Last year I wrote some notes and advice for pilgrims. Here are some more picked up from round II:

Take care of your whole body, not just your feet. Last year I was hyper focused on my feet, to the point where I disregarded the rest of my body. This year I paid much more attention:

  1. Yoga: I tried to do yoga most evenings. I looked for a patch of grass and then free styled or used the Down Dog app on my phone. In Herrerias I even found a yoga class taught by Esther, a wonderful Dutch girl. It was in a clearing in some trees with a stream running by. It was by far the best yoga lesson I have ever had!! The stretching is wonderful and resets the body.
  2. Ice baths or equivalent: I was lucky to find ice-cold rivers and streams to dip in after my walks. This is critical to bring down whole body inflammation after all day hiking. I found this deeply restorative as well as refreshing. In worse case, a cold shower will also help bring down any possible inflammation.
  3. Liquids, liquids, liquids (preferably not alcoholic). I did not do a bad job on this last year, but this year I made sure to crank it up! Make sure that you keep a solid supply of water, especially if doing the Camino in the summer. I had a stretch one afternoon where I could not find an albergue, it was very hot and I was tempted to not fill my bottle. I’m glad I did, as it took a while to get to the next water source.

Besides your body, listen to your soul. The early morning hours are usually quiet and mostly without people. This is a perfect time to meditate. I use an old rosary to help me match my breath with my pace and a mantra. One morning I managed a solid 45 minutes, a record of conscious meditation for me. It was one of the most cleansing and spiritual experiences I have ever had.

But the best lesson to share is to start walking.

Since I ended my Camino last year I was itching to get back to my pilgrimage. It did not disappoint. Exactly a year to the day, I boarded a bus to Astorga, the city where I finished last year. Four hours later, I arrived. I did not want to spend the night in a place that only had sad memories and heartbreak for me. So I walked to Murias, the first village out. It was a gorgeous evening walk on one of the longest days of the year. I passed by the obligatory tiny chapel and yellow arrows. The small Albergue was a repurposed, old, one classroom schoolhouse. Just about everyone inside was already dozing. But I walked to the local restaurant for a quiet dinner with a glass of wine. Then crawled into bed after a quick shower.

My Camino proper started, like last year, on my Dad’s birthday. It is a tiny, silly way for me to honor him and to celebrate with him, walking with his old walking stick. Right out of Murias there is a small detour to one of the prettiest villages in Spain: Castrillo de los Polvazares. An ancient, untouched stone village. Stone homes, stone streets, stone church, stone everything. I made the detour because I remember driving there with my father in his massive Mercedes and being so awestruck by the beauty of the village. My morning walk is always my favorite. The dew on my legs, the silence, loneliness, the cool.

The path was a slow but steady climb to the second highest peak of the route, past Rabanal del Camino, where I stopped to chat with a Benedictine Monk in his monastery, and Foncebadon, to Cruz de Fierro, the site of an ancient Roman temple. It is a tiny iron cross on a massive wooden post. Pilgrims are supposed to drop off a stone picked up at the base, but with the accumulation of stones, they are now suggesting leaving flowers. I had a pebble I had been carrying since Navarra.

After cresting for five odd km. the descent is very technical, putting a lot of pressure on feet, shins, and knees. I was out of the Maragateria area and into El Bierzo, a previously forgotten region of Spain that is now on the map since their wines became noticed some years ago. I eventually stopped at Acebo a lovely village of stone homes with slate roofs.

There are three basic types of albergues a pilgrim can stay in. The municipal or public ones, the parochial or church affiliated ones and private ones. I normally chose my albergues in this order. In Acebo the options were parochial or private, I stayed at the parochial, run by a wonderful American couple that had left the US because of President Trump (they can hardly be blamed).

My walk the next morning led me by a wonderful 18th C. altar in one of the tiny chapels along the way. I always stop and chat with the attendant, while I get my official stamp to prove my visit, which I will need in Santiago. Breakfast was at the gorgeous village of Molinaseca. And the walk continues past fields and vineyards to Cacabelos. The Albergue at Cacabelos is paradise for me. It is set up along the inside wall of an 18th C. neoclassical church, right up my alley! The next day I end up at Herrerias, the base of the third highest climb of the route. There is only a couple of private albergues and the one I choose is super cute. The bedroom only has 8 beds so it is very quiet. There is a neo-Hippy project next door called Project Brigid where they do music workshops, and they lend you their kitchen. I signed up for their yoga class in a small clearing, surrounded by high trees, next to a lovely stream. It was by far the best yoga session of my life.

The climb to Cebreiro is the third highest in the Camino, but in the early morning, it is a breeze. A stop at the great bar El Arbol in La Faba provides great fuel to keep climbing. The view of the hills of Galicia from the top is awesome and the town of Cebreiro is really cute, with a fantastic, intimate church where I spend some time. I keep walking downhill to Triacastelas. The albergue is in rooms of four. I room with a Mexican girl, a South African fellow and Go from Japan, who will become my new friend.

