If I could paint, this is what I would paint for you.
Lighthouses have become significant for me in so many new ways lately.
But they have always spoken to all of us.
And they speak in light.
Like music, it’s a language I love, but speak without fluency.
This is my attempt to speak with light.
An attempt to offer thanks.
My next offering is in the language of sound.
Not music, although music does play a part.
And there are some words.
I’m hugely excited to tell you that ABC Radio’s Poetica programme has made a companion piece to the book. It was produced with great delicacy by Anne McInerney and engineered by Angela Grant, and it highlights the poems that inspired me, poems that were written for me, and poems that found me along the road.
I’m indebted to Anne for making something so beautiful, and for giving me a chance to expand on one of the key themes of the book – the way that poetry shapes my days.
And if you feel inclined to leave him a message on the Wheeler site, please do. I will be sending him the link so that he can read the piece, and know that over here in Australia, his kindness impacted.
Only a week ago, I woke up to this view. Sparkling blue and a lighthouse.
I was at Aireys Inlet for the Lighthouse Literary Festival, a stupendous weekend of illumination, within and without. I taught a workshop, directed actors, curated a session and spoke about SINNING ACROSS SPAIN. Mostly though, I listened – to activists, to brilliant fiction writers, to poets and to an audience lit up by possibilities. We were all imagining together, dreaming a future.
Two years ago I was approaching Finisterre – land’s end – where there is also a lighthouse, beaming out into the darkness of a wild and roaring sea. Then I was empty of all thought, save for gratitude.
I had made it.
Last weekend I walked the beach at Aireys with no pack, in company with two of my nearest and dearest. We laughed, we talked, we drifted into separate silences. I threw myself into the ocean and wallowed in the luxury of being kept afloat, and the sharp sting of salt on skin and tongue, in eyes and mouth.
I was present. Resoundingly present in a privileged, gifted life of free expression and unspoiled nature. And friends…
Two years ago, I walked toward Cape Finisterre with my pack, knowing that the journey I had undertaken was almost done. I look back at myself now, and I feel such affection for that demented blonde. She too was deeply present, without thought of anything other than the steps required to get to home.
Last weekend, as evening fell, I walked the beach at Aireys again, unable to resist the purity of its stretch of white sand, and the ceaseless crash of those ribbons of waves. The sunset could have been crafted by a lighting designer, and the soundscape was better than Beethoven. Ahhhh. It was good!
Two years ago, at Finisterre – land’s end – I sat under the lighthouse and watched the sun disappear into the ocean, dropping off the planet into oblivion. There were only gull cries and silence then. And the crackling of a small fire as it burned the list of sins. It was good.
Well, it is mighty good.
People ask me what is next. The future?
I have no idea. I’m not sure I want to know. I am here, on the “other side of the world” as they say in Spain. The sun is shining today and the sky is bright blue. Australian blue. It’s particular. And I am going to walk a bit, and write a bit, and stay in the day.
I like the “not knowing.” I always have.
The future will take me by surprise in its own good time. For now, I am grateful to Hannie and Nic for inviting me to Aireys, and to Rachel and Peter and Lou for saying yes when I asked them to jump in and risk, and to everyone who inspired me last weekend. Just as I remain grateful to all those who walked the road to Finisterre. To the lighthouse, as a greater mind once wrote.
May your day be peaceful, and may you find time…
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SINNING ACROSS SPAIN is responsible for its first blister!
Today I received this story from Paul, who bought a copy of the book at the airport before leaving Australia on business. He read it on the plane to America, and it lurked around in his thoughts until he got to Mexico, where it decided to have its way with him! Below, with his permission, is his walking story…
As luck would have it, I find myself in Mexico City for work. So yesterday being Sunday I took the opportunity to explore. Wanting to walk out the past week of flying and sitting in conference rooms, and it being a truly gorgeous sunny-cool day, I decide to head out on foot.
Mexico City is not rural Spain. Nevertheless, finding myself treading Spanish-speaking streets put me in mind of your book.
Hmm, maybe I should have paid more attention to the bit about good shoes. I was in a pair of Campers, virtually no soles and no support.
I am staying just south of Colonia Condesa and headed down to the Zocalo in the historic centre. That was about a 10 km stroll. I must have covered another 4-5 in the downtown area, then walked back to Condesa, which was the art deco rich home of movie stars and celebrities until the 1985 earthquake, when it was largely abandoned. In the nineties, the boho art crowd ‘rediscovered’ it and for a decade it was über cool. As with all these kind of neighbourhoods (think Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Le Marais in Paris or the Village in NYC), the middle class have discovered the newly-minted amenity and gradually gentrified the place. Anyway, I found a suitably groovy cafe for a late lunch and it was then I discovered that my Campers were not made for walking. By the time I finished my espresso, I could feel a growing blister on my big toe. It felt awkwardly squishy underfoot, so I relented and took a cab the 2 km back to my hotel.
