Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Camino Thirty-Two – At the End of the Known World

Finisterre – nothing prepared me for this day of surprises at the End of the Known World.  Rain fell in torrents throughout the night and right through breakfast and on goes the poncho so I can reach the coach stop which is a ten minute walk away.  I am fortunate, not first in the queue, but in the four front seats sit three friends; I claim the fourth seat right there in the front, almost under the little swinging bruja who hangs from the rear vision mirror on the windscreen. 
I set her a task, she who hangs there with her miniature broomstick, please sweep away all the rainclouds before we reach the end of the world. 
I am grouchy inside, tired.  People are late, the guide is stressed, time ticks past the witching hour scheduled for our departure.  Stuff them, I think darkly, I would leave them behind. Planes don’t wait for no shows, Satyananda once told us, and the logic of his comment gave me such boldness that years later when I was in Urfa waiting for the coach of tourists to arrive so I could join them for a tour of Harran I waited for seven minutes past the departure time and demanded to go anyway. 
When I had booked the trip earlier the man said the tour would go even if I was the only person.  I pressed the case, reminding the Turkish travel agent of his own words –the Kurd standing behind him laughing hugely and silently at my challenging a Turk, the historical oppressor in their land – and I was given a taxi.  All to myself and no extra charge.  I sat begum-like in the back all the way to Harran and the eighth century, was gifted a hoopoe feather from a cloudless sky at the temple ruins of the moon god Sin, and given the keys of the Renault 12 by my handsome, chivalrous, Kurd driver when I told him I had the same model car back in Oz.  He had seen the hoopoe feather fall, seen the cloudless, birdless blue sky, spoke of special signs and the Eye of Allah, became intensely solicitous of my footfall amongst the jagged and uneven ruins.  
Back in the office he waxed lyrical to his colleagues of my driving, my negotiating the labyrinthine alleys of Urfa and everyone, including the Turk, was in great good humour.  I was given their delicious apple tea, blowtorch sweet, and told the coach had broken down anyway, somewhere east of Nemrut Dağ.

Much too late we leave, the stragglers are a honeymoon couple for whom time is a notion that belongs far beyond their rosy world.  Each time we stop for the sightseeing along the way my legs complain at having to get up and walk.  Gene and Sandy sit behind me, they are also tired and our couple of days rest has proved our legs far less than infallible.  I am more tired than I know.
Ponte Maceira, waterfalls, Cee, forgettable Muros, all with a guide whose English is unrecognisable as my mother tongue.  Her words delivered as bullet sound-bites without nuance or punctuation render them incomprehensible.  A most excellent accent with barely a trace of English ...  Was that church bombed or struck by lightning?  Did Napoleon rape and pillage or restore and improve?  Which war?  World War Two, the Spanish Civil or the Christians and Moors?  And telling us in English what to look out for on the right as we passed whatever it was two bends back because the Spanish explanation took a kilometre to say ... all rather vexing.
I asked her when was lunch. Uh oh!  Two o’clock, she snaps.  Two o’clock! I gasp, remembering breakfast was at seven o’clock.  Lunch in Spain, she fairly growls, she’s obviously met the lunch-at-noon brigade before, is two o’clock; you are in Spain, we lunch at two o’clock, don’t you know.  
I was in Spain for breakfast I reply, but it doesn’t stop me being hungry after 5 hours. Golly, it will be seven hours without food, I feel a coma coming on!
