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.
This morn found me leaving the hallowed and untraveled plains of Camino Madrid for the far more well-known and traveled Camino Frances. After 12 grueling days of obscene heat, little human interaction on the trails, and exhausting just about every Spanish word I’ve ever learned, my route bled into Camino Frances in the picturesque peregrino town of Sahagun.
Camino Madrid was an interesting route; the differences between it and Frances are evident in the 21 or so kilometers I’ve walked today between the two. In the 12 days I spent marching the dusty trails of Madrid, I ran into a total of 9 pilgrims (and most of them were upon bikes). In the first kilometer of Frances, I probably passed twice that number on their way to Santiago. Madrid is certainly one of the less popular (or unknown) routes – especially outside Spain for the majority of pilgrims I encountered were Spaniards walking out their front doors from Madrid itself.
Yet the solitude of the Way is nothing to scoff off; no, far from it. I found the time spent walking from one village to the next – with very few amenities in between – to be both humbling and reassuring. If you read my nonsense, you’re well aware there’s a constant war in my head. Solitude helps bring those voices to rest. That constant crunch of feet upon gravel, that incessant squeal of a bag moving with your body, the chirp chirp chirp of a thousand birds you can’t see, all served to soothe the forces at battle within my psyche. In short, Camino Madrid is just the sort of experience this lonesome Seeker needed in his Life to rejuvenate body, mind, and Soul.
Whereas one can easily find a bed on Frances without too much trouble, it became something of a game to hunt down the token albergue hidden within the confines of these confusing medieval towns. Not only that, but then you oft went on a separate hunt for the person who held the key to open said albergue. The villages on Madrid were proud to have a Camino pass through their area, but unless you spoke Spanish fluently, it did become somewhat of an ordeal to secure lodgings for the night. The guidebook I had handy wasn’t terribly out of date, but it could certainly use a touch-up on whom I need to track down (and where) to secure the key for a night’s lodgings. But it was well worth it at the end of the day for I oft had the albergue to myself (indeed, for the past week I haven’t shared a room with anyone) and was at liberty to explore the town, take all the long showers I wished, and awake at the hour of my choosing. Nothing to scoff at, certainly.
Yet, comrades, for all my gruff demeanor and insistence that I needn’t anyone in my Life, it does become somewhat damningly lonely when you walk an entire day without encountering a single Soul from beginning to end. Madrid has many long stretches – the longest being 18 kilometers between villages – where you encounter little more than wildlife, cereals, and endless fucking pine forests with sand.
How in the ever loving fuck do forests grow in sand? Why is there fucking sand in the Middle of Nowhere, Spain and why does it go on for 4 fucking days?
Solitude aside, the villages more than made up for the machinations of Mother Nature trying to be a tyrannical despot as the townsfolk were oft very helpful in tracking down food, supplies, and lodgings. Sure, I smelled like the interior of a pig’s ass after marching in the hot Spanish sun for hours on end, but the Spanish are always eager to help a pilgrim get on the right track. In Medina, the brothers of a Brazilian religious order helped me purchase new chonies after I shredded mine walking. The hospitalero of Villalon de Campos treated me to dinner and escorted me around town on a sight-seeing trip of the numerous churches and monuments (even though I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English). The doting abuela of Santa Maria took me to Mass and arranged for me to have a tour of the local castle. Because there’s fucking castle tours after Mass in Spain. Ne’er did I go hungry or want for provisions or camaraderie in the villages – the people of Camino Madrid ensured I was treated like a proper pilgrim.
And now, comrades, it seems my solitary adventure upon the Camino has ended not with a whimper, but with a resounding boom. Whereas I have become accustomed to silence and solitude, I now must contend with Camino families and their ceaseless mirth. I shan’t sleep in a bottom bunk any time soon nor shall I have all the hot water I wish when I wash the filth from my strained body.
But that is ok for it is Camino. Smile regardless. And that is why I am here. To experience that which cannot be replicated elsewhere. I welcome all encounters – good and bad – for that is the Way.