Lest you think the lessons of your adventure were all wasted, I had the wit to hobble to a nearby supermercado and purchase band aids and antiseptic. Lacking a knife, I found a fountain pen with a sharp (ish) nib and managed to penetrate the thick skin to release the pressure. This morning, all good and ready for a day in the office with Hugo, Humberto, Arturo, Eliseo and friends.
So thank you for your (life saving) advice!
One day I will get there, I hope. A city of contrasts and extremes, too wild for me to imagine. And although Campers are made in Spain, I will remember to take the mighty Merrell’s! Pilgrimage needs sole.
Thanks so much Paul, for permission to put the story into the blogosphere. And to Kati, for her images of Mexican silver hearts.
And don’t forget that if you would like to be kept updated when a new post goes onto the blog (about twice per week) then just go to the little box up on the top right and enter your email address. That way we can journey together!
Two years ago today, walking out of Merida, I received a call from my “Barcelona angels”, wishing me a happy St George’s Day. I didn’t realise then how relevant San Jordi was to me.Today, in Barcelona, they will celebrate him again.Saint George or Sant Jordi in Catalan, is patron of Catalonia, and also of writers and scribblers and poets. Love gets a look-in, too!In Barcelona, the main events today will take place in Las Ramblas, where hundreds of flower stalls selling roses and makeshift bookstalls will be set up for the occasion. Lovers exchange gifts: men give their novias roses, and women give their novios a book. By the end of the day, some four million roses and 400,000 books will be purchased, registering half of the total yearly book sales of Catalonia on this day alone!Also, the 23rd April honours the almost-simultaneous deaths of two giants of literature: Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, on April 23, 1616.
I think of my Barcelona angels now, and all my kind Spanish friends, as they face the economic crisis and its difficulties. I hope they can afford a book and a rose.
And wherever they are, I hope they – and you too! – have a wagging-tailed bird to cheer them and show the way, as this prankster did for me on the 23rd April, two years ago…
It’s a song, a memory, a gift from a beloved friend, and a feeling – the feeling I experience most frequently when I walk, and the feeling that overwhelms me in waves just now.
That is the beach at Aireys Inlet. That’s where I’m going.
I’m packing my bag for the Lighthouse Literary Festival, curated by Hannie Rayson and produced by Nicole Maher at Great Escape Books, two women of extreme dynamism and heart. They have brought together a group of writers and thinkers of eloquence and wisdom, and to top it off, Paul Grabowsky will come and play a baby grand on Saturday evening. Unfortunately, the weekend is sold out, but if you want to peek at the line-up, have a look here:
My book has been talked about, read from, conversed with, written of, and finally…set free. It is out there in the wide world, making its way. I am learning to let it go, to wave it goodbye for this next stage, and to trust that it is stronger than me and knows the way.
On Monday just gone, I read aloud from it for the first time in public. Thankfully a few of the actor muscles still work, because I could not have anticipated the fear about standing up and putting my words into the air.
I also could not have anticipated the pleasure! Or the gratitude I felt to the those who came in support of me. Looking out into the book-lined walls of the Moat Cafe at the Wheeler Centre and seeing loved faces nodding and smiling encouragement – that will get you over any broken bridge. Gracias gracias.
On Tuesday night, the incandescent Hannie Rayson and I were In Conversation at Readings Bookstore in Carlton. I had no idea what that might mean, even though Hannie had prepped me about timings and topics, and insisted that when she asked me to read, I must select a passage that spoke about some of the hardships of the journey, because of my tendency to be a Pollyanna! I didn’t know that an In Conversation could surprise me with joy, or that it could wake me to wonder…or move me to song!
I know. The unthinkable. The mountain I thought I would never ever have the courage to climb.
I sang in public.
Only a few lines. But I did it.
Hannie asked me to speak a little Spanish so people could hear that language I so love. I thought I’d explain something of my road anthem, Gracias A La Vida, a song given to me on the Camino Frances by my compañero. A song that now lives in my cells, and marks my steps. Instead, I felt so overwhelmed by gratitude for the people who had come to wave the book into the world, that I decided to offer them something truly brave – an attempt at words with the tune!
