Man and cat have travelled all the way from Granollers, through France and hopefully soon to come over the Channel from Le Havre to Portsmouth, arriving late this evening.
So I am going to meet them and help with the last leg of a long journey to their new home. He’ll have to get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road soon but today, he can take a well deserved rest.
Looking out the window I think about the changes they will face.
One of which is The Weather!
All through July and August there have been sunny days but there have been many more windy and wet ones.
Interestingly when I directed my Skype camera out of the window I got the response
“How green it is!”
And that made me think of how you can concentrate on the gray sky or on the green grass. I don’t like to complain about the weather and I have been trying to keep a smiling face so as not to be a returning traveller who moans about the British weather. But it has started to get to me.
However, from now on I will be seeing the green all around me. It is true that when the sun shines all summer in Catalunya, everything turns a bit brown.
This is crazy – I want to write but it all feels too complicated to explain.
So here is my promise – I will write something in here every day for the rest of August and even if it’s short…..or boring…..or totally irrelevant……it will get me going again!
And to get me started here is a photo diary of the last few weeks.
It’s been a busy time but also a time for contemplation. Friendship, home, illness, loss, dreams, changes, fears, love, time passing. Thank you for visiting!
“I make spaces that apprehend light for our perception, and in some ways gather it, or seem to hold it…my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”
— James Turrell
I rented out my Cornish cottage, and arranged for other people to take care of the land. I was letting go while holding on.
We did our best to create a family home in Granollers where we lived with my partner’s adolescent son. The quirky old family house carried a lot of history. We painted and decorated, took holidays, ate meals, entertained visitors, worked side by side on various projects. We tried hard but it still wasn’t my home. I didn’t know why. I blamed myself a lot of the time.
New things were coming in and old things were disappearing. I was no longer working in my profession as an acupuncturist, I was learning both Catalan and Spanish, teaching English, not dancing tango. The struggle to create a positive relationship with my step-son left me feeling like a failure much of the time. It is hard to describe how you can be both happy and unhappy at the same time – that’s why I wrote this blog.
The Catalan Way helped me make sense of all the changes in my life.
‘The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home, and in your writing you are invoking that home, so you are assuaging the homesickness.’ – Joan Didion
I loved learning about a new culture and meeting so many warm and kind people who opened their hearts to me. I was lucky to find a kindred spirit in Granollers. Her new baby also provided me with a sense of family and someone small to care for. Last year,walking through the streets holding her sleeping in my arms, I realised that I had never before been left to care for a young baby. My heart was often singing.
I felt very alive in Catalunya – awake and present.
But there were difficult times too
I felt ungrounded, awkward with people who didn’t understand my faltering Catalan, tired of always being the strange one, guilty for taking my beloved dogs into a home with no garden and a resident spaniel who attacked Bonnie. I had to learn about step-families and gradually realised that the tension and arguments were totally normal and nothing to do with my own personal failure.
People expect women to magically mother those who don’t want it. I always longed for a child but daily rejection when you have no happy baby memories to call on is a bitter experience. Bonding with a step-child is very difficult and too often women are left alone to fail again and again.
What makes a house into a home?
‘If the day ever comes when they know who
They are, they may know better where they are.’ – Robert Frost, A Cabin in the Clearing
Five things that help us feel at home anywhere
We don’t need all of them, all the time but some of them, most of the time, helps us feel truly at home.
1. Safety – home is a retreat from the outside world and we need to feel safe at home. So we can let down our defenses and relax.
2. Friendship – whether we live alone or with other people, we cannot feel at home if there is too much tension or constant emotional distance. Be your own friend and live with people who wish you well.
3. Creativity – home is a place to be creative and express ourselves. If there is restriction on your creativity, a house won’t feel like home.
4. Solitude – sometimes we need to be alone at home, knowing you won’t be disturbed, so you can relax completely into being who you are.
