The Characters

Read more about Cameron, Inge, and their companions on their journeys.

Cameron

Cameron Powell

Inge

Inge

Excerpt, Ordinary Magic

Mom’s brief, happy career as a professional chef at a five-star Colorado resort ended when the cancer first hit, in 1999, and she began the months of chemotherapy. What she didn’t tell me is that she insisted on working through the chemo, cleaning offices and houses, in spite of being nauseated by the cleaning chemicals. Afflicted with the money-anxious DNA of her Bavarian Pfannenmüller clan, a terror of penury that translated to a work ethic beyond compare, she would throw up, she would clean, throw up, clean. “Because that’s what you do, you know?” she told me later. “I needed some money.” Even with that money, she couldn’t afford to pay for scans at $8000 a pop, or for a treatment priced for sultans, as I angrily told the boss of a hospital financial counselor who’d browbeaten my mother over the phone until she cried.

After the chemo, Mom began cooking for friends and held private dinners, taught teenagers to cook, and taught etiquette to children. Mom agreed with Julia Child that the best kind of people were people who like food. She made ends meet with careful budgeting – she prided herself on a near-perfect credit score – her small Social Security check, and a little help from me.

It made me happy to see letters like the one from 14-year-old Sydney: “Several years ago I took part in Chef Inge’s manner’s classes. Ever since that time, no matter where I go, I am always complimented on my ‘exquisite’ manners.” And the one from 23-year-old Jamie, “Little did I know how this [cooking] experience would ignite a long, lasting, passion. I have since tried other jobs but nothing was as exhilarating, or satisfying. I have now enrolled in a Culinary Arts Institute to become a Master Chef. Thank you, Chef Inge.”

I made her a website for her cooking business, which she named Gourmet du Jour. She printed up business cards and menus that featured an illustration, by my lone German cousin, Fiona, of a lobster lounging among assorted vegetables. One of her most popular meals was a recreation of the last dinner on the Titanic, which consisted of creamed barley and whiskey soup, chicken Lyonnaise, duchess potatoes, minted-green peas soufflé, and strawberry Romanoff. Her sauerbraten was peerless. After three full days of marinating, you could smell the sweet, vinegary aroma of the pot roast from a block away. Mom had a gift and a lifelong passion for food – for getting it, if possible, for she’d grown up always hungry in the ruins of Germany in the late forties and early fifties, and once she got food, her passion transformed to making wonderful things for friends with it. To offer food was to love.

Carrie

Carrie

Laurel and daughter Carrie came from Grand Junction yesterday and we all went to the Black Canyon to see the Beauty. Carrie’s grandmother is Cameron’s oldest cousin, though he’d never met any of them. They’re my shirttail relatives. Carrie, a great young lady of 15, and I talked about the possibility of her coming along on the Camino. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I told her we had to have some ground rules, though. I’d taken teenagers to Europe before, and I’d said never again. So: no primping, cell phone, ipad, whining, makeup, or sleeping in. Carrie asked me, "If I promise I won't do those things will you take me?”

She was beside herself with excitement.

From the original blog entry by Inge on CaminoNotChemo.com.

September 17. The adventure begins. Mom and Carrie, whom Mom is now calling her niece, “if not by blood then by mutual consent and love”, are flying from Montrose to Denver to Bilbao. “I was so nervous thinking about the plane ride,” Carrie would write in her journal. “I'm going so far away on my first plane ride and I'm with someone that I've never been with for more than 24 hours.” I was amazed she was even able to come. When she’d asked her principal at Fruita High if she could take five weeks off at the start of the school semester to join Inge on the Camino, he said, “What a great idea. You’ll probably learn more doing that than you could learn here.” And that was that.

