Santiago de Compostela is located in northwestern Spain. The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city’s cathedral, as destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route originated in the 9th century. In 1985 the city’s Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I plan to walk to Compostela one day, but cannot miss the opportunity of at least seeing the town while I am in Spain, studying in Barcelona.
I go to Santiago de Compostela on July 4th, 2014. It is raining softly when I arrive at eight-thirty in the morning, and I stop to eat breakfast in a deserted bar. The waitress cannot understand me so I make chicken clucking noises as I flap my arms in an effort to order eggs and toast.
“Si, si,” the woman says. She runs back to the kitchen and returns with a carton of eggs and a loaf of brown bread. She shows them to me.
“Si. Gracias,” I smile. “And téa pour fer vor. Gracias, Senora.”
Two men enter the bar while I eat and once I finish my breakfast I ask if either of them speaks English. One of them does and he is able to direct me to my hotel. As I pay my breakfast tab, I notice a picture of the Virgin Mary pinned next to the cash register and feel comforted by the notion that the bar owner knows Mary in this pilgrimage site. I find my hotel after getting lost in the narrow, winding streets three or four times. I cannot check in until two so I leave my bag with the hotel clerk and walk to the cathedral, which is one block from my hotel. Pilgrims are walking into town, smiling despite their exhaustion. They stride with large walking sticks, their backpacks brandishing seashells, which marks them as pilgrims. I feel humbled that I hadn’t walked into Compostela myself. I feel that I have cheated myself from the experience by not waiting to do it the way I have wanted to do it for many years.
As I enter the cathedral my thoughts immediately turn to my deceased father when I hear people singing How Great Thou Art in English, my father’s favourite hymn. We sang it at his funeral in 2010. I follow their voices to a small, side chapel. I realize that the ten-thirty English Mass is about to commence. I just make it in time. Before the service begins, the pilgrims in attendance introduce themselves.
“My name is Ben. I’m from Australia and I walked from Pamplona.”
“My name is Vincent. I am from Ireland and I walked with my wife from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.”
Some stand on bandaged feet, their sunburned faces belying their weariness. I am embarrassed to introduce myself as a non-walker, but I do. “I will walk it one day but I have not yet,” I tell the pilgrims. One young American boy refuses to shake my hand at peace be with you time, and I wonder if it is because I had not arrived to Compostela by foot.
I am seated next to Vincent who has a strong Northern Irish accent, the accent of my Griffin ancestors, and I wonder what my grandfather’s voice had sounded like. Vincent races ahead of everyone else when he professes the responses during the Mass. My father used to do that. My dad, like Vincent, needed folk to know that he attended Mass regularly and knew all of the parts perhaps better than anyone else. This tendency to out profess co-communicants throws me off my own response time, thus making it appear as though I never attend Mass though I have attended daily Mass for fifteen years. Vincent takes great pains to kneel in the chapel though there is no room to do so nor are there kneelers provided. I say a small prayer that God will help Vincent overcome his pride.
A young, bespeckled Spanish priest named Juan Carlos presides. He announces that after Mass he will hear confessions in English. “My English is not so good so no matter what you confess, I will offer you absolution.” The congregation laughs softly. Pilgrims limp to the altar to receive communion. After Mass we are invited to have coffee by three women who sat on the altar during Mass and whom I presume are nuns. Two of the women have English accents and the third speaks with an Irish inflection. The Irish nun, who looks like the Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, is striking, and I can see that she had been a beauty as a young woman.
I opt not to go for coffee. I don’t feel that I should since I have not walked in to the pilgrimage site. Instead I remain behind and write on the available slips of paper intentions for people who I know need special prayers, and lay them with the many thousands of supplications already on the altar. One of the English nuns says that the prayers are burned at the end of each month in offering. A man who wears a blue cathedral staff t-shirt, slaps my camera out of my hands when I take a picture where apparently I am not allowed to use a flash. His nippy movement as he swats my hands unnerves me. I later notice the sign that asks that no pictures be taken in that particular area, but it is written in Spanish and I hadn’t seen the sign earlier. Still, there was no need for him to strike me as he had and I wonder if he would have hit a man in the same way. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “Oh yes. The holier than thous. They’re the bloody worst.”
