Monday, 30 May 2011

Camino bore: Angel singing in the lost church.

Dusk in the church of angel singing
Just before going on the camino, i.e. just over a year ago, I was in London for grannying [wow! - it was a week after the twins were born, so I was all of a sudden a triple granny!] and cultural purposes [there's usually something for me to see in London], and having been to church at Alexandra Palace St. Andrew's in the morning, went out in the evening in search of a church the organist told me about where the accoustics were astounding. I got there about 15 minutes before the service ended. 'Just turn left out of the station and keep going' did not stand me in good stead; I landed in the middle of some odd combination of a spaghetti junction and a shopping mall and didn't manage to find the church for ages. But in the 15 minutes I WAS there, I joined in the last hymn 'Christ the Lord is ris'n again... da da da di da da da.............. a-a-a-le-luuuuu-ia', and I looked around to see who it was who was singing like an angel. After a few moments, I realised it was me!

Another time I thought I'd set off in good time. Got off the train at Shepherd's Bush, about an hour on the underground from Alexandra Palace. Turned left as instructed...... and tried again to find the place, thinking I'd do better this time as it really only was 5 minutes from the station. But this time it was WORSE, and I wandered round in the gloomy dusk getting into a worse and worse state, stopping strangers, going into shops and asking lots of people where I might find it, but all replied 'I don't live round here'; 'I'm not from round here'; and various other forms of  'I don't know, I've never heard of the place, didn't know it even existed'. And I was feeling the minutes slip away, knowing there were people there singing as badly as I do and yet all of us can sound like angels in that place. I peeped in another church with some fervent evangelicals in a huddle, but it wasn't what I was trying to find, though heaven knows I'm sure those people would have received me kindly had they known what I was doing. I texted my frustration madly and the folks at home must have thought I was in meltdown, and I probably WAS, and I cried real tears (but don't be too alarmed as they come easily). Sirens were screeching about the place as they do in a busy urban setting, shops were busy even though it was 7 pm on a Sunday, and everyone was going somewhere, but not where I was trying to go, and it was like a nightmare. I had to go home to the family never having found my goal, and the lack of what I had failed to find a deep disappointment.

I knew that it was not just me lamenting the loss of time and the Oyster card bill. It was sadness at the knowledge that there was something wonderful happening somewhere in the midst of a normal Sunday in Shepherd's Bush, and no-one knew about it. There were hundreds of people all charging around, probably many in search of entertainment and fast food; what WERE they all doing? And not one of them even knew that this church was there. I was weeping for the culture that made this so. For the church and how it struggles to survive, because as some would have it, we are 'not giving people what they want'. But someone designed, and many built that noble church building and made that sound possible, and a faithful bunch of people turn up every week and light the lamps of their faith together, and it probably isn't 'what people want', but if they tried it they might find it would become that, and stop them wanting some other things. The church is:

A third time, I did the proper map-reading homework and got there 15 minutes early. After the service I met the goodly folk and made new friends over sherry after the service. It was a comforting evening in every way, perhaps more so since even brilliant accoustics cannot make 'One more step along the world I go' sung by adults sound good to me. Can the church survive this dark age? I hope so.

Camino bore. The great three days.

And will there still be Tarta Santiago for breakfast?
A year on, we can't help remembering.....

Funny thought that yesterday, we were propelled out of bed by the smell of hot pickled stuff at 6 am, our goal being the hope of other smells by 12 noon! This must be an experience going back centuries, the longing for the 'right' smell! The sermon, D tells me, was about how we pilgrims must go out into the world and perfume it with our deeds. I expect the clergy there are crawling up the walls at hearing it for the umpteenth time; probably they use the time for working out what to have for tea. Suggestions for what-I-would-preach-if-I-were-a-priest-in-Santiago welcome.

The paper camino: 3 pics that I will leave you to guess at.
Today, we didn't have to be up and out by any time at all, but we woke at 5.30, = 4.30 UK time. Not bad for 'not a morning person'. The days in Santiago were precious - three in all, as we didn't leave until the 10 pm train on Monday, so after arrival on Saturday morning, we had 2 nights in our bunker-hotel. I loved that little place. We got in through a thick metal door through a tunnel off the street, and it seeemed to be a little room under the laundry for a hotel a couple of streets away. There was even a nice little bathroom just behind me. At night it was pitch black in there, and so no morning light to let us know the vague time of day. Thus we had to leave a light on overnight in the bathroom just to have a slit of light under the door, as D  found it unnerving. I was happy though, being a natural hibernating animal. The curtains you see did not cover a window, but 'unsightly pipes' as opposed to the pipes you CAN see.

