26th June 2014.
Bliss to sleep alone and wake to the sound of the Cathedral bells. How magical this long adventure, how can I bear to go back to Chaingate Court? Truth is, I can’t, so I must Ask and wait to Receive.
Sat with Cindy at breakfast. She is having a teary moment like I had yesterday with Wilhelmina and her teary moment. El Camino ... how can words touch the depths where only tears hold and tell our stories, our walk, our Camino?
Cindy began ten weeks ago in Le Puy, wonderful, she says, silent, solitary, beautiful; mountains and valleys and marvellous auberges, mochila transport, superb food and facilities – and you can travel with the transport for 15€ if you don’t feel like walking that day. Well, it is France isn’t it, I muse as she tells her story, almost tempted to think myself another walk. Feet come into the story; Cindy tells me she developed tendinitis so severely and so painfully she could only walk on her heels, for miles and miles. At St Jean Pied de Port a man told her she must teach her feet to walk properly – and they didn’t know how to. She had to go on Internet to research a way to re-teach her feet by using her brain to tell them the movements: heel first, roll the foot, lift from the ball and toes ... She cried as she told me, because no-one had understood, she couldn’t tell anyone what she was going through.
I am awed at her perseverance, she has walked 777 kms from Le Puy to St Jean and still had 777 kms to go before she would sit here in Santiago and tell me her foot story. Me of all people, whose foot story and cellular memory is so similar. Oh, I say, oh Cindy I know exactly what you mean, and I share my wheelchair, cellular memory, teaching my feet to walk over grassy tussocks and ripples in the sand by thinking them through the movement until their own natural cellular memory is re-awoken. Cindy listens intently, her eyes flood with tears. She knew, and she knew because I under-stood, our sharing in perfect accord, what a metaphor – we under-stood. How can we, she, speak of these things to many? I feel a great warmth for Cindy, she had her sixtieth birthday along the Way; she looks about twelve.
As Cindy leaves Ela comes in and sits with me. She tells me the floating bit again and I burst out laughing. I admit others have said that too, and I find it quite incongruous. I don’t doubt their truth or their eyesight and all I can think of is that Angels must have been carrying me! Angels, Holy Mary or Santiago because I did not have one blister as if my feet did not touch the ground! Inside me, I tell Ela, I plodded and lurched with tiredness as I walked slow step by slow step all the way. Ela promises to send me the photos she took, and especially the ones of Simone and I toasting socks over the fire when we all first met at the Paulo Coelho refugio with Jüergen.
Now I am at the train station with my ticket for Pontevedra, my train leaves at 11.11. It is cold today, 13 C and the end of June.
When I bought my poppy earrings the young saleswoman told me the witch, the wise woman, la bruja, is good luck throughout northern Spain and different brujas’ carry different attributes: good health, happiness, wealth, safe travel (well, they’d know about that flitting about on broomsticks), love, longevity and so on. How different from Puritan England where the very word is pejorative and has long since lost its wiser truth.
I bought myself a tiny, less than the size of my thumb, la bruja made of clay while in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, I love her cheery grin and her blue hood, like my poncho, her cockle shell and her stick and gourd. I haven’t seen such a wee happy one since then. This morning I unwrap her and stand her next to my water glass; I love her to pieces, such a funny and perfect image of me, the old cackling crone of the Camino!
11.11 and the train departs at the exact tick of the station clock. I settle by a window, sift and sort my morning stories, create mental space for my Encounter. I am sizzling with anticipation. A super train it is, fast and clean with clever seating that can swing according to direction of travel. I’m happy with forward, and the hour slips by quickly.
Pontevedra! Oh, civilization and hundreds of people – I’m such a hedgerow planting, happiest with fields and dormice – but I find yellow arrows and a cockleshell to follow through the elegant streets of elegant shops to – Plaza Peregrina!
I am here, and there is the baroque church and it is open and I enter to stand transfixed at Nuestra Señora, la Divina Peregrina.
She is wonderful! She is gorgeous! Just gorgeous, standing high above the altar She is dressed in a cape and long robe (is this familiar, oh indeed it is!) and wears a wondrous pilgrim hat, its wide brim turned back and decorated with a scallop shell, a long staff with a gourd for water in Her right hand and a little Jesus perched precariously in Her left hand.
She is looking straight ahead, at you and me as we walk in the door, actually. And Her face, so quiet and proud, just like I feel after such a Long Walk. This is my homecoming, this is my acknowledgement, She and I, we’ve done it! Not for nothing do we share birthdays! The 8th of September, such a good day to have been born unmothered into the world and to eventually discover the Mother of All had me in Her sights all along!
This is the real full circle of my pilgrim path on earth. She smiles. I smile back. My very insignificant camera works a miracle in the dim light and the great distance between us, take one photo I ask, perfectly. Thank You, I smile again. I swear She says, you see, I’ve been with you always, all through your pilgrimages, all through your loneliness, all through your losses, how did you survive so much? Because I was there with you, I know sorrow and loss and homelessness too ... I bow my head, and I am full.
Do I stay long in the church? It seems like eternity, all my lifetimes, a completion, a seeing into the essence of things past, present and to come, all complete. But, human as ever, I want something tangible, a sello perhaps, my credencial is in my pocket, but there is nothing, and no one to guide me to where a sello might be obtained.
I thank Her for Everything, reluctantly leave Her, wander aimlessly in the elegant crowds, out of sync in the sophisticated surroundings, the material temptations, the gaiety. It is cold and I am discomforted now I am outside. Idly I look in a jeweller’s window, oh my, there She is, in gold, far more appropriate for me than a mere scallop shell. And I spend two fortunes on two pendants of La Divina Peregrina, for further along the street I find an exquisite enamel hand painted and gold La Divina Peregrina. Barclays Debit Card obliges both transactions – so there we are!
Home again on the train, my treasures give me the warmest feelings of Something I can’t name or fathom. I am wearing them both together on the gold chain I already have round my neck. Apologizing, I remove the not-gold Miraculous Medal and replace it with both La Divina Peregrinas. For the record, Saint Catherine Labouré, to whom the MM appeared, was born Zoé Labouré, it was the Zoé connection I felt akin too – though the French Connection might be more accurate a link for the name Zoé hasn’t always been with me. Anyway, She has held me safe until I found La Divina Peregrina; and is generous about my fickleness.
I’ve always wanted a Mary image that would speak intimately to my solitary journey through life and none really did, not even the icons as pendants. Her image as a peregrina sings to me. We speak of the ‘pilgrim church on earth’; it assumes a relevance now I connect with Holy Mary as the Divine Pilgrim, Peregrina. In the cloister shop there is an icon image of sorts but it is poorly executed – I will have to do my own.
Bought good food from an artisan grocer, a Spaniard from Bounds Green, from a street I know well from my long ago days with Aunt Alice in London. Tried to siesta, couldn’t, came downstairs to see Dane and his cello back from Finisterre going up in the lift; we smile a greeting as the lift ascends. As he is going up an entire orchestra with their instruments is coming down the staircase behind the lift. Another surreal encounter. I follow the orchestra into the courtyard in front of San Martin Pinario where they assemble under an awning and I perch on the wall to hear them play.
A film is being made, I am asked to sign a release. It is a performance of fun, inviting different members of the public to act as conductors – the babes in arms look bemused as mini-maestros.
And on that happy and musical note so Endeth my Third Day.
But the tale continues ...