The walk to Boadilla del Camino was long and very pretty. This Meseta is the most marvellous of places; it inclines one to reflection. Vanessa and I spoke of deep things: her mother-in-law and the bush house with very little in the way of comfort and which she refused to leave in spite of increasing blindness, her dying and her death.
I shared 2012, my annus horribilis. My father had been in a coma for months, his second wife may eventually get to telling me he died. I heard of his stroke through his oldest friend, another exile from father’s life with second wife. I went to see him immediately I heard; he was in a hospital hundreds of miles north. I had established a ‘suitable’ visiting time so as not to collide with second wife. I took him a posy of Cecile Brunner from my rose bush. A Canadian study concluded that the perfume of roses reduces pain, can bring people out of a coma.
The nurse, whose name was Lancelot, shook his head and said your father is unable to speak. He was unable to move. I stood by his bed from midday to holding the posy by his nose, talking softly, aware of faint flickering of his eyelids, twitching of his nose. Then, in a supreme effort of will, twisting his mouth around words hidden just behind the veil of paralysis, he spoke: I’m .... so .... glad .... you .... came .... sweetie .... I .... love .... you. Please .... stay .... with .... me ....
I couldn’t stay of course, I had nowhere to stay, and the second family would make visiting impossible. Lancelot assured me of that when he told me the hospital board was meeting on Monday to override the wife’s decision as next of kin to keep my father in this hospital for her visiting convenience as she didn’t drive. It was not a stroke unit and they hadn’t the right mattresses or physiotherapy to help alleviate his pain ....
He told me of his condition when he was brought in; unable to walk for months he was confined to sitting in a chair and developed bedsores so deep there was no flesh. I wept. It was the last time I would see my father. Eventually he was moved to the palliative care of French nuns, I learned this from an email from his son whom I had not met. This must have been a profound consolation for him as his adored mother was French. She had died when he was eight. I reflected, once I knew of his transfer, how uncanny his final months, surrounded as his first months of life, by the language of his mother. Vanessa and I had no tears to shed for our memories, they had fallen and dried long before, and we fell silent.
The past walked beside me here ... a clear note in my solitude urged me on.
It was as a codicil to this memory of roses that I gave a rose and rosemary to Jüergen for his pain. Those Canadian scientists had crossed the threshold between the discipline of rational science and the intuitive knowledge held by many a mystic that grass is more than green.
Am I examining my own grief as I walk the Meseta? I wrote screeds in my journal that night in my quiet room in Boadilla, cosied by a hot shower and thick warm bed coverings. I had spent 60 years grieving the absence of my father, my mother had run off with a young swain when I was a child in Singapore, my time for grieving had past; over the years Jungian analysis and the wisdom of India made sense, gave me strategies to work with. When my father died I was left not with grief (he suffered so much, death was blessed) but with regret; now he had gone my own hopes, a fantasy no doubt, of ever being included in his life or his largesse had died with him.
I recalled a small but telling incident from a whole life of disproportionate family deprivation: many years before my father had bought Life Membership to the National Trust for his two boys from family two – and all the while he was telling me I was puzzling over why not me, too? I had just suffered the loss of my daughter; my father was visiting me and had brought me a pot plant.
Little abandoned Boadilla del Camino exists because of Begonia and her beautiful garden, her son, and their joy in welcoming pilgrims. White horses amongst fields of red poppies added to its enchantment. I rested in their oasis, ate homemade almond cake, drank cups of tea with lemon. The evening meal was sumptuous, a choice of soups, homemade bread, great tureens of goulash that melted in the mouth, crème caramels and – so I was told – superb wine.
I had a wondrous night’s sleep in room 108. John refused Vanessa’s decision to have a room to themselves and insisted on the dorm; Vanessa had a shocking night’s sleep, snorers again. Too late I remember that I had forgotten to give her extra ibuprofen.
Walking along the Canal de Fromista in the morning mist was bliss. Yellow iris’ and water birds lit by the morning light lent an ethereal glow to walkers and the Way. We stopped in Fromista for café con leche, fresh orange juice, a cheese filled croissant and a rest. A modern take on the Last Supper on the wall of the café made us smile. So did the answer from the owner when we ask what type of (delicious) cheese he gave us. “Generic” he said. We laughed, and he typed into his phone to bring up a translation: “sheep”. Generic sheep’s cheese.
We’re coming close to the Revenge of the Camino – Revenga de Campos. Another detour takes us to another road rarely travelled along a river with breezes and chorusing frogs in the reeds, dozens of butterflies and cuckoos. The earth is soft and dry and we are mostly shaded by slender trees along the bank. Far to our left we can see trails of pilgrims on the treeless highway which is the Camino proper.
Many hours pass, we walk separately. Vanessa is tired and John decidedly grumpy. I know they need their own space. I reach a monastery of sorts which has a note on its door welcoming pilgrims to sit and rest in their garden of stone mill wheel tables and tree trunk seats. I remove my boots, cool my feet in agua sin guarantia sanitaria from the water pump, put on clean 1000 mile socks, and wait for the Lovelies to catch up. We carry on to Carrion de los Condes, a long long walk totalling 25 kms. When we reach the parochial albergue a nun comes to meet us to say with real regret – completo - and shows us a small hotel across the piazza.
We take a room for three again, I am grateful to share the cost as Le Corte was expensive for single guests. We hang our washing over the Juliet balcony and go to explore. John has serious blisters and Vanessa is aching so much. They return with glowing reports of the caring pharmacist who dresses John’s blisters and supplies him with gauze pads and all he needs for a few days; and for Vanessa, Magnesium and Potassium tablets. The pharmacist said: Ibuprofen? Never!
Shirley MacLaine said she was lacking potassium when she walked, ran actually, her Camino. How would one know? Well, said the pharmacist to V., you are walking half marathons every day, your body uses up magnesium and potassium more quickly than it can be replaced during such intense demands on it. The bones are leached of these minerals. You will ache. My bones ache, next stop I must buy the same. John, much happier now he is out of pain, tells us of a Dutch bereavement agency that recommends walking the Camino as therapy. A kind of living from hour to hour, I think, extempore, like birds and angels.
The bathroom in our room has a very short bath, and I have a very long soak. I do ache but all I want to do now is eat and sleep.
To be continued ...