The Way – part 15: Padron to Santiago de Compostela

You lift your foot and move a little ways in front of you, and you put it back down, lifting your other foot as you do so, and placing it a little ahead of the first foot. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And eventually you reach your destination for the day. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult.

Each day you get up. You get dressed. You rearrange what you’re bringing in your day pack. You make sure you’ll have enough water. You have breakfast. You start walking. Every day until you are done.

We are done.

We set off from the beautiful Pazo de Lestrove before sunrise, in the cool dark of morning. Breakfast, for a change, had not been as baffling as in recent days. There was tortilla da batata and Serrano ham, as well as the usual dessert items. And the coffee was good. We were in good spirits.

We walked quietly through the mostly deserted streets lost in thought. We passed through commercial areas, with butchers and fishmongers and green grocers still setting up theirs stalls. Disused factories loomed over the way, casting long shadows even without the sunlight.

Eventually, outside an old church, we bumped into a Brazilian couple we’d seen intermittently throughout our journey. We stopped briefly and chatted before we all moved on at our different paces. We would encounter them on and off throughout the day, but more about that later.

We spoke with some Irish perigrinos who were part of a larger group of 30 who were travelling together. We talked about Dublin, which I mentioned is one of my favourite cities.

“Yes, well. I can see that if ye don’t have to live there,” said one of them. I said that likely goes for everywhere. If you have to go to work each morning, and fight through traffic, it’ll take the shine off quickly.

There were cats everywhere. A couple of times we were able to coax one over to be petted. At one point we found a group of them in a carport, looking like members of a gang having a meeting.

“The old woman in number 5 has been putting out sour milk.”

“It’s time we sent her a message.”

During one of our walks with our Brazilian friends, we finally learned the answer to a mystery that had been confusing us since we began the Spanish portion of our Camino.

All through Spain we have seen small buildings, which looked like crypts or chapels, up on plinths. The buildings are almost always adorned with a cross. We couldn’t figure out if they were places to keep dead relatives, large shrines, fancy sheds – nothing really made any sense.

It turns out they’re for storing food, traditionally grain. The capitals on the plinths make it impossible for rats to get at the food, since even if the climb the plinths, they can’t walk upside down on the capitals. (I guess they don’t have squirrels in Spain.)

Getting back to the walk, though, there was a long, but thankfully gradual incline over the last half or so. Thankfully, the weather stayed relatively cool and overcast, which made walking easier.

Not easy, though.

There is nothing you can do to make 27 km easy. Unless it was all downhill and paved with Nerf. But that is not the case on the Camino.

We were thrilled each time a kilometre went by on the way markers. Twenty, seventeen, eleven, six. Single digits was the biggest thrill in that regard.

As we entered the city, we crossed paths again with the Brazilian couple, whose names I regret I don’t know. They were celebrating her 50th birthday, although as we told her she didn’t look more than 35. Together we navigated the streets to the cathedral.

As we entered the plaza, it was hard to believe we were done. More than 240 km of walking in twelve stages. We’d seen so much, walked so far. It was hard to process being done.

We walked to the accreditation office, where we were informed we’d have to come back the next day and take a number. A bit of a letdown, but there’s nothing much we could do.

We found our hotel – up a hill, of course! – and checked in. I admit, when I first looked at it from outside I felt let down, but that soon went away. It’s an incredibly modern, well-appointed boutique hotel. We have no complaints.

After showering, we did as much sightseeing as our tired feet would allow, and then went for tapas, before returning to our hotel.

And the best part is that our original Brazilian friends are here until tomorrow. It’s so good to see them again!

Tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll go get our credenciales accredited, and get our certificates. Then we’ll hang out watching the world turn from a cafe. Or two. Or… well, we’ll see. The forecast is calling for rain but I don’t care. We’ve got no place particular to go.

