In May and June of
MMX I walked the St James Way. It will remain one of the more important journeys of my life.
Before I embarked on this journey, I did what most people do: I researched the Way and went so far as to drive to St Jean Pied-de-Port (for some cycling too). Reading the literature does not prepare you for the Way anymore than reading a sci-fi novel prepares you for a trip to an outlying galaxy. Even though I had read, calculated and made exhaustive lists, I did not know what to expect, not really. When visiting St Jean-pied-de-port (St John at-the-foot-of-the-mountains) last year, I asked more than a dozen pilgrims (those who had been walking from as far away as Switzerland) what I should expect. They were very imprecise, it seemed to me. Purposefully, I thought.
My preparation did not make the journey any easier. However, like many travellers the difficulties were of my own doing. I committed a few cardinal sins. My boots were too new though I had bought them six months before and “broke them in”, or so I thought. My rucksack was too heavy which is to say I carried too much dross with me. To put it another way, you cannot, you should not, the comforts of home should stay at home. Those things I thought I needed I ended up leaving behind at the hostels. First it was something a little heavy, then something bulky then finally even trousers and underwear. To this end hostels have a catchall bin for pilgrims who are wishing to donate and those looking for a lost sock or all weather underpants. It seemed that many pilgrims were better prepared – and so they were as I subsequently found out – while many were very ill prepared indeed. The most ill prepared pilgrim I met was a friendly sympathetic nurse from northern Ontario. She had a few handicaps. She spoke no English although this was not a big problem as the second largest group of foreign pilgrims were French-speakers. She was overweight and she wore crocs. In retrospect, when my blisters started to multiply like promiscuous rats, I kicked myself for not bringing along my own crocs. She was brave. She did not whine. But she was slow so I left her behind. This is the first lesson I learned. You must walk your own way, at your own speed and in your own thoughts.
I decided to start my journey on the eastern side of the Pyrenees, which is to say St Jean pied-de-port. It is my understanding that pilgrims who start in St Jean have grander bragging rights than those who start in Roncesvalles. Perhaps bragging rights is the wrong term. Anyway, it was during this first day that I met pilgrims who had started 1000 km before me in Le Puy and others even further north and east. By their measure, I was a Sunday stroller. It was also on this first day that a pilgrim offered me piece of his meal when I sat down dismally lacking in nourishment of any kind. It was morning, it was sunny, it was grandly beautiful and I had not food in my kit. He also imparted advice: Always have food with your when your start out. His kindness was returned several times over on the journey.
It was also here, on my first day and crossing the Pyrenees that I met the members of my first family. It was this family which stayed intact for the longest period. Halfway on my journey I developed a toe infection which obliged me to part from the family. Had it not been for this we might have held together to Santiago. As it happened, two members (who had joined the family some days after Roncesvalles) stayed together to the very end: to Lands End or Finistere.
Upon leaving St Jean, the hosts (albergiste) of the hostel – two real salt-of-the-earth Frenchmen, and true devout Catholics – instructed us how to greet other pilgrims. "Ultreia!" The response is "Et suseia". Rarely did I hear these words bandied about and certainly most pilgrims did not understand what it all meant. It means simply "Forward, ahead. “ And God help us!
But as I said, most people did not know what it meant and therefore kept to the benign "Buen Camino!" This anodyne greeting started to grate towards the end of the journey. I suspect it was because most pilgrims use it as a cover or as a way to dismiss the occasion to prevent another pilgrim from starting a dialogue. This was the way it worked: you mumbled ‘Buen Camino!" and continued on your merry way without missing a step. If you did then you were inviting conversation. At the end of the journey, the last thing a tired pilgrim needs is another chatty pilgrim rabbiting on about things of idiotic unimportance. Frankly, after one month of heat, cold, rain, snow, infected toes, blisters too numerous to count, irregular and insufficient or poor quality food, lack of proper kipping accommodation, it all starts to break down, even for the most courageous and intrepid traveller. It is also at the halfway point that one learns the meaning of well worn adages. Silence is golden is understood. What goes up must come down. Share and share alike. A fool and his gold are soon parted. Of the three love/charity is the most important. Strangely, tiredness, sore, blistered, bloody, infected feet is no reason to not continue. This is another important lesson one learns on the St James is: never stop!
In spite of the fact that I carried a lot of weight and did indeed discard unnecessary accoutrements, I did have music with me. I played Pergolesi’s Fac ur ardeat cor meum daily, to give me courage and put me into a spiritual mood. It became my signature. Pilgrims walking beside me or with me would inevitably ask for an encore. I mean I did not sing it. Well I did, but only to accompany the joyful sonorous rendition by Sebastian Henning and René Jacob. I especially enjoyed this masterly musical piece after the daily rosary, or when I sat down to tuck into a fruit.
