Best to listen to this song to get into the right mindset. This is not a nice post but it is raw; my personal thoughts on the latest developments.Continue reading “What’s Best for the Kids”
Snow has been falling for the past several hours, impossible to stick as the rain of previous days prevents a proper freezing point from being established. And yet it comes down, thick at times, these flurries. You can see them illuminated in the street lights of Zurich, this endless descent; cars are beginning to develop a blanket of white, but the ground remains slick – wet wet wet – perhaps the morrow will bring ice.
And, much like this march of maddened moisture, I find my own quest rivals it: I must continue. I must, for I haven’t any other options. Much like the snow, I descend upon the Swiss countryside, travelling from my base in Zurich to all corners where my ancestors once stalked. Here, the Staatarchiv Thurgau. There, the Stadtaarchiv Aarau. Graubunden. Bern. Diessbach. Leimbach. A thousand names foreign and familiar. A constant mix of Staat- and Stadt-, going into these old buildings with the same tired line,
“Es tut mir Leid – meine Deustch ist schlecht.”
Most speak English; though I am grateful for that, I do my best to speak the lingua franca. When in Rome, as the adage goes. But, given the professional and academic nature of the mission, my language skills are wholly lacking in this regard – before long, I must revert to English so that I might be able to make my immediate concerns and questions known.
Bah. Stupid Americans.
All the same, it is an exhilarating quest – especially when information is uncovered, shared, copied. I have documents. I have anecdotes. I have stories and recordings and pictures. From visiting family members – the kind you only hear about from your folks when they mention the Old Country, these obscure types that one finds so difficult to place or to visualize – so much can be learned.
My great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side was a bastard. “A devil,” it was claimed by a man who knew him once. He built a magnificent palace in a humble farming town, not unlike those obnoxious houses, the McMansions, just outside of my small hometown. His wealth was acquired from less than legal means, dubious at best, and that mystery remains to be solved. I have theories: I need evidence. But by all accounts, his wealth didn’t make him any more likeable or relatable. “A devil,” he repeated. “The day he died was a party. One of my happiest memories about the man.”
He had to sell the manor house and farm in his dotage as his ego couldn’t afford the upkeep. He died, broke, broken, and despised; riddled with cancer. All that remains of his folly is a stone stable. That will last, far, far longer than he. A stone stable house? How absurd.
“My brother was a good boy – a scholar, driven,” claimed my great uncle. You can see Grandpa in this man’s visage, old and wrinkled, the very same ears and nose that he once sported (he could wiggle them, you know, and he always amused us as kids by doing so); this living relic of my dead grandfather was like a curious oracle upon a hill, one that you must climb a desolate peak or brave the harshest elements, just to get a glimpse of his wisdom.
I merely took a plane and train.
But, there he is: my grandfather’s brother. Near 100 years old, sharp as a knife, stooped as any old man his age, yet his eyes ablaze with recollection as the memories came pouring forth. Poor thing, for I put him through the ringer with my questions for hours, constantly filming and recording and questioning and verifying this and that. Once he got going with my questions, I could scarcely keep the pen moving for such was his worth. “He was a good boy,” he repeated several times, “and was determined to achieve more than his allotment.”
Of course: he wasn’t the firstborn therefore he had no inheritance or farm to look forward to in the town of his birth. He would have to strike out on his own, to find his own greener pastures, if he was to achieve that.
He did. With the Mennonites in Iowa, the Swiss in Southern California, the deserts of New Mexico. He would have milked a dozen cows by hand had he stayed behind in Switzerland, sharing a parcel of land with his eldest brother, building a cramped farmhouse on the same plot.
He milked thousands at one point, employed dozens, and raised a family that has since spread across the nation. Humble beginnings. My great uncle’s eyes are still aflame, the brightest spark of an old man sharing older tales – those memories that needed to be said – as I try and capture them all. How pleased he is, how pleased he is, to be speaking thusly and about the old times.
“Es tut mir leid – mein Deutsch ist schlecht.”
It doesn’t matter, I suppose, for the information has been shared. Now comes the power of the pen, the single greatest invention of mankind, the very weapon that has damned nations and cost countless lives. The humble pen. With a stroke, fortunes are changed, lives are rewritten. If this seems cliché, for indeed it is, just remember that the latest war began with a pen stroke and not a bullet fired from an indiscriminate barrel. The smoke rises from the paper, the ink more deadly than bombs.