The way – part 1: Vancouver to Porto

Flying is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Even on an ostensibly ‘good’ airline it’s an ordeal. The long indignities of the airport, with its random drug screens and ‘place all your belongings in the tray, yes, your belt, too’; the way you Get squeezed into the ever-shrinking confines of increasingly expensive seats, as they cram ever more passengers into each row; the lousy food (its never a good sign if you have to ask, ‘what is that?’, or when you’re told, ‘all we have left is vegetarian pasta’). If only it were possible to drive to Europe.

But here we are, in Porto. Only 24 hours after arriving at the airport in Vancouver. Of course, some of that time – about eight hours – was spent at the airport in Amsterdam. Luckily, we’d had the idea of booking a hotel room for about six of those hours. ‘Room’ might be generous. If was more of a pod, really. But it was perfect for what we wanted: a place to stretch out, have a quick nap and a shower. If you have a longish layover, I highly recommend it.

It’s hard to say what Porto is like yet, as it’s dark. But it’s quiet, and the few people we’ve met so far have been friendly, and enthusiastic about their city and country.

The hotel here is more than acceptable. I’ll write more tomorrow.


In the middle of the city
a field of carefully arranged stones
is calling out.

One stone in particular
calls to me
across mountains
quietly as a whisper
of wind in short prairie grasses
or snow sloped
gently against fenceposts.

There are few of us here
tending to the stones, clearing
the snow and the dead
overgrown grasses and cold
dirt from their faces.

Even though I have memorized the place
it still takes a few tries to locate the right one.

And then it is there.
My father’s name emerging

and the dates
always surprising me
with how many years it’s been now.

The quiet of this place,
this snowy field of stones, where names and dates drift
out of memory. How many years before this is all that is left of us?
Who will visit on a winter’s day
to brush the forgetful snow from our names?

We turn away from the thought.
I say goodbye to the stone.
I promise to return.

© Mark Milner, 2018, Vancouver

So long, Facebook (redux)

A few months ago, I went into a Facebook hiatus. After a month away, I decided to go back, because it was easier to keep in touch with people that way. Now I’m off again. Only, this time it was Facebook’s decision.

For many years, on many platforms, I’ve used the nom de plume Markus O’Reallyus. My friends know me by this online. My reason for doing this is to maintain a degree of privacy. Advertisers, trolls and other online snoopers, don’t need to know too much about me. Everyone who I feel has the right to know more will know more. On Facebook, pretty well all my friends are – were – people I know and associate with in real life.

But today I received a note from Facebook that ‘someone complained’ about my name. (Just the day before, someone had flagged my repost of a CNN Facebook post as ‘fake news’. I replied that it clearly wasn’t, they agreed and restored my post.) As a result, Facebook now requires I send them identification to prove my name is my name before I can access my account again. That isn’t going to happen.

I’m not sure who would have complained about my Facebook name. Certainly not someone on my friends list. Probably someone who didn’t like a comment I said somewhere. All my posts are set to ‘friends only’, so it would have to have been a comment on someone else’s post. Interesting that it occurs in the context of a provincial election here.

At any rate, I’m off Facebook again. I’ll be dammed if I’m changing my name or providing them with ID. Transnational companies don’t get to know any more about me than I choose to tell them. I’m the one who calls the shots on my public personae.

The Content of Their Character

I would have thought that by now it would be clear to pretty well everyone that racism and bigotry are not positive character traits, certainly not something you’d want to put out on public display. And it seems I would have been wrong about that. A ridiculous number of people – not yet a majority, mind you, but many too many nonetheless – seem more than willing to attend public meetings and demonstrations decrying the threat to their ‘culture’ posed by refugees, immigrants, or just people who look or pray differently than they do. They fill the comment sections of online news services with anger and hate, not to mention Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere and talk radio phone-in shows.

I used to feel pride, when I saw this happening in the U.S., Britain and Europe, that my own country, Canada, seemed largely to be immune. Sure, we had our share of racist idiots, but they mostly didn’t make such a public display of their backwards attitudes. People blamed the housing bubbles in Vancouver and Toronto on Chinese investors, for example, when in fact it likely has as much to do with money laundering closer to home. Still, I thought, Canadians are, if nothing else, polite. We hesitate to put our hate on public display, understanding that, leaving aside everything else that’s wrong with it, it’s rude. Well, no more. This past week in Toronto, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet, two events showed that even we have little to be proud of in this regard. 

