An Open Letter to the People of Spain

12 April 2016

Today I arrived to Santiago de Compostela, after walking for 32 days on the Camino de Santiago through the northern regions of your country – through Navarre, La Rioja, Castilla y León, and Galicia. I’m overcome with gratitude for the kindness and hospitality you have shown me. I doubt that words can express the gratitude and joy I’m feeling, but I’ll try. 

Thank you to each person who leaned out of your window or looked up from your yard work to point me in the correct direction. Thank you to the hospitaleros who welcomed me after a long day’s walk with a smile or a cup of tea. Thank you to the priests who said a special benediction for pilgrims walking west, a benediction that brought tears to my eyes each time I heard it. Thank you to each person who stopped to speak to me, asking me where I was from, where I started the Camino, and how many kilometers on average I walked each day. And thank you especially to each person who smiled, honked, waved, or offered that special blessing, “Buen Camino.” To me, those words were a constant prayer, a wish for safety as I completed my pilgrimage, a wish for a good journey. Each time I heard those two words, I felt as though all of Spain were giving me un abrazo grande. Each time I heard those two words, it was a reminder that I was, indeed, having a buen camino, a wonderful walk across your beautiful country. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Muchas gracias. 


Just Another Kiss

We were almost dry from the surprise shower that caught us during the first half of our walk. We walked toward the Golden Gate Bridge, marveling at how beautiful the Golden Gate is after a rain. Blue skies, white puffy clouds, a crispness to the air unlike no other. We watched surfers in front of us, veering off to descend down the cliff towards the sharp rocky reef of the Pacific. “Let’s touch Hopper’s Hands, then we can start our walk back home.” “Hopper’s Hands?” “Yeah, they’re hands on the fence. It’s kind of a tradition to high five them before turning around. It’s one of my favorite parts of this walk/run.” We high fived Hopper’s Hands then noticed one of the surfers had caught a wave. We stopped to watch, marveling at his grace and skill. I felt a spidey-sense that something was wrong. I turned my head to see a wave approaching me. No, not approaching me. ON me. The sheet of water landed on my head, knocking me back. I stumbled and looked at all the stunned faces around us. The wave had only touched me and Jo, no one else around. I started laughing as water dripped down my hair, off my glasses, and down my nose. I looked at Jo. “Let’s start walking.” Shortly thereafter, we approached the Warming Hut (a safe distance from the waves) and ordered a cup of tea to enjoy while sitting outside in the just appeared sunshine.

We pondered, “What is the lesson here?” An obvious one, don’t stand near a cliff when the king tides are approaching. Also, don’t wear a cotton hoodie near the water (we walked for another two hours and I never dried out). The warmth of the sun is so much more delightful after a downpour (or a random wave). And last, sometimes you just have to be thankful when the Pacific decides to give you a kiss.




All of That, All at Once

Full. Exhausted. Hopeful. Furious. Dismayed. Proud. I’m feeling all of that, all at once, right now.

Full from the words spoken tonight. Full from the messages of hope. “When you’re uncomfortable, you expand. Let yourself grow in that space.”  Full from being uncomfortable and learning new truths.

Exhausted because of the tears of sadness and the tears of joy shed, watching crazy talented performers at the Youth Speaks Bringing the Noise for Dr Martin Luther King Jr event. Watching the very young girl seated next to me eyeing me suspiciously as I wiped away tears that wouldn’t stop as I heard the names and names and names of people who died at the hands of police brutality. Tears as I said a prayer that in 40 years, she won’t be sitting at an event, tears streaming down her face as she hears a similar roll call of names.

Hopeful for the voices of tonight. Hopeful that through their talent, their raw honesty, their sheer emotion, their messages will be heard. “Love your broken reflection and then allow someone else to see themselves in the cracks.

Furious that we live in a country where a #blacklivesmatter movement is necessary. “Too many of us are dying for just trying to live.

Dismayed to hear the words “I can’t figure out why these people were killed in the first place at least in the movies they give you a reason for the slaughter.

And proud, so proud, of all the young poets, and especially the young women, who shared their truths. “Hold on, my people.


In Search of the Perfect Walking Shoe

Since reading The Paradox of Choice, I’ve actively tried to be a satisficer, not a maximizer. I consciously try to make decisions without weighing EVERY. SINGLE. POSSIBLE. OPTION. I decide what is important, and when I find something that meets that criteria, I stop looking. This worked incredibly well for me when I was looking to buy a home (saw one place, it meet my needs, bought it less than 24 hours later). It takes conscious effort, though, for me to be a satisficer. My natural inclination is that I want to see every single option. I want to weigh ALL the possibilities (which doesn’t necessarily make me happier).

In less than two months, I’ll be walking the Camino de Santiago. More later on why I’m doing that. But for now, I’m (contrary to my normal mode) planning. I’m walking more, aiming for 50+ miles/week. I’m researching clothing options. I’m weighing the things I’ll carry in my backpack. I’m reading forums and asking questions.

