Richard Rohr

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

RIP Rocinante (2006 – 2017)

I bought Rocinante brand new at Boston Harley Davidson in the spring of 2006. We had moved to the US a year earlier and I had no life, I hated my job teaching at a rough public school, had no friends, was still mourning the loss of my company that I had to close down in Spain, and so on. I have been riding since I was 14, so I figured a motorcycle would be a good hobby and maybe even a way to put some adventure in my life and our marriage. Well, the second part did not work out, but Rocinante saved my life. All of a sudden I had something to look forward to, something to tinker with, and something that offered me a great feeling of freedom and adventure. I rode to school every morning, even when it was only a couple of miles away.

My decision was easy, living in the US I wanted an American bike, that meant a Harley-Davidson. But I still wanted a quick, agile, not expensive bike, not a big, fat, expensive couch. The choice was clear, a Sportster.

Rocinante as a name came easy: I love Don Quixote, and his horse was Rocinante.

In the summer of 2011 I rode from Boston to Austin, Texas and back visiting universities for my PhD. It was that trip that gave birth to this blog, so you just have to scroll back to read all about that amazing, life changing adventure.

Rocinante and I moved to North Carolina in 2012, and we explored that state. We checked out the beautiful Carolina shore, it was Rocinante’s first time on a ferry!! Then we moved to Florida, we only managed one quick excursion to Miami, but we had so many more planned.

On September 25 returning home from school, an 80-year-old lady turned her white Lexus SUV left into my green light without seeing me and I crashed into her. I flew and rolled. Fortunately the accident happened near the EMT station, so they put me in an ambulance and took me to hospital in a jiffy! I suffered a shattered pelvis, with its accompanying trauma, and a broken thumb and annular finger. I spent three days in the hospital. Of course my mom got on the first flight out of Madrid. As I write this I have three pins holding my thumb together, while the pelvis and finger heal on their own. With time, I will recuperate.

Rocinante on the other hand will not. Her front fork was destroyed to the point where repair would be more expensive than the value of the bike.

Those are the facts. The emotions on the other hand cannot be easily put on a blog post. Even if I was just going to make a quick market run for a baguette, the anticipation of riding was exciting. We loved making week-end lunch runs, normally to Five Guys. The longer the ride the more exciting the anticipation. Riding to school every day in Florida was a blessing; a way to really wake up on the way there, and a way to leave it all behind on the way home. Longer excursions left me with a deep sense of relaxation. You see, on a bike you are 100% immersed: you hear, smell, feel, see everything, something that can never happen in the air-conditioned, music filled cocoon of a car. Not only are you immersed but you are 100% engaged with the bike, the road, the surroundings, the traffic. I saw Joyce Wheeler approach the light, it was the fact that she slowed down and stopped before turning left that signaled to me that she had seen me. I fell for the most popular motorcycle accident like a stupid rookie.

I will miss Rocinante, I miss her every day, every day that I have to drive to school, to pick up some ice-cream. I miss the engine rumbling, I miss patting the gas tank like Don Quixote would have done on Rocinante’s side. I hope to get a new Sportster as soon as I can. Although no bike will replace the 11 years of emotions on Rocinante.

The Camino is what the world should be like

Three months have passed since I finished my Camino for the year. I have had time to think and process my pilgrimage. In the meantime, a student from UNC interviewed me about my experience on The Camino, which helped me to vocalize my feelings about the experience.

My conclusion is that The Camino is what the world should be like. Pilgrims are generous,  considerate, and kind, we are all fairly equal, united in the task of walking to Santiago. Add to this the human and humane pace of walking, allowing you to talk to others, to enjoy the beautiful scenery, there are no unwanted interruptions, there is no need for technology. There are no hidden interests, we are all just walking and that is pretty much all there is to it. You can walk faster or slower, you can stop wherever you want. It really is a parallel world that is as much of a real world utopia as you can find.

I recently read this passage from Thomas Merton, a real modern-day mystic, and I immediately connected it to my Camino experience:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God . . . became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.

Unfortunately The Camino ends, and one returns to the world we have created. We return to noise and pollution, but even worse: to rude and aggressive people, to rushing, to everything we have constructed that separates us from peace, and beauty, and truth.

 

Irma (not La Douce)

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Every time I heard the name Irma mentioned in September, I thought of one of my father’s favorite films, Irma La Douce (1963) by the great Billy Wilder with the equally greats Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. Of course, every time I had to realize we were not talking about the film.

I have lived in the US on and off for many years and survived snow blizzards in New England, and the occasional storm that would make it all the way up to New York or Boston, even North Carolina, but I had never lived through a tropical storm proper. Enter Irma.

A needed skill in the US is the capacity to parse the always fear mongering news. One needs to develop highly critical thinking in order to live a reasonably fear free life in this country of killer bees, zombies, or swamp things. Admittedly, this is difficult when a Category 5 hurricane is thundering it’s way to your town. Irma destroyed Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles, but it took about a week to skirt Puerto Rico, Hispaniola. and Cuba. So I did not know what to expect.