Why do it?
The St James Way is not to everyone’s taste. Or rather parts of it are not. The faith-based or religious reasons are less comforting than they once were and sadly, many of the pilgrims who walk the Camino do not do it for religious reasons. The other way to say this is that some of the pilgrims who walk the Camino are not very religious. Indeed I met some were as venal, gritty, uninspired as rats taking a free ride on bowels of the Parisian sewage system. You learn this as you walk beside strangers (who quickly become friends). You walk the St James Way not to judge nor be judged but being human, one does precisely that. Sometimes that which comes out of another human being’s mouth can make one scratch one’s head. A French pilgrim told me, in order, what things are important to him and on those things he contemplated on the St James Way. He, a man approaching seventy, revealed to me that his list was short but it included the very mundane – wife, family, children, work, friends but finally, sex (which he enjoyed with gusto). I do not think I showed any surprise on my face. I was now in the last 100 km of the Walk and hoping deep quiet. After this revelation I decided to walk on my own.
Some pilgrims could not rightfully be described as pilgrims. Some, too many, it seemed, were there for reasons to do with sport. There were those who were certainly not pilgrims, if one was to judge by their words. Yes, I did meet a few who, after the first greeting, went into vituperative paroxysm even make noises like "Oh the churches are so opulent. Would it not make more sense to sell all those riches and give the money to the poor?" Head scratching is permitted, I told myself. And tut-tutting and a feeling of vexed by simple minds. Then it echoes in my mind: Faith, hope and charity and of these the greatest is charity. I smile. I listen and bid that person adieu. Thankfully I encountered less than a handful of such interested unbelievers. After such encounters I could not help feeling that for someone who is actually walking the El Camino for religious reasons, it sometimes felt as though I was the odd man outt.
The people who do not walk the St James for religious reasons do it for spiritual reasons. Still others do it for "other" reasons. Many of these wander the El Camino for physical fitness. Still others, as crass as it sounds, because it is a cheap holiday.
In the video vignettes I posed three questions:
a) What is your name?
b) From where do you hail?
c) What is the reason for your journey?
Videos (Short versions)
For some days, I was able to state categorically, my view, on the World Cup. Whenever the discussion would veer my way I would sagaciously utter : “I have only two words to say: seven, nil”. Of course I was referring to the trounce, the otherwise not hapless North Korean squad, suffered at the hands of the only other Iberian team: the Lusitani. Now both teams are in the last eight but the match in which they will face each other will be good football, no doubt, but careful; like a man going out for a late Sunday walk in a dogs-only run.
Both teams played an enjoyable football but the Spanish side seemed to have a handle on what it takes to go through. Portugal’s side kept the match to Brazil to a zero zero draw. There were no moments in which either side shone. Well, in the first half, the Boys from Rio did not samba very much but indeed showed panache at breaking ankles. Some would say that this aggressiveness may be put down to a friendly rivalry borne of a common history and language: That is to say the colonials were getting theirs back.
Now the Lusitani will face off the side representing their Iberian cousins. This is a disaster for chappies like me. I will have to root for both sides, at the same time. It is not fair. I bought both national flags but I do not want to be waving both flags, during the same match. I might even give it a miss. What will I do when Xavi scores? Followed by a wallop of a goal by Ronaldo? My heart can’t stand the strain: I will give it miss. For sure. Maybe.
I received this (below) from a friend.
The Nobel Prize doesn’t mean as much as it once did.
Remember Irena Sendler?
One should never throw stones if one lives in a glass house. Apparently, Goodstein (my entymological guess is that this is derived from the German meaning “God Stone”) has not come upon this piece of folk wisdom. She? (my brother-in-law carries the same Christian name but he is a he) has decided that she will bring down the Catholic Church – with the aid of the NY Times editors. Good luck. I hope you win if only so you will be able to see the result of your keen endeavors. On the other hand, I hope that you do not and that the hazards of your fair city fall upon thee. Oh well, I have to withdraw this last statement because as a man who believes deeply in the tenets of the faith, I should not hate you, I should not wish you ill, I should turn my cheek for you to slap it good and proper.
