Many of you know that I was hired by Busted Halo to write blog posts from the Camino this past Spring. If you’re curious as to how this previously-unpublished writer got such an opportunity, I just published an article about how it all happened here. Enjoy:)
The air was too cold. The pillows were too fluffy. Really Rebecca? I just spent forty days sleeping in a different bed each night – each with a different pillow. Some with no pillow. And now here I was in a huge house overlooking the Western North Carolina mountains, sleeping in the Master Bedroom which has a bathroom bigger than most apartments I’ve lived in – and I’m complaining? Did I mention that my room has views of the mountains? And that it has not one, but two doors out onto the deck (one from the bathroom, no less)? Oh – and what about the Jacuzzi tub?
I climbed out of the bed that seemed big enough for three people, and wandered out into the living room in search of a throw pillow that would suffice. As I settled back into bed, I realized it was September first. I reflected back on the different beds I’d been in on the first day of each of the past few months.
On May 1st I was at my parent’s house. Four days earlier, I had returned to New York from a three week trip to Italy. In eight more days I would leave for Spain. Why come home in between? Because one of my favorite cousins was getting married. And I had the honor of doing one of the readings during the ceremony. (Which I SO MUCH prefer to actually being in the wedding.)
On June 1 I went to sleep in Mansilla de las Mulas, Spain. It was my twenty-second day walking the Camino to Santiago. It had been nearly 100 degrees that day. I had walked 26.4 km (almost 16 miles). There were no beds left in the town when I arrived around 5 pm, so Vincent – who’d walked all morning with me and also had no place to rest his head – offered to join me on a walk to the next town – 5.7 km (3.5 miles) away. The short version of the story is this: a woman in charge of a hostel found us in the street and told us it was too hot to continue walking. We found ourselves the recipients of two spare mattresses she had, which she laid out in a hallway lined with windows overlooking a courtyard below. While all the others in the hostel (who had arrived in town hours before us) shared rooms with that housed a dozen people each, Vincent and I had a space to ourselves – quiet and with a great view. Having had long discussions with young Vincent all morning on fate and everything-happening-for-a-reason, the irony of our situation was not lost on us.
On July 1, I was in a hotel room – all to myself – in Southwestern Virginia. I had just spent the previous six hours driving five high school students from Staten Island toward our destination: A Habitat for Humanity trip in Eastern Tennessee. By the time we got in and had dinner, I had a mere hour to enjoy my room before I had to go to bed – I needed my sleep in order to be ready to get on the road the next morning by 7AM. This trip, I later learned, was to remind me why I’d never want to teach in a high school.
August first found me in Asheville, NC – my new home. Once again I found myself appreciating a room to myself. And a bathroom that was pretty much mine as well. Not to mention that all this was being offered to me rent-free by folks I had met five months earlier on couchsurfing.org. Whose life is this? Who tells people she just met a few hours earlier that her next mission is to move to Asheville and start an organizing business only to have them say, “We’d love to help you with that – you can live with us while you get yourself settled in here. Oh – and they’ll always be food on the table.” What? Really? Is this my life?
So here I was, on September first, up on a mountain in Franklin, NC with four fellow writers. We rent a home every year and come just to write. Well, it used to be every year. At our February gathering on Kiawah Island, Lois decreed we should do this twice a year. So here I am.
Normally, I’m low man on the totem pole when it comes to rooms. I’m the youngest. I can sleep anywhere – and have. But this time, the ladies thought we should pick rooms “out of a hat.” When I opened up my little paper and read the word “Master,” I thought, no way. There was no way I was going to end up with the Master Bedroom. I was ready to trade it with someone who really needed it. But Pat (the oldest of our crew) declared that her room on the lower level would be good for her – she needed the exercise of walking up the stairs. Lynne took her pick of the lower level “toy room” in good stride. Stacey traded for the lower level room with the desk in it. The Master Bedroom was mine.
Lois also decreed that we should stay for two weeks if we could. I can’t, so my suite will be given to someone else on Saturday. That made me feel a little better about being the youngest and being in the best room.
As I settled back into my bed that night, I had to laugh at myself. If it’s true you get what you put out to the universe, I must be putting out some really good stuff. Hopefully, I can continue to pay it forward.
The next morning, as I tossed towels over each of the three A/C vents in my room (I’m spending the week with three post-menopausal women and wouldn’t dream of asking them to adjust the A/C), I thought “Would I rather be back on the Camino on a top bunk in a room with 11 other people?” Well, I’d give anything to be back on the Camino honestly. But am happy to not be sharing rooms anymore. Been there, done that.