Then there is the cone of possible trajectories, this is the cornucopia shape that stems from where the storm is. The West Coast of Florida featured prominently on most of those “cones”. Fear was creeping in. Tuesday before the expected landing of the storm on Florida, school announced closing thursday and friday so families could evacuate. But on wednesday the school population had significantly thinned out as people started their exodus.

All along I planned to stay home. I live on a second floor apartment, how bad could it be?

The days before the storm where a mix of utterly quiet and busy preparation. I stocked enough food to feed a Cavalry Division, but I also went on quiet walks on the empty beach and around what looked and felt like a ghost town.

The Saturday of Irmageddon* arrived and I was busy preparing the apartment for the strike.

There was also the storm surge to consider. Storm surge is not quite a tsunami, but apparently the water level of the ocean, and in our case the “bay” rises. All along the rise had been maxed out at 10 feet. Armed with a tape measure I measured the height of my apartment relative to the ground, 10 feet, I was fine. What was not fine was that a. The fantastic sliding doors/windows of the apartment did not have storm shutters – or any kind of shutters – and b. They were now saying up to 15 feet storm surge. Florida being as flat as flat can be, I figured that if the ocean surged by 15 feet and I am less than a mile from the beach I would surely get hit. But wait, the “Bay” side of the apartment is literally only a few feet away.

I was pondering all this when a good friend called. She had not put plywood to protect her windows and now needed tools and help to protect her windows. We cut a deal: I would help her out and then stay at her place with her parents and her daughter to pass the storm, as she lives further inland.

With limited tools and with the storm and darkness encroaching, we had to improvise a patchwork quilt of plywood pieces to fit each window, . We finished late, exhausted and soaked by the rain.

Sunday started easy enough, some rain, easy breakfast, and then power blinked and left. It was time for the main show, and what a show it was! She howled and ripped and roared for a few hours. It felt like when you are standing on the platform at a station and a train blows by you: same noise, same rush, same wind, same feeling of getting sucked into the void.

And then the eye came. It was surreal. Quiet. Peaceful. We ventured outside, the yard was flooded, the whole street was flooded, leaves, branches, trees strewn everywhere.

The second part of the storm was not half as bad as the first. Apparently, the storm had picked up some dry air which was breaking it up, causing its eventual disintegration.

Monday morning arrived sunny, warm, quiet and calm. A friend came in his massive SUV to check on us and he gave me a ride back home. The devastation was everywhere: flooding, fallen trees by the hundreds, roofs ripped off of buildings like the top of a can of sardines, debris everywhere, signs, including every single street sign ripped out of the ground.

My apartment had only a trickle of water that had come in through the old sliding doors. Not bad at all. That same afternoon power came back, maybe too soon. With everything being wet, very wet, when the power came back on, the water must have caused some sort of short circuit. I was walking outside my apartment to pick up Rocinante from the municipal parking lot, when I smelled the acrid smoke of burning metal. When I finally discovered the smoke coming out of the electric closet I called 911. Within minutes the firemen where able to keep the fire from spreading. Phew!!

The destruction from the storm was overwhelming: trees, roofs, signs, trailers, if Irma could move it, she did. The first wave of street cleanup happened within the first couple of days after the storm. Today a month and a day after the storm, Naples has electricity and water, but the cleanup is going to take well into 2018.

 

 

* Vinnie Monzone

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene ii)

Years ago my brother Theo in London sent me some links to a famous butcher in Dorset called Balson, which happens to be the oldest business in England. No, I do not have any relation to the Balson family of Dorset. There is also an American author called Balson, and a few other Balsons around. Nope, no relation.

One of the hobbies my father picked up when he retired was genealogy. He set out to investigate his family’s origins, and he took it quite seriously. He took a course at the prestigious Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) and he proudly displayed his diploma and class picture on his home office wall.

He traveled around Spain visiting churches to gather data from birth, death and wedding certificates. He even went to Salt Lake City in Utah to research the Mormon genealogy vault / database where billions of family histories are stored – they denied him access. He still managed to research his family into the mid 18th Century before losing track. Not bad. His main findings were that the family originated in rural Lerida,

the area between Barcelona and Zaragoza. The original first name was Anton, which through the generations became Antonio – my grandad’s and uncle’s name. The family moved to Zaragoza by the 1800s and to Madrid by the early 20th Century, where my grandad settled and created a family.

So long story short: No butchers, no authors, but still an awesome family heritage.

Museo Lázaro Galdiano

A few years ago I wrote about the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, a hidden gem in the big city. A small, personal sized museum, which proves that there is no relationship between size and quality. A few blocks away is another such gem, the Museo Lázaro Galdiano. I re-visited it recently with my sister.

