Saturday, June 29, 2013

Finisterre (pt. 2)

The remainder of the daylight hours we wandered the town and ran into others whom we had
walked with at various stages of the Camino and had arrived in Finisterre with us. We ate at a café overlooking a beautiful harbor, just sitting and talking, waiting for the sun to set. 

There is a tradition among pilgrims who walk all the way to Finisterre: walk to the lighthouse in the early evening and watch the sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean. I suppose a purist would have walked out to the lighthouse, about three kilometers distance from the albergue, but the purist also walks in sack cloth and ashes, barefoot, carrying only a gourd for water and begs for food and lodging along the way. I had eschewed the purist pilgrimage before I even started, so taking a cab was an easy next step. I didn't have to twist Maria's arm to get her to agree to a cab, and we arrived at the lighthouse about an hour before sunset. The sky was partly cloudy, but I thought that
just gave the sun something to light up as it descended over the horizon and made the scene that much more resplendent. There were others making the ritual funeral pyre for a piece of clothing or pair of boots; another pilgrim tradition. I had already left two shirts along the way that I didn’t need and had sent back to the States a pair of shoes that I had outgrown during the first half of the Camino, so I had nothing left to burn. I enjoyed their offerings to the Camino vicariously. 

Maria had already found a place to sit on the rocks to watch the sunset and was looking at the sea as I was enjoying the fire and talking with some other people. I went to the lighthouse café (naturally, with all those people there every night of the Spring, Summer, and Fall months, there’s going to be someone to sell food and drink) and got a couple of cups of white wine (Styrofoam, unfortunately – no glass allowed
Maria
outside) and took them out to where Maria was sitting. She had found a very comfortable place to sit – for one. I asked if she’d mind moving if I could find a comfortable place for two. She was amenable, so I began crawling over rocks, my wine balanced precariously in my hand, trying, successfully, not to spill any. I found the perfect spot, closer to the ocean, further out on the rocks, a place any self-respecting mountain goat could walk to with ease, but completely loco in Maria’s estimation. 
She joined me anyway and we sat in silence as the sun sank into the West. 

 And now I arrive at the point where words fail me. Today, as I write this, is June 29th, 2013, almost a year after I was sitting on the rocks at the coast of Spain; the culmination of an 850-mile pilgrimage. My fingers are on the keyboard of my laptop, but they refuse to move except to say I don’t know what to write. But I can’t bring you this far and then leave you with such a lousy ending. It would be like that symphony without the coda or leaving off the denouement of the murder mystery. Or, do I flatter myself? Does anyone, other than I, really care how it all ended? I’ll have to take that on faith and hope so. 

So many thoughts vied for attention as I sat staring at the setting sun that they all became like white noise. There was the memory of my sore feet, of perfect peace walking across the Meseta, of standing in the cool shower of the irrigation sprayers in the desert of Aragon, of constant snoring in the albergues every night since Logroño in parallel with the memory of having quiet albergues all to myself through Catalunya and Aragon, of frustration with not being able to communicate as well as I’d like but being happy with the progress I’d made in my grasp of Spanish, of elation when remembering Maria saying her heart skipped a beat when she saw me in the cathedral after the feeling of loss as she walked away in Sarria. I thought of Debussy and the sea of wheat and then the music came to me again as I looked at the sea of water before me. I thought of my past, before the Camino, and my future, after the Camino and tried to ignore all that and concentrate on the present, the setting sun in front of me and Maria beside me. My life appeared before me as a blackboard filled with calculus equationsI know nothing of calculus. I’d come to the Camino to find God, but I’d lost myself. 


 The sun descended though the clouds. The sky turned imperceptibly from light blue to orange to red, dark blue and purple following after, the colors of everything around me washing out as the sun descended farther into the ocean, all around me turning gray while the sky turned a deep violet blue of night. 

Clambering over rocks a hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean in daylight seemed like a much better idea than trying to climb back over them in the dark. At least we didn’t have to be concerned with spilling our wine. We made it safely back to the lighthouse and walked, flashlight in hand, back to the albergue, mostly in silence. 

The next day brought rain and cool air. We took the first bus back to Santiago from where Maria caught a flight to Barcelona. A quick, barely perceptible hug and she was on the bus. She said she didn’t like long goodbyes. I guess not. 

