Santiago not far, spring advancing: most pilgrims would be pressing forward in excitement, lengthening the stride, extending the walk-time. You know what that lot are like.
Your dawdler had other things in mind. This was the first monument visited in the interesting historic centre of Melide.
One of Spain’s most renowned pulperías, or octopus restaurants, is far from the coast, and right here on Melide’s main drag.
One can eat other things, but pulpo gallego is the big item: freshly boiled octopus plucked from its steaming vat and scissored into bite sizes. The normal flavourings are olive oil, salt and pimentón, and it is common to be offered hot pimentón as an alternative to the normally sweet-and-smoky stuff.
Not expensive or fancy, and almost a must for the pilgrim or tourist.
Do not attempt to lick or bite your computer screen. It is an electrical device.
Rain was drifting in, the cold had returned. When I found a very modest hotel where the staff seemed intent on my comfort, I surrendered and took a rest day. The Hotel Xaneiro‘s proprietor is not just willing but keen to speak English, so keep these excellent folk in mind.
One can only eat so many cephalopods. There was time for cultural rambles, and Melide, traffic-ridden but cheerful, has a shabby charm. It lost its citadel completely in those class struggles known as “Brotherhood Wars”, when the Catholic Monarchs decided that nobody could have a citadel, since they wouldn’t share. Yet the Romanesque and other old styles and traditions find representation here, where modern expressways now meet.
I don’t bother with the novels or ideas of D. H. Lawrence. However, I have often read and remembered his verse, of which there is a great deal, though mostly forgotten.
In one spare and effective piece, he writes of an encounter with a snake near water. After watching the animal with fascination, he ends up throwing something at it to make it go away. One of the concluding lines of the poem is, as I remember: “And so I missed my chance with one of the Lords of Life.”
The Camino makes you more alert to certain things.
I was sitting at the internet table in the hotel, when none other than that angry and unhappy German mentioned previously came and sat behind me. He had his bumptious way of letting me know I was keeping him waiting for the computer. Yet I sensed he was letting me know something else: that he needed some contact or company, and it would only need to be brief.
In no mood for awkward greetings, let alone a rant about the superiority of Peruvian poverty to Western superfluity, I simply vacated the chair when finished and moved away without a glance. It sticks in my mind that I neglected something. Swayed by my own opinions and the man’s unpopularity, I had descended. It was just a slight descent, just a moment’s lack of urbanity.
And so I missed my chance with one of the Lords of Life.
If dawdling is a rough sort of craft, idling is one of the lower arts. But don’t over-praise it.
Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.
So said Stevenson in his famous essay, An Apology for Idlers. He was really too kind to me, a genuine mucker-about, and too harsh on himself, an industrious author who struggled mightily against ill health. But I’ll take the compliment!
No, it is far too flattering. And when Stevenson goes on to characterise busy and acquisitive folk, he makes little allowance for the contradictions of human character: for that tycoon with an off-switch who can insulate his recreations from his work and find needed refreshment, as opposed that idler who frets and fiddles neurotically.
I speak as a realist of idling, one who views it from the inside. It is no superior train of life, merely an accidental condition best mitigated and exploited, rather than denied. Those who can concentrate for an hour on an academic lecture, those who can keep to a thirty-plus schedule on the Camino…they are the types who make my world function. Let them be a majority! What can I give in return? I can’t become a faint imitation of a focused and effective striver. All I can do is half-fulfill the few requirements which justify idling: good cheer, curiosity, and what Stevenson describes here:
His way takes him along a by-road, not much frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called Commonplace Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense. Thence he shall command an agreeable, if not very noble prospect; and while others behold the East and West, the Devil and the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary things, with an army of shadows running speedily and in many different directions into the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars, go by into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this, a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people laughing, drinking, and making love as they did before the Flood or the French Revolution; and the old shepherd telling his tale under the hawthorn.
Oh, I know the tone is Victorian and the sense a bit muddled. Yet RLS has got us right. An idler may be a pessimist, but, really, he can’t afford it. In adopting complaint as a posture or philosophy, the idler abandons the only currency the world will readily accept from him.