Monday, 30 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 14

Conspiracy theories? Probably not. But there is no doubt that the following message was tampered with enough to make it almost unreadable. Anyway, I have fixed it up now and hope that it remains that way.

Prepare to read about the mass before the Mass...

What is the Mozarabic Rite ?
In Galicia and in fact- many parts of Spain, the Roman mass was not heard. Instead, the liturgy was the Mozarabic, Visigothic or as it is sometimes called, the Hispanic Rite. By 1085, however, it had been suppressed in fravour of the mass most of us are familiar with today, though in Latin , of course.

The term Mozarabic Christians refers to those who were living in parts of Spain occupied by the Muslims. But in fact, it dates from before the Moorish invasion to the Visigoths who occupied all of the north of Spain, Galicia included. Some scholars believe it could be even older and that it may have been one of the earliest forms of the mass. There is every possibility that it is this that Priscillian would have celebrated as Bishop of Avila. This ancient rite has its own form of chant before Gregorian chant which postdates it by at least 300 years . You can you hear it on You Tube here: .

The visual quality isn't the best, but in some ways it adds atmosphere to the early church. .It's hauntingly beautiful, Perhaps even more so because there is almost no-where in Spain now that you can hear it. This is from the Church of the Holy Martyr Santa Eulalia in Merida.

We have the earliest evidence for the rite from Isidore of Seville who died in 636. As the “Reconquista” began to take back more and more parts of Spain. , so the Mozarabic Rite gradually was taken over by the Roman one. In fact, by the end of the 8th century, it was already used in Catalonia , But it was not until 1071 that it was adopted in Navarra and Aragon. At this time , the Cluniac order was beginning to move into Spain with these monks. In 1076, it was adopted in Leon and Castile, and when the capital of Toledo was taken by Alfonso VI in 1085, the future of the Roman mass as the only one to be used seemed almost certain.

This was not immediately accepted by everyone, and Galicia, being the most north western kingdom did not want it at all. As I mentioned earlier in these posts it´s levying on the Gallego people may have caused real rebellion and bloodshed , and most likely , the deposition of a bishop, Diego Pelaez himself .

But what Pope Gregory VII said ewhat had to be, came to be, and what had to go, went. A French archbishop was appointed to the see of Toledo by the king and henceforth , it was the Roman mass Christians were expected to make their responses to. Everywhere. Officially .Whether they liked it or not.

In the late 15th century, Cardinal Cisneros of Toledo begin to restore the Mozarabic Rite in the historical cathedral of Toledo. By the late 19th Century, there were missals containing the new rite although scholars are not in agreement on how much of the original rite is contained in these.

In Toledo Cathedral, the Visigoth Mass is celebrated in the Mozarabic Chapel every day . There are a few more churches in Spain who have been given permission to hold this ancient Hispanic mass, but few do so .

I had hoped to be lucky enough to attend this mass. My pilgrim friend, Juan Frisuelos , had applied for, and got, permission from the archbishop to hold the mass at the closed convent in Escalona just to the north east of Toledo. His cousin "Paco" was an ordained priest and invited to officiate. Many members of the association of the Friends of Santiago were looking forward to this most unique opportunity.

However, it seemed was not to be.

Rivalries exist everywhere, and it appeared that the local priest was not too keen on the idea and said at the last minute special permission had to be applied for. So on the day the regular Catholic mass - though pilgrim with very distinct overtones - was celebrated. I have to admit I was rather disappointed, even though I found the crisp Castillano very easy to understand. During the blessing of the Eucharist I had some sort of epiphany as I suddenly realised the Gnostic Significance of the transubstantiation of bread and the wine. But I will not write of it here .

Afterwards we - Juan and his family and priests - not one but two - and me - all trooped back to Juan´s housewhere Maria, his mother , put on a veritable feast of the best paella I have ever had, topped off with a perfect home -made flan to die for. Me, and two priests! And I behaved myself admirably . I've never had after- church lunch with the vicar before! The talk was of food and practicalities and theological discussion was not entertained. Quite right too .

We watched the TV news item from my Toledo interview and there was not a fish in sight. I think I made sense, but I had never realised that I spoke Spainish with such an appallingly English accent! Though about the Mozarabic Mass, Juan was disappointed , and knew that I was disappointed. And so the next day ( Sunday ), we decided to drive to Toledo where we would be sure to catch it .


As it was the Feast of St. James it had been decided to hold a special "pilgrim mass". And that , of course , could not include anything which was not specifically Roman Catholic, even if the Visgothic Rite predated the Catholic one by hundreds in Galicia and most of the Way in general.

We were, however, allowed to enter into an area behind the rood screen which Juan told me was not normally open to the public.

What astonished me was the message of the liturgy: Pilgrims were from "all over the world, from all religions or none , the road did not end in Santiago but continued on to Finisterre and the end of the trail , and the best of all surprises : It did not matter who was buried in the cathedral because what mattered was what in pilgrim’s hearts.

Well , knock me down with a feather !

"But of course ", I hear you saying .

But this church has never taken this line and the reason why I am pretty well persona non grata in the Cathedral is because I have written and continue to speak about this. What this elderly priest in red was saying was exactly what I had been saying in newspapers, on TV and on the radio in the days leading up to this, the 25th of July the Day of St. James, the Patron of Spain (and not, by the way, the Patron of Compostela: that is San Roque, Santa Susana whose graffiti -covered church in the Alameda park is a disgrace, abandoned and forgotten.

I cast a quizzical eye at Juan. Afterwards, He said: "It is the way of the Catholic Church Bureaucracy. They will do anything to save face. "

Well , well ...Did I touch a clerical nerve or two?

I do hope so.

This will be my last blog post for a month as I am off again on book promotion for Pilgrimage to Heresy in Canada, but I'll be back in September ready to take up again the story of how the Way came to be, so I do hope you will drop by. In the meantime there are more than 100 posts about the Camino and related items here and I am sure you will enjoy a browse.

Until then, "goodbye".

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 13

Friday 23rd July: Another couple of days and then I'll be all up to date.
Then I have to leave you all for a while while I go to Canada and another book tour...

If mornings didn´t start so early, I am sure I might learn to enjoy them.

To compensate for my extra day’s stay at the monastery, I had to set my alarm at five for an early start. It was still full dark when I left at six. Having complained about Simone’s arbitrariness regarding the air con, I now found myself with ice cold feet. I was retracing the territory I drove through during the thunderstorms but although it was a green line road, I still didn’t get to see any of it.

But it doesn’t take long in northern Spain for the sun to make his appearance and the “rosy-footed dawn” over Zaragosa was simply splendid. I spent the next few hundred kilometres exhausting my stock of music – all on tape. I have a CD player (and 12 speakers!) but I play my CD’s at home, whereas the tapes rarely get an airing. You know that feeling when the DJ plays your favourite song? Even though you might have it on an old album or whatever at home, you feel like it is a special gift – just for you, and you crank the volume up. This is what I did to Pat Metheny, and Elton John, and even a bit of old folk music, since I now belong officially to the Old Folk.

At one point about 50 kilometres north east of Madrid, just as I was playing Peter Gabriel´s Solisbury Hill “Winds were blowing, time stood still; eagle flew out of the night…”, an eagle did just that. Not the night as it was a good 10:30 by now, but it flew less than a metre away alongside my window, and almost into it for a good five incredulous seconds. This is the second time I have had the same experience.

Whether we have a totem or a “daimon” or angels around our shoulders I don´t know. The older I get (oh dear, there I go again), the more I am prepared to entertain the possibility: perhaps a “good journey guide” as my friend Lance Hurst believes.

One thing I have noticed though is that I seem to attract hawks, falcons and eagles. I find them beautiful and graceful in the extreme. Creatures in a total world of their own where only they exist. For a few moments on this ever-increasingly hot summer morning, this eagle and I shared “a moment”.

