Ugly Sweater Christmas party that night. After fifteen minutes, we had our choices. We put them on the scale (this Good Will Outlet charges by the pound) and Michael plopped down $3.18.

Bags in hand, we headed to a costume shop to hunt down matching costumes for a themed New Year’s Eve party the following weekend. Michael wouldn’t let me pay for those either.

New Year's Costumes

New Year’s Costumes

Hungry and not yet sick of each other, we shared a late lunch at my favorite restaurant downtown, and then took a walk around Asheville.

During the walk, Michael asked if I collected any art.

“Not really, but I’d like to start. I actually have my eye on a piece in a gallery here.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”

“It’s a ceramic boat. But on top of it is a scene that looks straight out of the Camino. There’s an old church, a path running in front of it, a little bridge crossing a creek. And you know what’s really funny? The piece is called, ‘The Pilgrimage.'”

Why I hadn’t bought it yet, I wasn’t sure. Or so I told him.

The following weekend Michael came to pick me up for the first of two New Year’s Eve parties we would be attending. I opened the door to my back porch to find him standing with a wrapped box in his hands. This was the third time he’d brought me a wrapped gift in as many weeks.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Well, it’s your Valentine’s Day gift, but I couldn’t wait that long to give it to you.”

Valentine’s Day was not even on my radar, let alone the thought that Michael and I would still be dating by then. Not that I didn’t think it possible, I just wasn’t in the habit of planning six weeks into the future when you’ve been dating for less than four.

I invited him in. He put the box down a table while I finished getting ready for the party. I opened the door to leave and he said, “You’re not going to open it?”

“I thought you said it was for Valentine’s Day.” 

“It is. But I want you to open it now.” I peeled off the paper, opened the box, and moved tissue paper aside to find The Pilgrimage. I stood there speechless, mouth agape, looking from him to the box and back again.

“I can’t believe you did this,” I said to him. “How did you . . . I didn’t even tell you what gallery it was in.”

“Yeah, that took some searching.”

In the car on the way to the party, Michael told me how he remembered the name of the piece, and what it looked like, so he Googled it.  Eventually he found a blog post I had written about it–a blog post that included the name of the gallery. 

He went to the gallery, but didn’t see it. When he then asked, he was told it had been moved into storage downstairs, so they went to get it for him. He plopped down his credit card and, four hundred dollars later, it was his. And now mine.

The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage

And that’s why I hadn’t bought it yet. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on myself. All in one place. And on just one thing–a thing that served no other purpose than to remind me of one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  Michael, however, thought I was worth it.