 I waited a few hours at the bus station, then caught an overnight bus to Granada, the next etapa of my life’s Camino.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Finisterre (pt. 1)

On July 8th we sallied forth, as Don Quixote, my favorite literary character would say. The weather was overcast and cool, but dry. I had spent three relaxing and enjoyable days in Santiago with Maria. We had become “regulars” in a bar next to the cathedral, if such a thing can happen in three days (with Maria it can and does – she’s an instant friend to all who meet her), walking through every street of the casco viejo, the old part of town, browsing the tourist shops, the open air market, and of course, touring the cathedral and paying homage to the bones of St. James, or Santiago as he’s known in these environs, in their silver casket. I didn’t attend another Mass, but I took the opportunity daily to pray with the rosary I had carried with me across Spain. I’m not a “church goer,” and I don’t subscribe to a lot of the dogma and mythology of the Catholic Church, but I find praying the rosary to be a kind of meditation. I suppose everyone who meditates finds it difficult to control their wandering mind. For me, the prayers of the rosary, and just the physical act of holding the beads and the cross allow me to concentrate and focus my attention.

Leaving Santiago de Compostela
I only made one entry in my journal after arriving in Santiago de Compostela, and absolutely no notes in the small guidebook that directed us from Santiago to Finisterre. What little I wrote isn't relevant here, so everything I write about the walk to Finisterre and beyond is from memory, and, as this all occurred almost a year ago, all I have left is vague pictures and impressions combined with strong and emotive feelings I still can’t shake
.
The walk was peaceful again; the pilgrims who had joined us for the last 100 km to Santiago were gone. Only the hard core pilgrims walked to Finisterre or Muxia, the other pilgrim destination. We walked off and on with another group of pilgrims from Catalunya who had become Maria’s friends and all spoke, naturally, Catalan among themselves most of the day, Maria included. When I conversed with Maria we spoke in Castilian, and she tried to keep me up to date with the conversation, interpreting for me in Castilian (Spanish to the non-Catalan world), but I had reached the saturation point where a combination of mental and psychological exhaustion seemed to create a stone wall around me and nothing I heard was making much sense. I remember stopping at a bar for lunch. The Catalunyans were laughing and enjoying themselves and I was feeling like an outsider. No matter, really. I didn’t expect them to all speak in a foreign language all the time just for me. But I tried to order a second beer, a simple thing by this time. I made the request of the bar tender, who looked at me as I ordered but made no attempt at confirming my request. I waited. I waited some more. I waited a little longer, finally getting angry and giving up, leaving without the second beer I really didn’t need anyway. Was my Spanish still that bad that he didn’t understand me? Or was I not assertive enough to order a beer in Spain? Did the bartender see
The author somewhere between Santiago and Finisterre
that I was a foreigner and think it was funny to just mess with me? Maria told me later, when I talked about this with her, that the bartender was just playing mala folla to the hilt and said that I shouldn't let it bother me. But it did, nonetheless.


A day or two later, after breakfast in a crowded bar at an albergue, we were all trying to finish preparations for the day and hit the road. I was pulling up the rear, standing at the bar with a 5 Euro note in my raised hand, waiting for the bartender/waiter to take my money so I could leave. There were a lot of other people there, all pilgrims, naturally, ordering juice and croissants and café con leche and whatever else was available, so the bartender was busy. I was trying to be polite, knowing that he could see me – I was standing practically right in front of him – and it was obvious what I wanted to do, but he ignored me. My other traveling companions, including Maria were already out the door so I finally raised my voice above the din and told the bartender I’d like to pay.

This is just the way it is in Spain. I’m used to restaurant employees wanting to be paid, understanding that the exchange of money is their raison d’etre: when a customer wants to give you money and leave, making room for more paying customers, you take his money, dammit!. But an American has to learn to be more assertive in Spain. At least, a non-assertive American – for which I am the poster boy – has to learn that.

I left feeling frustrated and foolish, feeling that Maria was losing patience with me, which made
Nearing the ocean
me feel worse. I spent most of that day walking alone. I needed some time to think, away from Catalan, away from people, away from Maria. The real end of the Camino was staring me in the face and I had no idea what was coming. I had faith that it would all work out, but I felt as if I were in the boat and Jesus was telling me to step out into the sea. Sure, I could see that He’s being borne up by the water, but I just didn’t feel ready to take that step. Call me faithless, but I was scared to death.


