Still on the Way

Editor’s note: This is the second of several columns about Glenn K. Beaton’s ongoing 500-mile pilgrimage-trek across northern Spain, a walk that dates back to the Middle Ages and is called the Camino de Santiago, or “Way of St. James.”

There are as many caminos as there are apostles. This time I’m walking the Camino del Norte, the northern route along the Atlantic coast of Spain.

The terrain is complicated, rugged and spectacular. Bays, harbors and estuaries separate the sea from hills, mountains and canyons. Silver salmon swim cold, clear creeks. The rocky coast of the Atlantic lies to your right and the mountains of the Picos de Europa to your left.

The Way sometimes clings to a seaside cliff by a cable and sometimes just shoulders a four-lane highway. Sometimes you’re on stone pathways laid by the Romans.

Mostly, it’s dirt trails that have been walked since the Middle Ages through lush woods, vineyards, orchards, fields, pastures, hills and meadows. In the ancient villages, old men in the plaza look up from their dice game to mumble, “Buen Camino,” children laugh and chase, women walking arm-in-arm nod, dogs bark, and once they rang the church bell 12 times to celebrate my noon arrival. It was so much excitement for the day that everyone then took a nap.

Pilgrims are rare in late September on this camino, and the silence between villages is broken by only the shuffle of your feet and the dinging of cowbells. I occasionally stop to pick wild blackberries. Untended boxes along the Way sell apple cider (it’s fermented, I learned) on the honor system.

Downbeats

A couple of weeks ago, I got off-route again. Walking through a gorge, I passed under a bridge that went my desired direction. I scrambled up the steep wall of the gorge to reach it.

I discovered that the bridge over the gorge was a train bridge. It was very narrow with a set of waist-high rails guarding each edge. As I reconnoitered from the hillside, a train came. It filled the entire width of the bridge from one rail to the other.

Some would have been discouraged by this sight, but not your correspondent. After all, if a train had just come, there wouldn’t be another for a while, right? I started across.

It was more than 100 yards. The first half of the crossing went well. So did the last half. But between, another train came. I first heard a whine in the rails. It deepened. I felt vibrations underfoot. A train screamed around the corner onto the bridge. It charged directly at me, horn bellowing, whistle blowing and, I imagined, conductor cursing. It filled the space between the rails and was getting bigger fast.

From the time I heard the whine in the rails to the time it appeared was only four or five seconds. Quick math told me I would be under it in another two. The distance to the ground was more than 100 feet. I knew I would not survive the fall, but the thought flashed through my mind that it might be a friendlier end than under the train.

In those two seconds, I decided on a third option. I would lean over the rail. The front-to-back thickness of my body is about 8 inches, and my backpack stuck out another 7 inches, so it would be a real close call. Facing the rail, I held it with both hands, bent at the waist, and leaned over into the void. I remembered to tuck my toes under to save my heels, too.

The blast of wind from the locomotive pushed me even farther over, but I held on. In another instant, the train was shrinking into the distance.

Upbeats

• All of this trail-walking and train-dodging made me hungry. That night I ordered gambas, which we call shrimp.

They arrived grilled nicely and delicious. Exactly 20 of them were carefully arranged on my plate. But the entire animal was there ­­­— 20 of them — heads and tails and shells and multiple little insect-like legs. In their arranged formation, they looked like an entire battalion of crustacean toy soldiers staring me down with their ghoulish, garlicky eyes.

I was hungry and would eat them anyway. After all, I was outnumbered but had the mammalian advantages that I’m warmblooded and sometimes care for my young. But I couldn’t decide if I was supposed to eat the whole critter or behead and peel it. I imagined the kitchen staff peering at me from the kitchen door. If I beheaded and peeled them, they would snigger, “Holy Toledo! Get a load of this girly Americano,” the way we would see a person who can’t eat an apple without peeling it.

But if I ate them whole, and was wrong, I also could imagine them. “Madre de Jesus,” they would murmur as they made the sign of the cross and averted their eyes from the gruesome sight.

In the end I ate all 20, including one head and bits amounting to about three shells. It was apparently exactly the combination that one is supposed to eat, for the locals said nothing.