Hidden in plain sight, in the middle of busy Calle Serrano, better known for its shopping than for museums (although the Archeological museum is down the street). The museum in housed, as you might have guessed, in what used to be Lázaro Galdiano’s house. It is a big house, a huge house. In Spanish we call it a palacete, in English, you borrow the Italian word palazzo, at any rate, it is big. And it is full of wonderful art. From ancient Greek and Roman nick knacks to Goya and Velazquez paintings. Each gorgeous room is full of wonderful pieces: medieval art, paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Murillo, jewelry, weapons, ceramics, furniture, sculptures, etc. The house itself is a work of art, beautiful wooden floors, painted ceilings, central staircase, and gardens. It also has the obligatory gift shop, and a research library.

My sister Rocky and I were pleasantly surprised that here and there were pieces of modern, contemporary art. Call us old-fashioned, but in general, in contrast to the art surrounding it, the modern pieces did not measure up.

Finally, the museum publishes Goya, a serious art/academic magazine. Of course, my dear friend and Dissertation Director, Irene Gómez Castellano, has published an article in it.

While the lines at the Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofia are discouragingly long, you can generally just walk straight into the Lázaro Galdiano, and walk around at your own leasurely pace, and definitely get your money’s worth. When you finish, you are on glamorous Calle Serrano, and you can stroll to get a coffee or a meal!

Fifty great memories from The Camino

  1. Sinin’s bar, La Torre, in a God forsaken village (Reliegos, León). A balm for my heart, cracking jokes while I iced my shin, charged my phone, and ate a delicious bocadillo de bonito while Duke Ellington blared on the speakers.
  2. Feeling bunches of grapes, their sensual weight, in the Rioja region.

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    Miles and miles of luscious (but green) grapes
  3. Speaking of the Rioja, crossing the Ebro River (the biggest river in Spain) on the old stone bridge.

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    Puente de Piedra, Logroño
  4. Swimming and having lunch at the refreshing public swimming pool at Zubiri.

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    The refreshing public pool in Zubiri
  5. Lunch at the Universidad de Navarra, when I had just gone in to get my stamp.

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    Universidad de Navarra, great for lunch and a stamp!!
  6. Freezing in Burgos.
  7. The Pilgrim’s Mass in Burgos.
  8. The smell of fig trees.

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    Baby figs!
  9. The chapel of Nuestra Señora de Monasterio in Rabé de la Calzada.

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    Sta. Maria de Monasterio
  10. The crystal clear, fresh water at Hontanas.
  11. Dipping my tendonitis inflamed leg in the cool, clear water in the Esla river at Mansilla de las Mulas – which, by the way, totally healed my leg!
  12. The barn turned albergue in Boadilla del Camino.
  13. Catching up to Krisztina in Villamayor de Monjardín, and again in Mansilla de las Mulas.
  14. The Pre-Romanesque chapel of San Miguel outside of Estella.

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    Ermita de San Miguel Arcángel
  15. Meeting Virgina one of my Dissertation Director’s best UVA friends in Leon, by chance!

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    Virginia is a friend of Irene, my Dissertation Director!!
  16. Meeting a baby cow in Santibañez de Valdeiglesias.20170708_112927
  17. Vespers with the nuns of St. Claire at their Convent of Carrión de los Condes.
  18. Seeing the rainbow outside of Leon.
  19. Vespers with the nuns in Sahagun.

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    Vespers in Sahagun
  20. The chapel at San Nicolas del Real Camino on the side of the Pisuerga River.
  21. The bumper cars in Nájera.
  22. Sitting on a bench the morning of my (forced) rest day reading the Book of Job in Carrión de los Condes and two gorgeous horses being walked down the street.
  23. A trailer bar set up in the middle of the parched fields a few miles before Los Arcos with the radio blasting and all sorts of refreshing goodies.

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    And in the middle of nowhere, an oasis!!
  24. An albergue in the middle of Palencia blasting Tchaikovsky, with geese in the garden, and native American tepees in the back yard.

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    You can sleep in there if you want!
  25. A fun, magical evening of love, drinks and tapas in Leon’s Barrio Húmedo and Barrio Romántico with my old colleague, Ana and her sister.

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    The fun and amazing Martinez sisters!
  26. Doing laundry every day.
  27. La Casa de los Dioses. A stop in the middle of a pine forest set up by David from Barcelona on an abandoned farm before Astorga. He had refreshing fruit, cool water from a botijo, and shade.
  28. The (free) wine fountain at Bodegas Irache.

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    The (free) wine fountain at Irache BTW there are plastic cups in the vending machine on the other side!
  29. The aperitivo before Sunday mass at Viana with Marie Helene and Krisztina.
  30. Drinks at the Drunken Duck pub in Logroño.
  31. Residencia Universitaria Miguel de Unamuno, León.
  32. Stopping for orange juice at La Morena, possibly the hippest albergue of the Camino, but definitely the best orange juice!
  33. Babia, across the street from the Burgos albergue, one of the best breakfasts on the Camino.
  34. Angel’s shop, Amari, in Larrasoaña, blaring the Blues Brothers on vinyl.

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    Amari in Larrasoaña is a great, fun, convenience store
  35. The chapel of San Esteban outside Pamplona where you can ring the bell (if you climb the bell tower).

