beggars and pescado

“As long as there is still one beggar around, there will still be myth.” – Walter Benjamin, ‘The Arcades Project’

I have an app on my phone that’s desperately attempting to teach me Spanish. And I’m desperately attempting to let it do its job. But the deeply-rooted French that’s been ingrained for at least twenty years keeps popping up stubbornly, confounding and confusing most of my efforts. But the app, it keeps trying, and I keep trying along with it.

It seems to focus on a few words rather obsessively, and the one that comes up the most by far is ‘pescado’, Spanish for ‘fish’. Which seems quite suitable, given that fish have a role in the story.

*   *   *   *   *

Jesus was homeless. Voluntarily homeless, mind you. He went around preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven while relying on others for food and shelter. Not only did he rely on others instead of ‘working’ for a living, he also was instrumental in convincing other folks who did have jobs to quit their jobs and give up their wealth and follow him around in order to preach the Word with him. Jesus encouraged voluntary homelessness in order to spread the Word, and he made his views on wealth very clear throughout the Gospels.

I would often bring this up in my role as a homeless advocate, especially in the company of self-proclaimed ‘Christians’ who felt justified in their prejudicial views of the homeless, especially if and when they start making judgments around the fact that the homeless only beg and do not work. (Yes, kids, not only was Jesus a homeless socialist of Middle Eastern descent, he strongly encouraged a culture of poverty…)

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the four men whom Jesus convinces to quit fishing and follow him around Galilee were Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They all ended up with illustrious careers as four of Jesus’s twelve apostles, and eventually became saints after their deaths.


“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

But that fisherman-turned-apostle James? That’s St. James of the scallop, St. James who was re-mythologized as St. James Matamoros in the 9th century when his relics were allegedly found in Galicia. Those relics inspired the pilgrimage that became known as the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.

The Gospel of Matthew identifies James as the son of Zebedee and Mary Salome. Mary Salome is one of the ‘Three Marys’ whose story is central to the mythology around Sara-la-Kali and the yearly Roma pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The one we’re headed to in late May.

And I’m the first to admit that this connection evaded me for years, and only slapped me on the head a few weeks ago. I feel slightly foolish, but its all good.





behind me and before me

Shit. It’s real now. I just did this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 4.36.06 PM copy

Exactly two months from today, we are due to be at the veneration of Sara-la-Kali, which takes places yearly in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer,  a small town in the Camargue in southern France.

And I just bought a plane ticket, a ticket that a big part of me still feels I shouldn’t have bought. But I don’t get to say ‘no’ this time.

“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front…” – G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

the intrusion

(Summer 2005)

She first showed up in my dreams. First in flashes, then as a regular presence.

She wouldn’t leave. I didn’t know what to make of it.

Then she started showing up everywhere. In the bark of a tree. In the face of a woman on the subway. In a child’s abstract artwork.

She wouldn’t say a thing, but I felt like I was being stalked. And I had no idea what to make of it. I had never experienced such intrusion from a god before.

After a month or so, I brought it to my teacher.

“I have no idea who she is. I have no idea who she wants. But she won’t leave me alone. It all seems very intrusive.”

daniel villafruela
Sara-la-Kali, also known as Saint Sarah. Photo by Daniel Villafruela.

“You don’t know who she is?”

“No, and I have no idea where to start.”

“Well, did you ask her who she is?”

No, actually, I hadn’t. How obvious.

So the next time she showed up, I asked her.

“Who are you?”

“Sara-la-Kali”, she said to me.

And with that a door opened. She stopped stalking me, and started taking me on journeys.


focused on webs and claws

(I wrote this piece for The Wild Hunt last month about belief and coincidence. Much of it centers around the pilgrimage, but more importantly it defines the how and why around the approach that I’m taking towards these coinciding events (such as the event below) as they occur.)

*   *   *

Nowadays, the geese chase me down every single time I set foot in the stretch of Waterfront Park just south of the Burnside Bridge. They started last summer, but only recently has it been constant.

My first assumption was that they got word from the crows that I carry peanuts, and acting on that assumption I would always toss them a handful and not think much more about it.

But then the geese started showing up in my dreams, and then Rhyd kept mentioning a goose-footed queen that may be connected to certain Mari-Morgans that may be connected to certain other Marys that may be connected to other Mothers and it all just kept going in that direction until I realized that perhaps the insistence of the geese had more to do with just peanuts.

img_0166And then yesterday, they chased me again. And as I now have feet and mothers in my thoughts much more than I do peanuts, I looked down at the one closest to me, watching its webbed feet as it ran towards me, watching the movement and the structure of the goose foot. I watched the ripple of the foot bones, encased by webbing yet protruding like claws, and I noticed almost immediately that the goose had a slight malfunction in its right foot and was compensating for the injury in its gait.

