Heehaw.

I am in the process of restarting/refreshing my computer to its former glory…its factory settings. Several months ago it started freaking out and couldn’t function correctly any longer. Completely refreshing it has worked so far (about one hour in). I haven’t written too much in here due to the frustration of using the internet while the computer was on the fritz. Now that it’s back, it’s telling me that it needs to update to Windows 10, so I figured while it’s doing that and I can use my computer, I will go ahead and do a quick blog post. I don’t know how Windows 10 will work out and if it turns out to make it even wonkier, at least I will have recently checked in here.

So, here goes. I’ve been trying to find new hobbies lately and two things have bubbled up. First, I’ve started writing crossword puzzles. I like doing crossword puzzles, but had never tried writing one of my own. I find it pretty fun. It’s nice because you can choose any topic you want, make the grid as large or as small as you like, and make the clues as easy or as obscure as you please. I like the idea of making crosswords for friends and family and special occasions. I think people would enjoy working on a crossword that someone made especially for them.

The other thing is I’ve begun horseback riding lessons! I wanted to take up the hobby but it’s a little on the pricey side around here. I hadn’t been on a horse in a long time and wasn’t sure how much practice I was going to need to feel comfortable again or if I could even join a group class at this point or needed to wait for a session to officially begin. But, as it turned out, my tax refund was bigger than expected and there is a stable in town that had no problem with me joining an adult class on short notice. So, I started yesterday and there was really not much re-introduction at all. It was basically greeting and sending me on my way to get my assigned horse from her stall, grooming and tacking her, and then walking her to the arena to ride her around. It was a little intimidating, but good. I was given a very calm and patient horse by the name of Sparkle. She was sweet, although she doesn’t like other horses (she’s cool with people), and she was impatient when I was trying to figure out how to put her equipment on her. She kept looking at me and pawing the ground like, “What’s the problem here? Let’s get this show on the road, lady.” The owner of the stable asked me what style of riding I had done in the past and I seriously had no idea. I think I was expecting a bit more of an academic lesson than I got. Maybe I will get more of a ‘teaching’ lesson when I return next weekend. Sparkle and I were really really awesome at Stop and Go. The teacher would ask everyone to trot and we’d get moving fast (and I don’t know how to sit in the saddle when the horse starts going quickly, so I was totally bouncing alllll over the place and that sucked, so I’m googling how to handle that better for next time) and then Sparkle would just stop moving all together. I know I must have been pulling on her or squeezing her sides with my legs to make her stop because it’s certainly human error, but it was making me giggle a bit, too. All in all, I am not going to be any sort of equestrian professional in the future. I’m hoping to just take a few more lessons and feel like I can at least be comfortable riding a horse now and then. It’s been well over a decade since I rode a horse and almost a decade since I was even around them at all, so just getting back in the saddle was a fun and new experience. I’m sure my shoulders, arms and back will return to normal in a few days in time to get jolted again on another horse next weekend!

It’s really nice when you can do adulting (filing your taxes) and get money so you can do something you’ve liked doing since childhood (horseback riding)!

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Books from all corners of the world!

With less than a week left of 2015, I’ve started thinking about this past year and the future year to come. The past few days at the library have been really slow, but has allowed the few of us who have worked there over the holidays to talk a lot and sort of get to know each other a little bit better. One of my co-workers is resolving to read more books next year. This seems to be a fairly common resolution, with people coming up with challenges and goals around how many books they want to read, certain topics they want to delve more into in the coming year, etc. A regular patron of ours came in yesterday to pick up an inter-library loan that arrived for her this week and, for the first time, I heard that she’s actually working toward a reading goal herself. I thought she was just very interested in books and topics that we don’t seem to have in our library system, but no! She’s doing a very interesting and cool project. She is trying to read one book from every country. She’s not just wanting to read a book about every country; her project is to read a native author’s writings about their native country. There are some good links to websites that can help with this sort of project. Yesterday she picked up Malta. I hadn’t known this was something she was doing, so I really need to ask her more about it the next time I see her. I find this goal really fascinating! What a good idea, I thought! The most difficult part seems to be finding these books translated into English.

I don’t know how this particular patron came about deciding to do this. When googling around about it, I found an article from The Atlantic about a woman in London who did this project: International Literature Challenge

Here’s another really decent list: Reading the World

I remember a Goodreads challenge from several years ago that included reading books translated from another language. It is really not as easy to find translated materials as you might expect. Now that I know what this particular patron is doing, I’m remembering all of the ILLs that she’s had recently. Public libraries are somewhat limited to what they can offer someone in this type of project, but the beauty of inter-library loan is that you don’t just have one library at your disposal, you have hundreds!

