Stories that move…

This is a higgledy-piggledy thought trail.  A bit like one of those roads that twist and turn and loop back and cross over and duck beneath. You get there eventually but you have to trust that the trail is not tricking you.

IMG_3846Firstly, I’m on the road again. Well, more accurately, I’m in the air. I’m off to WA for the Big Sky Festival in Geraldton. This is tremendously exciting. It’s a combined homecoming and discovery. I’ve not been there for decades, and my last trip was on tour as a beginning actress. Geraldton was occasionally a stopping point on the way north to the Gascoyne when we were driving home after a visit to Perth, so I have sketchy memories of it, but I have none of my other destination – the Abrolhos Islands.

Yes, a few lucky writers are being taken over to the Abrolhos, to stay the night. It’s a sanctuary and a wild place. I looked at the expected temperatures, and the maximums and minimums are the same! There are seals and turtles and birds and…wildness. It’s a great privilege to overnight there. Usually only the fishermen who work there are allowed to stay, and under strict supervision. I can’t believe my luck.

IMG_1262Meanwhile, from out on the roads in Spain I am getting missives from pilgrims. September 2009 was when I walked the Camino Frances, my first camino, and so I feel very sentimental about those who are currently making their way. Protective. And a bit envious, if I’m truthful.

Only a bit.

Buen camino one and all, and may the road continue to rise. Gracias for the letters and posts and pictures. I’m coming back.

Yes I am.

And in other news, I’ve decided that I am going to do the Seven Bridges Walk in Sydney on October 27th to raise some money for Cancer research. Next weekend will be the 19th anniversary of my beautiful Mum’s death, and as I approach the age she was when she died, I feel even more keenly how much was taken from her. And from others I’ve lost. I’m also walking in gratitude for those I love who have recovered, and for my own strong legs and heart.

IMG_3993People have given me so much since I put the word out that I was doing the walk. Many of the gifts have been stories. Stories of loss. Stories of hope. Stories of transcendence and grief and euphoria.

I have been moved by accounts of gifted doctors and children’s recoveries, courage and fear and perseverance. We humans, at our best, are truly wonders. We can envision a better future, and that is remarkable.

One such person is Emily Simpson, who was the first to give to my fundraising campaign. Emily is a remarkable woman who has singlehandedly driven a quest to create a permanent labyrinth walk in Centennial Park in Sydney. She is a mighty spirit. Not content with donating to Seven Bridges fund, she also sent me a poem, knowing how much I love a verse hit. And so I share it with you here.

For all of us, on our various roads, heading toward our personal Santiago…

Santiago

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall – and the way forward
always in the end, the way that you came, the way
that you followed, that carried you into your future,
that brought you to this place, no matter that
it sometimes had to take your promise from you,
no matter that it always had to break your heart
along the way: the sense of having walked
from far inside yourself out into the revelation,
to have risked yourself for something that seemed
to stand both inside you and far beyond you…

Excerpt from “Santiago”
From Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte ©2012 David Whyte

 

Wherever your road is leading you today, may you enjoy the twists and turns, and duck your head when necessary, but remember to look up and make the occasional wish too, won’t you?

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And here is some housekeeping info…

The Events and Media pages are up to date. Click above in the menu bar for info.

I’ll update movements – with Abrolhos pics! – on Facebook.

If you’d like to know more about the Seven Bridges walk, just click here. You might like to put on your boots and join us!

 

A floral clock

IMG_3854Sometimes I feel I’m living a version of Groundhog Day.

I can predict, almost to the moment, when the first jonquils will peep through in the front garden.

It can make me feel a bit anxious, wondering if I’ve lived too long in the same place, or I’m becoming entrenched. I worry I’m in danger of letting my thinking get stale or my behaviours set.

But then I let myself drift back through time, to other occasions when those intensely perfumed white blooms have caught my attention: coming home from the camino, reminding me there was beauty to be had in my own patch; after the death of a friend, shaking me into seeing new life; late at night as guests walked out into cold night air, the fragrance linked to laughter and shared stories.

IMG_3736Wattle takes me to childhood. There were different strains of it, of course, in Western Australia, but that spicy honey scent and the certainty that sunshine, exactly that wattle-colour, will track me down, makes me feel six again. Sticking a sprig of wattle in a bottle brings instant optimism to my desktop. Brushing pollen tips as I step out onAustralian trails has always lifted me. They say there’s at least one species of wattle in bloom somewhere all year. How comforting that is. Spring all year.