5. Peace – life is often noisy and disturbing. Living with other people also means noise and disruption and sometimes this is wonderful. But if you live with unwanted noise and intrusion that you can’t escape from, then it is hard to feel at home.
On the Camino I felt at home on the road, and at home in myself. All five of the above requirements were met. In Granollers, in the house, far too often, it was hard to get more than one.
Now, back in Cornwall, I have all five again and as I understand better now what is needed, I hope I can help make this a home for us both.
In case you are wondering, my stepson is going to live with his mother, also going home in one way.
What do you need to feel at home? Have you ever lived in a place where your peace and tranquility were disturbed so much that you wanted to leave?
It’s terrible for me to leave these long silences here.
Every day there are words streaming through my head and I want to write them down and to send out a message to you. It is so interesting to be living through this shift in life direction.
I want to tell you about it but…….
These times of change and uncertainty have brought with them great self doubt and a strange inability to verbalise what is happening.
Normally when I am lost I use words as guide ropes to lead me back home.
Words can help you understand your experiences but sometimes they seem to be a distraction. I write and delete, write and delete. Words form on the page and a few minutes later they seem irrelevant.
Writing at times like this is like trying to grasp the wind. What is true in one moment has changed as soon as I have written it down. Like birds that settle on the branch just long enough to catch my attention but when I try to get close, they fly away.
Of course all this makes me quite anxious. For three weeks now I have had pain in my lower back which makes it hard to do the physical jobs that need doing. There is a constant knot of tension in my stomach. I woke today about 3.30am with all systems alert and slightly panicky.
I am home and yet feel lost and alone.
I have often advised people to let themselves be in these moments of crisis without fighting or trying to escape. To accept the need to rest when your body seems to fall apart. If you can’t write – then don’t write. If you feel vulnerable and self-conscious amongst people – then spend time alone. If you can’t do the garden, paint the house, unpack boxes, clean windows – then do nothing for a while.
But it’s not easy to follow this advice. I know that. It means trusting that life will move on by itself, without my pushing it, and that in time I will feel better. Words will flow and things will get done. Being with people will feel easy again and I will be able to lift and carry and eat without thinking of my back or my stomach.
This morning I watched a snail crawl up the window beside my bed. There were raindrops from last nights storm and as she moved so gracefully and effortlessly up the glass, she seemed to drink each water drop that she encountered. She didn’t go looking for it, but accepted what was there.
I thought how badly we treat snails and how beautiful they are when seen through glass, against the backdrop of wild flowers and a new day. For those moments she gave me the ability to just be present, in touch with the miracle of life in all its forms.
When you can’t write exactly what you want – write something anyway.
When you don’t know if anyone is there who wants to read it – write anyway.
When you haven’t got a clue what is happening – write something anyway and let it go.
Photographs and words are all ways we try to grasp the wind and so in part they are bound to fail, but at the same time, they give form to something that is utterly intangible – life.
Writing about the Camino is turning out to be harder than I expected. I don’t normally get writer’s block but something has stopped me up till now.
So let me write something quick and easy tonight – right now – without worrying too much about it or trying to get it ‘right’. I’m going to answer a few questions that people have asked me, dealing with practicalities. Let’s see what comes out.
Where did you sleep?
All along the Camino there are albergues, hostels run either by the church, by the local councils, or by private individuals. The private ones are slightly more expensive but only by a few euros. Generally you could expect to sleep in an albergue for 6-8 euros a night. Your bed will be in a dormitory unless you pay extra for a smaller room. The dormitories will have anything from 6 to 30 bunk beds and the rooms can be modern, clean and light or dingy, dark and cramped. It is best to get a lower bunk especially if you tend to need the toilet in the middle of the night.
Snorers are the main problem in albergues. We are not talking here about gentle snoring but it is almost inevitable that there will be at least one incredibly loud snorting, grunting, choking, room-vibrating snorer in every dormitory you visit. So you carry ear-plugs and you try to get to sleep before they do, and you practise loving-compassion and you accept that some nights you will be tossing and turning.
