“What’s the best place for me to send you a thank you note?”

Claudia —

Before I leave office, I’d like to send you something to make sure you know how grateful I am to have had you by my side over these past eight years.

What’s the best place for me to send you a thank you note?

I will always appreciate how you’ve stood by me to fight for the change we believed in, to celebrate remarkable victories — and to face down insurmountable obstacles, too. You’ve been a part of everything we’ve achieved during my time in office, and I know you’ll continue to stand with our party and the movement we’ve built together for the fights ahead.

Claudia, I hope you know how proud I am of you.

Sign up today so I can send you a note to say thanks:

Never forget what we did together.




Regrettably, my first thought upon reading the above email, which I received today, was “Why does ‘he’ want my mailing address?” My second thought was, “The last thing I want is my name and physical address on a list that Putin will steal and then hand over to Trump just as his administration is hitting its stride.” Why the last thing I want? Because I’m scared.

When Barack Obama won the presidency, many on the disenfranchised Right were upset. They were angry and bewildered at how it was possible that a black man could be elected to lead all the good, white folks. Some were vindictive; some were vehement. I heard a lot of different emotions after that election, but one thing I didn’t hear was fear. White people weren’t afraid that the NRA membership list would be stolen and disseminated far and wide. None were afraid that some lunatic would find their names on that list and set out to stalk and ultimately kill them. I’m confident that none of them dreamed that the administration itself would order the roundup of individuals on that list.

Call them alarmists (you might be right) but people, lots of people I know are, in fact, frightened that first the lunatics (they have guns, after all) will begin to take pot shots at known or suspected “environMENTALists”, as the rural-Right likes to call those who believe human beings have not only a duty but also a desperate need to protect this planet we call “home.” Some liberal thinking people fear that the authorities will look the other way while random attacks go uninvestigated and unpunished. Next comes loosely organized but tightly impassioned attacks against the Left. Ultimately, yes, those who have read their history fear that the government, itself, will institutionalize oppression and violence against those who are in disagreement with its doctrine and its precepts.

Warsaw, Sarajevo, Beirut, Baghdad, Aleppo: all were thriving cities populated by normal people living normal lives. Then rumors started filtering in. Goods started to become scarce. Still, the people carried on with their lives the best way they could. Armed men became a common, if anxious, site in the streets. A shot was heard. More shots were heard. People stayed out of the streets as much as they could. But still they lived on. Those who could, vacated. Those who couldn’t, learned to scrounge. Fighting intensified. More people fled. Months turned into years. Already some children couldn’t remember a time before the siege, the violence, the fear. It all happened rather slowly and everyday the new norm became the old norm that would be supplanted the following day.

I’m afraid; it’s true. Perhaps it won’t come to the dire straits of the likes of Sarajevo and Aleppo, but still I worry. In random places I have heard giddy talk of turning the country back sixty years, of putting “those people in their place” once again. If the Trump administration begins to identify, catalog, and monitor Muslim-Americans, I guess we’ll be going back a little further than sixty years…back to the internment of Japanese-Americans. If Muslim-Americans can be sanctioned as “undesirable other,“ so can African-Americans, and homosexual-Americans. How about adulterer-Americans? Anyone for a scarlet letter? Just how far back will we go? Where will the list end and the persecution start? More importantly where will the persecution end and the healing start?

I worry.


To Be…Self-righteous…or Not to Be

The topic of conversation at dinner last night evolved around the question of whether Americans are becoming more self-righteous* and, therefore, more aggressive and very much less polite. Implicit in this conversation is the notion of the other because, after all, one is highly unlikely to define one’s self this way…even if others might see in us that which we can’t see in ourselves. Indeed, feeling self-righteous might be the greatest impetus to find fault with others.

On reflection, I regret to admit that if someone cuts me off while driving, my initial reaction is to utter a barely audible but nevertheless indelicate, “Asshole!” I never fail to feel guilty about this outburst. In a way, it reminds me of the way I feel when I say something I know to be incorrect: “There’s…several more on the table,” for example. No, there are (there’re) several more on the table. I know this perfectly well; I’ve known it since before I began schooling. And yet, hearing it multiple times daily for many years now, somehow it has seeped into my psyche and will, much against my wish, find its way into my speech. So it is with an indignant expletive from behind the wheel of the car.