I walk to the Benedictine Monastery at Samos in one gorgeous chestnut tree forest crisscrossing  gurgling streams. At Sarria I enjoy a wonderful empanada, the local pie, stuffed with tuna. The Camino now is a bit more crowded with busses full of “pilgrims” who only walk the last 100 km. in order to earn the coveted Compostela, the traditional forgiveness of sins for doing the Camino. These mostly Spanish folks can afford to do the walk with only a day pack – or just some water – as their bus will carry their kit from village to village. I must confess it does distract from the purity of the Camino, but they must be equally accepted as they are also pilgrims, even if all they are wearing is a bikini and a water bottle, as I saw one girl doing.

Galicia is a magical region of Spain, it’s ancient hills covered with chestnut and eucalyptus forests, streams and tiny agricultural plots. The food is delicious and the people are wonderful. My last two days’ walk is in the company of awesome Aussie Bec and our Japanese friend Go. After a good night’s sleep at a gorgeous little hotel, the walk into Santiago is an easy 9 km, just in time for the Pilgrim’s mass with the fabled Botafumeiro incense burner that somehow uncorks all my emotions as it swings across the naves of the cathedral. I only have time to get my Compostela before jumping on a train home, I’ve got a busy summer ahead!

 

Well my Naples adventure did not pan out as expected. So after two years I have moved to Princeton, New Jersey.

The root problem is that Naples has a very skewed demographic. Naples is the preferred spot for retired, wealthy, white (read conservative) Midwesterners (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa) to retire or semi-retire, so the population is them and the people who serve them. It is very difficult for a middle-aged, middle class, educated, single person to thrive. In fact, other than some fantastic colleagues, I did not make any friends in two years. And I am not a totally antisocial fellow: I go to church, volunteer, go to the gym, to yoga, to the Symphony, to the bar, the cigar lounge, coffee, I lived “Downtown”, etc.

So, yes, I am grossly generalizing, but at the end of the day that was my problem. I was not happy personally, professionally, socially, culturally. I was troubled by the lack of diversity and the normalization of this lack of diversity. To be fair, Naples sits on land stolen from the Everglades, the biggest sub-tropical jungle in the world, talk about environmental disasters! What it means is that it is very new, nobody lived there until the mass production of air conditioning in the middle of the 20th C, (although native Americans did live there). It does have a gorgeous beach, however, and I will miss running on it, in shorts, in the middle of January!

But enough of the griping and whining, that was the past.

I have accepted a position to teach French and Spanish at The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey. Mr. Hun, or rather, Prof. Hun was a professor of math at Princeton who dedicated his free time to helping and tutoring kids with math, (apparently including F. Scott Fitzgerald). He was so successful with his side gig that it became his main gig and he started a school in 1914. Princeton is like all good college towns a thriving, dynamic, diverse, young and restless town – 45 minutes from New York City!

I will be living on campus but not in a dorm, although I will have residential staff responsibilities, I will also coach the Girls Varsity Tennis team! I could not be more excited for this new chapter of my life. But first, Summer in Spain with the family: Finishing The Camino de Santiago that I started last summer, going to Mallorca with my nieces and nephew, and hanging out in the country.

 

The biggest collectors of Dalí where Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who founded the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg – the one in Florida, not the original one. My Spanish V class went on a field trip to visit it.

This year in  Spanish V we studied early 20th Century Peninsular literature and culture. It was an exciting course: we started with late 19th C. Naturalism, reading Emila Pardo Bazán’s short stories, and moved on to Miguel de Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir, a proto existentialist text. (To read more about Unamuno and Existentialism see my previous post about Existentialism and the Quijote), we saw Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, while studying and reading about Surrealism. We read Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry  and talked about the Second Spanish Republic and how that led to the Spanish Civil War.

Our visit to St. Petersburg was fun. We took a van for the two hour drive North (with the obligatory stop at Starbucks to start the road trip). Once there, the Museum had our visit very well prepared. We explored the galleries and the students each presented on a work they had studied and talked a bit about Dalí. Outside the museum we walked around the gardens and labyrinth. From there we went a couple of blocks to hip, thriving, Central Ave in Downtown St. Pete, where the students  ordered their lunch – in Spanish – at Red Mesa Mercado, a street side taquería. While the students enjoyed some free time to explore the area, I enjoyed a nice coffee, then we drove back to Seacrest.

The trip was a cultural and pedagogical success, we all learned about Dalí and discovered a little bit of wonderful St. Petersburg – the one in Florida, not the original one.


Every year, the Science Department at Seacrest organizes a collaboration with the University of Miami  Shark Research team to go on a shark tagging sortie. This year I joined them!