Madrid is never easy to negotiate but I found my way around the ring road easily despite the weekend traffic and soon I was approachingToledo.

There are a few cities in the world which from a distance just don´t seem real. Granada is one with the high Sierras behind it, snow trimmed even on a July day. San Francisco is another, especially when it is glimpsing the Pacific out of a summer fog. Toledo is one such: a wedding cake of a city from all sides, ringed by ancient walls and the gentle (here) Tajo river. I was lucky enough to drive right into a parking spot (Goddess Gladys again) and then all I had to do was find the tourist office for directions to the radio station for my first interview of the day.

One thing I like about central Spain is that the Castellano is generally very easy to understand. I was able to respond well to the questions about Priscillian, Diego Gelmirez, the Camino de Santiago and my own retrospective trip. I haven’t the faintest idea what I said (I never do); I only remember myself rambling on as usual, and as the day wore on I was to repeat it several times.

Before the last interview I decided to pay a visit to the cathedral but balked at paying seven euros. Our holy places are little more than museums these days. I was not there for a mass, but neither was I there for a cultural visit: I wanted to experience the grandiloquence of a thousand years of Catholic might. I really should not have been such a skinflint but as I expected to be attending the Mozarabic Mass the next day, I thought I would wait until then.

Instead I fell prey to the posters around town inviting me to an “exhibition” on the Templars. This loudly-touted display consisted of a poorly-done film presentation much limited in scope, and several wall displays with little more than a bunch of propaganda and nonsense about the Order of the Knights of Jerusalem which I already knew. It was almost worth the 4 euros entry fee, however, just to see the mannequins dressed up in what someone thought would fool the public as “Templar Garb”. Shame no-one thought to check whether Templars were required to grow their beards and hair though (they were). The visit took me all of 5 minutes as the heat was enough to produce fainting spells (I wonder if that’s another thing the poor Templars were accused of, or maybe even Priscillian: Feinting Spells…but I digress).

So as the sun was turning the lovely shadows of Toledo a little longer, I met with the TV interviewer and cameraman under the clock in the main square. By this time I was so hot and exhausted that I completely forgot their names and for that I deeply apologise.
It was decided that the riverside would be a good place for the interview (for a short news item actually, though it took much longer to record). I had the sun in my eyes and the river was surprisingly noisy so I had to both squint and shout (Well Shake it Up, Baby Now…). This I handled with my, by now, professional aplomb.

However, what completely unglued me was The Man With The Fish.

Behind me at the river´s edge there was one of those long cylindrical fishing nets. You know the one: you can buy something like it at IKEA to put your kids’ teddies in. As I was speaking, a man came right behind me and pulled it out of the river. He then proceeded to plonk it down a couple of meters away from me and empty out its contents. Out flopped a couple of pretty hefty fish of some variety I didn’t know (I don’t know many!) And flop they did, covering themselves in a layer of river sand and dust. Fish Man ignored them completely while he put his nets back in the river. I tried initially to carry on as if nothing had happened, but as you can imagine, that didn´t last for long.

By the time he came back, I was helpless with giggles (a bit like Felix in Pilgrimage to Heresy) The filming, of course, had to stop as by now my total lack of control had affected both men.

Fish Man, meanwhile, took no notice of any of us, not camera, microphone nor

Instead he simply picked his fish up out of the dirt, opened up a wooden basket, and throwing them into it wiggling away (the fish) he walked off into the sunset! This made me completely lose the plot in two languages and we had to start all over again.

Now you don´t see that every day, do you…?

I had been invited by Juan Frisuelos – who we have met before at the refugio of Acacio and Orietta—to stay at his house for a couple of days. I think I mentioned that I had met Juan through his publication El Correo Camino when I sent in a correction to an article he had picked up from syndication which had stated very wrongly that I never walked with a backpack not more than 5 kilometres a day. Juan is a member of the Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Toledo and he had arranged a special mass, a Mozarabic (Visigothic) Mass to be celebrated on the 24th in the church of a closed order of nuns in his own town, Escalona. I was very excited because the loss of the MOzarabic Mass features as a reason for rebellion in Compostela, as you will already know if you have been following my research here.

I arrived at Juan’s hot and sticky and tired. It was lovely to see Juan again and he wanted us to eat straightway; but Maria, his mother, understood that women have priorities which men don’t always place first. “She wants a shower first,” she said and hustled me off to her bathroom, towel in hand. Bless her.

I was a bit nervous to begin with. After 14 years in Spain I have still only been invited into a Spanish home three times. It is not that the Spanish are anti-social, far from it. It just isn’t the custom here to entertain, other than family, at home. You meet friends away from the house in a bar or restaurant either on the coast (a “chiringuito”) or inland (a “venta”) in Andalucia, or probably in the Plaza in most parts of Spain.

So this was a new experience for me, and the bullfight on the TV didn’t do anything to make me feel many more at home initially. Juan explained that his mother loved the corrida and that in this part of Spain it was a very much ingrained part of the tradition. He even had ancestors who were famous matadors. I decided that it was OK as long as I kept my back to the telly and soon Juan’s friend Maite arrived from Madríd, so I had someone I could talk with. I liked her immediately. Here was someone with the same sense of fun as my own.

Dinner was wonderful Spanish fayre, the mattress was latex, the night was quiet, the fan was welcomed. After my sunrise start and all the excitement, I slept like a baby.

How on earth does Angelina Jolie do it?

Camino Odyssey 12

I was so enchanted with the peace and quiet of the Monastery of Leyre that I couldn’t quite decide whether I should stay another night. It wasn’t expensive (42.50 for a single with bath is a bargain for such a lovely spot) and even though the menu de la noche was a bit disappointing (for 16.50), the Rumanian waiter was very friendly and I even learned to say Note Boona, or something like it.

So I said: “Go for it. You deserve it.”

The next morning, of course, was pouring with rain. In fact the thunderstorms in which I had arrived had been circulating ever since. Never mind. A good day to catch up with my diary and explore a little. I took the “tour” at 3 o´clock (in Spanish) and saw the crypt, Virila´s burial place, and the interesting story of how this monastery was abandoned in 1937 only to come back to life just a few years ago. I even learned that Diego Pelaez, (see earlier blogs for lots about him) had been present at the consecration of the monastery church in 1098, which was only a few years after he was released from Alfonso VI’s prison, and just a few before his death.

Then, the clouds having receded and the sun venturing a glipse through, I decided I would follow the marked trail to find the Holy Fuente of San Virila.
It was lovely; every now and then there would be a rock with a bible verse or something similar. But it was also farther than I had thought, and when I finally got there I almost missed it: a little dribble out of the mountains high above the monastery.

And then I lost the trail on the way down!

Normally, if you do up a mountain, then down is the obvious way back and this was the direction I took. But the foliage was so thick that at many points I thought the only thing to do was to turn around and try to climb back. That didn´t look too easy either. No wonder Virila disappeared for 300 years. For a while, as the sound of distant thunder added to my dilemma, I had visions of turning up at the bottom of the hill to nothing but ruins of an old monastery, and the far-rusted remains of what looked vaguely like a Volvo C70!

And then I got to the bottom, exactly where I had climbed up. A woman with a child asked me if the spring was very far. “Yes,” I said, and wanted to say “about 300 years!”

I had picked some lavender along the way. The woman decided to take my word for it and turned back towards the herb garden. I noticed that she was accompanied by a child of perhaps eight with Down´s Syndrome. I said hello and was greeted with a delighted and delightful smile. I gave him my lavender which he put immediately to his nose and smelled it, laughing because he said it tickled. I was to see them later in church at the 7 o´clock service. The child was fast asleep on his father’s shoulder. After Laudes, I plucked up the courage and asked if I could sing. The couple and the child were still there (I usually wait til everyone has gone). The child slept right through, but the parents thanked me and asked me if I were professional.