But, here we are at Finisterra.  The rain stops; the blueness of the sky astonishing in its clarity.  The very earth is different.  I step on to it and feel a sizzle, an amalgam of goose bumps, and I am alive.  Gone my grouches, my grumbles, my aches, my lurching on the walking stick, I am on the Camino path and it carries me.  It is true, so many pilgrims say it, the Way will carry you, it is true.  
The 0.00 kms sign on the last milestone is one thing, the Faro de Finisterre another, the lonely Cross a third.  Being given the sello for the End of the Known World brings an upwelling of tears to all of us who had walked so far knowing our limitations would prevent us the final difficulties of walking the four days to Finisterre.  I am so glad I came.  
I leapt from the coach and fairly hop from craggy rock to boulder to see signs of fire pits and smouldering ashes and then, round a particularly sheer and rugged protrusion, a curl of smoke.  Two young men are burning their pilgrim clothes.  I congratulate them, they are brimming with light and joy, one asks if he can take a photo of me with my camera at the end of the world.  I demur, I have not walked to it, but then, oh yes please falls out of my mouth – I am here!  My gratitude glowed, tears flowed.  The two young men are Italians, from that region of Switzerland. 
Down then to the town, my spirits transformed, I grin at the tour guide, tell her the place is wonderful, she is Galician, compliments for her country melts stone.  She smiles back, we are fine.  Sandy and Gene and I choose an empty restaurant on the quay, we are hungry and think the service will be quicker. 
We learn from the moment we are rationed to portions of bread for two given to three the reason the restaurant is empty.  Gene, the most affable of men, asks for a portion of bread divisible for three and is served with a volley of words in which, yes of course I’ll just cut some more for you, is not discernible.  The dishes are as mean and measured and poor and pricey.  We do not intend to leave a tip. 
But as we sit alone and obvious in this empty restaurant one of those moments occurs:  Cindy! How lovely! I call, for here she is, and as pleased to see me.  She comes to sit with us awhile.  She has not met Sandy or Gene, not once along the 500 miles.  Isn’t it curious who we meet and who we miss even walking the same path at the same time.  Cindy and I had not hoped to meet again after our sharing at breakfast days before, had not bumped into each other, yet here she is.  She had caught a local bus to Finisterre yesterday and will walk the long day to Muxia tomorrow.  I promised my body I wouldn’t push it anymore but we had a little talk and decided we could manage one more day!  We laugh, swap emails.
Cindy is from Boulder and when she hears I am from Glastonbury laughs and tells Gene, who commented that Boulder is a bit left of field, that Glastonbury is the last word in way out there and makes Boulder look boring.  We hug, take photos, wave goodbye and she calls out: start from Le Puy, your smile will get you through France, a smile speaks twenty languages!
And so on to Muxia, named for the monks of an 11th century Benedictine monastery.  The rock, the sail belonging to the Virgin of the Boat, is clear to see, but no going through the narrow hole nine times for me; Men-an-Tol cured me of crawling through little holes in or under rocks for all time.  I love the legend though: St James, Santiago, came here in despair thinking he had failed in his mission and the Blessed Virgin appeared sailing in to the land in a small barque to console him and say indeed he hadn’t failed at all.
Each one of us feels this to be the true end to our long walk; each of us sit on the sea pounded rocks lost in reverie and sea spray, silently.  My pilgrimage is over.
Almost ...