I go to confession with Father Juan Carlos. He is just opening up for business, and he smiles at me as he sees me waiting for him to unlock the confessional and then he motions for me to come forward. The confessionals are not cloistered, and I am not thrilled with the concept of confessing my sins in such an exposed manner. Nevertheless, I walk toward Father J.C. and kneel before him. He sits in a wooden box with shutters that open so that he can gaze upon the penitent who at that moment happens to be a mortified Canadian.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been four months since my last confession. In that time I have been guilty of using profanity, the sins of pride, anger, jealousy, vanity and even doubt. I doubt myself, I doubt my purpose and at times I even doubt that God is with me or that He cares about my life. I am a harsh critic of others, Father. I judge others as harshly as I criticize myself. I fail to love as I know I am called to love. I am not a devoted and obedient daughter, and carry resentments in my heart toward my family, especially my mother.” I pause and then quickly add, “I have also recently had thoughts of an impure nature.” I look to see if the young priest reacts to that last one but he sits motionless. I quickly conclude, “For these and all of my sins I am heartfully sorry and I ask the Lord’s forgiveness. Amen.”
The young priest thinks for a moment and I feel engulfed by his silence thinking perhaps that I should have held back on that last one. Then he speaks to me in a tone so gentle it sounds like a soft, summer breeze. “I feel God wants me to say to you, ‘I love you. You are my child and I love you just as you are. You do not need to change in order for me to love you.’” To hear him say I deserve love just as I am, and that I don’t need to try to be loved, makes me cry. “I also feel that God wants me to say to you, ‘I kiss your head. Like a father kisses the head of his sweet child, I kiss your head now. I love you as a father loves his precious child.’” More tears are shed by me. “Would you like a tissue?” the priest asks. He extends a package of Kleenex to me, I take one and dry my eyes. “You are so brave to have made an honest confession here today, and your sins are forgiven. Do you usually receive a penance?”
“Okay. I give you this as your penance: say a prayer for yourself that you will see how lovable you are and how worthy you are of God’s love, grace and mercy. This is your penance, my child. I offer you God’s absolution. Go in His peace.”
“Thank you, Father,” I breathe.
“God bless you, Daughter.”
“God bless you, Father.”
My eyes are overflowing with tears and I find it hard to see on my way back to the pews. I sit and collect myself, dab my moistened cheeks with the tissue the young priest has given me, then I say the prayers I am to say as part of my penance. I pray for myself.
The seats begin to fill up all around me with young pilgrims who appear to be the same age as the Catholic high school students I taught in Ontario. I am reminded how much I miss being a Catholic secondary school teacher. As such, I successfully directed many of my students to a belief in something greater than themselves and thus, a greater belief in themselves as people who are marked for God’s sacred purpose. I was a good Catholic secondary school teacher despite my many personal shortcomings. These Spanish teens in Santiago de Compostela wear bright orange shirts with the word ‘Jesuit’ written on the back. I realize that High Mass is about to begin, and I stay for it though it will be said in Spanish. At the end, they drop the incense ball. The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible. Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or “incensory”. The name “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Galician. I have seen this wondrous act performed in the film The Way, which was written by Emilio Estevez and stars his father, Martin Sheen. Sheen’s character, Tom, walks the Camino after his son, Daniel (played by Estevez) is killed on the second day of his pilgrimage. I’ve seen the film several times since it was released in 2010.
My room in the pensione in Compostela is small and hot, and I find myself longing for the air conditioning of my Barcelona hotel. There is only Spanish TV so I listen to CBC Radio on my computer when I am in my room. I tune to Writers and Company and Tapestry, my two favourite CBC Radio programs. Canadian actor Colm Feore is featured in a broadcast with Michael Enwright and I delight in listening to him. I had met Mr. Feore in 2006 in the parking lot outside the Maisonville Chapters bookstore. I told him how much I admired his work, and he was very gracious as he thanked me. I had seen him perform in Coriolanus in Stratford later that same year. He was brilliant, articulate and beautiful.