“No,” I said. “I am just an acoustic collector!”

And these echoed with 900 years of faith and mystery.

What a lovely spot.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 11

Once upon a time (because all the best stories start that way) there lived a man whose name was Virila. Virila was a holy man, but a curious one. His holiness had made him the Abbot of the monastery of Leyre high in the mountain; but his curiosity sometimes led him to question parts of the bible where his fellow monks simply accepted them as God’s word and then went back to their work.

One fine spring morning, Virila was pondering the words of the 89th psalm which says that God is ever-lasting and his Glory transcends even time. Virila set out to walk in the herb gardens but while he was wondering how it could be that one day in the presence could seem like a thousand years, he found himself some way from the monastery in the orchard. As he continued walking up the mountain he began to think: “Wouldn’t someone get bored with such a long stay?”, and the idea of celestial eternity tired his brain so much that he sat down on a rock by a natural spring to ponder on it, twirling his ring round and round on his finger as he contemplated temporal infinity.

Just then, a nightingale flew into the orchard and settled on a tree just above the aged abbot. Virila paused to listen to the bird’s song and became so entranced that time seemed to pass without him ever noticing it at all.

When he finally realised where he was, it occurred to him that the day was well past and he had walked here after Matins.

“I had better get back,” thought Virila anxiously, “The monks will be worried about me.”

And he began to make his way carefully back down the mountain.

But when he arrived back at the monastery, everything seemed to look different. Some parts of the building looked as though they were in need of some repair, and others were new and not something Virila had ever seen before!

A man came out of the main door. He was wearing the black robes of the Benedictine Friars, Virila’s own order. But his face was unknown to the abbot.

“Good evening, Father,” said the monk. “You have come far today I think, and you are welcome here.”

“Who are you?” said Virila, rather pointedly. “I don’t remember news of any new novices arriving today.”

“Novice!” said the other, “Perhaps you have not noticed. I am no novice; I am the Abbot of the Monastery of Leyre and have been for nigh on 50 years now following my master the old abbot.”

“That is nonsense,” snapped Virila, “because I am Virila, the Abbot of Leyre. And I have never met you before in my life!”

By this time, a group of monks had gathered to find out what all the fuss was about. One monk, old and grey-bearded with barely any hair on his head suddenly said:

“Wait a minute…there once was an abbot called Virila here. When I was but a young lad fresh from the seminary, the oldest monks remembered a story about him because the strangest thing happened. One morning, after Matins, this abbot went out on the mountainside to take the air, and was never seen nor heard from again!”

“Surely not!” said the “new” abbot. “And when was this fairy tale supposed to have taken place?”

“Three hundred years ago, Father.”

At this, all the other monks laughed and turning prepared to get back to their work.

And then something special happened. Out of the sunset there flew a nightingale. He swooped low over Virila and dropped something at his feet. The new abbot bent down and picked it up.

It was an abbatial ring, the very ring missing from Virila’s finger.

“Forgive me, father, for doubting you!” the new abbot said. “Please come and join us. We have a lot to tell you about this great monastery. Are you hungry?”

St. Virila carefully placed the ring back on his finger as the nightingale flew back into the dying sun:

“After 300 years, I should think so,” he said.

This is my version of the St. Virila story. I heard it years ago and it was a joy to stay at the monastery where the great saint lived and died. There are versions of this story all over Europe. I love it.

For more information about the Monastery of Leyre this is a good site to visit

Friday, 13 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 10

Like all camping folks, I woke up early, to find myself not in a tent by a mountain lake - as was planned for this part of the trip - but very stiffly propped up in the passenger seat, with my feet on a backpack in the "foot bit" part of my car. Huh?. Stretch and ..oh my God... Don't you think you are getting a wee bit old for this type of thing?

Ok Where the %&$=& am I this time?

The dreadful message on the gate from last night gives no signs of monks.In fact, there is no sign of anything at all. The building looks completely deserted. I make an attempt to hide myself behind Simone's door for a call of nature and then take a better look at the building behind the gates. Finally, and it takes a while at this time of the morning, it dawns on me.

I am in the wrong place.

This a hotel; waymarked Monastery de Leyre, but it is something else evilly disguised for disoriented pilgrims to find and have to reject in the darkened night, and, in the light of day, following the torment of the night, an obvious metaphor for the .....

¡Oye!Tracy! Get back to the story!


Now in the cold light of dawn (obvious cliche; it was actually quite warm)the answer is clear. This is the remains of what was intended to impress and endorse pilgrims in the late 12th century. They did as they were told to do.They had no other option. People who opposed the King died. They had land taken away from themselves and their descendants - forever. Is it it any surprise they capitulated?

This for those of you who failed your English High School Exams, is known as a Rhetorical Question: no answer is needed. There is no charge for this service...

Having realised this, I heave my sleeping back into the back seat and get Simone pointed a bit more mountainward. Only 2 klms as it turns out.

A few turns upwards, the Monastery - sans storm - is pretty bloody obvious. In the daylight that is.

But not yet open for visitors.

It is 6:45.

I decide to explore.

The last thing I expected was for the abbey church to be open but it is. The portico is gorgeous - loads of detail: some supicious and some salacious -and I remember reading that it may have been the work of Esteban who left Santiago with the expulsion of his patron, Bishop Diego Pelaez (remember him?). If not you'll have to go back a few months or you will have "lost the plot" entirely!)(Go on. It's worth it. Are you a seeker after truth or...?), and went to work on the cathedral at Pamplona with the blessing of the King of Navarre, (no friend to Castilla or Leon), only a short distance away from Leyre. (Diego Pelaez was present at the consecration of the Abbey in 1098). Just for you purists.(Otherwise too many hated parentheses!)

Strangled by early morning parentheses at this point, I wander into the church.

It is far larger than I had expected and the one feature which really stands out - visually certainly - is the statue of the virgin, outlined, slightly off-centre, against the opaque window. What I see is simply stunning. It is early morning, and I am all alone.

I track back to the doorway. The mist is still coming up from the valley below and continues to cling to the mountains above, as though afraid to move the day forward. There is a space in between which shows the clarity of the cliffs which surround this eagle's refuge. I imagine that I must dwell in this space as there really is no other.

I am drawn back in to the abbey church. I sit on the end of a row at the very back.
I had not anticpitated what followed as, at that surreal point, I felt that all of it belonged to me. I was alone, among shadows, remember...

First, a door opened on my far right and five men in normal clothing walked through to settle themselves on the front pews. Then 19 monks, all dressed in black robes with hoods attached, made their way through, Noah's Arc fashion, to seat themselves on either side of the choir.

I was transfixed at this point way back, at the back by the door and the sun's tiny sliver of appearance.It was too occupied with what lay to the east and down below at the reservoir...

The monks began to sing. This is Gregorian Mass. This is no ordinary singing. This is for the glory of God and none other, and it was just by coincidence that one other - namely me - had the immense good fortune (see how bad fortune - the storm and an uncomfortable night - can result in good fortune? Life is a question of getting the perspective right)to be able to participate in their worship in a peripheral, and entirely hidden way. But I was at the back. This is a big church.

The light is in semi-darkness. I am completely hidden, forgotten,unimportant:unncessary. I recognised some but not much. It was clearly a Gregorian Mass. And for whom? Not themselves. Not me. Only God.

One of them got up to speak. I was too far away and too awe-struck anyway so I missed all.

Then they all rose, and in the same fashion as they had entered, they left. Through the same door, with the followers coming lately.