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Camino Thirty-One – Rain and Reflections and a Passing Irritation ...

27th June 2014.  
The day dawns in a minor key, rain patters at my window, seagulls wheel over the tiled roof domes, pricks of moving brightness in the sun shafts that pierce the charcoal and leaden skies.  This morning I can lie in bed until breakfast, I am weary, achievement is so fatiguing...
This attic floor of pilgrims is a distant world of its own, far removed from the ‘real’ life below.  I feel I’m in Gormenghast without the white cats for company.  Gone are the days of waking in the clothes of after-shower-yesterday, pinning the damp spare pair of socks to the mochila, collecting staff and hat, anointing and swaddling feet to paddle to the boot rack, all in silence, walking out into another new morning, the first yellow arrow a ray of welcome, and off I go. 
I amuse myself by reading some of my Camino diaries, now two of them; laugh again at some of the many moments of humour, flip to the photos I have glued in the back of each of them before leaving for the Camino, reflect on the people: Father Bede with HH Darling Lama, a photo taken in Australia during the time Fr Bede was my house guest in 1992. 

 Mrs Tweedie in London; me in India, in sannyasi robes, a pilgrim; Thérèse in Townsville leading the Gyuto monks to the sea to dissolve the sand from their sand mandala.
 Caroline on her visit to Townsville to find the Black Australia of her childhood dream, there she is standing under the grand waterfall of harlequin bougainvillea tumbling from Thérèse’s cliff top garden to the road below.
 St Francis, the Cimabue image; St Mary Our Lady of Glastonbury, in her red skirt and gold mantle  and pale veil, standing and crowned like the Queen of Heaven she is.
 In the front I glued tiny copies of my Hare and Hoopoe, and how apt they proved to be at my Epiphany.  There is a tiny photo of me, unidentifiable in the distance as anything more than a woman, a woman clothed in the sun; it is archetypal, as it should be.  I am alone, walking through the courtyard of the great Monastery of St John of Patmos; responsible for the Twinning in Perpetuity between Glastonbury, the Ancient Sacred Isle of Avalon, and Patmos, the Holy Isle.   
 The two saints, Joseph of Arimathea and St John the Beloved would have known each other, something I was made scintillatingly aware of as I sat in the Cave of the Apocalypse in 2007. A presence in the Cave impressed upon me, as I sat there alone, that linking these two holy places is a task I am beholden to do.  I dismiss it of course; I don’t do ‘public’.  The presence and its insistence persisted for three days; I was compelled to approach the Abbot of Patmos.  I walked to the Monastery.  A large monk, speaking nine languages, wearing a long grey beard and a black chimney pot, a rogue of a man with a chequered and fascinating past including, incredibly, a stint as something professional in the huge and now defunct asylum in Wells; he knew Glastonbury well.   He led me to the Abbot, acted as translator.  The Abbot and I were in accord, he embraced the link, knew and appreciated the legend of St Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn, urged me to speak to the Mayor of Glastonbury on my return.
And so it came to pass, a grand five day event for the visiting Patmos delegates, tours and the Tor, Chalice Well and lunch, a gala dinner with all manner of dignitaries present.  One of the high-ranking clergy present congratulated me on having brought together at the same table for the first time in 500 years representatives of the three major Christian faiths since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, seriously misnamed the Reformation.  Glastonbury shone with sun and warmth that September of 2009.  I had spoken with the Government official responsible for setting up Twinning protocol, unsure how to name our link.  She said it had to be a Twinning in Perpetuity, applauded me for creating the first such Twinning in Great Britain; for what else could a link between saints of 2000 years ago be but perpetual?  John Michel told me in March he felt that his prophetic book The Dimensions of Paradise published forty years earlier had now been redeemed.  He would feel privileged, he said, to speak at the Gala Dinner.  Three weeks after our conversation John died.  His presence remains.
This tiny archetypal photograph mirrors chapter twelve of St John: a great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun.  In the photo, taken from a great distance and without my knowing, I am clothed with the sun, walking in the sunlight between the shadows of the arches.  It is not me I see walking through the shadowed centuries of cloistered patriarchy here, but all women, women walking in their own Light. 
I see my life is a mosaic, nothing appears to link one thing with the next; no rise and rise in a career path; no continuation to even the most remote success; my life’s single theme is my Obedience to the Other, a theme invisible to the onlooker.  It is a lonely path but sometimes I am blessed to look into the eyes of a fellow pilgrim of the inner way and we recognise each other through the eyes, know each other.  These are my friends.
Since 2011 a small number of people have begun an ordinary twinning association between the two places, based on cultural and social ephemera.  It has no causal link with saints, nor anything perpetual, twinning association longevity being limited to the committees that uphold them.  They are different, these social twinnings, friendships more or less of good will between nations. 
A Twinning in Perpetuity is a singular event.  A woman from the Midlands, having a Jewish connection, but none with Glastonbury or Patmos until after their being twinned in Perpetuity, encouraged the new social twinning.  It seemed to me and to a few Patmians that her interest served to promote a personal platform; but that’s the Way of the World and we render unto Caesar that which is inevitable:  Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ. When I return I must address an insult, a public insult and personal to me and the Twinning in Perpetuity.  It threw me off balance at the time, but time has passed, my mind has cleared and I can respond to this woman, this oversized cuckoo who can feather her own nest without sullying mine, thank you very much!  Lying in bed blissfully horizontal waiting to go down for breakfast has brought up this unfinished business.  
I am, naturally, riven with faults and failings, they abound, but I’ve spoken with each over the years, spoken of them to myself, my Higher Self, to Holy Mary, to a good Jungian analyst, and am reconciled to my frailties and humanness.  I will give no quarter to guilt when I return home and clear the air; I smile, will add relish to my response to the cuckoo’s silly ego.  My temporary head-trip fades as I think delicious thoughts of re-arranging an ego ... hers, and in great good humour I shower and dress and skip down four floors and eight flights of stairs to breakfast.
Today I am doing churches and museums, leisurely.

Only a day or so, The End is Nigh ...


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Camino Thirty – La Divina Peregrina


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 ...


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Camino Twenty-Nine – Vive La France, Air Traffic is on Strike!

