Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A blast, present and past!

the plaza, Villalon de Campos
We poked through passages deep beneath a shuttered pharmacy, and toasted one another in pink-painted dining rooms. We navigated an obsolete canal, and ogled skulls and sacrums of forgotten saints in a massive, mouldering monastery. At midnight, in the rain, we hiked to the next town and back. Some of us slept in bunk beds in a pilgrim albergue, while others filled up the pensions, the B&B, the little hotel. This is how Spanish camino-heads have a good time.

I just shared an intense weekend with a gang of camino movers and shakers. They all are Spaniards, mostly from Galicia and Madrid.

The ´do is organized by a charismatic fellow from Valladolid called Paco, who has managed to not form any kind of organization or club out of it. This gang gets together every early March in Villalon de Campos, a little town about 25 km south of here on the Camino de Madrid. They converge, but they don´t sit still. There are almost 80 of them. They all seem to know one another, and they all talk at the same time.
I was invited a couple of times before, but my foreigner status kinda scared me away, up til now. I have been taking Spanish lessons since November, so I felt I was ready.
So I packed a bag, girded my loins, and headed out on Friday afternoon.  I did fine.
It was not so much the babble of speech, the massive amount of food, the obvious mutual affection, and the kindness of some of them that impressed me. It was the choice of excursions. We went to amazing places that tourists do not usually go, because they are not open to tourists. But for some reason they were open to Paco and his 80 good friends. 

Novitiate, Villagarcia
We saw inside the big old Jesuit monastery in Villagarcia de Campos. It is a huge complex of buildings hulking over a tiny mud-brick town. Inside it is dark and damp, with a gruesome collection of saints´ relics and slippery stone floors. It was home to a seminary, and an incendiary counter-reformation press meant to fight the Calvinist heresies that popped up in this neighborhood. It was also a safe place for royals to stash their surplus sons. 
Chapel for young Jesuits
It is an isolated, severe, gray place. It is still a school. I would not send a child there. 
The novitiate chapel is an explosion of gold leaf and froufrou, speckled with woodworm,  while the relics and the big stone church below are marble neoclassical bas-relief. There was big money here, 500 years back. It is a wonderous place to see. And best of all were the faces -- the saints and martyrs, naked votive baby Jesuses, severed heads, grotesquely realistic images of murdered children. Here is Spanish Catholicism at its most morbid. (It is easy to condemn an age that turned out this ghastly kitsch. Until you turn on the television.)
 CSI Vatican?
The faces of many of the statues are faces you see again and again, on the streets of Villalon, in the pension, in Sahagún and Carrión and Madrid. Castilian faces, for Castilian believers. 
Roman martyr, I think...
the kid you just want to smack
Yes, that IS a severed head in his arms...
(Blogger does not like me posting too many photos, or I would show you a big ol lineup of them!)

fun-loving old pope

 We ate empanada, and took a riverboat up the Canal de Castilla. We walked several kilometers to Tamariz de Campos, another mud-brick town on the Madrid route. Here is a thousand-year-old parish church with a huge collection of Madonnas and prophets, some of them of charming, cartoony local make. More neighbors´ faces, hundreds of years´ worth. I was so taken with their faces! Best of all, I think, is Jesus and the Apostles at The Last Supper, the Jewish Passover Feast. In the middle of the table, ready for carving, is a fine fat piglet!

It ain´t easy, being a virgin mother...
So, it was a great visit with the Camino people, wonderful full-immersion into Spanish language, and a fascinating look at Castilian art and architecture. I didn´t get to the part about the underground passages and the pharmacy that was sealed-up for 50 years after the druggist died, nor did I tell you about Marisol and Lourdes, two new friends I made... But I am already pushing my luck with Blogger! 


Anonymous said...

The last supper piece reminds me of the last supper in Cusco, Peru. where a different piglet is served. It is guinea pig.

Your Sister Martea said...

Oh Rebekah, to live your life is like reading a novel by some famous writer from the 1920's.... you live a life that can only be dreamed of. I only hope that you give God credit for that. I miss you terribly and am (thanks to Beth) taking an on-line course in Spanish so that when I come back I can talk to the store clerks myself...without your help....we shall see how that turns out. I love you so much....Buenos Noches!

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

Mart, there´s nobody in the world more grateful than me.
The blog doesn´t go into the hard parts or the boring bits. But still, I consider myself very very blessed indeed.
Buen suerte con la lengua español. After all these years I still am wrestling with the basics!

Anonymous said...

Rebecah, your book came in today. Will read it in due timw bwfore my Porto-Santiago camino in april/May.