This month CoolGus released THE YEAR WE SEIZED THE DAY here in the US and last week it got into the top 100 on Amazon.
It’s a book I co-authored with my great friend, Elizabeth Best, about our journey along the Camino in Spain. It’s my only non fiction book. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia called it “… a remarkable, painful, illuminating and inspiring book …”
We like to think so.
Here’s an excerpt:
Day 27, Pereje to Alto do Poío
Getting the hell out of Purgatory
I don’t want to do this anymore. I could have happily quit on the second day. This journey has not been what I had anticipated. But I made a promise to El, and for reasons of her own, my presence seems to be important to her. We’re the Two Musketeers, all for one and one for both. The one thing that I am sure of is my physical endurance; I can do this now that my feet are healing. If not for anything else but for Eli.
My tenderness for her grows; this long, complicated, blistered, feisty bugger of a woman. I want her to go all the way and I want to be there to see that she does. It has stunned and amazed me that we still have a relationship after my behavior these last few weeks, my outburst in León.
She has seen the very worst of me, and seen me broken. Yet still she seems to see something worthwhile in me, without the mask and the control games. What that is I cannot begin to understand. It is the first time in my life I have let any woman see me defenceless and her acceptance of my failings has changed my view of the world somehow.
We leave Purgatory along the highway, walking cold and stiff like zombies. And here’s a sight first thing in the morning: a man wearing a Petzl headlamp, two ski poles, Raybans, knee-high hiking socks folded twice, fluoro cycle shorts and a backpack the size of a baby’s fist. The Obsessive Compulsive on pilgrimage. I feel shabby and overdone groping along in the dark with my homemade walking stick and a backpack that looks like I have Brazil in it.
The silhouette of the mountains looms from the fog like the interlocking paws of a giant cat. Eli lopes ahead; she has a new walking stick, and she is twisting it from side to side and over her head. She thinks I can’t see her in the dark, but now she stands revealed: Elizabeth Best, at heart, is a frustrated cheerleader.
At first light she stops to lean against a wall and rips off her sock.
Three viruses as yet unknown to medical science spill all over the stone wall.
‘Doesn’t look good, El.’
She pops one of her blisters and we are greeted by my mother’s favourite dessert when I was a kid—custard with raspberry jelly.
‘Think you got a real problem there, Eli.’
‘Fuuuuuck,’ she murmurs, which just about sums it up.
Privately, I still don’t think she’ll make it. Especially now. The closer we get, the more her body protests. The psychological blow may be terminal. It looks so wretched and wrong, I don’t even crack a joke to try to cheer her up. After so many physical setbacks already, I wonder if this might be the last straw.
‘She’ll be right,’ Eli says, splashing on a ridiculous amount of both Betadine and Mercurochrome.
Some pilgrims overtaking us think the Mercurochrome is running blood and pass out on the road. Eli puts her sock back on, flicks the real excess blood on the stone wall until her socks are dryish, and straightens her backpack.
‘Ready Freddy?’ she says with a brave if unconvincing grin.
And we take off back up the mountain.
We start to climb the cobblestoned lanes that look like green tunnels.
Cabbages the size of small trees spill over slate walls, international flags hang above a street redolent with cow dung. A woodshed leans drunkenly against a wall, wooden balconies, minutes from collapsing into the street, sag from stone houses. The rush of a stream drowns out every sound. You can smell river peat and mould and cold. It looks as I imagine it did five hundred years ago, except for the white plastic chairs and the San Miguel umbrella that sits outside a hovel not unlike Shrek’s outhouse.
Around a corner we stumble on an ivy covered cottage with bright pink stucco and brand new aluminum windows. Next door their neighbors live in a barn that almost fell down a hundred years ago.
‘You could make a mint here,’ Eli says, sounding like Bill Hunter in Muriel’s Wedding. ‘Rich Spaniards are buying these places up for weekenders, they’re right on the Camino, and the Camino’s been here a thousand years, it’s not going anywhere, and if a pilgrim dies on your doorstep the value goes through the roof! I reckon you and me should invest in one.’
All the villages smell of manure and shit drips through the streets. We are crowded and shepherded by stone walls, howled at by dogs. Strangers in a ripe land. A woman steps out from behind a pile of cow shit and offers us a steaming pancake, throwing the towel aside from the plate like a conjurer producing a rabbit. A man on a donkey squeezes us against a wall. He has a battery sitting on his lap to power the cattle prod in his right hand. Clouds billow up from the valley to meet us.
And we hear cowbells; we have not heard the sound of cowbells since the Pyrenees. I see a cow licking another cow’s head while she munches contentedly on the grass. I feel a pang of loneliness. This is what I miss about being single again: not just having my head licked, but feeling such affection from someone else that I’d want to lick theirs back.
‘Eli, will you lick my head?’
‘Lick my head. Will you?’
‘Col, you’re scaring me again.’
We come out of a leafy green tunnel at the foot of the mountain, loping up the ascent like mountain goats. It is again a shock to realise how fit we are. We have been walking nearly a month now, and most of these people have been walking just two days.
Suddenly there are signs for Santiago by the side of the road every five hundred metres. Just two hundred and five kilometres left. A long way now from the wooded dales of Roncesvalles. The pilgrims who started in Ponferrada seem to think just getting here is a long way. We lope past them like Ethiopian long distance runners lapping the wild card entry from Papua New Guinea in the Olympics.
The pilgrims are a whole different breed. They are predominantly Spaniards who know the local terrain and have back-up. Some families even hire a bus to take them from village to village so they can get a stamp from the local albergue for their Compostela. They bus most of it. So much for struggle and self reflection.
The guide book told us before we left that you could not be thrown out of an albergue, that no one would ever turn away a pilgrim. ‘They’ were wrong! Hosteleros will dismiss you like you are a homeless walking up to reception at Fox News and asking for small change. Their lips curl, their noses twitch. You’re not Spanish. So you walked six hundred and fifty-odd kilometres to get here? Tell someone who gives a merda.
By the time we leave the pig farm, we are exhausted. The water at Purgatory made me sick and we can barely stand by the time we get to the top of the next mountain. The albergue is full there as well. Full of fucking cyclists, which really rubs salt into the wound. We do what every self respecting Australian would do in an emergency: we go to the bar in the local hotel.
YOU CAN GET A FREE COPY!!!
To celebrate the book’s release, I’m giving away 6 copies this week through my newsletter.
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