I wake too early and lay fretting that I must trail about Santiago looking for another room as I was given the only vacancy here, and that for one night only.  But something urges me to go downstairs and ask the night staff ... who proves so much more accommodating than the crisp Miss of yesterday’s day staff.  He can give me a pilgrim room from tonight, for four nights, at the pilgrim price of €23 including breakfast.  I’m so relieved.  I can now find a flight, explore and sleep, sleep, sleep ... 
I ask him about flights to Paris, to retrace my flight path home to Bristol.  Ah, he tells me, but not to Paris, their Air Traffic is on strike again and all flights are suspended for the next seven days. 
Oh.  Double Oh.  He books my room for a further two days as a precaution.  I’ll sort out flights later today.  I dread the return. I want the Camino Adventure to go on forever even though my body is saying can’t, can’t! and I have promised I won’t make it suffer Ever Again.  
Now I am securely accommodated for the rest of my stay I can relax; I will take over my Pilgrim’s Cell in the attic at 10 o’clock.  I repack, rest, and go down to breakfast at 7.30, first off the starting line.   A Dutch woman asks to sit at my table; her story, and why she walked the whole Camino moves me, she is very teary and with good reason. She lost forty kilos in weight along the way.  I sit open-mouthed, I had gained a few kilos myself, but I would not want the story she was telling me in order to hasten such a weight-loss.  I cannot remember her story, didn’t commit it to my journal and it has blown away on the wind; pilgrims have many stories and pilgrims hear many stories.  We hug and wish each other love and happiness.  
I drift over to the shop in the cloisters, which sells all manner of religious memorabilia and I ask a pointless question. All along the Camino are marvellous statues and references to peregrinos, but I want, along with the poppy and a scallop shell, an image of a peregrina.  Ah, smiles the wise woman behind the counter, but we have the real Peregrina not so far from Santiago; la Divina Peregrina. 
Instantly I am alert.  I must visit Pontevedra, she tells me, on the Camino Portugués. Three and a half days walk south, and three and a half days back – or I can catch a train, the return journey will take two hours.  I opt for the train, a no-brainer in my state.  140 kms round trip, I can barely believe how only days ago I happily walked such distances; 700 kms is already disappearing into the mists of memory.  La Divina Peregrina will be my Adventure for tomorrow.  I’m thrilled, I will be more rested by then, and open for anything. 
10 o’clock and I move up to my attic.  It is ideal, and so suited to a pilgrim.  A tiny cell, a plain single bed with snowy sheets and a thick chocolate coloured wool blanket, a scallop shell on the iron bed-head, a tiny desk and chair, a capacious cupboard and a small cubicle with a shower, wash basin and loo.  The high attic windows run the width of the room and the view of turrets and towers is marvellous.  I am happy here. 
Now I must book my flight.  I feel unaccountably helpless, as if the effort of strategies needed to survive the last six weeks has drained me of quotidian functioning.  I, who can organize a trip to Angkor Wat at the drop of a map, am inexplicably threatened by the mere thought of navigating cyber space for a flight home, now compromised by the airport strike in Paris, my route plan to Bristol.  I actually send up a prayer for help. 
In the street between the Seminary and the back of the Cathedral people are milling; I scan to see if anyone I know is there, yes! there is Ela, and beyond her range of vision, but I can see from the Seminary steps, is Jüergen!  I run across and am hailed by Sister Aileen from the English prayer group, all my prayers answered at once.  I tell Sister Aileen I will be back in two minutes, call Ela who turns, point out Jüergen, calling his name as I do. Another grand photo-shoot to mark the moment; Jüergen is about to catch the bus to the airport to fly home. 
I return to Sister Aileen, tell her my dilemma.  She has the perfect solution, Father John from Ireland is computer savvy and will help me after English Mass in the Cathedral but English Mass extends to coffee so we shift our appointment to after Pilgrim Mass at noon.  
And ... a nun with the voice of an angel is singing. 
 It is a long Mass, the Pilgrim Mass, and I take the moment to climb the stairs behind the High Altar to thank Santiago.  I am alone.  Exactly as I reach the silver statue, Angel voice sings an Allelujia, her rich soprano pierces the transept, I feel an upwelling of tears and put both hands and my forehead to rest on Santiago’s silver back.  Tears flow unimpeded; I thank Santiago, Holy Mary and St Francis and Jeff and Olivia and Caroline and Tina and Thérèse and Everyone who has made my pilgrimage possible. 
 And the tears continue.  I’m not crying exactly, but the tears are coming from a place below words, before words were formed, and I suspect many and many a pilgrim has known their own tears here before me. 
I return to Mass.  It is a huge Cathedral and it would take a search party to find a lost soul; comings and goings are all part of it and no one bats an eye at my absence or return as I perch on a stone plinth near the altar.  I watch intently as men assemble, the huge silver thurible is being lowered.  Lo and behold a grateful pilgrim has paid for the Botafumeiro to be swung and I have a front row view.  The spectacle is awesome and I take a number of blurred photos.  A holy moment, and so unexpected. 
Then off to the cyber café with Father John.  No planes going to Paris, no going via Dublin either, Aer Lingus flights one way are £300.  I am getting stressier and stressier.  I would sooner walk another 700 kms than tackle air fares, flights and cyber space right now.  Father John finds me a flight to Gatwick from Santiago with easyJet for €103 and a National Express bus to Bristol.  Practicalities over, I buy Father John lunch and introduce him to hot chocolate Spanish style. 
Siesta then, in my pilgrim room.  Up here in the attic I feel like Gertrude, Countess of Groan, but for the lack of a furlong of white cats trailing after me! I doze off and surface at four, dress in everything I have, the weather has turned cold even though it is high summer. 
I head off to buy my train ticket to Pontevedra and to book my trip to Finisterre when I see, coming up the steps of Plaza Obradoiro, Gene and Sandy, last met in León three weeks ago.  They have walked the Camino prompted by Martin Sheen’s The Way; began in Pamplona and have walked enough.  
They accompany me to book the trip to the End of the Known World.  And so Endeth the Second Day ... 