I ended as I began. Alone. But with a look of complete beatification and stupistification on my face. Not a single one of them had noticed that I was there. I had witnessed a secret, of sorts.

I love secrets.

Bet you do too.

Just think. Clear now? Think again.If you devote your life to this, it will follow. It will.

Eight o'clock (to be kind to the receptionist), I checked in. I was told not until 12. Ok. I'll be back then.

My plan on this trip was, at the very least, Somport to Finisterre, or vice versa. Circumstances had made me opt for Vice Versa, I headed for Somport, the former border post high in the Pyrennees (and stunningly beautiful) on the lesser known Camino Aragones, and where I started my second Camino in 2000.

I took photos of Simone going into France then I took photos of Simone coming back into Spain. Beyond these photos are stunning views of the pass between France and Spain - not always visible as I have found out before.

Then I went for an incredibly expensive breakfast at the only restaurant at the border - how much? Oh come on...! - and photographed myself in the window, in the cold, and the wind. Not the best but all for aesthetic atmosphere - Belgians love it (joke!).

After this all the day has to be an anticlimax. But my room turned out to be a bargain with this atmopsphere. Recommended. Certainly would go back.

The room has a great view of the mountains and is recently simply furnished in beige and white. I set up my computer and books: I open the window to the courtyard. I am at home.

Dinner was a bit of a disappointment, in that the ordinary and not very well-cooked fayre relied perhaps too much on the atmosphere. But Nicky, my waiter from Romania, was everything a waiter should be: it could not have been better.

He was Sartre's Pierre. The last time I met him he was in a remote spot in Cuba in 1987.

I met with Claudia: she is a German studying at Simon Fraser Univ. We talked about Europe, Canada, and then we agreed to meet for breakfast in their motorhome next day.

Now, anyone who knows me will know that I was born under the sign of the turtle, and that the motorhome is my totum. This was not just any motorhome. It was Buckingham Palace. But it made me realise how big my modest apartment was, and how I would love something to drive like this but something unimpressive and perhaps with 4-wheel drive so that I could hitch my wagon to any star down whatever beach road I took a fancy to, no matter how small.

Honestly, in the great scheme of things: am I really asking to much of whoever is in charge of Logistics up there? The rest I will take care of by myself...

I am in Sophie's World but making Sophie's Choice: but what do I REALLY want?

Galicia and my pilgrim destiny or... Benahavis and my wonderful view; Malaga and my gorgeous granddaughter? Maybe there are ways to incorporate both? I think - I hope..... I have five years to think about it.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 9

I am trying to bring this up to date so that I can get back to good old Diego Gelmirez before I go to Canada. I have been invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference on Gnosticism at my old university, Brock University, in St.Catharines, Ontario. I don't know really what I am going to speak about as my brief so far is "Why do you like Gnosticism?" I likened this to why do you like vanilla ice cream?

Watch this space...

Anyway, the date is July 20th, a Thursday. It is time to leave Acacio's, but before I do I have a promise to keep.

I told Sandra last night that if she wanted me to, I would be happy to drive her on to where she thought her friends might be. Some purists might consider this "cheating". It isn't. In Sandra's case it is an extension of "listening to the Camino". By doing so - and I guess I have to claim a small part of this - she has decided to press on.

Sandra is noticably more positive than she was yesterday at the same time. I drive her to Belorado. We say goodbye and I leave her with my internet address and hope she will be in touch. She may not be. That's OK. I do not ask for hers. She will have many more adventures before she arrives in Santiago in perhaps three weeks time.

Upon my arrival back at Acacio's (he is seated in front of the computer in his trademark black baseball cap) I remark that one has to be especially careful on the Camino to only encourage but not interfere. Perhaps it is my training as a therapist which dictates this. Perhaps it is the "Prime Directive". He agrees. But I think in encouraging Sandra I have done the right thing.

Just before I am packing to leave, several pilgrims enter and all are worth mentioning. First of all, there was Pamela. She is an American woman who is about to defend her doctoral thesis in October. The theme is Metaphor and Foregn Language Learning. I have a Master's myself in Applied Linguistics and so we get to talking. She is about my age. I really enjoy talking to her and take some photos. I say I will send them. "Promise?" she says. Yes, of course I say. Three weeks have gone but now I am in a position to do so and I hope she will forgive the time gap. She is someone I know I could make a friend of.

Another person, with whom Pamela engages in an animated conversation, is a Finnish photographer. He shows us some of his work. It is of an obvious professional standard and I am not surprised when he says shyly that he is "well known" in Finland. His name is Ville and he tells us he is currently living in Los Angeles but that he dislikes it and misses his homeland. I write down his e-mail too.

Just before I leave a young man walks in with a few others. He is noticeable because he has on a string around his neck, a tea box. In the tea box is a baby bird. He is from Austria and he tells me that he found the bird by the roadside the day before and that it is more animated today. Privately I think it is unlilkely that the bird will live. I share this with Pamela and she agrees. But his face has such innocence and the bird is so important to him that we decide that no matter what happens, both will benefit: "Austrian Bird" and its carrier.

Then there is Gerardo, from Mexico. He hands Ville and me a piece of paper offering to do foot massage. I look up and see a face I have known for centuries. It really takes me back. "I know you, " I say, "How do I know you?" His sweet face smiles and he shrugs. It dawns on me. "You have taken a vow if silence," I say. He nods. I take a photo, and ask him to write his name. Then he passes on.

This meeting still haunts me.

"St. James."

Sharing love and Caring. All part of the Camino and life. As is loss. And Mystery.

Once I leave I realise that I have to make up for "lost" time. It's been fun but I am on a sort of self-imposed schedule now and I have promised myself a couple of nights at the Monastery of Leyre in Navarra. I need some "down time".

Never make plans, especially upon the Camino.

I go to check out the pilgrims in Azofra only to find that the tiny refuge I visited - and in which Miranda and Alex in Pilgrimage to Heresy shelter from the thunderstorms - has been closed and superceded by what looks to be a true 5 star albergue. When I arrive there are pilgrims laid out beside the foot pool. Wow! Things have changed. Not only that but there are 60 bunks on offer. I get into conversation with good-looking Sebastian, a fellow hypnotherapist from Denmark (may God help me: if I were only 20 years younger!) and he tells me what I have expected: get up early, wait for places, or go private. I have heard this all the way along the Camino Frances.

And then on to Puente la Reina. Even before I enter the Church of El Salvador, I can see the storm clouds gathering and after I exit (having had my feet washed!) I can hear the thunder getting closer. For me it is like Azofra 1999 once again. I stay in the church portico and take atmospheric photos as it seems to recede. But I have a good memory. I know it will be back.

Just after Eunate at the beginning of the Camino Aragones, my suspicions are realised and it really begins to chuck it down. This is very dramatic in the foothills of the Pyrenees and I enjoy the challenge of the drive until I take a wrong turn and end up somewhere down the road to a quarry.

With the storm, the night has come on early and I know I must get to close to Sanguesa and simply follow signs. The problem is that Sanguaesa, being a town with medieval roots and roads to match, has a complicated one way sytstem and by the time I have been one way twice going in the wrong direction I am beginning to get worried! By now it is past 10:00 at night and I can't see three feet in front of Simone for the rain!

Then there it is. A Sign! Right, off the road: "Monasterio de Leyre". Yeah! There is nothing right of the exit but a quagmire.

Now what?

Luckily I just about spot - on the other side of the road (which I can barely make out anyway) there is an equal sign: "Monasterio de Leyre". In other words, for those of you not familiar with Spain's odd but effective way of crossing from one side to the other - the road to the Monastery was actually on the other side of the road from where I was.

Got it?

