Monday, November 17, 2008

The Occupied Garden: a pilgrimage to one family's past

There are pilgrimages and there are pilgrimages. Some are vast, religion or state-supported affairs that draw tides of humanity. Others are quiet, personal voyages. The pilgrimage of Canadian sisters and authors Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski is of the latter sort, a journey into letters, archives, and family memories in search of the lives of their grandparents' and their father's generations in the years leading up to and during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Rich yet scrupulous in detail, The Occupied Garden recovers the life of an ordinary family living in extraordinary times, times when feeding a family was a struggle, and living by precepts of integrity and human decency required daily acts of heroism. Like any true pilgrimage, it is both a return to the familiar and a discovery of things new and strange, as the iconic figures of opa and oma (grandpa and grandma) become again what they once were: young lovers and, later, parents with huge decisions to make.

I had the pleasure of hearing Kristen speak about her book this fall at a fund-raiser organized by Toronto-area editor and writer Allyson Latta, who happened to be one of the early readers of All the Good Pilgrims. Allyson leads memoir-writing worshops, so it was fitting that all proceeds went to Alzheimer's research; the evening was devoted in every way to the preservation of memory.

For anyone looking to write about their Camino experience, a writers' workshop is not a bad place to start. To learn more about Allyson's, go to

Sunday, November 2, 2008

five glorious walks on the camino de santiago

People ask me - often in solicitous tones - why I keep coming back to the Camino de Santiago, or more precisely, to the Camino Frances, the great pilgrim trunk-road that runs from the Spanish Pyrenees west across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. "You're in a rut," the questioners seem to imply. "It's a big world, there are other experiences to be had, other roads to walk. Why this one... again?"

What do I tell them? Follow this link to find out...