and still it continues ...


Camino Twenty-Eight – “That Rare Thing, an English Catholic!”

24th June 2014:  
 San Martin de Pinario really is an actual seminary and very grand.  I smile to myself, nuns don’t have anything like the same start in life!  I lunch at the Comedor Monumental, busy waiters, grand names for the menu selection, mediocre truth on the plates when they arrive.  But the dining room is true to its name – monumental.  A vast vaulted stone block ceiling makes it another cloister in appearance, a marvellous room. 
 Just after showering and donning my clean Macabi skirt and other top I did pop across to the Cathedral at midday, but the dense crowds overwhelm me and claustrophobia sends me scuttling back to San Martin de Pinario.  I rue my failure to see the famous Botafumeiro, the world’s largest thurible that takes twelve men to swing in its vast arc across the nave; know it is only used on Feast Days and Holy Days now, but shrug off the once only opportunity with the consolation that I have had miracles all along the way – I am full. 
I return later to the Cathedral, empty now but for the delicious swirls of incense still thickly veiling the altar, and look for the English chapel with its copy of Our Lady of Walsingham sitting on her Throne of Wisdom.  A copy of course, from another copy, as she was with Our Lady of Glastonbury and every other Lady burned on the pyres of Smithfield at the Reformation.  She’s a pretty statue, and very ‘English’, with none of the quirky authenticity of her mediaeval sisters I’ve met on my pilgrimage.   I slide my prayer for England, once known throughout the world as Our Lady’s Dowry, a dedication of her uncle Joseph of Arimathea, under the grill; it continues its slide along the polished floor to stop underneath the statue.   
I remain a few moments, then look for the crypt and the reliquary of Santiago; here I say a prayer and roll the walnut right along the floor.  Done.  I don’t walk up the ancient staircase to thank Santiago in his silver casing, yet.  Something stops me.  This day is a moment by moment time capsule and I must remain obedient to its shifts and suggestions.
I go on to San Francisco, love the simplicity of the nave as I walk down to the sacristy to collect my St Francis compostela. There are few of us; the attractive Brazilian couple in their pink clothes whom I met in Palas de Rei are here, he grins and says, you are that rare thing, an English Catholic!  I have not met one before, and you are a woman and you walk alone, from Pamplona!  He places his hand over his heart in wonder and we all burst out laughing. 
My turn comes, I hand over my credencials; the old Franciscan friar sitting at the other end of the table smiles and blesses me in the name of St Francis while a woman writes my names and hands me my scroll.  I try to tell the dear friar that it was because of St Francis when I was in Assisi that I walked the Camino in this, his 800th Anniversary Year.  And I burst into tears.  The Brazilian couple burst into tears.  Everyone there gets teary!  I go and sit on the front pew.  The Brazilian couple join me, point out the amazing image of the triangle – the Holy Trinity – in the apex of the ceiling in which is an Eye, the Eye of God.  I am amazed and amazement stops the teary moment just-like-that. The only other times I have seen this symbol is in Romania, in an Orthodox Church, and in Turkey, in an Islamic Mosque. 
In the 1980’s on my Old Silk Road jaunt I had rescued a kitten in a wild little town named Sivas in the Kurdish region of Turkey and taken it into a café to give to the owner.  He had a constant fount of hot milk for making salep (from orchid root) which seemed to me just what a kitten needed. The kindly man, who was a Kurd and proud of it, accepted his new charge happily.  Muslims have a great affection for cats; Mohammed refused to disturb his favourite asleep on his robe, called for a knife when it was time for prayers, cut around the garment so as not to wake puss.  Love the story.  Back to my kitten and the Eye of God – the café owner said I had seen this hapless mite through the Eye of Allah, and pointed to the mosque, urging me to go and see for myself.  