I thought I had found my Cinderella shoe. A month ago, I bought the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry Hiking Shoe. It was so comfortable in the store. It was solid and provided the support I felt I needed. I brought it home and took it out for walks. On my week day-ly 6-mile hikes it was comfortable. But on the longer 10+ mile walks, I noticed that my toes went numb, and then I began to have shooting pains in my feet. And, for some reason, the top of my left foot was becoming bruised. But maybe, I thought,  my hiking shoes just needed to be broken in more. So I walked, and walked, and walked. And continued to be in pain.

Today I figured I should try to find a new pair of shoes, while I still have time to break them in before the start of my trip. I went to REI (my favorite place to buy gear) with the intent of buying one pair of comfortable shoes. Anna, the kindest and most patient of sales clerks, brought out several waterproof styles. I tried each on. When I first put them on, they were comfortable. And then I walked around in each pair for about 10 minutes. And each pair created intense pain on the top of my left foot. Anna commented that I had an unusually high instep (I do, which is why I generally don’t wear shoes that lace up). I tried on more pairs. My left foot continued to hurt. Anna went on break. Steve helped me. I continued to try on shoes, walking around the store. Anna came back from break. I looked at the stack of 13 unsuccessful pairs of shoes to my right, and wondered if I was reverting to maximizer behavior. I re-tried on each pair, with the sole criteria of “Does this hurt?” If it did, it went to the reject pile. All were rejected. Anna brought out more boxes of shoes. In the end, there were two pairs of shoes that hurt less than all others. One, a pair of trail running shoes, and the other, a pair of hiking boots. I opted to go with the trail runners. My goal – as little pain as possible while walking ~15 miles a day. Here’s to being a satisficer!


The Gift of the Hummingbirds

Every seven or eight years, I get a hankering for an adventure. These adventures generally aren’t planned, per se, they’re opportunities that arise and I think, “Hey, that’d be fun.” And then I’m on a plane, not sure about what comes next.

In 1992 I was offered a job in Kuwait.  I went to the San Francisco public library to check out a book on Kuwait, to see if it was something that I wanted to consider. There were no books on Kuwait, but there was one on Iran. I figured that was close enough (in hindsight, not at all the same…), read it, and decided to go.

In 2001 a friend said, “Let’s bike through Cuba!” I bought a used bike and attempted to buy a nice seat for it (the bike store employee said he wouldn’t allow me to buy such a nice seat for such a piece of junk) and that was the extent of my planning. As we rode from town to town in Cuba, I realized that a few practice rides in San Francisco might have helped me…

In 2007, I had to travel to Nepal for work. I decided to hike the Annapurna Circuit over 21 days. The first night of the trail, other hikers sat around the table, talking about how they had prepared for the hike. When one person talked about carrying a backpack weighted with rocks and running up and down stairs, and the others nodded in agreement that they, too, had done so, I wondered if maybe I should have done more than simply requested vacation days…

All of the adventures turned out fine. More than fine, really. Pretty spectacular, actually. I’ve always been a “Let’s see what happens” type of person, and generally appreciate that there’s a lot of good.

I’ve decided to walk el Camino de Santiago in March and April this year. And for some inexplicable reason, I’ve felt the need to plan. Maturity? Maybe. Lessons learned from past experiences? Maybe. Surprisingly, the planning has been  gratifying.

I’ve researched ultra-light clothing/sleeping options. I’ve tried on backpacks and hiking shoes. I’ve started walking longer distances.

Today my neighbors and I set out for a 15 mile walk, more or less the distance I’m aiming to do daily on el Camino. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that is satisfyingly meditative. We walked from our homes in the center of the city to the ocean. On the way there, we noticed a hummingbird, sitting on a bush. I’ve never seen a hummingbird not in flight. We all stopped, transfixed. The bird sat there. For minutes. We watched, silent. It flittered to another bush, flittered back in front of us, then flew away. We walked. It rained. We inhaled the fresh air of a forest after a shower. On the way to lunch, we noticed another hummingbird, just sitting there on a bush. The bird turned its head and we were treated to a splash of vibrant pink on its head. We watched. It sat. We mentioned that this must be a sign. It flew away. We stopped for lunch. We chatted with strangers. We laughed. We wished each other well. We walked along the ocean, then through Golden Gate Park. At mile 13 my feet began to feel tender. We walked a little slower. When I got home, I looked up the significance of the hummingbird.

From this site:

The hummingbird generally symbolizes joy and playfulness, as well as adaptability. Additional symbolic meanings are:
•    Lightness of being, enjoyment of life
•    Being more present
•    Independence
•    Bringing playfulness and joy in your life
•    Lifting up negativity
•    Swiftness, ability to respond quickly
•    Resiliency, being able to travel great distances tirelessly

I don’t know if I’ll see any more hummingbirds between now and when I depart for Spain. I’ll remember today’s message, though – to be present, enjoy life, and celebrate joy.


