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Category: Via de la Plata (page 1 of 3)

The Via de la Plata Revisited

It’s two years ago this week that I set out from Seville to walk the Via de la Plata, one of the many pilgrimage routes that cross Spain to Santiago de Compostela. And while I’ve spoken of many shows and events where I’ve displayed the prints that were the direct result of that trip, I just realized I’ve never sat down and written the what and why of them all. So here goes.

It might go without saying, but even though a pilgrimage is in some ways very linear (after all, it starts in one place and ends in another) the process of imagining a way to depict it in prints is not linear at all. In fact, it took over a year after I returned from the Via de la Plata to figure out how I wanted to make these prints. So in these several posts about my Via de la Plata prints, I might repeat myself, go in circles, get lost, or go sightseeing – perhaps like doing the pilgrimage itself after all.

A hot dry dirt road outside of Zafra.

First of all, it was hot. Very hot. There was a heat wave. I want to say I remember news broadcasts where they gave the temperature as 42 degrees Celsius, but since that would make it around 107 degrees Fahrenheit, perhaps my memory is faulty. But then again, it really did feel that hot.

So one of the ideas I wanted to convey in my prints was the heat, and the experience of walking long miles with a (too heavy) pack in the shadeless countryside in the heat. Yellow was my go-to color in a lot of the prints, along with other primary colors.

(A note and an apology about the color in some of the print images; I’ve gotten to the stage where my prints are too large to put in my scanner, so most of these were taken with my much-abused digital point-and-shoot camera. I’ve tried to photoshop the colors to where they should be, but the images are still a little off.)

First 4 churches
La cuestión palpitante, a monoprint and ink transfer drawing of the first 4 churches on the VDP

The other way I experienced the heat was somewhat hallucinogenic. I had trained, and I drank a LOT of water, and of course I wore a hat and sunblock, but still… being out in the heat can addle your brain a bit. I definitely could relate to desert saints and mystics who saw visions and imagined signs. When I began working on these prints, I looked for a medieval image of the sun or some sort of mandala image that I could use to represent heat and light and vision, and bonus points if I could find one from Spain.

San Isidro diagram
A diagram explaining the workings of the universe from a 13th century copy of San Isidro’s Etymologiae. More info here:

I was very pleased to find that San Isidro had done just that. In his Etymologiae he presented a diagram that served my purposes very well.

Isidro circle walkers
Como mechas ardientes, a monoprint with linoleum block figures and circle

And San Isidro (Saint Isidore of Seville, in English) was a major feature of this pilgrimage. After San Isidro died, his body was carried from Seville to Leon, and as it happens the route was pretty much the same as the modern Via de la Plata. So all along the way I encountered not only shrines and chapels dedicated to San Isidro, but the timing of my walk corresponded to a wave of local ferias and processions honoring the saint.

Modern chapel of San Isidro
The modern ermita of San Isidro, looking like it’s about to take off into outer space

San Isidro procession
San Isidro procession in Villafranco los Barros

Here is a print combining San Isidro’s wheel, his procession, the hot sun, the distant mountains, and with a background of a map.

San Isidro procession
Parece mentira, monoprint with linoleum block and chine colle

Coming up in future posts: strong women, famous artists, and rough stones.

To the Stars and Beyond

When I walked the Via de la Plata in 2011, I kept encountering small determined beetles crossing my path. It wasn’t until my sixteenth day of walking, between Embalse de Encantára and Galisteo, that I finally saw one of the little guys in action and realized it was a dung beetle.

Dung beetle rolling a ball of dung

These beetles captured my imagination, and I’ve been meaning ever since to do a small print of a dung beetle, thinking it would make a nice little greeting card sized print.

A few weeks ago, I read an article that researchers in Sweden had discovered that dung beetles navigate using the Milky Way. In an odd sort of way, this confirms the many creation myths that feature the dung beetle (otherwise known as a scarab) as central to the creation of the world, rolling its ball of manure to form the Earth and its inhabitants.

How could I resist? The dung beetle print has now grown to full size, and the rough drawing is on the block.