I could also see that my relationship with Maria was going, and if fact, could go nowhere. To this day I don’t know what she saw in me, but it was certainly not anything on which to build a romantic relationship. I had deep admiration and respect for her from the beginning, and over the weeks, that had turned into something more, something where it was easy for me to imagine a life-long relationship. But she told me in so many words that she did not want a relationship with me or anyone else so it was clear that what we had going was an asymmetrical relationship. Still, the heart wants what it wants and letting go was difficult. It still is, for that matter. 

We arrived in Finisterre on July 11th. The weather was perfect – warm, sun shining, a perfect
Arriving in Finisterre
beach day. We took off our hiking boots, rolled up our pants, and walked along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean at Finisterre, the end of the known world when it received its name. Later, we checked into the final albergue to drop off our backpacks and Maria changed into a swim suit so she could lie on the beach to soak up the sun. I didn’t have a swim suit, but lying on the beach doesn’t hold much interest for me anyway. I just took a long, barefoot walk looking for scallop shells which were surprisingly difficult to find. Shells of every other type were numerous, but that famous scallop shell, the symbol of the Camino, was elusive. I finally found some small ones and gave all but one to Maria. Fortunately, the one I kept for my own souvenir didn’t get sent back to the States later, where it probably would have been lost to post office thieves.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Ecstatic Reunion

July 6th, 8:30 AM
There I was, 47 days after arriving in Montserrat, standing in front of The Cathedral of Santiago, having walked nearly the entire breadth of Northern Spain. I should have felt happy. I should have felt elated. I should have felt a sense of accomplishment and pride.
I felt numb, let down, directionless.
For the last 47 days, no, for the last 8 years I had had a goal: to walk the Camino de Santiago. I read the books, planned what I’d need, lived in anticipation of the day I’d arrive in Spain with my backpack and boots and begin the adventure. And the adventure had been more than I could possibly have expected or even could have dreamed. I lived each day on the Camino simply sensing life. It sounds a little trite, but it’s the best way I can describe the experience of walking – sauntering as Thoreau would put it – seeing the countryside as it passed by me, feeling the heat of the sun in Catalunya and Aragon, the rain in Galicia, the wind across the meseta. I tasted pulpo in Galicia and the best fish stew I’ve ever had in Villafranca Montes de Oca. I heard everything from the still silence of walking through farmlands, broken only by the sound of cow bells and occasional bleating of sheep, to the overwhelming cacophonous noise of thousands of trucks and cars almost bumper to bumper at 100 kilometers per hour as if they were one, long train speeding by me only an arm’s length away as I walked along a highway after finding myself lost in the Aragon desert and trying to find my way back to the Camino. I smelled eucalyptus forests, fresh-mown hay, newly plowed fields and I believe I even smelled the water in the irrigation canals encircling them. Even through the discomfort of my painful feet I felt the energizing endorphins created by the constant physical exertion of walking all day, every day. I had left my last bottle of Prozac at the Cruz de Fierro and felt immeasurably better without them than I had ever felt with.
And here I was at the end of all that, in Santiago, staring at the cathedral and wondering what to do next.
“Well, suck it up, pilgrim,” I thought to myself. “The opera ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings, and the fat lady is still waiting for me in Finisterre, 80 kilometers down the road.” After Finisterre I would go to Granada. And hadn’t I already met someone who would help me get settled there? Is the hand of God not directing my steps?
So, first things first. After walking an hour the first thing you do is eat breakfast, which is exactly what my little group and I did. We found a bar near the cathedral and I had my usual desayuno de peregrino: café con leche with a croissant. I added to it fresh squeezed orange juice which was the norm in Spain. Some restaurants served frozen orange juice at a lesser price if you ask for it, but in almost all of them you’ll find a juice machine and a stack of oranges right next to the espresso maker. If you order orange juice, it will be squeezed from fresh oranges while you watch.
The entrance to the pilgrim office in Santiago
I waited until 9:00 or shortly thereafter when the pilgrim office opened so I could register and receive the Compostela, the certificate showing that one has walked the Camino de Santiago. The rest of the group stayed in the bar; I just wanted to get the registration process over with, find a pension, and get rid of my back pack. I was early so the line was short. I’ve been told that at times, during the busier times of the year  the line can wind down the stairs, through the courtyard outside the office doors, and into the street.

