Following Maps in Barcelona

I packed a hard-sided journal – 8.5 by 6 to Spain.  Since the size was so accommodating, I glued, taped and stuffed everything I came across that was interesting or evocative.   The larger notebook even accommodated a city map and the full brochure for Casa Batllo https://www.casabatllo.es/en/visit/  (mom climbed to the very top using the stairs even though many panicked bystanders kept gesturing to the antique elevator).Journal with Barcelona Map

I love illustrated maps.  I know they are not to scale but they are tremendously handy and immediate. I gratefully accept them at the hotel reception desk and allow the receptionist to mark up the directions in blue ink.   As handy and easy and as direct as Google maps are, they are difficult to annotate, cut and paste – save.  Not as fun.

Map in hand, it’s now permissible to get lost. The hotel is circled, here.  The cathedral or castle or department store is circled there.  How you get from here to there is entirely up to you. Yes I know that’s also a metaphor for life.

Since my mother and I made it to the cathedral in record time, I set her down in the shade close to where we were to join the rest of the tour group and  brandishing the not-to-scale map  I wandered as far as I could for as long as I could and still be back at the meeting time (there are many meeting times on a tour, and always, always be on time,).   The sound of Spanish guitars followed me like a soundtrack as I explored the stone-lined narrow streets.  I found the musicians playing in an almost empty courtyard, the acoustics of which were fantastic.     Naturally, I bought their home-made  CDs.  I bought both the red and yellow one.   I stored the CD’s into the back of the notebook and made a note on the map.  That was all I could write in the time allotted.  But it was enough.

There are a couple museums in Madrid. Since I am allergic to following guides through museums like a Celiac is allergic to baguettes,  I would like to personally thank Grand Circle Tour for not insisting that a group of 45 tourists, stay together for four hours as we all shuffle through the Prado admiring enormous dark paintings by El Greco.  This particular afternoon, we were on our own to tour a collection of three museums anyway we wanted.

Our guide, who by Madrid was wise to my habit of wandering, handed me a map marked with a clear highlighted line.  You are going HERE and meeting the group at this TIME.  Mom and I gathered up two other fellow tourists and headed off. 

Mom and I began the museum shuffle at the  Thyssen, which displays many Impressionists and those influenced by same.    

I have visited museums and galleries with my mother since I was old enough to stand still for a lecture on Monet.  If you recoil in horror at the very thought of a museum visit, here is how to make it easier.

  • Don’t walk through the galleries together.  Seriously.  Schedule to meet anyone and everyone at the entrance.
  • For no more than two hours. 
  • After three hours in any museum, your ears will start to bleed, particularly if you are new at this.
  • Don’t feel obligated to like anything.
  • See the most famous paintings in the place, make a note, or if you must, take a photo for proof and if you do not fall in love, or even understand the damn thing, move on.

I am lucky because my mother is very good with time and very good finding the entrance of any building. 

Which left me alone,  cheerfully wandering through the Thyssen enjoying the art in no particular order.  On the third floor, I encountered a woman methodically photographing each painting.  Every painting.  Step, snap, step, snap.  I tend to not take photos of artwork, preferring to buy two or three postcards of my favorites and gluing them into my notebook.  But here she was, cataloging exactly what she was seeing – Step. By. Step.

She paid no attention to me at all, affording me a moment to observe her and wonder about how to see art, how to see the world and the idea of a camera between you and reality, if you will.

I wrote a poem about it.  It was not very good.

It is a short walk from the Thyssen to the Prado. It’s a longer stroll to the Sofia where Picasso’s Guernica is displayed. Mom and the ladies agreed that they couldn’t possibly all the way down that (to me enticing)  that tree-lined sidewalk to the  Sofia.  The  Prado would be enough for them (average age – 80, at least they knew their limits).  Reluctant to abandon them,  I missed, Guernica expressing my dismay by marking the museum on my map with a sad face. 

I scribbled a neutral face next to the Prado.   While Mom and the ladies wandered through the beautiful museum in, I hope, complete ecstasy,  I found that after about seven El Grecos and just as many  Goyas, pausing before The Third of May  1808    because it was famous, I was done. With forty-five minutes left, I escaped to the cafe, bought a cup of tea and created this poem. Which is better than the one about photographing art.

In The Prado

In The Prado

I live
He smiled
on the second floorMadrid map

On the Calle Canaletto de Gracio
Rolling the R relishing
The feel of the name between his lips

She shifted her bag
Squirted another measure of
Hand sanitizer

I live in the US on 5 45th St
Not pronouncing the long E
It took too long

His Greco eyes slowed her
She took his hand – forgetting
To clean

Come I can make for you
An afternoon that will last
Till the death of summer

(Included in Unmasked – Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.  Marcia Meier and Kathleen Barry, Editors)

We didn’t realize that after  five o’clock, entrance to the museum was free. As we walked out, we saw an entry line that seemed to stretch to the Sofia.  (which was closed by now).  Since it was only 5:00 and it was Spain, we loathed to just haul off to dinner (a disadvantage of eating with a large group – early meals, so the restaurant can get the unwieldy crowd in and out before the civilized dinning hour). 

The four of us stopped at a cafe the card of which I did not grab.  But we  enjoyed a glass of rose and watched the traffic and people.   Such a lovely way to live!  Only after the wine was finished did we meander towards the yellow highlighted line to our early dinner.  We were late.  We were not sorry in the least.