Is that, then, what I am doing? Declaring war? Don’t be absurd. I am merely penning a family history. A Familie Geschichte as it were, tramping about here and there in this familiarly strange country to track down the stories and anecdotes and documents that I should have tracked down a decade ago. Ah, hindsight – what dumb 23-year-old thinks about their elders in such a vein, eh? At that age, my grandparents were still young, still spry: they would live forever.
And, with this pen, I shall make it so.
The quest continues though my time in the Old Country nears an end. The snow is still falling; I expect ice tomorrow. My coat isn’t warm enough and my hiking sandals won’t keep the cold out. They are better for Camino, for Spain, not for this mission. But, alas, it is what I have. I shall make do. Perhaps I make a nice snow angel, have myself a snowball fight, on the morrow.
Perhaps I freeze and complain about my lot, shake my fist to the heavens and cry foul.
It doesn’t matter for the snow will continue to fall. This inevitable march of time, of progress, as it seeks to smother everything in its path, but is resolutely being denied a proper footing.
Much like my quest, the stories are burning, brimming just beneath the surface, waiting for me to find them. Not even the cold snow will smother them whilst I draw breath.
The fire in that old man’s eyes is mine now, and I will burn.
Now Featuring More Swear Words
Well fuckin’ hell – it’s been a spell. The rhyme was unintentional as I’ve rewritten the opening to this post a dozen times trying to find that spark that gets me in the groove and writing. You know how this whole writing process works, right?
Anyway, enough jibber jabber. Let me regale you with the comings and goings of your favorite (former) English teacher who now masquerades as a family historian.
So, here we are in Zurich, kickin’ it in style at the local hostel with a cold beer (in whatever the hell 50cl is), a photo album of churches, graffiti, and flags emblazoned proudly with animal dicks, and a whole mess of paperwork. Seems like my quest to track down relevant information regarding the history of my belated grandparents is bound to only become far more interesting.
Trust me, that’s relevant to the family history. Grandpa was adamant that the Bernese flag was incomplete if the bear wasn’t rockin’ a boner. If you look at the cantonal flags of Switzerland, you’ll see that all the animals are sporting massive erections, proudly waving their colors as they tea bag their enemies. Fun fact: the Bernese and Fribourgers almost came to blows once upon a time because of animal boners (not that kind, you furry faggots). The Fribourgers left the cock off the flag and the Bernese were ready to fight a goddamned war over that. Grandpa loved that tidbit of history.
Now, enough about dicks. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes, eh?Continue reading “Swiss Trip”
I can’t force myself to write – it always seems lacking in humanity. That fresh-with-blood, slick-as-a-wound kind of humanity that draws a reader in by the throat, holds them in a death grapple while simultaneously banging their head against the wall and forcing them to sing.
Fuck; now that’s an image.
But the writing process, comrades, is one I’ve yet to master. Oh, sure, all the little old ladies at church think my writing is “beautiful” and “poetic” but I think they’re overlooking the amount of fuck’s and dick jokes I make when penning absurdity. It’s shit; it always is.
And yet. Yet I continue to do it.
My digits are now tipped in these rather strange talons most people call fingernails as mine have been bitten off for some 30 odd years e’er since tooth discovered keratin. I find it strange – it makes typing far more haphazardous – and I’ve lost the oral fixation Freud hurr-hurred on about for psychopaths and Oedipusians.
After walking Camino for a third time, it seems the habit was left behind like a stone of ill-intentions at the Cruz de Ferro.
And after walking Camino, I find myself once more having that “Come to Jesus” moment about what is reality and where am I going with it.
Well, like most of my relationships and full-time jobs, it has come to an abrupt end. I knew it was coming – even had it planned since March – but the idea that this Camino adventure is officially over as I return to the States still has me wonderin’ aloud what in blazes I’m accomplishing with my Life when I’m not on the Way. At least it didn’t come barreling into the room in tears crying about this and that and all that “I’m leaving you” and “You’re so cryptic” nonsense.
That’s Camino, eh comrades?
In real time, to the fellow sitting next to me on the plane(s), I apologize for the incredible body odor and the fact I’m dressed like a member of ISIS.
No, seriously. I smell like my Swiss uncle after a long day of farmin’ and my all-black outfit and sad excuse for a beard only lack the AK-47 to complete the Daesh ensemble. No doubt passing through the American security checkpoints will be rather humorous. Inshallah.
As my good friend Nicole has always remarked upon my misfortunes, I have brought this upon myself.