You might be scratching your noggin thinking that since Lauri Goodstein covers religious issues for the NY Times, then her bread and butter (and wine surely) will have to be rationed somewhat if the Church disappears from the scene. She is counting on the probability that it will not. She is cynically (read her articles) playing to the galleries knowing full well that she will pick up renown in the klatch that protects her with cooing comforting words. She knows full well that the Church is not the American Presidency though she has promised herself to have a rum time trying to bring it down anyway. Never mind the mea culpas emanating from the Vatican. She knocks these aside much as she whisks dandruff from her shoulder. She is going have cake and eat it too. Or more appropriately, as this is Easter, she has tasted the first drop of blood of the lamb in her wolfish maw and she will going to enjoy it to the fullest, the devil take the hindmost.
Putting aside the comic-relief mixed metaphors, one feels a deep weariness with the rabid liberal media which cries wolf at the slightest misperceived insult aimed at its holier-than-thou, proud, nose-lifted-to-the air head vacuity. Oh pishposh – so what if the insult is a fair, common-sense critique at the way it prats about throwing tantrums in the manner of a very spoiled child which has had its ration of sweets reduced from the weekly one stone to 3 ounces. The liberal press needs a good gob smacking (or clip around the ear). I had my gob smacked, now and then, as a young sprat committing mischief whenever I fancied or the opportunity arose. But I was without guile. I knew I deserved the clip and fell into glum silence thinking that maybe I really do have to sharpen up and grow up. This cannot be said of the liberal press, neither the European and North American. It does not engage in soul searching and certainly not in self-critique. God forbid! It does not act with guile. It acts with deep mischief and and a profound thirst for revenge. It reminds one of the Ayatollahs in todays Persia. Indeed, if one were not to careful, one might draw the conclusion that God Stone was having her coffers filled by Persian theocrats and Saudi misogynist princes just because her unjust attacks serve their purposes very well. What better way for the Saudi house to rid itself of a troublesome Roman Bishop who insists on the same right to build churches in Mecca as Muslims have to build mosques in Rome. Of course, that is just silly speculation, on my part. Of course Laurie Goodstein doe not take underhands from reputable bribe-givers.
If Laurie (may I call you by your first name, after all we are getting on so swimmingly) does get her wish and the Catholic Church is decimated then well, she have one less victim to lash with her whip – er tongue. I find this sad as her income will suffer and she may have to give up the frugal luxuries of an underpaid NY Times hack. Who will she have to attack when her favourite target is shredded into the dustbin of history? She won’t have Dick (Or is that the Pope’s willy) to kick around anymore, will she? “Let the perverts rot in hell.” she thought as she wrote her recent piece condemning and indeed demanding an Inquisition to burn the Pope at the stake. Go the NY Times website and search for Laurie Goodstein. You will get a listing which spans hundreds of articles. A cursory glance will tell you that the vast majority of her articles are deeply critical of Christianity (not Islam, not Judaism, not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Shintoism, not Paganism). If you then read each one of them you will come upon the disturbing thought that this woman does indeed have an axe to grind (or is that a Pope to crucify) and that the NY Times has given her the platform on which she can spout her jocular venom. The problem with her rabidness is that it appeals to the intellectual left and wobbly liberals who love to guffaw at the awkwardness the Church is facing. Oh let us not forget that the intellectual liberal left’s most avid supporters, anti-Papist and lapsed Catholics as well as believers in Xenophon are also tastefully(no doubt) rejoicing at the spilling of the enemies’ blood.
OK, she may be your heroine but then there is Dowd, also of the NY Times. Maureen Dowd sharp as a Schick razor.
Dowd’s most recent clever-clogs invective slagged off everyone except Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I think one can say that she almost praised the Bishop. However, I did detect a furtive note in the tone of her invective. It was less invective than say, previous invectives. It may be that I detected the only tiniest wee smidgen, a sliver really, a on-coming mea culpa. Or is she withdrawing into a defensive posture? Clever, is all I can say. Oh and Dowd is also cunning Latinist. I will heed her admonishment though: Ne eas ibi.
What has happened to the Finnish Lutheran Church in all this palaver? Where are the consoling words of solidarity from the new Lutheran Archbishop? I can only wonder. The Finnish Lutheran Church is also going through hard times. It is, no doubt, smarting from the loss of tithe-paying members (whom it believes have been pipped by the Catholic Church), the crushing surge of parishioners not showing up for Sunday services, the election of a Bishop who has tasted the fruit of several marriages and who will soon announce the benediction of gay unions, and sweat blood swallowing the rumours of de-coupling from the Finnish state apparatus and so on. Perhaps, the hierarchy of the Lutheran Church may be forgiven for rubbing its hands in subdued glee when the nose of its principal is tweaked. Nothing new then: Catholics forgive, sometimes too easily.
Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte.
- When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
There is not much to say. Smile!