I go to the six-thirty prayer service that evening at the cathedral in Santiago. There is a small, white voltive candle on each seat along with a prayer card. I pick up my candle and place it on the ledge in front of me before I sit in quiet contemplation. Once everyone gathers we are invited to introduce ourselves to the congregation, and once more I feel the need to publicly apologize for having failed to walk into Compostela. There are candles lit all around us, and I feel at peace surrounded by the stillness and quiet beauty of the chapel. The Irish nun, who introduces herself as Sister Kathy, tells us that we have each been given a candle and invites us to light a candle with our prayer intention before the service begins. “If you know what God’s call is for your life, then light the candle and offer it up as an intention,” she directs. “Walking the Camino is all about answering the call God has for our lives. Once you feel sure that you know what that call is, we invite you to light your candle and then place it on the cross.”
I have thought about what the call for my life is for many years, but dwell exclusively upon those thoughts throughout my first day in Compostela. There is loneliness expressed in my writing and that resounds in my head and heart now. I look at the three nuns on the altar and I look at the married couples around me who made the walk together, most in their fifties and sixties but some, like Vincent and his wife, appear to be in their seventies. As pilgrims introduce themselves, I listen to their stories and ask myself, as husbands and wives present speak one for the other, if that is what I want again. My heart now says that it is. Of course, the tragedy of my life is that had Jack and I stayed together, he and I would have walked the Camino together. Jack was a devout Catholic who served Mass every morning at Hamilton’s Blessed Sacrament Church as a boy before he went on to school in the neighbouring building, which was Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. We would have certainly come to a deeper faith in Christ in our marriage over the years and we could have made these pilgrimages together as a married couple that I now make alone. We would have been married for twenty-five years had I stayed with my husband but I left in 1994. “But you didn’t love him,” my heart reminds me. I look again at the nuns and ask if that is where I see myself. Is it? My heart says ‘no’ and I am relieved.
“Listen to your heart. Hear what it is saying to you. Offer that prayer to God and light your candle on the altar and then place it here on the Cross,” Sister Kathy says. She kneels next to a simple, wooden crucifix on the floor and places her lit voltive at the base of it.
People sit in quiet meditation as soft music emanates from the CD player placed on the altar. One by one pilgrims hobble to the front of the chapel to place their lit candles on the cross. I sit for a moment longer as I wonder what I will ask of God. Then I stand and walk to the altar. I bend low at the Cross and light my voltive from one already burning before placing mine at the heart of the crucifix now alight with the prayers of pilgrims. I return to my seat and as the prayer service begins, I whisper to God, “I don’t want to be alone anymore, God. Please help me.” I begin to cry softly once more and I dig in my purse for a tissue anxious that others in attendance not see my tears. After the service is concluded, we are once again invited to go for coffee, but once more I decline. Instead I remain in the chapel after the others leave and I rise to write one last prayer intention before I leave that evening. This one is just for me.
I go to Mass again the following morning. The nuns, who noticed my tears the previous evening at the prayer vigil, come and ask if I am alright.
“Fine, sisters. I’m fine,” I smile.
Sister Kathy sits next to me. She inquires about my life in Canada and we chat quietly together though I am conscious that our voices are disturbing pilgrims at prayer. The priest who serves the English Mass that day, Father James, is from India. An American priest who had just arrived after walking the Camino, Father Kevin, co-celebrates with Father James. During the sermon, Father James says that evil comes from five major failings. He names hating our parents as the main one. I have not been praying daily in the same manner as had become my custom for many years, and I had missed Sunday Mass twice in the last few weeks though I had daily attended Mass for the last fifteen years. I know that I must return to my daily spiritual practices if I am to strengthen my resolve and behave in a more worthy manner.