The day starts at 6:00 am driving a van full of students to Key Biscayne. If I had to define Miami with just one word it would be: Traffic. But we made it with time to stop at Starbucks for some breakfast.

The research vessel is a scuba boat (Diver’s Paradise of Key Biscayne) run by the great French/Cuban Captain Eric who moonlights as an Organizational Behavior Professor at FIU. The nuts and bolts of the tagging are simple. Ten “drum lines” are dropped with big chunks of tuna on the hooks, then you go back to check if the sharks have bitten. Sharks need to swim to breathe, so the hooks have an ingenious system to allow them to swim in circles before being tagged. The hook also has a timer so the scientists can know how long it’s been on the hook. Once on board the students have to take various measurements, check the nictitating membrane for stress and reflexes, clip a tiny skin sample from the fin to check the shark’s health and tag it! The grad students also take a blood sample. It is all very professional and humane, I was impressed. Students also study water samples for quality.

Our first specimen was a small blacknose shark, caught near Stiltsville – a series of houses on the water built during prohibition – you guessed it – on stilts, where folks would drink and party. You have to love American hypocrisy! Some are still strong enough to host raves.

The day goes on checking lines, dropping lines, hanging out on the boat, chatting with the U Miami grad students, Eric the Captain, students, and other teachers. It is fantastic to spend a school day where the classroom is the boat!

Then we caught a nurse shark. These are fascinating! Out of the water they breathe on the water they have in their system making a “suckling” noise that gives them their name, their skin feels like sandpaper, and their color is also unique.

After a long day on the boat we hit Miami traffic again to cross Alligator Alley back to Naples. Yuck.

As an educator, this is the kind of experience we always want for our students, where they are participating, helping graduate students work on their research. This is not a sterile classroom experiment, this is field research to study shark stress levels, ecosystem impact, shark immunology, etc. this is real life!

Notes and fun facts: The majority of sharks are under 5 feet long,  you can purchase shark research swag here: https://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/shop

 

 

My first film review was in high school in London in the early 80s for Casablanca. It is my favorite movie because it has all the ingredients I love in the perfect quantities: simple but effective plot, suspense, love, even humor, great cast – Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre… great music, great script, it is full of memorable quotes and one liners. It is all around awesome.

As some of you know I do not own a TV, but I do like my movies, so I have a big screen and projector set up with surround sound. You see, I am an old fashioned old man and I still watch DVDs.  I love watching movies, although I don’t get to see as many as I would like.

It took me over a year of watching Craig’s List like a hawk until I found a decent digital projector that fit my meager teacher salary. In fact it was my last long excursion on Rocinante before the accident. I rode to Venice (Florida) to pick it up. It so happened that my acquisition of a projector coincided with the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, so I celebrated it by watching it a couple of times!

In case you have not seen it yet, go see it.

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”

“…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”

“...I was misinformed.”

 

 

 

Over the years I have mentioned Richard Rohr in different posts, at different lengths, but I had never dedicated a full post to him and his teachings, vamos!

I was introduced to Richard Rohr’s daily emails in 2012 by my therapist in Chapel Hill. I was immediately hooked on his wisdom and totally identified with his belief that we are all part of the same universe, we are made of the same material as plants and rocks and stardust therefore we are one with the universe. This overarching thought then breaks down into various themes such as the importance of the third element in the Trinity as Dark Matter braiding everything together. Or the importance of less is more, of cleansing, minimalism, or self emptying – Kenosis in ancient Greek.

Rohr’s daily email is a refreshing spiritual cleanse, a daily reboot button, a wake up call, a metaphysical slap on the face, and I love it. While more spiritual than religious, Rohr is solidly based on scripture and specially the mystics like Teresa of Avila or Juan de la Cruz. What he presents is a deep understanding of God and love in it’s simple, purest form, devoid of politics, dogmas, or centuries of misunderstanding.

The goal is simple: eliminate the ego. The path is somewhat harder: it requires self examination, meditation, living in the now, the present, realizing that we do not need stuff, power, etc. I could go on and on about Richard Rohr, the impact he has had on my life, but it might be better if I leave you with a quote. One could almost take any from his texts as they are all filled with awesome wisdom, but for now this:

I am convinced that “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is ignorant killing, and as we see today, we are destroying the world through our ignorance. We need to recognize our own personal and structural violence. The death instinct always comes from people who are unconscious, unaware, and indeed do not know what they are doing. Now we can hear Jesus on the cross and know why he said, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). When we love, we do know what we are doing! Love, if it is actually love, is always a highly conscious act. We do evil when we slip into unconsciousness.

I am writing this only a few days before Christmas, so consider this my message of hope and love to you. For my present you can sign up to for Rohr’s free Daily Meditation. Enjoy.

Richard Rohr

One of Rohr’s many books