I recover my equanimity and walk back to my room. I meet one of the Americans on the way and mention St Francis and the cabinet holding the Grail. He is surprised that I hadn’t known: there is a huge monolith at the entrance to the village, he tells me, with a bronze of the Grail story.
I hurry back to see what I have missed. Sure enough there it is – a bronze map of England and Spain, and a trail marked of the Holy Grail and its journey with Parsifal to O Cebreiro from – Western-super-Mare! Wolfram von Eschenbach’s story on this map for the world to see, bypasses Glastonbury altogether.
Well! Well! is all I can manage as my loyalties are seriously miffed. Even more disagreeable is that this bronze map of Britain in front of me, one of Boadicea’s daughters no less, doesn’t mention Glastonbury at all! My ire grows apace! Weston-super-Mare! That mud bound plot – huh! No way Weston-super-Mud will ever be named “this holiest Erthe”, as Glastonbury is.
This is borderline blasphemy and I need another hot chocolate. I am steeped in these legends, yet I am aware that in no Glastonbury church are these images given concrete form.
Joseph of Arimathea appears in the tapestry behind the altar of St Mary, Our Lady of Glastonbury; the window of St Joseph of Arimathea in St John’s is Victorian; Langport has a mediaeval window, but neither Grail nor cruets have ever been found... Did Herr W. von E. know something about Weston-super-Mare that no one else does? Or did the sculptor of the bronze map just fancy the triple barrel name? I ask you, the Holy Grail in Weston-super-Mare! Huge billowing laughter rises in me as I stand in front of this grand non-sequitur and I stroll across to the knoll, laughing to myself, to wonder at the foolishness of humankind, and myself in particularly, for our, my, fierce attachments to our, my, little conceits and vanities.
The wildflowers have more honesty.Later I go to the pilgrim Mass in the church. A woman in her forties or so stands next to me. She shuffles uncomfortably and I glance down. I am appalled at the sight of both her feet which have horrific blisters, are bandaged with transparent elastic weave over the whole foot pulled over massive pads and gauze bandages all over her heels, toes, balls of her feet. Her pain reaches me. Feeling helpless I send a prayer to Santa Maria a Real up there on the wall to help heal them.
The priest invites people of different languages to read the Reading. After my earlier epiphany bathos follows. The reading in English is offered by an older American woman with a voice that would grate cheese. Actually it would grate the Cheesewring down on Bodmin Moor. She hasn’t the grace to genuflect before stomping up to the lectern either, a sure test for my tired tolerance levels in spite of my restorative laughter of less than an hour before. Her voice is painful to listen to, she relishes her moment with the microphone; her excruciating mispronunciation renders the already ghastly reading of the day incomprehensible, which is probably just as well, it’s the Ahab Jezebel scenario.I happen to have great sympathy for Jezebel. She was related to Dido, the tragic Queen of Carthage whom Aeneas used, abused and betrayed, and so the world lost Carthage. Her Lament from Handel’s Xerxes is quite the most haunting aria I know. Jezebel worshipped Astarte, Ishtar, the Mother Goddess, which is right and proper for a woman to do. The Jews of the day didn’t like that. Jezebel was thrown out of a window by the worthies to be eaten by a pack of dogs; thrown to the dogs. Our Jezebel was also a Daughter of Zion, an inconvenient truth when it came to getting rid of her. The Hebrews, on the other hand, worshipped female deities, SHE, who was to be later eradicated under the extreme pressure of the male Jewish priesthood. Reflecting on this I forgave the cheese grater for not being able to pronounce what she read, she probably couldn’t believe what she was reading!
I squirm. I’ve never fathomed why we insist on perpetuating the Old Testament when its blatant mal-treatment of women and nature runs counter to the new leaf Jesus was said to have turned. The OT has long been on my list of books to-be-sidelined as antithetical to women.
The priest was lovely. He asked St Francis and St Clare and St James to protect and guide all peregrinos safely to Santiago de Compostela.
And so to bed. I fold up one of the seven quilts lengthwise to lay put on the glacial tile floor of my iceberg so I can step warmly all the way to the loo. I eat cake in bed, and spend ages writing.
18th June - to Triacastela
Fab night’s sleep in the iceberg. Today I will walk to Triacastela, according to my Michelin deserving a red walker sign for a difficult descent; 660 metres and steep. I will take care and put fleece in the toes of my socks to cushion my toes against hitting the crown of my boots on the descent.
Paulo Coelho took a taxi from O Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela, a whole 150 kilometres. He obviously didn’t collect a Compostela. In fact I’m not even sure Shirley MacLaine did, she doesn’t mention it either. I’ll give it mention for sure, I will have earned it.
O Cebreiro is my epiphany. I leave as the sun is rising; know my own Camino will be different from now on. I will continue to walk every step but there, on the mountain, after that breathtakingly lovely walk and a whole day of Memorable Moments I feel I have penetrated a ring-pass-not.
All pilgrims walk in silence as the hills and wind and forests seem to demand. The fleece in my boots cushions my toes; bluebells, significant of these cooler heights, line the banks.
Alto de San Roque has a marvellous windblown pilgrim statue, many times life-size, on the crest of the climb; as his hand clutches his hat the wind is frozen forever in bronze. Coming into Hospital de la Condesa a young Italian passes me, stops: I take a photo of you he says and I ask: why? He indicates with his hands my polka dot ribbons, the rose in my scarf, my billowing skirt, the beribboned walking cane: so spirituelle, he smiles. I giggle. Only 144 kms to Santiago.
A slow-worm too slow to escape some deliberately cruel boot lies bleeding and only half crushed in the centre of the path, the centre where no one walks. I am saddened by such gratuitous mutilation. Would it make it less bewildering if I thought whoever left it to die so slowly mistook it for a snake? No. Nothing deserves such cruelty. It is a protected species in England but I am helpless to protect this one.
Mount Poio at 1340 metres nearly does for me on the last sheer rocky and shale-slippery moment. Another young Italian reaches for my hand and steadies me, helps me on up.
I don’t stop at the café, too many pilgrims, but walk on past Fonfria and Biduedo to Filoval. Huge rock crystals are everywhere, some even placed as park benches. I stop at a new albergue and café in the last magical hamlet. Had I foreseen Drearcastila would be just that, drear, I would have set my mochila down in Filoval for the night. The food is so good, so plentiful and so tasty; gazpacho, the freshest bread and an arroz con leche. All made in the kitchen and eaten outside on a hilltop garden levelled out of the steep incline, spectacular views down to the valley and Triacastila.
Drearcastila – I walk the whole of the small town in search of an improvement on the dorm in albergue del Oribio with its washing lines on the busy street and chairs on the busy street but other pilgrims had walked faster than I and all rooms and dorms had been snaffled. I return with foreboding to my top bunk by the window of a dorm of sixteen and lay out my sleeping bag, have a hot shower, dress in the same skirt and check out the church which I see from my window.
and the tale continues ...