Dung beetle rolling a ball of dung across the universe

Postcards from the Road

Way back earlier this year, when I was preparing to walk the Via de la Plata in Spain, I was counting my pennies and trying to figure out how I was going to make ends meet. I hit upon the idea of a postcard subscription: people could sign up to receive 2, 5, 7 or 10 postcards – original drawings – of scenes from my journey.

I’ve been back from Spain for six months now, and because of the excitement of the arrival of my new etching press, followed by various festivals and Open Studios, I’m only now really thinking about and processing my pilgrimage.

So here, finally, in sequential order, are the postcards I drew. I am afraid the lighting conditions were not always ideal when I took the pictures of the postcards; I’ve done my best to restore the correct color as much as possible.

Seville: the first waymark, at the cathedral
The first waymark

Seville: a courtyard in the Alcázar
Courtyard of the Alcazar in Seville

Seville: the Giralda
The Giralda, Seville

Seville: the Macarena
The Macarena in Seville

My process often looked like this. A sidewalk cafe and a glass of wine are an aid to inspiration!
The Macarena in Seville

Italica: mosaic from the Roman ruins
Roman mosaic in Italica

Guillena: church
Church in Guillena

Just past Guillena: tower in the midst of fields, early morning
Castle in fields, Guillena

Castilblanco de los Arroyos: view of the town from the albergue
View of Castilblanco from the albergue

Monesterio: I felt the town needed a new stamp for the pilgrim credencial that would reflect the town’s status as the jamon capital of the world (or so it claims).
Proposed pilgrim stamp for Monesterio, the jamon

Real de la Jara: view of the town from the castle. I accidentally left this postcard behind on my bunk when I left the albergue in the morning, and I assumed it was lost. I was very pleased to learn that its intended recipient did indeed receive it, thanks to the good samaritan who found and mailed it.
View of Real de la Jara from the castle

Villafranca de los Barros: this church was diagonally across from the pension
Chapel in Villafranca de los Barros

Torremejia: Roman statues used in the wall as building material
Roman statues used in the wall as building material

Mérida: remains of the Roman aqueduct, Acueducto de los Milagros
Roman aqueduct in Merida

Aljucen: street scene
Quiet street in Aljucen

Alcuescar: odd character carved next to the church door
Odd character from Alcuescar

Alcuescar: statue “La Misericordia” in the monestery, seen from the side
Statue of La Misericordia

Roman bridge, between Alcuescar and Caceres
Roman bridge

Cáceres: couple on a bench in the plaza mayor, with the walls of the old city behind them
Plaza mayor in Caceres

Cáceres: bust of a woman on a building wall in the old city
Aztec woman carved on the wall in Caceres

Casar de Cáceres: storks on the church roof; there were dozens of them
Storks on the church roof at Casar de Caceres

Casar de Cáceres: the waterspouts around the roof of the church were quite entertaining
Waterspout on the church roof, Casar de Caceres

Carcaboso: houses
Houses in Carcaboso

Mailing a batch of postcards!
Mailing a batch of postcards in Carcaboso

Oliva de Plasencia: cat on a stone bench
Cat on a stone bench in Oliva de Plasencia

Caparra: the Roman arch. The Via de la Plata goes right through the arch
The Roman arch at Caparra

Pico de la Dueña: the highest point on the route, with windmills and a cross of Santiago
Windmills and cross at the Pico de la Duena

This marks the end of what I actually walked; I finished walking in Salamanca. I took a bus to Zamora and spent two days exploring that city, where I drew my final postcards.

Mailing postcards in Salamanca:
More postcards wend their way to the USA

Zamora: church on the plaza mayor, opposite my pension
Church on the Plaza Mayor, Zamora

Zamora: statue of penitents
Statue of penitents, Zamora

Zamora: a suit of armor as a weathervane atop church tower
Suit of armor weathervane

Zamora: a very operatic-looking statue of Mary Magdalen
Statue of Mary Magdalen in Zamora

When Dreams Collide

Today I am in Zamora, a city with a cathedral, a castle, and more than 20 Romanesque churches — right up my alley.

