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

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?