Anyway, as you leave 2015 behind and are thinking about the next year, is there any sort of reading goal that you’ve set for yourself? I haven’t yet set one for me. I was looking over the Reading the World list though, and there are some interesting looking titles on there. I don’t want to hop on a bandwagon, but it would be nice to broaden the scope of what I’m reading. I’m not a reading snob by any means. I applaud anybody reading anything. However, I felt a pang of inadequacy for a brief moment when a co-worker told me he’s reading his way through Proust. I’m reading my way through “A Duke but No Gentleman”, the first in a new series of romance paperbacks.

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Mock Caldecott 2016

It’s less than a month until the Caldecott 2016 Award will be announced. The committee doesn’t do a shortlist for the Caldecott or Newbery that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s all sort of hushed up, which leaves us children’s librarians to our own devices. Throughout the year, I’ve been processing the new books with an eye toward the illustrations and a wonder at which of these artists will be given the coveted Caldecott Award for best illustration in an American Picture Book come January. Well, I don’t know. Unfortunately, being immersed in the world of picture books and storytimes and preschoolers doesn’t make me inherently knowledgeable about what the committee is looking for when picking their winners for the children’s book awards.

But, if I were to choose a set of nominees, here would be mine. I can highly recommend all of these books if you’re still looking for a beautiful picture book to give away this Christmas:

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The Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
I liked this book so much last summer that I wrote a blog post dedicated to it. I still love it. My preschoolers loved the illustrations. Plus, I feel like the story is set in the reality that my community confronts every day, and that’s good for my kids to see. It’s good that there is a story that reflects the beauty of their community, even when that community includes things like homelessness and graffiti and is not the typical storybook setting.

 
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Boats for Papa written & illustrated by Jessixa Bagley.
This is it for me. This might be my top choice for Caldecott. The problem for the committee might be the topic that it deals with, but the illustrations are beautiful and I really really love this book. This is the exact type of book that I look for when recommending titles to parents who are searching for books dealing with major issues and how to explain things to children when the parents themselves are struggling to find the words. This book deals with loss and grieving in the most beautifully loving way. No judging the ways in which someone grieves, no time limits for grieving, nothing. Love and understanding and patience are what shine in this beautiful and gentle story. The illustrations are so well done and very detailed. You see the details in the boats and the emotions on the faces of Mama and little Buckley. It’s just…great. If this book isn’t even a nominee for Caldecott 2016, I will be sad.

 

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Sidewalk Flowers “written” by Jon Arno Lawson; illustrated by Sydney Smith
This is a wordless book, so the entire story is told by the illustrations alone and Smith does a fantastic job. It’s really a beautifully written piece of art. The father and daughter are out for a stroll and the father is pre-occupied while the little girl collects wildflowers she finds along the route and she gives them to people as they go. The illustrator uses black and white at first, and as the story progresses and the girl gives away more and more flowers, the pages become beautifully colorful. She lights up the world with her generosity. It’s gonna give you a big case of the happies. I haven’t really heard much buzz about this book, so I don’t know if it’s even on people’s radar, but I’m putting it out there as one of the best wordless books I’ve seen this year.

 

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Waiting written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
So, Henkes is sort of a King among children’s lit authors. He’s won this award before. He is revered in some circles. But, there’s a reason and this book is a great example of the genius of Henkes. He just gets it. It’s simple. It’s about waiting for something to happen. Seriously, that’s all it’s about. The book is about five friends who sit on a windowsill and wait. Each are waiting for something different and amazing to happen. The illustrations are gentle and pastel-y and beautiful. It’s just…adorable. That’s what it is. Adorable. I would be surprised if it’s not a big contender for the Caldecott, not just for the name recognition, but it is freaking adorable.

 

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Water is Water : A book about the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul; illustrations by Jason Chin
Okay. This title is not good. I will give you that. It totally doesn’t scream ‘PICK ME UP AND READ ME. I’M AWESOME.’ Beautifully written and illustrated non-fiction picture books are somewhat rare, which is why, when one comes along, we all need to shout it out to the heavens. I’m shouting out because this book is excellent. It is written in a bit of a language pattern, showing the different states of being for water through liquid phase, gas phase, solid phases, which is great for kids. It hits water, fog, mist, rain, ice, snow, etc. The illustrations are out of this world, too. This should be a major contender for the Caldecott if the title doesn’t hurt it’s chances.