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    San Esteban
  36. The coffee spoon at Mesón El Yugo in Valverde de la Virgen, it was s shaped so it rested vertically on the cup.
  37. Starting to walk in the pre-dawn darkness a few days.
  38. The river crabs being fished out of the Canal de Castilla near Frómista.

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    Delicious river crabs from the Canal de Castilla
  39. Putzing around Belorado for the better part of a morning: getting coffee, buying assorted supplies, visiting the pharmacy and the post office.
  40. Buying cherries in Pamplona from a rude sales guy that did not enjoy washing the cherries.
  41. Walking by Villava, birthplace and home of Miguel Indurain, my cycling hero.

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    Villava, home of the great Miguel Indurain, winner of 5 consecutive Tour de France!
  42. Translating the tour of Roncesvalles from Father Vicentín to English and French.
  43. Watching the San Fermin bull runs on TV in the mornings getting breakfast at bars along the Camino.
  44. Santa María de Eunate.

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    Sta. Maria de Eunate
  45. The massive medieval bridge at Hospital de Órbigo.
  46. Doing yoga on the lawn at Roncesvalles with James.
  47. A fire just outside the albergue in Cizur Menor.
  48. Watching the sun rise over the Pyrenees.

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    Sunrise over the Pyrenees
  49. The Romanesque cloister at the Cathedral of Estella.

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    The Romanessque cloister at the Cathedral of Estella
  50. The chickens at the Cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

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    Legend has it that a chicken on the judge’s plate came to life to prove a pilgrim innocent, since then there are chickens in the Cathedral

El Paular Monastery

(There is a previous post on El Paular. This one is a bit more detailed and touches on different themes, most importantly, spirituality.)

Every trip to El Paular monastery is gift, a spiritual gift.

A few years ago, Jaime, my oldest childhood friend, took me to see what had been his first professional restoration job in the late 80s: the Monasterio de El Paular, nestled in the Guadarrama Mountains. Although many years had passed, he was still friends with the Abbot and with a few of the monks there. The drive was breathtaking; over the Navacerrada pass and down Cotos, not far from where Hemingway had based his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Brother Eulogio is getting old and frail, but his faith, his spirituality is still resolute. After working at the Vespa scooter factory in Madrid, he decided to become a monk at El Paular. He has been there for fifty odd years, since his 20s. We did not know what to expect, he had been in hospital for a stint.

The monastery has a long history dating back to medieval times. Apparently there was a hermit living there before the monastery was built by the Carthusian order in the 1300s. The placement could not be any more beautiful, between a crystalline stream and the mountains, with a huge vegetable garden and orchard. The energy flow, the calm and beauty would not have passed unaccounted for anyone, regardless of the era.

By my calculations, following the geographical clues, the Arcipreste de Hita’s Serranas section of the Libro de Buen Amor should pass by the Monastery, since he mentions Somosierra and Lozoya on his way to Segovia. There could not have been much of a place to pass other than the Monastery.

The first time I went to El Paular, the Abbot treated us to lunch with the brothers in the modern but humble, functional, refectory. The gorgeous original is only used for Christmas dinner, when they have many guests. It was then that I met brother Eulogio for the first time. I remember vividly his first question: “Do you have faith?” To which I mumbled/chuckled something to the effect of “I’m working on it”. Then he went off on a tirade on the state of modern faith, his thin, strong frame acting as an exclamation mark for his statements.

In 1779 Enlightenment writer Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos stayed at the Monastery for a retreat/convalescence writing what scholars consider the seed of Spanish Romantic poetry, the Epístola del Paular, which you can find at the end of the post…

After lunch Eulogio took Jaime and I for a walk on the huge fruit and vegetable garden. It is so big that they have hired a company to run and sell their produce, but only after the monks take what they need. During the walk, Eulogio referred repeatedly to feelings I had that needed answers to, he hit the spot on the need and importance of a “higher presence” in our lives – subtly connecting this need to the beauty around us. Eulogio looks like a closet Franciscan. From that visit, and that conversation I have always wanted to return to El Paular to continue my conversations with Eulogio. So every time Jaime mentions a visit, I jump at the opportunity.

The Church in Spain had so much power that for centuries it rivaled the government in its sway of the citizens. So in the 1800s Prime Minister Mendizabal took over and sold many, if not most of the Church’s properties, El Paular was abandoned, the massive Vicente Carducho paintings lining the cloister walls were grabbed by museums and collectors looking out for Mendizábal’s garage sales.

For years Eulogio’s job at the Monastery had been to handle the weddings that took place in the church. Only a couple of hours North of Madrid, it is an idyllic setting for a romantic wedding. However, Eulogio does not fit into the “cute” monk idea popularized by Hollywood. He would question the couples on their love, their reasons for marriage, their commitment.

During the Civil War, 1936 to 1939 the abandoned monastery served as a makeshift military barracks for troops. The graffiti left there was not painted over during the restoration process as it gives further historical context to the Monastery.