Still, fellow passenger, I am so so sorry for the fact I’m a smelly terrorist lookalike. Still friends?
A curious reader – who has followed this nonsense for well over a month now – will no doubt be wondering: where in blazes did he get an ISIS outfit when all he packed was this garbage:
I’ll give you a hint: Click this for the hilarity of understanding.
Another overcast day, a distant rain slowly encroaching upon us as the Galician sun seems nonexistent in this wet wonderland. The buildings of the area are new – post-Franco – but they lack the charm the rest of the Spanish countryside has held to her captive audience. Pre-fabricated and painted in obnoxious colors, they contrast with the verdant countryside just beyond the city borders.
I exhale a cloud of smoke, a Spanish brand, and its unctuous fumes waft back over me like a freighter steaming along past its own flatulence. My coffee sin leche sits on the damp table, a colorful parade of ponchoed pilgrims mustering past like students on their way to Hogwarts. They march because they must. They are all robed in these strange plastic garments, looking bedraggled and low-spirited, their energy matching the gloomy atmosphere of Mother Nature.
Fuckin’ tourists, I think to myself between puffs of cancer and caffeine. The previous day saw an explosion of pilgrims upon the Camino as the 100km mark proves an enticing starting point for many people seeking absolution (and that magical piece of paper that proves you visited the holy city). Despite my desire to remain non-judgmental, I find it a taxing task as hordes of Spanish teenagers – as loud and obnoxious as Americans – trundle along the path without packs, accompanied by their overweight parents who bustle and huff under the strain of their burgeoning wallets and empty day packs. That is not Camino, I think. There is no suffering.
My coffee finished, my cigarette burning my fingertips and near singeing my pathetic travel mustache, I groan along with my aching body as I saddle myself once more to join the march of pilgrims. I must top off on water and find a fountain adjacent to the cafe, dropping my freshly saddled pack onto the wet cement, and snag my two bottles. The button gives way easily enough; it isn’t near rusted shut like in the smaller villages.
With fresh water, I resupply my pack and replace the plastic rain cover. It snaps, then tears, in my soaked hands.
Fuck, I think aloud.
The clouds seem to threaten to burst that very instant as I look dumbfounded at my latest misfortune. First the boots splitting near two weeks into my adventure. Then my leg giving out shortly after. A rain jacket that doesn’t stop rain. And now a quite useless pack cover on a very rainy morn.
I laugh aloud to the fountain, startling an old woman walking her mutt along the main street and waking a bum who slept under a nearby awning. It can’t be repaired and no one around here uses duct tape for some strange reason. But I recall a pilgrim shop nearby that could carry new supplies; with curses and praise for my misfortune upon my breath, I stomp back up the hill.
The shop doesn’t open until 9 and I’ve two hours to kill afore then.
I return to the cafe, order another coffee, and light up another cigarette. I sit once more in my freshly dampened seat, admire the pilgrims who, though seem to be suffering, continue their journey in their colorful carcinogens as I wait impotently along the sidelines.
It is not wrong, I breathe. It is not right, I exhale, that familiar cloud canvassing me like a warm embrace, a much needed comfort on this rather bleak start to a day.
It is Camino.
It’s near about 6 and I’ve been walking for close to 10 hours. The heat gave way long ago to the overcast clouds of Galicia, which in turn opened up as if it was Noah’s flood. In the uphill struggle of this rugged, mountainous country, I find myself laughing – shaking a friendly fist to the heavens – as I become drenched to the bone in mere moments after walking out from under the tree coverage.
The fantastic views of O Cebreiro – where one can see for hundreds of kilometers in unmolested beauty – were soon replaced by the valleys of the countryside. Resplendent stone villages appear periodically throughout the spotted, near-uninhabited landscape, but they offer few services. Many of the villagers sit there looking at me, that noxious smoke permeating the air, like a cat might ponder its food before crassly murdering it without so much as a second thought. I am a novelty – entertainment for these villagers lost to time. The Visigoths. The Arabs. The Hapsburgs. Napoleon. I’m just another out-of-place foreigner on his inevitable way.
The rain continues to fall, yet I remained determined to make my way to the small village of Samos, home to a splendid monastery renowned for its history of pilgrim hospitality. It is the feast day of Saint James – 25 July – and I intend on making the Pilgrim’s Mass in honor of the saint who bids me e’er onward to his near-mythical burial ground. It is a near 40km walk, but I am resolute.
