Knee deep in Filmfest…I’ll sleep when I’m dead

Knee deep in Filmfest

For ages I’ve referred to this as the ‘best week of the year‘ in Munich, and I might just stand by that, although it has some stiff competition the longer I live here. 

Why the best? Because of Filmfest, I tell you. 

Before I started reviewing films for English language publications, I regularly attended it as a viewer – as a member of the public, which is why I can still imagine what it’s like from that perspective. 

I’ll even tell you how you can get into it, if you’re so inclined. 
Because I tend towards independent film, I spent those early years seeing some real duds. There was the confessional autobiographical account of a sex addict, which was one of the worst cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. 

However, there have been some gems mixed in with the rifraf. That’s why I get so excited each year when Filmfest comes back round. 

Here’s how to do it. Well, how I do it. First I get my program, which I suggest you do too, if you’re at all interested in such things – and if you’re anywhere near Munich, I suppose. 

Immediately, I separate the wheat from the chaff. How does one do that exactly? 

Next, see if there are any actors and/or directors you already know. If you find a movie from or with somebody you already like, read the blurb and decide if you want to fork over the dough and waste a few hours of your life in a dark cinema, while there’s all that beautiful summertime going on outside. 

That’s where I am, by the way. Watching reflections of light projected onto the wall in some cinema in Munich. And loving it. Best week of the year, I assure you. Doesn’t get better than this. 

This post is brought to you thanks to bifurcated sleep…

Technicolor sunrise at the Leuchtenbergring station

Ok, the long and short of it is that I don’t sleep well in the summertime. Not sure if I ever did, but it seems to have gotten progressively worse with age. Old man problems, right? I suppose so. 

So, I’ve gotten into the weirdest sleep schedule that can only be described as bifurcated sleep. I fall asleep when the sun goes down, sleep several hours and at some point in the night, I jolt awake. 

Trying to fall back asleep is frustrating to the point of me just accepting I’m up in the night. At some point, I eventually drift back off. 

It’s a great schedule if you’re a layabout or have no fixed appointments, but I’m no man of leisure. I’ve got to go to work. Need to make the donuts, as it were. 

Bleary-eyed, I make it to the S-Bahn station at Leuchtenbergring, take a shot that I promptly filter it to the point that it looks somewhat like the Hotel California album cover. The photo describes my mood in this sleep-deprived state. 

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. 

third day on the Camino & a return to where I started last year…back to the future, because I’ll definitely be here again


This bridge means a lot to me, and it’ll take some explaining for it to make sense. 

Arrived here in Logroño last year to begin my journey. Meeting all the pilgrims with their injuries that day, I felt like such an imposter calling myself a pilgrim already. Little did I know – everyone walks his own Camino. Where you start is immaterial. Just start. 

Then I looked back over this bridge from the other side and could only imagine what the path from Pamplona to here was like. Now that I’ve gone back and done that exact stretch, I found myself looking on this bridge with a sense of accomplishment. 


The day before, I’d walked through Villamayor de Monjardín, which is nearly as pretty a village as this flower. Needed to keep moving, but I could’ve enjoyed a siesta there. Next time. 


As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve either followed my travels here, or know anything about the Camino de Santiago, these markers are found all along The Way. Even in my hikes back in the Bavarian Alps, you sometimes see these signs for Der Jakobsweg, which always make me long to get back on the Camino


The morning ‘magic hour‘ is beautiful enough to make you want to leap out of your bunk in the albergue. There’s no such thing as sleeping in when you’re a pilgrim, but it’s moments like this that make early mornings so worthwhile. 


Think this was from my first day, when I was coming out of Pamplona, but I can’t remember. What I do remember is the sweet, delicious smell of these guys. I’m sure those of you who know flowers can tell me what these are. Anyone?

Definitely from day one, coming down off the Alto del Perdón – no idea the significance of this wooden statue in Obanos, but I loved the juxtaposition of east and west. 


In case you needed any encouragement: Don’t  stop walking!