Ah, but, I know full well that as a fully functioning adult, I cannot reasonably ascribe undesirable thoughts, words, or actions to the influence of society at large. If I don’t take responsibility for presenting myself in a manner that is palatable to me and to those whom I respect, I run the risk of sliding into a murky, slovenly, apathetic laziness.

My tai chi teacher, Sunny, once told of a fisherman in his boat on a lake, deeply focused on hauling in the fish on his hook. Suddenly he felt a jostling and turned impatiently to find that an empty boat had drifted into his. In a heartbeat his indignation dissolved as he looked around in puzzlement. On another occasion the fisherman was again deeply focused on his catch when the boat was jostled. This time he turned quietly, expecting to find an empty boat, but, no, this time the boat that bumped into the fisherman’s boat was occupied by another man. Instantly the fisherman became outraged. “You clumsy oaf,” he shrieked, “watch where you’re going.” Ask yourself, why was the fisherman angry on one occasion and not on the other?

Here’s my intention: whenever I feel someone has done something that transgresses, that crosses the boundary into “my” personal space, as it were, I will make a best effort to interpret that action in the most positive way possible. So, returning to the experience of someone cutting me off in traffic, immediately after the minor outburst, I will say, “That’s a tourist who is more focused on where she’s going than on how well she gets there.” Or “That’s an older woman who doesn’t have the speedy reflexes and judgment that she once had.” (Ouch.) Eventually I might get to the point where I imagine it as a video game, “That car sped in front of me in order to test my reflexes.” In so doing, I turn a perceived negative experience into first a neutral experience and then into a positive experience. I save wear and tear on my heart, nerves, and respiratory function. I get few wrinkles. Sounds like a win-win for me.

Stay tuned…

* self–righteous :  convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others :  narrow-mindedly moralistic (Miriam Webster)  :  Feeling that we have some benefit or advantage over someone else because we do—or refrain from doing—something. (Overcomers Unlimited)

Am I lazy, or what?

How long has it been since I published two words in my blog?

A long time.

I’m back. I’ll start slowly.

If you have any ideas for topics, by all means, let me know.




What Goes Around Comes Around, Conclusion

After depositing Gail, the Doctor Nurse, at the central post office in Pamplona, I sat for a while in Runa Park on the left side of the Arga River. It being a Saturday, people watching was particularly good.

I never did discover why these young ladies are dressed so elegantly in the traditional red and white of Navarre.
I never did discover why these young ladies are dressed so elegantly in the traditional red and white of Navarre.

Mid-afternoon I strolled back to the excellent Casa Ibarrola, intending to curl up in the privacy of my capsule bed and engage in the eminently sensible tradition of the siesta.

Pull down the shade of your capsule bed in Albergue Casa Ibarolla and you are in a perfect little cocoon.
Pull down the shade of your capsule bed in Albergue Casa Ibarolla and you are in a perfect little cocoon.

As it happens though, I met Jennifer, a young lady less than half my age, no more than thirty feet from my goal. I could see my bed from where I stood when Jennifer asked if I happen to know the way to the post office. Clearly, I did know the way. The streets of Pamplona, however, are ancient and gnarled. The cobbled and stone-paved streets of Pamplona’s center are often only just wide enough for one car and two pedestrians to pass simultaneously (but pedestrians are the norm and cars the exception). One street appears much like another and one learns to navigate by remembering a shop sign, or a poster in a window, or a particularly nice display of baked goods. I’ve an excellent sense of direction and get about very easily, but even I sometimes had to stop and think which way to go. And goodness knows I never committed to memory the names of all the streets. How on earth was I going to explain that she needed to turn left at the “red” pharmacy, turn left again where a stone in the corner of the building has been nicked, cross the plaza where Hemingway loitered, traverse the arcade at the opposite side, turn left at the shop with local jams in the window, right at the restaurant with the octopus in the window, and so on?