I crossed gingerly as it was impossible to see where the road began or ended, or if anyone was foollish enough to be out on a night such as this (ah hem...).
Once across, one of the first things I saw was a darkened, ecclesiastical looking building. Or at least at 11 at night, that's what it looked like: the lights were out, but there was an impressive looking gate. Finally! The Monasterio de Leyre!
I pulled up to the gate. There were no lights but you don't expect monks to have lights at 11 at night. I wondered if they would let me in: a poor pilgrim, lost, scared, wet...laid small by the forces of Nature.

There was a sign on the gate. "Cerrado por Reformas". If you read Spanish you will already know what it said.

If not:

"Closed for Restauration".

Well, what do you do in a situation like that?.

You have to laugh.

I laughed until I cried, and then - I laughed some more.

Then, I said "Screw it", and slept in the car!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 8

I thought I had plenty of time to drive from Viloria to Logroño for my first interview at 1:15. That is until Begoña from the publishers called and said she had one more - at 12:30, a live interview on a radio show: a "phone in".

Naturally I ran into traffic and road works. So as it was I was only just entering the city when my phone rang. There was nothing for it. I took a swift right into the first parking place I saw.

It was a bus stop.

There were people waiting at the bus stop.

Too late: I was already "En directo"!

Now doing phone in interviews in a language which is not your own is never easy, especially live ones.

But from a bus stop? With a bus pulling in behind you and a line of irate Spaniards cursing your Malaga licence plates!


The rest of the day went well although it was very hot. I managed to find both the radio station and the television station although they were not as close together as I had been led to believe. And, I wore the wrong shoes. To this day I have no idea what I said on the TV magazine show, but I know I got quite passionate about the Camino and in my attempt to find the right words, I looked at the floor a lot.

I don't think you are supposed to do that on TV...

I think I said something about the Camino de Santiago being a metaphor for life, with past, present and future being backwards - where you won't go; staying still, which you can't do for long; and moving forward, and making decisions about where and how.

It was all very Buddhist really.

Back to Acacio's and spent some time after dinner talking to Sandra from Switzerland. She had let her Camino friends go on this morning because there was only one place and she had decided to stay. She said that she had seriously thought of stopping because she wasn't getting that "Camino feeling" that everyone talked about. I suggested that if she was trying to walk someone else's Camino I was not surpised; that the real joys of the Camino are the ones that we least expect.

And tomorrow I have to go in search of my own, once again.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 7

From Moratinos to Viloria de la Rioja, one has to drive from one side of the Meseta to the other. On the highway this is a two hour drive, tops. It took me all day.

Kim and I discover that we have something fundamental in common while I am having breakfast this morning. We both spend our lives suspended between adventurer and hermit. Perhaps that is where the Camino takes on a special function. For Kim at the present time, Moratinos is a special sanctuary and she need not venture out too much.

She is affected by “noisy energy” and retreats sometimes to her studio. She has no immediate plans to move on and is clearly a very necessary and loved part of the life at the Peaceable.

I very much like Patrick. He is, in that lovely English word, a “curmudgeon”. Or that’s how he likes to portray himself. He has exchanged his Fleet Street life for a fly-blown pueblo on the Meseta and he seems very much a happy man. I find myself wanting his respect. I think I have it. Patrick believes that Pascal´s wager promises only hell or nothing; I disagree. Pascal said that you might as well live a good life because if Heaven exists you have a first class ticket. I have always seen this as very optimistic: live a good life; but Patrick thinks that it is a threat. I guess I am such an optimist that I have never considered this side of the equation!

It is time to leave the Peaceable Kingdom and I do so very reluctantly. I want to stay, like Kim, peel potatoes and weed the garden. Lulu the greyhound seems much better today and Patrick is much relieved. I say goodbye to Una the three legged dog (Rebekah made a pilgrimage from Ourense last year in promise of a pledge she made about Una’s necessary operation), Murphy the cat, Tim the Love Dog and all my new friends in Moratinos. I tell Patrick that next time I come back we will engage in more philosophical discussion.

And then I am on my way.

I am trying as much as I can to follow the Camino but this proves to be more difficult than I anticipated. I miss Fromista altogether and, realising it, I double back on a road so little used it has grass growing up through the middle. One thing I am learning on this Camino is to truly listen to inner promptings. I am actually not very good at this yet but improving daily. I spot a little village and an impressive Romanesque church. “Go there,” the voice says and I turn off the road.

The church, of course, is closed. But I become fascinated at the whistling of the swifts as they dart up against the tower. A voice behind me says: “Si usted quiere visitar a la Iglesia, tengo las llaves” (if you want to see the church, I have the keys). I tell her I would be delighted; that I am enchanted by the sound the birds make and their agility.

And so I have the delightful experience of meeting Socorro, which means “help” in Castellano.

Socorro (she pronounces it as Shocorro)is about my age, perhaps a little younger. She shows me the church’s treasures. I ask her about the village. There are 12 people in the winter and likely not that many more in the summer. In the church part of the stone struts has collapsed, paintings are in dire need of protection. The Paroquia has no money, Socorro explains. We discuss the vast wealth of the Catholic church and the money to be spent on the upcoming celebrations in Santiago; but Requena de Campos is slightly off the Camino route. No Jacobeo money will be coming here to the plains of Castilla.

Nevertheless, the church contains a lot of love. Socorro tells me she has written a book. Up to this point I have said nothing about mine. It isn’t appropriate. She says she has written a book about the village life and the people left in it. “I will get you a copy,” she says and disappears. While she is gone I take the opportunity to do something I do in empty churches. I sing. This time a Kyrie from Hadyn. The acoustics are wonderful but I hope I don’t shake down any more “nervios” (struts) from the “boveda” (roof).

When Socorro returns I tell her I too have written a book and I would like to give her a copy. I tell her that it suggests an alternative story to St. James and that, if she is very religious, she might not like it. Then Socorro surprises me: she repeats back to me what I could easily have described as my own attitude to organised religion, and my own belief in God. I am astonished. Here we are, two women “of a certain age”, with completely different places of birth and life histories, who meet in the middle of “nowhere” (forgive me Socorro – it’s only an expression) and we find that we have something most fundamental in common.

We walk back to the car and I pull a copy of Peregrinos de la Herejía from the trunk. We each write a dedication to the other on the flyleaf. I notice she underlines her signature with a flourish. I do the same. Her book is called “Donde la Soledad se viste la Luz”. I prepare to say goodbye but just before I do I turn her book over. There on the back is a quote. It is a line by Rabindranath Tagore.

My favourite poet.

I meet so many lovely people today that I can’t remember all of their names. Amongst them was Agripina the guardian of another lost church to wait for visitors who must seldom come and this at 3 in the afternoon. There was Juan who lives next door to the refugio in Hontanas who insisted on taking all of my bookmarks after the hospitalera (clearly not a pilgrim) refused to take them once she saw the title and shrinking from them as she would from the Devil himself said she did not want “propaganda” in the albergue. Juan and I sat talking for a while about the Fuego de San Anton, a terrible disease that had afflicted the convent in the Middle Ages. I had just visited the convent expecting to see the ruin I passed through in 1999. Now it is a most atmospheric – though admittedly rustic –pilgrim refuge with the Tau as a central theme. I was told it had been that way since 2003 and I am glad it has been put to this use. If I ever were to volunteer as hospitalera, this is the one I would choose. Anyway, Juan turns out to be a sympathetic listener and tells me of the hospitalera “She will be gone tomorrow”.

So I arrived at the Refugio of Acacio da Paz with only half an hour to go before dinner for a much needed shower. (My air conditioning works when it feels like it. Yet another of the delightful quirks of Simone Volvo.) Orietta reminds me sharply that the refuge is run on “Pilgrim Rules” and I have to remind myself that here I am a very special type of guest: a pilgrim.