I made a happy face on the map.

Fast Notes in a Slow Journal – Spain and Portugal

Spain – with my mother,  as usual. My travels are not the ideal. I’m not going to list the best restaurants in Madrid, nor the most interesting Gaudi houses in Barcelona.  I will tell you how to journal while you are there.   

I travel with tour groups, because I often travel with my mother, who is inching into the elderly column, as in, if you need help boarding early, children or the elderly, please step to the front of the line.  We do.  No one argues.

It is not an ideal way to travel. It’s not romantic or adventurous (well, sometimes it’s adventurous).  But traveling with mom does allow me the luxury of visiting beautiful foreign ports I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to see.

Cathedral

Taken by the author with her iPhone

For creatives, traveling in a pack or with a high maintenance partner can be downright aggravating.    I am often distracted by the requirements of a large group shuffling from here to there, the required transportation (the damn buses, which have been re-branded as “coaches”  do not be fooled) and of course, my mother who I do not leave alone for more than a minute or two at a time.  Because that’s my job – care for her.  Instead of craning my neck to see the carvings on The Sagrada Familia I’m watching the steps so she doesn’t trip.

On many trips, I even shared a room with her.  Just sit with that for a minute,  sharing a room with your elderly mother for two weeks.  Watch this space for the St. Petersburg visit.

Where then, do I retreat for a little privacy?  My journal of course.  Like all journals, it serves as a space for rants, impressions, more rants and way to capture my experiences without the need or requirement to share or explain, it is where I can go for my own time.

It is indispensable.

Which is why I have a journal for every trip.  Journal Page for Spain 

I am sharing my experiences with travel and journaling because I cannot be the only woman in the world who is the ad hoc partner for an elderly woman hell-bent on traveling the world before she dies.

One recent trip was to Spain and Portugal.  Mom booked a Grand Circle Tour which translates to busses and many slowly moving travelers exiting and entering said busses.  As inauthentic as a tour experience is supposed to be,  I am more than happy with the service, accommodations, and guides provided by GCT as well as Overseas Adventure Travel (we take more OAT tours as a rule).  A  (good)  tour eliminates the conversation about where to stay, deletes the backseat debate on which highway will lead us safely out of downtown, or not.  And tour guides are handy arbitrators of what, exactly, is the point of any and all public art.   Having driven through Ireland with mom’s help, eliminating that particular activity has its benefits. 

Reviewing the journals, I noticed how happy I was to get my own seat on the god damn bus so I could have some privacy.  I was also delighted we stayed in a small apartment in Madeira so I could sit in my own separate living room (and write about how happy I was).  And I cherished the few hours exploring Barcelona after mom went to bed.

The page featured here is less about being fabulously creative, and about just making due.    

I write on both an iPad (or laptop depending on the trip) as well as a paper-based journal (during our trip to France, this was a critical feature).  The advantage of a paper-based journal is, interestingly, the immediacy. Grab a map, grab a beer coaster and make quick notes either while waiting in line for the single toilet, or while bumping along in the bus, or in the restaurant while your mother finishes her beer.  A paper journal can be faster than typing on your phone.  It can be more friendly than keeping your head down scrolling through recent photos (save that for the bus ride).   

What surprised and delighted me with Spain was the number of poems I created, all the result of grabbing time and making sure I always had the materials. 

One afternoon we all dutifully trooped through a resort town on the coast of Portugal.  We were guided to a restaurant famous for their chicken.  But the chicken wasn’t inspirational, the toilet was.   

The cafe in Carcais:
Its famous chicken
single toilet
long line

an Aussie girl
shrugs off a lumpy  backpack
surreptitiously brushes the sand
from her legs

She is slender and tan
filling her bikini top will transitory youth.
She eyes the single sink
Naked longing in her blue eyes.
She can’t wash her feet
with all of us watching
She tells me this is
The closest free bathroom
To her camp

She not only pees
But devotes long minutes to the
tricky business
Of striping a wet swimsuit over salty skin
She is practiced, but not fast

The ladies  sigh as she emerges
Wearing the  floaty tied dyed dress
We all saw waving like victory flags
outside every truck stop in Spain.

This is month six
She with her almost fiancé
Is heading to France next – maybe
By train as a treat.

the  third class train cabin
Hot, crowded, sink so small
You can’t fit your hands, let alone
Sandy feet.

She edges past women who carry maps
Itineraries, guides, requests for air conditioning
I watch her return to her story
sand,  salt , sun

I remember the sand and the salt
Washing in a car park sink
More energy than cash
Fueled by only love and stories

I assure my elderly mother
This is a Western toilet.

 

Do you travel with a journal? Do you want to?  Subscribe and read and see how I did it, where I went and all the frustrations and discoveries that journaling added to my travels.

What Part of the Test – Instagram Poem

Instagram poem
To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
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And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

Unmistakable After School

Instagram poem
To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

I’ll Probably Die of Something – Instagram poem

Instagram Poem

For the record, this poem is not inspired by my current love.  But it did come to me, so I’m honoring the impulse.  Maybe it is about your relationship?

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

Technically Prepared – Instagram Poem

Instagram poem

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

No Man’s Land – Instagram Poem

Instagram poem, No Man's Land

The Problem with Death – Instagram Poem

The Problem with Death - Instagram poem

Milk Shoots From My Nose – Instagram Poem

Milk poem

Anyone Can Buy – Instagram Poem

Anyone can buy