The nuns invite me to go with them for coffee after Mass and I go. I give them ten euros for their coffee kitty and order a tea. The waiters provide us with pound cake and biscuits since, as sister says, they are such good customers. I sit next to Vincent, interested in chatting with him about Northern Ireland, and the old Australian, who is named Ben, sits across from us. Ben is heavy-set with a full grey beard, and wears a floppy Aussie outback hat.
“Look at you, Vincent! Always next to the most beautiful woman in the place! How do you do it, mate?”
I feel embarrassed by his remark. Vincent and the nuns also seem to feel uncomfortable. In any event, no one responds to Ben’s loutish comment. He proceeds to bawl about his pilgrimage, generously using the word ‘bloody’ as an adjective and adverb.
“I bloody-well got jock itch on that bloody pilgrimage, Sister.” He produces two tubes of cream that he has been using on his chaffed genitals and throws them up on the table where our tea and cakes sit. He asks Sister Kathy if she knows which lubricant would best heal his crotch. Sister Kathy looks at the cylinders of ointment without touching either of them.
“Did you walk the Camino, Sister?” I change the subject from that of Ben’s battered balls.
“Yes. I walked five days from Lugo,” she tells me.
Several more pilgrims join us and I listen as they speak of their adventures along the Camino. I wish that I had walked it but know that it hasn’t yet been feasible for me to do so. I will do it after I turn fifty.
“I know you will,” says Sister Kathy when I say again that I will walk the Camino one day soon.
Ben keeps trying to chat with me by making remarks of a personal bordering on suggestive nature and I feel offended that he thinks that he even has a chance with me. Men like Ben don’t lack confidence, and I don’t know why that is. When he learns that I am returning to Barcelona he suggests we get together.
“I’m going to be in Barcelona, love. We should have dinner,” he says.
“I’m very busy with my program. They plan our evenings as well as our days. I simply will not have time.”
“Well, maybe I’ll run into you there,” he ventures. “What college are you studying at?”
“I forget the name of it. It’s off the main pedestrian thoroughfare.”
“Bloody Barcelona. You never know, love. I’m teaching at the University of Barcelona so I may find myself at that other location. I’m to go to a college in the city centre. I bet it’s the same bloody place where you are.”
I shrug and smile hoping that it isn’t the same college and pray that I never see Ben with the contaminated down-undercarriage ever again. I ask if anyone knows where I might find a launderette and Ben offers to let me come back to his hotel to use his laundry facilities.
“Oh, no. That’s fine,” I say. “I couldn’t impose.”
“Sure, love. We’ll just walk in like we bloody-well own the joint and go on up to the back and down the stairs, and there are the bloody washers and dryers. ”
“I couldn’t do that,” I say.
“Angela is a polite, refined and soft-spoken Canadian, Ben,” Sister Kathy says. “She wouldn’t do that.”
“I know that’s the impression that you have of me, Sister, but I am not always polite, refined and soft-spoken.”
“You’re not?” she laughs.
“No, Sister. My fighting Irish spirit rears its ugly head on occasion. More often than I care to admit, in fact.” I make my excuses to leave and thank the nuns and the pilgrims for their hospitality. “I’ll see you at Mass tomorrow, Sister,” I say to Sister Kathy as she hugs and kisses me good-bye.
I find a lavourette and the little chappie who works there is very helpful. He wants to practice his English with me as we launder my unmentionables. A young Spanish couple enters the lavourette to retrieve their wash and put it in one of the dryers. They kiss, fight, kiss, shout at each other, kiss, argue, kiss, fold their sheets together in silencio and leave. All in the span of the thirty minute dryer cycle.