A pair of hospitaleros greeted me as I entered my old stomping grounds: Bruno, from Italy, and Michael, from Germany. How about that, eh? Three years later and a Bruno is still watching over this place. Ain’t that something? I’ll call that a good omen any day. It sure was good to speak something other than Spanish (even if it was my equally bad German)!
For now, you beautiful people, I’m out. Onwards, then; to glory!
Oft one might wonder what their purpose is upon gods’ green earth – yours?
Me? I serve as a reminder.
Oh, as I told my kids this past week, I know exactly who I am and what I’m here for. I remember Dr. Toland – ah, so many years ago – relating how he found his purpose under the shade of a tree whilst attending college. Not dissimilar from the Buddha (and the man could give His Holiness a run for His money in the theological thinker department).
My purpose, yes, that niggling thought e’er at the back of my mind. Between booze and smokes, under the light of eternal Luna, who wouldn’t ponder their mere existence in the light of something greater?
Call her a close friend, a lover, something more, but tonight she implored as to why I personify myself with Grendel. The monster that wrecks Hart time and time again and causes no end of anguish to the beleaguered Hrothgar. It is not until Beowulf – that bastard Geat – rips his arm from his socket that peace is finally found. Blood spilling forth from his mortal wound, all of his warfare and violence for naught, yet finding peace in the tranquility of the Abyss. But in peace, comrades, do we truly find our calling? What is a peace without assiduously applied butchery?
Today I wrote a children’s book whilst death metal blared from my antiquated speakers as I slowly put off my getting ready for church. Here, just as liable to assist children as I am to indulge my lyrical fantasies for violence and guttural shouts. Christ on a stick; what sort of existence is that where one finds themselves in such a paradoxical predicament?
Yet, comrades, I must reiterate my nature as a beast of Paradox:
I do not want children; I love all 150 of my students
I cannot commit myself to any one person; I am married to elucidation
I love who I am as a free individual; I bemoan the existence I’ve implemented upon myself
I detest school as a formal institution; I am a teacher
I love every heart I’ve broken – the list is arduous
I want the best for my charges; I cannot be a role model in my current state
I want my charges to experience failure and disappointment; I want my charges to Live without interference
Comrades, hark! What sort of madness beguiles this maddened scribe? How can any individual wish only the best for their students while wanting them to experience the bittersweet unguent of failure? Am I not mad? Am I not human?
A friend – and a few students – commented on my lack of humanity; how I have sold myself to Diogenes the Cynic oh so long ago. Yet I ponder: is such a thing necessarily bad? The bastard philosopher wasn’t necessarily wrong in his arbitrations of human nature and disposition. Indeed, being treated like a dog is a pendulum that swings both ways; a cutting blade liable to spill blood and offer enlightenment whilst doing so.
Is it wrong to want loved ones to fail the better able to sup their eventual victory? To want the young to witness and experience the tribulations of youth to better prepare them for the glory of adulthood? Forsooth, I want my nephews and nieces to touch the hot oven, the better able to learn for themselves than from the guise of a drunken lout who merely chuckles and says, “I told you so.”
Scarcely, I say, is it wrong to want suffering to be a guiding light? Who, among you, reader(s), have not suffered in your own quest?
This past week I have bombarded my charges with philosophy, trying to drill it into their heads the importance of being able to think – critically – and learning from those great thinkers who have gone before us. Yet I find myself wondering (on the occasion), am I misguided in my intentions? After all, I reason, are these blokes not very much dead?
Who gives a shit about Averroes? Avicenna? Plato? Kierkegaard? Sartre? These are dead men -rotten beyond comprehension – with idle words and ideas far beyond 10th grade comprehension.
Fuck, me. They are dead. But the idea – the idea, comrades! – cannot be extinguished so swiftly.
I am a goddamned mess – a slew of vices corrupting my virtue – yet at least I am aware of my purpose. I am an example: of things to do and not to do; of things to emulate and things to ignore; of things to savor and things to revile; of things to witness and things to ignore.
To my charges reading this drivel: go to bed.
To my charges seeking enlightenment: cross the Dark Stream.
Trust me, comrades, the deeper you go, the more that makes sense.
Now then: we’re off to change the world. One cynical thought at a time. And to hell with the rest.