And not too much looking back, either. This is from the bridge in Puenta la Reina glancing from whence I came. Not much time for reflection about the road behind me while focused on the path ahead, but I liked this shot. It’s been well received elsewhere. Hope you like!

Don’t stop walking with or without knowing exactly where you’re going to sleep…or what you’re going to sleep on

There’s this exhilarating moment when you arrive at the albergue after the day’s walk, and you drop your things. This is where you know you’re going to spend the rest of your day and your evening, yet there’s a good chance you’re so tired that you’ll sleep through most of one or the other. 

Suddenly you’re faced with a most pressing dilemma: do you take a shower or first lie down for a short while? That short while can become a long one if you aren’t careful. Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ll feel so much better if you clean up right away, then you remember, ‘Oh, wait! I need to clean my clothes, as well.

In a weird state of singular focus where simple tasks take most, if not all, of what’s left of your depleted energy. Sometimes the decision is made for you in the event that there’s not a shower available when you arrive. If you’ve arrived at the same time as a lot of other pilgrims, getting into the shower first can be an issue. 

Remember, in that state of ‘I just want to refresh myself and lie down‘, every moment seems to count. However, now that I say that, there’s an eerie sense of acceptance that tends to overcome you when you’re that tired. 

‘There’s no shower? Ok, then I’ll just go hand wash my clothes…wait, you say now there’s no one in the showers anymore? Wonderful. Then I’ll go there now.

It was just these sorts of simple decisions I was making when I dropped my pack on my bunk in a room full of twenty or so other pilgrims. As I started pulling my things out, I realised, ‘Wait, where’s my sleeping bag?

No wonder I’d inexplicably had more space in my pack that morning. In a split second I replayed my early morning, remembered stuffing my bedding deep inside its cover, but I must’ve left it sitting next to my bed back in last night’s albergue. Damn! 

What was I going to do?

Luckily, the place I’d just arrived had sheets on their beds, which can be quite a luxury under the best of circumstances when you’ve been in your sleeping bag night after night for weeks on end. In this case, having sheets was fortuitous beyond description. 

This reminds me of something you hear again from pilgrims: 

The Camino provides…’ in that moment of hopelessness, where you simply don’t know what to do next…in exactly that seemingly hopeless situation, something or somebody magically shows up with an answer. 

Or you do without that thing that even a few moments ago seemed essential. In this case, I didn’t even need to go without. I was going to be sleeping in regal comfort on these sheets — real sheets with a pillow and everything. 

Called the woman at the previous night’s albergue and she assured me she’d not only seen my sleeping bag, but she’d decided she would go ahead and wash it. This she a) didn’t have to do – that was undeniably kind, but b) a very clean sleeping bag 30+ km behind me wasn’t going to do me much good. 

Thankfully, there’s a cottage industry of services along the Camino to carry one’s bags when a pilgrim has been injured. Or even to carry pilgrims to hospitals or the nearest town if the injury is serious enough that it needs medical attention. 

She asked me where I’d be the next night and assured me she could send it along via one of these services, but all I needed to do was call the number she gave me and arrange it with them. 

Ok, got it. 

Called the number and what he said was such a tremendous relief. Yes, he could take my bedding from last night’s to tomorrow’s place, but it’d set me back a cool €10. That’s roughly how much you pay per night to stay in one of the albergues, so one might think that’s pretty steep, but trust me…as a pilgrim, you need a sleeping bag. 

It was sheer good fortune that I had sheets at this place. There was no telling how things would be at the next place, but I didn’t want to risk it. 

How would I get the money to him, though? I’m not actually *at* the next place, where he’ll be dropping it off. Here’s where the story gets good, from my perspective: 

This courier would be coming through this place where I was staying tonight, but he wouldn’t be here till sometime mid morning. That’s exactly when I’d be out walking, so? What to do? How would we make this work? 

Simple, he assured me. I should give the woman where I was staying that night the money. She put it in an envelope for him, which he’d pick up as he swung by in the course of his day. 