IMG_3779I inhaled my first whiff of jasmine for this season in Sydney a week ago, and time-travelled to 1994 when my mum was dying. Jasmine, with its promise of warm spring nights, is associated with her death for me. But there is beauty and happiness in that, too. With the passing of time, I recall her smiles and embrace, so jasmine is now a reminder to live large. To suck in the moments. To inhale bigger breaths of scented air and optimism. Jasmine is a call to expand.

 

IMG_0437Roses are fat, lush memory-vessels.

Opening nights and well-wishes.

Swooning in June.

Birthdays and farewells.

Buckets of them. Bud vases.

Trysts and mists of time.

Pink roses are also my mother – her instruction to remember her whenever I see one trailing against a stone wall.

 

IMG_3498Love like a red red rose…

But oh, surely also an apricot wonder and a yellow sunburst and a Mr Lincoln with a scent to stop anyone’s tracks.

Even mine.

IMG_2299Surely those roses do  make the heart skip.

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And sunflowers…flowers of the camino. Nothing brings back Spain like them. Nothing makes my toes itch so. Nothing makes my lips twitch into a smile like a sun sun sunflower. The roads lined with them, my memories dotted with them. Sun fun sunflowers, you have mapped my happy heart.

And the daffodil! How could I forget that easy-grow blessing that can be had for a gold coin. Generosity on a purse-string. What more?

Yes, I know already what comes next in my city wanderings…honeysuckle and tulips and cherry blossom peeping over fences and scenting back lanes. Does knowing of their arrival make me love them less? Will I greet them without joy, simply because they can be predicted? Or will I thank them for mapping my days and marking my ways?

I walk along and through and inside and outside of time and space and the floral clock of my years, and staleness is a choice, and patterns are for making as much as breaking…and flowers are a gift I must never fail to meet with love.

So have a bunch. From me.

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A couple of postscripts…

There is a new article I wrote over at Eureka Street. Here is a link.

Also, I’ve updated the Events and Media page. A few talky things and some travel.

Bloom!

El Ganso

Exactly three years ago, I was in El Ganso, just past Léon on the Camino Francés.

If I close my eyes, I can still smell cut grass on the warm evening air, and the sprig of lavender on my pillow as I drifted into sleep in a mercifully snore-free albergue. I can hear the dog’s bark ringing across the field below the town, reminding me that some creatures were working while I rested.

Most of all, I remember the contentment and internal quiet I felt in that town at the end of a tough and sometimes confusing day.

 

If you’ve read Sinning Across Spain, you may recall the story of Domingo, the old gentleman, or gentle old man, I met there. With all my heart, I hope he is still alive and well, and that he and his town have not been too much troubled by the economic crisis. I hope one day that I might return to thank him for the gifts he gave me.

The following passage from the book, and these photos, are to honour him and El Ganso. I hope that you, my village, will forgive me for posting something you may have read. But as Arthur Miller wrote – “Attention must be paid.”

And gratitude must be given.

Gracias, Domingo. Gracias, mi compañero.

Gracias…

At the end of a long hot day’s walking, I’d arrived in El Ganso, a pueblo my guidebook called “hauntingly crumbling”. It was dozing, and yes, perhaps a touch melancholy, with its Cowboy Bar at the entrance decorated in saddles and cowskins.

El Ganso means “wild goose”. I didn’t chase any.

I wandered out of the albergue as the sun flirted with the horizon. A lone dog barked and a bird fluttered among the beams of an abandoned adobe building behind me. To my left was the handful of houses that made up the town. To my right was the road out. Opposite was a narrow dirt lane between two tumbledown buildings, and walking towards me up that lane was a man with broad, open features. His eyes were surrounded by deep lines. He leaned on a walking stick and waved with his free hand.

Buenas tardes, peregrina,” he called, his face creasing into a grin. That smile was my introduction to Domingo. We stood in the main street, talking about the weather, how far I’d walked, and where I was from.

Australia got a good response.

He held out his free arm and suggested a little walk–un camino pequeno.

We set off at Domingo pace, stopping to sniff the wind, to look and listen.

He gave me the grand tour of El Ganso, where he had spent his entire life. We saw the houses of his brothers and sisters; a big two-storey house–not so nice as the low ones; the vacant land, just waiting for a nice lady from Australia to buy it and build a new home; the abandoned houses, falling into disrepair and back into the ground; the edible rose hips; and the scratching chooks with their scrawny chicks.

Stories everywhere. The house where he was born. The families who went away. The home that waits for his son. The flowers he planted for his sister. The figs, so good, so good…

Then he took me to his house and ushered me inside. He showed me his kitchen, and the kettle his wife favoured, their bedroom and bathroom, both modern and cool; the guest room–for next visit? Then his shed, with its tools and folding garden furniture. His backyard, where he picked for me white roses tinged with softest pink, and two perfect pears. He had sons in Seattle and Madrid, he told me. They made a lot of money but they didn’t come home much.

