Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gingerbread Cookie Murder—Review

I've tried the Christmas-themed books I mentioned in a previous post. The first, The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman, I only read the first 44 pages (large print). I just wasn't that interested in it. It made me wonder about the difference between good chicklit and bad chicklit. The Christmas Cookie Club had many of the same elements of the books I enjoy, and yet it fell flat. It seemed to lack a necessary spark. So I stopped reading it.

The second book I read is Gingerbread Cookie Murder. It's a set of three novellas by mystery authors. I did enjoy this volume. It was fun to have something to read over Christmas, of course, and I also liked that it kind of gave an introduction to mystery authors. If you're in the market for a new mystery series to read, you can pick up this set of novellas and get a taste of various authors.

My favorite novella in the set was "The Dangers of Gingerbread Cookies" by Leslie Meier. It was fun and had all the twists and turns I expect in a murder mystery.

"Gingerbread Cookies and Gunshots" by Leslie Meier was OK, but it was kind of a downer. My primary goal in reading genre is fun and entertainment; if I'm going to read something depressing I'll read something that tempers the depressing bits with insight or beautiful language.

The novella the compilation is named after is by Joanne Fluke. I recognize this author from work*, and it's her name that's written in giant letters on the cover of the book, and yet I found plenty of flaws in her novella. It's odd, her novella was my second favorite in the trilogy as far as pure entertainment value, and yet I keep finding all these flaws in the writing that irk me. Just for the fun of ranting, I'm now going to list those flaws. If you're interested in reading Joanne Fluke, I would suggested skipping the rest of this post so that you don't start one of her books with my biases floating around your noggin.

The Flaws

1) There are lines in "Gingerbread Cookie Murder" that make the characters seem dumb, and also make it seem the author thinks the reader a bit daft as well. These especially occur in dialogue.

2) The protagonist and the detectives never once contemplate that the murder may have been manslaughter, and due to the facts they worked with for most of the story, the chance that the murderer hit the murderee in a fit of rage rather than with the intention to kill is a possibility they should have at least mentioned.

3) The beginning has a fair amount of back story that should go by faster and I'm not sure is entirely necessary.

4) The love interest is a dentist named Norman who has a cat he calls Cuddles. What the hell? Are we supposed to believe Norman is a sexy interesting romantic character? A man who names his cat Cuddles? Really? Norman? Reaalllly?

Despite my list of flaws, this compilation of Christmas novellas is worth taking a look at. Blogger out.

*I work at a bookstore.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?' "

"The mood will pass, sir."

—P.G. Wodehouse, from The Code of the Woosters

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Classic Doctor Who

Occasionally I try to watch old Doctor Who, like sixties William Hartnell Doctor Who. I've yet to finish a story line. (They tended to be in twenty-minute episodes, multiple episodes adding up to a single story line.) They're...slow. And, well, very not-profound. Basically they're not made to a modern sensibility.

But I want to watch classic Doctor Who, especially when the current season has ended, to keep me busy until the next season. Buff up on my history. But how do I know which ones are worth watching?

I have discovered what sounds like sage advice! Here it is. I'm going to take the seasons and episodes this fellow recommends and watch them in chronological order. Maybe dipping into other seasons just to get a feel for what all the other doctors are like. I would also recommend watching the very first twenty-minute episode of Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child," maybe the second episode, too, just for seeing how it all began.

Here are the episodes I'll probably look for first:

The Dalek Invasion of Earth/World's End (1964)
The Tenth Planet (1966) (some episodes missing, but I'm curious about the first regeneration)
The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)
Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970)
Inferno (1970)
Robot (1974-1975)
The Ark in Space (1975)
The Sontaran Experiment (1975)

Christmas Genre

I've almost got my library card number at the public library here in Moscow memorized. I'm about to finish a book (The Code of the Woosters—so good) so I'm seeing if I can get any Christmas-themed genre novels to arrive before the Christmas season is over. One mystery, one romance, one chicklit. Here's hoping they come in soon. I'll let you know if they're any good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Imagine how some unfortunate master criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the week there, but Hercule Poirot, as well.

—P.G. Wodehouse, from The Code of the Woosters

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who are you, Jujubes and Aspirins?

It's time to rethink this blog. You may have noticed I didn't post for a couple months. I was writing posts in my head, but always felt too busy to actually sit down and type them up. Plus, I wasn't sure what I was really achieving with this blog. Who's my intended audience? My friends, Katie, Rhiannon? Anyone who likes books? Do I have this blog so that if some future employer in publishing asks if I have a blog, I have something clever and literate to show them?

I don't know. But I'm not ready to let Jujubes and Aspirins completely die out. It is time to re-envision. Sort of like Rhiannon did. What do you think?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love is more pleasant than marriage for the same reason that novels are more amusing than history.
—Nicolas Chamfort

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do you think that revolutions are made with rose water?
—Nicolas Chamfort

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

(1) Curiosity killed the cat.
(2) The World's Largest Ball of Twine is a curiosity.
(3) Therefore the World's Largest Ball of Twine killed the cat.

—David Foster Wallace, from Everything and More

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Apropos the whole business of abstractness and nouns' denotations, there is a syndrome that's either a high-level abstraction or some type of strange nominal mutation. 'Horse can mean this one horse right here, or it can mean the abstract concept, as in 'Horse = hoofed mammal of family Equidae'. Same with the word 'horn'; same with 'forehead'. All these can be abstracted from particulars, but we still know they came from particulars. Except what about a unicorn, which seems to result from the combination of the concepts 'horse', 'horn', and 'forehead' and thus has its whole origin in the concatenation of abstractions? Meaning we can conjoin and manipulate abstractions to form entities whose nouns have no particular denotations at all. Here the big problem becomes: In what way can we say a unicorn exists that is fundamentally different, less real, than the way abstractions like humanity or horn or integer exist?