The “red” pharmacy.
Shop window displaying locally made goods.
Shop window displaying locally made goods.

I paused. I wanted to say, “Nope, no idea how to get to the post office,” but instead I heard myself saying, “I’ll take you there,” and off we went. On the way we passed by the very old and very famous bakery, Beatriz. Gazing upon the scruffy exterior, one would never guess that inside there were the most exquisite, traditional breads, pastries, butter cookies, and empanadas, pastry with savory fillings. I had passed by Beatriz several times already that day and each time there was a line out the door and down the street. In that moment, however, there was no queue at all so I asked Jennifer if she’d mind a quick stop.

The dubious facade of Beatriz, one of the most famed bakeries in Spain.
The dubious facade of Beatriz (Beatrice), one of the most famed bakeries in Spain.

The smell inside was divine and my eyes were overwhelmed with the selection of delicacies. Mindful that I was on a mission, I selected a roscón, in this case a small ring-shaped pastry made with honey. Jennifer made another selection and then she paid for both. I thought that a nice gesture on her part. Jennifer had no way of knowing that I had hoped for a siesta, but she was mindful that I had abandoned whatever it was I was doing to assist her instead.

We chatted as we walked on for another fifteen minutes. We talked about the things pilgrims typically tak about: shoes and feet, steep hills, good restaurants, and albergues where we had slept. I mentioned that I had stayed the previous night in Albergue  Parroquial de Zabaldika (Be sure you roll the R’s when you say parroquial!)  and that I had delighted in ringing the oldest bell in Navarra in the 13th century bell tower alongside the albergue.

The bell in the church tower of St. Esteban Church in Zabaldika.
The ancient bell in the tower of St. Esteban Church in Zabaldika.

Then, for no reason in particular, I said, “Unfortunately, I left my towel there this morning. I’ll have to buy another but I doubt I’ll find one as lightweight, with it’s own little pouch and a convenient hook for hanging.” Jennifer stopped and looked at me. “What?” I asked a little perplexed. “I brought two towels just like that and I’m about to mail one of them back home. You can have it,” she said.

It’s not too surprising, I guess. Good deeds rarely go unrewarded. I regretted the brief moment earlier when it occurred to me with some reluctance that I had spent a good part of my rest day walking to and from the post office. Now I had a replacement towel, which was a blessing, because, as I had surmised, there’s no way I’d have been able to buy in Pamplona a pack towel that weighs a mere ounce. Thanks, Jennifer!


What Goes Around Comes Around, Part 1

The day I walked into Pamplona, I was delighted with myself, not because I’d done anything challenging or arduous, but because I had walked a relatively short distance, had arrived there at ten in the morning, and had decided to stay and enjoy this small city rather than continuing on as far as my legs would carry me that day. It might not seem like much, but I considered it a victory that I was able to slow down and relax for a while.

There is endless pressure to go forward on The Camino. Fear of not finding a bed (mostly unfounded), not wanting to fall behind Camino companions one has come to know and like, the struggle for “personal best,” and simple momentum push one on and on. Even the certain knowledge that I couldn’t keep up fifteen or more miles of daily walking for a month wasn’t enough to make stopping and resting easy. I had to make a conscious effort to rest.

After securing a bed in the heart of Pamplona, I traipsed along to the tourist office and then to the post office to mail a birthday card. Then I plopped myself down in a small, quiet bar in Calle de la Zapatería and enjoyed a glass of wine. I’m normally a red wine drinker but it was a sunny midday, I was feeling cheerful, and the bar was gleaming in its white décor. White Navarra was just the thing. Perfect. So there I was, kicking back, taking it all in.

Calle de la Zapatería (Street of Cobblers) is not directly on The Camino so no pilgrims passed by as I sat people-watching. That made it the more surprising when a tall, obviously American woman (Americans are easily distinguished by the way they walk!) came in sight. She was struggling to make out directions on the tourist map she held in her hands as she loped along under the weight of a massive, maroon-colored pack. As she passed I asked her if she wanted help with directions.