 

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The Whisper written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
This is probably the big buzzy leader going into the final few weeks of the year. Zagarenski is an amazing artist, no doubt. The book is beautifully written and deals with librarians favorite topics: books and the power of imagination. I see what the fuss is about. It is for these reasons that I think it’s got a really strong chance at being named the top picture book of 2015. I think it’s a great book, but I wouldn’t read this to my preschoolers. This is the sort of book that I think adults love more than kids do. This is the book that you buy as an adult because you love books and you love to read and this book makes you feel all the feels about the power of reading. It’s good. But, as for best picture book of the year, I personally hope it goes to a book that kids would love to read as well. The story here is just a bit abstract, although the illustrations are beautifully detailed. Zagarenski has been a Caldecott honoree twice, so perhaps the third time is the charm this year?

 

Other possiblities:

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Yard Sale written by Eve Bunting; illustrations by Lauren Castillo
Another favorite book of mine because it deals with a difficult topic for kids and parents alike. The family is facing foreclosure and having to sell all their belongings and move into a small apartment. The yard sale is the final effort at making some money to begin anew in the little apartment. Bunting and Castillo handle this difficult topic so gently and beautifully. The struggle of the parents and the little girl to let go and accept what’s happening is so clear in the illustrations but the story with Eve Bunting at the helm (another giant of children’s lit) is so well done. It’s a really great book. Highly recommended. I don’t know if it will make it onto the committee’s nomination list or not, but it’s a fantastic book no matter what.

 

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A Fine Dessert : Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Another non-fiction picture book that knocks it out of the park! Hurraaaay! This one is about a simple recipe, but illustrates the progress of the culinary industry over the course of four hundred years. The illustrations are detailed and beautiful. The story is repetitive, but distinctly shows the differences in each century and each family’s living arrangements. I really liked this book. It has been on a few lists of the year’s best picture books, so it has a recognition base already. It might be a good sleeper choice for the Caldecott!

 

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The Day the Crayons Came Home written by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is the follow-up to the wonderful book “The Day the Crayons Quit”, which is a big hit with my preschoolers. This time, there are crayons who want to be rescued rather than quit their job as coloring tools. I like this book, but I am pulling for a picture book that’s original (not that this idea is old or anything, but these two did so well on the first book, I sort of wish they’d have just left it alone rather than trying to cash in again…but that’s sort of a petty reason to leave them excluded from a list like this.) It’s already won some awards based on popularity by readers. Whether or not that pulls the awards committee into giving the Caldecott to Jeffers, I don’t know. As I said, a great book, sure to please the kids and adults alike, but I’m hoping for the winner to be something more original this year.

 

 

Okay, those are my picks. I hope I have at least a few honorees and maybe the medal winner on here. The choice is announced on Monday, January 11th at 8 am during the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in Boston. Happy reading!

Reflections of a (former) pilgrim

I’ve been home from the Camino for over a month now and I have some final thoughts to share. In case people are interested in doing something like this on their own, I have just a few pieces of advice to pass along. Everyone’s camino is different, and for me, when my experience was great, it was really great, but when it wasn’t good, it really wasn’t good. My camino was a struggle (although, everyone’s is in someway, I believe. We all have our own struggles and part of being a pilgrim and putting yourself willfully through something as challenging as walking across a country is going to be a struggle, no matter how prepared or experienced you think you are.)

But if I were to go again (which I am still not inclined to do yet), I would keep these ten things in mind:

  1. The best item I had was a pair of wool gloves. They had half-fingers that could be turned into mittens. They were perfect protection from the rain, cold, and blisters from the rubber hiking pole handle. It was a late addition to my pack from my Dad, who picked them up on a whim for me at a global market fest in Albuquerque.
  2. Take a sleeping bag. I was so cold many nights because I only had a sleep sack (like a liner). The extra weight could be an issue, but I think it’s really worth it. I thought that places would be heated and I was wrong. A couple of albergues provided some woolen blankets, which I had no qualms about using (although other pilgrims refused to use them because they didn’t believe they were ever washed). But, I only really had one or two nights (not in a hotel) where there was a radiator that actually worked in the dormitory room. Mostly, I was cold a lot.
  3. Go at your own pace. There is nothing wrong with walking slowly or walking quickly. If you find that your pace is too different to allow you to walk with others, just stop and have breaks; eat lunch with other pilgrims; chat; go to mass; hang out in the albergues. While walking with people is nice — the most social part of the camino is the albergues and your pace (no matter what it might be) will allow you to take part in the albergue experience.
  4. Take a break from the albergues sometimes. We all need space.
  5. Listen to your body. (This seems to really go well with tip #3). Stop and rest when you need to. Don’t let others determine where you need to walk to each day. Nobody knows your limits but you. Listen to your body if you want to walk into Santiago de Compostela. If you want to arrive in Santiago by train, bus, or taxi, feel free to ignore your body’s warnings. It will force you to stop if you refuse to listen.
  6. Do stay connected to family and friends back home, but don’t let that connection control your pilgrimage. Having a line of communication available is good — but not to the point of distraction. Family need to know you’re okay. The camino is hard and can bring up all sorts of emotions and it’s good for you to have the option of a text to a parent or sibling or child when you could really use the support. And vice versa. You’re wandering alone through a foreign country and it’s bound to make people who love you anxious for your safety. Give them a break and allow them to check in with you now and again.
  7. The synthetic exercise clothing reeks of sweat after just 1-2 days of walking. It’s awful. Cotton and wool clothing are best. Don’t buy that high priced sweat-wicking stuff. It might be great for quick runs in the suburbs when you can go home and wash it immediately after you’re done, but it’s not good for weeks out on a trail with few laundry options. All pilgrims smell, but when other pilgrims are commenting on how much your clothes stink, believe me, you reek. I met two pilgrims from Australia who stocked up on these types of clothes and only brought them, thinking it was the best way to go and they were so frustrated at how much they smelled and how difficult it was to get their clothes clean. Avoid their mistake.
  8. Don’t expect this to change your life. Don’t put so many expectations on this single experience. Really. It’s a walk. It may impact you enormously and it may not. It is what it is. Just try to enjoy it as much as you can. The peace of walking through nature is nice in itself, whether you end your pilgrimage with some monumental decisions made or not. Enjoy the walk.
  9. There will be moments/hours/days that will make you think this was a terrible mistake. You will think this was the worst idea you’ve ever had and ask how could you do this to yourself but remember: you chose this. Try to remember, when you are miserable and full of doubt, what made you want to do this Camino. Focus on that and it will help to get you through. When the whole thing is over, you will be amazed at what you’ve accomplished. It’s a big deal to walk far enough to get a Compostela. Each pilgrim earns that, whether they walked fast or slowly, from France or from Sarria. Each step is an achievement in itself and the self-doubt you feel during your Way is yet another shared experience with other pilgrims.
  10. People at home will not –on the whole– care to hear much about your Camino. This experience is personal to you and surreal to others. It is difficult to explain and not of interest to most of the folks who ask you politely how it went. It’s best to come up with a quick one sentence answer, usually a positive thing, and just stick with that.

I think those ten things cover most of the advice I feel qualified to give if anybody who actually wants to do this asks me about it, or reads this blog. Most people are impressed with the idea of walking so far, but don’t really care to delve too deeply into the particulars. And I’m okay with that. I don’t really want to re-live the Camino just yet. I’m still happy with being home, although I have begun to notice the peace of mind that I had in Spain during the walk is fading away back here in the busy everyday world of mine. I initially felt very settled back here in in Albuquerque. Moreso than I was before I went. I was restless before I left for Spain and I was happy to be home afterward. Happy to be back in my little apartment and back at work doing storytimes and helping kids find books. I felt like I was where I should be. I still feel that a bit, but I can tell it’s fading already. I’m not ready to go on a vacation again, but the peace of mind I had has been sort of chipped away at in the month I’ve been home. I think partly it is to do with the general hectic nature of the holidays. But, I hope to find that sense of calm again. At least I know now that a good long walk outside, away from the streets and honking horns of the city will do me good. I don’t feel like I personally did much soul-searching on the Camino. I don’t really think I had much in the way of huge dilemmas to focus on, no life-altering decisions to be made, no major upheavals to think about… but I did find an inner sense of peace and I did return with a less restless soul than I went out there with. So, I’m grateful for that.

I guess my final thought on this whole thing would be about the feeling that people need to make life-long connections on the Way. I met a lot of pilgrims who were almost obsessed with getting the contact information of every pilgrim they met. They wanted to connect on social  media, they wanted to text by phone, they wanted e-mail addresses. They wanted to stay in touch after the pilgrimage was completed. I was strongly adverse to this mindset.