The pain in my left leg is amplified by the cold rain, the tightened leather boot, and the rough road, but I find myself able to plant my staff into the damp ground, push forward, and grit my teeth through each bitter step. To think, my ancestors once made this walk in ages past – when witchcraft was a thing and possession by the Devil was the go-to explanation for every malady.
And here I was bitchin’ about a sore ankle.
The kind bartender at the last village said Samos was near 10km away; she deceptively smirked when I shook my head in resignation. That pilgrim’s resignation of accepting his miserable fate: if it is 10km, then I walk 10km. She poured me another beer, politely declined my gratitude, and bid me buen camino as I marched out the door and into the wilderness of Galicia.
The rain has been falling for what seems hours and I curse the gentleman in Medina who sold me this lemon of a rain jacket. It stops the water in the same manner the Maginot Line stopped the Germans at the onset of World War II: a great idea but a very poor execution. Within minutes of tramping the waterlogged paths, I am soaked to the bone, the jacket proving little more than a colorful addition to my pilgrim ensemble. No matter, I think, for those who trod this path before faired far worse. My staff digs deep into the mud, and I plod onward to Samos.
My right foot feels different than the left, and under the somewhat cover of an elderly oak, I find the seams have split once again. I curse my misfortune – a waterlogged boot on this Biblical day – but I again remind myself it is part of Camino. “Shit happens,” as we say in English, and after resting for a few moments, I begin my uphill, soaking trudge once again.
The tourist demands; the pilgrim accepts.
After what seems hours – long after what should have happened in 10km – I finally glimpse a sign: Samos .5KM. At last! Civilization within sight. I cross under a bridge and meet two fellow pilgrims, who, rather than experience the torrential downpour, have decided to camp underneath until the storm calms. We laugh at our situation, exchange cigarettes and stories, and I eventually continue on my journey. It is late in the day, I find myself utterly fatigued, and I desperately need a bed for the evening. The pain in my left leg prevents me from stopping too long: if I stop, I fear I cannot start again.
Bidding them farewell, I walk into the maelstrom and soon find myself within the limits of the ancient village of Samos. Sadly, no black-robed monks are there to greet me as I enter the town. In fact, most of the villagers look at me rather quizzically: who is this quixotic figure tramping through God’s watery fury?
With joy, having glimpsed the monastery from the top of the hill entering the village, I whistle my way through the desolate town square. A few Spaniards sit under eaves smoking their noxious cigarettes, tapping their canes and gesturing at my absurdity, but I remain undaunted as I limp into the church. A group of tourists stand agape at my entrance, perturbed by this soaked rat of a man who, in happy misery, whistled and waltzed his way into a sacred place.
An Irish tourist takes pity on me as the Spanish brothers go about their preparations: this was the entrance to the guided tour. The albergue was around the monastery, near 200m from where I had dropped my pack. Undaunted, and rather cheerful, I thank the woman, resaddle myself, and truly limp the last distance into the albergue.
I spot his green hat before he recognizes me.
“And where have you been,” he asks in his comforting Londoner accent?
“Brian! Comrade!” I shout in response, giving him a hug as I enter the dry tranquility of the monastery’s dormitory.
He returns my hug in the British sense – rather awkwardly – and gestures toward the dorms. “This man has been asking about you for several days.”
It is Francisco, the Spaniard from Astorga, with whom I have shared many meals, rooms, drinks, and smokes.
He waves as one does to a long-lost friend. “Hola Bruno!” he shouts. “Permisso un cigarette?” he gestures, making the universal sign for needing a smoke.
I laugh – soaked to the bone – and shake my head no.
I haven’t seen these guys in days and they immediately want to celebrate.
At the time of this writing, the Internet appears to be full on pants-on-head retarded and ceases to work appropriately. No matter, I wager, for I’ll simply post this when I enter an area with decent WiFi and far fewer turigrinos on their goddamned iPhones sucking up my precious bandwidth.
Months ago, whilst working across from a living caricature of The Office, I was asked if I was a tourist. I find the word quite belittling and very insulting, and I balked at her suggestion that I, Mr. Fucking Wanderer Tattooed on His Arm, would e’er be considered synonymous with foreigners and cameras. A foreign dipshit in a country only to take pictures and ooh and aah over the natives? Fuck me running, please.
Turns out she was only asking if my astrological sign was Taurus not tourist. Whoops, for I am indeed a Taurus.
Whate’er the fuck that means.
