45 Days

It’s been a real minute since I last posted. So, hello.

The only writing I’ve been doing since the start of the summer is the kind I get paid to do, which mostly involves explaining how to hire a moving truck (ironically, as you will soon read) and how much it costs to renovate your house (also ironically since I do not, and probably never will, own a home).

As for my own writing–the one driven by the hectic voice that comments on everything as the world goes by–has been painfully and suspiciously tight-lipped. The issue goes back to the spring. I started writing a book proposal and made it much further than I ever have. Chapter outline, chapter samples, the whole shebang. But the tricky thing is that my book is about some real dark-and-stormy stuff and when real life got extra dark-and-stormy, I couldn’t look at my proposal anymore.

In reality, I couldn’t attempt any writing that hinted at expressing emotion, and honestly, I’m still tipping my toe in the water, so bear with me if this post is a bit clunkier than usual.

But here I am after five months without a peep. So why the big return? What freed my poor little panicked writing voice hiding out in my amygdala? A failed NYC apartment hunt! Ben and I were supposed to move apartments in three weeks and after encountering the absurdity of the current NYC real estate market, we have thrown in the towel.

With the help of a miraculous clerical error (our landlord’s office never confirmed our move), we’re allowed to stay–knock on wood. Our signature is not currently on the lease so I will continuously knock on wood for the rest of this post.

Anyway, how did this happen. After six dark months of scouting apartments “available immediately” on Streeteasy, the big day finally came when September 1 apartments made it on the docket. Lo and behold, prices had gone through the roof. They may have been dirt cheap last winter, but decided to somehow swing for the rafters the moment the city needed to actually move.

I held out hope, I really did. Even after the mysteriously priced three-bedroom that looked like something out of a documentary about “what NYC was like in the 70s.” Even after the 300 or 400 square-foot two-bedroom (how?! great question) where the current tenants were drying their dishes next to the TV went for $500 a month above asking. And even after the one-bedroom that we NEARLY signed on woke me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I couldn’t stop thinking about the gray water stain seeping down the side bedroom of the wall.

As of yesterday afternoon, we’ve decided to stay in our little treehouse on 80th street and something deep in my soul took a long deep breath. After 17 months of soul-crumbling instability, I caught an unexpeted break and found some solid ground.

Suddenly a few thousands bucks, a whole bunch of time, and a warehouse of mental energy is back. You see, the original (cockamamie) plan was this. We would sign on a place for 9/1, move around 9/10, our lease was up here on 9/14 and then a cool two and half weeks later, LEAVE FOR SPAIN FOR TWO WEEKS TO HIKE A 170-MILE PILGRIMAGE.

So now, instead of packing up all our belongings, exchanging my first-born for the cost of the moving truck, and then unpacking enough for whoever is watching the cats for those weeks, I get to do what I like best: think–and write–about the Camino de Santiago.

We leave–in theory (still knocking)–in 45 days. I will believe that this Camino is happening when we get past customs in Spain. Not even when the plane takes off. Not even when it lands. With the Covid-restrictions and numbers changing every time the wind blows, I will believe the darn thing is happening when we have been officially admitted to the country and told we can go on our merry way.

Writing about the prep and emotional aftermath of my three Caminos is now the vast majority of this blog. That consistency is, unsurprisingly, what finally brought me back to put some words on a page. And as always, I’m grateful for its power to do so. If you feel creatively shut down, do I have a long walk for you.

I broke into tears of relief for the first time in months last night when looking up Camino stuff. Most of my research has been waking up to read El Pais in English–a translated site of one of the major Spain news outlets–for any signs of new changes in the state of restrictions. I follow online forums about the rush to find last-minute covid tests after finishing the hike to get back on a plane to the US. I’ve stalked the booking websites for the camino hostels to see which ones have reopened–and which ones tragically had to close their doors for good.

But last night was different. Without the piles and piles of moving logistic madness blocking the door to October, I could actually picture Ben and I in Spain–together for the first time. We were sitting on the edge of a stream with blistered feet in the water, a glass of cold Estrella in one hand, and a friendly local sheep looking for scratches from the other.

I have no idea what this Camino will look like. I’ve walked an accumulative 81 days on the camino and over 1,200 miles on three different walks. In 2009, my friend and I barely planned a thing. We walked, we lined up outside a public hostel or church, we slept and ate, and we walked again. In 2017 and 2019, I booked hostels the day before if I felt like it–usually to nab a spot in a unique family-run place with only a few beds.

But this time? I have no idea what we’re getting into. Like NYC, Spain has seen a horrific year-and-a-half. We want to research as much as possible to both respect local Covid laws and return with enough cash to support the hostels, restaurants, and shops that somehow survived without the flow of pilgrims for so long.

There are some bars along the Camino that I have been to more than spots a block from me in Manhattan. I want to return to the hotel where I stayed in Santiago in 2019, right before it all went wrong, and check in on the kind woman running the place by herself. I wanted to get my traditional celebratory popsicle from the bar in Monte de Gozo, the town right before the end. I want to sit on the wall of O Cebreiro and see that it’s all still there.

I’m not sure how long my writing voice will stick around for this visit, hopefully longer this time. And if it does, I hope to keep you posted about how one plans a pilgrimage during a pandemic in their right minds. Maybe this time it will all be too much to write about, but I sure hope not.

No matter what happens, I can’t stop thinking that we are some lucky people to still be here. I’ve had many sleepless, frustrated nights on the Camino–snoring, sore knees, good old fashioned insomnia. The thing that always does the trick in getting me to sleep is realizing how much of a rare adventure it all is. I may be awake at 2am. But I’m awake at 2am in on an ancient pilgrimage across the world.

That’s helped me a lot recently. The failed apartment hunt, the changing travel restrictions, the relentless waves of anger at the past 15 months that keep me up at night. There will be no great internal search about what this Camino is all about because this time, it’s too obvious. We are really lucky people to still be here.

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