Tarta Santiago & marmalade for breakfast, 2011
Today in 2011, bank holiday Monday and we both have work to do. Our first conversation today was about how we are both running screaming from soome aspects of modern life (I won't give you a list). TV in particular, we can't bear the sound of it, and Radio 4 with its chirpy news is equally unwelcome; radio 3's news is much better presented. Somehow the church's hierarchy seems to expect those on the ground to baptise the culture of the day, but we are feeling more and more alienated by its values that we find it better to keep calm and carry on reading The Rule of Benedict. I suspect we are part of a trend.

Going into our bunker.....

Absolute luxury!
But let us celebrate! So here are some pics....

[I'm not sure I have any readers, so I will entice you with a competition: if you identify correctly the 3 subjects of the paper camino above, there will  be a prize of funding for all-you-can-eat at Monte de Gozo. (Fares & accommodation not included.) ]

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Camino bore, normal Sunday: does the camino work?

Is it all down to chemicals? Why does my heart beat faster a year on, on the very day we entered Santiago? There must be a fantastic electrical storm going on in there. I'm sure that some people know just what an affliction and a blessing this can be. You get this elation that comes with 'a really good idea', then you know life is short and you can't possibly put it into practice, not that and all the other 'good ideas', and despondency washes over you; all in just the time it takes to drink your snowball in the bath.

I think I need to carry a notebook about with me, as when I'm standing in church, I feel overwhelmed by some idea that assails me (my 'I've just had a good idea!'s) and hope that I'll remember it by the time I get home. Such as my idea for the cloth camino. And how the hymns all sound different after Santiago, but that's been going on all the time. Thus:

1 I hunger and I thirst:
Jesu, my manna be;
ye living water, burst
out of the rock for me.

This makes me think of the fuentes that we sometimes relied on to fill up our water bottles from, taps in all kind of places. These exist all along the camino, and there's no need to be nervous of them. If the water wasn't good from them, there was a sign telling you so, and their presence is indicated in some of the pilgrim guide books. An example of care taken by people reflecting the care of God for creation.

2 Thou bruised and broken Bread,
my life-long wants supply;
as living souls are fed,
O feed me, or I die.

Bruised and broken bread. Makes me think of the little bit of French bread we had with us at the start, battered and squashed, which went rather chewy, but when breakfast didn't appear until 5 miles into the walk, it was reassuring to have.When hungry, anything you have seems wonderful.

3 Thou true life-giving Vine,
let me thy sweetness prove;
renew my life with thine,
refresh my soul with love.

Vines. We were a bit early for ripe grapes, but it was lovely to be in a country which was said to be warm in the summer, and experience the anticipation of fruit in the not too distant. Food that 'just grows on trees' is so like the food of Eden that doesn't have to be worked for; but then we have to till the soil as well, and it's great if life provides some things free, and some things you work for; both a source of delight.

4 Rough paths my feet have trod
since their first course began:
feed me, thou Bread of God:
help me, thou Son of Man.

Umm, I can hardly not be reminded of  foot trouble along the way. Not that the paths were very rough - mostly they weren't - but they were long. The promise of a meal at the end of the day kept the feet going.

5 For still the desert lies
my thirsting soul before:
O living waters, rise
within me evermore.

Indeed. There was a lot of desert, or meseta, the Spanish plain, to be traversed, and that was the only part that we cheated on and got a train so that we missed out about 30 miles of the stuff, though we did a good whack of it. It wasn't at all challenging walking from the physical point of view, rather it called on the inner resources in order to survive it mentally - something had to bubble up from inside or you'd go mad.

                    J.S.B. Monsell.

I'm sure that hymn wasn't written just for me; but with its psalmic resonances it shows the wonders of biblical-inspired poetry and the way that it seems more 'written for me' than might prayers written yesterday by our neighbour. These are just top-of-the-head thoughts, and they are probably an example of de-metaphorising and making the thing refer to purely physical hardships. But it's a constant 2-way flow, because precisely that physical hardship experience is what makes me grow - if indeed the camino can be said to have done any work at all.