First there was the anti-Islamic ‘meeting’ held by the loathsome alt-reich Rebel Media and attended by several hundred prime examples of the failure of public education. Included among the attendees and speakers at this event were four contenders to lead the once-proud Conservative Party of Canada. That the party has not officially condemned the event, and the participation in it of four candidates for its leadership – two of whom are former cabinet ministers – says much about the party’s moral and intellectual decline.

The second event, coming hard on the heels of the first, had a group of white Torontonians picketing a downtown mosque, holding signs demanding an end to Islam and shouting through megaphones that Islam is hate. 

When you argue against such people, they try to hide behind noble ideals like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. The irony that they would like to deny these freedoms to others is lost on them. An Ontario MP recently introduced a motion in parliament asking its members to condemn all forms of racial and religious discrimination, including Islamaphobia – and that word has set off a fire storm of ugliness, of which the two Toronto events are merely examples. Ironically, these people who feel their heritage threatened by the word ‘islamaphobia’ are the same ones who find it objectionable when others don’t preface ‘terrorist’ with ‘Islamic’ or ‘jihadist’ – why can’t you say that? they insist. Why indeed.

No doubt the people who attended these events – and those who parade their small mindedness in other forums – have been inspired by the mainstreaming of the alt-reich movement in America and Europe. That the movement represents ideals so loathsome we fought a major war over them in the mid-20th century seems a not to matter to these people. They feel their dermic pallor to be threatened, and so want everyone who does not share their affliction to leave.

I will never understand what makes such people feel so threatened. That one person believes in a different version of ‘god’ than you; that they dress differently; that their skin is a different hue – how does this affect you? Does it invalidate your belief in your version of a god that someone else doesn’t share it? Do you feel self-conscious in your ball cap just because someone else wears a hijab? And what the serious fuck is up with caring what colour anyone’s skin is? If white is so damned good, why do so many people go to tanning salons (including that walking Cheeto the Americans elected president)?

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe my conservative father brought me up wrong, when he taught it was wrong to judge people on the basis of their skin colour, or being an immigrant, or believing something different from me; that the important thing was their character. (My father, who ran for office with Diefenbaker, was a great admirer of Martin Luther King, as you may have guessed.) Maybe I am wrong about Canada, and about the importance of diversity. Maybe. But I don’t think so.

Ideas for possible future blog posts

50 Shades of Beige (or, life in a corporate veal pen)

Two Wheels, or Not Two Wheels? (Definitely the former)

Back to bass-ics 

Strung out (or misadventures of a middle-aged guitar novice)

Today in Not-politics: 500ish words that have nothing to do with Trump

I don’t have to always be right, but…

As my wife will tell anyone and everyone, I can be a little pig-headed when I believe I’m right about something. Not that I won’t given other points of view a fair hearing, but if their evidence doesn’t convince me, whose fault is that?

‘You always think you’re right,’ she says. Which is not true. There are times when I will readily admit that I don’t really know. I think it’s this way, but it could be that. But more often than not, I do think I’m right. That only makes sense. It would be foolish to maintain a position I didn’t think was correct. Once I know the facts support a different position, I adopt that one. What is the point in being gratuitously wrong? (Someone should put it that way to El Presidente Trump. It would at least make for good television. Better than the apprentice, anyway, no matter who the host is.)

It is particularly vexing to Adele when it turns out that I am, once again, correct about something. (I say ‘once again’, because it’s happened on numerous occasions, although admittedly not all occasions. Once or twice a month…) Usually this happens with respect to directions. We often disagree about which is the right/best/fastest way to get somewhere, and most of the time, I am right. I take no great pleasure in this, nor in my wife being wrong.

‘You always just have to be right,’ she says. 

‘Not at all,’ I say. ‘It just often works out that way. You can be right just as often as me by simply agreeing with me.’