It begins to rain again but heavier than the day before. Foolishly, I have neglected to bring my rain jacket with me or a pair of trousers. Barcelona has been so hot that I only bring sundresses with me. When it rained the previous day, I managed to find a cheap coat for 10€ and a cheap pair of trousers for 8€ but they don’t fit exactly right so I didn’t buy them. I regret that decision now. I take my clean laundry back to my hotel and set out to find the coat and slacks I hadn’t purchased the day before, but become turned around in the labyrinth of streets and fail to find the shop. I pop into other shops along the way and look at their jackets and denims as the rain continues to tumble down but they are asking 50-120€ just for a jacket so I pass. I drag my long dress in the rain, carrying its soaked hem like a bridal train, as I clutch my thin shrug closed across my bust. I pray to find the shop that houses the practical albeit unflattering outfit, and when finally I do, I see that it has closed at two o’clock. I assume it is closed for siesta, and am afraid if I leave the area that I will never find it again. Rather than leave, I eat at a café down the lane and then I wait outside for it to open. I ask three different people in the street if the shops will reopen that afternoon and they all assure me that they will at four or four-thirty before a woman who is walking with a priest tells me that the shops will not open again until Monday. I cannot reconcile myself to this. How can shops close at two in the afternoon on a Saturday in a tourist area?
I eventually find another shop where there are good prices and though I pay more than 18€ for the jacket and jeans I purchase, I actually like these better and know that I will wear them again. I ask the young girl who serves me if she will cut off the tags so that I can wear the jacket and trousers from the shop.
“Of course,” she says. “But I only have a paper bag to give you for your clothes.”
I tell her that will be fine. I put my wet dress in the paper bag and I walk back into the rain in my new outfit. I am able to move more easily in the pouring rain without trailing a wet dress and holding closed a shrug across my breasts. I look down and see that the bottom of the paper bag is torn from my wet dress. I panic that I have lost my dress, shrug or souvenirs that I had purchased (some of which were in tiny paper bags), but when I check the bag thoroughly upon returning to the pensione, I see that not a thing is missing.
I tip 1€ to the gentleman who serves me breakfast each day, which is tea and a hunk of toasted brown bread with jam, and he provides me with hot water for tea in my room whenever I request it throughout the weekend. After breakfast on Sunday morning, I go to Mass at eleven and ask the three priests to bless my souvenirs. “That the wearers of these shall be protected,” they pray. I go for tea with the pilgrims again. An Australian woman, who proves to be as brash as Ben, joins the group and proceeds to use bloody and bloody-well with equal occurrence. Each time one of them curses I looked at Sister Kathy who neither comments or reacts to their profanity though I feel she disapproves. Each of the pilgrims offers me advice with regards to what I need for my future Camino and I take notes. Maybe coming to Compostela before I was able to walk it wasn’t such a dreadful idea after all. I take Sister Kathy’s email address so that I can make future inquires as to my pilgrimage and say my farewells to the group after thanking them once again for allowing me to join them.
I take the bus back to the airport and try to talk my way onto an earlier flight without any luck. Instead, I finish reading my book and complete course work on my laptop as I wait for the ten o’clock flight. As we board the plane a dark-haired woman speaks to me in line.
“Small world,” she says showing me her Canadian passport.
“Oh! Wow!” I say. “Where are you from?”
“Calgary. What about you?”
“Northern BC. About eighteen hours north of Vancouver.”
“I know, right?” I laugh.
“I didn’t think anyone lived up there,” she says.
She tells me that she has ridden a bike from Fatima in Portugal with her friend who is teaching at a university there. “I’m not religious at all. Neither is my friend, but she heard about this thing so we did it.”
I ask about the practice of renting bikes in Fatima and dropping them off in Santiago, and she explains the process to me. In the ephemeral time it takes us to board the plane, she reveals to me that her husband left her for another woman and now she is raising their two young children alone. “I was just blind-sided. He just told me that he wasn’t in love with me anymore,” she moans. “The rug was pulled out from under me.”
“Maybe he will come back,” I offer.
“Nope,” she shakes her head. “He’s moving a beautiful, blonde woman into my house next week.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. All I can tell you is that family is all that matters. You have children together. Focus on them. I do feel that he will regret it one day.”
“When? When will he regret it?”
“I don’t know. When he can’t walk his daughter down the aisle or when he is alone in life, which he likely will be since these rebound relationships rarely last.”
She asks me about my faith and I answer her questions. “Maybe that’s what I need,” she says. “Maybe I need to get to know God.”