Last year we also made the drive to visit Eulogio, but we did not stay for lunch, as we wanted to ride and hike to explore the mountains surrounding the Monastery.

After the Civil War, General Franco, seeking to restore the Monastery, brought in some Benedictine monks who continue to this day. In the late 70s the government built a luxury hotel next door to the Monastery, profiting from the ideal location, the tourist influx, and the weddings that were held in the beautiful church of the Monastery. After changing hands a number of times between luxury hotel operators, it now rests abandoned.

My thirst for Eulogio’s spiritual wisdom comes from my realization in 2010 of the powerful inter-connectedness of the universe, of which we are as much a part of as a blade of grass, as a distant star. But to get to that point one must let go of the ego, of that which we think we are, and simply be. Easier said than done. Richard Rohr explains it in the context of the ancient Greek word of self-emptying: “kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.”

This, of course, is not a new concept, it is embraced by Buddhism and Hinduism, and by early Christianity. 18th Century philosopher Kierkegaard wrote about the Three Stages of Life: the Aesthetic when our lives are dominated by the ego necessary to gain independence from our parents and establish ourselves in the world, everything is superficial. The Ethical where we concern ourselves with what is right and what is wrong, and finally – if we are lucky – and only through a process of “breaking” does one reach the Religious Stage where one realizes that our lives are a part of a much bigger, interconnected picture. Unfortunately for many people, they do not overcome the Aesthetic stage, refusing to release the ego and embrace the universe, the oneness.

This summer, Jaime and I made our pilgrimage to El Paular only a few days after I had finished my own Pilgrimage of The Camino de Santiago (see earlier posts) so I was primed and ready for conversing with Eulogio. He did not disappoint. As soon as we arrived, the Abbot invited us to stay for lunch in the garden. We had plenty of time to walk around the monastery and the garden and talk. And talk we did, about the importance of prayer, of meditation, of being in the presence of God, of a higher power, an energy.

After mid-day prayers at the chapel we headed for the garden where a wonderful meal awaited. I sat next to Eulogio and enjoyed his wisdom, wisecracks and complaints about the food!

El Paular does host visitors that want to spend time with the monks in retreat, so I am considering spending some time with them next time I am in Spain.

 

Epístola de Jovino a Anfriso escrita desde El Paular  (Epístola desde El Paular)

(Jovellanos)

Desde el oculto y venerable asilo,

do la virtud austera y penitente

vive ignorada, y del liviano mundo

huida, en santa soledad se esconde,

Jovino triste al venturoso Anfriso

salud en versos flébiles envía.

Salud le envía a Anfriso, al que inspirado

de las mantuanas Musas, tal vez suele

al grave son de su celeste canto

precipitar del viejo Manzanares

el curso perezoso, tal süave

suele ablandar con amorosa lira

la altiva condición de sus zagalas.

¡Pluguiera a Dios, oh Anfriso, que el cuitado

a quien no dio la suerte tal ventura

pudiese huir del mundo y sus peligros!

¡Pluguiera a Dios, pues ya con su barquilla

logró arribar a puerto tan seguro,

que esconderla supiera en este abrigo,

a tanta luz y ejemplos enseñado!

Huyera así la furia tempestuosa

de los contrarios vientos, los escollos

y las fieras borrascas, tantas veces

entre sustos y lágrimas corridas.

Así también del mundanal tumulto

lejos, y en estos montes guarecido,

alguna vez gozara del reposo,

que hoy desterrado de su pecho vive.

Mas, ¡ay de aquél que hasta en el santo asilo

de la virtud arrastra la cadena,

la pesada cadena, con que el mundo

oprime a sus esclavos! ¡Ay del triste

en cuyo oído suena con espanto,

por esta oculta soledad rompiendo,

de su señor el imperioso grito!

Busco en estas moradas silenciosas

el reposo y la paz que aquí se esconden,

y sólo encuentro la inquietud funesta

que mis sentidos y razón conturba.

Busco paz y reposo, pero en vano

los busco, oh caro Anfriso, que estos dones,

herencia santa que al partir del mundo

dejó Bruno en sus hijos vinculada,

nunca en profano corazón entraron,

ni a los parciales del placer se dieron.

Conozco bien que fuera de este asilo

sólo me guarda el mundo sinrazones,

vanos deseos, duros desengaños,

susto y dolor; empero todavía

a entrar en él no puedo resolverme.

No puedo resolverme, y despechado,

sigo el impulso del fatal destino,

que a muy más dura esclavitud me guía.

Sigo su fiero impulso, y llevo siempre

por todas partes los pesados grillos,

que de la ansiada libertad me privan.

De afán y angustia el pecho traspasado,

pido a la muda soledad consuelo

y con dolientes quejas la importuno.

Salgo al ameno valle, subo al monte,

sigo del claro río las corrientes,

busco la fresca y deleitosa sombra,

corro por todas partes, y no encuentro

en parte alguna la quietud perdida.

¡Ay, Anfriso, qué escenas a mis ojos,

cansados de llorar, presenta el cielo!