—David Foster Wallace, from Everything & More

Saturday, October 1, 2011

[David Foster Wallace] rejects criticism that his work is unnecessarily complicated: "I don't have any strong feelings about that, unless if somebody says, 'You know Dave, I read your book and it seems like it required all this hard work just basically for the sake of saying, "Hey fuck you reader, I can make you work hard."' Then I know with that reader I have failed. Then I really feel that they think I'm a putz. And I hate books where, you know, those books where you get halfway through and you get the sense that the author is so stupid that he thinks he can fool you into thinking that the book is really sophisticated and profound just because it's difficult. It's an epidemic in academic writing. And it happens about half the time in avant-garde writing. And it's the thing I most fear as a writer because it's the thing I most hate as a reader. And I'm sure I'm guilty of it sometimes."

—from an interview of DFW by Patrick Arden

Thursday, September 29, 2011

heroines part the fifth

A small break from DFW quotes. I know I've shared these Jane Austen quotes before, but they always recur to me at different moments. This summer it was this one that I kept thinking about:

The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.

Yesterday I was flipping through my notebook, and stumbled upon this one, and it seemed quite apt:

When a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.

What "quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the the vicissitudes of [your] eventful lives" are you thinking about these days?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Like many Americans of his generation in this awkwardest of post-Imperial decades, an age suspended between exhaustion and replenishment, between input too ordinary to process and input too intense to bear, Sternberg is deeply ambivalent about being embodied; an informing fear that, were he really just an organism, he'd be nothing more than an ism of his organs.

—David Foster Wallace, from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" in Girl with Curious Hair

Monday, September 26, 2011


You should be aware that I am going to be talking about David Foster Wallace, or at least quoting him, a good amount in the following posts. You see, right now I live in Wallacelandia. It is all David Foster Wallace all the time. I'm in a class dedicated to him, and everyone in the class is getting a little crazy-eyed. DFW is in our heads. Last night, for instance, while spending time with a gentleman friend. I couldn't stop thinking about DFW, and allusions to him kept slipping out. Imagine me grabbing a young man by the lapels and shouting, "Are you being sham-honest with me? Are you being sham-honest?!"

To give you an idea, here is one of the interviews from David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

B.I. #19 10-96
Newport OR

'Why? Why. Well, it's not just that you're beautiful. Even though you are. It's that you're so darn smart. There. That's why. Beautiful girls are a dime a dozen, but not—hey, let's face it, genuinely smart people are rare. Of either sex. You know that. I think for me, it's your smartness more than anything else.'
'Ha. That's possible, I suppose, from your point of view. I suppose it could be. Except think about it a minute: would that possibility have even occurred to a girl who wasn't so darn smart? Would a dumb girl have had the sense to suspect that?'
'So in a way you've proved my point. So you can believe I mean it and not dismiss it as just some kind of come-on. Right?'
'So c'mere.'

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hip Poem

Read "Hip Poem" by Idaho alum Jennifer Yeats.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I read in August (post-Spain)

The Villa by Nora Roberts.
The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Volume 1 in the Wicked Years.
Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. Volume 2 in the Wicked Years. Lacked the driving force that Elphaba (the wicked witch) gave to Wicked, but had its moments.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Book 1 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I read in May and June (pre-Spain)

Children of the Abbey; A Tale by Regina Maria Roche. Technically I read volume 3 and parts of volumes 1, 2, and 4. Accidents happen.
Only for Women.
The Monk by Matthew Lewis. Oh, the scandal!
There's Cake in My Future by Kim Gruenenfelder. A thoroughly amusing book.
Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson. Winterson is a good old chap. You should read her. Do it. Seriously, this lady has skills.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke. Excellent, as one would expect from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Books I read in June, July, and August (in Spain and France)

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. Mrs. Pollifax is as amusing as ever.
Scandalous Innocent by Juliet Landon. I'll post more on this later. Wait, I never read the last few pages. I kept saving them for the right moment...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Not long before I did the Camino, a gorgeous copy of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Son of a Witch came into work. Hardcover, shiny embossing, gold-edged pages, a green ribbon to use as place-marker. I quickly snagged it.

From the little I’d heard from friends about Wicked, the few songs from the musical I’d listened to, and the for-children book of Maguire’s I had previously read, I wasn’t prepared for what I’d actually find in the book Wicked. The fully-formed world of Oz; a complexity of politics and religion, prejudice and racism, war and terrorism; contemplations on the existence of the soul and the nature of evil. For being based on glittery shoes and people called munchkins, the story was modern and relevant. It was interesting how, one by one, Maguire fit the puzzle pieces of the original Wizard of Oz into his book so seamlessly you didn’t always notice they were there. Some parts of the writing didn’t feel right, but overall it was an impressive work that I had trouble putting down. I’ve already started Son of a Witch

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Now that I’m back in Idaho in my MFA community, people ask if I’m going to write about the Camino. The writing in my diary and the more creative sort of writing I’ve done on this blog are as much as I plan to do right now. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. There are plenty of books and memoirs others have written, and I don’t feel a need to add to that body of work, but I can point people towards authors and titles if anyone’s interested in reading more.

Since I’ve gotten back, people have asked me if my trip on the Camino was spiritual. They’ll ask if it was life-changing. The answer is yes, but it was spiritual and life changing in a lot of little ways. There were no giant miracles, but it was indeed a pilgrimage.