• Soon after the bridge, the train tracks disappeared into a tunnel. Quick learner that I am (even though Spanish is not my first language), I decided at that time to discontinue my rail travel. There is hope.

Published in The Aspen Times on Sept 29, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/8256331-113/train-bridge-beaton-camino

On the Way

I’m currently testing my dilapidated body and derelict mind on a 500-mile walk across northern Spain. It’s a cross-country route called the Camino de Santiago or, en Ingles, the Way of Saint James. This is the first of several columns about my walk.

This route began as a religious pilgrimage a thousand years ago. Now it’s a long-distance trek or, depending on one’s faith and mood at any given moment, sometimes it’s still a pilgrimage. Sometimes it starts as one but becomes the other.

Before leaving, I did a little looking into this James fellow whose way I will follow. He was one of the apostles. The apostles were the disciples of Christ (with the exception of Paul, who never met the corporeal Christ) plus Mary Magdalene and minus Judas. They were a ragtag band of fishermen, a tax collector, a prostitute and others of varying disrepute.

Insofar as I know, none was as low as a newspaper columnist, but several did publish stuff that became quite popular over the next 2,000 years.

All but one were martyred for their faith. James was said to have been beheaded, and his head is said to reside in Jerusalem. James, while alive, .had preached in what became Spain. So his colleagues, the legend goes, transported his headless remains back there. They interred the remains near a place in the northwest part that the Romans called “the end of the earth.”

The remains were discovered in about 900 A.D. The faithful soon began making pilgrimage to them. Eventually a magnificent cathedral was built to house them. When the Pope a few hundred years later declared that one could be forgiven for his sins by making this pilgrimage, the place became a regular medieval tourist attraction.

The pilgrimages petered out as the Middle Ages did. They resumed with the recent resumption of the Middle Ages, but in numbers that are still far less than in the original Middle Ages. The movie “The Way,” released a couple of years ago starring Martin Sheen on such a pilgrimage, might generate additional pilgrimages for a while.

The names of James and these other Apostles always have confused me. There was Paul, who was really Saul. There was Mark, who sometimes went by John. There was John, who always went by John even though Mark sometimes did, too. There was Simon whom Jesus called Peter even though that wasn’t his name and there was another Simon whom Jesus called Simon even though that was his name.

Jesus must have had the patience of Job, considering how many times he had to say “No, the other one.”

There was Mary Magdalene, whose skull was gilded and has been on display in a church in France since the 1200s but who is not to be confused with the Virgin Mary. There was Matthew, who also went by Levi, even though there was no other Levi and no other Matthew. There was Thomas, whose first name was Doubting but who ultimately became so doubtless that he founded the church in India.

It’s a miracle that Jesus could keep their names straight.

Which brings us to James, of whom there naturally was more than one. Of the apostles there were two Jameses, and altogether in the New Testament there were as many as seven, including the James who was Jesus’ brother (or perhaps half-brother depending on your flavor of faith) and wrote the Book of James but is not ordinarily considered an Apostle.

As mentioned, this particular James whose way I’m walking and about whom I’m talking went to the place we now call Spain. He became known as James the Greater. The other of the two apostolic Jameses became known — or rather, unknown — as James the Lesser, about whom we know much less.

James the Lesser is sometimes called Jim. (OK, I made that part up.)

In any event, I’m glad that I won’t be known for eternity as “The Lesser.” It’s bad enough to be known as a lawyer-turned-newspaper-columnist. On the other hand, “lesser” is relative. It’s probably no shame to be deemed less than the Apostle James the Greater, who 2000 years ago was beheaded for bringing good news to souls at the end of the earth.

Me? I’m just hoping to squeeze a few more miles out of this body that’s already a testament to modern medicine.

Downbeats

For a place of gastronomical renown, Spain serves a lousy breakfast. It’s typically coffee and pastry.

Upbeats

It’s easy to find a fantastic bottle of inexpensive wine. I’m changing my breakfast menu. There is hope.

Published in The Aspen Times on Sept 15, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/8090648-113/james-became-char-jesus

Roasting the Greedy Fat Cats

The City Council is fomenting a new scheme to punish people the president name-called “greedy fat cats.”