From Ordinary Magic

Julio

Julio

From Ordinary Magic:

Though he was clinically insane, a few weeks earlier I had emailed him. Don Julio, I began, my mother wants to walk the Camino de la Santiago [sic]. . . I’d met Julio just a few months before that, in mid-May. At the start of a scheduled twelve-hour layover in Brussels, en route to Israel, the passengers on my flight were informed that a problem with fuel in Tel Aviv would leave us stranded in Brussels for another day. The total lay-over would be thirty-six hours, which as everyone knows is hardly sufficient to learn Belgian. “Neat,” Adam said. “And second prize is three days in Brussels.”

We ended up having dinner with the most Chinese-looking bald Spaniard I had ever seen. The physiognomy of his face and head hinted at centuries of battering by both Roman centurions and the mountain sheep of the Basque region. “He looked like a wiry version of Mussolini,” Adam would later say. This was Julio. The next morning the three of us descended upon an outdoor café in Brussels’ Grand Place, which is Belgian for Grand Place.

“So what are you going to Israel for?” I asked him. Just trying to make conversation. Of course he must be going there to see Jerusalem, then to take a bus to the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea and the nearby fortress at Masada, like any other tourist.

“I am going to walk from the north to the south!” he said.

I could see he was of advanced years, so I spoke more clearly and this time from the diaphragm. “What,” I bellowed, nearer to his ear, “will you be doing in Israel?”

Camino de Santiago 2011
Julio in the misty Pyrenees

Marie Anne

Marie Anne

From Ordinary Magic:

We meet up with Marie Anne, whom Julio introduces as a friend. Marie Anne, whose auburn hair would match my mother’s if it still had color, was born in Morocco, to Spanish parents, who moved her to France when Morocco won its independence. She teaches Spanish and French for a living, and she’s passionately involved in local theater. Her English is rudimentary, but her face can say just about anything. Also, she’s coming with us. Carrie will write, “I really enjoy her company even though I can’t understand much of what she says.” Mom is thrilled. St. Jean Pied de Port, the traditional start of the Camino Frances, is only an hour away by train.

On the way in, I see on a placard the word “fachada” and I guess out loud that it refers to “façade.” Marie Anne shows surprise. “You know zees word?”

“Sure,” I say. “It’s English.” I like to toy with Marie Anne, who is both a good sport and as expressive as a child. Her English is only slightly better than my Spanish, which is itself an abomination.

“No,” she says, shaking her head, like the language teacher she is. “Eet’s French.”

“We liked it, so we took it.”

“Wis ze F A and ze C wis ze” – and here she draws with her finger in the air the little hammer and sickle that hangs from the c in façade – “?”.

“Yes,” I say. “That’s it, exactly. Wis ze --” and I draw the same thing in the air and stab at it with a Gallic nose. “Massage and chauffeur are also American. Also French fries and carabiner. Also le weekend.”

“Zey are French!” she says. “But not French fry and weekend.”

“Americain,” I say. “We took zem. Zey are ours now.” Mom is laughing.

Adam

Adam

Excerpt, Ordinary Magic

Adam always understood my allusions, no matter how obscure. That, combined with the fact that he never took me personally, had been the recipe for a long and uncomplicated friendship. I’d met Adam, who was from New Jersey and graduated summa cum laude at Princeton, in our first week at Harvard Law School.

At the time, he wore his dark-brown hair in a ponytail, and sported a trimmed beard, so that he looked like Robert DeNiro, if DeNiro were selectively kosher. We each lived with a roommate on the fourth floor of Hastings Hall, the law school’s oldest and largest dormitory. We even had balconies, if you never-minded all the signs forbidding being on the fire escapes. Mine looked out to Austin Hall, which once housed the entire Harvard Law School, as well as the two-story white house of the Harvard Law Review, where a skinny 2L named Barack Obama came outside, all angles, to smoke cigarettes. Our dorm wasn’t cheap, but we lived in suites, each consisting of two bedrooms, a large living room, and a working fireplace.

Adam had the idea that his fireplace was designed to boil Jägermeister, in a pot I’d lent him. It was the end of the pot, but the beginning of a long friendship in which I was highly skeptical of his bright ideas.