The lessons I learned were small but important, the sort of lessons that if you simply state them rather than experience them they sound cliché, and so I’ll refrain from writing them here. They’re the sort of lessons that you have to learn over and over again: Every day on the Camino you go through the same routine of walking and searching for a bed and searching for a meal and searching for friends and going to sleep, and every day you live the same routine of facing a difficulty and dealing with it. Humans need to learn lessons more than once, and with the Camino each step is a lesson if you are paying attention, each step works wisdom into your muscles, so that hopefully when you go back to your normal life wisdom will reside in your body and not be forgotten so easily.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Camino Community

One of the best parts of the Camino is the community of people you meet. I’ve made friends with Hungarians, Italians, South Koreans, Germans, Australians, Welsh, Canadians, Danish, Mexicans, Irish, Andorrans, Czechoslovakians. I’ve made friends with doctors and clowns and students and radio directors and chefs and monks and computer hackers and REI clothing designers. I've met the last Templar Knight. I’ve met people who had nothing and were doing the Camino completely on the hospitality of others, and I’ve met people who had more money than I could imagine having.

But despite all this diversity, we are all at the same level on the Camino. We wear the same clothes and eat the same food. We all sweat and we all wash our clothes by hand. We all sleep together in bunk beds in rooms of up to 200 people. We all have blisters and sore muscles. We all have a common purpose. Many of us are doing this for religious or spiritual reasons. And so we’re able to get to know people in a different way than if we met them in our daily lives. We much more quickly and much more often find ourselves in intimate conversations with people, whether it’s about the diarrhea they got from a bad fountain or whether it’s about how they experience God on the Camino.

Life is both slower and faster on the Camino. Try walking for five hours with nothing but wheat fields to look at and you will know how life slows down. It can be tedious, but it’s also the simple feeling of always moving at 4 kilometers an hour, rather than going 50 in a car. It’s also getting down to the basics, having nothing more on your To-Do List than “take a shower, wash clothes, find a grocery store.”
But life is also faster on the Camino. You can walk with someone for five hours then have a beer with them then eat dinner with them then sleep in a bunk next to them, and the next day do it all over again. You’re not just hanging out on a Friday night. People are exposed to stressful and difficult and demanding situations, and you see them in these situations and share these situations with them and get to know them in a different way than you might in your normal life. You get to know people very quickly on the Camino.

Sometimes you make a friend and run into them over and over, stopping for coffee at the same bars, sleeping in the same albergues, walking at the same pace on the Camino, for days or weeks. Sometimes you make a friend for a week or two and then they get 10 kilometers ahead or behind and you don’t see them again until Santiago. People come and go, popping up again when you least expect them. Sometimes you make a friend for an afternoon only. Sometimes you talk to someone for ten minutes. But even that ten-minute interaction can be something you remember fondly the rest of the Camino, can be meangingful, can touch you.

The professor from whom I first heard about the Camino said that all of life happens on the Camino. Within those 35-odd days everything will happen to you that happens in a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: Food, Part 3

I'm back in the States, but I'm going to do a few more posts about Spain to wind things up before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming (books, books, and books!). I promise this is the last post about food; it just seemed I couldn't end my Spain posts without mentioning tapas.

A Guide to Camino: Food, Part 3

Atun—Tuna was probably the meat you ate most in Spain. Little tins of tuna made great lunches along the road; tuna melts for lunch if there was a kitchen in the albergue; tuna on the ensalada mixta; and when you got to Galicia, empanada atun (a thin tuna pie) was your favorite snack to pick up at a bar.

Ensalada mixta, a common starter, with tuna 

Meat—"For a vegetarian, you really like meat," the Belgian once told you as you were digging into some of the best chicken you ate on the Camino. You explained to him that walking 30 k a day made you need lots of protein, and Spain wasn't exactly overflowing with beans and nuts. You ate what was available. If huevos fritos, fried eggs, were on the menu for the pilgrim's entree, you almost always took it.

Home cookin'—If there's a supermercado in the town and a kitchen in the albergue the pilgrim's can cook dinner for themselves. More and more often along the Camino this is what you do. Pasta is common, easy to make for large groups. Your first home-cooked meal was made by a German, pasta for 12 pilgrims, with fried onions and garlic and red peppers, with tomato salsa and shaved mozzarella. You were thrilled. Another time a Danish woman made you a sort of alfredo with tuna and dill. The Belgian always made Spanish eggs. On your night to cook you made the Belgian grilled sandwiches, because he became extremely confused every time you talked about this American habit of frying sandwiches or offered him a tuna melt. You caramelized onions with red peppers and garlic, added tomatoes and cheese and ham (the Belgian wanted meat), put it between slices of bread and fried it in butter.

Spanish eggs—The Belgian always made these because they were fairly easy. He said they were college food. The last night, while you were breaking up for the last time, he made them for you because he knew you liked eggs. He would scramble eggs with tomatoes, ham, cheese, onions, garlic, and butter. When asked what made them Spanish, he said it was how heavy they were, the cheese and butter, no milk or water to cut the eggs.

Vinagre y sal—Every night when the camarero brought your entrees to the table, you would say, "Vinagre, por favor," and the Belgian would say, "y sal." Patatas fritas, French fries, came with most meals. The Spanish don't salt their food much, not even French fries, and ketchup was uncommon, forcing you to kick that habit. But you were introduced to vinegar on French fries by a Finish woman and Pennsylvanian man, and loved it.

The entree of a pilgrim's menu: rabas (calamari) patatas fritas, pimientos, and bread soaked with oil and vinegar.

Tarta de queso—Cheese cake. In Galego, tarta de queixo. It really isn't like American cheesecake, and you're not sure they even use cream cheese. It's much eggier, but when done right very good.