These past several days I have been limping along toward Santiago, the pain in my left shin exacerbated by every mountainous downhill step. With these shitty boots – which have twice now split along the seams – I feel every gravelly pebble and every gnarled root upon my aching haunches, the pain only amplified as I stumble my way across the hills and mountains that separate Leon from Galicia. A freshly minted cane helps me amble onward (and gives me a pretty good look, I daresay – just call me Daddy) but I do begin to fear that my leg might come clean off.
To my loving father, should you be reading this drivel, I would be greatly indebted should you make for me a stout, sturdy cane of solid wood so that upon my return I can scare the kids to death with my limping gait whilst brandishing my wooden cudgel. Just a thought. You can make anything out of wood – I have borne witness to that – and I would be honored to swing an old man stick in your stead. If only I was as capable and skilled as you.
Grumpy old man that I am, I shan’t complain about the Way for that isn’t the reason we are out here, after all.
Ah, the reason?
I’ll tell you August First – Swiss National Day.
Regardless, I lost track of me mate Brian from London a few days back – his gait far outpaced my hobble and we lost one another in the mountains. No bother, I wager, for the Camino will reunite us should she see it fit. That’s just the Way: you meet people, you lose people. Keep going and you’ll be surprised.
From the Iron Cross, I limped into El Acebo where I spent a rather peaceful night in the company of a Japanese woman and a German lady. Sure, this sounds like a pretty raunchy sexual encounter, but I assure you I only slept peacefully for the first time since joining Frances. Even though the tiny, elderly Japanese woman snored like a freight train in desperate need of oil and new brakes, I was well within the land of Nod. Despite their need to awaken at 4 fucking AM to pack and repack their already packed shit from the night before, it was a rather peaceful night.
I stumbled into Ponferrade, had myself a history boner at the Templar castle, and decided I’m too old for this shit and snagged myself a bed at the San Nicolas albergue. There I reunited with an elderly Spanish chap – Francisco – and the lovely German chain-smoker – Susie – and we had ourselves a beer and wine-filled festival of reunions. I was a bit pissed (in the English sense) and regaled any and all nearby pilgrims how Saint Nick was a Swiss and the patron saint of Swissland, and that is was only right and proper I stay there that night. After a fetchin’ meal through clouds of smoke and slurred words, I bid my comrades a good night and prepared for the following morn.
Despite my leg wanting to pull a Confederacy and secede from the Union, I plodded onward like an unwitting beast toward slaughter. Sure, I was moving, but what sort of butcher was waiting for me just over the hill? But God has a peculiar sense of humor I have come to learn, and I was rewarded for my incessant internal bitching with – get this – a wine tour and tasting for – Ellen, fucking get this – a fuckin’ Euro Fifty.
For less than two dollars, I was treated to a local wine tasting and even given snacks to boot. Sweet tap dancin’ Christ – I would never be so lucky back in the States! I snagged a picture of the sign to immortalize to my dear roommate just how badly she fucked up by skipping out on Camino. Certainly, I would have left her behind to the wolves back in the mountains, but this would have been the icing on that proverbial cake to make it this far. God love you, Magellen.
Please don’t let the scorpions into my room…
The pain in my leg refused to subside, the holes in my boots continued to grow, and the excitement in my heart continued to goad me onward. Less than 200km now to the Holy City, come Hell or high water, and though I’m dogged at the end of the day, I find myself quite calm and excited to be on the Way. Over drinks with a few Irish ladies (with the most syrupy thick of accents) I related how this was my third Camino, and, like a heroin addict doing obscene things for the next fix, I once more find myself upon the Way.
Folks, pilgrim or otherwise, I cannot quite fully explain what the experience is like. I know that the Bruno of five years ago (pre-Jakobsweg) is not the fella you know today. My sister, my dear sister, once remarked that she envied my zen with the world and how nothing gets my goat. Perhaps that is the Way – a path to calm. Perhaps it is something more. I have my reasons and my experiences, but, comrades, I encourage you to discover the Truth for yourself.
If you have gone on Camino, go again. Refresh that thirsty spirit.
If you have not, perhaps it is time to go.
Godspeed, comrades. Onwards!
After leaving the fair city of Leon behind me – the cathedral, the churches, all the stunning architecture – I continued my journey westward. It was a lovely stop. I had only walked a few kilometers into town and several more wandering about on my quest to get lost in a big city.
After reuniting with folks from along the trail and sharing the necessary adult beverages and commiserations of our madness, I bid farewell to the city of lions. God willing, I’ll be back soon enough.