Why I Believe Black Lives Matter

I’m a very selective church goer. In San Francisco, I only go to church when my friend Marvin is preaching. Marvin is a joy to listen to. He’s got a confident, booming voice. He’s a poet at heart, and his sermons often involve beautiful word choices and a lyrical structure. And his messages make you go, “Hm.” And ask questions. And then more questions. And I like that.

Today’s sermon focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. And Marvin’s time in Ferguson, paying witness to that movement. And how, yes, all lives matter, but right now we need to focus on black lives, because the justice system isn’t.

Most of the times I’ll go to church alone, but the last couple of times I’ve attended church, a friend has come with me. As we were walking home today, we were discussing the sermon. She said that she hadn’t really thought of it from that perspective. I mentioned that the reason that I support the movement is because 1- black lives do matter and 2 – I experience white privilege and it feels yucky.

The time I rode CalTrain from Palo Alto to San Francisco, not realizing I had to tag my Clipper card at the station (there aren’t card readers on board the train). As I stood there on the train, swiping my Clipper card, back and forth in front of the paper Clipper Card advertisement, the ticket taker walked by and asked me, somewhat incredulously, what I was doing. I told him I was trying to pay for my ride. He told me that you had to tag your card at the station, not on board. I profusely apologized and told him I’d get off at the next station and tag my card. He told me not to worry about it, and just to make sure I didn’t tag off when we got to San Francisco. I told him I really didn’t mind getting off at the next station, and apologized again. He told me to please sit down. I sat down, and at the next stop watched a young (possibly Latina?) woman run on board at the last minute. The ticket taker walked through the train, checking for tickets. She told him that she didn’t have time to tag her Clipper card at the station because she would have missed the train had she done so. He told her to wait by the doors and tag her card at the next station. I got up from my seat and stood by her. “The same thing happened to me,” I said. We both got off at the next station and paid for our ride. Did the ticket taker ask me to sit down because he thought I was clueless? Or because of the color of my skin?

Waiting at the butcher counter, and being called to be helped upon before other women waiting also, women of color. I politely say, “I think they were here first, why don’t you help them?” Did the butcher really think I was there first? Or did he call on me because of the color of my skin?

Reading the recent incident about the black women’s book club that was kicked off the Napa Valley wine train for laughing too loudly. Oh, goodness. If laughing out loud is a crime, I’ve got a lifetime of prison ahead of me. I think back to all the times that I’ve been loud (and sometimes inappropriate) in public, and the worst reprimand I’ve gotten is to be shushed. Was it because I was interacting with lenient waiters/maitre d’s/bouncers? Or was it because of the color of my skin?

I’m leaning towards believing it was the color of my skin, in these, and many other situations. These are small, seemingly inconsequential interactions. The thing is, we live in a racist society that allows, encourages even, not only these small inequities, but larger ones as well. The prison populations that are overflowing with disproportionate numbers of black men and women. The unparalleled excessive use of force against black men and women in police custody. The higher percentage of black children that are suspended/expelled from school.

It ain’t right. It’s time for change. This is why #BlackLivesMatter to me.


Hot, Hot Siena

Hot. Scorching. Blazing. Sizzling. Sweltering. Boiling.

Realizing you’re drenched in sweat. Your hair, every strand, completely soaked under your hat. Trickles of sweat rolling from your neck, down your back, into your waistband. Sunglasses slowly sliding down the bridge of your nose. Sitting in the shade for relief, crossing your legs, and having them slip off of each other.

I know that this is normal for many people. It was normal for me growing up. One hundred degree days, with humidity so high you wilted when you walked outside, were the norm during summers in North Carolina. But that hasn’t been the norm for the twenty or so summers I’ve lived in San Francisco. Summer to me means boots, a light jacket, and a scarf on particularly cool nights.

We duck into stores that have air conditioning. We plan our route to our next destination based on which streets and alleys have shade. We relish the first moments of returning home, the discrepancy between the outdoor heat and the indoor air conditioning so welcome. In the afternoon we nap, exhausted from the heat. We drink bottles and bottles of water. We shower, and shower again.

And in and amongst the heat, the sweat, and the consumption of water, we explore Siena. We marvel at the Cathedral of Siena, its black and white stripes standing out against the pale blue sky. We enter its cool sanctuary and marvel anew at the mosaics on the floor, the endless columns, and the stunning stained glass windows. The interior of the dome, with hundreds of gold stars, each in its own square of perfectly blue background, is my favorite. I stare upwards until my neck cricks and I start to lose my balance.

The library astounds us with its vibrant jewel colors, still intact after hundreds of years. It’s a small room, but everything about it is marvelous. The ceiling is awash in bright reds, golds, blues, violets, and greens. The walls greet us with frescoes of Pope Pius II, and along the walls we see manuscripts with fancy script and intricate drawings. I gently tread over the crescent moons on the floor that form stars and wonder who created such a masterpiece.

We visit churches and museums til the heat beats us down, then we retreat home, not venturing out again until evening, when there is some relief from the heat. We dine al fresco, eating caprese salads and pici with wild boar, grateful when a breeze blows through. And then, gelato. The icy sweetness makes the heat almost bearable. Almost.