“There are no accidents. You’re here for a reason. God has brought you here. If you do make Him your rock no one will ever be able to pull the rug out from underneath you again. That much I do know for sure,” I tell her. “But that kind of relationship with God takes time to build. You have to forgive your husband and bless him. You need to do it for yourself and for your kids so you don’t allow bitterness take root in your heart.” We are both seated in Row six though not next to one another. She is assigned to one window seat and I am seated across the aisle at the other. “It isn’t safe to take the bus alone late at night,” I tell her before we take our seats across the aisle from one another. “Do you want to share a cab when we land in Barcelona?”
“Sure. That’d be great,” she says.
I sit next to a gay couple on the flight. The older man of the pair, who is seated next to me, is very unfriendly after his young partner has been congenial toward me. Both men flip through Spanish issues of Ola! (Hello!) Magazine, and occasionally I glance to my right at the glossy pictures of celebrities living out their seemingly perfect lives and wonder what they suffer in their human journeys. No one’s life is perfect, I tell myself. Everyone struggles.
We land in Barcelona after midnight. I have carry-on baggage but the other Canadian girl has a large bag that we must retrieve from the luggage carousel. As we proceed to hail a cab in front of the airport, she and I chat about her impending divorce and the discussion continues all the way into Barcelona. She asks me about my failed marriage and I try to sum up what happened between Jack and me as best I can. She seems alarmed that I have never married again in all these years, and tells me that she was seeing a man for a short time and then she became hurt when he failed to call her again.
“You really need to think about taking time for yourself before you get into another relationship,” I tell her. “You need to heal. In life, you don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are. Heal first. Focus on your kids. Love will find you when you are whole. Another person cannot fulfil you.” I see that she doesn’t like that idea. Few people do. Most people just want to be with someone, anyone, so they don’t have to be alone.
Once returned to the city, the driver tries to convince me that a location that is well away from my hotel is my drop off point. “This is not my hotel,” I tell him. “I stayed at the hotel last week. I know where it is. This is not it.” The driver continues to insist the building off La Ramblas is my hotel and I refuse to get out of the cab though he is so adamant that he almost convinces me at one point that it is where I am staying. I begin to question if perhaps we have come upon an unfamiliar back entrance of the Hotel Principal. My Canadian companion looks up my hotel address on a Google map app on her phone and tells the driver he needs to go further, which grudgingly he does. Many miles later we find my Barcelona hotel. “Si. Senore. Si. This is my hotel. The Hotel Principal,” I tell him and he laughs. “Is this funny to you? You’d drop off a female tourist on her own in the middle of nowhere in Barcelona at one in the morning? Why do you think we pay to take a cab from the airport late at night? To be safe.” I had kept mum on the way to the airport when I journeyed to Santiago de Compostela after the cabbie charged me fifty euros though I knew it was only to be a twenty-nine euro fare, but I decide to explain to this driver why it isn’t acceptable that he abandons female tourists on La Ramblas at one in the morning.
My companion sniggers but I can tell that my candor makes her uncomfortable. Chalk it up to being a female alone in the world for twenty-five years. As such, you need to be strong and outspoken. She takes my email address and says she will contact me but she never does. I had hoped that she would have if only to let me know that she got to her hotel safely. I forget the name of her hotel or I would have checked on her. Maybe she is embarrassed that she had told me her life story so quickly. Maybe she is scared to meet a woman who has not remarried in the twenty-five years since she has divorced. Maybe she objects to my candor. Maybe my God talk made her uneasy but it was she who brought God up. I never raise the subject of God first but if asked I always proclaim that I am in close relationship with Christ. I know what it means to call Christ, ‘Saviour’. He is my Redeemer. Whatever the case, I never hear from that Canadian again. I do feel that I was meant to meet her, however, as much for her sake as my own.
I have my second and final tutorial with my mentor the following day. “Are you still on a pilgrimage?” my mentor, who is an atheist, sneers at me.
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” I answer and am instantly annoyed with myself for waffling. Of course, I am still on a pilgrimage. I will die on this journey.
