Friday, 26 November 2010

Living Small, Walking Hard

I´m spending most of this week alone, almost. Paddy is off in Malaga, visiting the family on the beach. I am here in Moratinos finishing up the novel, taking lots of hikes. I think we both are having a nice time. 

I can listen to my Pete Townshend and Holly Cole and Elvis Costello music without driving Paddy up the wall. I can make one homemade pizza and it will last for a whole day. I haven´t had to wash dishes or wash laundry or take out trash for days and days, because somehow I don´t make much mess when I´m on my own. I live pretty small. When it´s just me and the critters, me absorbed in a project, I inhabit only two rooms. I can heat those with just the woodstove. It´s kinda cool, living small. Long as I remember to keep lobbing logs onto the fire!

(the sky is closing in.)

One of the signposts of my days is 4 p.m. That´s when me and Julia go for a paseo. A very FAST paseo, a good 6 or 8 kilometers´ worth, sometimes more. We´re getting into condition for the camino, you know. Her family steps aside and lets her go, sometimes right out til 6 or 6:30, when the sunlight fails. She is a woman on a mission, with her new Salomon walkers, her waterproof trousers -- the combined total for both was 100 Euro, hollín! For a walk of four days!
(Six days. Seven, I say, parenthetically).
You know what I mean, Rebekah. What do I need with expensive hiking things? This isn´t Everest!
No. It´s about 115 kilometers. It´s not Everest. But it is not peanuts. It´s not easy-peasey. You are going to feel this. It´s a pilgrimage. Sacrificio.

Julía´s husband Paco tells her she´s "muy illusionada." Living a dream. Her daughter Christie did the same Camino a couple of times, and she´s the one who Shanghai-ed her mom to the mall in Leon and bought her the proper shoes. (Christie´s the one staying home and keeping an eye on Fran, the family member who needs some looking-after. Here is a pic. of what the two of them are doing lately: alumbrando their field of grapevines. They say it keeps the stocks from rotting. I say they are practicing for careers in cutting-edge hair design.)

The family is making sure Julia´s camino is successful. This week Paco volunteered to drive the pair of us to Sarria, and to drive our "coche de apoyo," (in America it´s the "sag wagon.")  We won´t have to carry our things on our backs. We will walk short days, and sleep each night in private rooms, in proper beds with sheets and blankets. We´ll have hot showers and clean towels. Nothing elaborate. But better than the pilgrim albergue bunk-bed and manky shower routine beloved of the pilgrim throng.

Some consider this short-trip luxurious kind of pilgrimage a touristic cop-out, not quite legitimate. In the past I may have thought so too. Now, once again, I am having my mind renewed.

This family is rallying around Julia, the matriarch. They are making this happen for her, because she really, really needs to get out and do this. She and Paco. Their fields are sown. Christie is off work, at home with Fran. The holidays aren´t here yet. The Holy Year is almost done. There´s me, a (somewhat) respectable pilgrim woman for Julia to walk the path with, someone with experience. It will be so good for Julia, so therapeutic. The family is making a sacrifice for Julia. They are "siezing the day."

And Julia is doing this for whom? She does not say she is walking for the sake of her daughter, her namesake, Juli, so recently and suddenly taken from us. It is ME who is doing the walk for little Juli, my friend and their daughter and sister. Julia, Juli´s mother, is doing this walk with me, to support me. Because I made a promise to Little Juli.

And just thinking about that makes me melt into a big pool of sentimental tears.
This may be the most meaningful Camino I ever made.

So God help the next hardcore hiker who rags on the Sarria-starters when I am around. He may forever after carry on his hide the scars of a multiple rosary-bead impact. There´s so much more to this Camino than our presumptuous, self-referential, comparative Pilgrim egos can comprehend. It takes years to even start to see the layers. I think we all ought to just shut the hell up and walk, for Chrissakes.

It is a day of  hope, though! Today in San Nicolas, during our paseo, we ran into Sabina, a sweet lady of 88 years. I met her at a funeral a couple of years ago, and helped her walk from church to cemetery. She remembered me, and whose funeral it was, and what the weather was like then. She remembered when Julia´s firstborn was baptized in the church there, a good 40 years ago. Remembering is what she does best these days, she told us.

My Words O Wisdom? Write down at the end of each day what happened, and what you thought of it. It is not hard. It´s very therapeutic, really. And in so doing, you build your own archive. Lots of pilgrims keep diaries, but they quit when they get home. Not smart.

Years from now, when you get to be as old and wise as Sabina, you can put on your Holly Cole album, and pull out your notes, and review all the wisdom of your years, and create Great Literature.

Or at least you will leave behind some stuff that will embarrass the hell out of your kids someday, if they ever bother reading it.
At the very least, it will be great kindling for the fire.
Some future dog or cat will appreciate a good fire.

Oh, and today in a draw at the big "hipermarket" in Leon I won a jamon Bellota, a top-quality giant cured pig leg, delight of gourmets and campesinos the world over! Paddy and I discussed only days ago buying one to install in the Residents-Only bar in the Moratinos town hall... Santiago steps in again. My lucky day! 

Luckiest of all, perhaps, was discovering the case of Prado Rey 2006 crianza, a restaurant-grade Ribero del Duero tinto that I stuck in the bodega two years ago. Tomorrow we will have guests over for a late Thanksgiving feast, so I pulled out two bottles to serve with dinner. I tried a taste this afternoon. It has matured into something marvellous! My first home-cured Reserva!