Rodeado de frondosos y altos montes

se extiende un valle, que de mil delicias

con sabia mano ornó Naturaleza.

Pártele en dos mitades, despeñado

de las vecinas rocas, el Lozoya,

por su pesca famoso y dulces aguas.

Del claro río sobre el verde margen

crecen frondosos álamos, que al cielo

ya erguidos , alzan las plateadas copas,

o ya sobre las aguas encorvados,

en mil figuras miran con asombro

su forma en los cristales retratada.

De la siniestra orilla un bosque ombrío

hasta la falda del vecino monte

se extiende, tan ameno y delicioso,

que le hubiera juzgado el gentilismo

morada de algún dios, o a los misterios

de las silvanas dríadas guardado.

Aquí encamino mis inciertos pasos,

y en su recinto ombrío y silencioso,

mansión la más conforme para un triste,

entro a pensar en mi cruel destino.

La grata soledad, la dulce sombra,

el aire blando y el silencio mudo

mi desventura y mi dolor adulan .

No alcanza aquí del padre de las luces

el rayo acechador, ni su reflejo

viene a cubrir de confusión el rostro

de un infeliz en su dolor sumido.

El canto de las aves no interrumpe

aquí tampoco la quietud de un triste,

pues sólo de la viuda tortolilla

se oye tal vez el lastimero arrullo,

tal vez el melancólico trinado

de la angustiada y dulce Filomena.

Con blando impulso el céfiro süave,

las copas de los árboles moviendo,

recrea el alma con el manso ruido;

mientras al dulce soplo desprendidas

las agostadas hojas, revolando,

bajan en lentos círculos al suelo;

cúbrenle en torno, y la frondosa pompa

que al árbol adornara en primavera,

yace marchita, y muestra los rigores

del abrasado estío y seco otoño.

¡Así también de juventud lozana

pasan, oh Anfriso, las livianas dichas!

Un soplo de inconstancia, de fastidio

o de capricho femenil las tala

y lleva por el aire, cual las hojas

de los frondosos árboles caídas.

Ciegos empero y tras su vana sombra

de contino exhalados, en pos de ellas

corremos hasta hallar el precipicio,

do nuestro error y su ilusión nos guían.

Volamos en pos de ellas, como suele

volar a la dulzura del reclamo

incauto el pajarillo. Entre las hojas

el preparado visco le detiene;

lucha cautivo por huir, y en vano,

porque un traidor, que en asechanza atisba,

con mano infiel la libertad le roba

y a muerte le condena, o cárcel dura.

¡Ah, dichoso el mortal de cuyos ojos

un pronto desengaño corrió el velo

de la ciega ilusión! ¡Una y mil veces

dichoso el solitario penitente,

que, triunfando del mundo y de sí mismo,

vive en la soledad libre y contento!

Unido a Dios por medio de la santa

contemplación, le goza ya en la tierra,

y retirado en su tranquilo albergue,

observa reflexivo los milagros

de la naturaleza, sin que nunca

turben el susto ni el dolor su pecho.

Regálanle las aves con su canto

mientras la aurora sale refulgente

a cubrir de alegría y luz el mundo.

Nácele siempre el sol claro y brillante,

y nunca a él levanta conturbados

sus ojos, ora en el oriente raye,

ora del cielo a la mitad subiendo

en pompa guíe el reluciente carro,

ora con tibia luz, más perezoso,

su faz esconda en los vecinos montes.

Cuando en las claras noches cuidadoso

vuelve desde los santos ejercicios,

la plateada luna en lo más alto

del cielo mueve la luciente rueda

con augusto silencio; y recreando

con blando resplandor su humilde vista,

eleva su razón, y la dispone

a contemplar la alteza y la inefable

gloria del Padre y Criador del mundo.

Libre de los cuidados enojosos,

que en los palacios y dorados techos

nos turban de contino, y entregado

a la inefable y justa Providencia,

si al breve sueño alguna pausa pide

de sus santas tareas, obediente

viene a cerrar sus párpados el sueño

con mano amiga, y de su lado ahuyenta

el susto y las fantasmas de la noche.

¡Oh suerte venturosa, a los amigos

de la virtud guardada! ¡Oh dicha, nunca

de los tristes mundanos conocida!

¡O monte impenetrable! ¡Oh bosque ombrío!

¡Oh valle deleitoso! ¡Oh solitaria

taciturna mansión! ¡Oh quién, del alto

y proceloso mar del mundo huyendo

a vuestra eterna calma, aquí seguro

vivir pudiera siempre, y escondido!

Tales cosas revuelvo en mi memoria,

en esta triste soledad sumido.

Llega en tanto la noche y con su manto

cobija el ancho mundo. Vuelvo entonces

a los medrosos claustros. De una escasa

luz el distante y pálido reflejo

guía por ellos mis inciertos pasos;

y en medio del horror y del silencio,

¡oh fuerza del ejemplo portentosa!,

mi corazón palpita, en mi cabeza

se erizan los cabellos, se estremecen

mis carnes y discurre por mis nervios

un súbito rigor que los embarga.