And I’d keep walking, which was the whole point to begin with. Don’t. Stop. Walking. No matter what. 

a lapsed Quaker walking…I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point


Ok, I told you about the dog I met the first day and how I was missing my dogs, so there’s that. The whole dog thing. I’ve even started Dog Spotting pretty obsessively, which is something I always did, yet now I’m taking photos and adding whimsical captions and/or stories. We’ll see what comes of that. 

I deliberated for some time about whether I wanted to go into more detail about walking the Camino de Santiago, and once I’ve gotten over the whole ‘imposter syndrome‘ thing, I think I’ve got some ideas about how I can present it. 

Here’s what I’ve decided: assuming you’ve come here to hear my take on things and you know I’ve been walking on and off across northern Spain the last few years, you just have to expect that at some point I’m going to rattle on about the pilgrimage. 

Now first of all, I can imagine some of you saying, ‘I don’t give a damn about some ridiculous pilgrimage. It’s the 21st century and anyone worth his or her salt, at this point, is either atheist or at the bare minimum agnostic, so why stumble along some ancient path with a bunch of other dogooders?’

For one thing, I’ll get to my affiliation and perspective on all of that in a moment, but I’ll quickly point out that what’s now called The French Way (Camino Francés) is actually a pre Christian pilgrimage, or whatever those heathens called such a thing before they had the word ‘pilgrimage‘. 

It’s something I read at the airport last year, while waiting for my flight home. Starting somewhere in modern day Italy, or perhaps in what we used to call Yugoslavia, there was a path cut across northern Italy, the south of France, the Pyrenees (including St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles in the foothills), Pamplona and ultimately Santiago

Who cares? Why are you even still reading at this point?

My reasoning is that because you’ve never been on the Camino and likely wouldn’t make such a journey, this is the ultimate travel writing opportunity. I’ll try giving you a feel for walking this thing, while fully aware that you might never entertain the idea of doing so yourself. You’ll go about your daily life and every once in a while, if I’ve done my job right, you sigh and think to yourself, ‘All that’s well and good for that kind of person…’ or perhaps even, ‘Maybe someday…’

If I can give you an impression of taking the pilgrimage without even leaving your armchair, then I’ve done something worthwhile. Let me be your Bilbo Baggins, and taking that analogy to its logical conclusion, go ahead and ask yourself, ‘Who’s his Smog?

Or better yet: 

What Ring is he holding onto and might he eventually hurl into the smoldering abyss?’

Good questions and I’ll get to them in due time. As for my above mentioned affiliation, I’m not walking the Camino for religious reasons. Not per se, anyway. That’s not to say I’m an unbeliever. Far from it. 

Not a Roman Catholic, though. Although I’m in awe of the Church and the beauty that it’s either inspired or sponsored, there’s no part of me that wants to walk to Rome or Canterbury or any such preposterous locale. If that’s your thing, more power to you. Just not for me. 

We humans need labels, so I’ll just put this out there, and you can categorise me as you see fit. I’m a kind of a lapsed Quaker…walking The Way trying to get a better understanding of why we keep doing all of this. 

One of my favourite bumper stickers I saw in Austin years back was:

Don’t believe everything you think.’

I like to think I’ve taken that one to heart. Oh, and if you’re a pilgrim or once we’re and are reading this thinking, ‘What an imposter!‘, just keep walking. I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point. 

When I needed a dog on the Camino 

Wrought iron pilgrims on the Alto del Perdón in Navarra

Early on yesterday, I met a local and his mid-sized dog climbing down off of the Alto del Perdón. It looked like some sort of poodle, but he assured me it was a waterdog of some sort. 
We exchanged pleasantries in my atrocious Spanish, and I thought that was it. We’d walk a few minutes with his dog, which pleased me immensely, and at some point he’d head back home or stop in the next village. 

Instead, the two of them walked in parallel with me for nearly the whole day (more than 30 km). Sometimes we’d walk together, sometimes he’d move ahead or lag behind. 