The window of a delicatessen in Santiago, with tarta de queixo on the left.

Tinto de verano—Most commonly half red wine and half lemonade. Very refreshing.

Croquetas—Creamy potato business, sometimes with cheese or bits of ham, breaded and fried. They're like little potato pills. They were one of your favorite snacks at bars.

Tapas—You at first found all this pinchos, raciones, and tapas business confusing. Even now, you're not really sure if pinchos and tapas are the same thing. Pinchos were small bits of food, just a few bites, usually under glass on the bar. Pinchos often came on toast, you even once saw croquetas on toast. Raciones were larger, such as a plate of gambas (shrimp) or pimientos de padron or cheese. At some bars they would give you a pincho every time you ordered a new drink, a small plate of olives, or a mussel on toast, or a slice of tomato and cheese on toast, or a couple bites of tortilla. In bigger cities like Pamplona and Santiago you liked to bar hop so you could try a pincho or two at each one. Shrimp salad on toast, sweet peppers and sardines on toast, a small piece of empanada filled with chorizo and potato.

A case of pinchos at a bar in Santiago 

Pinchos: Smoked salmon and blackberries in cream cheese, salchichon. 

Pinchos with a glass of Ribeiro, the best white wine in Galicia

More pictures:
Queso con miel, cheese with honey that was the postre (dessert) with the ensalada mixta and calamari previously shown 

Cafe con leche 

 Arroz con leche, rice pudding, a postre for pilgrim's menus

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: Food, Part Two

Ensaladilla rusa—Russian salad. The first time you found this in a bar you thought you´d hit the jackpot. It´s like tuna salad and egg salad and potato salad all rolled into one with some veggies thrown in.

Ensaladilla rusa

Baskets of bread—At bars and restaurants they give you bread with almost everything. Bread with your tortilla, bread with your cheese plate, bread with your pimientos de padron, bread with your ensaladilla rusa, bread with your patatas bravas. You once saw two horses eating bread for breakfast.

Kebap—It´s basically gyros. You have it twice in the bigger cities, Burgos and Leon. The first time the Belgian thinks the Spanish menu is confusing you because you try to order from the vegetarian options. The second time he asks you what type of meat falafel is.

Spicy food—They don´t have it in Spain. You and the Belgian lament the fact.

Azucar—Ever time you order a coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or cola cao they give you one or two packets of sugar. Each bar has its name or logo on the sugar packets. You once watched in horror as a woman heaped spoonful after spoonful of sugar into her tea. You´re surprised how many people put sugar in their coffee here, you don´t remember anyone in the States doing this. Maybe it´s because in America you can put sweetened flavorings in your drinks, unlike most places in Spain, but even then a lot of people simply take their coffee black or with cream. You have yet to touch the azucar.

A typical pilgrim breakfast

Vino—You´re pretty sure wine is its own group in the food pyramid, and you need some everyday to have a balanced diet.

Pimientos de padron—Fried peppers common in Galicia. One of the few dishes in Spain that is truly salty and even a little spicy.

Pulpo y pimientos de padron

Pulpo—A traditional Galician dish. Boiled octopus tentacles drizzled with olive oil and served on wooden plates. In Arzua you watched a woman in a bar snip the suprisingly large tentacles into pieces. You first tried it in Palas de Rei, and it was quite good. It wasn´t at all rubbery and had a taste between fish and chicken. The second time you had it in Finisterre with gambas al ajillo, shrimp and garlic.

Pulpo con gambas al ajillo

Sunday, July 31, 2011


When the Romans arrived in the second century BC in what would later be called Costa da Morte--Coast of Death--they believed it was the end of the world, the last outcropping of land before the sea and nothingness, and so it was called Finisterre. It was a pagan area, Galicia, a Celtic land. Santiago, St James, one of the disciples of Jesus, travelled to Spain and to the end of the world to spread the word of Christ. The Virgin Mary sailed in a stone boat to Muxia, a town a days walk from Finisterre, to encourage James as he spread the word. In 44 AD James was beheaded in Jerusalem. His disciples went to the city where Finisterre currently lies to ask a Roman legion if they could bury James in what is now the city of Santiago. The Romans threw these men into prison, but they escaped and ran east. The Romans chased the disciples of James and were about to catch them when a bridge the disciples had just crossed collapsed before the Romans could get over it. They buried James in the forest. His remains were found in the ninth century and pilgrims have been traveling to Santiago de Compostela ever since.

Today some pilgrims choose to continue after Santiago, after visiting the remains of St James, to walk across the bridge that had collapsed before the Romans, to arrive at the ocean and the end of the world. Some choose to walk farther, to Muxia, where Marys stone boat could still be found into the 16th century.

I began my camino by visiting my own sea in Bellingham. Last night we began walking at 12:30 to follow the stars to Finisterre. If you walk at night you can see the Milky Way, like God dragged his thumb across the sky, slightly smudging the stars in a path traveling west. You can follow the Milky Way to Santiago and beyond to Finisterre, which is why the city is called Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that Compostela comes from the Latin for Field of Stars.