Pfaff 2058
So - has the camino 'done its work'? I think it has, or rather, is doing, though I'm loath to say so, as there can always be a set-back and you feel back to square one. A lot has lain dormant since last year, and now on this first anniversary, it is informing how I think and feel quite powerfully, and making my heart beat faster at times as it all sloshes to and fro. I might  have learned things about myself that I'm not going to blab about here. Some things I can say; unlike some of the characters in 'The Way', I wasn't trying to give anything up, and I succeeded in cracking my drink problem, and now I'm back on the wine and everything I always loved. The camino told me I had to do more of the things I do - 'use what you've got' - which is a phrase that's been in my head for years. It dealt with a bit of writers' block even though I didn't know I wrote anything, but here I am, bashing away as though my life depended on it; and just now I went to look for some gold leaf in my stash of stuff - it was elusive, so small a packet it is - and I felt I was in fairyland when I looked at my art supplies, as I've discovered ways I can express myself that I didn't have before, and I can't wait to use it all up before I die. What ways? Mainly the small picture and things folded up, rolled up, packed away into tiny spaces. Not great art; just something seen through my personal spy-hole that says what I want it to say. I walked all that way to discover THAT? When I got my newest sewing machine in 2008, with lots of lovely stitches, I started to do smaller more intricate things, and the camino has made me realise the need for things that are portable, and my reclaimed boybike too has done that with its very small carrying capacity. I love to be out there, on a journey in my 'outdoor study', which the camino is par excellence, people-watching, reading the surroundings, and scribbling away in some pilgrim journal like the 'Caminella' as I call mine (and 'tucked in' later). I want to be back there with my paints, a Bible and a notebook and some cloth so I can make some record of some of the stuff that sloshes around in me that I hope will be of some use to others along the way. But it doesn't matter where I go; it might be just up the road, I'm still 'on the camino' now, as anyone can be; it's just that the Camino de Santiago accelerates and intensifies the process considerably. I feel as though I am moving back into my own life. There's not a moment to lose in arranging the furniture and getting on with it.

Camino bore: Let them eat (Santiago) cake!

Oooooh dear, Sunday... I forgot to make some bread! So we will have to eat this!


And I'll tidy up later
Let them eat (Santiago) cake!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Camino bore, day 30 photo gallery

It went thattaway!
The hushed moment
Yes, it makes your hair stand on end

Jesus, Viv & St James
Where he wants to be

Donations to Viv's next camino: Please give generously!

Camino bore, Day 30. The 'laughing pilgrims' enter Santiago.

Saturday 29th May, Day 30. Monte de Gozo to Santiago.
Today can't fail to be a bit of an anti-climax; so much expectation laid on it, reality cannot come up to scratch. We woke early, and though we could have had a bit of a lie-in if we'd liked, an aroma started to waft about the small bedroom as some Rumanian pilgrims started to pour boiling water on some pot-noodle-type stuff and also onto some pickled gherkins etc. I'm not a breakfast person at the best of times, and this just reinforced my need to 'get the hell out of here'.

The road out of the complex was very wet and slippy, even in proper boots; there was a huge sloping road that was treacherous, and I felt old and tottery and tearful just trying to get safely across it to the steps leading down and out. As I embarked on the steps with great care with the morning-fragile feet and knee that didn't DO downhill, clad in my cover-all brown cape as there was a grey drizzle over everything, a lovely pilgrim of about 70 who was in front of me turned and silently held out a gracious hand to me so that I could descend the steps safely, and I came down in full acceptance of my frailty and the need to accept help; but feeling as though I'd been treated like a princess. No word was spoken, but there was something of the very best of human interaction in that little gesture, and I will remember him forever.

Me and my friends
Spirits were not high; the approach to Santiago is just as miserable as to any other city. Thinking it would be nice to have a coffee and a croissant, everywhere looked shut. 'Ah', I said despondently, 'As usual, "it isn't the time when the Spanish eat" '. 'Why are you always so MISERABLE!' came the reply, and we sank into marital bickering of the worst kind. A cafe was found, but still our spirits stayed low, and as we got nearer the centre - never with a view of the cathedral or sure we were going the right way - we could have gone straight to the station and got a train home had we been able to afford it. We even stopped, wondering whether to go on. The laughing pilgrims, that's what we were known as along the way; and now.....

Wrong queue

Right queue
The red nosed kissing pilgrim
But go on we did, and we came upon the cathedral 'round a corner', and then had to search for the right queue, first of all finding the 'wrong' one, which was the queue to enter the cathedral by the Puerta Santa which is only open in a Holy Year. The right queue was in another building, and we joined in and just got on with the nuts and bolts of getting certified as having done the camino successfully, handing over our credencials for checking. A small Spanish pilgrim with a big red nose we'd encountered many times but never spoken to jumped out of the queue and gave me a smacking kiss and said 'Goodde Byyye' as though he'd been practising it for weeks.

And then, clutching our compostelas, we emerged into the light, somehow booked in at some 'hotel', left our packs at a pilgrim luggage place, shrugged and said 'Might as well go to the cathedral!' Soon after we got in, a service started, a pilgrim mass began, and we joined in the Spanish liturgy that we'd got to know well. 'Padre nuestro, que estas in cielo...' Then almost at the end, you might say 'The mighty organ thundered' a few dramatic notes, there was a hush, and we looked at one another with a 'This might be IT!' look, and it was....... Join us if you will.....