I don’t think it’s necessary to stay connected to people you meet along the Camino. I think the interactions you have with other pilgrims is genuine and sincere and can be very deep and you will remember them for a long time, but you don’t need to carry the specific connections away from that pilgrim world into the everyday world of your separate lives. I still feel very strongly that, for me at least, it was important that I not know too much about these people’s lives back home. I deliberately didn’t learn last names or whether people were married or had children or anything. This doesn’t mean we only had superficial conversations. On the contrary, it was almost like you could speak more freely and sincerely due to the fact that these were people you would never see again. Every conversation was a chance to spill out your feelings to someone who was going to listen and respond in a way that they might not listen or respond to someone who they knew they’d be dealing with again for months and years to come. The camino allows for very deep conversations and arguments and real interactions with people for a very short time. Just a conversation over tea or over dinner or over a snack while sitting on the edge of a public fountain. That is what makes the camino special, to me. The fact that you have these face-to-face conversations with strangers that might only last a brief time, but which will stick with you for a long time to come. But you don’t know their names. This is why I think people say that there are angels on the Camino. I think there truly are, but I also came to believe that every pilgrim and every person you meet on the camino is angelic. They have a lasting impact, but are only with you for a moment. It’s really something. I don’t think I would treasure it as much as I do if I came home and saw on social media that these people I had wonderful conversations with over dinner are complaining about the refugees, or going through a bitter divorce, or are whining about their work life, etc. For me, I don’t want to know that stuff. I honestly don’t think I’d like some of the people I met along the Camino very much if I knew them very well. But, because I didn’t want to know too much about their personal lives, I feel like I can remember them with some sort of fondness. At least as part of a moment during a special experience in my life. So, I didn’t come home from this whole experience with life-long friends who I will send Christmas cards to and share inside jokes with about a pilgrim’s life on the Way of St. James, but some people do. Some people choose to “collect” other pilgrims as they go and make a strong effort to stay connected, as if the experience doesn’t mean as much unless they can have people to talk to who were part of it once it’s over. And I can understand that, too. Especially when you come home and realize that most people don’t want to hear much about what you’ve done. But, I think it’s just another personal decision that each pilgrim has to make on their own.

 

Thanks for watching.

My last day in Spain was a pretty relaxing one. I got up and went to the Prado Museum. I stopped along the way at the cutest little bakery café on a little side street. I had a giant piece of chocolate cake for breakfast and a glass of fresh orange juice. And it was good! The café was very small with just maybe four or five little café tables that could seat two people and a small counter with baked goods sitting under glass topped cake stands. And all around the little cafe, it had books for sale! All new releases that were for sale. They had books tucked onto little display stands in corners, sitting on rungs of ladders, and sitting on bookshelves hung on the walls. It was really cool. It was definitely my kind of place and I was so happy I decided to go in.

One thing I’ve learned on this trip is when you see a place open and serving food and you’re even the tiniest bit hungry, GO IN. I’ve learned to grab any opportunity I can rather than waiting and assuming there’ll be other options ahead. That has been a big lesson learned on this whole trip, for sure. Something better might not be just up the road. This might be the best, so take the opportunity when it comes up.

After breakfast, I walked to the museum. The police presence here is overwhelming. Lots of extra security down here in this part of Madrid around the big tourist places. The Prado is the biggest tourist attraction in Spain, so I think I saw their highest level of police protection this country has. Lots of huge vans and police of all types stationed all around this neighborhood. But, the Prado was great.

I only took one art history class in college, but I recognized some of the names of the artists I was seeing. Rafael, Goya, Van Dyck, Diego Velazquez (the Prado has tons of his stuff), and even one Rembrandt (I learned that’s his first name. I never knew that.) The museum is big, but manageable, I thought. I saw all the rooms in about 3 and a half hours, and I was able to browse the gift shop/bookstore and grab a bite to eat at the café near the bookstore. Of course, it was a ham and cheese sandwich but I was able to get it heated up so there was some variety with it being hot rather than cold…and I got a giant cookie with it, and giant cookies always improve a meal.

One neat thing about the Prado was seeing the artists who set up easels in the rooms and paint the masterpieces. I saw several and though some of the current painters versions of the paintings looked better than some of the paintings on display. It was cool to see that these paintings are used for that type of practice and teaching and that the Prado allows artists to bring their paints in and just set up right next to the paintings. Very cool. Maybe that’s common in these big art museums, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, but I haven’t been to a ton of art museums either.