Things tend to degenerate from there.

‘You just think you’re always right.’

‘No, actually, I don’t. You think I’m always right.’

And so on. Domestic felicity, as a friend of mine puts it. And actually, I think he’s right about that.

What could be happier than being able to disagree about nearly everything with someone – from the best way to load the dishwasher, to the existence (or not) of something called god or something called soul, to which voting system would be bet for Canada – without ever disliking the other person. (That last one is some form of proportional representation, by the way. The current system just alternates between the Liberal and Conservative parties coming out on top.)

In short, there is nothing better. And I know I’m right about that, because my wife agrees with me.

“The Lark Ascending” on a foggy morning

It’s a foggy morning at the end of a long, cold, flu-ridden December. Outside balcony door, everything is shades of grey. A cacophony of crows and gulls squeal and caw a kind of call and response, all rhythm and no song. The cat stares out the window, fascinated.

Adele gets ready for work. Every now and then I hear her coughing. She isn’t really able to take sick days. Who would open the store? Who would close it? Who would mind it in between? Never mind there will be very few customers on a day like this, at the end of the year. There is no one to cover for her. The store needs to be open. She has to go in, sick or not.

I sit listening to Vaughan Williams on the turntable, and drinking coffee. I can take sick time, although technically I’m on holiday, and have been since a couple of days before coming down with the flu. And at this point, I am nearly over it. I will have recovered completely by the time I return in January, a year older and no wiser for it.

By most measures, 2016 was not a good year. Whether it was the endless parade of talented people to their graves, the election of The Donald, terrorist attacks, the war in Syria, or even just the thoroughly crappy fall and winter we’ve had in Vancouver, it’s hard not to look forward to a new year with a mixture of hope and dread. On the one hand, one thinks, it has be better than what we’ve just come through. On the other hand, Trump will soon officially be president; the still-living talented are that much closer to joining those who went before them; war and terrorism seem probable on a number of fronts. Everything seems poised on a razor thin precipice.

But, I remind myself, there was much that was good, too. Just this month, my niece, Abigail was born. Her parents, my brother and his wife, were married earlier this year. Adele came through her heart procedure without issue, and stronger than she’s been in over year. One of my best and oldest friends survived not one, but two traffic accidents without long term disability. It’s worth remembering at a time like this that there is birth as well as death; that illness can sometimes be overcome by healing; that we can survive injuries and move on.

As I write this, the fog outside is beginning to lift.


To paraphrase E.E. Cummings, the posts that are to come are for you and for me, and are not for most people.  Most people have very limited interests. Yours and mine are many, are diverse, are sometimes incongruent, are often out of the ordinary, off the beaten track, or as my former boss once put it: “You’re quirky. But in a good way.”

On any given day I may choose to write about politics, poetry, motorcycles, travel, restaurants, bars, books, sculpture, ideas about time, the mind, the body, whatever. I may choose to write about nothing at all. Or just not write.

And on any given day you may choose to read what I write, to like it, share it, comment on it – or just skip it. Who knows? maybe you don’t like poetry, or politics, Beethoven. Whatever. What you choose is your business, just as what I choose is mine.

Why a blog? Why “premeditations”? Look what good questions you ask! I knew you were the right reader for me.

A blog, because it helps me to focus, to maintain the habit of writing, and because writing without readers is little more than masturbating with a dictionary. (I like words, but not in that way.) It also helps me to maintain the habit of thinking out loud. Anyone can think anything in the cozy confines of their skull. But when we think out loud we invite others to join us – to agree, to disagree, to question us, and to answer us. That is what I’m doing here.

“Premeditations,” because I like the ambiguity inherent in the word. These posts will be premeditated, planned to some degree in advance. Not just off-the-cuff riffs like you might find on social media. They will also be in some way “pre-meditation,” in the sense of being prior to really deep thinking about whatever topic they purport to address. (In other words, don’t allow your expectations to get unreasonably high on me. It won’t be good for either of us.)

So, welcome. Pull up a chair. Stay as long as you like.