Best to read this one to Praise Abort on loop, comrades. The satire is not lost upon me – do enjoy. And be mindful of where you listen to this; not exactly a work-friendly song.
Now then, on to the meat and potatoes, a lovely descent into the darker aspects of self-reflection.
Always been fascinated by Wilde’s piece; are we not all Dorian Gray?
By this, comrades, I mean are we not all hiding something from those closest to us, hiding behind the paint brush and decorated façade of artwork?
Take, for instance, myself.
Few of my charges have seen me outside of school (thank God), and fewer still have read me (thank the gods). No, my goombas, this is not my blog. I will continue to deny the existence of this blog time and again: deny deny deny.
Dorian Gray. I recommend you go and read it. Short, but with a powerful message. Wilde, the tortured artist that he was, secured immortality with this piece. And, yes, comrades, immortality is within our grasp should we choose so – one merely must make the pen (or instrument of your fancy) ensure your mark upon the ages.
Dorian Gray. The melancholic tale of a young man lost to hedonism and vice, indulging narcissism at every opportune. Ah, Wilde; you master.
We are all guilty of being Dorian Gray. Richard Cory. Hank Moody. Grendel. We all have our masks and disguises we put on to deceive and mislead our friends and family. I, comrades, am no different.
The Bruno whom you meet in the hallways and classroom is a far cry from the midnight boozer and weekend rager we all know and love (and a few former lovers positively dislike). Yet it is not without necessity: scarcely can I be myself within the confines of the classroom lest I end up in the unemployment line.
This isn’t to say, comrades, that I’m a drug-fueled, chain smoking, alcoholic on a 24-hour bender, but that my work and personal personas are vastly different. Within the classroom, I do my utmost to ensure I am a paragon of erudition and banter – my charges must learn, after all, and their care is my utmost concern. Hell, my goombas are my raison d’être for without them, my Life would be honestly and completely meaningless – what point is there for me without the pursuit of Knowledge for Knowledge’s sake? Seeing as how I fail at love and relationships harder than a South American dictatorship seeking legitimacy, it stands to reason I put my energies and motivations into something worthwhile and progressive: the love, and sharing, of knowledge.
Granted I am no Dorian Gray, nor Oscar Wilde, but the analogy can be drawn nonetheless. Ah, how I thrive upon the sweet nectars of hops and wheat, how my lungs call out for further enlightment contained within puffs of embers, how the flesh incurs with each warm bed. I am mortal, after all, and though I’m a far cry from Dorian Gray, the indulgence here and there is a powerful motivator. Yet it is nothing without the classroom – to serve.
Are we – all of us – guilty of pleasures and secrets we keep from those we love and behold? Certainly, my Life is an open book (as evidenced by placing inner thoughts and ideas here for public scrutiny) but certainly some aspects must be restrained and reined in, lest those we serve get a distorted view of what is our personal Truth. One must merely be able to open the book and read the words in a sense.
The beauty, comrades, is keeping the two separate. School Bruno and Bruno are two vastly different beings, working in tandem, and giving one another a respectable breadth lest one impose upon the other. Yes, verily, I love my drinking, smoking, and fucking far more than is necessary (bless my liver, lungs, and heart), but that aspect of me bears no necessity in the classroom. No, on the contrary, the Me inside the classroom is the philosopher-king I espouse to my charges. Granted, that’s perhaps the most pompous thing I’ve ever said, but it stands to reason that an instructor must separate the private from the personal Life – the Dorian Gray of the classroom is not the Dorian Gray in the painting.
I am not entirely sure what prompted this writing. No doubt a bout of drink, smoke, and moon gazing is the culprit (as most of my writing is wont to follow), but I still cannot place a certainty upon it. Regardless, the point is thus: we are all Dorian Gray in some fashion or another. Do we not keep secrets? Do we not forgo details? Tell half-truths? Indeed, I wager we all do, ergo I am fine with comparing myself to Dorian Gray – that sad sack of hedonistic narcissism that ultimately proved a cataclysmic and self-destructive downfall.
I am acceptable to that. I am human. I am mortal. But without my vices, why, I’d be rather boring and ordinary – and that would be Hell.