We followed the Milky Way west until the sky grew light, until we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as we set foot on the beach we removed our backpacks and boots, our clothes and pilgrim trappings, and ran into the ocean, tasting the salt water. We walked along the beach choosing caracoles, the sea shells that have become the symbol of the Camino. Tonight we will walk the last three kilometers of the Camino from the city of Finisterre to the farthest point of land on Cabo Fisterra, to the lighthouse, to watch the sunset and end our Camino at the end of the world.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reasons People Do the Camino

Spiritual reasons. They like hiking. To discover things inside themselves. Midlife crisis. To pray for a sick friend. Cultural reasons. To test themselves. Personal drug rehab. A promise to their father. To travel in a non-touristy way. They´re going through a divorce. To have their sins forgiven. To discover their life path. For a friend who died. To decide on a career change. To start a new life. They just knew they had to do it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Nomad Life

We wake up in the morning needing to walk. I built extra time into my schedule so I could take days off in the big cities, but every day I wake up needing to move, to go a bit further, a new city, a new bed. We take breaks at bars to eat and use the bathroom, but they´re short, just long enough to drink a cerveza, because we have to keep moving. If we get to our day´s destination too early in the day we´ll keep going, because we have to move. A few days ago, after walking 25 k to a small town, I found a small path off the town and followed it up through the trees, not knowing where it would take me, because the path wanted me to take it, because I needed to think about something and walking helps me think, because I had to keep moving. It led up and up, the path getting smaller, steeper and steeper, until I found myself in the ruins of a castle at the top of a quite-tall hill where I could see out across the town and the valley.

Every step is a prayer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Foot Surgery

Pies y Ampollas, Blisters and Feet

Everyone on the camino is a blister expert.

I have heard all sorts of methods for the proper way to treat blisters: Use Compeed. Don´t use Compeed whatever you do. Pop the blisters. Sew thread through your blisters. Wear your socks inside-out. Don´t wash your socks. Put vaseline on your feet. Put olive oil on your feet.

On the third day of walking I began trying out all the various methods. I first went with the traditional Dutcher method of moleskin. That came off within a couple hours. So I put on Compeed. That also came off within a couple hours. A young Danish girl I was walking with explained to me how putting thread through the blister keeps the blister from closing, allowing it to drain, the thread acting as a wick while the new skin grows from beneath. So I tried it. And it worked.

I´ve also heard that you should only pop them, because the thread introduces bacteria to the area. While I agree with this to an extent, if you only pop them they will fill up again within a few hours. I´ve tried other methods as well, but the one I´ve found that works best is the thread method, and I apply a sort of iodine/betadine liquid to the needle, the thread, and the blister.

Here´s something I wrote in my diary while I was in Logrono:

"I took a nap. When I woke up the man on the mattress next to me started talking to me in Spanish. I was tired and could barely understand and wished he would stop talking. As I became more awake I understood more. He was from Mexico. He lectured me on my feet and blisters, made me put my feet up, made me go wash my feet. Next thing I knew I was sitting in a chair with the Mexican and three Spanish men around me, all looking at and touching my feet, talking about blister care entirely in Spanish. One of them took up my right foot and and used a needle to pop a blister on my heel, and bathed it in iodine. He bandaged another blister on my big toe. The Spaniards left, and the Mexican massaged vaseline into my feet."

A Danish man I know likes to say that the Camino is the only place where you can walk up to a stranger and say, "Where are you from? How are your feet?" I often think about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

Some days I take off my boots after walking 25 k, and my feet hurt so much, blisters and calluses pruny with sweat, and I don´t even want to touch them, or look at them, just put them away from me and pretend they are not there. It was like this the day I left Leon. I didn´t want to touch my feet, but I really wanted someone else to, not a massage, just human touch. The hospitalero was a physical therapist and good with blisters, and the pilgrims I ate dinner with urged me to show him my blisters. I went to the kitchen (as well as being a physical therapist and an hospitalero, he was also a wonderful cook) and only had to say "Tengo ampollas" before I found myself sitting in the kitchen with my left foot in the man´s lap and another hospitalera sterilizing a needle.

He looked at the mess of a blister on my big toe and asked if I had problems with work or school. When I said no, he told me I was solitary, lonely. I remembered that morning when I had left the Belgian in Leon, telling him "I walk the camino alone." The two hospitaleros explained in a mixture of English and Spanish that the man could tell my problems from the placement of my blisters, like reflexology. He popped my blisters, bandaged them, and massaged me feet.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: General Information and Advice, Part Two

Conversions—Some measurements you convert to quickly and easily. A 20 kilometer day is fairly easy. Your bag is 14 kilos, which everyone considers too heavy, but you get by. Dinner is 10 euros. But Celsius takes longer to figure out. Everyone exclaims about how hot it is one day when it reaches 40 C. It doesn´t feel that hot to you. The Danish girl you are walking with asks why you aren´t complaining about the heat, and at first you tell her it´s because you´re a pilgrim and you´ll take whatever the Lord sees fit to send you, and then you tell her you do Bikram yoga in rooms hotter than this.
Eventually you´ll figure out a way to gauge Celsius: you ask an Irish woman what the average human body temperature is. She says it´s 37.5 C.

Heat wave—It´ll hit a day or two before you reach Pamplona and continue a few days after. In Pamplona, you´ll settle down on a bench in a plaza to wait out siesta and the heat. You´ll be able to see a sign that blinks the time and the temperature. It´s about 35 C when you sit down. You wait, and watch. 36 C. 37 C. 38 C. Afternoon is turning into evening and you have five more kilometers to go. 39 C. 40 C. Will it never get any cooler? 41 C. 42 C. 43 C. 44 C. Finally at 6:30 you wade out into the heat. 44 C, 111 F. The Spaniards tell you you´re crazy for walking in this heat. But as long as you don´t have your pack on, you love it.

Santa Claus lives in Finland—Duh. Everyone knows this except the Americans.

Everyone´s a blister expert—You will hear all sorts of theories on how to prevent and treat blisters. Each person will speak with great conviction. One will swear up and down that Compeed is the best; it´s just like a second skin. Another will swear that Compeed ruins your feet. It´s best just to listen politely, then treat your blisters in your own preferred fashion when they aren´t looking.