He assured me the water in one village was delicious, as if I was going to pass up a chance to fill my bottle. And most importantly, what I assumed was a momentary encounter, became an entire day’s camaraderie. 

The dog became obsessed with an aluminum can at some point. Wanting him to play fetch, the eager little canine kept running back to get the can and then hightailing it back to the man who hadn’t broken his stride. 

After several attempts to get his guy to throw the can, the dog finally accepted there wasn’t going to be any game of fetch and on we went. 

I wanted to stop and acquiesce to the dog’s desire, but assured myself that was neither my place nor did we have the time. I knew I had a lot of ground to carry. Still unaware we’d be together most of the rest of the day, I was perturbed the man wouldn’t humor his dog. 

This is a long drawn out story that I’m still pondering, which is why it’s meandering so, but if I were to try to squeeze some meaning out of it at the moment, it’d be something about how long people are in your life and that your assumptions/expectations about such a thing are often preposterous. 

The other is that as much as I was missing my dogs, somehow there was a dog to walk with me for a good portion of the day. 

I don’t necessarily think everything happens for a reason and I’m hesitant to be so presumptuous to think any of that was planned; however, my thoughts did start wandering along the path of serendipity. Dare I say grace? 

Who knows. That little dog was fantastic, though. Highlight of my day, and that’s saying a lot. 

I had a damned good day.

A dog’s life expectancy…please don’t remind me

‘Stop it with the photos,’ Ella insists

When I go on a trip, especially if it’s more than a few days, the worst part is taking the dogs to the Hundepension and saying goodbye. Don’t get me wrong: I know I’m about to go galavanting around somewhere bombarding my feed with photos of the sky in some far flung locale or food I’m eating that makes people think, ‘Hey we have food here, too. We don’t need another shot of today’s Tapas…

I don’t want to come across as complaining when I’m out here making such a big deal of what a good time I’m having. And to be really candid, a long screed about the frustrations of travel could be equally annoying. Again, it’d come across as ungrateful and somehow entitled. 

However, not being with Ella and Louis is a major drawback of being gone, and particularly now more than ever. Why’s that, you ask. Well, the clueless, bumbling Louis and his wise-beyond-her-years sister Ella are not getting any younger. 

Only yesterday, I wrote a quick caption on a photo that went like this: 

Had to say goodbye to #EllaandLouis. She understood the whole concept of farewell, while her brother? He found another ball & couldn’t be bothered with such sentimental nonsense.’

Then I got on a big jet plane and arrived in a city I didn’t know and juggled figuring out where to go with poor or nonexistent wifi along the way, and at some point I checked social media to discover…

Plenty of people read that text as some sort of final goodbye to one or both of the dogs. Immediately, I could see how that had been misconstrued, so I quickly assured the most worried/agitated of my dogs’ fans and thought to myself, ‘I should write about this comical little mixup, but at the same time now would be rather opportune to talk about a longer project I’ve been mulling over for ages.

Still life with mini basketball


A book about Ella and Louis’ adventures from their perspective. I’ve considered it for years. I’ve got enough amazing photos of them for at least one book. I considered a new site or a web series or whatever it is the kids are doing these days, but last year I worked on a book for somebody and the thought of my own couldn’t quite be shaken away. 

So, the question is: why now? What happened that makes it so urgent to finally get these ideas down on paper?

To explain that, I’ll have to tell you about the guy I used to know with the Great Dane. He loved that dog immensely, and while he was out walking someone would invariably walk up and say, ‘That’s a gorgeous Great Dane. What a shame they only live nine years or so.

It didn’t happen once or twice. It didn’t happen every once in a while. It was a daily occurrence. A constant reminder of his dog’s mortality. He wanted to pull his hair out and say, ‘I know my large breed dog has a shorter life expectancy than smaller dogs…please don’t remind me.

Which brings us back to my dogs. They’re so healthy and equally happy and I’m reminded nearly every day of how I need to savour every moment. That’s where writing about them comes in. 

Would you read something like that. Photos of these insanely photogenic hounds with anecdotes of their take on life. Does that sound like something people would want more of?