If you want to experience it again, this time with the inner workings showing, watch this one:

There are loads more on You-tube, but these are good to start with. It CAN become an addiction!

Mantlepiece botafumeiro
The rest of the day... well, there was music and dancing and shopping and eating, and I don't really want to talk about it, as the botafumeiro is playing, and I want to be back in Santiago......

Camino bore, Day 29. The heart beats faster.

Friday 28th May, Day 29, Arzua to Monte de Gozo.
The Caminella reports 'Fab night's sleep!' Must be something to do with the lovely white sheets, top and bottom. We haven't ever had this on the camino so far; normally it's just been a bottom sheet, and lately there have been a lot of disposable sheets. So the night at Arzua was a lovely 'tucked in' night.

One of the horsemen we'd seen a couple of days ago at the washing trough was at this albergue, a really handsome, swarthy, slim chap with high boots. Not that I take much notice such things. But it wasn't the last we saw of him.

Galician sunrise
The  Caminella reports the start of the journey as 'the usual lanes', which means the beautiful green Galician lanes that we have been walking in for a few days. I stopped at the place where this sunrise is photographed from, pointed my arm precisely and instructed D firmly: 'Here's your picture' and several other pilgrims obeyed too! It was a long day of walking, 35 km. The blue knee from yesterday's tumble didn't help, but the breakfast tortilla did, and it was one of the best.

A big event was turning the page of our map book so that we are on the page with Santiago, 25 km out.

We stopped at a proper hotel at Rua, a hundred yards from the camino for a snack, but it felt not quite right, as there was no-one else there, and being more pampered than usual didn't make up for the feeling of loneliness. That's what being a pilgrim does for you!

Eveyone probably has to have their photo taken at Lavacolla, 'Bollockwash'. Mediaeval pilgrims tended not to wash much, but they did wash when they got here, well, a bit.

Where has Santiago gone?
Preposterous monument at Monte de Gozo.
Our destination today is Monte de Gozo, 'Mount Joy', because pilgrims are supposed to get their first glimpse of Santiago from here, and mediaeval pilgrims would fall to the ground and kiss it, and weep and sing hymns; but now (Gitlutz & Davidson) 'a gigantic apartment and commercial complex has been allowed to block the view of the old city, the city which for mediaeval pilgrims, exhausted and exhilarated after months on the Road, used to rise above the rolling pastoral landscape of Galicia like a longed-for Jerusalem.' One despairs at the mentality of those responsible: Council of Europe - Help! Monte de Gozo is now covered with a huge Butlins-like complex, built in 1993 Holy Year, and it seems a bit of a sad and mostly empty place. It's just a short hour's walk into Santiago, and an ideal overnight stopping place so that we could enter the city next morning early.

We were weary when we got to Monte de Gozo; the last few miles were hot and endless, I had to change into sandals several miles out, and there were blisters that rivalled the fuentes that provided us with water on the way. But I knew it was the last day of real walking, and so I broke through the pain barrier and just plodded on regardless, and I think it was the slowest I ever got.

Back in 2011, I've just made 2 'Santiago tarts' for church tomorrow morning, for a celebration of the very day we arrived in Santiago. I'm a bit anxious about them, hoping that the plain flour specified will do OK. This is about all I've managed to do, as I was tired out from, well, staying up late blogging and doing little scribbly paintings! I had a bath and fell asleep in there, blessed relief, as my heart was beating so fast most of the day at the memory of last year.

The Caminella reports on food at Monte de Gozo (which didn't come cheap): 'Yak yak yak yeuachk!' There was some kind of stew that I couldn't face, and just had boiled spaghetti and grated cheese, but gave up after a couple of mouthfuls as it tased like wood. Even D gave up on the stew he'd tried to force me to eat after a couple of mouthfuls; the worst meal ever, and we retired to the bar and had a chocolate croissant, and to bed. They were 8 to a room, and very good and clean; but those metal bed frames are cold and hard and tended to wake me up repeatedly as my poorly feet and knee bumped into them. Throughout the camino, D had an unerring knack of landing on something of mine that was painful when coming down from top bunks too.  'Let's get the hell out of here', is the last word of the Caminella on this place.

Camino bore: just a normal day.

