Daily Archives: May 10, 2012

My Way

Looks alright to me…

If you’re up for a ramble, you could probably do worse than what is commonly referred to as The Santiago Way; or more succinctly still, The Way, also the title of the film that turned out rather better for Martin Sheen than Apocalypse Now did. To give it it’s proper title, The Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James in English) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Got that? Good. Because the question of which direction to go in is one that is likely to feature quite heavily in this blog.

Geography has never been one of my strong suits. Give me a map and I can absolutely guarantee that I will decide on a route that is in precisely the opposite direction to the actual destination I’m looking for. Even after 20 years of having lived in London, the A-Z might as well have been the I Ching. In Chinese. If tourists ask me for directions in Brighton, I pretend not to live here. If directional dyslexia hasn’t been identified as a cognitive disorder yet, it should be named after me. You get the picture.

My idea of Hell.

So it probably wasn’t entirely fortuitous that the ‘map’ above was one of the first images that Google came up when I first started researching this journey, as I started to romanticise leisurely coastal strolls punctuated by peaceful sojourns in idyllic medieval Spanish hamlets.

Clearly anyone with the most tenuous grasp of topography could have told me that a route parallel to the coast would inevitably involve multiple river crossings and the attendant continuous ascents and descents across the landscape that this implies. And even those with the most fleeting experience of north-west Spain could have pointed out that the Spanish coastline had undergone some mild urban development since the days of Don Quixote.

It should therefore come as no surprise to discover the route I was contemplating, The Camino del Norte, The Northern Way, is in fact commonly regarded as the most physically challenging of all the potential routes I could have chosen, as well as the least well sign-posted. Mmmm.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the different routes, here are some of the better sites I’ve come across: Mundicamino, Camino de Santiago The Way, The Cofraternity of St. James, Camino de Santiago in Pictures.

The best known and most well-trodden route – also the one featured in The Way – is El Camino Frances, The French Way. The upsides, scenically, of this option are pretty compelling: initially taking you through the high, verdant mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, the route continues through the Navara & Rioja regions, scattered with picturesque hillside vineyards. Much of The Way seemed to be shot in the subsequent Castilla region, where the landscape is much flatter, allowing a gloriously unobstructed view of the route ahead, stretching out through endless fields of sunflowers and swaying corn. After moving on through yet more vineyards in Leon, and the forests of Galicia before finally arriving at Santiago de Compostela, one might well have been inspired to go home and start a creative writing course in order to avoid prosaically bludgeoning the scenery along the way to death, as I just seem to have done.

But for me, the sheer popularity of the route was also its downside. In the summer months, when I plan to travel, you can expect at least a couple of hundred potential walking companions to be starting some part of the route at the beginning of each day, and to be competing with them for bed space at the various Albergues (hostels) along the way at the end of a long day’s trek. And whilst Martin Sheen managed to find an endearingly quirky mix of personalities in his little band of fellow travellers, the risk of being latched on to by some sociopath with verbal diarrhea on a Mission from God (it is a pilgrimage, after all), felt a little too high. Sod safety in numbers; a bit of solitude would suit me just fine.

My commute to work

And that’s why I ultimately decided to stick with Plan A. Although The Northern Way is gradually growing in popularity as an alternative to The French Way, it’s still fairly unlikely that many more than 20 or 30 walkers will be in your vicinity on any given day, and the more mountainous terrain holds greater potential to give any unwanted company the slip, anyway.

There are actually a huge number of additional attractions of my chosen path, but I’ll leave those for another time. Quite apart from anything else, it’s high time that I overcame my phobia of differentiating between right and left; I’m lucky enough to work from home and have a beautiful space from which to do so, but my daily commute is hardly challenging and does not really lend itself to a sense of high adventure. Nevertheless, I don’t want to push my luck too far, so I’ve created an idiot-proof map, cobbled together from Google searches that proved rather more fruitful than the one that started me off, on which I’ve logged virtually every step of the way. Whether or not it succeeds in preventing this particular idiot from getting hopelessly and utterly lost remains to be seen.

View Larger Map

Filed under: Camino Countdown

Staring at the Ceiling:Random Thoughts About Normalcy

There’s not a lot of anything going on here today, and not much going on in my mind. I was amused by a discussion last night, though. I was talking about how I blog daily about bipolar to the gal who runs our Stitch ‘n Bitch, and how it’s so much easier to be openly Bipolar here. Oh sure, there’s still misunderstandings about what it means to be mentally unwell, but when we have the likes of Stephen Fry openly talking about his life with bipolar, it makes it easier for the average Brit to appreciate that we’re just as human as anyone else. That’s a nice thing, to feel free to be oneself even with the scruffy baggage that is a mental illness!

It also reminds me that I’m not going to have a fun time trying to share my diagnosis with my family state-side. I’m already the odd duck enough (I’m from my mother’s first marriage, and my (step)father’s sister’s children had no qualms rubbing that in my face all our lives), so adding that atop my so-called Satanism and lesbianism (’cause y’know, that’s what they decided I was) is going to be fuuuuuuun. There’s the off chance that it will be treated decently because my father’s mother’s new husband also has Bipolar… but I suspect that I would just invite more harassment and verbal/emotional assault.  I’m not even sure all my siblings know of my diagnosis, and I’m almost completely sure they are unaware of my suicide attempt a few months back because I don’t think any of them actually come around these parts. Which is… sort of a relief, I guess. I would like for them to know, but as the default modus operandi in our growing up home is that I’m not permitted to have feelings or emotions (or that any I have are wrong and need to be shoved away), it’s much healthier for me to operate outside of that frame of reference.


Otherwise, I’m just thinking about handedness. I’m left-handed, and defy all the stereotypes – I have lovely handwriting, no stutter, and can speak several languages to varying degrees of fluency. It amazed me to realize that left-handed people were ‘supposed’ to have such problems; after years in art school and years amongst linguists in the military, I found that the percentage of lefties was closer to 30% on those fields. I’ve never felt discriminated against because of my handedness, and find the concept rather unimaginable. I still laugh at the unusabI left-handed scissors, and the ‘fact’ that I should be completely unable to use normal scissors (Which I can. Left handed.), and roll my eyes at claims that we’re all doomed to being lost and confused because it’s a right-handed world.

And though it’s early days yet, it seems like my daughter is likely to follow in my footsteps, and those of her paternal grandfather. I do my best to encourage her to play with both hands (to include me attempting to play and doodle right-handed!), but she of her own accord has continued to express a left preference. She’s of an age where that might be her real preference, and that would excite me. I have hopes she’ll express an interest in the yarnly crafts, and well… no idea if I could teach crochet right-handed. I can barely chain two together because it is very awkward and straining on my hand to hold the yarn to tension. Though if she were right-handed, her grandmother and father could teach her the rudiments. Really, we don’t care which way it goes as long as she feels confident in her abilities to do things, ’cause that IS the main important thing.