Leaving the office, someone handed me a small flyer advertising a nearby pension. I asked him if the pension was open at this time of day. I wanted to check in if possible and rid myself of my back pack. He told me that it was still too early, but he took me there himself and found the owner who allowed me to check in anyway. Ah, the joys of capitalism: Even though it was hours before normal check in time, he had a room, I had money, we made an exchange and both of us were better off than we had been only minutes before. The fact that he knew there were plenty of other pensions and hostels available gave him incentive to allow me an early check in.
The rest of the morning I wandered around Santiago, in and out of narrow streets that had been there for hundreds of years and had seen hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before me.
It was close to noon when the daily pilgrim mass started at the cathedral. I hadn’t attended mass since Zaragoza and I wouldn’t miss this one for the world. I found my traveling companions and we went into the cathedral at about 11:30, maybe even a little earlier to make sure we got a seat. Even at this time of the year, not the high season for pilgrims, the cathedral was completely filled to standing room only by the time mass started. I understood very little of what the priest was saying; my grasp of Spanish is just not nearly good enough to filter out the pronounced echo of the cathedral combined with the rapid-fire delivery of the Ordinary of the Mass. And, even though the priest delivered the homily in, alternately, Spanish, French, German, and English, with the echo and miscellaneous noises that necessarily emanate from thousands of people, I didn’t even understand the English parts. It didn’t matter though; the feeling couldn’t have been more powerful. Everything, from the Kyrie to the Agnus Dei and finally the swinging of the botafumeiro, the giant incense burner, seemed to overwhelm all my senses. Even the crowds of tourists couldn’t reduce the effect.
Waiting for the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago
And my cathedral experience was not over. As if the music and incense and the feeling of receiving the ultimate blessing to my seven weeks on the Camino were not enough, as I stood in the pew, waiting to exit the cathedral after Mass, I saw Maria on the other side of the cathedral. She was looking at me as I looked at her through the crowd. It was as if she were the only other person in the cathedral. As the crowds shuffled along toward the cathedral exits I lost sight of her but found her again near the huge doors at the rear of the cathedral. We hugged as if we were long lost friends and she told me that her heart skipped a beat when she saw me. Hearing that caused my heart to skip several beats. To say I had missed her the last several days doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings, and to hear her say anything that would indicate she had missed me also, after the experience of the Mass, and the emotional roller coaster of the last several days was almost more than I could bear. I thought I was used to one miracle after another but I felt overwhelmed yet again.
We spent the rest of the day together wandering around Santiago, doing the “tourist thing.” It was cool and rain threatened, so I bought a thick, heavy, hooded sweatshirt that had a University of Santiago logo in it – something completely unsuited to backpacking across the country. But I was almost at the end and I’d find room in my pack for the remaining 80 Km to Finisterre for the comfort of a warm sweatshirt to get me around Santiago.
I had already paid for my pension for the night, but the following day I moved to the pension where Maria was staying. Being in the same pension was more convenient for making arrangements for our outings around the town and had the added benefit of being quieter and more modern at the same price.
Maria had planned to stay a couple of days and then catch a flight back to Barcelona, but I encouraged – better, pleaded with – her to walk to Finisterre with me. I told her that I saw the walk to Finisterre as the coda to a symphony. We had walked the symphony, but without the coda to Finisterre, the piece was incomplete. (I probably came up with that after a bottle of wine.) Fortunately for me, her other friends were also planning to walk to the coast, so, regardless of my lame metaphor, she agreed to go with me. We planned to stay a day in Santiago to rest and leave on the third day, but the night before we intended to start for Finisterre we were out on the town and didn’t get back to the pension until 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning – a typical Spanish pub crawl as we’d done in Burgos. So we stayed another day.
That day, the day before we left for Finisterre, Maria took a nap while I went for a walk around town. I had written some post cards to friends and family, including one to Annick, the woman from France we’d walked with for a couple of weeks. I found a post box and as I prepared to put her card in it, I re-read what I had written and thought about Annick and the time we spent walking the Camino, said a brief prayer for her, and then dropped the post card in the box. I continued walking and came to a plaza where I saw, much to my surprise, Beth. She hadn’t been walking with Maria the last week or so; they had become separated and lost touch with each other. I had a brief conversation with her, told her that I was planning to walk on to Finisterre and wished her well. On the way back I ran into Lluis and some of his friends whom I had walked with off and on from near the Cruz de Fierro. My little walk around town had become like a mini family reunion. I was very happy to see them and greeted Lluis with a warm, two-handed hand-shake. I found out that Lluis and the others had been walking with Maria pretty regularly the last week or so after I had become separated from her. They asked how Maria was and I told them she was taking a much needed siesta and other small talk, including our plans to leave the next morning for Finisterre.
I returned to the pension, finding that Maria had awoken by this time. She told me she had had a vivid dream during her nap. She told me that she dreamed of Annick, whom she hadn’t thought of since we left Burgos. Then she dreamed that I was talking with Beth, and finally that Lluis and I were talking with each other as old friends, and she saw, in her dream, that we shook hands with a two-handed hand shake and talked about the route to Finisterre.

