Like all camping folks, I woke up early, to find myself not in a tent by a mountain lake - as was planned for this part of the trip - but very stiffly propped up in the passenger seat, with my feet on a backpack in the "foot bit" part of my car. Huh?. Stretch and ..oh my God... Don't you think you are getting a wee bit old for this type of thing?
Ok Where the %&$=& am I this time?
The dreadful message on the gate from last night gives no signs of monks.In fact, there is no sign of anything at all. The building looks completely deserted. I make an attempt to hide myself behind Simone's door for a call of nature and then take a better look at the building behind the gates. Finally, and it takes a while at this time of the morning, it dawns on me.
I am in the wrong place.
This a hotel; waymarked Monastery de Leyre, but it is something else evilly disguised for disoriented pilgrims to find and have to reject in the darkened night, and, in the light of day, following the torment of the night, an obvious metaphor for the .....
¡Oye!Tracy! Get back to the story!
Now in the cold light of dawn (obvious cliche; it was actually quite warm)the answer is clear. This is the remains of what was intended to impress and endorse pilgrims in the late 12th century. They did as they were told to do.They had no other option. People who opposed the King died. They had land taken away from themselves and their descendants - forever. Is it it any surprise they capitulated?
This for those of you who failed your English High School Exams, is known as a Rhetorical Question: no answer is needed. There is no charge for this service...
Having realised this, I heave my sleeping back into the back seat and get Simone pointed a bit more mountainward. Only 2 klms as it turns out.
A few turns upwards, the Monastery - sans storm - is pretty bloody obvious. In the daylight that is.
But not yet open for visitors.
It is 6:45.
I decide to explore.
The last thing I expected was for the abbey church to be open but it is. The portico is gorgeous - loads of detail: some supicious and some salacious -and I remember reading that it may have been the work of Esteban who left Santiago with the expulsion of his patron, Bishop Diego Pelaez (remember him?). If not you'll have to go back a few months or you will have "lost the plot" entirely!)(Go on. It's worth it. Are you a seeker after truth or...?), and went to work on the cathedral at Pamplona with the blessing of the King of Navarre, (no friend to Castilla or Leon), only a short distance away from Leyre. (Diego Pelaez was present at the consecration of the Abbey in 1098). Just for you purists.(Otherwise too many hated parentheses!)
Strangled by early morning parentheses at this point, I wander into the church.
It is far larger than I had expected and the one feature which really stands out - visually certainly - is the statue of the virgin, outlined, slightly off-centre, against the opaque window. What I see is simply stunning. It is early morning, and I am all alone.
I track back to the doorway. The mist is still coming up from the valley below and continues to cling to the mountains above, as though afraid to move the day forward. There is a space in between which shows the clarity of the cliffs which surround this eagle's refuge. I imagine that I must dwell in this space as there really is no other.
I am drawn back in to the abbey church. I sit on the end of a row at the very back.
I had not anticpitated what followed as, at that surreal point, I felt that all of it belonged to me. I was alone, among shadows, remember...
First, a door opened on my far right and five men in normal clothing walked through to settle themselves on the front pews. Then 19 monks, all dressed in black robes with hoods attached, made their way through, Noah's Arc fashion, to seat themselves on either side of the choir.
I was transfixed at this point way back, at the back by the door and the sun's tiny sliver of appearance.It was too occupied with what lay to the east and down below at the reservoir...
The monks began to sing. This is Gregorian Mass. This is no ordinary singing. This is for the glory of God and none other, and it was just by coincidence that one other - namely me - had the immense good fortune (see how bad fortune - the storm and an uncomfortable night - can result in good fortune? Life is a question of getting the perspective right)to be able to participate in their worship in a peripheral, and entirely hidden way. But I was at the back. This is a big church.
The light is in semi-darkness. I am completely hidden, forgotten,unimportant:unncessary. I recognised some but not much. It was clearly a Gregorian Mass. And for whom? Not themselves. Not me. Only God.
One of them got up to speak. I was too far away and too awe-struck anyway so I missed all.
Then they all rose, and in the same fashion as they had entered, they left. Through the same door, with the followers coming lately.
I ended as I began. Alone. But with a look of complete beatification and stupistification on my face. Not a single one of them had noticed that I was there. I had witnessed a secret, of sorts.
I love secrets.
Bet you do too.
Just think. Clear now? Think again.If you devote your life to this, it will follow. It will.
Eight o'clock (to be kind to the receptionist), I checked in. I was told not until 12. Ok. I'll be back then.
My plan on this trip was, at the very least, Somport to Finisterre, or vice versa. Circumstances had made me opt for Vice Versa, I headed for Somport, the former border post high in the Pyrennees (and stunningly beautiful) on the lesser known Camino Aragones, and where I started my second Camino in 2000.
I took photos of Simone going into France then I took photos of Simone coming back into Spain. Beyond these photos are stunning views of the pass between France and Spain - not always visible as I have found out before.
Then I went for an incredibly expensive breakfast at the only restaurant at the border - how much? Oh come on...! - and photographed myself in the window, in the cold, and the wind. Not the best but all for aesthetic atmosphere - Belgians love it (joke!).
After this all the day has to be an anticlimax. But my room turned out to be a bargain with this atmopsphere. Recommended. Certainly would go back.
The room has a great view of the mountains and is recently simply furnished in beige and white. I set up my computer and books: I open the window to the courtyard. I am at home.
Dinner was a bit of a disappointment, in that the ordinary and not very well-cooked fayre relied perhaps too much on the atmosphere. But Nicky, my waiter from Romania, was everything a waiter should be: it could not have been better.
He was Sartre's Pierre. The last time I met him he was in a remote spot in Cuba in 1987.
I met with Claudia: she is a German studying at Simon Fraser Univ. We talked about Europe, Canada, and then we agreed to meet for breakfast in their motorhome next day.
Now, anyone who knows me will know that I was born under the sign of the turtle, and that the motorhome is my totum. This was not just any motorhome. It was Buckingham Palace. But it made me realise how big my modest apartment was, and how I would love something to drive like this but something unimpressive and perhaps with 4-wheel drive so that I could hitch my wagon to any star down whatever beach road I took a fancy to, no matter how small.
Honestly, in the great scheme of things: am I really asking to much of whoever is in charge of Logistics up there? The rest I will take care of by myself...
I am in Sophie's World but making Sophie's Choice: but what do I REALLY want?
Galicia and my pilgrim destiny or... Benahavis and my wonderful view; Malaga and my gorgeous granddaughter? Maybe there are ways to incorporate both? I think - I hope..... I have five years to think about it.