Parece que oigo que del centro oscuro

sale una voz tremenda, que rompiendo

el eterno silencio, así me dice:

“Huye de aquí, profano, tú que llevas

de ideas mundanales lleno el pecho,

huye de esta morada, do se albergan

con la virtud humilde y silenciosa

sus escogidos; huye y no profanes

con tu planta sacrílega este asilo.”

De aviso tal al golpe confundido,

con paso vacilante voy cruzando

los pavorosos tránsitos, y llego

por fin a mi morada, donde ni hallo

el ansiado reposo, ni recobran

la suspirada calma mis sentidos.

Lleno de congojosos pensamientos

paso la triste y perezosa noche

en molesta vigilia , sin que llegue

a mis ojos el sueño, ni interrumpan

sus regalados bálsamos mi pena.

Vuelve por fin con la risueña aurora

la luz aborrecida, y en pos de ella

el claro día a publicar mi llanto

y dar nueva materia al dolor mío.

 

 

 

Gear for El Camino. What should I pack?

Many of my fans preparing for the Camino have asked me about my gear (ok, maybe just a couple of people). There are many Internet spots that explain what and how to pack, but here are my two cents, as Americans would say:

Walking 500 miles (give or take) in a month (give or take) carrying your backpack is an exercise in minimalism, physically, mentally and spiritually reducing clutter. By reducing stuff in your backpack, you also reduce it in your mental/spiritual backpack. I hope to soon be able to write about the emotional and mental process of the Camino. For now I will leave you with this quote from Richard Rohr, and write about the material gear that goes in your backpack.

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328) preached, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” [2] But in the capitalistic West, we think very differently. We all keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of success in any form. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. All we can really do is get out-of-the-way. The spiritual life is often more about unlearning than learning, letting go of illusions more than studying the Bible or the catechism.

There are a few things to keep in mind when packing for the Camino: a. you are never more than a few hours away from civilization, with supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, and anything else you might need. b. there are laundry facilities at all albergues, so you do not need to pack many clothes, and c. basically all you do on the Camino is walk, eat and sleep. Having said all that, this was my packing list:

Shoes are probably the first thing to think of. If you are walking in the summer you do not need hiking boots. I saw plenty of people struggling with heavy hiking boots in the hot 30+ C° weather, plenty of abandoned boots, and plenty of feet like steak tartare. Good, broken in hiking shoes are perfect. Some people wear running sneakers, they are probably fine, although maybe a bit too lightweight for you and your pack, in my opinion. I packed a pair of cheap Flip-Flops for showering and a pair of water sandals for the apres-walking evenings.

You basically only need the clothes you are wearing and the ones that are washing/drying. Of course this depends on the season, but in the summer that means T-shirt, underwear, shorts and socks. As I mentioned before, as I am a snob, I carried three changes.

Since your feet are doing basically all the work on the Camino, and account for 25% of the bones in your body, you really should pamper them with the best socks you can get. Ideally hiking specific socks in a wool blend without seams. The higher up the leg they are, the less dust and grit is going to get into your feet.

Although everybody recommends hi-tech, moisture wicking, breathing fibers, for your T-shirts, I chose old school 100% cotton long sleeve shirts. The cotton because I am a snob and don’t like the feel of synthetic fibers, and the long sleeves because I also hate sunscreen and long sleeves meant I could avoid creams (and packing them).

For a second I considered athletic underwear, but ended up going with my Brooks Brothers boxer shorts. Some things just like hanging the way they always do!

I carried two cargo shorts. The side pocket was extremely handy for my guidebook/map as I used it constantly.

It was never too cold for me until the approach to Burgos. That day I wore two long sleeve shirts all day long. That evening I surrendered to the cold and bought a hooded sweatshirt at the souvenir shop, the only shop open in Burgos that day, as they were celebrating their festivities!

For my bald head I alternated bandanas (which I would tie around my neck in the morning) in different configurations depending on the sun: a la Marco Pantani, Il Pirata, or a la Tupac Shakur, and a  “crunchy” boonie, or giggle hat that I could soak at fountains to keep me cool.

Unless you are going to camp or bivouac (which I saw plenty by the side of the Camino) you are going to sleep indoors, so a summer weight sleeping bag is fine. I chose to have one of my favorite cotton sheets folded in half (lengthwise, duh) and sown to create a sleeping bag. It might have been a bit heavier than the synthetic bags, but it was oh so comfy. Most albergues have blankets, so on cool nights I pulled a blanket over my sheet/bag. I did carry a pillowcase since the albergues all have pillows, in retrospect I could have used one of my three T-shirts.

Your minimal dopp kit with your bathroom supplies. I used Marseille soap – Jabón Lagarto – in Spain as I could use it for my laundry and my body, and my bald head, hahaha!

