(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 25, 2005
Day 26: Melide to Arca, 34.5 km/21.4 m

fountainIn the morning, I found myself waiting by the fountain for Martin. Of course I’d be waiting for Martin—I only half believed that he’d really show. I decided I would spare 15 minutes, and I struggled through every second trying not to be angry for not getting an earlier start.

When it began to sprinkle, I abandoned my post and went in search of coffee, all the while questioning why I had agreed to walk another day with Martin and Nick. Was it because the day goes faster and there’s more laughter? Was it the security blanket of men and language? I liked Martin, very much, but I suspected that our moment had passed. We were certainly not going to have conversations of any real depth with Nick around, and I felt the growing need to enter Santiago on my own. Martin was undoubtedly going to grow into a caring, thoughtful, soulful man. For now, there was still a boy in him, and that boy exhibited very age-appropriate behavior.

With a cup of steaming brew in hand, I decided to pass by the refuge before heading out of town. I shouldn’t have. It would have been a far more fitting end to our journey had I ventured off on my own and left Martin to come to his senses without my judgmental eye. But no, there he was, heaped into a ball in the grass. I called to him and he stirred, harried and ragged. He explained that he’d been locked out of the refuge and had gone clubbing all night. He got in at 6 AM, slept through his alarm and awakened to an angry huéspeda kicking him out. His energy was just as offensive as his appearance. I would have preferred that he sleep off his hangover in the bushes, but he slung his bag over his shoulder and wobbled next to me, spewing all the way out of town.

melide
I let him ramble and complain for an hour, envisioning his tirade bouncing off the force field I’d projected around myself. I didn’t love him any less; I simply no longer wanted to be consumed by his energy. When he suggested we stop in Boente for breakfast, I told him that I needed to walk the rest of the way to Santiago alone. It didn’t surprise him. His eyes softened, and I looked into them for the last time. I knew that I would cherish him always.

I continued alone on the Camino and turned back a couple minutes later. He was standing where I’d left him, watching me. We waved a sweet goodbye.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 24, 2005
Day 25: Hospital de la Cruz to Melide, 29.7 km/18.5 m

There’s really no good sleeping in a full refuge. People and their night noises kept me on edge. So at the first signs of morning, I was packed and on the move. Of course, I didn’t have a crumb of food and nothing was open yet so I decided to make a three-hour beeline to Palas del Rei for breakfast. About halfway there in the tiny village of Eirexe, a sleepy Martin appeared outside the refuge talking with a few other pilgrims. He grinned when he saw me, opened his arms and said, “I’ll take that kiss now.”

I don’t know, something about the look on his face, the cockiness, the performance in front of his friends or, quite simply, my own fear of him made my defense shields go up. I turned my head as he approached and gave him a hug.

He said he wanted to walk with me, which I was open to, but he wanted me to wait for him to shower, pack his bag and get ready. I still had more than an hour’s walk to my next meal, so I told him I’d walk slowly and he could catch up. When he did, he was jovial but distant, which was more than likely my fault. I listened to him talk about nothing for a very long time. Then I finally asked if we could address the emails, and we sunk into a real conversation. I was able to tell him that for the first two days of my time with him he was sensitive and adorable, but the more attracted to me he became, the more possessive he was. I felt claimed by him, and he got aggressive in his behavior. I was no longer able to be open with him. He listened intently and compassionately. Then he copped to it all and apologized. He agreed that the more attracted to me he became, the more his behavior changed. He said he didn’t know what to do with his feelings, that he knew he was being rude at times but couldn’t stop himself. His teasing was an attempt to deflect his fears—feelings for me he didn’t know what to do with. I liked his honesty and defenselessness. He was able to express how much he’d thought about me and his behavior toward me, and how frightened he’d been of me. It was all very beautiful.

We stopped for breakfast and sat across from each other a little like old lovers. What had transpired between us was over for me but still, the reconnection was warming and welcoming.

Martin
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 23, 2005
Day 24: Sarria to Hospital de la Cruz, 38.1 km/23.7 m

I was eager to hit the road early after a night of too many people. I’d grown accustomed to the desolation of the Camino, to a limited selection of familiar faces, to the nothingness of the trail and the idleness of thought upon it. So now, as the number of pilgrims swelled, I was resisting their intrusion. I judged the people around me as being drawn to the novelty of the Camino not the work of it, the weariness, the unending boredom. How could you truly experience the Camino—and come face to face with either the emptiness of yourself or the fullness—if you traveled like a touring group of hikers on a weekend camping excursion?

I judged them, yes, but I also recognized that we each get the Camino we need. I just wanted mine to be less crowded. I’d also wanted it to be warmer and drier, but as I dressed, I could already hear the rain pattering the rooftop.

