Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camino Seven – Burgos, Brollies and Polka Dots

Burgos was so cold and the rain so heavy it penetrated my poncho.  When Simone had removed her poncho to hug me she was also dripping wet underneath it – two dripping dames.  Our ponchos were well respected brands intended for poor weather, but not Camino weather apparently.  I trudged on along the street at a trajectory from the vast Cathedral, only dimly aware of the attractive shops to the left and right of me.  Where was I to go?  I didn’t know.  I was numb with tiredness and cold.  Reaching the end of the pedestrian way I saw with a sense of gratitude the scallop shells set into the centre of the cobbled road.  I had met up with the Camino again.  I looked around me.  On my right was a rather grand hotel façade with a proud few stars under its name: Norte y Londres. 

My goodness – I was born in north London way back in Dreamtime – this must be a Sign!

I sighed, to give myself a sense of courage, and took my dripping pilgrim-worn self into the chandeliered and sparkling foyer.  The receptionist didn’t bat an eye as I found myself asking if they had a room, for two nights.  They did.  Top floor, double room, single peregrina price of 40€ per night.  I’d done it, cracked the Calvinist!  And there was a bath, and thick white towels to dry with.  I peeled off my sopping clothes, strung up my trusty washing line across the windows and hung everything.  By looping the cord over the hinges of the open windows the rain didn’t come in as the windows, being on the top floor, were well under the eaves. The poncho I hung over the shower rail once I’d had a long, hot, sublime soak in the bath.  I was a new woman after that and dressed in my other skirt, other top, dry socks and sandals.  Socks and sandals!  I cringe that I could ever have walked the streets of this elegant city wearing socks and sandals! But my boots were wet and my hotel room was warm – it was important that everything I had would dry properly.  And off I went.

Monsoonal rain drove me to enter a bespoke umbrella shop; I went inside and coveted two.  I had to tell myself that back in Glastonbury I have a collection of umbrellas that stop traffic; once, a woman tapped me on my shoulder as I walked passed the Clock Tower in Tref-y-Clawdd one wet day and said that particular umbrella was worth mugging for! 

I have Valentinos’ and Florentino’s; a Pierre Cardin with pearl raindrops sewn all over; a Ruby and Ed with frills; a My Fair Lady Ascot stripe in black and white; an umbrella decorated with a wet Parisian street scene bought from a street vendor on a similarly wet day in Paris and a Parisian vintage with a double layer and ebony handle circa 1951 and given to me by Greek friend who lived in Paris then.  I have micro brollies in handbags and micro brollies in the car, an Alfa Romeo brolly that almost covers a pond – I do brollies really well.  I did not need another brolly, no matter how monsoonal the weather today, or tomorrow for that matter, I would curl up in my warm room and have three hot baths instead.

First, food. From an organic delicatessen along from the bespoke umbrella shop I bought slices of Serrano hams, artisan bread, water, Tarta de Queso.  Round a corner I came upon an entire shop of organic yoghurts from every region of Spain and from every source of milk – ewe, cow, nanny goat.  I was dazzled by the selection with their stamps and seals of authenticity but dazzled didn’t deter me from buying one too many.  Then to a greengrocer for sweet white-fleshed remarkably juicy peaches, luscious ripe tomatoes and, hurrah, a Lebanese cucumber.  This is the one vegetable I still miss from life in Australia - their flavour, their non-acidity, their fine skin and their small size makes them perfect for halving length-wise, sprinkling with a touch of pure sea salt (Guérande or Gozo), letting the salt rest on the flesh for a while and then eating them just as they are.  Delish.
Now I need a hot three course pilgrim meal to set me up for hibernating for a couple of days with picnics until the rain stops  I find a tiny family restaurant off the main pedestrian way and am served by the portly owner with food cooked by his mother.  Seeing my pilgrim status the owner plumps a photo album of his own Caminos’ down on my table to look at.  He had walked all four, criss-crossing Spain a mere four years ago.   Manolo’s considerable portliness was a huge encouragement for I must be the only peregrina to be putting on weight from all the amazing food.
Full fed and calm again, laden with all my delicious purchases, I walk back to Naughty London, mostly protected by shop awnings and the canopy of other umbrellas.  Life size street sculpture in this rather grand city is impressive; I love the young woman walking out under her umbrella.  Rain must be a given here.  A peregrina from Cairns told me she had carried a pink umbrella when she walked her Camino.  How gorgeous!   I pass an accessory shop and pop in to look for eyeliner, none there, but to my surprise and delight I find a red and white polka dot Alice band. 
 I laugh at the image of me wearing it as I walk into Santiago – and buy it, just in case.  There it is, with its mirror mnemonic on my rucksack which causes much mirth, especially on my boots which are often photographed by other pilgrims.  When I’ve taken its photo I notice that my bed cover is also red with tiny white dots.

