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Elan Vitae


  • J Bristol


The smell of his cigar, his raw animal sexuality lured me through the dampened cobblestone streets. The love affair between Ernest Hemingway and Pamplona is well-recorded and his essence here was more than palpable. To me, it seemed all-consuming. Calling, beckoning, daring me to let go. To create. To allow that same sheer pleasure to flow through me in the form of words.

I had arrived here 5 days before en route to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I was Camino-bound, but the inner journey was already having it’s way with me. I couldn’t wait to return to this city. I knew something was waiting here for me.

After days of walking, conditioning, learning over tough terrain and barren land, I had made my way back to the voice. The one whispering from every sizzle the light mist made against the worn stone of the street. In the creak of every door that opened and closed, in every scent that wafted in the dim glow of shops that were now closing.

What was it saying? How could I find it? Where was it hiding? I walked, searched, turned one corner, then the next. Tired, I huddled from the rain at an outdoor bar table and let the perfect, full-bodied red fill my mouth, then my throat, then my body. The warmth deepened as I listened for my next move.

Write it down now, I heard the voice say.

What, here? . . .now?

Write it down now.

I pulled an unopened notebook from my bag. The one that had been gifted to me by a friend just nights before my departure over a similar glass of red. My favorite kind of notebook, my favorite kind of red.

I didn’t know what to say. There I was, dangling by the hem of Hemingway in the streets of Pamplona. Such lengths I’d gone to to open myself, and now, nothing. This was a place of bravery. Where men and women alike prepared either meticulously or not at all to throw themselves at the mercy of the bulls. These streets had stories and he was trying to guide me toward mine. I was meticulously unprepared.

The light mist had stopped now. The shops were dim but the cafes were full. The small bar top of my table seemed to suit my compacted posture as I huddled from the chill and cupped the globe of my wine glass, now holding a second pour. My fingers seemed weak and awkward in the dampness as I opened the notebook. The perfectly blank pages stared back at me, but the familiarity of the paper I knew to hold the ink just right was somehow comforting.

Pen, I thought.

At that moment, the waiter emerged from the cafe door behind me to my left and delivered hot dishes and clanking drinks to the small table of locals past me to my right. He moved swiftly but with a presence. A deep presence that made it seem like he paused longer than he actually did. That somehow he enjoyed the fact that they were enjoying. As they dove in, toasted one another, I caught the waiter on his return and asked for a pen in my limited Spanish. After eyeing my wine glass, his gaze returned to mine, and he walked back inside without a word. In less than a minute, he returned with a pen and fresh bottle from which he refilled my glass, then left on the table before turning back through the wooden, weathered door. Still, no words.

Huh, me too, I thought.

I swished the bold, roundness of that last pour in my mouth, noting that it had been grown and bottled not far from this place. Bold, round, earthy, robust, rooted, soft. These were words. I liked the way they felt and the way they tasted. The wine carried the energy of generations who had touched and worked and loved the land before the fruits of it became my pleasure. The warmth of copa numero tres seemed to be finally reaching my fingers. I placed the pen to the paper.

I could feel him now, watching me. The scent of his cigar had returned. The gruffness of a voice that never spoke, the heavy weight of his presence. This time he observed from afar. Looking but not looking at me. Holding space for the flow that was about to come. In that sacred space, cradled by the energy of one of the greats, I was able to let go. As a masterful lover coaxes pleasure from a partner, he had guided me to my own creative well and it was every bit as pleasurable. The words began to pour from my pen.

I could no longer feel my surroundings as I wrote. The chatter from nearby tables and street had waned to a dull hum in the background. I barely noticed how dim the light had become because my eyes had gown accustomed. The words coming through were my truth. So clear, so strong. Though my cheeks still shone from the internal warmth of the vino, it was my words that were now bold, round, robust. Giving shapes to thoughts, ideas, and emotions. I was connected.

When the writing came very naturally to a halt, I knew I was complete. I knew I had outrun the bulls, carried on the deep river of creative truth within me. I had outrun those things chasing me away from myself and come back home, within. With that deep creative connection now intact, I repacked my notebook and headed into the night, turning back only for a glance, like that of a smitten lover. I smiled to myself and tucked my hands deep into my coat pockets as I walked. I had become suddenly aware once again of the cold dampness of the air, but felt warm from within knowing the remainder of my journey would be very different.


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