I softly gasped as I recognized my own foot injury in the movement of the goose. For the past several months I had become preoccupied with my right foot and how it would affect the pilgrimage. It had become a rather nagging source of doubt, and more than once I had nearly talked myself out of the trip using my foot as the excuse.

The goose stared at me, looking rather confused as to why I seemed surprised. The goose then looked down at its own foot, its web-as-claw, and reached its neck out slightly towards my right foot. I jumped back instinctively. The goose gave me a foolish look, shook its head, and walked away. A few yards out, it took off, flying across the river.

I looked down at my own right foot and understood the message immediately. I gave the other goose some peanuts and kept going.


the dusk

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right


The owl of Minerva is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. Hegel’s argument is that philosophy and its accompanying wisdom can only be formed in hindsight, that material and historical conditions cannot be truly understood until they fade away. The assumptions, rules, and limitations of any given era are can only be made clear in terms of philosophy after the era has ended. The “inescapable lesson” is that philosophy is not prescriptive, as much as we would like it to be so.

The entire quote is below:

“One word more about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there cut and dried after its process of formation has been completed. The teaching of the concept, which is also history’s inescapable lesson, is that it is only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.”

(And if you want to really chew on this idea until your head explodes, halfway down the page at this link is a good place to start…)

the scallop

scallop - graham stanley
Scallop marker at the end of the Camino de Santiago at Finisterra. Photo by Graham Stanley

The scallop is in reference to both the Camino de Santiago as well as St. James himself, for whom the aforementioned pilgrimage is named. The scallop has been symbolically associated with the Camino de Santiago since the medieval era, and possibly much earlier given the route’s origins as a Celtic path to the end of the world. Long before it was a symbol for St. James, the scallop was said to be a symbol of the setting sun.

The colorful career of St. James ranged from fisherman to apostle to martyr to a posthumous role of mythical Moor-slayer, roles which I will elaborate on at some point.

St. James is also the patron saint of Spain.

nightstand and conduit

I started all three drafts of the memoir by talking about the sandals. Given that all three met separate untimely fates, and given that I need to branch in much wider directions than any of those manuscripts had traveled, I’m not going to start with the sandals this time.

the sandals, a story for another time

Instead, I’m going to talk about the books.

There were usually two books on my nightstand at any given time, most often (and to be fair, often arbitrarily) categorized as one ‘light reading’ book and one ‘heavy reading’. I would switch back and forth between the two depending on my mood, and for that reason I made sure that the two books were never on the same subject.

But then, after that summer, after the injuries set in, I found I couldn’t concentrate on a book for more than two minutes. And the two books that I had just finished days before it all happened sat on my nightstand for several years afterwards, often collecting dust, standing as a symbol of both what I had lost and my denial around it. Often they poked out under papers, sticking out in their contrasting blue and yellow covers as a constant reminder of life before.

Over time, that familiarity resulted in a detachment from the contents of the books themselves, a detachment that held through several moves and related packings and unpackings, and through countless glances at the shelf as I would pause at them as symbols but not necessarily reflect on their subjects.

Eventually, when I moved into a loft in Eugene without room for a nightstand, the books went back on the bookshelf just as my nighttime mug became a water bottle and my nightstand altar became a shelf. And yet they stuck out to me, with strange memories encased in them, a haunting familiarity which linked their visual presence to a long-lost comfort. A few more moves, a few more packings and unpackings, with the two titles finally settling on the middle shelf of a tall bookcase in my downtown Portland apartment.

It was in searching for a Spanish dictionary on my bookshelf last month, with the pilgrimage in mind, that I came across the titles once more. And the detachment suddenly shattered as not only did their content suddenly scream from the pages, but their connection to both the pilgrimage and to each other became immediately evident. I suddenly felt a fool, reflecting on both my inability to draw a connection between them when I first read them and the fact that it hadn’t hit me until that moment despite their re-appearance in my conscious field on a regular basis.

On the surface, their only commonality is their geographic setting and their first-person nonfiction narrative. ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell is a detailed account of Orwell’s experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and ‘The Pilgrimage’ by Paulo Coehlo is a story of the author’s pilgrimage across the Camino de Santiago. And yet, one has led to the other, history and mysticism have become ever intertwined, and the connections between the two have become ever and continuously overlapping and revealed.

Looking back, I cannot dismiss the fact that those two books sat inches from my head through countless dreams and visions and nightmares, through countless conversations with gods and mortals alike, countless petitions and pleas and prayers for answers. Whether they acted as battery or conduit, suggestion or guidance, whether they bled into the plans of the Gods or they were the blueprints for such plans I cannot say.

All I know is that none of it is coincidence.