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Archive for the ‘S. END’ Category

By the Atlantic Ocean, well into spring.

From the town of Fisterra, there’s one more tiny stage to complete: a walk to the lighthouse at the tip of the cape.

Here it is. It’s a lighthouse, but with tourist and dining facilities. One can’t walk further than this.

Last marker.

Last cross.

On the way back to town, an exquisite turquoise cove, Nearby, a last Romanesque church, Our Lady of the Sands, twelfth century.

***

Last evening as a pilgrim. Well, for now.

I’d clambered down to the town beach and found a suitable little shell, more a clam than a scallop, but ridged the right way.

Dinner was a plate of gambas, in one of the numerous fish eateries.

After dinner, a stroll.

A tiny girl skips down a flight of steps, surprises me.

¡Hola!

I’m not señor. After France, the lack of formal address is still odd. Still, when You’re from Oz, you can hardly object.

¡Hola, guapa!

Further along, a little boy is sitting on the step of his house. He looks up at me with that macho composure so essential to Spanish males.

¡Hola!

¡Hola! A flat answer from me, respecting his shot at male brusqueness.

He seems happy with his tone and mine.

¿Qué tal?

I tell him I’m good, ask if he has a tip for the upcoming Madrid-Barcelona clash. And does he like Messi or Ronaldo? (I know the answer: Spanish boys want to play like Messi but they want to be Ronaldo.)

I pass on.

The frequent bars and eateries are pretty full, even at this quiet time of year. Full of brusque Spanish men, of Spanish women with a surface of tart-and-tomboy in this male tilted society, and more of those forward, rompy Spanish kids.

And I know I’m soon going to miss something.

I’ve grown accustomed to my hosts, and their ways. Maybe the scarcity of pilgrim company had a purpose. Something I haven’t come looking for has come looking for me.

While I was intent, in my dawdlish way, on a long, quasi-international line called the Camino de Santiago, the love of Spain and of its people has caught me from the side. Caught me good.

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TO CAPE FINISTERRE

The track to Cape Finisterre is the only pilgrimage route away from Santiago de Compostela. The body of Saint James is said to have arrived there by boat, and his original tomb is said to have been at Finisterre. Like everything associated with Saint James, I’d have trouble proving it.

For many, the ocean is the true end of the Way. Of course, they’d have trouble proving it.

It’s a bit like “true” pilgrims. How does one establish that? On the way to Negreira, on my first day of the walk to the coast, I met an older German gentleman going the other way. He had started like many pilgrims of earlier times and simply walked out of his front door – in Germany! Now he was walking back to his front door –  in Germany!

He said that he did not feel this made him in any way authentic: he was merely curious to reproduce that medieval experience. Further, he was not sure that what he was doing was Christian, being one of those who believed that the Way may well be a prehistoric Celtic tradition.

He had been asking people he met what was the true reason for the Way of Saint James, and was dissatisfied with all the answers. It was my turn to disappoint. After very little thought – I’d rather chatter than ponder – I suggested it would help if he were more Celtic and diffuse in his thinking, so the true reason would matter less, or change its signification. (The appeal to cliché Celtism was silly, but I do feel some Germans wrestle too much with strenuous abstractions.)

Of course, my babbled response was useless, a void-filler. I was simply recommending that he should be more like me, a shirker of left-brain exertion who thinks in Technicolor and talks in shorthand. If he ceased to be a puzzler, he would have no puzzle. How was that going to help?

I was only with this gentleman for a few minutes, but I’m fond of him forever. I like to think we were attracted opposites. He was trudging up a steep hill the last time I glimpsed him, something he wouldn’t mind in the least.

***

The track to Finisterre is through hills, then into some well-watered farm country, with an ascent to some higher ground again before the ocean comes into view. I feel like exhibiting this region without comment, not because it’s uninteresting – it’s choice – but because this phase was a wind-down for me. So let the blog wind down too.

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All the talk of early Christians floating the body of Saint James into the Atlantic, then round the coast to Galicia…

All the stories about Charlemagne coming west to the tomb of the saint somewhere near Fisterra…

The belief that Compostela means Field of Stars…

Replace it all with some different stories. Will it matter?

Speculate, if you will, about Santiago’s pre-Roman significance. People say Celts were making pilgrimages to or through here before the birth of Christ. The word Compostela most likely means “well constructed”, a reference to its new fortifications after Al Mansur wrecked the town in the eleventh century. Yet it may also mean “burial place” and the notion might be traced back to Celtic burials, rather than James. If you want more, there’s the chance that the name refers to ancient mines.

