Tag Archives: family

Portrait of a Pilgrim

The Plan

We are on our way back to North America after having spent about five weeks in Spain, most of that walking the last 120 kilometres or so of the Camino de Santiago. What was the point of all that, you might ask? Why did we feel the need to drag ourselves, and in the end, a wheelchair, across a chunk of northern Spain? It would be great if I could say something glib like, “Because it was there” or “Because we like to go on vacations with a bit of a twist” but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

For one thing, we can’t really afford to just jet off and wander around the Spanish countryside for weeks on end. Usually, we either need to find a way to keep working on the road (Internet access makes this possible, though it can also create huge logistical challenges when connectivity is not quite as good as we need it to be). Even better is when we can find a way to tie a project to a travel destination. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a destination travel article about a place we want to go (or, happen to be going anyway). Sometimes it’s using a destination or activity that takes place in a distant place (climbing, for example) in a book. Taking copious notes, reference photos, or conducting interviews to gather information is a way to write some of the travel costs off as long as the material is used somewhere down the road.

Digital nomad at work in a small cafe in the middle of nowhere.

In the case of this trip along the Camino Frances, though, the intention all along was to write a book about the trip and to find a way to integrate art (Dad’a art in particular). Not only is Dad’s work integrated into the written project, he is also beavering away on a series of works exploring the idea of creating a portrait of a pilgrim to be presented in an exhibition of work.

At the end of a long day of walking, Dad works on a drawing of the Castillo de Pambre

One of the the good things about being a writer or an artist is that all of life becomes a potential source of inspiration. That’s also one of the tough aspects of this type of job. There isn’t really a way to shut life off, close the office door and go home. Everything is raw material and holds the potential of the next great bit of writing or amazing painting. For someone in the arts, each day could be the one where our desire to create something worthwhile is realized. Just the act of living life becomes a pilgrimage of sorts, full of challenges and roadblocks to overcome on the way to coming up with something decent.

When we set off on the road to Santiago we knew we wanted to create something (visual art on Dad’s part, written work from me and Dani), but beyond that we weren’t exactly sure what our story would be. After all, we had plans, but plans never exactly correspond with reality.

The good news is that post trip we have plenty of raw material for a book and Dad is well on his way to creating some very cool pieces unlike anything he has ever done before. The walking together, the conversations in the evenings, the time spent looking at art, watching Dad create art, listening to conversations among other pilgrims, reading about the act of pilgrimage, visiting museums – all that input, that raw material provided a massive amount of information, stimulation, and inspiration. The creative wheels aren’t just turning, they are spinning fast.

We knew that part of the challenge after a trip is coming back and being thrown into real life distractions, so we decided to spend a couple of weeks together after we finished walking to Santiago in order to focus on the project. The process has been as challenging as anything we faced on the journey.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Some of our conversations have been predictable – like comparing notes about various high (and low) points of the trip, but we’ve also talked about mortality, what inspires us, surprises like how much we all liked the Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s ode to nature and God in Barcelona, and what makes a great portrait. We’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about the nature of pilgrimage and what a real pilgrim looks like. We sought out images of pilgrims in art and now, as we begin to write (and Dad continues to work with pen and ink and wax crayon and tempera paint sticks and watercolours) what is emerging is a story about our pilgrimage, but also a meditation on what it means to be a pilgrim – in words and images.

We collected dozens of pilgrim-related images on our trip… this one from the Pilgrim Museum in Santiago.

Dad is also exploring juxtapositions of self portraits with ancient depictions of pilgrims. He’s playing with stylistic twists and bold colour, taking fresh inspiration from time spent in the presence of Gaudi’s work, Picasso’s ever-evolving approaches to art and portraiture, and the many, many pilgrims we have seen in carvings, sculptures, murals, painted, drawn, and etched into stone.

We have been privy to Dad’s creative process in ways that have never been possible before now – living in close quarters for so long there is no way to avoid seeing how he comes up with ideas, starts sketching, restarts, scribbles, and polishes. At the same time, Dani and I have been clicking away on our keyboards.

The artist goes shopping – finding art supplies was easy in Barcelona.

I’ve been working on recreating our journey, integrating notes about art and history found along the way. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to share the conversations Dad and I have had over the past six weeks or so that we’ve been travelling together. Dani is digging deeper into the many moments that make up a pilgrim’s journey, writing a series of reflections and information essays that take the reader behind the scenes on subjects as varied as bedbugs and courier systems. The more we write and draw and talk and question, the more we discover to explore, describe, question and discuss.