There is a ring set in the walls above my bed amongst the perhaps 12 others some of which are bunks. It is to tie animals too and I wonder if donkeys are also welcome. Certainly everybody else is.

Acacio, I am to learn, was once a very successful and wealthy business man. But he walked away from it 10 years ago. In an interview he said: “I wanted to find out what it was like to be poor”. He certainly succeeded by spending three years moving from one albergue to another: “I saw 80,000 pilgrims pass through,” he says. It changed his life.

Today, with his Italian partner Orietta, whom he met on the Camino, Acacio runs one of the most atmospheric refugios you will find anywhere. It manages to combine the efficiency of a well-run hospice with the atmosphere you would find at Fernanda’s home in Portugual. Posters of Paolo Coelho – who is a close friend- and artwok by Coelho’s wife Christina Oiticica, decorate the walls along with hundreds of photos including one of Pedro, the man from Barcelona whom I met last year in front of the cathedral and who made the necklace I am wearing. Look at last July and August and you will read a remarkable story of coincidence. Pedro, I am told, is "on his way". I am to hear this again. It becomes like: "Aslan is on the move".

Eight o’clock brings two things. The first is Juan Frisuelos from Toledo. It is he who has arranged this meeting between himself, Acacio and me. I will be talking much more about Juan later. The second is dinner.

There is a special ceremony which takes place at the refugio just before everyone digs in to Orietta’s great cooking. Acacio invites everyone to introduce themselves and tell a little about their reasons for being there that night... in their own language. "Everyone knows what is being said," he says. I realise that this is a truth perhaps only known by pilgrims. Since Spanish/Brazilian seems to be the Lingua Franca, I find myself explaining at length in Castellano. It doesn’t seem to be a simple story. As I am telling it, I realise that I have been talking so much today. I feel the need for quiet.

But I am not going to get it tomorrow. Begoña has lined up lots of newspaper interviews for me, and radio, and…television.

Oh boy! Where is my make up? My public awaits!!!

Camino Odyssey 6

A long post about a thoroughly nice day.

The pilgrims are still leaving Ave Fenix. I have just passed lines of them on my way from Das Animas to Villafranca del Bierzo along the river road. This refugio is special to me. It was where I finished my pilgrimage in 1999 to fulfil a promise I should not have made. It was also the place from which I walked during Easter week 2000 to fulfil the promise I had made to myself.

Manu greets me at the door like an old friend. We actually have met before but I doubt he remembers me. That doesn’t deter him and before long I have a coffee in my hands. I comment on the changes: lots of new building gone on since I was here last. Manu tells me that he is “el brazo de los sueños de Jesus Jato” (I am the arm of the desires of Jesus – it sounds better in English.) He points to the new toilets, the new bunkhouse overflow. “He say: Manu… done!” I notice that this is Manu’s way of speaking: without sentences and actually virtually without verbs! He tells me he was a fisherman in Barcelona and that he has been there at Ave Fenix 14 years. He hugs me so hard that I fear for my poor cracked ribs!

Maria disappears with the copy of the book I have brought for Jesus Jato (Ave Fenix and especially the Iglesia de Santiago in Villafranca are mentioned in some detail in Pilgrimage to Heresy.) She tells me that Jesus has just taken the backpacks up to O Cebrero and she calls him to tell him I am here. “He will be here in an hour,” she tells me. I sit down to wait.

By now the barriers are down, it is 12 o’clock, and there is a line up at the door. Ave Fenix is famous. The lady who is inspecting Credentiales suddenly turns from her work and says: “Are you Tracy Saunders?” I admit that yes, indeed I am.

“I´m Louisa,” she says, “I loved your book!”and I realise that this is the person with whom I have exchanged more than one e-mail. We sit down to talk a while, Louisa’s shift being over for the time being. She is volunteering to help out the Ave Fenix crew and has been walking herself.

Jesus Jato arrives and all is business. A cash box which was thought to contain 70 euros appears to be empty. No-one knows anything about it: it would seem that someone pretending to be a pilgrim has helped him or herself. I find this very sad. JJ is not happy, but after a coffee we begin to talk. I am delighted to find that he is in full agreement with me that not only is St. James not buried in Compostela, but that there is “no doubt”, he says, that the remains are those of Priscillian. This is a man who knows the history of the Compostela pilgrimage inside and out.

I go into the church. This is the waystage where, by papal dispensation in the 13th century, pilgrims who were too ill to continue to Compostela could enter by the Puerto del Perdon and receive all the same indulgences they would have had they finished their journey at the burial site of the apostle. I have yet to see this door open! The very helpful lady in the church tells me that it is only opened on December 31st, Holy Year or no. It seems I am a lucky girl to have made it all the way 3 times…

On to Manjarin to see if I can talk with Tomas the “Last Templar”. Once again he is not there, but Angel is and he remembers me from last year. I ask where Tomas has gone this time. He looks as angelic as his name and says: “El es un espiritu. Está in todos partes.” (Trans: he’s a spirit. He is everywhere.)

I stay and chat for a while. Lots of curious pilgrims and “lots of tourists” Angel tells me. No-one seems to be up for lunch. So then I continue on to Foncebadon and Enrique Notario at the Gaia restaurant. Enrique was the first to set out to revitalise this once abandoned village (it was derelict when I passed through 11 years ago). He believes that it is the Old Way, the way of the Celts and the Meigas which is important: The Via Lactea. I have some great seafood soup, leave a pile of bookmarks, and am off again, following the Camino de Santiago. I am really enjoying myself. I could do this forever.

After a quick stop off at the Municipal Albergue in Rabanal (I’m never sure of my reception at the Confraternity one – me being a happy heretic ‘n all), I decide on one more refugio before I have to make a concerted effort to get to Moratinos sometime this century. I decide on Puente de Orbigo and the old albergue with the pretty courtyard and the wall painting. I am introduced to Pascual “como la leche”. Pascual decides that I am a genuine celebrity and then introduces me to everyone else. He is bubbling over with energy and it’s infectious. I meet with Juan who with two others is enjoying something very garlicky around the tiny table. Juan, I learn, is on his sixteenth Camino! He has a cartoon book of the life of St. James and he presents me with it. This is so typical of the way I have been received on this trip. People’s generosity just humbles me and after the reception I have had here, I probably need a bit of humbling.

I drive round and round Leon looking for the road to Sahagun. I find the atmosphere a bit threatening and realise that I felt exactly the same the last two times I have been here. I can’t quite put my finger on why. The centre of Leon is very atmospheric and of course the cathedral and Gaudi’s bishop’s palace are simply stunning. Maybe I am having one of my “past lives” flashbacks!!!

Finally, through Sahagun and to The Peaceable Kingdom. Although we have never met, I feel as though I know Rebekah from her posts on the Camino de Santiago forum and from the few times I have visited her blog. She warns me that her two greyhounds – strays that very cleverly found their way to her and her husband, Patrick – are still very frightened of strangers. I make a point not to make eye contact (dogs don’t like this when they don’t know you: they see it as a challenge).

The Peaceable Kingdom lives up to its name. Rebekah asks me if I like burritos (you betcha); Patrick is reading the paper and comments that he is worried about Lulu one of the greyhounds as she has remained very still. Paddy loves his animals. Kim, who is a long-term guest is pottering and later appears to show me to “my room”.

Wow! What a beautiful house this is. So much love has gone into making it a true pilgrim refuge. Over my bed (double – with sheets and everything!) is a woodcut which reminds me so much of my Matthew Weir ones at home that I do a double take. They are not Weir’s work but that of an American artist, Elizabeth something I think. The theme is of St. Francis and the animals and I am happy to sleep beneath its peace.