HOT TIP : push the earplugs deep into your ears
How easy is it to get vegetarian food on the Camino?
It’s not easy in most places but the bigger cities have greater variety of food. Every day there is tortilla – a thick omelette with potato and onion. But this is often what you eat at lunch time or in a walking break. You have to find something else in the evenings or just have tapas. Many but not all albergues have kitchens but remember that if you want to cook for yourself you may have to buy excess food and leave it behind.
HOT TIP : making friends on the Camino means that you can share cooking in the evenings so a bag of rice or pasta will do for 10 people and a new bottle of oil will be useful for everyone not just you.
The best food I had was in Albergue Verdi in Hospital de Órbigo. The volunteers who work there were professional chefs and all the food was vegetarian and often grown in the garden outside. And we had a delicious soup at the Albergue at San Bol at the beginning of the Meseta.
Was your backpack hard to carry?
Absolutely not at all.
I am a professional lazy walker and often rely on Pep to carry things when we go out hiking. I always imagined that because I have asthma it would be too hard to also carry a heavy bag. But on the Camino I carried my 7kg pack every day and hardly ever felt it to be a burden. On the one day it was uncomfortable, someone suggested I empty and repack it. This redistribution of weight transformed it from a heavy load to a feather light friend. I loved having all my stuff with me and enjoyed feeling I was carrying my own things. This was part of the freedom I felt – all I needed was on my back.
Did you meet interesting people?
On the first part of the Camino which we started at Pamplona, I felt quite shy about meeting people. I was with my little group and although we didn’t usually walk together we had company for lunch and at night. It took me time to get used to the easy-going chatty atmosphere of the Camino. By the time we reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada I had met a few people I felt easy with and from then on I found more and more friends.
Of course it’s easy for extroverts but don’t worry if you are more introvert, people are friendlier and more relaxed as the road winds on. I remember the couple who walked hand in hand the whole way – they were returning to walk the Camino together after meeting there the year before. I remember the woman from Peru who was carrying her father’s ashes to Finisterre because he had died before he could walk the Camino himself. There was a young shy German lad who held back from a communal dinner so I suggested we sit together because I also felt awkward at these times. Everyone started singing popular songs like Blowing in the Wind and suddenly his amazing and powerful voice rang out over the dinner table. He was a professional tenor. I promised to sing him a song in Catalan when we next met. But we never did meet again.
People come and go. We all walk at different speeds and unexpected things happen. Just as you get to know and like someone, you say goodbye one day fully expecting to see them again and then, they disappear over the horizon.
HOT TIP : If you meet people you like then get their emails or Facebook details early on and don’t assume you will find them again the next day.
HOT TIP : Don’t rush getting to know people. A lot of people talk about having a Camino Family but it all takes time to settle down. It is a long walk – there’s lots of time.
What problems did you face?
Of course there are also people you don’t like too much or who you find irritating. This was one of the special things about the Camino for me. I really tried to open to everyone and to notice myself when I started judging others. When I could remember to see everyone as if they were offering me a mirror to my own personality then I felt much easier. The main people that drove me mad were those invisible unknown women who left toilet tissue along the path after they had stopped to pee and those who threw their banana skins on the edge of the road. It was possible to walk for hours while fuming about this but when I noticed myself spoiling my own day in this way, I got out my plastic gloves and a bag and began to pick up all that I could see. I became the litter warrior and it turned into one of my happiest days.
HOT TIP : Even if you think banana skins and orange peel are organic, they actually take two or three years to decompose so it is still litter and leaves a lasting blot on the beautiful landscape. Take a bag and carry your rubbish.
I had many other problems including my encounter with a bed-bug, my blisters, and the tendinitis that eventually stopped my walk. I felt very emotional a lot of the time and had days when I laughed, cried and sang in quick succession. In my memory though the strongest thing that stays with me is the feeling of incredible happiness to be walking, to be free, to be out in nature, and to be doing something that I have dreamt of for so many years.