Luxury—You will quickly learn to appreciate small luxuries. Four beds in a room. Showers that have somewhere to put your clothes so they won´t get wet. Bathrooms with toilet paper.

Gratitude—Small favors will come to mean a lot. A bartender will give you an extra cookie for dessert one day, and you won´t know if it´s standard at that bar or if it´s because she can tell you´re having a bad day, but you´ll appreciate it with your whole heart. When an hospitalero carries your backpack the few steps to your bed for you after you´ve walked 20 kilometers, it will seem the nicest thing anyone´s ever done for you.

The Mesetas—The Mesetas are the desert. You reach the Mesetas in the middle of your trip. The middle is hard. The middle is when it becomes a single routine of walk, siesta, eat, sleep. Sometimes you can´t remember what town you woke up in. The middle is when you reach the plateau of your learning curve. The middle is when you can no longer remember what it feels like to have feet that don´t hurt. The middle is when menu del peregrino stops tasting good. The middle is when everything stops being new and exciting.  The middle is when all the friends you´ve made manage to get either a day ahead or a day behind you. The middle is when Nutella becomes boring. The middle is when the churches with their giant gold altar pieces and statues and paintings stop being impressive. The middle is when you start wondering if you´re achieving everything you´re supposed to achieve on a pilgrimage. The middle is when leaving your best friends´ phone numbers at home seems a ridiculously bad idea. The middle is when you catch a cold. The middle is when you leave the Belgian. But even in the middle you know there´s nowhere else you´d rather be.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: General Information and Advice, Part One

Spanish—Yes, you´re in Spain and you know some Spanish. But there´s always that bar in Pamplona where everything is in Basque.

Blessed are those who do not disturb the sleep of the pilgrims—If you spend the night getting drunk with an Irishman and a Belgian and joking loudly on the terrace of the albergue, the other pilgrims will be kept awake and pissed off, and you´ll spend the next day feeling guilty. However, if you talk in your sleep, if in fact you yell and pound the windows in your sleep and wake up the 70 other pilgrims in the room in the process, while you will worry they´ll think your a lunatic, they´ll just be glad your nightmare temporarily put a stop to everybody´s snoring.

Ear plugs—Surprisingly few pilgrims have them, but everyone loves to complain about being kept awake by snoring.

Touregrino—A pun on the Spanish word for pilgrim, peregrino. Some pilgrims will take the bus when they get tired, or even if the day´s walk is particularly boring (think Mesetas). Some pilgrims will have their packs sent to the next city by taxi. Spaniards are especially prone to such things. Your friend the Irish woman will tell you that everyone has a different reason for doing the camino and everyone does it in their own way, but you´ll have trouble feeling compassion for these people

Bedbugs—They are among us.

It´s your camino—You´ll hear people say this. If you´ve gotten in the habit of walking with someone, don´t be afraid to tell them you want to walk alone, and don´t be offended if someone says the same to you. Take days away from your friends. Choose your own path. It´s your camino.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: Signs and Symbols

Santiago—Saint James. Saint Jacque. Jacobeo. James´ body was discovered in the city Santiago de Compostela, where you end.

Blue and yellow—The colors of the camino. Your brain will be trained to notice the slightest bit of yellow anywhere.

Yellow arrows—Flechas amarillas. They point the way. Painted on the road, on the sidewalk, on rocks, on buildings, sometimes just a splotch of yellow on a tree branch, always guiding you closer to Santiago. You´ll get nervous if you haven´t seen an arrow or shell for a while. "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" will get stuck in your head a lot.

Sea shells—Conches. Scallops.All the peregrinos (pilgrims) carry one on their pack. At the wine fountain you used your shell as a cup. Some of the cities have metal shells in the sidewalks to mark the camino. They´re painted on sign posts. They´re found in city artwork. The shells are found on the shores of Galicia, where you will end your journey. Two myths explain the sea shell. One is that after the death of Saint James, his body was being shipped to Spain when a storm hit and the body was lost to sea. It was washed ashore undamaged and covered in scallops.

Credenciales y sellos—Pilgrim´s passports and stamps. Every pilgrim carries a credencial. Every time you stop at a hostel, sometimes at churches or bars, they stamp your credencial and date it to prove you did this step of the camino. Each stamp is unique, a record of your journey.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: Food and Accommodation

Bars—If you went to bars this much in the States you´d be an alcoholic. But bars are where you get cafe con leche in the morning, tortilla at lunch, San Miguel and tapas in the afternoon, rosado at night.

San Miguel—Most popular beer in Spain.

Tortilla—Spanish omelette. Usually just eggs and potato slices baked in the shape of a pie. Eaten alone or as the filling for bocadillos.

Bocadillos—Big sandwich. Sub-style bread, six inches to a foot long. But simple. A bocadillo de queso is just bread and cheese. Bocadillo de atun is just bread and tuna, not even mayonaise. Easy to get at bars, but you´ll get so bored of them. One day you´ll have two chocolate bars for lunch simply to avoid another bocadillo.

Cola cao—Like fortified caffeinated hot chocolate made with frothy milk. Buy it at bars so you can use the bathroom.

Vino tinto—Your lips will become permanently purple.

Rosado—You´ve never had this much pink wine in your life. It´s the Belgian´s favorite.

Menu del peregrino—Pilgrim´s menu. Also called menu del dia. A starter (you usually get ensalada mixta), a second (you usally get fish and chips, battered merluza or lenguado), un postre (dessert, yogurt or fruit or ice cream, arroz con leche if  you´re lucky). A basket of bread and a bottle of vino tinto. Lots of food for cheap, about 10 euros.