It was a rare symbol to be in a mosque, and it would become the ubiquitous blue glass eye.  My man also said he had nothing warm for the kitten to sleep on, tiles were cold, kitten was as too tiny to climb onto a chair, he wouldn’t be home until late, his home had no phone and he couldn’t call his wife to bring something warm.  The kitten’s rescue began to assume the length of a shaggy dog story.  Except that it was true.  I watched the man’s gentleness as he held the tiny creature in the palm of his hand, placed it on the café counter to drink warm milk from a saucer.  I scurried off to an antique carpet dealer, explained the plight.  He produced the softest piece of antique kilim, looked at me quizzically for a moment, there had to be an exchange.  I unfurled my hand in which was clutched what was left of my loose change, a pittance.  He graciously accepted what I had, and told me I had seen the kitten’s need through the Eye of Allah.  I was quite drawn by the Eye of Allah – and here it is above me. 
I am quite silent.  We three sit for a long time, listening to the sublime polyphonic music St Francis would have known. Now I feel something. 
As an anti-dote to all this emotion I wander back along the street shops to look for earrings. Retail therapy will ground me, the purchase of earrings has a certain solemnity about it, must honour the epic pilgrimage.  Scallop shells in lime green enamel and silver draw my attention, but not quite enough.  Silver and black enamel make me pause, but not long enough. 
I am drawn into a gay little trinket shop opposite the Seminary, playing zappy Galician folk songs and there! in the cabinet on the wall as I go in is ... a pair of poppy earrings!  Poppy Peregrina!  They are wondrous, wooden or something like that, painted red with the stamens needle-etched in black.  They are so stunningly appropriate and so little price, I buy without a second’s delay, put them on at once.  They look marvellous.  Poppy Peregrina has been confirmed!  I hurry back to my room, stow my San Francisco compostela safely with Santiago’s and realise I am just in time for the evening prayers in English over in the Cathedral. 
Such earrings and I am complete, as it were, ready to bounce over to the Cathedral with a light heart, am only a minute late, squeeze past the squashed together chairs filled with pilgrims, find a seat at the front of the horseshoe layout, turn, sit down and hear a loud, Zoé! coming at me from two directions at once. 
The meditative silence is shattered, thank heavens the prayers proper haven’t quite begun, and I see Ann on my left and Ela, her face alight with delight, calling, I’m so happy to see you! from the half-circle of chairs opposite me.  I am thrilled too, we modify our excitement, prayers begin, we pray happily, listen to a few Camino chronicles and share a fitting silence together, united in our achievement.
Outside Ela hugs me hugely, tells me I am the one person she most wanted to meet again, she asked all along the Camino but no one could say where I was.  You floated along, she said, to my astonishment.  Floated! I puffed and wheezed and staggered and perfected the pilgrim’s lurch very early in the piece, no way could my perambulations be seen as floating! 
She insisted it was how I looked. Ann had to leave, said we would meet tomorrow.  Ela tells me Vanessa and John left for Finisterre yesterday and Christina should be back tomorrow.  Ela was too tired to walk on, she took a day trip by bus to Finisterre and Muxia, recommended it for me.  The other person she wanted to see again was Jüergen – but he’s here in Santiago I say.   Alas I cannot say where, I do not know.  We will pray for just another miracle.  She walks over to the seminary with me, she is also staying there, and takes a wondrous photo of me with my poppy earrings, my red and white polka dot Alice band – which she hadn’t seen before, hoots of laughter at this – the ditto mnemonics on boots and backpack and stick ... 
I am very very tired and very happy; it is the most perfect end to my first day in Santiago.
the Camino tale continues, and tomorrow is more than just another day ...