Ooooooooh! I'm getting so excited, I had to go out and have a little walk about before breakfast, having been lying awake for a little while musing on my Mother's advice to me when I was 21. "Oh Vivienne", she implored, "BE NORMAL!" (I can't remember exactly what prompted that comment.) So I lay on the grass and took a pic of our vicarage through the middle of a worn-out grave stone. And then I found a perhaps accidental St. Jamesey thing that I confess I had not taken notice of before. St. James gets everywhere, and he rescued me from the melancholy thoughts that were bubbling up. Why, lying there in bed I had been trying to count up how many times I have said to anyone over the years, 'Oh, I love you so much because you are so NORMAL!' It's certainly never been said to me. But it's such a normalday here compared with last year, and I have lots of normalthings to do before I can get to doing the blog for 28th May 2010.

Towards the Humber Bridge last night
Sorry! This page was looking so melancholy I had to rescue it somehow!
(Mum's comment was obviously like a red rag to a bull!)
But I keep thinking about Belgian Mark's comment (after a week of walking): 'The camino is doing its work'. How will I know if it is doing or has done? By what standard does one judge? I doubt it has to do with normalness; though perhaps we are all striving for what is normal for ourselves, so maybe the advice wasn't as bad as it seemed. Personal equilibrium.

Sometimes I need some help to steady myself, and a ride on the boybike is a great way to try. I came in after last night's ride and read in the Church Times of 20th May 2011 a little article by Peter Graystone, who outlined 3 reasons for being a Christian (for the purpose of summing up for telling a neighbour):

"one rising from joy at the complexity and beauty of God's creation; (fine)

one delighting in the life and teaching of Jesus; (fine)

and one describing a personal improvement that has come from going through life in the company of a loving God." (eurrrkk! Tricky one!)

I seem to be looking for ways to travel light, creed-wise, and in every way ("Oh yeah? Well what about that stash of cloth?" "Look, I'm trying to USE IT UP before I die!"), and in the same issue there's mention of a tiny Bible, the Transetto Bible published by CUP:

This as well! Help! Mi Mum'll kill me!
Oh! It's so CUTE! I have a very un-pilgrim like wish to HAVE IT! But it'd be so useful to a pilgrim, it is tiny and weighs next to nothing. 'Transetto' seems to be Italian for 'transept'; not sure why they have chosen this name, I shall try to find out more.... Oh of COURSE! The penny has dropped!

A little more info on the concept (I can't think why I haven't heard about it before now):

As it says there,

(from Dutch dwarscrossways, transverse; intractable, contrary and liggen to lie). A person unwilling to cooperate, who is stubbornly resistant to everything; obstructionist; troublemaker."

Travelling about a bit lately, I noticed as I often do nowadays how normal it is for people on trains to be tapping away at laptops. When you look sideways and try to see what they're busy with, they're usually collating exam results for business-studies students or summat like that. The other day on the train, the woman opposite was writing BY HAND in a notebook, and I could feel mounting excitement, as I could see upside down that some of the words were names prefaced by 'St.' I didn't start a conversation with her, as I was busy drawing pics planning my Sarah and Hagar art project, and somehow we co-existed in wordless companionship, and perhaps she could have become a life-long friend. It's good to know there are such people should a vacancy occur. (Oh VIV! You say such AWFUL things.) On the camino, it's normal to see hordes of folk sitting scribbling in little notebooks, as well as tapping into Blackberry-thingies. (What ARE we on about? Does it matter?) I've mentioned the many Victorian blogs that exist written by ladies who pilgrimmed to Santiago, illustrated with sketches. And so here's a pic of some normalpilgrims in the back yard of a very pleasant albergue, (inlcuding woman obviously suffering from some version of Pilgrim Leg/Foot) and the cross in the corner is reminding me that I have a cake to bake today.....

Camino bore, day 28. Includes horses.

Thursday 27th May, day 28. Palas de Rei to Arzua.
Oh no, not another day when I read in the Caminalla 'Slept rotten last night'. Why???* Was it the excitement of not knowing our destination? Wondering if we'd get there? Because I have a fond hope of doing the camino again and sleeping very soundly. Perhaps I will next time, as I'll feel very at home and I expect to get a 'tucked-in' safe feeling. But just now I'm so excited at the thought of 'getting to Santiago in 2 days' time', and this is reliving the event in 2011! You can really understand how the exodus idea could take root. Or the eucharist. Re-living something really IS about living it again, and I'm having sleepless nights. Perhaps I ought to experiment on the grandchildren and see if I can make THEM feel as though THEY did the camino just by being descended from us.

*Actually, there were real reasons: sweaty blue mattresses, very bright 'EXIT' sign over door, a lot of noise and door-opening and door-banging well into the night. What HAS got into the pilgrims?

Now you know why the lanes are green!
Galician green lanes lovely, but today I fell over a tree root and took a tumble, rolling over to land in a stream. Knee bashed and blue. To think! I could have walked 700 km and fail somewhere in the last 90 and not be eligible for the Compostela! Life isn't fair, but we knew that already, and if the camino can sometimes seem like an over-cosy a metaphor for life, it can at least be a true one as well. But always a pilgrim willl rush up with some first aid to share. It seems that most first aid stuff is used on the pilgrim in front, as they get it out faster than the injured one gets to their own stuff.