Leaving Sarria…

“Is that where we are going?” Dad asks, pointing up.

“Unfortunately,” I answer.

“Oh my God. I haven’t trained for this.”

At one point we all worried that we wouldn’t have anything to say about our trip, that our three creative wells would simultaneously run dry. In fact, the opposite is happening. We all have found so much to explore I’m thinking our bigger task will not be thinking of what to include but what we will need to eventually trim out.

No fears about not having enough reference material!

Dutch Power!

Dani and I were trucking along today and about the 6 kilometre mark after leaving our hostel in Salceda a couple of Dutch guys slowed down and insisted in taking a turn in pushing Dad. For a couple of kilometres they stuck with us, chatting away and helping us on all but the steepest of downhills.

Then, it was better for us to hook up our patented “D-brake” system, with Dani behind and connected to the wheelchair with the laundry line and me hanging on to the handles of the chair. As soon as we hit level ground again, though, the fellow from the Netherlands (I can’t believe that throughout the entire time we spent together nobody mentioned names!!!) took over again and kept pushing.

We made excellent time and found out about a documentary film called “I’ll Push You” https://youtu.be/W7gKD3q0-V0 about two friends, one in a wheelchair, who do the CAmino together. Turns out one of the Dutch brothers is a Camino-phile. This trip along the French Way is his fourth, his seventh Camino in total. In 2013 he happened to see the guys on their wheelchair trip, stopped and took a photo. Then, recently, he saw their documentary film and (I think) watched it with his brother. And, when the brothers saw us, they immediately wanted to stop and help.

It was pretty cool to hear their stories and share a bit of the journey with them. One of the things we have really missed in our journey so far was the camaraderie so many pilgrims speak of. Our Camino family has been limited to the three of us as moved so much slower than everyone else. Now, though, people don’t pass us nearly so quickly and when they do, it doesn’t throw them off schedule too much to walk with us for a short while and have a chat.

After a couple of kilometres it was time for us to stop for lunch, which was lovely in the warmth of a late autumn afternoon.

The Dutch brothersa continued on their way and then Dani, Dad and I finished up the day here in O Pedrouzo. As soon as I get somewhere where I can stream video, I’ll have to watch “I’ll Push You.” From the trailer, though, it makes our little jaunt look pretty cruisy!

An update about the Camino

Our trip to Spain is getting closer! Follow the link below to my writing blog for more details…

There is nothing quite like receiving that email confirming your flight is booked. In this case, the series of emails (Calgary to Paris via Montreal, Paris to Madrid and then various bits and pieces of the return trip plus information about trains within Spain) have triggered a crazy mix of wild excitement and sheer terror. […]

via Camino tickets BOOKED!!!!!! — Nikki Tate – Author

Spare a little change?

Throw a few coins in the tip jar and help keep that content coming! Thanks! Eager to join the team and be part of the creative journey on an ongoing basis? Become a patron at http://www.patreon.com/writergrrrl

$1.00

Writergrrrl vs the Dastardly Drysuit

There can be only one winner… and something tells me it wasn’t me…
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to get myself a drysuit – you know, in case I am invited to go surfing in Antarctica. I found one, really cheap, online. This was my attempt to put the stupid thing on.

Warning: Best not watch this with a mouthful of coffee… I can’t be responsible for any damage your keyboard might suffer as a result.

Curious how I got out again? Pop on over to Patreon and sign up to be a Patron. There’s a sequel that only Patrons get to see… Escape from the Dastardly Drysuit.

Dad Draws a Tree

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to watch my father draw. It has always seemed to be somewhat miraculous the way images somehow seep out of the tip of his pencil (or flow from the brushes) and onto the page (or canvas). Because Dad will be recording his impressions of the Camino trip visually, we have been talking a lot recently about the artistic process and how he will capture his experience of the trip through his art.

We’ve decided to make a series of videos about Dad and his work – where he gets his ideas, how he ‘trains’ for a new project (more about that in a future post), and then how he gets what’s in his head onto the page. This first, short video (about two minutes long) shows him drawing a tree. Simple. But we wanted to set up the camera and do a test before we launch into anything more complicated. I have watched it several times now and still find it just as fascinating to see a tree appear from nothing as I did when I watched, captivated as he drew or painted something marvelous when I was a little girl.

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

First Steps on the Road to the Camino

camino-patch-03

It’s safe to say I have never felt quite this way about a trip before. When Dani first mentioned that she was thinking of taking Dad on the last 120 or so kilometres of the Camino de Santiago, I thought it was both the best and the worst idea she has ever had. I mean, Dad isn’t exactly striding around on long hikes the way he used to. He’s on the hunt for his 82nd birthday this year, but it’s kind of a slow motion, huffing and puffing kind of hunt.