You know who they are. They’re the people who worked hard and risked everything to transform Aspen from a near-abandoned ex-mining town with all the charisma of Gypsum into a world-class resort that attracts everyone from Hillary Clinton to Hunter Thompson.

As usual, the council’s weapon of choice for its class warfare is the housing regulations.

Here’s the story: A certain greedy fat cat would like to exercise his property rights, for which he paid millions, by renovating his building to include a top-floor residence. The owner’s plan is in compliance with the building code.

The comrades on the City Council haven’t earned enough money for similar digs. So they naturally hope to deny them to anyone who has.

Their hoped-for scheme is breathtaking in its audacity. They propose to exclude greedy fat cats who own expensive digs from the protection of the law, beginning with the noise ordinances. That’s right: The council proposes to prohibit rich people from complaining about noise violations.

Notice that the council does not propose abolishing the noise ordinances. No, that wouldn’t do, because the council members know that noise ordinances are a good thing — that’s why they’re on the books, after all — and they want their favored persons to be protected. But under their proposal, if you’re not one of their favored people, then you won’t be.

Leaving aside the violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, imagine the irony and humor of this in practice. If a bar has an affordable-housing unit on one side, where someone enjoys taxpayer-subsidized housing, and an expensive residence on the other, then the guy receiving the taxpayer subsidy could complain about the noise, but the greedy fat cat who is subsidizing him could not.

What about when the greedy fat cat is just walking along the street? Can he call from the street to complain so long as he’s not in his residence? If he leaves his residence and rents a room at The Little Nell, can he call from there?

What happens if the greedy fat cat and the subsidized guy become friends and visit each other? Can the subsidized guy call to complain from the greedy fat cat’s residence? Or does he have to go back to his own residence to make the call?

What if a passing police officer hears the noise by happenstance? Is he permitted to enforce the law only if he determines that the noise does not bother the greedy fat cat and not permitted to enforce the law if the noise does bother the greedy fat cat? Does it matter if the officer is married to a rich lady on Red Mountain? Does it matter if he’s acquainted with the greedy fat cat and thinks he’s not so greedy and not so fat and, really, kind of a cool cat?

How far will the council go in exercising its envy? Will it exclude greedy fat cats and their families from the protection of the laws against burglary, vandalism, assault and rape? Will it prohibit them from calling an ambulance if they need emergency medical attention?

Will greedy fat cats be guillotined at the fountain and their heads mounted on ski poles? Burned at the stake on a rare day when the fire danger is not deemed “extreme”? Won’t this be bad for local business?

Downbeats

A reader advises that the former mayor who was term-limited out of office three months ago still nurses a Facebook page. And on it, he’d posted a rebuttal to my recent column about the government-mandated restaurant. His rebuttal was to advise that Aspen is “not for everyone” and to invite me personally to “move on.”

That rebuttal failed to persuade me that my column was in error.

I noticed two other items on his Facebook page. The first are his pictures of himself that he posts almost daily, often in spandex. The second is his boast in the first line that he has been mayor from “June 2007 to present.”

I wonder if the mayor sworn in three months ago is aware that the former mayor is the “present” mayor. Maybe he just means mayor of his Facebook page.

Upbeats

The contest to name that upcoming government-mandated restaurant and its entrees nearly boiled over. First place with the prize of one free dinner at said restaurant goes to Maurice Emmer for the entree “Pol Pot Pie.” Second place with two free dinners goes to Paul Menter for the name Castro’s Corner..”

The third-place prize was all you dare to eat from the government-mandated restaurant. I can’t bring myself to award that prize — it’s just too dangerous.

Speaking of danger, remember that Mountain Rescue Aspen is raising tax-deductible donations for a new headquarters. Mountain Rescue members spend thousands of hours of personal time risking their lives to rescue everyone, from greedy fat cats to altruistic skinny cats. Not a single one gets paid a single cent. And they like it that way. There is hope.