A highlight was stopping off to eat picnic by the side of a big trough of water. A woman arrived with a bucket, and I wondered whether she had brought pet octopusses for a swim; but no, it was her washing which she rubbed and rubbed on the sloping sides of the trough. And while she did that, a bunch of pilgrims on horseback came through; breathtaking!

It was 29 km to Arzua, which we did in about 7 hours. A long day, but we felt revived when we got there as we went straight out to investigate the local creamy cheese, which gets a good write-up. Mmmmm, ooooooh, aaaahhhh - we found a bar that did us a big HEAP of the stuff with lovely bread, and glasses of ice cold Galician cider. But when we say 'bar', we don't just mean 'bar'; this place had hams and suasages and cheeses on sale.

I bought a pair of lovely dangly earrings, which I like to think are much like the Maragatos ('the mountain people west of Astorga') people would have worn, described in the camino 'Pevsner' as 'intricate filigree earrings .... were noted by Arnold von Harff in the late 15th C'. Mysteriously, one disappeared on the eve of St. James's day in the holy year of 2010. Oh all right then, I went on a bouncy castle at a party and it fell off and I never found it.

And back at the albergue, not only were the sheets REAL smooth cotton sheets and not the disposable nappy-liner kind; but there were TWO sheets on each bed. Another 'absolute luxury' experience.

But I end today as does the Caminella by going back to a moment at the beginning of the day that I shall always remember: 'GALICIAN LANES - in the early morning rain, a line of caped pilgrims silently processed, no sound except the cuckoo'.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Camino bore, day 27: The tale of two mantillas.

Wed 26th May, Day 27, Portomarin to Palas de rei.
It's funny what you remember about journeys and places. Breakfast at the huge albergue in Portomarin was a strange affair; many people ordered orange juice, and this being Spain it was freshly-squelched, but they ought to have got some study of time and motion in to attend to the fact that for each person who requested it, the staff would get an orange out of a cupboard, carry it across the crowded place to a sqelcher, squelch it, go somewhere else for a glass to put it in, etc etc, you get the picture. Pilgrims are always anxious to get on the road before 7.30 or you fear no bed, so the oranges almost caused war, what with all the stepping over rucksacks and squeezing round pillars etc etc in a crowded dining place.

Albergue at Palas de rei
The dinner in Palas de Rei was notable in that mine included BOILED POTATOES (in capitals in the Caminella too) and not chips, and this was a real treat, as Spanish chips often seem to have had the potato middle cooked out of them. Brought up on thick Yorkshire chips, they don't hit the spot.

Pleasingly, when out looking for somewhere to eat we bumped into Juan Pablo, whom we'd not seen for days, and he told us that there was a mass on in the church at 8 pm, and that this church would do a stamp on our credencials; they stamped about 400 that day. So we ate the yummy dinner and sped up there, and while in church I mused on Psalm 24 and its 'lift up your heads O ye gates' that seemed to speak of Santiago to come. I meant to read The Psalms while I was away, but only managed Pss 23 and 24 in 30 days' walking. That's what being a pilgrim does for you. Next time, I plan to make it my main task, and that will mean going alone and having no-one to talk to.

Wildlife: the pilgrim-beetle.
In church that evening, I had one of those little meetings that you remember for life. There was this bunch of ladies who after the service approached me smilingly asking me to take their picture, them without a word of English and me without a word of Spanish, but plenty of sign language. But I got to love them straight away. They must have been in their 60s, and I suspect they were all having a much-prepared for week off to do the camino from Sarria and probably having their baggage carried for them by Jacotransista; the least you can do to get the Compstela. But the distance or the sweating with huge loads is not the point. They were not athletes, and  they were doing it in the proper pilgrim way, going to mass along the way and proudly having their picture taken in churches. They formed a contrast with two of my experiences. Firstly, they contrasted with some groups of young pilgrims who were much more able-bodied than them and yet did the minimum. Secondly, there was the mantilla thing; one of the things I took with me to cheer the spirits was a rather elegant black mantilla; when in Spain..., I thought, and I usually wore it to mass, a kind of equivalent of Sunday Best that was easily transported. This group of ladies pointed to it and smiled, and took my picture; which contrasted mightily with its reception at Najera, where a stern beige-clad Spanish woman with a severe haircut started talking to me in fast Spanish; my friendly me-no-understand-much-goodly-but-hello-anyway smile quickly wore off as it became apparent that I was annoying her in some way as she started jabbing at me with her finger, and D stepped in to help. Seems she didn't like my mantilla AT ALL, and D had to calm her down by saying in his best Spanish 'Please excuse my wife's mantilla; she's very old-fashioned'.