So the next day, I filled myJacuzzi tub and dropped in some bubble bath. I sank down into the warm water and turned on the jets, determined to enjoy every minute of this life I’ve been given.
As I turned a corner in the grocery store, I saw a gentleman standing beside a table of wines. In the second it took for me to register what was happening, he asked, “Would you like to try some wine?” Oh – that’s right, I thought, I now live in a state that sells wine in its supermarkets! As if I needed another reason to love Asheville….
“Of course!” I said to him. Is there any other answer to this question? I tried the Riesling and then – surprise, surprise – started chatting with him. I now live in a state where talking to strangers is quite common. This isn’t just idle chat – people have full conversations with cashiers when checking out, even if there is a line of people waiting behind them. And the people behind them don’t mind! Because they’ll do the same thing when they get to the front of the line. I can’t say I miss the impatience of New York life, but my father will feel like he’s on another planet when he comes to visit. The slower pace of life, however, will be nothing compared to the people he’ll see walking the streets of Asheville, but that a whole other story. Back to the wine guy.
Turns out my friendly neighborhood wine distributor just moved to Asheville. This is no surprise. There are few natives who live here – most everyone has moved from someplace else. We talked about starting our new lives in Asheville and what we loved about it (the friendliness of people, for one). After offering me a taste of the Pinotage (Fair Trade wine, no less), he got to telling me about a musician that was playing Friday night downtown. I should come, he suggested.
So I did…enjoyed some lovely jazz guitar, delicious wine, conversation with all sorts of interesting people. Before wine guy left, he offered me his extra ticket to the wine and food festival happening the next day (Asheville was voted one of the top 10 food and wine destination in the country. Nope…didn’t know this when I moved here.) Of course, wine guy knows never to leave a woman alone at a bar, so before he left he introduced me to someone we’ll call guy Number Two. Number Two suggests we head out for another drink, and whisks me away to his favorite place. Turns out I’ve been there before, and know the manager of the place. Met him and his wife at a wedding back when moving to Asheville was still a pipe dream.
I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s a snapshot: the next twenty four hours finds me checking out the newest place in town with an actual local (review : clearly created for hipster tourists, not someplace the locals will ever call home), eating and drinking and meeting people from all over the country atthe Asheville Wine and Food Festival, sharing mixed drinks out of community cups passed among the crowd at the festival (it’s alcohol…it kills everything, right?). Saturday night finds me sitting on a blanket at the Shindig on the Green listening to more live music with a friend I met hiking a few weeks ago. We spill the dirt on our lives pre-Asheville, and our dating hits and misses since arriving.
The list goes on…contradancing last night, an invite to minor league baseball game tonight, hiking tomorrow. Yesterday I did manage to squeeze in an interview with a tutoring company and a meeting about starting a small business, so will soon have money to fund my adventurous life in western North Carolina. Though you don’t need much – nearly everything I mentioned in this post was free or gifted to me.
This morning I went to meet fellow returned Camino pilgrims at our weekly Pilgrims Anonymous meeting. “You seemed so excited about living here when you came to our first meeting, I was hoping you wouldn’t be disappointed,” said one kind gentleman. Today he was happy to hear that indeed that wasn’t the case. Asheville, in just one month, has delivered in every possible way.
Before my parents took off for the weekend, they asked if I could do them a favor and drop something off at my grandmother’s house. I agreed – not just to maintain my #1 Daughter status, but also because I was moving in less than a week and visiting Grandma was something I needed to do before I left.
Time with Grandma, however, wasn’t on my checklist. I had to pack for my move. Call the editor of Busted Halo with a decision as to if I would again blog for them. Answer the fifty e-mails sitting in my in-box in my quest to get down to zero before I left.
Instead of doing any of that, I sat on the internet looking up delicious-sounding vegetarian dishes. I switched over to BustedHalo.com. I perused the other articles, trying to figure out how/if I could fit in and what angle I would take. I went to the posts I had written earlier, and that’s when it hit me.
I started to print all the posts I’d written about the Camino (on white paper) and the comments (on yellow paper). When I was finished, I called Mom and Dad to find where they stored a three-hole-punch. I punched all the pages and put them in a black one-inch thick binder. Then, I headed to Grandma’s.
As I walked toward the front of her building, I saw her and one of her friends heading out. “Where you going?” I asked.
