Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Blast

the view from inside my poncho for about 3 days

OK, I admit it. I am a prophet.
In my last post I predicted everything that happened in the past week, in a most awesome way. Yes, I went to London and there I went shopping for Finery in the teeming oriental bazaars of Southall with Leena, a former Santiago pilgrim who is Canadian-English-Gujarat Indian.
Leena in a Finery Emporium

In addition to being a beauty, Leena is a born shopper, a sharp bargainer. We found dresses, fabrics, and trims we liked, then a little woman measured me up and down, and three hours later: Voila! Spectacular gowns and stylish up-to-date dresses I will actually wear again once all this Pakistani Wedding business is through. Three dresses, plus materials to make four more if my sisters/family want them, all for just a little more than price I paid for my Spanish designer outfit. I owe it to Leena, who also made sure we were very well-fed and never lost or over-charged during our sojourn in The Great Wen. 

London was very soggy. I left on Sunday afternoon and landed in the dark in La Coruña, a port city on the coast of Galicia in Spain. There began the Christian retreat portion of the odyssey, with Anglican clergymen Andy and Michael (both of whom serve inner-city parishes of Birmingham) and Kathy, my best hiking bud, from San Francisco. (The retreat once registered nine people, but those numbers shrank down for a spectrum of reasons.) I was mad about that for a while, even though I understand the insanity of walking in rainy Galicia in mid-winter.
It is, I can now fully affirm, utterly insane to hike in Galicia in mid-winter. Especially THIS mid-winter. During our four days on the road to Santiago, the coast was blasted with hurricane-force winds. Fifty-foot waves smashed waterfronts, split a big ship in half, and gutted the Giant Squid Museum of Luarca, a personal favorite. We could not have chosen less clement weather for contemplative walking. 

Andy and Michael at San Andres, with clooties right
It is not like we could not literally see it coming. On Monday in Coruña we rented a car and drove to San Andres de Teixido, a charming seaside shrine on the northern coast. We had to climb down to it from the cliffs above, and down some more to the "Energy Vortex" New Age believers say inhabits a cow pasture there. (they leave behind "clootie cloths" on the wire fences and tree branches, to carry their prayers. I think I have a new favorite word. "Clootie cloth.")

We had a little picnic by the holy well. We saw some clouds out at sea. It started to rain on the way up the hill. And when we reached the road at the top, all hell broke loose.

All hell broke loose at least five times in the next three days, as we toiled down the old English Way from Coruña to Santiago and maritime storms large enough to have their own names broke over our heads. We waded through flooded crossroads, staggered over slippery stones, squelched for miles in sodden boots and damp "waterproofs," climbed the great hill outside Bruma right into the teeth of the gustiest gale I ever tried to stand up in. The dirt road was awash, the fields and hog barns losing volumes of topsoil and slurry, and it was Grace Alone (and hiking poles) that saved me from flying sideways into a great lake of pig shit.

Into the screeching wind Kathy, her glasses steamed-over and running rain, shouted at us: "Admit it, you guys! Isn´t this kinda fun?"

We made it to the inn. We hung out wet things from the chandelier in our room. We slept deep. The following morning we walked in sunshine past a weird collection of roadside sculptures. On our left the light caught water standing in the fields, mist rising over distant pines. On the right, to the west, the sky was black with Ruth, the next storm. A perfect rainbow reached down to us. Andy read us a bit from R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet, called

"The Bright Field."

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, it is the eternity that awaits you.

Beauty. Andy had a little notebook full of these. It was a retreat, after all.

A retreat warmed with Cola Cao hot chocolate, Dewar´s scotch, lots of laughter and jamon and ragged candy bars. We probably should not have been out there, what with the schools and ports closed, roads blocked, Level Red alerts for ships and heavy trucks. But some of us had come so far. Some had little holiday time, and we´d been plotting this walk together for two whole years. Besides, pilgrims have used this trail for centuries. We could not be the first of them to push through heavy weather.

And so we pushed through, and talked about where we grew up, our husbands and wives and kids, why we were doing this, where we´d go when we were through. We introduced bemused barmaids and innkeepers to a church with married priests, women ministers, and two men and two women, all of them married but not to each other, who hike together for days on end without bringing their spouses.

We arrived in Santiago at last. Flooded streets, huge deep churchbells ringing, our gloves and hats and pants wringing wet, we shivered through the shrine city to a bar where fresh young things sang Bessie Smith and the Eagles, and an old Gallego played a dobro like he´d spent his life in Mississippi.

We went to church at the cathedral, and we held our Anglican communion service in English, right there in one of the side chapels. (the chapel of St. Andrew, matter of fact -- we´d started at the vortex of San Andres, and finished again at altar of San Andres in Santiago de Compostela, with Father Andy presiding.)

Our Scottish friend John lives in Santiago and works at the pilgrim welcome office. He arranged many things for us, and it was him who locked the chapel gate behind us, under orders. We celebrated then, I read the Gospel, Andy officiated, we ate up all the hosts and drank up all the altar wine ourselves, just to be polite and politic. Rain dripped down through a hole in the roof and pinged off the stones. There were only four of us in there, but that was plenty enough.

It was delicious, blessed, and very damp. Just as I said it would be, prophet that I am.

My three amigos


Heather Knight said...

Sounds awesome! Out of chaos and rain always comes good stories.

Ingrid said...

Oh Reb, I am grinning so hard, my cheeks hurt. I could feel the rain and wind, you are a wonderful story teller and a great prophet.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Allelelujah…and dammit, I'm still damp but back home and thinking, yeah, that was great fun!!!

love, k

ps…I'll walk again, but please, no hurricane force gales and no rest stops in the hail and rain…how about something sorta sensible???

Warren said...

Just found your blog. I can tell you've had some experience writing professionally cause it shows. Kids are going to college and I am stretching myself to do the Camino. Sorry about your cat. It's clear all God's creatures are special -- even cats (spoken as a dog person, but cats always seem to settle into my lap anyway). Warren

Anonymous said...

Great post, Reb. Sent my soul skipping with joy. Kanga

Leena said...

It was my absolute pleasure catching up and shopping. I so glad I saw you and I hope to see you again very soon. Love you, Leena xxx

Kiwi Nomad said...

I loved reading about it all, but I sure as heck am glad I wasn't a member of the party. Quite something to remember until the day you die though!

John Fletcher said...

Fabulous account of those stormy days. I am moved by much of the account but most of all by your protestant eucharist in the cathedral. How I wish we could just get on with rejoicing in the diversity of ways we have found to "do this in memory of me" instead of fighting over who is doing it right.
And I love your description of presenting yourselves as married clergy - and female, too - to the indigenous. In Galicia, of course, Catholicism is married to many much more ancient religious traditions, so I expect they'll find a slot for you all.

John Fletcher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Johnniewalker said...


The Cathedral of Santiago hosts many Anglican Eucharists every year. These are arranged through the Pilgrims'Office which organises private masses for groups on request. The reason the gate to the chapel was closed was out of respect to the Anglicans inside rather than "tainting" the people outside.

@John Fletcher - Anglicans would be very insulted to be called protestants!