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?”


“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.