Estoy Peregrina

I got my first tattoo about a month ago.

I waited a long time for it. I’ve considered other tattoos over the years, but each time decided to wait a year to make sure I still wanted whatever it was that I was considering. I’ve been waiting five years, and while what I got isn’t precisely what I’ve been imagining for those five years, it’s precisely what I wanted.

Five and half years ago, I walked a portion of the Camino Portugués, the Portuguese branch of the Camino de Santiago. I dreamt of the Camino for seven years before I set foot on the Road. I’ve dreamt of it for the five and a half years since I turned back in Vilarinho, since I sat in the plaza outside the Catedral, swearing I would return.

Catedral del Apostol

Everyone who walks the Road carries or wears a scallop shell to mark themselves as a pilgrim. For years I’ve liked the idea of having a tattoo based on the scallop shell, a permanent and tangible reminder that I am – or want to be – constantly seeking, moving forward, deeply connected to the world around me.

Day 2: Mosteiro

The Road is marked with wayfinding devices – some permanent, erected with official placards, and others spray-painted on curbs. For years, I thought about having a rough arrow on the inside of my wrist – an approximation of the yellow arrows I saw on stone walls and the backs of signs. I liked the idea of a wayfinding device as a reminder that I am seeking direction, and that help will always be provided when it is needed most.

And so I settled on both: the stylized scallop shell used as a wayfinding device. I nearly cried when the tattoo artist brought out the sketch and applied the temporary to my arm. The pain was intense in a purgatory way, just as the physical and emotional pain of the Road were so long ago. I left euphoric.

I’m so happy with it, with what it means to me, with the intentions formalized by the inscription on my body.  Estoy peregrina.  Voy a viajar a Santiago.

Shiver in the light

“It would be an almost perfect love affair, wouldn’t it? that between the pilgrim and the road.  No mistake, it is a beautiful thing, the camino.  It stretches away from you.  It leads to real gold: Look at the way it shines.  And it asks only one thing.  Which happens to be the one thing you long to give.  You step forward.  You shiver in the light.  Nothing is left in you but desire for that perfect economy of action, using up the whole heart, no residue, no mistake: camino.” — Anne Carson, Plainwater

I’m a stranger here myself

The weather has been perfect here for the last few days, which has made extended wandering all the more appealing. It was in the mid-60’s when I left for the gym this morning at 7:15, cool enough to necessitate a light pullover. This is absolutely my favorite time of year, and my favorite time for being in the Midwest, which makes the coming departure all the more bittersweet.

I spent all day Sunday – bookended by meals with friends – wandering around town, taking in favorite places for the last time for a while. The peace and silence of walking has made me long for the Camino again. I don’t think the Camino was originally on my list of things to do before my 30th birthday, but I think it should be. It seems very close to me these days.

I knew this would happen. Even on that second very hard day on the Camino, I knew it would. I knew that despite the physical pain and the wrenching loneliness, despite the isolation and fear, despite the language barrier and being half a world away from everyone I knew and loved – a day would come when I would miss the Camino and ache to be back there.

SB asked me why I thought this was the case, and I told him that the Camino for me was an experience absolutely as far removed from every day life as I could imagine – entirely removed from things like work and classes and independent studies and bills and Moodles and houses to be sold. I miss it now like I miss old relationships – not that I actually want to be there right now, walking on untrained feet, spending money I don’t have on foods I can only barely recognize – but every so often there’s a twinge of remembrance. Unlike old relationships, however, the Camino is a thing I can have again – that I hope to have again, so that twinge of remembrance is undercut with deep longing, the same longing that drew me there to begin with.

A few months before I left, Neil told me that he thought I would go back. He walked the Camino Frances in 2005, and returned to do part of the Via de la Plata within six months. I’m not as driven by it as he is, but I will be back, and as soon as I can.

…and after

Home safe as of Thursday, when Shane picked me up after an awful night of travel – delays, flight problems, being searched at security, throwing up next to the highway on the drive home. It is wonderful to be here, though I know I’ll soon be itching to travel again. I’ve spent the last couple of days with Shane and friends, celebrating my return and the departure of others – Kasey leaves this week for Philadelphia, and I hope to visit her soon. We spent almost all of yesterday outside – breakfast at Courier, buying herbs and strawberries at the Farmers Market, wandering around Meadowbrook Park, and picnicing at Allerton with Jason and Sonya, and then grilling out at the end of a long sunny day. My sleep schedule seems to have changed with the season, and I’ve been up impossibly early, and tired early as well. Today holds some gardening, some walking, chai oatmeal, and a lot of quiet time – all good things for vacation.

Photos from my trip are finally posted, by the way: Camino and after

travel update

so…..i’m coming home on thursday.

to be more precise, i’m flying out of london wednesday night, with an overnight layover in toronto, putting me back in chicago at 745 thursday morning. nuts.

right now i’m in a hostel in northern london – zone 4, for those in the know – which, if you’re not, is pretty effing far out. i’m staying here one night, then tomorrow i’m moving to a place near king’s cross, where i’ll stay for two nights. edinburgh and parts beyond are out – which is ok for my checkbook’s sake. i’m going to spend the next couple of days doing all the touristy things i didn’t do when i lived here, and then i’m coming home.

this adventure has been a lot of disappointments punctuated with some extreme joy. i am sure there will be more of the same in the time i have left here. right now, though, i’m off to shoe shop. my toes are taped at the moment to avoid further blisters, and i’d really like to be out of these boots. see you all soon!

oh yes, and congrats to everyone who is graduating – mark, karin, angie, erin, kasey, richard, and, oh yeah, ME. not that it makes much of a difference since i’ll be sticking around, but still – while i’m sleeping in my hostel in london, my friends will be walking across the stage at smith hall, and i am so proud!