We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of going to these religious sites. “It is a privilege to be alone with one’s thoughts,” he tells me. I know that with two small daughters he is never alone with his thoughts, which is death to a writer, and it is killing him. He envies my life of quiet solitude and independence. “You go looking for stillness in these places where throngs of people seek the same thing. So there is noise rather than calm.”
“That is true. I have thought of that. There are so many people that peace is at times evasive in these pilgrimage sites. But I enjoy talking to the other pilgrims in Compostela.”
“Did you talk to other pilgrims?” he asks, as though jealous.
“What do they say?”
“They offer me some advice for my own Camino. They seem deeply satisfied after they complete their Camino. That is nice to see because little if anything lives up to our expectations in the end.”
“If that is true, that you feel that way, that is very sad,” he says, but I know that he is dissatisfied with his own life. He isn’t fooling anyone least of all me.
I feel that anyone who has ever been married knows that to be true. The reality of marriage is harsher than the fiction we are fed via the media. The same is true of having children. The actuality is much different than the fantasy of being a parent. That does not mean that both marriage and parenting are not immensely rewarding. They are. But each aspect of family life calls for an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice that sometimes leads to heartache and resentments. These are truths no one understands until he or she is in the thick of family life. I no longer feel that happiness is possible in this world, but only in the next. It is because I feel this way that I stop pursuing pleasure on earth, which I now regard as elusive as the wind.
He asks me about my faith. “Have you always had such a strong faith?”
“You were raised in a Catholic family?”
“Did you ever question your faith?”
“Yes. But in questioning my faith I always come to a stronger belief in God.”
He addresses the anger that emerges in my writing again and says that sadness is the other side of anger. We talk about anger, sadness and the benefits of counsel in difficult times. I have had therapy in my past, but it didn’t take my anger away. Only resting in God takes away my anger. I feel bare before my advisor, but in the end those meetings fortify me to write better because what he thinks matters to me. As I leave he gently says, “I will see you tomorrow and enjoy the rest of your day.”
That evening I venture alone into an Italian restaurant that has caught my eye. I sit alone in the restaurant and write furiously with pen and paper. My waiter, a man in his forties, keeps filling my wine glass. I say no, no and he shrugs and fills it again. “You’re a bad influence,” I tell him as I finish my second tumbler of wine, and he smiles and shrugs again.
“First you eat and then you work,” he tells me. I drink half the bottle and in the end cannot make sense of my scribbling though I am certain it is brilliant. “Where are you from?” he asks me.
“Canada? Me too.”
“Where?” I ask him.
“Montréal. I got sick of the cold winters and my mother is Spanish so I moved here. My brother and sister live here too.”
I finish my meal and I thank him for the chat before I wobble home but I am not too tipsy to stop for a chocolate gelato. The ice cream vendor is saying something to me in Spanish that I cannot comprehend. He sucks his breath through his teeth in exasperation, leaves his counter, comes out front to La Ramblas, zips shut my purse and sets the strap securely upon my shoulder.
The following night I take some of the American girls from my MFA program back to the Italian restaurant for dinner and then we go out for a few drinks. They speak of picking up men and I say I am not interested in that.
“I don’t want to use another in that way,” I say. “I also think I’m worth more than that.”
They pause momentarily, look at one another and then declare, “You’re not! You’re really not!” I laugh at this.
They make fun of our mentor’s accent though we all greatly admire him and feel a genuine affection for him. “He’s Sprocket! You know, from SNL? And then we dance.” They do little dance moves on their bar stools. One girl makes fun of a girl in our MFA group who has a lovely speaking voice despite the fact that she originated from New York. “Excewse me. What the fawck is with the fawcking speaking voices of some people in this fawcking cawrse? They’re from fawcking New Yawrk, like me.”
“Now don’t be jealous just because they have cultured voices and you say cwaffee,” I say.
“I’m not!” she laughs. “Well, maybe I am a bit,” she concedes and we laugh.
I return to my hotel (no hot Spanish guy in tow) and crawl into my bed to sleep alone.