That said, he’s still on his feet, sharp as ever, and busy creating new art projects. But recently, he has seemed a bit less enthusiastic about life. An aching hip and wheezy lungs have dampened his enthusiasm for vigorous exercise. Of course, taking it too easy can lead to a general feeling of blah, setting up a bit of a vicious cycle. Dani’s solution for this situation? A long hike across the Spanish countryside with her grandfather.

Hm. There are a lot of ways this could go terribly wrong. But at the same time, what an opportunity to take part in a venerable pilgrimage tradition with someone you care about deeply. When Dani first mentioned the idea, I desperately wanted to come, but it was Dani’s project and I could think of nobody better to walk with Dad on what was surely going to be a memorable journey. I nodded and tried to be gracious. 

When she asked me if I wanted to come along, you can imagine how long it took me to consider my answer. Hell, yes! (Sorry. Maybe that isn’t an appropriate expression of glee, given the nature of the expedition.)

P2237086.JPG

Dani, Dad and I each have our official Camino passports, which we will get stamped at hostels along the way. We’ll stitch the Canadian patches somewhere on our packs.

Which is how it has come to pass that in the middle of moving, and getting ready to go sailing, and working on various writing projects that I now also find myself thinking about a trip that will be like no other I’ve ever undertaken. For one thing, I won’t be able to march at my usual crazy fast pace. I will be forced to smell the proverbial roses every step of the way. We’re planning to take 25 days, which also means we’ll be spending lots of time together in some challenging circumstances. What better way to bond with (or want to murder) your nearest and dearest?

Am I looking forward to this? Yes, of course. What an opportunity. Am I a tad concerned how this might go down? Yes, of course. I mean, what could possibly go wrong when three generations set off down a long and dusty (or muddy) road across Spain together?

Enjoy reading the blog? Consider becoming a Patron by supporting my creative efforts through Patreon, a cool platform that allows art supporters like you to chip in a little each month to help support writers like me. Curious how it all works? Visit my page on Patreon. While you are there, have a look at some of the other amazing artists, musicians, writers and performers who are making our world a better place through their creative efforts. You could be part of their creative journeys, too. Bonus? Special treats and exclusive Patron-only material for supporters. Check it out!

Two Book Birthdays in One Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in the works for the Origins series (about Christmas).

 

dani-birthdays-img_7705

Dani checking out our new book at a Starbucks where we like to work together…

 

Birthdays was a lot of fun to research and write in part because it meant we were able to dip into those big boxes of family photos in search of family birthday memories. Not that we have to wait until we are researching a book before we dig around the archives. The reality is, though, we have a LOT of photographs (my mother was a professional photographer) and it’s a bit overwhelming to open those boxes and go exploring. It’s easy to lose hours and hours traveling back through the time machine of family photographs.

nikki peter birthday magic 15875135_10157964105550364_4577374677000110276_o.jpgThis photo was taken in about 1970 during our first year in Canada. My brother, Peter and I shared a birthday bash that year as we had a magician come out from Calgary to perform at our party in Banff. We invited everyone from both our classes at school and had a party we both remember well even now.

I posted this photo on Facebook not long ago and a friend who was at that party reminded me I had fits of giggles every time the magician handed me his wand which, to my delight and confusion, refused to stay rigid whenever I touched it. The wand’s inevitable collapse each time I took it left me in hysterics. I had forgotten that part of the party but remembered that the party favors included boxes of Lucky Elephant Popcorn.

lucky-elephant-15872000_10157964142735364_5240448138764147197_n

Bright pink and sweet, that candy popcorn was one of my favorites when I was a kid! Apparently, Lucky Elephant is a Canadian treat, so if you live elsewhere and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s why.

Though our infamous magical birthday party didn’t make it into the book, lots of other family birthdays did. Dani’s 20th in Japan (wearing a fancy kimono), my dad’s 80th (holding a certificate from our then-newly-minted PM, Justin Trudeau), and my fifth (holding onto a very fuzzy white pony in Australia) are all in the book along with a whole lot of things about birthdays I didn’t know before we started writing.

 

Birthdays Cover.jpg

Happy Birthday, Birthdays!!

 

For the past several years Dani and I have been working together on one book or another, so it’s a bit strange now to be in the phase where we are tossing ideas back and forth and considering what our next collaboration might entail. We have a few thoughts that might have legs,  so stay tuned. You never know where our inquiring minds might take us next!