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A painter in the Prado

 

After the museum, I walked around a bit and looked at the botanic garden through the garden gates. I didn’t pay the three euro to get in because it looked fairly brown to me. The police presence is good, security wise, but also sort of unsettling. I just came back to my hotel room and spent the rest of today relaxing and resting my feet and ankles again. There are Christmas movies on tv! They’re like the made-for-tv type of Christmas movies. Sort of in the vein of Hallmark Hall of Fame. I’ve seen one with Julie Andrews in it, and one version of a Christmas Carol where Scrooge was a woman. I can tell I’ve lost track of the passing of time. I sort of still expect it to be around Halloween. Next week is Thanksgiving, though!

But, this television has a group of channels out of the UK, and the commercials during the breaks in the movies are for the major toys of the holiday season in the UK. It’s interesting. It’s a lot of games that I sort of remember playing when I was a little kid. Like “Operation”, a version of a game where you try to push down the teeth of a crocodile and the crocodile will snap down and bite a player’s hand eventually (poor description, I’m sorry), and something that reminded me of a fishing game where you tried to catch magnets in fish and reel them in. And Europe seems crazy about Playmobil sets, too. I LOVED Playmobil sets as a kid. I had a carousel swing when I was little with a few Playmobil people and I remember playing with that swing all the time. I think I even still had it up until a few years ago. I haven’t seen Playmobil sets in the US, so I don’t know if they’re big sellers in America, or if Europe is just sort of the major market now for those? But, it’s cool. It’s sort of a retro sort of Christmas here. The toys aren’t really all that electronic or noisy or transform into anything else. They’re just these sort of 90s-era-America awesome toys.

Tomorrow I leave Europe. I’m going to take the Renfre train up to Chamartin and then take the metro over to the airport in the morning. I’m flying all day tomorrow to Philadelphia first and then to Chicago and then I’m staying in Chicago for the night before taking a train from Chicago to Albuquerque. I’m ready to be home. I won’t be home until Thursday and I go back to work on Friday, but I think I’ll be okay. The jet lag might get to me, but I’m hoping that the train will help me adjust better than just flying straight in would be. We’ll see.

Thank you for traveling along with me! I will update with some final thoughts after I’ve been home a bit and have absorbed a bit more of what this experience means to me and how I feel about it after I give it a few weeks back in my “normal” life.

Put a fork in me, I’m (nearly) done.

I got the second-to-last seat on the train from Santiago to Madrid. Lots of higher security to get through to get on board the train to come to Madrid. Sadly, the security were only screening for safety and so they couldn’t stop stupid. I got octopus juice dripped all over my bag from the family sitting in the seats ahead of me. The father had (rather idiotically, I thought) put a bag of wet pulpo above them on the overhead luggage storage and, of course, it dripped and made a little stream of octopus juice go down the storage shelf, getting all over the stuff of everyone around them who had their actual luggage up there. When the guy realized what happened because his wife started complaining because she was getting dripped on (nevermind that those behind them had been getting dripped on for a while and they never paid any attention while we all moved our stuff across the train aisles from their stuff and were asking what was wet and leaking), the guy just laughed. And it was a family of four, but they’d only reserved two seats and so were trying to get everyone around them to give up their seats for them and for the two little boys, who were running all over the place and getting in other folks’ way the whole time. They would run all over, shout at each other, throw a tantrum, and climb up on the seats and swing from the luggage shelf overhead. And the Dad would just laugh and encourage them while the mother ate octopus. It was a really really long train ride, let me tell you. Well, it was long, it was about 8 hours long, but it felt even longer with this awesome family along for the ride.