A lot of thought was given to what to read on the Camino, something meaningful but light. The library at the albergue in Roncesvalles, the first stop, is full of donated/abandoned Bibles… I ended up choosing The Book of Job and I do not regret it. I did finish it early and donated it to the Convent of Saint Claire where I was staying at Carrión de los Condes. I also packed a notebook and writing material to keep a diary and a daily Scripture reading for inspiration.  I carried two guidebooks: The Michelin Guide for quick reference on the go, and the Anaya “El Camino de Santiago en tu mochila” for more detailed reference.

Small flashlight – critical for reading and moving around the albergue after lights out. Mine has a wrist band which means I could hang it from the boards of the bunk above me, great for reading.

For towel I used a lightweight microfiber from Decathlon, it is not the most luxurious item, but it works. I must confess I was very jealous when James pulled out this exotic, gorgeous, printed Indian sheet. It is very refreshing to see flashes of glamour on the drab, technical, weight obsessed Camino equipment.

Water bottle, and make sure you have a comfortable, handy spot to carry it, I struggled carrying mine around in different locations until I settled on a hip strap. Although you are never too far from a fountain, there are a few long (over 10 km.) stretches without water. Also, you should always be drinking anyway, so even if you do not fill it up, always carry water. It is also handy to wash fruit, hands, etc. Some people carry water “bladders” but these seem tricky to fill up mid hike and are apparently expensive.

Basic first aid kit with whatever you think you might need – hopefully you will not use anything.

Bathing suit!

Trail mix, it is nice to have s snack without having to wait for the next bar.

Phone and charger.

Bug spray – I did not use it.

Sharpie, critical for marking stuff and writing on stones at mileposts.

Safety pins in case your clothes have not dried overnight and you need to “hang” them outside your pack.

Poncho that covers your backpack. Keep it handy in case of sudden storms.

Most albergues have laundry facilities for manual laundry. The bigger ones have washer/driers. Some of them will even treat you to detergent, so I packed a few of the liquid plastic pods in a zip-lock bag.

Pilgrims swear by the hiking sticks (that look like ski poles), I carried one of my dad’s old walking sticks that an old friend had given him. It was useful on technical climbs and descents and to poke at things.

Last, but not least a pocket knife is critical. You might only use it to make bocadillos, but it is always handy to have. I found an old Swiss Army knife that I had given my little sister years ago and that for some reason was in my dad’s desk drawer.

Buen Camino!

Camino Etiquette, Dos and Don’ts

The Camino is a totally individual experience whatever your purpose might be (sport, religious, spiritual, cultural, culinary, etc. or any combination of those), but it is also a shared experience. More importantly, the Camino is a physical space and a shared physical space. This means that it helps if certain social considerations are kept. Here are some of my observations and recommendations:

Dos

Be polite to all pilgrims and acknowledge them with a “Buen camino”. If they are sitting by the Camino, you might want to ask if they are ok or if they need a snack or some water.

Even on the “Donativo” albergues, please be generous with your donation, ie: never leave less than €5.

If you use the albergue’s kitchen, please leave it as you found it, or cleaner.

Banana peels and apple cores are totally biodegradable, so they are ok in nature, just not in the most visible part of nature. Put them out of sight.

Be polite about asking for a credencial stamp. It is quite rude to ask for a stamp at a bar / coffee shop if you do not purchase anything, regardless of how cool the place is, so go ahead, get a café con leche, or a bottle of water – you are going to need it! And don’t be pushy, the business gets nothing from stamping your credencial, so be patient.

Tipping in Spain. Hospitality workers in Spain have, by law, full contracts, which means (unlike in the US) that they make a full salary, they do not live from tips. Having said that, it is customary and always nice to leave some change on the table/counter. Those coins are weighing you down on the Camino anyway!

Hospitaliarios – the people who run the albergues are volunteers (except at the private ones, which are normally family run). So treat them nicely, they are there for you, not for a paycheck.

Pay attention to your shoes when you walk into the albergue. You might have to leave them outside – never wear them into the dorm area.

 

Don’ts

Do not ask pilgrims why they are doing the Camino. It sounds like a good ice-breaker, but while we all have our reasons, some might be more personal than others, and you really might not want to know. It is one thing for American college kids that are “finding themselves”, but not everybody is necessarily so open. If they want to, they will tell you.

Do not walk around the albergue in your underwear. No matter how sexy you or your underwear might be, nor how hippie the albergue is. Think about it, it is a downhill experience if we all went that way. (If in doubt read Immanuel Kant’s Universal Law).

Beds at the albergue are for people not backpacks. Your sweaty, dusty, muddy, wet, backpack belongs on the floor, a chair at best, but never on the bed.

If you cannot wait for the next village or the next bar to go to the bathroom, please find the most secluded spot and try to be as discreet as possible with your poop and the paper you use. A bush next to the Camino is not a good idea. And the paper flying around isn’t either. Don’t contribute to the eyesore.

Try not to make noise if you are going to bed later than most people or getting up before most people. Try to have whatever you need handy so you can access it quietly. I was deeply embarrassed one night when I had to rummage in my backpack for my earplugs.

Feel free to add or comment below!