Even if you like “Field of Stars”, the stars might be those of the Milky Way which guided Charlemagne to the west; but they might be the guiding star(s) that appeared to a shepherd in 813 AD, who told his bishop, who then found the bones of Saint James in Compostela, not on the coast – which rather takes Charlemagne out of the picture. (This is Spain, and Santiago doesn’t want to share its saint with a fishing town fifty miles away.)

Really, just take your pick of stories and etymologies.

I came here, like so many others, for reasons I know, and reasons I don’t know. And here it is: the very end.

A bleak day makes it look cheerless. In fact, it’s a wonderful plaza. The eighteenth century facade of the church is an ecstatic baroque riot. Some tack-ons don’t work, this one does.

I’d been told by geobiologists, way back along the track, that Santiago de Compostela is a church without energies since it lost its “Jordan”. Certainly, I didn’t feel much on entering. I was tired and the day was very dull, so I quite ignored the Portal of Glory on the way in, a bad oversight. I did note some other lovely details.

A lap of the saint’s tomb. Hope he was there.

The pilgrim’s mass. They didn’t swing the big thurible, the Botafumeiro, for some reason. Quiet time of year, perhaps. Much of the service was in Italian, because there were many Italians that day.

And the sermon was, I’m guessing, a standard one. Yet that sermon may well have given at least a clue to the survival and dramatic expansion of a certain obscure Jewish cult. The priest said nothing too ecumenical or sugared, but kept the message upbeat. He said that forgiveness was the most potent general remedy for the bulk of man’s afflictions, and forgiveness was more important than any of the bling or piles of stone that are meant to help convey the message.

Can’t argue. As a person given to sarcasm and sharpish resentments, I found that my forgiveness levels went a little higher after the mass, which did indeed seem to apply a general balm to every level, even the physical.

Can’t argue with any of that, and it may well alone have justified the thousand miles. Forgiveness. Can things be that simple? I’ll be buggered.

***

A pilgrim in Santiago is commonplace at any time of year. You are business. Even the gypsies seemed off-handed. They replaced one another in prime positions without bothering to change the hand-scrawled signs; they ate, chatted amongst themselves and even smoked. Santiago had made them a little slack.

I had my pilgrim passport stamped one last time and received my certificate of completion. Even in the quiet season, the pilgrim office is busy, and they have a lot of  persons and personalities to handle, some difficult. What is exhilaration for us is work for them. I was careful to congratulate the other finishers, to lift the mood. We pilgrims have the time for that at the end, the office people may not.

***

If you’ve read earlier posts, you’ll know I’m fond of Spain’s regional centres. Quite apart from its status as a focus of pilgrimage, Santiago is capital of Galicia, though other cities of the region are larger. The casco historico, or old town, is lovely in parts, with a buzzy bar and restaurant strip around Rua do Franco.

Come for a stroll.

***

People hostile to pilgrimage have good grounds for their disapproval. They must not think, however, that their views are modern. All sorts of people have opposed and even stifled the Way of Saint James. French revolutionaries, political heavies like the Sun King and Napoleon Bonaparte. Sophisticates in general, across the ages. And Al Mansur, obviously.

For a while, the Way was favoured by powerful people and institutions: Charlemagne’s heirs; popes and episcopal figures; counts and monarchs of  Navarre, Castile, Asturias, León, and Aragon; the great monastic powers, especially Cluny; Templars and Hospitallers, needless to say.

One likes to feel worldly and knowing when talking of political reality, convenience and contrivance. With the way to Jerusalem blocked by Muslims, and Roman pilgrimage less desirable at times, the appearance of the bones of Saint James was better than miraculous. It was good politics that became good business. But does that explain the urge of millions to follow the line of the Milky Way? We can be too shrewd.

The Way is now so solidly back in fashion. It’s taken a thousand years for warm weather and political stability to coincide and make it easier. Nonetheless, it’s surprising that we do it now, in our hundreds of thousands.

This blog is not concluded, because, after some muddling, I ended up walking from Santiago to Fisterra, which, for some people, is the true end of the Way. But because I’ve arrived at what for others is the true end, I’ll make a concluding comment here.

I don’t do Deep. But I’m going to have to sound a bit that way. Sorry.

There are a few minor reasons for walking the Camino, and one compelling reason.

I know the minor reasons, I don’t know the compelling reason.

***

Look! Sun’s out!

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