God is good, in so many ways. I wish more countries did "Dia de Accion de Gracias," or Thanksgiving.
Julia says maybe I should take tomorrow off, hiking-wise, what with  David and Malin coming from Astorga, and Bruno and his Italian carpenter, and Paddy returning, and all these little quails to roast.

... and the blister on my left foot. 


Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

emilene said...

Just loved reading this post!

Johnnie Walker said...

Buen Camino dear Rebekah - we will all be with you in spirit.


FrereRabit said...

There's so much feeling in this post, Reb. I've promised my winter pilgrimage across the meseta for Juli too, and I'll see you at the end of it in Moratinos. Today I too am also more aware of the vulnerability of fragile humanity, having been outraged by my daughter's account of the way the British police did a cavalry charge into them in Whitehall - then denied it but now have to answer the video evidence (see ).

Somehow, and almost regrettably, we must bring our spiritual journeys into contact with the world of tragic car crash or savage state repression, and try to lift our gaze from the beauty and exquisite peace of our Camino discoveries, to once again sadly contemplate the world of real and actual suffering or conflict; and in that world remember that our pilgrimage has purpose and meaning beyond our own individual 'therapy'.

Yes, it is part of a wider spiritual chess game - so I believe - in which a journey undertaken on the Camino is not simply a symbolic act but has a real effect in the wider balance of spiritual forces. Sarria to Compostela takes you over an ancient bridge, shortly out of town, then you cross a railway line and a flowing stream, a sharp right turn up a steep hill in a forest. And there you will find a hollow tree. You can stand in it and join in the watch, in its ancient static guard over the path. Pray for me when you get to that tree. Catholic that I am, I have been profoundly moved by its presence each time I stop there and take in its wisdom. This is no new age nonsense but Catholic respect for creation and sensitivity to the life that God gives us. That He somehow also took from Juli.

The mystery we will never understand in this life.

ksam said...

Oh to blisters!! Mine is currently on the right foot! Thinking of you, Karin

Mary & Tom said...

Buen camino to you and Julia. I have often said to people who look down on those who choose to walk from Sarria or Vilalba: Remember how hard the first week was? How hard it was getting used to your feet, your pack, the food, the camino etiquette? And then, during the next few weeks, you would enjoy periods of zen, when the pack is perfect, the feet have found their pace, etc. But those who have chosen to do the last 100 km rarely enjoy those periods as they are still in the adjustment stage and then they are in Santiago. They are the ones to admire.
I hope Julia has a remarkable experience.

claire said...

I agree, the Camino has so many layers, and you definitely must know quite a few of them.
I am struck and thank you for sharing how you can suddenly look at your walking from Sarria: it is holy, Rebekah. Your pilgrimage from Sarria for Juli will be holy. It is already holy...

peter said...

I think we all ought to just shut the hell up and walk, for Chrissakes.

I had to smile at this. Buen Camino!

Ian Holdsworth said...

Great post. True spirituality is multilayed and is no one business but your own. Judge not, that ye be not judged. You are in my prayers

Anonymous said...

...feeling the empathy, the passion and the pathos in your journey with Julia for Juli...

but damn, that blister again???

and thanks to Brer Rabbit for the reminder of the sublime within the mundane...

love, k

Ryan said...

Fare well on your Camino Reb. Every journey we take has a special meaning regardless of how many km. This is important, and I'm happy you're doing this.

And I hope that RdD was enjoyable with some of the jamon. Sounds like good juice.

Much Love.



I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You :-)


Luiza said...

A thoroughly enjoyable post Rebekah it left me sad then smiling.

Before starting my own pilgrim journey in 2002 I read Nancy Louise Frey's book; Pilgrim Stories. Dr Frey mentions the pilgrim hierarchy and what nonsense it is. Thanks to Dr Frey I have always walked to the beat of my own drum and do not fall into the snobbery that on hears along the way. Where one starts, what one carries, how many kilometers a day one walks, where one stays, is the pilgrimage of each pilgrim and not to be judged by another.

I stay in hostels and figure that because I do this I am leaving a bunk bed free for a pilgrim who financially might need it. Oh, and I have used a mochilla taxi many times (available all along the way these days).

September 2011 I am walking from Santiago to SJPP and if time permits I would love to stop by and say Hi, but then I would be one of those pilgrim types.

Now that I know you will be along the way I will check back more frequently.

I am deeply touched that you are walking for another. Do you know that in Santiago you can have Juli's name of the Compostela if you mention the dedication? I did not know this when I walked Via del la Plata for a sick friend and wish that I had.

If you see Jesus y Maria Jato of Albergue Ave Fenix please say hello from Luiza (Texas).

Buen Camino

PilgrimChris said...

Thank you for sharing this blog.
Your upcoming Camino will be in my prayers.
God bless you keep you all in His love.

The Solitary Walker said...

Not long back from Malaga myself...

I was in beautiful Zamora, as you know, when I walked the Via de la Plata earlier this year. Yes, that new albergue is fabulous!

The Solitary Walker said...

Sorry, my last comment was meant for the post above.

Loved this piece. 'I think we all ought to just shut the hell up and walk.' Yes! We're all too prone to be judgemental.

Love your writing.