And yet part of me is very sad, because as it turns out, this is my last day on the Via de la Plata.


Really, it´s a good thing. It´s a case of an embarrassment of riches. Before I left, I was playing with some financial stuff –the details don´t matter– and a week or so ago I discovered they paid off. And now I have enough money to buy an etching press.

So here´s the thing. I´ve saved money and vacation time, bit by bit, for 5 years to do this walk, ever since I returned from the Camino Frances.

And ever since I returned from the Camino Frances, I´ve been in love with printmaking, and have dreamed of having a press of my own.

Two dreams, both available at the same time. But I can´t afford both.

Well, I figure the Via de la Plata has lasted some thousand years, and will be here a few more. I will miss the walking, and my new pilgrim friends, and the potential adventures. Give me five years, and maybe I´ll be back to finish.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for some amazing new artwork. Etchings! Monotypes! Solar plates! More block prints! It´s a journey of a different sort.

Thank you all for your encouragement and good wishes. You´ve helped speed me on my way, and I´ve appreciated it. I´ll be posting lots of photos and stories when I get home.

See you in Calfornia on Sunday.

Chapter 3, in which I am a Loon

So we left off at the albergue turistico at Embalse de Alcantara, where the cows were swimming and the peregrinos were plotting like mad generals laying out their campaigns, tables full of maps and guidebooks and printouts and elevation charts. Bad math was in the air: 25 pilgrims potentially all heading for a refugio with around 10 spaces.

I set out and found the hike to the next town, Canaveral, quite easy. Things look much better in the early morning than they do after a long hot climb along the highway. So when I reached Canaveral it was still morning, still cool (good walking weather) and there was no way I was going to get on a bus. The question was, would I head for Grimaldo, the town with the small (and rumor had it not so clean) refugio, or be totally crazy and go for Galisteo, the next town after that? The bonus to heading for Galisteo is that it´s a walled city, and (as usual) I was captive to the romantic notion of reliving the Middle Ages as I walked towards the city, walls rising above me.

The walking was lovely, through meadows full of flowers and shaded by oaks, and at one point (after a steep hill) through a nice bit of pine forest. So all was well and good when I reached the turnoff for Grimaldo. I double-checked my math, distance vs. approximate kilometers per hour. Onward!

Well, you know, a 42 kilometer hike is really, really long. (You can do the math; a kilometer is about 3/5 of a mile.) And it wouldn´t even have been too bad except for two things. On this route, it seems like the last bit before a town is always uphill along a highway. Can we say hot and exhausting, and sometimes nerve-wracking? And the worst waymarking along the entire route is hands-down around Galisteo.

Now I had heard that there was a shortcut through a farm to get to Galisteo. There´s an Australian pilgrim on the Via de la Plata, a few weeks ahead of me, and she´s been blogging about her trip, less anecdotally and with more helpful information. Like look for this gate. So here I was, looking for every side trail that might go to Galisteo. And here was the Italian couple, also slogging along, and a group of bicyclists, all looking for the shortcut. The bikers had ridden ahead down the road and found a local who told them where to go, which involved just cutting across tall grass. But we walkers said, but wait! here´s a path! Why bushwhack when people have obviously gone before?

Well, I did get to Galisteo, and exactly within my time estimate, but only after wading across a field that was ankle-deep with water. I learned later that everybody got lost in the same field, and all just ended up saying the heck with it (perhaps in stronger terms than that) and slogging across the wet.

But as soon as you get to town there´s a bar. I ordered the largest, coldest water possible, and a clara (beer mixed with lemonade, which is no doubt a travesty to true beer-lovers everywhere, but is the most refreshing thing ever after a long walk.) And found the albergue, and had a nice long shower, and all was well that ended well.

A few more days walking, and here I am in Salamanca, an absolutely lovely town, and am staying with my friends David and Claudia (he formerly of Peet´s Coffee), being spoiled and pampered and enjoying some down time.

Just fyi, since this blog has been of necessity so skippy, I´ll be posting photos when I return home, and will tell little stories to go with the pictures, just to fill in the missing parts of this adventure.

Now it´s naptime. Hasta pronto!

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