Ensalada mixta—Perhaps the only way to get your vegetables in Spain. Usually lettuce, tomatos, and tuna. Sometimes olives, hard-boiled eggs, shredded carrot, etc. Vinegar and oil for the dressing.

Albergue—Hostel, refugio, auberge. The pilgrim´s hostel. Where you sleep every night. Between 4 and 200 beds per room. Bathroom, place to hang laundry, a kitchen and internet if you´re lucky.

Albergue municipal—Community run albergue. Cheap, lots of beds, basic facilities. 4 to 8 euros.

Albergue parroquial—Parish hostel. Run by nuns or volunteers. Often by donation. Sometimes a community dinner. Often a pilgrim´s blessing. Some parish albergues are full of friendly volunteers, some quiet nuns. At one the nuns led everyone in singing. :)

Albergue privado—Private albergue. 8 to 10 euros. Not necessarily any better than the other albergues, but sometimes they are. Maybe a swimming pool or less people per room.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Day in the Life

 A day on the camino:

Rise between 5 and 6 when you hear other people rustling. Eat breakfast at the hostel (coffee, bread, orange juice) or from your own food stash (bread, tea, yogurt, fruit, nutella) or wait for a bar.

Begin walking with the sunrise. Walk alone a ways, or slow your pace to talk to friends as you pass them. Maybe have a hiking partner for the day. Golden wheat fields in all directions, the sun rising over the hill.

Pass through a town and stop at a bar. Get a cafe con leche and a croissant napolitana, or just a Cola Cao so you can use the bathroom.

Walk. Stop at a bar. Walk. Picnic lunch. Walk. Walk. Walk.

20 or 30 kilometers (12 or 18 miles) later...

Arrive at a town and check into the albergue (hostel). Municipal or parroquial preferred. Between 12:30 and 2:30 is normal.

Take siesta. This includes napping, stretching, showering, washing laundry, and eating snacks.

At 5, when siesta ends, go explore the town. Stop into the cool quiet churches with their high stone roofs and golden altars. Stock up on groceries. Stop at a bar for a pincho of something.

Dinner. Menu del peregrino. Two courses, dessert, vino tinto, bread. Drink with friends.

10 PM. Lights out for all good pilgrims.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lord of the Woods

I´m in Roncevalles. Today I hiked through one of the largest beech forest left in Europe. Here dwells Basajaun, a yeti-like creature who protects the sheep and taught man to farm. He´s very interesting; learn more here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Days 2 and 3

Day Two

Breakfast at the hostel in Paris consisted entirely of bread. A croissant, a baguette, and toast. Plus some beverages. (Yes, I probably will recount everything I eat in Europe.) Spent most of yesterday in a train. Two trains, actually. And the metro. Happily traveled south through France, eating cherries, reading Mrs. Pollifax, and napping. It became warmer the farther south we went, and Paris' rain turned to hot sunshine. The Basque area of France is gorgeous: all the houses are white with red shutters and terra cotta rooves; there are green mountains, more trees than fields, calm rivers, blooming hydrangeas, sheep sitting under trees waiting for a painter to come by and notice them. Now I'm in St. Jean Pied de Port, still Basque, where the journey begins. It's so beautiful and picturesque; being in St Jean is like living in a story book.

I'm staying in a hostel called L'Esprit du Chemin, Spirit of the Road.Yesterday was the summer solstice, which in France is the Night of Music. People all over France play music all night long. But if you're a pilgrim you don't get to enjoy it, lights out by 10:30 for us! Which is good since they turn on the lights at 6:30 AM whether you're ready or not. Anyway, for dinner we had a myriad of dishes because there are myriad types of music. We started with a fantastic muscatel while everyone went around introducing themselves. Halfway through dinner I realized—much to my delight—it was all vegetarian. We finished with sweetened peaches in a tangy cream—goat's milk?—and peppermint tea in silver teapots. After dinner I stayed on the patio talking to an Australian, and a Belgian who lives in Barcelona, finishing the tea and wine, watching the rain on the glass roof.

This hostel, and being in St Jean, reminds me of living in Holden Village. By turns stillness and laughter, camaderie and solitude; people from all backgrounds; art and flowers everywhere, tucked into corners; space for inspiration and meditation.

Day Three

I thought I smelled bacon before I got out of bed, and was relieved when I went downstairs to see breakfast was French bread and cereal. It didn't take me long upon coming to Europe to feel heavy and turned off every time the prospect of meat arises. I may not like meat, but now I'm not vegan I can enter into the joys of Nutella at breakfast, or Choco Nussa as we had today. I suppose they don't call it French bread here, just bread.

Everyone but me and the Australian left to hike over the Pyrenees after breakfast. I wandered about St. Jean and quickly discovered the citadel. By legend St. Jean was built in 716, but it wasn't on record until the 12th century. Either way the citadel was where the French fought the Spanish in various wars. I imagined people shooting arrows through the slits in the thick walls, people dying where I was standing, and yes, I also imagined Aragorn defending the walls from the forces of Mordor. The citadel is now a colegio; I saw preteens at PE through the main gate.

The good thing about getting up so early as if to hike is that by 10 AM I was done with my personal tour of the citadel while the other tourists were just getting there.

I've discovered that picking up food from street vendors is more fun than going to restaurants. For brunch I went to a patisserie to get pain paysan and then a fruit stand to get an apple, bananas, pepper jelly. I'd gone to that patisserie yesterday to get a leek tart for first dinner, after a man at a restaurant had turned me away angrily, saying they didn't serve pizza before 7, as if eating dinner before 7 were a ridiculous notion.

Well, to continue with my diary of food, I went back to that restaurant for lunch today for pizza and hard cider. Basque is known for their hard cider, apparently.

