Camino Frances: Another Fortunate Misfortune

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.

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Camino Frances: My Leg Sucks

Howdy folks,

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.

Fucking tourists.

I always take pictures of cows for my brother. Would a tourist do that?! Fun fact: cow shit smells the same in every country.

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.

Contain those lady boners!

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.

I also take photos for my brother who will certainly appreciate the inside humor. Look, papa! Birds!

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.

Coincidentally at the Cruz de Ferro where a pilgrim is encouraged to leave behind their past grievances and walk forward with only good intentions.

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 also met Josef from Bavaria. Between four liters of beer and two packs of cigarettes in just over an hour, we became pretty cool friends.

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.

Mah Swigga, Mah Swigga

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.

Fuck. My. Ass.

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!

Camino Frances: A Massage Would be Nice

Howdy folks,

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.

There are worse places to have breakfast.

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.

“Fuck you, I’m a lion!”

Continue reading “Camino Frances: A Massage Would be Nice”

Camino Madrid: An Update

Howdy folks,

If you’re reading this, then you should be aware that I’m off gallivanting around on the Camino Madrid en route to Santiago de Compostela. God willing, this will be my third Camino.

Why?

Because fuck, why not that’s why.

I will also accept fuck you, that’s why as an acceptable answer.

Now that the stupid questions are out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Continue reading “Camino Madrid: An Update”

The Purification of Rain

Hey there folks,

Foremost, let us get one thing straight. Stop Googling me.

This asshole doesn’t look a thing like me:

Asshole.
Not an asshole.

Look there, that errant cigarette cocked so precariously to the wrong side. That messy mop of long blond locks lost unto themselves. How can that bedraggled devil wandering the dusty streets of Spain truly be the fellow you submit your essays to? And wine? Nonsense – I’m a red-blooded Swiss. I’ll have me a mighty fine beer any day.

Though I won’t say no to a nice Malbec. Or Chianti. Or any wine, really.

Fuck, I love wine.

For all my students who have a predisposition to Google my illustrious name, do be mindful that some huckster is masquerading as your eccentric English teacher. See the difference between the two photos? Come now; how could anyone be fooled in to thinking one handsome devil is portraying the other?

Alleged narcissism aside, let us focus upon the meat and potatoes of this sojourn into madness.

Continue reading “The Purification of Rain”

Penultimate Pain; Ultimate Life

Hey there folks,

A year ago to the day, my grandfather passed away in the quiet of his adopted home in Virginia.

opa
One time he cut his finger open, so he dipped it in schnapps to “prevent infection.”

Having left the devastation of post-WWII Europe, he settled in the United States where he spent his days as a salt-of-the-earth farmer, siring a large family in the process. Every time we attended Lutheran services with him and Grandma, the two of them would beam with pride as we took up our own pew. Lutherans: always sticking it to the Catholics, right?

Ever proud of his new home, but never keen on forgetting his roots, he instilled in us the nationalistic and cultural pride of both Switzerland and America. Been confused ever since: am I Swiss American or American Swiss?

Tough old man, that’s for certain: stubborn (like all Swiss men), punctual, dedicated, and unrelenting. The kind of role model kids need these days. And now he’s farmin’ with Jesus.

His passing, though expected, was still quite the shock for the family. First death in the States for the Ruch clan – how do we deal with the inevitable?

I’ve never been very good with expressing emotions – apart from writing them down – and penned a short piece following the funeral. Dreadful things, those – all the black clothing, tears, and somber attitudes. You would think I would be more at home in an element like that.

But no. How I detest laying the dead to rest.

He taught me many things in my youth – some brilliant, some good, and some casually racist and a bit outdated – but he was always an inspiration. The kind of guy you want to make proud and see that wrinkly smile of his light up across his face. And his final act was to teach me about Life through pain.

funsies
July 4th, years and years ago. Drinking beer and smoking cigars with the proudest immigrant to the States.

I wouldn’t say I penned this in his honor (indeed, far too much profanity), but after the services, I felt compelled to write exactly what went on in my mind during those moments. A year later and this piece still rings true.

Thanks for the lessons, Grandpa. Swiss dominance.

Continue reading “Penultimate Pain; Ultimate Life”