Sunday, 8 May 2011

Camino bore, day 9: "We met a man..."

Santa Domingo de la Calzada to Villafranca Montes de Oca.
I was musing in the night about the man we met at Leon - some days on from here - who after about a week said that 'The camino is doing its work'. He had gone with the intention of musing over mild family problems, annoying teenagers, that kind of thing, and ways forward were forming in his mind. Having already been walking for a fortnight and feeling no progress in personal terms, I envied him; a year on, it seems that the camino has much work still to do.

We met several people who, in the spirit of our present age, had experimented with aspects of other religions. But they would often have very little knowledge of Christian traditions despite being on a Christian pilgrimage route, and one asked 'What are 'the Benedictines'? But ways of living in the Christian tradition are now very foreign to the way we have become, are just as 'exotic' as those stemming from eastern religions which held attraction for some, and the Beatles gave that a huge boost. (I pride myself on never falling for Lobsang Rampa.) For those of us prone to introspection (I was going to say 'voices in the head', of which I have many) it can be confusing. When is it right to accept limitations meekly and stop trying, and when does this display lack of pilgrim determination and acceptance of suffering? Is not walking on a painful foot sinful or sensible? No easy answers!

So I got the bus most of the way which I really DID think was sensible, and David walked a whacking long way. The camino that day unusually followed the road route very closely, and so from my seat I could see many pilgrims who, after only 8 days on the road, seemed like old friends. How quickly human groups form! Just like being in hospital.

I got off at Espinosa and walked 4 km! I got a strange thrill and pleasure out of being almost alone in the landscape. It was a dry day, and I longed to get some real mud on my new boots to satisfy my pilgrim pride, which had been badly injured by almost 3 days 'off'.

This Villafranca stay was strange; suddenly, police lights started flashing, and hundreds of people, many of them young and wearing blue caps all streamed into the place and into the church, where the bells were clanging (I can't say they ring in N. Spain, but I really loved their mournful note). Seemed to be some camino-based club outing.  I'd gone up to hunt for a shop, while D stayed in the albergue, and the whole place seemed suddenly to come alive in a way that put me in mind of Monty Python, and I had no real idea of what was going on. I came back to find that he was at a mass behind the washing line, and this was our first encounter with Juan Pablo, the Italian priest, though I'd seen him before serving at mass in Santo Domingo, and sleeping in the next bed to me in Najera. How we came to value him! There'll be more on this.

But today, 2011, in Lincolnshire we will go hunting scallop shells carved into the tops of pillars in Northorpe. Were these inspired by some pilgrim journey long ago? We are curious, and more than slightly wistful....

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