The porridge albergue.
And that led me on (I'm easily led) to thinking this morning that when we get to run our Porridge Albergue, we will allow and positively encourage the wearing of mantillas, though after my experiment at breakfast today we might need to put up a sign 'It is advisable to fold back your mantilla when eating porridge'. (Neither of these chaps is the vicar of Barton, by the way, the vicar was taking the pic as he doesn't in fact EAT porridge himself. I'm starting to worry about what we'll do if we have any porridge left over; it being Spain, we'll be able to lay it out in the sun to dry, and that will make slabs of fuel for winter perhaps). There were many signs along the camino that we've not yet seen in the UK such as 'It is forbidden to prick your blisters in this bar'. Somehow, when you're on the camino, everything seems normal, then you get back home and say 'Why didn't we get a photograph of THAT?' Truly, we are camino-ified.

The albergue at Palas de Rei is, well, plain isn't it? But it had beds. You've heard of Memoryfoam mattresses? Well these were of blue rubber and seemed to have Alzheimer's. I know, I'm not joking about that nasty complaint, just trying to tell you how solid the mattresses were, and they had disposable sheets as has become more common in Bedbugland. I heard the other day about a pilgrim who had to give up and go home as she had 167 bites on her face. BUT we still want to go back! Whoso beset him round......

Camino bore, Day 26. One-up-pilgrimship cont'd.

 Tuesday 25th May, Day 26. Sarria to Portomarin.
Very odd (continuing the one-up-pilgrimship theme) that many start at Sarria, and we are now in to a downhill-all-the-way kind of feeling. Just surviving, no new thoughts, just getting there. We have now booked all of the places we intend to stay, as even the huge refugio you can see just to the right of the end of the bridge - holding 120 beds and christened 'the chicken run' by our friend Stefan - is 'completo' by about 1 pm.

The day was marked by oddment happenings; a little mole that ran about the road and then was stunned and killed by the one car that passed by that day. The funny little bulldozer that was laying camino paths that we didn't photograph, as it seemed we'd always be on the camino and so it seemed unremarkable at the time; then later.... we are well and truly camino-ified and can't imagine any other life.

Portomarin, today's destination, is a town very much remodelled between 1956 and 1962, as the old town had been flooded in the course of making a reservoir to produce hydroelectricity, and the buildings, including the church, had been reassembled stone by stone higher up. The church - late 12thC - is the largest single-nave Romanesque church in Galicia, and was also a fortress that housed the knights of St John (here I'm relying on Gitlitz & Davidson). We didn't go to see it, as we were so tired. That's the trouble with being a pilgrim.

2.00 pm pm arrival at the albergue. First things first.
Here, I'm sleeping peacefully on arrival, but it didn't last long as D soon roused me excitedly with, 'The lads are here!' We'd chatted a lot in previous days with Francisco & Carlos but had lost sight of them for a few days; well D had chatted, as his Spanish - 37 year old 'A'level no less - had come on with the practice. I stuck with smiling a lot. We went out to a restaurant with them in the evening and had our very first pimentos de pardron, and learned how to eat them follwing  Carlos's example. Our first mistake was to go at them very much like eating a banana sideways, and then we were enlightened. Francisco and Carlos had somehow found a bunch of fancily dressed Spanish women who were doing the camino in some luxurious way, and were wearing high heeled shoes and immaculate blouses, and this turned our small gathering into a party. They were very pleasant, and I smiled a lot more while they chatted excitedly and examined their immaculate fingernails, while I was secretly looking through the phrase book to find something that I really did want to say, and to show willing, as my Mum brought me up to do, and I couldn't quite find the way to say 'I love your blue shoes'. There really wasn't anything much in the book that resonated with me, but I had to find something, so I made a bit of an announcement that I was about to say my piece, and managed '?Ha visto un grupo de Australianos?' Well, they MIGHT have done! They all tucked into pieces of octopus, but somehow I could not get the stuff past my lips.

We have booked all the places we need to stay now, including in Santiago. Seems sad. The end is nigh. I think we felt a mixture of elation at the idea of making it and seeing Santiago, and also sadness that this way of life was soon to come to an end; but I don't think we really believed that it would. But did we have anything that seemed at all like enlightenment? The 'camino doing its work'? Not that I remember.

'The lads', Francisco and Carlos.

Paper camino day 18: mind in free fall.
The paper camino for day 18 depicts the mind in free fall; we are now on day 26, and probably competely wrecked.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Do you still love me?

