I´ve been back from my pilgrimage now for a couple of weeks, but I´m still in that peculiar mental space you inhabit when you walk for days and days with only cows and crows for company.
I am not paying full attention to the stream of pilgrims that is flowing in and out the door, even though I am aware they are a good lot of people. Paddy is doing a beautiful job of hosting and butlering and just "taking care of business" while I get on with the slow and delicious business of serious writing. We´ve had a Canadian hospitalera on her way to host at Miraz, and an Englishman crazy for football (He´s a fanatic for the Bolton Wanderers, a team I never even heard of). Last night it was a soft-spoken South African lady who operates a bulldozer at a diamond mine, back at her "real life."
This morning I drove myself to Burgos to an academic conference on Caminos of the World. It was interesting stuff, with a Brazilian talking about the pilgrimage paths of Brazil; a Japanese describing dozens of appealing trails through the Kii mountains, lacing together hundreds of Shinto and Buddhist shrines (I am going, soon as I hit the lottery), etc. etc. There were the usual suspects: the editor of Spain´s glossy pilgrimage magazine, some guys promoting a new map book, and Marcelino, a furry man from LaRioja who wanders The Way dressed up as a 16th-century pilgrim. (He can smell a photo op or a free meal from a mile away. Marcelino is one of three guys who do this every year. It´s a living.)
But most of all, being American myself, I went to see the lecture led by George Greenia, our man from William & Mary. He told that little conference about the Shakers and the Quakers, the Mormons and Ephrata Cloister, the National Cathedral and St. Patrick´s in midtown Manhattan, the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Oklahoma and the Junipero Serra Franciscan Missions trail in California. America is so packed with religion and religionS... and for a country so young and large, it´s got its share of pilgrimages. George had em eating out of his hand, all in his elegant Castellano. (He did leave out Graceland, however. Lawyers from the Elvis estate are probably filing suit as we speak). George reminded me of how rich is my homeland, with 40 flavors of Christian heresy compared to Spain´s vanilla/chocolate/strawberry orthodoxy. (not that there´s anything wrong with orthodoxy...)
George looked very tired and jet-lagged, so we scrapped our plans of bringing him back to The Peaceable. It was hard, not being selfish. But he is worn-out. And I am only about halfway here myself.
I realized that while pawing through the heavy bag of pilgrim hype handed over to all the conferees. There´s stuff in there that would´ve spurred several good stories in ambitious days past, especially as many of the sources were right there on-site, camera ready -- and after a morning of listening to academic Spanish I could probably handle simple interviews.
I had a nice lunch with George. I looked at the notes I took during the morning´s lectures, and I didn´t even go back for the second half of the program. The notes did not mention the Hajj or Shikoku or the Amana Colony. They were thematic notes, ideas for the project waiting for me at home.
So I am not a journalist any more.
I may not even be a "camino head" these days... all the racket and news and issues seem to chatter and clatter away out there someplace. (Except for the hospitalera who texted an SOS... I´m still glad to help out our trainees when they get into deep water.) (And I don´t ignore the pilgrims who stay here. I repaired a badly torn backpack yesterday, and rather enjoyed the manual work. I am friendly with them, honest.)
I´m in the writing zone, reliving the earliest days of this place, back before it even had a name. And like I told George today, (I´m almost afraid to say it out loud) I am as happy now as I have ever been in my life. I am doing exactly what I ought to be doing, surrounded by people and things and critters I love. My dream´s come true. Now I only need to tell the story.