The woman was forty-ish and a bit chunky. She said she wasn’t headed anywhere in particular as she was killing time while waiting for an evening bus that would take her to Logroño. We got to chatting and I learned that her name is Gail, that she is a nurse and that she had, just the day before, defended her dissertation at the University of Wisconsin. Having successfully navigated the defense, she headed straight for the airport and the series of planes that deposited her in Pamplona that very morning. She looked tired.

After chatting for a while, I asked Gail about the size of her pack and she said that she had been scrambling to finish her PhD and thus had been obliged to pack in a hurry. She conceded that she may have packed too much. I didn’t need to lift the pack to know that she had certainly packed too much. After so many days on The Camino, one learns to judge the weight of a pack simply by looking at it and at the person who is carrying it. (And of course, I have to admit that my pack was heavier than most so I’m something of an expert on the matter.)

My Heavier than Average Pack
My heavier than average pack…
...is not nearly as heavy as some others.
…is not nearly as heavy as some others.

“So what have you got in there?” I asked. She began to unpack right there on the white bench in front of the white bar. “Perhaps I don’t need this skirt,” she said. “And do you think I need two hats? Is sixteen ounces of shampoo too much?” And so on. By the time we were done, she had culled at least ten pounds. By my estimation, she still had too much weight in her pack and I imagined that, like so many others, she would contribute to the discard piles in the albergues in her wake. As I escorted Gail to the post office so she could mail her excess items back home, I plotted how I might excuse myself when we arrived and leave her to do the business on her own…I was eager to get back to my well-deserved relaxing.

To be continued…


Crazy Things I’ve Seen on the Camino: Creative Parking

Most every day on The Camino I saw something interesting, something I’d never seen before, something crazy, something ironic, or something that made me burst out loud laughing.

Remember the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” There’s a reason the refrain doesn’t go, for example, “When in Paris, do as the Parisians do.” In Rome, in Italy actually, things work well but in a manner quite distinct (and often frustrating for foreigners) from other first world countries of the west. One can try to understand it, but understanding isn’t always helpful. For a harmonious life, one has simply to accept and to respond accordingly. It’s best to keep an open mind and suspend judgment. Things, in general, are neither better or worse here or there; they’re merely different.

Any one who has driven a car in a city anywhere in the world knows that parking is a challenge. That, at least, is no different in Lugo, Spain. Still I was surprised, and amused, to see one person’s solution to the problem of parking.

The car is, after all, off the street and off the sidewalk (mostly) but I don't think I would try this myself.
The car is, after all, off the street and off the sidewalk (mostly) but I don’t think I, myself, would attempt to park in a shop window.

Sensible Practices for Long Distance Walking on The Camino: Toilet Paper

This is a delicate subject. Definitely. Basically off-limits. Which is strange given that virtually everyone uses toilet paper, multiple times, every day. Unless your home or office is connected to a septic system rather than a sewer system, you probably never give it a moment’s thought. But if you’re going to go camping or long-distance walking, it’s something you really ought to think about.

Sewer cover seen on The Camino de Santiago.
Sewer cover seen on The Camino de Santiago. The scallop shell is the symbol of Santiago (St. Jack), and it is seen everywhere across the north of Spain.

On a typical Camino day, there will be at least a few opportunities to relieve the bowels and the bladder. Businesses all along The Camino are well aware of this particular human need and they usually provide facilities. Ask for aseos (pronounced ah-say-o’s with the accent on “say”) or servicios (pronounced sair like hair-bith-ee-o’s with accent on “bith”). Many times you can stop in at a bar and use the bathroom without purchasing anything but be mindful that a constant stream of users amounts to significant expense in water, paper products, and general wear and tear. It’s really only fair to purchase something, if only a bottle of water, if you’re going to use the restroom.

Purchasing a bottle of water is, in fact, an excellent practice. Rather than carry a full day’s complement of water, carry a small amount. When you stop to relive yourself, buy another bottle. Drink it before your next rest stop, and start the process all over again. It cuts down on weight in your pack, it ensures that you drink adequate water during the day, and it fairly compensates the business owner who provides you with bathroom facilities. Win-win.