I got through a few lines before crumpling, but I think it’s safe to say my cabaret career won’t be kicking in any time soon! That said, I climbed over the top of my personal Everest and have lived to tell the tale. Gracias a la Vida, and gracias to Hannie, to all who came along in support, and to that song of songs…
If you want to hear it at its best, look at this link. The late (great is too small a word and too sad to contemplate) Mercedes Sosa sings it. Take a few minutes to listen. Maybe google the lyric in English so you know what you are hearing. It will own you forever once you hear it.
Then on Wednesday, my day began with celebratory words in The Age newspaper. Suzanne Carbone outed a few sinners and then went on to sing the praises of the book. It has made a new friend, and once again, I give gracias. Her words are here:
And now I have a bag to pack. I will be in company with heroes and compañeros, friends and strangers, books and readers, writers and actors and a maestro. I will be in salt air and on hilltop paths. I will inhale and I will sing my solitary thanks to the salt-heavy air and the high high sky…el alto cielo.
Gracias, Mercedes. Gracias, mi compañero. Gracias, my true north. Gracias my friends, for being with me on the journey. Here, there and beyond.
Heavens to Betsy. Heaven on earth. Seventh Heaven…
The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven. John Milton
Heaven means to be one with God. Confucius
Men and women will retain their sex in heaven. Pope John Paul II
Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven. H. L. Mencken
Heaven… I’m in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek. Irving Berlin
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19. 24
Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy. Eskimo proverb
I don’t mean to be facetious, but I’ve been wondering about something…
There is no sin in heaven, presumably. Is that why it’s “a place where nothing happens?”
And isn’t it odd that if heaven is in the sky, so many cultures bury their dead in the ground?
How many heavens are there, anyway? And whose is the “right” one?
Ah, the right one…
So much happens here on earth. So much that is hard to fathom, or to forgive. A place where nothing happens might well be heavenly, now I think about it.
This week is going to be a place where PLENTY happens. Hope that doesn’t imply it will be hellish!!!
Nah. How could it be? Just look at what I’m lucky enough to be doing…
I’ll be talking to Adelaide on Monday morning. Check EVENTS AND MEDIA up above to get details.
On Monday night I’m reading and talking with two amazing writers at the Wheeler Centre, and there will be friends with whom I can celebrate afterwards. That would be you, hopefully.
On Tuesday night the luminous Hannie Rayson is going to lead me in conversation at Readings in Carlton, and then, with luck and a fair wind, we are going to talk to a heap more friends afterwards. Please join us if you can. Details also above.
And then on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I will be down at Aireys Inlet for the Lighthouse Literary Festival. I’m so excited by this. Hannie and Nicole, from Great Escape Books, have created a breathtaking line-up of words and forums and panels and ideas for sharing. I feel so lucky to be there. There’s a link to the festival in EVENTS AND MEDIA. And here’s the scoop! Paul Grabowsky is playing piano for Saturday night’s SILENCE session. Wow!
And just so you know, I’m now a Spanish Australian! Looky here:
For years, one of my personal mantras was the E.M. Forster quote Only connect!
Recently, I took the trouble to read “Howard’s End”, and learned that other words followed.
Only connect the prose and the passion, Forster wrote, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.
Prose and passion.
At the end of a camino day, it seemed to me that walking provided both.
There was the prose – the sore feet, the roadside rubbish, the sweat, the search for a sleeping-place, the hand laundering, the scent of massed bodies in crowded quarters, the snoring, the self, and the other pilgrims.
Then there was the passion – the postcard vistas, the roadside flowers, the joyous reunion, the spirit soaring, the self and the other pilgrims.
So much passion…
Discovering a via Romana, a Roman road still intact after two millennia, raised above surrounding fields of faded stalks of wheat.
Ducking beneath the branches of low-hanging fig-trees, their fruit a syrupy sugar-hit to push me forward.
A snake crossing the path.
Singing without censoring.
History underfoot. Romans, Crusades, Franco’s wars.
Speaking poems aloud in time with footsteps.
Back in Australia, I say the same poems as I take mini-caminos.
I walk into a southern sunrise, striding my via Romana around Port Philip Bay, the smell of fig in my nostrils. A willy wag-tail flits past and I wonder how he got to be in Spain. A gull squawks. Worlds collide. I can’t stop grinning, and the early-morning joggers look at me with suspicion. They don’t know I’m on a road that dates back to Roman times. Out in the Bay, wet-suited swimmers look like dolphins.
What? There are no dolphins on the camino. No ferries to Tasmania either.
I pass schoolgirls in groups. They chatter and laugh, smelling of citrus and spring. One walks alone, her head buried in a book. Another bounces to her i-Pod. More groups, grinning, greeting.
All over the city, all over the world, caminos are walked, and connections are made. Prose and passion abound. And love is the height to which we all aspire.
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