By this time in my Camino, none of this surprised me. 
The Cathedral of Santiago at night

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Entering Santiago de Compostela

July 5th and 6th

If you’ll permit me to relate just one more dream…

This one is timeless, as are all dreams that have significance for our lives and our being-ness, but this one more so.

I am sitting comfortably in a room talking with my good friend, Jesus. No, not just any Jesús, but that Jesus–savior, son of man, prince of peace.

Just before the dream begins, as the curtain opens so to speak, Jesus has referred to me as Jesus. The curtain rises and,naturally, I ask him, “Why did you call me Jesus?” He responds, matter-of-factly, “Because I am in you and you are in me.”

I know what you’re thinking; that’s just standard Christian philosophy, standard Christian dogma. No big deal. My subconscious mind was probably rehashing a sermon from years ago that got dislodged from some brain cells by too much wine the night before.

But there are dreams, and then, there are dreams. Sometimes you awake and know that your dream environment was so surrealistic that it could only have been a dream. (I know, surrealistic technically means dream-like, but it’s taken on a meaning of “really, really weird and dream-like.”) This was not one of those. This was one of those where you become aware of being awake without having awoken, when you wonder if it was a dream or if you might have just been in an alternate universe, another existence for a few minutes. My opinion, take it or leave it, is that while my body was sleeping, the real me had a little conversation with Jesus. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I walked the Camino, this dream took on more and more significance. And I’ve found that this concept is not just Christian dogma, although it’s expressed, given by The Holy Spirit, in Christian terms to those of us for whom that makes the most sense. To others it's given in terms they can understand. In Thomas Merton’s book Mystics and Zen Masters, he relates how a Zen practitioner might understand the same idea: Speaking of the “void,” or better for Western minds, the pure affirmation of the fullness of positive being, Merton writes, “The void…may be said to have two aspects. First, it simply is what it is. Second, it is realized, it is aware of itself, and to speak improperly, this awareness (Prajna/wisdomcontemplation) is ‘in us,’ or better, we are ‘in it.’” Could one describe the spirit of Jesus as the pure affirmation of the fullness of positive being? I think so.

The last days before Santiago all my experiences, dreams, feelings, desires, fears, in fact, my whole life swirled around me as I walked. I had come to terms with the end of my sojourn along the outskirts of heaven, greatly aided by the thought that after Santiago I still had eighty kilometers' walk to Finisterre ahead of me. And, truth to tell, I wasn't completely moribund, I was still enjoying walking with my new-found German friends, especially Tilly who, even though she didn’t feel perfectly comfortable conversing in English (it was, after all, her fourth language), made the effort so that I wouldn’t feel completely left out of the German and French conversations going on around me.

