Day One. Lisbon and Bilbao.
It was a long, but glorious day. My TAP Portugese Airline flight delivered me to Lisbon, Portugal at 5am. Just at that moment I decided to check the time of my connecting flight to Bilbao Spain. That's when I discovered I had 9 hours in Lisbon! So what the heck... I decided to WALK into the city from the airport! Walking wasn't my first choice. Lisbon--as opposed to NY--actually has a subway stop at the airport. I didn't use it though, because it wasn't open until almost 7am. What kind of a city doesn't have its subways running until 7am?? The walk was OK: It's not as though I was walking from JFK into Manhattan. More like from LaGuardia. Ok, it wasn't a short walk, but I'm a man, you know?
It was weird, because as I walked in, no one in the city was up, there were few cars on the road, and there were no stores or gas stations open. Most didn't unlock their doors until 10am. What's the deal with these Portuguese, I wondered. What are they, a bunch of slackers? But then I watched their beautiful city come alive, and I saw the 'Lisbonians'(??!!) enjoy their day in ways New Yorkers would never understand. They clearly enjoyed one another's company, and together they had their morning rituals of coffee and special pastries--one was even called a "jesuita"!! (I'll have to check that out!). I sensed that they had a better perspective than we do--relationships of family, friends and even customers was more important than their work productivity. Being together, being there for one another, that seemed to be their motivation. Wouldn't it be nice if that was our way of being?
Nine hours and a lot of walking later, I was on the plane to Bilbao, the starting point of my pilgrimage journey. As we flew over the beautiful mountains and the small houses surrounding Bilbao, each with a plot of land already cultivated with this season's crop, I was overwhelmed with a sense of how far removed we are from our relationship with the food that sustains us in life. I wouldn't have a clue as to how to manage a garden of real vegetables, much less much less managing even a small farm.
I found the pension (small hotel) for my first night. It's called Pensione La Slave, (salvation) and I discovered it is only a few steps from the Jesuit University of Deustu, which was founded in 1886 and has over 20,000 students enrolled. I can't get away from my Jesuit roots, or my educational vocation!
After dropping my backpack in the spartan room (fitting for a pilgrim!) , I did a lot more walking all around the city. It's the home of the famous Bilbao Guggenheim museum, which gave my favorite architect--Frank Gehry--his preeminent reputation in the world. The building appears to be in motion, and it dazzles your eyes and makes your heart soar when you experience it. Architecture, I believe, has a gigantic effect on the way we relate to one another, and how we relate to the world. The shaping of the space we live, work, and play in, can indirectly and subtly teach us how to engage with one another, how to dream, and how to believe. You should never 'go cheap' with architecture, as the great architects always knew. It's too important, even for those of us who simply pass by it on our way to work. It helps shape us, forms us, marks us.
There was a huge crowd beside the river, and I was instantly drawn to it. I discovered that it was a rally for Bilbao's soccer team, and it practically shut down the entire city. I loved it, even though I didn't know a thing about the team. I think it has something to do with my New York genes. I hung out with the cheering crowd, listening to the rallying speeches without knowing what the were saying, and when the rally was over, I dispersed with them, mingling with the red striped shirts through the closed-off streets, and enjoying the energy they emitted. I love a walk in the woods, but if I had my choice to hike on a mountain trail or in the midst of a city of people, I'd choose the city. As my favorite character from A Thousand Clowns said, "They're my species!". And I can see the face of God in them, at least sometimes.
Off to bed. It's been a long and lovely day. Thank you, dear God, and God bless you all.