Adam even then was a gentleman inside a gentleman, and he strode the campus dressed as formally as our emeritus professors, some of whom would die that very year. His style, if you will, made people think Adam was serious about the law, or at least spiritually the oldest person in our class, but the critical fact here is that he would wear the same clothes - I don’t mean just the same style, but literally the same pieces of clothing - for the next twenty years. There was general consensus that Adam had no time for any modern culture after the Council of Trent, or perhaps it was the Treaty of Ghent, I can never remember which. Years later, when we got an opportunity to attend a singing lesson, Adam would bring sheet music for “O Isis und Osiris”, from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, and I would bring, on my iPhone, karaoke tracks of Otis Redding.

Adam, L, with Jorge (R) and Cameron (seated), first year, Harvard Law School
Adam at HLS reunion, 2017

What Readers are Saying

"The most painfully honest and therefore true thing I have read in a long while."

Rachel Mariner

Playwright and author, “Bill Clinton Hercules”

"Beautiful beyond words how Powell expresses everything, how strong and courageous he and his mother both are. How in awe I am of them both, how very much I love and admire Inge. This is a loving gift. "

M. Musselwhite

"Riveting and beautiful - this story needs to be out in the world."

Lisa Leslie

“It has the true ring to it. I didn’t want to stop reading. It reminded me in parts of one of my favourite writers, recently departed Jim Harrison. It is about love, pure and simple.”

Christopher Ayres

Berlin

“...bathed in the blessing of a unique, exquisitely painful and poignant time between a mother and her son.”

Renge Grace

“Thank you for sharing this. My mother is 99 years old and your compassion and honesty are inspirational for me.” 

Alison Tinsley

“Beautiful prose. Historically and humanly interesting. Really funny. And it addresses everybody’s quest for soul healing.”

Alessandra Cardarelli

Rome, Italy

“I haven’t been able to dredge up the words, although the emotions are there clear as day. All I can do now is just thank you.”

Lisa Angst

“Reading it every day, sometimes even two times to absorb all of it, with tears running down my face.” 

Susanna Kisa

"I've begun reading and cannot stop. My heart is right on the trail, and then in the room, with Cameron and Inge. I’m charmed by Inge -- how effervescent she is! -- and by her knight-in-shining-armor son, who writes beautifully about the apple of his eye."

Laura Coffin

Writer, lawyer

“The blogs are heartfelt. I haven’t made it through one yet with dry eyes.” 

Vikki Wulf

“Beautiful, funny, adventurous, at times sad, vulnerable, and very human. It's a story of hope, strength, self-reflection, and inspiration. A story of a woman determined to fight cancer while making a pilgrimage across northern Spain.

"A story of walking long distances, through beautiful landscapes, trying unique foods, and enjoying a great camaraderie. And it's a story of love between a Mother and a Son, who accompanied her on her Camino."

Ivona Datkova

“You have the gift of sharing such painful, beautiful moments. And in such beautiful, beautiful writing. I feel I’m there with you, though I never suffered the pain of my own mother’s pain, her tears, her resistance to her own death.”

Renge Grace

“For those like me who have lost a mother to cancer, reading of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour caretaking of Inge brings forth a host of cathartic emotions.”

Andrew Dashiell

“My Mother just died of cancer, quite suddenly, a couple of days after I started reading the book. So there is a lot in it that resonates with me. Reading it brought a lot of joy and at times reading it felt like a balm to my soul.”

Ivona Datkova

“Our culture gives us so little to draw on to prepare ourselves for death – Your words have value. The love and acceptance in your soul is really something else. I am overwhelmed by the gratitude and peace in you.”

Rachel Mariner

“I am in awe of how mindful you are in this situation. I couldn’t stop reading - poignant, clear, descriptive - I felt like I was present as well. You made her so real, so alive. You have managed to relay her humanness -- our humanness and vulnerability.”

M. Musselwhite

Are you in favor of our mission? Please spread the word!

Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
https://www.ordinarymagicbook.com/the-characters/">