Burritos and salad appear under the mosquito net in the garden. The other greyhound joins us (and Tim the Love Dog who mistakes me for a dog lover and I do nothing to set him straight). Some good wine is drunk and the conversation is equally good. Kim asks me lots of questions about myself. Oddly, I am not overly comfortable with talking about me in a situation like this. I can do it for the press but this seems an imposition: what I mean is me talking about myself in this place where everything is equal. Paddy tells me that Rebekah is working on a book about returning home after the Camino. I mention that Sue is doing something similar; I ask Rebekah – who once had a career as a journalist; so did Patrick – if she would like to tell me about it, but she says not yet. “It’s in my head.” I can understand this.

“The lion shall lie down with the lamb – and a little child shall lead them.” Rebekah and I stay up late talking and I find she is a fellow admirer of CS Lewis. We share the experience of knocking on the back of wardrobes when young. Rebekah, it seems, has found her Narnia. I am yet to recognise mine.

And so to bed.

What a delightful day!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 5

The road to Hell, my mother used to tell me, is paved with good intentions. I was probably a trial. The road back along the Camino appears to be equally paved. The date was the 15th and I should have been long gone, but I was having too good a time in Santiago and the promise of a free concert of the Monastery of San Francisco proved to be too much of a pull.

As it turned out, Sue and I almost didn’t get a ticket. But Sue is good at this type of thing and managed to finagle a couple of the last ones. “It cost me a book, but so what?” she said; and so we settled down in that wonderful courtyard listening to the Galician Symphony Orchestra playing Haydn and Mozart, and afterwards piled back to Sue’s temporary home for toast and cheese and rosé. I slept on a mattress on the floor and dreamt about the nearby river bridge, in Spanish.

And while we are playing with clichés, all good things must come to an end. Today is Friday 16th and I really must leave but not before seeing the Os Porteros exhibition at the Parador. This is the temporary exhibit of Cristina, Paolo Coelho’s wife’s paintings. At first I didn’t like then very much as they seemed a bit lightweight. But on the second pass I began to see things that I had missed the first time; things that showed that the artist did indeed know the Camino well.

And then I drove to Pico Sacro. I had been here two years ago but the top was so shrouded in mist that I could barely see where I was let alone what was below. Today I had a splendid view of Santiago in the distance: perhaps it was a view such as this which greeted pilgrims at the Monte do Gozo in days long past (as opposed to that awful albergue about which I have written much before). Pico Sacro is very important to the Saint James story, ansd so, from my point of view, quite possibly to the Priscillian story. It certainly is in the right place as this area was completely Priscillianist, as, in fact, was all of Galicia and many more places in the north of Spain, even into France. But the mountain is a sacred one and dates well back beyond the Christian era. It has been the subject of pagan rites for many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and Doubtful Deeds have been enacted upon its top. Needless to say, I love this idea.

I had wanted to follow the Camino as far as Ourense as I would love to walk this one day, perhaps next year. Lots of fragrant eucalyptus and pine and that Eau de Galicia smell I adore. At Lalin I turned north to go to visit the albergue, maybe drop off some bookmarks, ask a few pilgrims how the route was.

There wasn’t a soul there and the gates were padlocked, well after a fashion. I pushed my way in and looked through the windows. Again, no-one. This might just be the Camino for the solitary walker who wants to remain solitary. (Rebekah of Moratinos was to tell me that no-one uses it because it is too far out of Lalin.)

Anyway, having deviated off the path I decided to continue on northwards to join the Camino at Melide. This was a mistake. Within ten minutes I was flagged down by a most officious Guardia Civil officer who looked at my papers and told me my safety check was overdue. I showed him a piece of paper that had my appointment on it. Oh no. Not enough. “I could have your car towed away”, he said.

I admit it. At that point I pulled the pilgrim card. I know. It wasn´t honest of me but I really do LOVE my car. He passed me over to another officer who was very sweet and apologetic as he handed me my 200 euro fine.

And to think I could have gone the other way! Oh well.

I stopped in to as many albergues along the Camino Frances as I could and most pilgrims told me the same thing: it was hot work, they had to leave very early to get a place, most of the time they had to wait because most albergues opened long alter they arrived.

If there is a logic here it continues to defy me. I wrote at length about this problem last year on the Galician part of the Portuguese route. Where the hospitaleros are “government workers” there seems to be a misguided attempt to save on their wages by making them work the minimum possible number of hours. And yet there are dozens of ex-pilgrims who would jump at the chance to volunteer in Galicia.

Boggles the mind.

I drove on through to O Cebreiro and compared to the sleepy little rundown village I stayed at in 2000, this was unrecognisable! Tour bus groups mingled with pilgrims and the restaurant prices were as steep as the mountainsides this once isolated village stood on. I handed out bookmarks. I have long since gotten over my temerity since everyone is delighted at having one as a souvenir, and they really are nice. (Should be one or two left in the Tourist Office in S de C if you are there.) Outside a souvenir shop, in slippers, sitting, is a man who has a semi-permanent air about him. I hand a bookmark to a pilgrim. Slipper man whistles and I turn round. He is looking very aggrieved and pointing to himself. “What about me?” I apologise profusely and profoundly and then he tells me to wait, and then reappears with a younger clone. “My son!” Here, have a bookmark. Then I am taken by the hand into the shop and introduced to the rest of the family. By now, I seem to have attracted attention and people are following me, ASKING for bookmarks.

What fun!

On the way down I decide to stop in to the refugio in Ambasmestas. Two or three years ago I did actually consider buying it as it was for sale, but realised that my destiny was in serving pilgrims in other ways (perhaps yet to be discovered). The hospitalero looked different from the one I remembered. From him I discovered that the owners had finally made the decision to sell (I know that they hadn’t really wanted to), and here was the new owner, Angel. I realised that it could have been me.

“Where are you staying tonight?” he asked. It was late and I hadn’t decided. “Stay here,” he said, “There’s no-one here tonight.”

And so I had a delightful, clean, and atmospheric albergue all to myself.
Well, me and the Siamese cat who slept on the bottom of my bunk that is.

Home Sweet Home!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 4

July 14th, a Wednesday. I like Wednesdays though I don´t know why.

Sue Kenney likes breakfast. I am more of a midnight snack sort of person myself, but Sue has found a café which serves coffee, toast or croissants with butter,cheese and mermelada, and orange juice for only 3 euros so I decide to join her at the 25 de Julio Café which turns out to live up to its reputation, especially the cheese. We meet Danish Michael and his girlfriend who is from Venezuela. Michael is an economist and he has just spent 3 months in South America “giving something back” to the people. “Their destiny was decided for them 300 years ago,” he says. He speaks articulately and convincingly and he leaves an impression on both Sue and me.

Later I decide to spend some time looking around the Corticela. This little chapel at the north east corner of the cathedral often goes unnoticed and I have never really given it much time. For some reason I feel obliged to sit in the back corner. I tell myself that it is because there is a Visigothic tomb there, but it seems more than that. I take a few pictures and one rather sneaky one of a pilgrim who has sat with his head in his hands since I came in. Then for some reason I decide to examine the bench I am sitting on more closely and I see that there is something tucked down inside the back. It is wrapped in a plastic file folder. It is a picture of an elderly man and it clearly wasn’t meant to be found. I wonder about him: who is he and why has his photo been placed here? I wonder what his name is and decide to call him Benito because it is a Gallego name and it suits him. I light a candle for him and then carefully put his photo back where I found it making sure that it is no more visible than it was before. This whole incident touches me very deeply.

They are putting a new rope on the Botefumeiro. I spent ages watching the workers balanced high above the nave and felt a vicarious vertigo. They must have been a hundred feet in the air!

I love this cathedral!