The whole tour took maybe an hour. Details, affection, the wonder of his almost-abandoned town…

Te gusta mi pueblo?” You like my town?

I did. I still do.

As the sun set, he walked me back along the empty main street to the albergue, where he left me with a stiff bow and a sweep of his free arm, saying, “Ésta es mi pueblo.

This is my town.

I watched him walk away, the scent of pears and roses wafting in the warm air as the church steeple turned orange. All around his retreating figure, the stones of the houses glowed. His home was radiant, radiating. I saw how full it was of loves and losses, and how much richer I was for him having stepped into my life to tell me of them.

I took my fruits and flowers to adorn my table at the Cowboy Bar. Cowboys were a disappearing breed, and I wondered about the future of those pueblos. Would they survive the rush of the young to the cities and beyond?

For the Sake of a Few Lines…

Constantly I give thanks.

I’m holding a copy of the reprint of Sinning Across Spain. I may be a long way from having a publishing phenomenon on my hands, but I feel such gratitude that the book has found people who have enjoyed it and told others about it and given it to friends. It’s such a wonder to me that it has made its way into the world – and that now, with this reprint, it can continue to do that. Thank you with all my heart for support and encouragement.

It seems a long time ago that I set off to walk the Camino Mozarabe. There are moments now when I think I am another person. But then I open my mouth to speak about it, and I am back there again, walking the dusty white trails lined with poppies, smelling the neroli in Córdoba or tasting the heat of a sip of sol y sombra at day’s end.

Recently, I found this piece of Rilke.

I know. I always seem to be finding Rilke.

But I wanted to pass it on, because it is such a spur. It reminds us to trust that it’s only by living, sucking up every bit of the juice of life, the sweet and the sour, and then letting it distill and transform, and waiting, waiting, waiting…that writing will come.

That all good will come.

And so I’m trying to heed Mr Rilke. Living, tasting, waiting. Being patient and grateful.

And offering this up to you. I hope it fills you as it does me.

“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents that one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it (it was joy for someone else); to childhood illness that so strangely began with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars-and it is not enough if one may think all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.”

And in my memories, in my blood, in newfound gestures and glances, are pieces of every person who has helped or listened or written to me, or offered advice or consolation or encouragement. We are still making a road together. You are making the road for me.

Gracias. Into the blue sky we go…

Friends, amigos, compañeros…

“Oh, no. We’re just friends…”

I overheard that while standing in a queue this week, and it struck me as odd. We’ve come to accept that “just friends” means “not romantically linked”, but when I reflected on the words, I felt a bit sad.

JUST friends?

I think friendship is the sustaining force in any relationship, romantic or otherwise, and to be called “friend” is praise of the highest order.

As someone who is lucky to have many remarkable, conscious, supportive relationships, I could never put a qualifier like “just” before the word “friend”. My friends – and they include family – are precious beyond words. And I have never been more grateful for them than in recent times.

 

Democracy in the street

Compañero

Like amigo, it can mean “friend”, but for me compañero has many resonances. Separating it into its component parts, we get “one with whom you break bread”, so there is a faintly religious overtone when I hear it – loaves and fishes, brotherhood of man.

I associate it with my camino compañero, who first taught it to me, and whose life is defined by serving others, by sitting in the poorest of places, breaking bread and listening.

These days, I think of our word “comrade” when I hear “compañero“. In particular, I remember the young indignados – those who were calling for change back when I was in Spain, long before the Occupy movement had begun. They were peaceful, courteous and respectful, but they were warning of problems ahead, and of the loss of possibility and hope, months before politicians were prepared to confront the issues head-on.

In Santiago, I marvelled as they graffitied a slogan on a bank. They didn’t paint onto the walls, but rather, they attached large sheets of paper on which they had written their protests, not wanting to damage the building.

I think of them often, wondering about their future, and how precarious it must feel now.

Companions. Comrades.

I hope they have friendship to sustain them.

 

Words on a wall

This was written in El Raval, in Barcelona. It’s a translation from Brecht.

WAYS TO KILL
There are many ways to kill
They can stick a knife in your guts
Take away your bread
Not cure your illness
Put you into bad living conditions
Torture you to death through work
Take you to war etc.
Only a few of these things are forbidden in our city

I don’t know who wrote it, but they missed out a line: Empujarte al suicidio…

Drive you to suicide…

I hear such sadness from Spain just now – friends, pilgrims, newspaper reports, television. I hear it from Greece and Ireland too.