The albergue at Monte de Gozo, 4km from Santiago
Our little group stopped for the night, July 5th, in Monte de Gozo at what can only be described as a base camp prepared for at least 400 pilgrims, expandable to 800 during holy years (years in which Saint James’ name day falls on the Sabbath). The barracks-style accommodations are comfortable, although the kitchen facilities were a little cramped for such a potentially large accumulation of pilgrims. No matter, we still managed to have a nice pilgrim meal, taking turns with other groups for table and cooking space. If I remember correctly, dinner comprised spaghetti, bread, fruit, and the requisite bottle of wine. Carbohydrates and wine, the stuff of pilgrim sustenance!  All pilgrims know, “¡No hay Camino sin vino!” (There’s no Camino without wine! Sounds better in Spanish, ¿doesn’t it?)

The following day, July 6th, we awoke at the usual time, shouldered our packs, and started the short walk into Santiago de Compostela. From Monte de Gozo one only has to walk a half hour to reach the outskirts of the city, and then carefully follow those familiar yellow arrows to the Cathedral of Santiago. The buildings of the city are tall enough to obscure the cathedral and even its steeples, so it’s somewhat surprising when you round a corner of a narrow street and find yourself in a large plaza facing the entrance to the cathedral.

I know, from reading books and travelogues about the Camino that the typical pilgrim feels a mixture of elation and relief at reaching the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. One is supposed to experience a great feeling of accomplishment, like conquering Mt. Everest or swimming the English Channel, to feel ecstatic at being able to check off one more item in one’s “bucket list.”


I don't know what my friends are feeling,
but I'm numb, looking at the end of my saunter
I felt numb. It was as if I were holding my Bachelor’s Degree of Music in my hands and saying to myself, once again, now what? They say in any undertaking you’re supposed to enjoy the journey; not so much the destination. That was my feeling in spades. I had enjoyed the journey; maybe enjoyed it too much. Now that I was at the end, all I wanted was for the journey to continue. I have to admit that I felt childish. After all, isn’t an adult supposed to live in the real world of responsibilities, deadlines, mortgage payments, work: the daily grind? I had, perhaps, enjoyed the life of the Camino too much the last several weeks without all that, living again as a child: No responsibilities, no deadlines, no mortgage or even rent payments, and my only work was carrying a back pack through some of the most beautiful country imaginable, walking and talking with interesting people from around the world, and at the end of each day relaxing, eating, drinking and then sleeping like a baby in preparation for the next day where I’d do it all again, anticipating the coming day with its sights and sounds and smells and cafes and bars and more time to do nothing but contemplate my existence or just clear my mind and enjoy life as the beautiful scenery of Northern Spain came at me at a leisurely, walking pace.




Sunday, June 2, 2013

Salceda

July 4th

From Melida it’s two day’s walk to Santiago: Melida to Pedrouzo is 33 Km; Pedrouzo to Santiago is 20.1. This is according to my guide, El Camino de Santiago published by Santiana Ediciones Generales,S.L. (I don’t know why I didn’t mention this earlier. Maybe I was holding off on the important information to see if you’d stay with me this far. This is a guide for the French route, so it was only useful to me from Logroño to Santiago. As I mentioned before, the guide I purchased in Lléida that took me from that city to Logroño was “lost” in the mail.) At any rate, Tilly, Katalyn, and the other people I was walking with decided to change that schedule a little. We stopped in Salceda, rather than walking all the way to Pedrouzo as the guide suggested, then to Monte de Gozo the final night, which is only 4.4 Km from the cathedral in Santiago. This plan had two advantages in our estimation; the route on July 4th was shorter by 8.8 Km, and stopping at Monte de Gozo the night of July 5th gave us another easy day plus enabled us to take a short and pleasant walk into Santiago the morning of the 6th. We would then be able to beat the crowds to the pilgrim office to receive our Compostelas, our certificates of completion and have time to find a pension where we could deposit our back packs and clean up before the Pilgrim Mass which takes place daily at noon at the Cathedral of Santiago.

Courtyard of the albergue/hotel in Salceda
There is only one albergue in Salceda; small, only twelve spaces, but very modern, clean, and comfortable. Unfortunately, and I say that with tongue in cheek, there were only 3 beds available in the albergue, which Katalyn, Tilly, and the German girl (whose name I can’t remember) took. There being no room in the inn, the other man in our group was going to continue walking to the next town, 8.8 Km away, but the wonderful people at the albergue gave him a bed at no charge that was available for hotel staff who might need a place to sleep on occasion at the hotel.