Way2Porto
I started early enough to escape the masses, and I slipped back into the comfort of my solo trek. The rain was steady and growing ever more insistent but, coupled with the fog and the clouds and the mesmerizing rhythm of my footsteps sloshing through the rolling terrain, I was overcome with gratitude for the beauty of nature and all its many expressions. I hadn’t expected it to rain too hard or too long so I’d neglected to put on my waterproof socks. That was a mistake. Because soon enough, the rain came with such ferocity that I felt like I was walking under the nozzle of a firehose.

bootsAs the hours passed without a moment’s pause, the magic drowned, and once again it was a walk of endurance. The conditions were testing both my body and my gear. I worried that the “waterproof” label on my pack was a false promise so I found shelter under a canopy of trees and secured everything first in ziplock bags, then inside plastic. My shoes of course were soaked through, and my feet were sodden. And even though my pants and jacket were still managing to shield me, they clung to me with a penetrating clamminess that made me feel drenched regardless.

After four hours, I was, quite simply, miserable.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 22, 2005
Day 23: O’Cebreiro to Sarria, 47.7 km/29.6 m

I awoke to the early morning beauty of O’Cebreiro and a stunning river of fog that trickled through the mountains. The town had marked my entrance into Galicia, and it was clear that it shared the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and Scotland. Despite being surrounded by the cutest round, stone houses with their straw rooftops and the endless shop windows advertising delightful wares, I was eager to hit the road and take advantage of what promised to be a dry day. I had a quick and nearly flat 6-mile jaunt that rose slightly to the second highest peak on the Camino, and then it was all downhill for another 20 miles or so.

RiverOfFog
My body had once again miraculously repaired itself during my 10 hours of deadened, uninterrupted sleep. I certainly hadn’t expected to put in another long day after the beating of yesterday, but the views that floated along with the river were so amazing that I couldn’t stop myself from ambling across the uncluttered countryside. The biting, bitter cold pressed into me, aided by a ferocious wind, but the absence of rain felt like a blessing. I burrowed into my coat but kept my head up, delighted.

pilgrim
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 21, 2005
Day 22: Villafranca to O’Cebreiro, 32.9 km/20.4 m

I’d walked for three straight weeks, averaging nearly 20 miles a day. When my bag and I had crossed the threshold of the Villafranca refuge, we’d ambled 401.5 miles together. Otherwise, I’d carried pain, questions, boredom, songs, joy, bliss, disbelief, wonderment and more than a few men.

It’s possible that Day 22 was the turning point. Of course I didn’t think about that at the time. Maybe I didn’t even know it until years later, sitting down to write about it. But on Day 22 I discovered something else about myself—something else I hadn’t known before.

It seems that I have untapped reserves of determination.

You see, the route to O’Cebreiro wasn’t just the steepest ascent of the Camino—a grueling 5-mile climb along a forested dirt path—it was the steepest ascent of the Camino in the rain. And to be clear, it wasn’t just rain; it was driving rain that would ultimately become a bombardment of hail in swirling gale-force winds.

It began gloriously enough. The drizzle that carried me along the highway out of Villafranca singed the surrounding mountainside with a dewy glow. Patches of green earth rolled out across the landscape in a visual masterpiece. I took it all in, but I was well aware of the forecast. I knew the weather would tire me, and I didn’t feel as though I could afford a long day. So I figured that as long as I felt strong, I would run.


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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 20, 2005
Day 21: Molinaseca to Villafranca, 32.9 km/20.5 m

Like every morning, I awakened having slept amazingly hard and deep. My body had shut down to repair itself through the night and my legs, once so fragile and sore, were somehow ready for another day. I didn’t really want to leave the magical oasis of this particular refuge. The people had filled me up so fully. But of course, I said my goodbyes and set off on my own. Simon was hanging back. There were a couple of German guys his age that he’d spent the night in the refuge connecting with. It was time for each of us to have our own experiences again.

The next big town on the Camino, Ponferrada, was only a few miles away. When I arrived, I stopped for coffee at a café outside both the castle and the Basilica. It was Palm Sunday, but since there were no palm trees, and therefore no palms, people were carrying branches of all kinds. It was magically beautiful. A procession formed in the town square—people walking purposefully toward mass.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 19, 2005
Day 20: Santa Catalina to Molinaseca, 42 km/26.5 m

When Simon and I, the two lone guests at the Santa Catalina refuge, awakened, Simon happily announced that he’d had four dreams during the night. It was exciting news given the fact that we’d all been sleeping so hard it made remembering dreams difficult. Having one felt like an event, but four of them was a galactic supernova from the netherworld.