I also hear resilience and courage. Stoicism and humour.

I hope they are able to take some strength from friendship, camaraderie and family. I hope that they will continue to have bread to break. I hope that we who currently have much will be able to remember our luck, and help where we can.

I hope that I can be more than JUST a friend…

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Gracias, amigos.

 

Offerings…

If I could paint, this is what I would paint for you.

Lighthouses have become significant for me in so many new ways lately.

But they have always spoken to all of us.

And they speak in light.

Like music, it’s a language I love, but speak without fluency.

This is my attempt to speak with light.

An attempt to offer thanks.

My next offering is in the language of sound.

Not music, although music does play a part.

And there are some words.

I’m hugely excited to tell you that ABC Radio’s Poetica programme has made a companion piece to the book. It was produced with great delicacy by Anne McInerney and engineered by Angela Grant, and it highlights the poems that inspired me, poems that were written for me, and poems that found me along the road.

I’m indebted to Anne for making something so beautiful, and for giving me a chance to expand on one of the key themes of the book – the way that poetry shapes my days.

Please download and listen.

It’s free – and it’s absolutely for you.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/poetica/2012-05-05/3967108

Finally, I want to offer you some words written as an offering to a man who ran a bookshop in Barcelona.

A man whose family had run it for over 120 years.

A man of dignity and spirit.

This piece was an offering to him, and it is now for you, courtesy of Melbourne’s magnificent Wheeler Centre for ideas, books, words and all things good and great.

I’m lucky to be there, as I was for Debut Monday two short weeks ago.

Please have a read, and hold Señor Martinez in your thoughts for a moment.

Such losses are hard to bear.

http://wheelercentre.com/dailies/post/2ee069a28671/

And if you feel inclined to leave him a message on the Wheeler site, please do. I will be sending him the link so that he can read the piece, and know that over here in Australia, his kindness impacted.

Offerings.

Me to you.

I hope you find some sustenance.

Or pleasure.

Missive from Mexico City

Hola!

SINNING ACROSS SPAIN is responsible for its first blister!

Today I received this story from Paul, who bought a copy of the book at the airport before leaving Australia on business. He read it on the plane to America, and it lurked around in his thoughts until he got to Mexico, where it decided to have its way with him! Below, with his permission, is his walking story…

As luck would have it, I find myself in Mexico City for work. So yesterday being Sunday I took the opportunity to explore. Wanting to walk out the past week of flying and sitting in conference rooms, and it being a truly gorgeous sunny-cool day, I decide to head out on foot.

Mexico City is not rural Spain. Nevertheless, finding myself treading Spanish-speaking streets put me in mind of your book.

Hmm, maybe I should have paid more attention to the bit about good shoes. I was in a pair of Campers, virtually no soles and no support.

I am staying just south of Colonia Condesa and headed down to the Zocalo in the historic centre. That was about a 10 km stroll. I must have covered another 4-5 in the downtown area, then walked back to Condesa, which was the art deco rich home of movie stars and celebrities until the 1985 earthquake, when it was largely abandoned. In the nineties, the boho art crowd ‘rediscovered’ it and for a decade it was über cool. As with all these kind of neighbourhoods (think Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Le Marais in Paris or the Village in NYC), the middle class have discovered the newly-minted amenity and gradually gentrified the place. Anyway, I found a suitably groovy cafe for a late lunch and it was then I discovered that my Campers were not made for walking. By the time I finished my espresso, I could feel a growing blister on my big toe. It felt awkwardly squishy underfoot, so I relented and took a cab the 2 km back to my hotel.

Lest you think the lessons of your adventure were all wasted, I had the wit to hobble to a nearby supermercado and purchase band aids and antiseptic. Lacking a knife, I found a fountain pen with a sharp (ish) nib and managed to penetrate the thick skin to release the pressure. This morning, all good and ready for a day in the office with Hugo, Humberto, Arturo, Eliseo and friends.

So thank you for your (life saving) advice!

 

One day I will get there, I hope. A city of contrasts and extremes, too wild for me to imagine. And although Campers are made in Spain, I will remember to take the mighty Merrell’s! Pilgrimage needs sole.

Thanks so much Paul, for permission to put the story into the blogosphere. And to Kati, for her images of Mexican silver hearts.

Corazones puros.

 

And don’t forget that if you would like to be kept updated when a new post goes onto the blog (about twice per week) then just go to the little box up on the top right and enter your email address. That way we can journey together!

Gracias.

I hope to see you often.