Foremost, happy Good Friday (regardless of your religious beliefs), and may you get to spend this time with loved ones and the like.
Spring Break draws to an uncomfortable, yet welcome, end; by Monday morn, my charges will once more be at my pedantic mercy. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I do look forward to returning to my classroom. Only two more months of formal schooling afore Summer break reaches us in earnest. Frankly, I wish to keep the indomitable pace going and work hard for these next few weeks, all the better to savor what Summer brings to us mere mortals.
If Summer is anything like this past break, well, I’ve much to look forward to, comrades.
Spring Break began with a spot of welcome news from my bosom comrade, Stephanie, of Camino fame. “We bookended the newsletter,” she snapped me. Indeed, it was as she said; my article was emblazoned proudly upon the very first page of the La Concha newsletter whilst Stephanie’s wonderful review rounded off the entire manuscript. Not a bad bit of news to wake up to on your first day of a week-long respite.
Goaded by my incurable desire to perpetually wander (and equally bolstered by the humble pride my published writings evoked), I set course for Duke City. Armed with a rather plump bag of clothes and toiletries, a slew of essays in need of grading, and a score of plastic army men, I began my Spring sojourn by visiting my nieces in Albuquerque.
I suppose my brother and my sister-in-law were there too, but, come on! Babies!
For several days, I lounged about in abject laziness, earning myself a few points toward Slothfulness on the Greatest Sin Scale; fret not, for Pride and Arrogance remain my Greatest Sins (not sure I should be proud of that, but the irony isn’t lost upon me either). Alongside my nieces, I must have watched Boss Baby a half-dozen times; add in repeated viewings of Frozen, Trolls, Story-Bots, and a slew of other kid-friendly shows for the bulk of my stay. When one sits down and actually analyzes Boss Baby, it really is a horrifying concept: best not to think of such things. My rhetorical sentiments were lost upon my nieces, all the cooing and babbling failing to satisfy my desire for a genuine, philosophical discussion.
Whilst lounging about in Albuquerque, provided schedules lined up, I did manage to visit a few old comrades for victuals. My dear comrade, Roxann, (yes, the wedding one) and I dined over shish kebabs and gyros, regaling one another with anecdotes of teaching and cat ownership, all the while lamenting the fact we are growing older in body. The couple of hours we spent together over good food and better conversation, comrades, made me realize a few things:
She’s right; I’m not getting any younger. The recurring pain I’ve in my left shoulder won’t abate with time; indeed, it is liable to become worse as the joints and sinews holding my body together begin their slow process of degradation;
The world yet remains unconquered. My trip to the Holy Land may be postponed for now, a tenure in the Peace Corps currently on standby, and my delusional plans of grandeur may be a tad unrealistic, but the fact remains that the globe still has much to offer;
Do it, she urged. Stop lollygagging and making excuses, comrade. Simply do it.
I dined with Camino comrades – a lovely couple I met at the Gathering of past years – and we swapped tales (both old and new) about our Camino experiences. After complaining of thick, sucking mud, the constant deluge of southern France, bed bugs, joint pain, inscrutable pilgrims, the oppressive heat, and the ever-present language barriers, we all shared a good laugh. “Who would want to do such things again,” we chortled. “One must be nuts to go back on Camino.”
They leave next month for France.
I leave July for Spain.
The Way, comrades, is inscrutable, and the allure – the pull – it has upon me is hypnotic. There, walking amidst strangers in a foreign land, with but a few belongings upon my back; that is where I feel most alive.
Yes, my classroom offers me a very excellent manner of achieving immortality. Working with my budding scholars brings me great joy, one I have never felt before in any of my various lines of work. But the hardships of the classroom are not quite the hardships I’m endeared to on the Way.
Yes, certain individuals can make me feel alive, but I am exceptionally good at keeping them to a distance. “What are you running from,” I’m oft told. Whenever one comes too close, I prick myself upon their thorns – a Rose bloodied by negligence and lax stupidity. The Way reminds me that Life isn’t about me: it’s about other people. It would be good to have a refresher.
In short, comrades, I aim to return to the Way. A respite on the dusty trails is just what my soul needs in order to maintain balance for the coming year.