Santa Catalina was smack dab in the middle of nowhere—meaning mostly that it would be a long walk for food. It did, amazingly, have an outdated, coin-operated computer in the refuge, however. I’d poked around on it the night before but didn’t manage to access my account. I tried again in the morning, to no avail. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if I had to live without email for a while but I had grown accustomed to it. And getting error messages seemed odd.


I headed out with my companion Simon, undeterred, knowing that after a few flat, boring miles, much of the day would be spent walking uphill. And if we thought the day before seemed desolate, today’s journey appeared as if World War II had swept through and only the ruins remained. There would be a bar and restaurant, with beautiful wood and tile inside, surrounded by nothing but rubble. El Ganso was the first of the hauntingly abandoned villages with their crumbled piles of stone, and then after a few signs of life in Rabanal del Camino, we came to Foncebadón. Once a thriving farming community, the exodus came in the 60s and 70s, and the few holdouts remaining relied on pilgrims for their sustenance.


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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 18, 2005
Day 19: Hospital del Orbigo to Santa Catalina, 28.9 km/18 m

Simon and I were up and ready with the sun. As I was making breakfast, Manfred joined us, his hair askew, his eyes slanted from sleep. He was still hobbling, and he thrust himself into the chair as if the music had stopped and he didn’t want to be caught standing. He admitted that he had attempted too much, and he was going to take the day off, hang back, rest, travel more slowly to Compostela. He hung his head in shame as he spoke, which made me sad. Walking the Camino is not a competition. Perhaps that was the realization he had come to. Or would come to.

I said goodbye to Manfred, knowing I would not see him again, and Simon and I left together. We walked through the woods in silence, and when we came to the old Roman bridge at the edge of town, we found the note that Manfred and I had left for Simon the night before. Although he’d not seen it, he had decided to stay at the remote refuge anyway. It was kismet that kept bringing him to me, I thought.

Out of Hospital del Orbigo, the landscape began to roll again with gentle hills, and we moved up and down through the sparse landscape toward Astorga. The sun arrived and the temperature climbed to 70 degrees. For the first time, my jackets were both stuffed into my pack, and my sleeves were rolled up.


Simon, with his careful eye and expert camera, logged our journey on film while I wrote down scattered thoughts in my journal.

The villages in Spain are dying. Old people with sad eyes and so little. The Camino can’t sustain them. I see why it is moving closer to the roads; there may be no refuges to support the pilgrims at some point.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 17, 2005
Day 18: Leon to Hospital del Orbiga, 33.3 km/20.7 m

Leon was the biggest city on the Camino, which meant it was also the best shopping opportunity, and I spent part of the night searching for good insoles to replace the ones in Simon’s shoes that were blistering his feet. To no avail.


If I was in the US, I could have gone into any drugstore and spent 15 minutes in front of an entire rack of insoles trying to make a decision on which to get. But in Spain, hours went by, and shop after shop, with not one pair in my midst. It was the biggest difference between me and my fellow pilgrims: gear. I had spent real time and money making very specific gear choices before I left, and so I was prone to noticing what others had selected. “Waterproof” was the word that might have been the first real differentiator, followed by “weight.” For instance, my pack, made by GoLite, was made of parachute material that was both light and (largely) waterproof. The amount of handy pockets on the outside as well as the netting and straps and loops on which to hang things were all clearly added by people who’d gone before me—not necessarily on the Camino, just out in the wilds where small details become godsends in an instant. I seemed to be among the very few with such thoughtful godsends.

GoreTex was another favorite word of mine. Along with SealSkinz—socks and gloves. But CamelBak was like a revolutionary invention to those who saw mine. Imagine: a pliable bladder filled with water attached to a suck tube—it meant no fumbling with bottles. Ever. Mine was the only one I saw for the entire 335 miles to date. (And since I’d spent the night adding up all the mileage numbers I’d scrawled in the margins of my guidebook, I knew the current distance).

It shouldn’t have surprised me that insoles were not to be found. I did spot a nice pair of orange socks, however, and I stood longingly contemplating them. One of my outer sock layers (the black Pearl Izumi’s) was reaching retirement (the heels were threadbare). I certainly could have gotten more mileage out of them, and I wasn’t looking for their replacement, but when I saw the orange socks, the official color of my Camino, the black ones were doomed. The orange socks seemed to be the perfect size and thickness. And they were crazy cheap. As soon as I got them, I sat outside the shop, pulled off my GoreTex boots, ripped off the Pearl Izumis and bid them farewell. The next 200 miles were going to be traversed in orange socks!

