Remember, as a kid, lying in sun with eyes closed and watching bacteria float behind your lids? The interesting ones always seemed to be off the centre of vision. So you’d roll your eyes toward them…and they’d roll out of sight.
Certain things brush consciousness but elude the steady stare of intellect. It applies to ethnography, the inquiry into race and culture. We try for something definite, and lose the lot. So I won’t be too definite about the sort-of race known as the Maragatos, whose little sort-of country we now tread, a moorland between the end of the meseta and the rise toward the Bierzo.
Some Maragato architecture along the track. I’m told the porch is typical.
We’re rising today, the mountains are closer.
February is almost gone. The first crocuses.
Sherlock Holmes had his Moriarty. Socrates had those sophists. Caesar had Pompey. Those who aspire to extraordinary things must eventually face their Great Antagonist, without whom there can be no greatness.
Here I present you with documentary evidence of the existence of the Anti-Dawdler. This was posted on a wire fence along the track.
Never mind the terrifying details. It was written by Paco…the Anti-Dawdler! It describes his achievement of completing the Camino Frances in eleven days. At seventy kilometres per day.
I don’t criticise you, Paco. In fact, I respect you, o Great Antagonist.
Where will come our final conflict, the ultimate rendering of accounts? Will it be at Zama, our forces massed, like Hannibal and Scipio? Or will it be just you and I, Holmes and Moriarty, and an obscure scuffle above the Reichenbach Falls?
Today’s destination is Rabanal del Campo, an old pilgrim village once guarded by Templars, presumably because mountains attract more outlaws and villains. Certainly, it would be hard to operate as a cut-throat along the meseta.
A couple of interesting ermitas lower down in the town. One was very elaborate, taking in account size and relative obscurity of its location.
As mentioned, the inhabitants of the area are called Maragatos. Some say they take their name from an early King of Asturias, Mauregato. Others talk of a combination of “Moor” and “Goth”. Others see “Moorish speaking” as a likely etymology. There is speculation that they are descendants of the first wave of Muslim invaders, or that they are descendants of Christians who joined with the invaders in some way. Boffins have found some Afro DNA, opening up the possibility that they are descendants of much earlier North African immigration.
What appeals? I like the idea that, as a semi-nomadic and trading race, the Maragatos are connected with early Semitic or Phoenician traders. I always enjoy a Phoenician connection. The Maragatos have the shy elusiveness of Matthew Arnold’s “grave Tyrian trader”, who, displaced by Greek “intruders on his ancient home”, fled westward…
And snatched his rudder, and shook out more sail;
And day and night held on indignantly
O’er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
To where the Atlantic raves
Outside the western straits; and unbent sails
There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
And on the beach undid his corded bales.
Or were our Maragatos descended from those dark Iberians, already there ?
We know that they were traders, passing with mules between the Galician coast and inland centres. They ate, and still eat, their famous Maragato cocido in reverse, having the broth last. And when they emigrated to South America many became gauchos.
Maragatos. You work it out.
Special event, which occurs every evening in Rabanal. Here’s the local parish church, the enticing, crumbly interior of which I wasn’t able to photograph.
Every evening, Vespers are sung here by at least three German monks, who live in an adjacent monastery. They are trained specialists, and for the peak of the pilgrim season, an extra three come from Munich.
My hostess at the outstanding Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar has learned some Latin in order to participate nightly.
I was fortunate to have a long, lingery dawdler’s breakfast with this lady and her Maragato family. Here’s Isabel with mother Pilar.
Now I’m just wondering if these elaborate Vespers, which would normally grace a major cathedral, aren’t an arrangement between the mysterious Maragatos and some invisible but powerful Templars, still clinging to their old protectorate…
But, as you know, I’m not into Templar conspiracies and that sort of thing. Kid stuff, right?