Unfortunately, this rude family’s behavior did not surprise me as much as it would have had I not had about a hundred such encounters with locals on this trip. At the beginning of the trip, I was surprised by the lack of consideration of others I’d noticed in the Northern Spaniards. I don’t like to make generalizations, but after a few weeks here, it really seems to be the norm…this inconsiderate behavior. They have no concept of respecting other people’s space or even caring for others comfort in public places. It’s very much a selfish sort of atmosphere that I’ve noticed. It’s been pretty awful at times, and I haven’t been alone in noticing this behavior and being put-off by it. Frank from Belgium, Pedro from Las Vegas, Lucy from New Zealand…each of them made comments about the unfriendly nature of the locals they were having dealings with. Pedro distinctly told me he wouldn’t return at this time of year because of the attitudes of the locals. He chalked it up to them being tired of pilgrims along the Camino and thinks that the Springtime is the best time to come because the pilgrim season is just beginning and they are ready for their “tourism” to start again, and maybe that’s true. But, to me, that doesn’t explain the people in Bilbao or folks like this family on the train. It makes me appreciate some of the behavioral norms in the United States. Americans seem to frown more upon some of the things I’ve seen a lot of here: children climbing all over strangers’ seats on public transportation, people playing their video games loudly without earphones, not apologizing for dropping things on people… even the very simple act of a smile from a store owner when a person walks into their café or shop has been unusual here. The pilgrims I met were definitely the highlight of my trip. I could leave the locals, most of the time.  It all adds up after a while and, at the moment, with my pack smelling like octopus, my dislike of ham being anything but lessened after weeks of cold jamon bocadillos which never actually filled me up, and my overall patience worn thin, I have zero interest in returning to Spain for a very long time.

Thinking back over this trip, I actually feel, for the first time, much more appreciative of where I live. This is the first time I’ve gone abroad and really really wanted to go back to the United States. Been very ready to return. Happy to return. It’s not just the attacks in Paris and the heightened security and the atmosphere of alarm that’s gripped Europe–although I will be happy to leave Europe for that reason, too– it’s the feeling that this country isn’t really a good fit for me. Spain and I will never be best buds. I’m not sure we can even be happy acquaintances right now. Maybe Madrid will help to balance the scales, a bit. I haven’t seen much of it at all, but what I have seen, I’ve liked.

I arrived here and found the Metro. Madrid’s metro is super slick! It was so easy to use. I arrived at the Chamartin Station in the northern part of the city and my hotel is located in the southern part and I just hopped on the subway and didn’t even have to transfer to get to San Anton station and walk to my nice hotel. I’m staying at the Catalina Atocha, and it’s great. Small room, but really quiet and nice. There’s a nice café down on the street level, too and it had really great fettuccini with pesto sauce on the menu tonight. Yum! I was really grateful for the filling pasta. Now I’m watching a bit of soccer. It’s half-time in a game between Ukraine and Slovenia and Ukraine is winning 1-0.

The sun was setting as I was riding the subway to get here, so when I went underground, it was still light but when I popped out of the ground in this neighborhood, it was dark. Still, what I can see of the buildings look interesting. Madrid might be a cool city to explore a bit more sometime. Maybe the Southern part of Spain would be a better fit for me than the North. I don’t know. The people here at the hotel were very nice, and the waitress at dinner actually gave me a smile when I walked in! I was grateful for that kind gesture. As weird as it is, I’m sort of used to people smiling and greeting you when you walk in to places. I had never really noticed how much a part of America a simple smile and greeting is. It’s good business, for one thing and America is nothing if not good at business. But, it also just seems like the smile and greeting has become a part of who Americans are. It’s sort of natural to smile and greet, and we expect to be smiled at and greeted in response, I guess. Lucy was saying at one point that Lupe didn’t like to think of himself as an American (but he moved to the US when he was two, so he doesn’t remember living anywhere but the US) but that he was about as American as Lucy could imagine a person to be. She believes Americans are usually in a hurry, rather outgoing, and matter-of-fact in their beliefs. Lupe was definitely all of these things from what both of us saw of him, so it’s hard to argue with her opinion. I heard several accounts of what people expected Americans to be on this trip. One person was surprised to find out that I live in the same state as my father because he had always heard that Americans never live near their families. This person believed that Americans can’t wait to leave home and never want to live near their families after they grow up. I heard complaints about how Americans throw their money away by tipping everyone and how they don’t like to visit the United States because they are expected to tip everyone, too. It happens to everyone. You meet so many pilgrims from so many countries that these misconceptions are brought to the surface. I remember my first night on the Camino in Villafranca, sitting at the dinner table with the three other pilgrims and the man from Puerto Rico telling Sue from South Korea how he believed she was very much in danger and he didn’t know how she should live a normal life with North Korea as her neighbor. And Sue just looked at him, bewildered, and said, “You think I am in danger? Why do you think I am in danger?!” The man told her how the situation is painted as very dangerous by the media and that many people believe South Korea is going to be attacked by North Korea. And Sue just looked at him in disbelief before explaining how South Koreans are not concerned about this and that there are many who would like to reunite with North Korea and many who want to stay separate, but she didn’t believe there was any cause for concern that her country was about to be blown away by its northern neighbor. She looked really taken aback that this was the outward view of her country.