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Welcome. For those of you who are new, read on. For those who are returning for updates, scroll down…

I’m taking a short break from writing about my travels across Spain to continue with the Jeanette story, otherwise known to this website as “An Assault in Venice.” To read the story from my perspective, you can start here.

To donate to the Jeanette Facial Surgery Fund via PayPal, click the button below.










You do not have to have a PayPal account to donate. All donations, large and small are not just happily accepted, they are gratefully received.

I will, through this website, give periodic updates regarding the amount of donations received, as well as details of the surgery, which is scheduled for March 15, 2012.

UPDATE 1

I got good people! Such good people. That’s not a surprise. The outpouring has been nourishing and lovely. I’m ever so grateful.

Within minutes of me blasting out my email about Jeanette and asking for donations, they began magically appearing.

Amy responded nearly on the heels of me clicking the send button and responded simply with “Done.” And then, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help Jeanette in some small way.”

Many of you wrote that to me…

From Laura: “Thanks for this opportunity to help Jeanette.”

From Kristie: “God bless you for doing this for all of us.”

From JoDee: “Thank you for the update and for the opportunity to help make Jeanette’s life a little easier.”

From Jill: “You both have my support.”

Robbyne wrote, “This is such an issue for me, our lack of decent health care in this country.”

From Deb: “God bless you, Tess, for documenting, believing, supporting and championing Jeanette.”

From Melissa: “Anything for you.”

Others simply donated without acknowledgment. Marisa, Maureen, Forest, Gale, Kara, Pete, Sarah, John in Wisconsin and John in New York. David, whom I sadly haven’t had contact with in far too long also gave to Jeanette without hesitating. And that is just so beautiful to me, that despite time and distance, the tether remains. Strong.

Kristie, who’d not read the blog when I first posted it last year, sent an email followup, and it’s too priceless not to include here.

I didn’t want to start reading your story at work. I knew it would affect me. But like an alcoholic who thinks s/he can put a bottle of Jamison on the table and stare at it, but resist it, I opened your blog page and then minimized it. What happened? I closed the door to my office, put a note on the door that said “on extended break”, un-minimized the blog, and read the whole thing. And when I was done I had a good cry. At first out of sadness, then out of sheer beauty. The beauty of a cop, a surgeon, an attorney, a politician’s aide, a friend, a stranger, a dog. All who came in to offer their assistance in the ways they knew how or felt would be most beneficial.

I hope a million people send money or if they can’t afford money, a good thought. A blessing. Because maybe, just maybe, if enough strangers can rally, we can collectively undo a bit of damage that a single stranger did.

Delightful.

As of this morning, you all have contributed $1,100!

Thank you doesn’t really begin to express it.

More. Soon.

UPDATE 2

Well, almost exactly a week ago I sent out an email blast. And we’ve just crossed the 2K mark. I believe the tally today stands at $2100 and that’s including a few checks that have arrived to my mailbox.

And the emails keep coming.

John from Wisconsin wrote of the blog I wrote laying out my view of the tale: “Thanks for putting it into words which turned it into such real, real life.”

From Richard, simply: “Check is in the mail.”

Brad wrote: “Thanks for making a difference for Jeanette.”

From Dena: “Thanks for including us in your email blast. We are happy to help out your friend.”

From Maureen Mary Margaret: “Your heart is forever in the right place.”

Stephanie quickly wrote a check and handed it over. As did my sweet parents. Lauren handed me cash over dinner last night.

Amy in Santa Monica wrote: “Please send my love to Jeannette and thank her for allowing you to share this horrific story.”

Steve, with the fantastically sweet heart filled with heartache wrote: “Thank you for taking up Jeanette’s most worthy cause in a rancid society that simply doesn’t take care of its own.”

From Forest: “My heart goes out to your friend.”

David’s note really got me. He’s the guy from the last update who blew me away with a donation since years had passed and we’d had no contact.

Your request for Jeanette came at a moment when my giving was really an act of healing for me so thank you for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to participate in some small way to a very loving and significant thing.

My heavy heart is centered on the crossroads that the Literature to Life program has reached. While we have built a nationwide and truly worthy arts and education initiative, we have run into that brick wall of funding problem. It is truly remarkable that something so good and so necessary can lose support is mind boggling but if you break it down between the usual suspects, the economy, the schools lack of funds, the arts, etc. You see where I’m going. Dig a bit deeper and you come to a myriad of problems all around.

All in all I feel very responsible for the company and for one of the first times in my life I feel mostly helpless.

So you see reaching out to you and your heartfelt request was a concrete act that very simply makes sense. So thank you. I sincerely hope the surgery goes well and Jeanette continues to recover.