“Oh – I completely forgot you were coming!” Grandma said. “We’re going to pick up Chinese. Why don’t you come?”
Getting in a car driven by my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t something I was looking forward to. I was a little slow on the uptake and agreed – later wondering why I didn’t just offer to drive. Off we went. I tried to look out the side windows, or at the speedometer hoping she wouldn’t go too much faster than I would have.
The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Probably because the Chinese food place was less than a mile away and only required right turns. We brought the food back to her house and sat down to eat. I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’ve eaten anything other than Italian food at my grandmother’s home. I felt a little like I was in another dimension.
She asked about my trip and, as happened frequently since I’ve returned, I stumbled over where to start, what to say. But I had a book of words I had written along The Way. I don’t think Grandma fully understood what the binder was when I handed it to her, but she promised to look at it before I came back two days later for the traditional Sunday meatballs. (Note: Sunday would be the first time I headed to Grandma’s and would not eat meatballs as I’d become a vegetarian three months earlier, but I wasn’t going to get into that yet.)
That evening, back at Mom and Dad’s, the phone rang. I don’t usually answer their phone as I don’t really live there and the calls are not usually for me. But the caller ID said it was Grandma, so I picked it up.
“I just had to call,” she said. “I’m three-quarters of the way through your book and I just can’t put it down!” Well, apparently she could since she had to put it down in order to call me…but that’s beside the point. “This is just so amazing. I feel like I’m right there with you. I can’t believe you did this.”
Though I had printed out the comments more for me to relish in later than anything, Grandma loved those too. She was amazed, like I was, that total strangers wrote responses to my posts.
During this conversation, it struck me that the best part of writing for Busted Halo while I was on the Camino was this: that I had a book my grandmother could read to understand a bit more about what I had just accomplished.
On Sunday, I went to Grandma’s and turned down meatballs explaining I was a vegetarian.
“Well, at least have some of the sauce,” she said.
“I can’t eat that either.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because you cooked the meatballs in the sauce.”
“Really?” She scrunched up her face, thoroughly mystified.
She scoured the refrigerator. Like any Italian grandmother would have, there were plenty of other choices in there. She breathed a great sigh of relief when I accepted her offer of roasted red peppers.
Since arriving home from the Camino I have attempted to write new posts for this blog with very little luck. I have at least six started that I never finished – they just didn’t seem to express what I wanted to convey. Probably because I don’t really know what I want to convey.
Because really, what do you say upon returning from a year of adventures? I don’t know if it’s possible to “sum it all up” – I still feel like the whole thing is just too raw, too recent to reflect on at this point. Many lessons learned might not even surface for a few more months – or I might not recognize them as such for years.
The two biggest changes I made are within myself – and they are changes not meant to be posted on a blog. One has been discussed with a few friends, the other is something I’m holding close to my heart. But it tumbled out of my mouth when talking to a friend a couple weeks ago, quite unexpectedly. I wasn’t holding it in on purpose. I’m not one for secrets, so I surprised myself by holding in this revelation for as long as I did (a mere six weeks). And then surprised myself again by the choice of person I chose to reveal it to. I wondered why that person, of all those I know, would be the one to whom my heart would choose to share such a personal thing.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I could see not revealing it again for a long time. It’s not something that anyone would outwardly notice. But thanks to this insight, I’ve noticed the change in who I am nearly every day.
So there it is…
I’m not sure what will come of this blog, the way I write it, if I write it. I make no promises. Perhaps I’ll get back into “the groove” and update you all on my adventures in my new hometown. Perhaps I’ll move on to other things. Perhaps I just needed to write and say, “I have no big message after returning from my sabbatical.” Perhaps that’s because I didn’t really return – I didn’t go back to the apartment I left, to the town I left, to the jobs I left. I returned – but to what?
Early in my Camino, I had a dream I was pregnant. In the dream, I was surprisingly okay with the idea. I say “surprisingly” because for most of my life I have not wanted to have children.
“Maybe it’s a sign of a new self that you’re birthing,” Mona, a fellow pilgrim, told me. “When you dream about birth, or death actually, they say it can be a sign of a big change — part of your old life dying and something new being born.”
After walking 12 miles, Philipp and I were relieved to arrive at the albergue in Tosantos, Spain. We were greeted by Dani, a volunteer serving as the welcoming committee, chef, and housekeeper that week. We left our packs in the hall and followed Dani into the living room.