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Archive for June, 2006

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The way we learn

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Suddenly time, which flapped wetly about me for days, is speeding up. I’m teaching Manko to drive (but she won’t be ready before I go), doing back and leg exercises the physical therapist gave me, making hurricane plans for Manko and the animals, teaching this interminable course (we’re on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs now, much better, and on a roll headed for Whitman and Dickinson and final exams). I keep going back to Phil Cousineau’s wonderful instructions, from The Art of Pilgrimage, and today, his instructions (for pilgrimage, for life) and Manko’s driving lesson came together like a clash of cymbals (pun not intended, I groan), like a clash of Zildjians from Seth’s rock n roll drum kit, like a great crash. Here is the juxtaposition: [read on]

Reading Portugal

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

First, read. Do people who were not invalids as children hold this rule to their hearts as I do? Don’t know. But I know that since mid-February, four months ago, I have accumulated, read, highlighted, and written marginal comments in fifteen books about Portugal. I have spent days and nights on the internet, reading blogs, emails, websites, photo galleries, and adventure stories. If I were hit by a truck tomorrow (which is always possible on Houston area freeways), my brain would spill out images, pictures, stories, and descriptions of a place I have never been except in imagination. Books. Books have always been my goad to adventure, my ticket to freedom. These are some of the passages that would tumble out of my brain:


“Some of the most idyllic spots on the stretch of coast west of Leiria are in the Pinhal de leiria, a vast 700-year-old pine forest . . . an area of great natural beauty with sunlight filtering through endless miles of trees and the sea air perfumed with the scent of resin”(Rough Guide). [read on]

Walking. THAT miracle.

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Suddenly the landscape of the dream is shifting. I saw a physical therapist yesterday, part of my plan to get in shape for the journey. I put on my hiking boots and the clothes I plan to wear on the plane, took my backpack, fully loaded for the month’s journey (only 14 pounds, plus five pounds for the frontpack with water). The physical therapist had a form to fill out, labeled “Goal for Treatment.” I said the optimal goal would be for me to walk, over the course of a month, the Portuguese Camino to Santiago, 150 miles, with a number of side trips (by bus) to places like Bom Jesus do Monte, near Braga, with its stairway of over 1000 steps; to Sintra with its magical gardens; to Alcobaca and Batalha, every inch of which I hope to explore on foot while, somehow magically, achieving that stillness Jon Kabat-Zinn describes: leaving July 12. After measuring my range of motion and examining my medical records, she gently explained, “That might be a bit overly ambitious for you; one might even say unrealistic.” It is a pattern of my life that I need frequent reality checks. [read on]

To blog or not to blog?

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

As I prepare to leave for my pilgrimage in Portugal and Galicia, a couple of people have asked if I’m going to start a travel blog. I have mixed feelings about blogs. When they first crept into my awareness, I found blogs exhibitionistic. Why, I thought, would people put the intimate details of their lives on the internet for any stranger to peer at. What’s that urge about? And then who reads blogs? I’m still trying to integrate my experience of living in Lesotho, where most people have no electricity and are nursing family members with AIDS by candle light, with living in Sugar Land, Texas, where most people live in mansions and still support Tom Delay: “He’s done so much for our community.” So I think about access, about the cyber-gap, about who lives in the global village, who cuts the grass for whom. About 166,000 people are in prison in Texas. I visited Guillermo today. He’s been incarcerated since 1992. He’s working on his three-minute speech for the graduation ceremony at the end of the Gang Renunciation program he’s in. He asked me whether I thought it better to quote Sun Tzu or Gandhi. He reads. The first book he asked me for, back when he was still in solitary, was Thucydides. He has never used a cell phone, a computer, or an ipod. Portable CD players were the hot new thing when he got locked up. His mom died this past March. He’s working on his soul. He said the change has come gradually, “Not like no lightbulb moment. More like a very slow sunrise, like a ten-year sunrise.” He says he used to want to find the people who pressed charges against him and beat the shit out of them. Now he wants to find them to make amends. He said, “I hurt them, and they didn’t have nothing to do with the pain I was in. I feel so bad about that.” I told him I’m going to light candles for him in chapels, churches, and cathedrals all over Portugal, and his eyes filled with tears. He’s never sent or received an email. Guys like him don’t read blogs. So I think about audience. [read on]