Tomorrow I begin the hike. Over the Pyrenees.

This recounting feels dreadfully incomplete. Should I say how the bells ring the hour? How a rooster crowed this morning, and the Pyrenees were covered in mist, and I sat next to a plum tree? How when I got to the hostel they gave me water that tasted of lavender and lime? How I talked to the Belgian about Paulo Coelho? Or how I can almost understand the Italians, or that at dinner we gave our introductions in both French and English, or that I mistakenly pronounce pain like the Spanish pan? This is a pilgrimage, and I can't really explain what's going on.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day One

This keyboqrd is kicking ,y qss:

This keyboard is kicking my ass. Not only are the buttons in a different order, the buttons dont even make the symbols they claim too. I cant find the apostrophe, for instance.

OK, here I am in Paris, France. Day one of the pilgrimage.

Day one and Ive already run into my first epic challenge: I discovered on the plane that the one pen I brought with me was out of ink. A writer without ink! It took me hours and hours to acquire a new one, by which point many thoughts that needed written down had come and gone.

My plane was delayed two hours so I got here about 10:30, then ran about CDG airport; then a train; then the metro. Metro was confusing at first, but once I figured it out it became quite simple. Ive spent most of today wandering around the Louvre district: Lunch in the Gallerie Vivienne at A Priori The. The plat du jour was ham (jambon de bayonne), feta; cantaloupe; mint; and mixed greens. I enjoyed it; but Ive eaten so much ham Ill be fine if i never see another pig in my life. Too bad theyre partial to pork in Spain.

I spent most of my afternoon in the Jardin des Tuileries. For dinner I kept it simple; went to the open air market; got cherries (cerises) at a fruit stand; quiche and pain au chocolat at a patisserie. Spent the evening getting unhappily lost trying to find the Montmartre district then happily exploring the Montmartre district. Which is where I am now; at my hostel in Montmartre.

Technically the hiking doesnt start until Thursday, but I think today should count. I spent six hours with my pack on walking up and down Paris with few breaks. Ive got blisters already.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why We Bother

A romance novel on why women dress up for dates:

"Why do we go to all this trouble?" Parker asked. "Men don't notice anyway."

"Because what we wear affects how we feel, how we act, how we move. And that they do notice."

—Nora Roberts, from Happy Ever After

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Remember my upcoming trip to Spain?

In less than two weeks I will begin my pilgrimage through Spain. It’s easy to get caught up in the preparation—hiking to get in shape, buying new hiking boots, practicing Spanish, changing my money to Euros, booking a hostel in Paris for my first night, getting a voltage converter for my camera and phone, etc. But this is a pilgrimage—what do I do to prepare spiritually? Doubtless on my pilgrimage I will be challenged in many ways, stretched and tested, exposed to all sorts of new experiences, and will ultimately grow as a person. But where do you draw the line between personal growth and spiritual growth? Two people may walk the same path, and for one it’s a pilgrimage while for the other it’s just a hike.

It’s hard to prepare spiritually. It’s easy to push that aspect of my journey to the side.

What I’ve been doing is reading a bit from a couple of my favorite mindfulness books each morning, and noting down passages that resonate with me. I’m trying to be more mindful here, now. I’m trying to feel more connected to the divine—but how does one purposefully make themselves feel connected to the divine? I’m not sure.

So I note down these passages from my favorite mindfulness books. I’m bringing a small notebook with me, and for every day of my trip I’m going to write down a meditation, a prayer, a quotation from one of my mindfulness books, an affirmation: one thought to contemplate each day of my journey. My guidebook has small thoughts and questions for different days of the pilgrimage to go with the spiritual aspect, though I haven’t read these, so I don’t know if I’ll like them.

I realized today that my trip is bookended by Litha (midsummer) and Lughasdah (a celebration of the ripening harvest). They both fall on days I’ll be in Paris, before I head to Spain and when I’m heading back from Spain. I find this wonderful and meaningful. Litha is about growth and blossoming, Lughnasdah is about maturity and abundance.

I’ve considered posting some of these thoughts of mindfulness and spirituality here as I go along my trip (since I’ll be blogging from Spain). But there’s a good chance I won’t, lest I become focused on sharing my spiritual quest and writing about it rather than experiencing my private journey as it happens, being focused on the moment. 

What do you do to feel connected to the divine?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Need by Carrie Jones—Review

If you enjoyed Twilight, Jones' Need is a good book for you. It starts out very similarly: Instead of Arizona girl moves to a rainy little town in Washington, it’s South Carolina girl moves to a snowy little town in Maine. She has to navigate the social climate of a new high school while realizing there’s something not quite right about some of her peers. Something not entirely human. But this time—unlike Twilight—it’s not vampires.

I considered putting the book down. Easy reader level + lack of depth + teenage immaturity is not a winning combination for me. But I kept reading because I really wanted to find out what were these creatures in this little Maine town, creatures masquerading as human at her high school as well as stalking her. Creatures leaving gold dust on the snow.

I’m not going to tell you what the creatures were, in case you hate spoilers as much as I do. But you can go to the Amazon page, because apparently Amazon has no qualms about spoilers. I will tell you the creatures are way more intriguing than the traditional vampire, though they would have been better handled by an author like Susanna Clarke.

I read the entire book, and while it wasn’t a masterpiece, it was enjoyable. It was a quick easy read, and I liked it enough that I’ve put the sequel on hold at the library. It’s a good winter-break book, or whenever you want to dream about dark snowy forests with a cup of cocoa in your hand. But it left me feeling a lack. The creepy antagonists weren't creepy enough. And overall, there was a lack of emotional resonance.