I decided to go shopping for a few little gifts to take back with me and a silver medallion to add to my collection (Sue Kenney has one of these necklaces too!) And so I met with Marcelino. He sees me looking at the novel La Casa de Troya which was written at the turn of the 20th century and is set in Santiago. “You should buy it,” he says. “It is the second most read book in the whole of Spanish literature.” I tell him that I have never finished Don Quixote and he tut tuts. He is in his 70´s I would guess and has an incredible head full of curly grey hair; laughter lines decorate his bright eyes and he has a little goatee. I find him quite attractive and tell him he must be a ladies man. He denies this vociferously: “I am un hombre sincero,” he explains, “very formal and serious. I have been married to the same woman for 53 years.” I ask him his secret. He doesn’t hesitate. “Mutual respect,” he tells me.

Later I stopped in at the Hostal Suso for some of their excellent pimientos de Padron and got “home” to the Alameda quite late.

At some point in the night I woke up to the sound of doves outside my open window, but I couldn’t see them. Then it dawned on me it was a gentle snoring from the room next door! Well, I guess that’s one way to deal with it…

Monday, 2 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 3

My day begins within the forbidden sanctuary. I have prearranged a meeting with Xose who is the Medieval archivist at the Cathedral. I walk past the long line up outside the Platerias door and soon am shown throught the vestuary into the cathedral cloisters. In the archives, I am welcomed with great enthusiasm and it is appreciated. The last time I was here I got fobbed off with unlikely answers. But Xose is very keen to work with me, and his English is appreciated as my questions are technical ones. I find out that I can't go out the way I came in so I get to wander around the museum for free. The "guides" there are no more knowledgable than they were last year. Oh well, at least in our 20% unemployment rate they still have a job.

It turns out that Lopez Ferreiro, one of the most important investigators and the bishop at the time of the rediscovery of the tomb, is quite wrong about his conjecture that Diego Gelmirez is buried in the cloister. This is a new cloister and not of Gelmirez' time and subsequent researches have not unearthed (sic) any remains which might be the archbishop, or anyone else for that matter. As for where Diego might be buried, Xose has no more foggiest than I do. We part with him agreeing to answer the rest of my questions ("un monton") by e-mail or the next time I am in town.I leave him a copy of Pilgrimage to Heresy and tell him to hide it. He grins complicitantly. He is delighted.

Tito at Casa Manolo remembers me. He points a finger: "You!" I love this. Monica and Antonio are serving downstairs and I miss them but I leave bookmarks for all. The menu stays the same price and I've never tasted better chiperones - not even at the now defunct Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Finisterre.

And speaking of universes, I booked a tour of the University of S de C for noon today. Since I have one of my main protagonists in Compostela spending a fair bit of time in the uni and especially at the library, I thought I should get a bit of a feel for the place.

I didn't want to leave! I even found what would no doubt be MY seat at MY desk with MY view. Perhaps in another life - or Laura's. As it was I almost didn't have a cho0uce but to stay. I was so enthralled with the History departmnent that it took two professors (one well beyond his sell-by date whom I couldn't understand at all) to explain to me that the university closed at 2:00 p.m. and that if I didn't leave with them I would be locked in overnight!

On my way back, I met with Tomas from Germany. He has just picked up his Compostela and is gazing at it in wrapt fascination. I poke a bookmark under his nose and we get into conversation. Tomas says that walking pilgrims have gained an unfair advantage. Bicycle pilgrims, he says, have their own problems (where to soak those blisters for example?) and are denied access to any albergue until 8:00. Even then, if any foot pilgrims arrive afterwards, they,the BP's, are mercilessly thrown out! Tomas claims that bicycle pilgrims cover twice the distance but they also do 100% of the work that foot pilgrims do, and I am sympathetic to his plight. Maybe there should be specific facilities for BP's as FP's often think they are a breed apart anyway.

I meet up with Cristofer from Cologne whom I met on the cathedral roof yesterday. He is studying Spanish in Valladolid and I comment that if he really wanted to challenge himself he should try it in Malaga. Cristofer doesn't get the joke. You probably won't either. You don't have to decode my son-in-law's Spanish, bless his sweet heart.

On my way round to the Museo das Peregrinos (a monster new building under construction. I guess they will start to ask for money but then the Cathedral Museum have been doing that for years) I overhear someone pontificating much as I do. He is saying that St. James never preached in Spain (I concede that as a possibility that he did) and that he is not buried in the Cathedral (no way). Needless to say I invite myself into the conversation. His name is Manuel, he is a Spanish literature teacher from Madrid and he has read Peregrinos de la Herejia, but says that my book only confirmed what "the majority of Spaniards" already know. I find this gratifying and tell him that, alas, many foreign pilgrims accept only what their guidebooks tell them and that theylike their myths intact. He is non-committal. Most Spaniards are born diplomats.

Tonight is my booksigning at Follas Novas. If you wish you can check out my encounters with the manager Jose Luis and the owner Rafael Silva - an expert on the Portico de Gloria - from last July. I think I felt a little bit in love with Rafael with his long silver locks and his cravat swept over his shoulders. Alas he isn't there and I tell Jose Luis to tell him he has broken my heart.

Sue Kenney appears and decides to re-arrange the books and the massive poster board and thank goodness she does as I am feeling like a right pillock. Sue says she loves booksignings. I approach them with the same spirit as I do tooth extractions. Anyway, thanks to my new exposure I generate a modicum of interest and we all go home - um to the Parador for that $5 glass of wine with the Million Dollar View and there we meet up with a group of American conventioners who were, by that time, well into the Albariño. One of them has taken a copper bowl down off tyhe mantelpiece and is playing it like a sort of percussion instrument. Fellow guests are asking for a modicum of decorum. I want to slink off to a quieter part of the planet, but Sue gets into the fun and says that he( Frank) is a Master Bowl Player. We are invited to join the fun. They are noisy. I don't do that. So I suggest to Sue that the cafe is a better choice. (Yes, I am sure you are saying what a bore I must be. I'm not, really.) At the end of the night our drinks and tapas are found to be paid for.

God bless Americans!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 2

As far as I can see, there is no way to avoid the fact that I am going backward in time. Not literally, alas; I am not Merlin. But in order to continue this retrospective on my Camino journey, I have to take you back to July, the 12th to be exact. A misty Monday in Santiago de Compostela.

I had a lot to do and first headed to the university library where Almudena very kindly offered to make a list of books about Diego Gelmirez for me. Next I made my way to the Palacio de Diego Gelmirez next to the cathedral for the rooftop tour.

While this is advertised as a tour of the bishop's palace, in fact, as a tourist you get to see very little of it. I have seen a little bit more than I was supposed to, but that's another story. Anyway, the biggest surprise of all is that after climbing the stone stairs up from the formal dining hall, you suddenly find yourself looking down on the nave of the cathedral. The first time I did this I actually burst into tears! Then, if that is not enough, the small group is taken up onto the roof of the cathedral for a bit of a walkabout. It's magic (and only 8 euros for pilgrims). The guided tour is in English and Spanish and lasts about an hour. The hard part for me is not butting into the commentary!

Perhaps it is only a few times in a person's lifetime where he or she can say "here is my home". I felt that way about Cornwall in my teens; I felt that way about Granada the minute I arrived there 14 years ago. And I feel that way about Santiago. I find myself happily taking shortcuts around the city and I probably walk a full day's etapa doing just that, but somehow or another, I feel that this is where I fit in: where the cathedral is the centrepiece of it all, the Obradoira a handy place to meet up with friends, where I am recognised and welcomed in Casa Manolo, Hostal Alameda and the Bar Suso. Where museum staff and tour guides are happy to see me and librarians are delighted to help me with my research.

I live in an enviable part of the world. In Marbella, we get upwards of 325 days of sunshine a year. But do you know what? I'd trade it for the nmists and rain of Galicia any time.

Maybe one day I will...