For me, although the road to Santiago begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, my camino begins here in the house where I grew up. I landed in Fort Lauderdale airport, momentarily surprised by the warmth and humidity of the South Florida night as I stepped off of the plane and onto the jetway. My parents were waiting for me at the terminal’s exit. The full moon was bright in the sky as we drove home.
My parents have been supportive of my plan to walk, as they’ve been supportive of me all my life. That’s not to say that they completely understand why I want to go (how would they if I don’t?) — my mom wonders aloud how they managed to raise a son who thinks walking 500 miles qualifies as a good time! My aunt takes credit (or blame?) because she once ran away from her home in New York on a Greyhound bus to Florida.
It was late when I arrived, but for me it felt three hours earlier. So after they went to sleep I stayed up to watch the full lunar eclipse. In Earth’s shadow the moon swirled red and black in the sky next to a teensy tiny supermassive blue giant star, while Mars glowed brightly off to the right. What a tease, no?
The next day included more preparation. The undersheet, sleeping bag, pillowcase, and frame pack needed a coat of permethrin to guard against bedbugs. I sprayed the sleeping bag’s compression sack with water sealant, because I’ve gone to sleep in a rain-soaked sleeping bag before and left it a scathing Yelp review.
We picked up my aunt and drove to meet my grandfather for dinner at Padrino’s, a Cuban restaurant where my family has been eating since before I was born. My grandfather grew up in Havana from infancy, and my grandmother who passed when I was young was born there. They’re the source of the family’s unexpected combination of Cuban and Jewish culture. So on that second night of Passover I enjoyed ropa vieja. For the uninitiated, ropa vieja is not actually a plate full of old clothing, despite its name, but rather a plate full of the food of the gods. Try it, and know thee true joy.
It was also an opportunity to test my Spanish again. Good news: I’m not likely to starve, get hopelessly lost, find myself unable to ask where the bathroom is, or accidentally challenge anyone to a duel. But there’s definitely room for improvement. I understand well, but make many mistakes when speaking. Hopefully a month in Spain can sharpen things.
Fun coincidence — San Tiago is a named derived from Saint Iago, from the hebrew Ya’akov, a name which also produced Jacob and Jacobo, which is my grandfather’s name.
He’ll be turning 90 while I’m away, so we celebrated with his favorite dessert, flan, and I took a few photos. Among other things we talked about his travels to Spain, France, Italy, and Argentina, about how he learned to dance, about his wedding to my grandmother officiated by the Rabbi who had come to Havana from Brooklyn, about his English teacher from Boston, and about the value of polyester and blends over pure cotton and the first shirt he ever bought in New York. For a man with nearly nine decades behind him, his memory is sharp.
Today is my last full day in Florida. New York tomorrow.