Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Gift of Good Laughter

So I have a little announcement to make. Along with being an exercise in spiritual and personal development, walking the Camino de Santiago proved to be a spur for a couple creative projects as well. They both involve a collaboration between me and a couple fellow pilgrims I met on the Camino, who soon became my friends: Belinda, a South African photographer living in Ireland, and Peter, an unexpectedly possessive Australian best described as the George Clooney of the Camino (and who now owes me 20 bucks).
Belinda and Peter--my partners in crime, oops, creativity, I meant creativity!
So here are the project pitches. First, Belinda's. I met Belinda at a monastery in Trinidade de Arre, just before Pamplona, and ran into her again on the Camino after Estella and the wine fountain at Irache. She was walking with a Swedish fellow named John. (And you'll excuse me if I must approach these next few sentences with great sensitivity, as the very mention of John seems to bring out the brute in the normally sweet-tempered Peter. I'll just say Peter becomes quite un-cool at the mention of John, quite un-George Clooney.)
Belinda and John on the Camino. (Peter, calm down!)
Belinda and John were aiming for the same town as me that evening, Villamayor de Monjardin. We all checked into the same albergue, run by a Dutch evangelical group, and opted for dinner at the local bar rather than the somewhat proselytizing one available at the Dutch albergue. I got to know Belinda a little better at dinner, and we both got to know John. John was walking the Camino as a gift for his 50th birthday from his wife, who had walked the Camino years before, found it a very meaningful and life-changing experience, and wanted John to know it for himself. She also had a big party in store for John back in Stockholm, which meant John had a deadline for getting to Santiago. Up until he met Belinda and I, he said he was averaging 40km a day. This day was the first day he'd taken the time to slow down (initially because of the heat) and talk to his fellow pilgrims. It may have been his last as well, since neither Belinda or I saw him again for the rest of the Camino.

The next morning John left well before dawn to make headway before the noonday heat. Belinda was gone before me as well (I was typically one of the last pilgrims to leave the albergues every morning), and I finally walked out of Villamayor as the last stars of the night were fading. I ended up catching up with Belinda on the outskirts of a long stretch of hay fields and haystacks.

Hay is for horses, the saying goes. No, I say, hay is for fun. And haystacks are for posing with, on, under, above, next to, behind, any way, any how, any time.

Leaning against a haystack on the Camino
Belinda and I have a good time for awhile taking arty pictures of the haystacks. Then we have a brilliant idea:

Calendar Girls of the Camino! Just what the world's been waiting for. And a perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the pilgrim who has everything and has to post half of it back just to get the damn pack on his back without falling over. Belinda and I get to work setting up the first shots. Now, the calendar won't be out until later 2012, for the year 2013. We are still looking for models. Any woman who's walked the Camino will do. Must have a portfolio and credencial, good bone structure, and own transportation (foot, bike, or mule--no cars please) to the Camino. Here is a sneak peek for my blog readers only of Miss June and Miss October.

Miss June
Miss October
So that's Camino creative project #1 under way. Project #2 didn't light up in anyone's head until my Camino ended in Santiago, by which time I had lost and found Belinda and lost and found her again and again during the rest of the walk and both of us had met (and lost and found again and again) Peter.

Belinda and I met Peter in the municipal albergue in Logrono, a place otherwise most memorable for an elderly Italian man (who beat us all to Santiago by I'd say at least a week) in the bunk beneath mine who shouted out "Mandela!!" whenever he looked at Belinda, and "Obama!!" whenever he looked at me. (I'm sure Peter would like to have everyone believe the old Italian man shouted out "George Clooney!!" or "Hugh Jackman!!" whenever he saw Peter, but for me to add in that outright fabrication, he has to shell out another 20 dollars and a cafe con leche. Grande.)
"Mandela!" and "Obama!" taking shade under an olive tree on a hot, dry day

Not George Clooney, not Hugh Jackman, not even close
Belinda and I kept pace with Peter for aways, before he shot off ahead (perhaps in a rage-fueled quest to catch up with John?). Even shin splints didn't slow him down much (and of course not--would they slow down George Clooney?), and he got to Santiago before both of us. We were all reunited within a few days, in time for a "family photo" in the lovely Cafe Casino and a birthday cupcake for Peter and I (both October babies) courtesy of the very generous...and soon very regretful Belinda.
In the Cafe Casino in Santiago, Belinda, Peter, and me
As Belinda led the two belated birthday babies into a bakery, she told us to pick out whatever we wanted. How nice...and how naive, considering Peter and I are both Libras, the most indecisive sign in the zodiac. Belinda, who picked out her choice of pastry as soon as we stepped in, watched helplessly as Peter and I both took forever to make up our minds, then both change our minds, then both take another good while to decide for, these ones, oh wait, no, those ones, yes, definitely...we think, sure, yeah those ones, whatever.

The rest of the evening, Belinda helped Peter and I make up our minds on whether we wanted to hang out a little longer, whether we should go here or there, and whether we wanted another drink or were ready to call it a night. But when it came to brainstorming Camino creative project #2? Peter and I needed no aid with that, thank you very much.

Camino creative project #2 came about one morning in the Cafe Casino, as Belinda told us about a couple friends of hers back in Ireland who travel like kings. And they report on these tales of luxury wanderlust for some kind of travel program or column. I suggested these two characters hitch along with me for their next trip ("I'll open their eyes up--Chicago-style"), and then proposed that Peter and I start a travel show. The title? "Harden The F*** Up!"--named in honor of a fellow pilgrim and a countryman of Peter's who, in very characteristically Aussie fashion, snapped those very words at a whining European pilgrim who was perpetually complaining about the Camino.

Production on "Harden The F*** Up!" is still in the early stages. Mainly because neither Peter nor I can decide what the travel show should focus on, and Belinda has better things to do than figure it out for us. In which case maybe we should change the title to "Hurry The F*** Up!" or "Make Up Your F***ing Minds!!" Despite the delay, we do have some screen shots from the first episode, courtesy of Belinda. In this premiere episode, Peter shows his true colors at the mention of John. I save the day with some All-American-Midwestern charm and a "My God, you look just like Clooney at his peak when you're angry!" compliment.
Belinda mentions John. Peter reacts. I freeze in fear.

Australia vs. America. Vegemite vs. peanut butter.
"Where's the rest of the Ocean's 11 cast?" And suddenly he's putty in my hands.

That was close! And I made his day.

The creative team behind "Harden The F*** Up!", travel's next big...something
All this joshery is really just to say this: Belinda and Peter gave me some of my biggest laughs on the Camino. And that's alongside their genuine friendliness and kindness. The Camino being a traditionally spiritual journey, and a rather physically difficult and long one, it can be easy to take yourself too seriously at times, to set too high expectations of what you hope to gain from the Camino. It can be easy to forget that a good life and a meaningful life isn't all about having brilliant epiphanies at every corner or weeping at the sunset or meditating on a stone. It's as much about having fun and making friends and having a good laugh with those friends.

If the Camino gave me nothing but the gift of a few hearty laughs with Belinda and Peter (...and John!)--and okay, a couple silly "project ideas" too--then it gave me a fortune. Then it was worth the blisters and the bedbugs and the trudging through the heat and the rain and the mud and dung-covered roads at dawn.

Thanks for the friendship and laughter, Belinda and Peter! Oh, and Peter? John says hi.  

1 comment:

  1. Must have good bone structure? You are really limiting this calendar aren't you.