This is why I don’t want to fall into the trap of generalizing Spaniards based on these few weeks of rude encounters with locals, but it’s definitely colored my view of this country. I can count on just one hand the really good experiences with locals that I’ve had over this trip, I think. And some have been really great, like the wonderful old woman in Villafranca who turned me around and walked with me, in the rain, to try to find a bus to Ponferrada so I would not have to walk back. Or the four Southern Spaniards that I met on the Camino and laughed with and who kindly added my favorite shirt to their pack to deliver to me when I accidentally left it behind. I’m certain these are not the only good people here who seem to be very kind and nice, but I just happened to bump into very few of them on this trip, I guess.

I have no pictures to share today. I can tell I’m tired and ready to just get home simply by my lack of wanting to capture any of the scenery around me any more.

I don’t know what I just ate.

It’s the same day still as my earlier post, but in the evening. I have my hotel booked for Madrid tomorrow and Monday night. It’s near the Prado, so I hope to go see that on Monday.

I went exploring earlier, both around the hotel and went to the church again to see the remains of St. James and to see some of the smaller chapels. It’s really a beautiful place. Both the hotel and the church here are really lovely to explore.

This parador was a pilgrim hospital and orphanage up until the 1950s, when it was converted into this fancy hotel. What I really like is that the hotel put up small plaques to explain what the rooms and courtyards were originally used for when it was a hospital. I found the leech tank from 1890, which was where they kept all the leeches they used for medical purposes. It’s now just part of a wall below a window. And there was a courtyard that was where the mothers could leave their children if they wanted them accepted by the orphanage. There were explicit instructions on how to leave the children and instructions on how to care for the children who were left. The person rang a bell when they wanted a child picked up by the nurses and they were to wait until they heard the bell answered with a statement that began “Ave Maria…”

When I went out to the plaza, I saw the pilgrims who have finished today sitting on the ground and meeting each other and congratulating each other just like Lucy and I did on Thursday. It made me smile to see more people arriving, but I still haven’t seen Pedro.

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Pilgrims arriving in Santiago. Congrats!

 

The church is so lovely, and just like yesterday, there is a sense of calm and peace in it. Especially after the attacks last night, it is nice to be in a place where there is a feeling of calm and peace. I went down below the altar and saw the tomb of St. James. It’s a much smaller coffin than I expected and completely bright silver. I walked all around and saw the chapels. One in particular of Mary and the baby Jesus struck me because it looked like Mary was staring right at me. It made me stop for a moment and stare back. It was sort of eerie, but also comforting. Even after leaving the church and eating dinner, I still have the image of her looking at me in my mind.

Dinner was a trip. It was crazy fancy with tiny portions and strange combinations of foods. I’ve certainly never eaten anywhere this fancy, and I was glad that I’d already paid for the meal so I didn’t have to actually see the prices. I was just given the menu of the day. And that, ladies and gents, is how Jill ended up eating octopus pate. The waiter took the menu from me before bringing out all the starters (I had asked if I could just get the ham croquettes as a starter, but he said he’d bring out both starters on the menu) and by the time he brought them out I couldn’t remember what the other starter was other than some type of seafood. I ate a few bites of what he brought out and, after dinner, looked at the menu by the restaurant entrance. It turned out to be a little rectangle of octopus pate with caviar on top. I didn’t eat the caviar at all because I recognized what that stuff was, but I took two bites of the pate. It tasted fishy to me, but since I don’t eat seafood, I think even non-fishy things taste fishy. Others who have eaten octopus told me that it wasn’t a fishy flavor. At any rate, as my last night in Galicia, I feel I can certainly leave now that I’ve actually tasted the octopus. The first course was some sort of stew with some veggies in it. Not bad, but they also just dropped a sunny-side-up egg on top of the stew, so I sort of mined my way around the egg to get to the veggies. The main course was “lamb knuckle”, which was pretty good. The meat was really tender and fell right off the bone. And for dessert, I had violet ice cream with an orange brownie — both pretty interesting. Well, it was all interesting. A memorable dinner. They kept taking my plate and all my silverware between each course and the head waiter took my bread from me and mini-swept up all the crumbs in front of me  before I was actually done eating the bread. But, it was definitely an adventure in the culinary world!

After seeing St. James and eating octopus and relaxing a bit more, I feel like I’m really ready to begin the journey home. With the Camino over, I feel like I just want to go home. I’m ready to be back in the States.