Published in The Aspen Times on Sept 1, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/7911743-113/fat-greedy-cat-cats

Roasting the Greedy Fat Cats

The City Council is fomenting a new scheme to punish people the president name-called “greedy fat cats.”

You know who they are. They’re the people who worked hard and risked everything to transform Aspen from a near-abandoned ex-mining town with all the charisma of Gypsum into a world-class resort that attracts everyone from Hillary Clinton to Hunter Thompson.

As usual, the council’s weapon of choice for its class warfare is the housing regulations.

Here’s the story: A certain greedy fat cat would like to exercise his property rights, for which he paid millions, by renovating his building to include a top-floor residence. The owner’s plan is in compliance with the building code.

The comrades on the City Council haven’t earned enough money for similar digs. So they naturally hope to deny them to anyone who has.

Their hoped-for scheme is breathtaking in its audacity. They propose to exclude greedy fat cats who own expensive digs from the protection of the law, beginning with the noise ordinances. That’s right: The council proposes to prohibit rich people from complaining about noise violations.

Notice that the council does not propose abolishing the noise ordinances. No, that wouldn’t do, because the council members know that noise ordinances are a good thing — that’s why they’re on the books, after all — and they want their favored persons to be protected. But under their proposal, if you’re not one of their favored people, then you won’t be.

Leaving aside the violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, imagine the irony and humor of this in practice. If a bar has an affordable-housing unit on one side, where someone enjoys taxpayer-subsidized housing, and an expensive residence on the other, then the guy receiving the taxpayer subsidy could complain about the noise, but the greedy fat cat who is subsidizing him could not.

What about when the greedy fat cat is just walking along the street? Can he call from the street to complain so long as he’s not in his residence? If he leaves his residence and rents a room at The Little Nell, can he call from there?

What happens if the greedy fat cat and the subsidized guy become friends and visit each other? Can the subsidized guy call to complain from the greedy fat cat’s residence? Or does he have to go back to his own residence to make the call?

What if a passing police officer hears the noise by happenstance? Is he permitted to enforce the law only if he determines that the noise does not bother the greedy fat cat and not permitted to enforce the law if the noise does bother the greedy fat cat? Does it matter if the officer is married to a rich lady on Red Mountain? Does it matter if he’s acquainted with the greedy fat cat and thinks he’s not so greedy and not so fat and, really, kind of a cool cat?

How far will the council go in exercising its envy? Will it exclude greedy fat cats and their families from the protection of the laws against burglary, vandalism, assault and rape? Will it prohibit them from calling an ambulance if they need emergency medical attention?

Will greedy fat cats be guillotined at the fountain and their heads mounted on ski poles? Burned at the stake on a rare day when the fire danger is not deemed “extreme”? Won’t this be bad for local business?

Downbeats

A reader advises that the former mayor who was term-limited out of office three months ago still nurses a Facebook page. And on it, he’d posted a rebuttal to my recent column about the government-mandated restaurant. His rebuttal was to advise that Aspen is “not for everyone” and to invite me personally to “move on.”

That rebuttal failed to persuade me that my column was in error.

I noticed two other items on his Facebook page. The first are his pictures of himself that he posts almost daily, often in spandex. The second is his boast in the first line that he has been mayor from “June 2007 to present.”

I wonder if the mayor sworn in three months ago is aware that the former mayor is the “present” mayor. Maybe he just means mayor of his Facebook page.

Upbeats

The contest to name that upcoming government-mandated restaurant and its entrees nearly boiled over. First place with the prize of one free dinner at said restaurant goes to Maurice Emmer for the entree “Pol Pot Pie.” Second place with two free dinners goes to Paul Menter for the name Castro’s Corner..”

The third-place prize was all you dare to eat from the government-mandated restaurant. I can’t bring myself to award that prize — it’s just too dangerous.

Speaking of danger, remember that Mountain Rescue Aspen is raising tax-deductible donations for a new headquarters. Mountain Rescue members spend thousands of hours of personal time risking their lives to rescue everyone, from greedy fat cats to altruistic skinny cats. Not a single one gets paid a single cent. And they like it that way. There is hope.

(Published Sept 1, 2013 in The Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/7911743-113/fat-greedy-cat-cats)