UPDATE 3

I’m in a very different place as I write this update. Jeanette is now six days into her recovery from surgery. We’ve had a difficult, beautiful, painful, glorious time. Yesterday her bandages came off and she looks better today, even with the swelling, than she did when she arrived.

The donations keep coming. I love that. She struggles with that. It’s hard to receive, that’s all. Word has gotten out, past my circle of friends and into hers, and so now donations are coming from people I don’t know. I’d still like to acknowledge you all and I’ll do the best I can…

Lloyd, Hank, Lorraine, Ellen, Michael, Susan, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Max, Amy, Tim, Elizabeth and Melissa…

In the meantime, I got this email from Jeanette’s niece, Sarah, who writes beautifully. I got permission to include this part of gorgeous email:

Thank you for putting together the fund, and for offering my Aunt a place to stay after her surgery.

When I think about the attack, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of father taking down the suitcase from the attic so my mother could pack. She came and sat on my bed and told me that Aunt Net was hurt, and that she was flying to California immediately. I was 11. I walked to school in blue jeans and a blue denim vest that day and felt like I should be sad. I was worried, but I couldn’t sum up the emotion that the event deserved. I think I wasn’t ready to be that sad.

Now I’m sitting on the couch in my first grown-up apartment, and I think about being with her and growing up with her in my life since then. There were slices of hot cheesy pizza on the porch, drives in her little Volkswagon, discussions about feminist politics, long-distance telephone calls about the people we’re in love with, countless trips to movies and plays and museums, steaming mugs of chai in a cafe in Dupont Circle. I’m so glad she made it through that attack, because I love her so much and I can’t imagine who I would be with out her. I’m deeply sad that she’s still hurt. So thanks very much for setting up the fund, I’m honored to contribute.

Today I sent out a follow-up email to the friends of mine who have contributed. Here’s an edited version of it:

Jeanette arrived last Tuesday night for what was to be, literally, a reopening of old wounds. On Wednesday, we drove to Santa Barbara. Dr. Keller’s entire office staff has changed since last we were there but they all proved to be just as sweet and accommodating as the last group. A plastic surgeon runs a boutique business, and so bedside manner is a lot of the experience. They can afford to coddle you and take as much time as you want to feel comfortable. It was a little like being at a spa, oddly, but then I wasn’t the one having anything done. Photos, consultations, conversations. Basically, Dr. Keller was just going to get in there, and then decide what was to be done.

I’d rented a guesthouse near the beach that I found on airbnb.com. If you don’t know about that site, check it out. I wanted a freestanding structure with a yard that was close to the beach, all things I thought Jeanette would like. The place I found was perfect.

On Thursday morning, we took a stroll on the beach. The morning light was magical. As we spoke about this horrid event that had happened to her 13 years ago, I’d mentioned that it seemed like a lifetime ago. In the magical morning light, she expressed that she didn’t have that luxury—that the daily-ness of the injury was an ongoing presence in her life. And always would be.

When we got to the office for the surgery on Thursday, Dr. Keller said that the anesthesiologist was still there, and he could easily stay for Jeanette’s surgery if we wanted him to. It would be an additional $400, though, he said. And this is really the point. If the additional expense were coming out of her pocket, she might have evaluated it more carefully. In no way did she want to have to endure the surgery awake, but the debate of being practical vs. emotional would have played out differently. Because of all the support, she didn’t have to have the debate. She only had to experience the relief of letting go of her fear.

It’s hard receiving. It’s harder for some people to receive than to give. It’s been hard for her to receive all this generosity but it has made all the difference in her experience of this, her 10th? 15th? surgery. We tried to count them.

And the thing is, both Dr. Keller and the angelic anesthesiologist, Dr. LaGrange, said after the surgery, “It’s a good thing she wasn’t awake for that.” When they got in there, there was so much scar tissue on the right side of her face that they had trouble getting the old implant out. What was supposed to be an hour surgery was two and a half hours. They got it all out, a new implant went in, and they took fatty tissue from her belly and put it in her cheek to fill it all in.

It’s now six days later and she’s still swollen, but she looks better today than she did when she arrived last week.

I just wanted you to know that it’s been a tough, beautiful, life-affirming week over here. And I simply can’t thank you enough for helping me through it. I know that most of you gave money to Jeanette because I asked you to. It’s been a lesson in receiving for me, too. And it has been no small thing, believe me. The attack she endured will never be “a lifetime ago” for her. But making every step slightly less painful is really quite stunning. Thank you, from the top to the bottom of my heart, thank you, for being present in my life and loving me through these moments when I/we most need your love and support.