Tag Archives: spain

F is for Feet, Fine Friends of Wanderers

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Detail from the Plaza de Dali in Madrid. 

Walking. It’s a great way to travel, even though we don’t often think of our feet as a legitimate means to cover lots of territory. One of the things I love, love, love about Paris (and, there are plenty of things…) is the fact it is such a walkable city. Every day while I was there over the past couple of weeks I walked – miles and miles and miles.

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I passed this piece of sculpture while cutting through the Tuileries in Paris … I could have stayed underground, I suppose, but it wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun.  

Yes, I generally started out on the Metro, hopping on at the local station and heading somewhere close to my destination. But once turned loose in a neighbourhood, as often as not I would start roaming, knowing that at any point when exhaustion overtook me (and my feet) I wouldn’t be far from a Metro station and could always drop down below the streets and head for home.

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This piece of sculpture in Santiago de Compostela in Spain honours the work the feet do when it comes to transporting pilgrims across Spain. My feet felt every step of the 120 or so kilometers we walked in October as we travelled from Sarria to Santiago. (Want to see some photos of the journey I took with my father and daughter? Come follow us on Instagram: @thelastlegbook) 

I might not have thought to honour my feet with a whole post if it weren’t for the fact that they are starting to grumble and complain (you know, squeaky wheel gets the grease and all…). I am developing arthritis in various joints, but the one that causes me the most grief is my right big toe. It sounds ridiculous (big toes are somehow unfailingly undignified), but my goodness, I sure appreciate all the years of uncomplaining service I’ve had from my tootsies.

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Rodin had a thing about feet… well, I guess he had a thing about bodies and getting their various bits to look right… This display is in the Rodin Museum. 

 

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Detail from one of the sculptures in the sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum in Paris. 

Next week I have an appointment to see my sports medicine doctor who will be repeating a treatment he did about 18 months ago – injecting a soothing dose of cortisone into the problematic joint space. I was dubious last time, but after feeling the relief that followed the first injection, I am sold. I’d been told that I’d need to repeat as often as every 4-6 months, but I’ve managed to hike a lot of miles over the past 18 months before feeling the need to go back.

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Not that long ago I was lucky enough to find myself on a beach in the Caymen Islands… the first thing I did was to free my feet from the confines of my sandals. There is nothing like the feeling of warm sand beneath bare feet… There is something positively soul (sole?)-rejuvenating in the act of connecting directly with the earth, the ocean, the beach… Cramming my feet into heavy winter boots is just not the same… 

And on that note, I now need to load my computer back into my backpack and walk home. I’ve been out and about running (well, walking) errands here in Canmore, making good use of Shank’s Pony. The sun is blazing out there, reflecting off the snow. It’s cold and crisp but still suggestive of spring and I’m happy to be moving. We had a crazily long trip back from Paris – almost 24 hours of being trapped in too-small airplane seats or trying to get comfortable in airport waiting areas so it feels good to be breathing unfiltered air and able to get up and go when I feel the need.

Until tomorrow when we meet again over the letter G…

 

 

 

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!

That Way!

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

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

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First Steps on the Road to the Camino

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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.)

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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?

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