Laburnum - I asked last month whether you would still like it a month later. Well???

Camino bore, day 25.

Monday 24th May, Day 25,  Triacastela to Sarria.
In 2010 I woke up to find that I had been lying on top of the piece of blister that I cut off my foot, and it had been nicely flattened, and so I put it away till later, then stuck it into the 'Caminella' journal and made a pretty design out of it, cutting a scallop-shell-shaped window in the page with the skin like a bit of stained glass. A relic for the future for when I'm beatified, and hardly in bad taste compared with some of the relics that are kept. Had to laugh when I found that the book I think of as the Pevsner guide to the camino, Gitlitz & Davidson's 'The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago' ends with 'And don't forget to take a picture of your calluses, so that your grandchildren will believe your incredible tales of the time you went walking on pilgrimage to Compostela.' I think I've gone one better (or worse) than this!

The albergue we stayed in was in the upper, historic part of Sarria.

Absolute luxury!
There were more young people in this albergue than we had encountered; at times on the camino, it almost looked like a Saga holiday, with the young-retired age group well-represented; perhaps they, newly-released from whatever slavery they have endured, decide that now is the opportunity to do the camino. While I was dressing my newly-skinned foot, a kindly young American lad in a university group passed by and admired it, saying it was the worst he had seen so far since starting at Leon. I was touched; this group of young people are the kind that make you know that humanity is safe for the future, that there will always be people of good sense and good will, enough to carry us along. (I seem to be thinking a lot about safety, as the next bit shows.)

A Galician green lane. Oh... I want to go back...
Being in Galicia, the terrain has its own character, and I was struck by the fact that the paths are concave rather than the flat man-made things that had been kindly laid by the Council of Europe which has adopted the camino, and I wrote:

"Galician green lanes
The kindly path trodden by
foot with concave shape that
cradles the foot. Fallen tree
debris creates softer surface.
A metaphor for "humans have been here before
& you are safe here, the road is trodden, people
have been here before & will be others after you..."

It wasn't written as a poem, but rather it was separated into short phrases because it was skirting its way round a sketch of a lane.

My new friend Camino Ruth whom I met in Dublin gave me a poem by Neil Curry. Here is verse 1 + a bit of 'Dust':

"The rain has stopeed now that I'm in Galicia,
And the mud-ruts in the lanes are baked and dried.
Even so, I keep on seeing that same
Bootprint. All the way from Pamplona
It's been with me; sometimes so fresh I've felt
Certain to meet up with whoever made it
Over the next hill, but never have.

What's one though, when this road is deep
With the footprints of the dead?......"

I suppose we can't help being pre-occupied with feet and footprints, an image that is maybe well past its sell-by date; but not on the camino! I'll get over it, I'm sure.

What would happen if I did the camino alone and took the book of psalms with me to read a portion every day, juxtaposed with the terrain, the local people, pilgrims, experiences, hardships etc? I'm looking forward to ironing out the paper camino and seeing what is next to what, and these things pinging off one another. If the psalms pinged off the camino...... Incidentally, Wiki tells us that:
"Ping is a computer network administration utility used to test the reachability of a host on an Internet Protocol (IP) network and to measure the round-trip time for messages sent from the originating host to a destination computer. The name comes from active sonar terminology."
I've got the idea of how to use this term as a metaphor... I think..... (Kev, tell me if this is right!)

Back in 2011, I've spent a week doing quite a bit of travelling in the UK & Ireland in 2011, and I find that I like the seclusion provided by that; to sit at a table with just the book I'm reading and a notebook in which to record my thoughts, and how I'm going to use them. It's like having a kind of travelling study. Solitude combined with a bay window on humanity. I get a lot more done than I do at home, where I'm prey to being, e.g. rung up and dragged down to church to help unload a pallet of carpet tiles etc etc ETC; fortunately I spent a little time putting on make-up after I was summoned, so missed that opportunity and an available Man did it instead.
Mantlepiece with the very bottle that caused my downfall.

But this is getting much too serious, and last night at our parish supper, David reminded me that in the film 'The Way', most of the characters are hoping that they will be able to kick some habit by doing the camino, give up something like cigarettes or over-eating; by contrast I was trying to get rid of an aversion to alcohol. Miraculously this happened on the first night, with the bottle of Navarran red at Roncesvalles; I sipped, and I smiled. The aversion itself was the result of too many bottles of the Belgian stuff in quick succession, which happened because I'd been brought up to eat or drink politely whatever is put in front of me. This approach didn't work very well for me when I encountered some generous friends in a Soho bar a few days before we left the UK, hence the need for the cure. I'm pleased to report that in 2011, the cure seems to be permanent.