Now then, sometimes, perhaps often, a bathroom along The Camino will be without toilet paper. Many times I heard pilgrims complain about the lack of toilet paper in bathrooms. Think about it, there’s a steady stream of users throughout the day. It stands to reason that the toilet paper roll needs to be changed several times each day. Rather than assume the establishment has no intention of providing paper, for goodness sake, tell someone. Each time it happened to me, I brought it to the attention of the barkeeper or the owner or any employee I could find. Every single time I did, the response was, “Oh, thank you. I’ll change the roll right away.” Of course the business wants to keep the bathroom stocked with toilet paper. They know full well that if they don’t, people will put paper towels, newspaper, and all manner of other things down the toilet…resulting in the need for a plumber.

Ah, but because you’re already in the bathroom when you realize there is no toilet paper, and perhaps because there is a line of people waiting to use the toilet when you’re finished, you might want to do your business before going to inform someone of the lack of toilet paper. Precisely for that reason, I carry a supply of toilet paper with me. Before leaving home I buy a roll of one-ply toilet paper (more on this later) and make a few dozen little packets of folded paper. Then I put the stack in a ziplock plastic bag and stash the bag in a conveniently reached pocket of my pack. Before entering a restroom, I pop the plastic bag in my pocket. Just in case.

Another Camino sewer cover.
Another Camino sewer cover.

Let’s face it, though. Sometimes Mother Nature calls when you’re nowhere near a restroom. If you must relive yourself in the great outdoors, there are some simple rules that will benefit you, everyone else who uses that path, and the general environment. Firstly, to do your business, find a place well off the path. Don’t presume that just because you’re male and you only want to urinate that you can go wherever you like. Urine odors are pervasive and can be quite offensive on a hot day. What’s more, urine contains nitrates in sufficient quantity to kill plants. Think about the grass verges around the entrances to apartment complexes. The grass is always devastated there because when a dog owner gets home for work and takes the dog out, the poor creature relieves itself at the first available spot…right by the entrance.

If you’re going to do more than urinate, by all means, go well off the path. Once there, make a little effort to dispose of your waste. I’m not goofy enough to think pilgrims will be carrying a tiny, portable shovel for such moments, but certainly it’s possible to kick a small hole in the dirt. When you’ve finished, cover it up with the dirt you kicked aside. Use leaves, pine needles, and stones. Whatever is at hand. You can be sure that if the spot looked good to you, someone else will come along looking for the same opportunity. It’s frankly disgusting to come across an area that is littered with feces and toilet paper left completely exposed. It doesn’t take much effort to cover your “tracks.”

Some more precautions: DO NOT hide behind a hay stack at the side of the trail to do your business. It’s mighty unsanitary and encourages flies, rodents, and other pests. DO go at least one hundred feet (30 meters) away from a water source such as a pond, stream, or river. Human waste is extremely hazardous to open bodies of water and remember that you will be in an environment where many people will be looking to do the same thing. In the aggregate, it can add up to significant environmental degradation.

Now we come back to toilet paper. Inside the ziplock bag with the stack of folded toilet paper, I keep another ziplock bag for disposing of used toilet paper. But if you haven’t got a bag just for disposal, Folks, it’s not that difficult to simply fold up the toilet paper after you’ve used it and stick in your pocket. You can throw it away at the next trashcan you come to. It’s indecent to leave your used toilet paper scattered about. Period.

Here’s where one-ply toilet paper comes in. If for some reason you absolutely must leave your toilet paper behind, one-ply paper decomposes much, much faster than two-ply. (Go here to see the results of a paper decomposition in the outdoors experiement. http://hikethru.com/hiking-information/backyard-science/toilet-paper-decomposition) If you bury it, one-ply paper will decompose much, much faster than one-ply paper left exposed. Just do it.

What’s more, many bars and albergues along The Camino are on septic systems, not public sewer systems. One-ply toilet paper is much easier on their facilities.

Clearly most people don’t think about what they leave behind them as they’re walking along, but everyone is obliged to consider what others before them have left behind. Doing the right thing makes The Camino a happier and healthier experience for everyone.