Laughter re-activates my endorfuns which in turn brings me the best night: holy sleep, holy solitude!  A cosy bed with white soft cotton sheets, under a thick camel coloured merino wool blanket, a warm room and the bliss of ... holy silence.
It is still raining hard the next morning but I am staying two nights, and for sure the weather will clear on the third day.  Things happen in threes.  I read the room brochures – the hotel was founded in 1904, is “dean of the City” and the oldest of all the Posadas del Camino de Santiago.  Well, well, what a blessing I have been led too, and I send up a prayer that Simone slept well too. 

There were a couple of times through  my second day when the torrential downpours lessened enough to give me a sort of dry run to the Cathedral, a staggering building with splendid artwork.  But having reached it, and wandered about its shop and entrance, I simply can’t bring myself to go in.  I want to explore the old city walls and great ascending steps built by Alfonso X, Alfonso el Sabio, who commissioned Catholics, Muslims and Jews to his Court to compose music, hymns and cantigas to the Virgin Mary. 

 Spain during the 13th century, when King Alfonso reigned, was, like him, wise.  It was also home to Islam and Mary in Islam holds as much weight as in Catholicism.  I learned this during my long pilgrimage along the Old Silk Road during the 1980’s when I became enamoured of a Kurd, the Kurds and Kurdistan, a combination which greatly broadened my education in theology, geography, politics and ... kilims.  My Camino pilgrimage, though I can’t articulate even to myself why I am doing it, inclines me to reflect on those deeper verities that were once embedded in the soil and soul of Spain. 

The views of the Cathedral from high above the city were splendid, worth my long climb.  The rain caught me out once I left the shelter of the forest but I had the hot bath to look forward to for comfort and didn’t much mind.

I loved the old centre of Burgos in the environs of its Cathedral, its Museums and Art Galleries, small churches, street sculptures, river walks, elegant people and special shops and spent every hour exploring and visiting what was there.  A nun leaving the St Vincent de Paul hostel blew me a kiss as she trotted off down long flights of steps to the lower part of the city. 

 Tomorrow my footprints here will be blown away with the wind; though never seen they will remain like ghostly footsteps of all the peregrinos who have set their step to Santiago for over a thousand years.  The thought is wholly nourishing.  I love my feet.
And on the third day when I look out of the window there is enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers – the rain is passing.

It is difficult to leave such comfort but exciting to be on the Way again for now will begin days of walking the Meseta all the way to León and the very thought is thrilling. 
The Meseta evokes strong reactions – some hate it, some think it too boring to walk so take buses to avoid it, others are passionate about the contemplative impact of six, seven or eight days walking across the endless high tablelands of wheat with little to distract their thoughts.  An Australian songwriter friend said of his crossing the Meseta that he was taking his life for a walk, and he used the time as an interior résumé.
I had never walked much in Australia, its open bush didn’t invite intimate exploration for a lone woman and refugios hadn’t taken route along the droving trails.  However, the vast skies and open horizons there always send my pulse racing.  An ancient remembrance of the nomad buried deep in my soul burned inside me, a response to walking as a way of life.  Hermit? Monk? Sannyasa? Peregrina?  Who would know.  
I fill up my water bottle, tie my food in a plastic bag and loop it over the waist straps of my mochila, NOK’d and 1000mile sock’d my feet, roll up my poncho and walk out into the crepuscular light. 

Tardajos is a small village ten kms further on, the world of pilgrims gather there for coffee and el desayuno.  The Australian Lovelies had caught up with me with sad tales to tell – they had also stayed a night in the albergue where I had given my bunk to Simone.  They had a top and a bottom bunk.  In the morning Vanessa picked up her mochila and was on her way to the landing and stairs as John was climbing down from the top bunk.  He had already swung his daypack down to the lower bunk as V. was leaving.  When he reached the floor and turned to collect the daypack, in that split second, it had gone.  Taken off guard he thought Vanessa had taken it as she had left, so, hurriedly putting on his own mochila, he caught up with her on the stairs.  Alas, she hadn’t picked it up. Worse was the loss of his camera, a top of the range Sony DSLR, in the bottom of his daypack.  With it went its memory card and hundreds of photos.  Their stay there was made worse, he said, by the arrival of a group of older NZ women who had bussed it all the way from somewhere and were standing in the registration queue almost adjacent to the bunks - one of their kind was refusing to pay the hospitalero the paltry donativo of 5€.  Poor Spain.
A familiar smile greeted us as we ate breakfast – Amalia from way back in Agés.  Her story added to the grim tales from Burgos.  She was having lunch in a bar on her first day, her mochila safely stowed under her table, but when she had finished her meal and had bent to retrieve it, it had vanished.  The entire mochila had been spirited away from under her very nose.  She had to replace absolutely everything.  It cost her dear in days, the city is large, what she needed was out in the satellite shopping centres.  Lucky she spoke Spanish.
Across the road we watch a French peregrino and his donkey pass by.  Man and donkey walk side by side, had come from somewhere beyond the Pyrénées.  The Way calls, we lift our mochilas and take to the road.

To be continued ...

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