Hotel on the left, albergue at the end
Oh, did I mention there was also a hotel on the property? Guess where yours truly slept. Yes, I “took one for the team” and spent the extra money for a king-size bed in a quiet, well-appointed room with a modern, full bathroom and plenty of steaming hot water all to myself.

After a few days walking with people who were speaking German most of the time, my brain, of its own volition it seemed, began digging in its deepest recesses for any remnants of data and information it could retrieve through synapses unused since my freshman and sophomore days in college where I took 2-1/2 semesters of German  one half more than the requirement for music majors. My intentions were good; I wanted to continue studying the language after taking the required two semesters and become fluent enough to read scholarly journals published in German, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, and the time required for someone who is somewhat less than talented at foreign languages became a luxury I couldn’t afford, so I dropped out of the course half way through my 3rd semester. (Interestingly, just last night I dreamed that I was reading a German newspaper and telling someone that I could understand about 75% of what I was reading. That was before composing this post, or even thinking about it. Life is nothing if not strange.) 

But somewhere, buried deep in my gray matter there still exists a wealth of German vocabulary and grammar. I found that after a few days of being immersed in German conversation, vocabulary I hadn’t remembered in over 35 years was coming back to me. I wasn’t able to converse with Tilly or Katalyn, but words and phrases would come to me without trying, as random thoughts, unbidden but not unwelcome. I began thinking that perhaps it would be possible for me to return to my study of German, that that may not be a hindrance to my progress in learning Spanish, and that I might even be able to learn Catalan so that I could feel more comfortable in Catalunya, where, even though Castilian is spoken, it’s still a foreign language and you're not considered "one of the family" if you don't attempt to learn Catalan. Since my recent “back on track” dream, I had been thinking that I would return to at least an informal study of music. If I were going to live in Spain, a quick flight to Germany to visit a library or just attend a concert would be a real possibility. Who knows? The possibilities before me were turning from something I vaguely hoped for to something I could reasonably start planning. I felt as if I were awakening from at 35-year coma. It was exciting but I had the vague feeling of, “Where have I been? What’s happened to me? Where do I go from here?” I was reminded of a film, Awakenings, where people who have lived in a catatonic state in an extended care facility for many years are “awakened” by injections of dopamine. They are suddenly alive, cognizant of themselves and their surroundings, they enjoy life and relationships, they feel happiness, their lives have purpose and meaning again, in short, their humanity is restored. I also remembered that this effect of their treatment was only temporary. Yin and yang again. Could I avoid their fate?

Flamenco guitar by
Jose Ruiz Pedregosa
Back to the Camino and some random notes that I made in my journal:

I haven’t seen Maria for several days and I fear I have lost touch with her. I have her phone number and I’ll probably be able to call her from my phone when I get to Santiago, as it’s a large enough city for my fly-by-night carrier to cover. Will she want to see me again? Or were we just Camino amigos, camino friends, people you meet while walking, spend a few days or weeks with, and then never see again?

I’m also missing my guitar. Well, not so much my guitar, but playing the guitar. OK, to be honest, I’m missing my guitar also - it’s a work of art, something I enjoy touching and looking at as much as playing. It was made by José Ruiz Pedregosa of Jaen,Spain. (That link is just so you can hear how one of Sr. Ruiz Pedregosa's flamenco guitars sound; I'm not selling mine. Here's another link to a video of David Stevensen playing one of Sr. Ruiz Pedregosa's classical guitars with some very good photography showing the beautiful details of the guitar. Mr Stevensen's no slouch either.) Pedregosa's craftsmanship is distinctive and masterful. (Note the carved headstock and bridge in the photo) I bought the guitar as much for how it looked as for how it sounded. I’m wondering how I can get it sent to Spain. I don’t have an address  I’m homeless for all practical purposes. Where could I have it sent?


These and other thoughts fly around and through my head as we walk toward Monte de Gozo on July 5th. The alternating and sometimes mixed scents of eucalyptus and manure waft past me. The cool drizzle of the morning becomes a perfect, warm, partly sunny afternoon. I’m listening to the girls converse among themselves in German, changing to French to talk with the other man in the group, and occasionally English to talk with me. Santiago looms ahead and I’m trying to remain happy. 
Yes, that's my happy face, 3 days from the end of the Camino