Thursday, 19 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 13

Friday 23rd July: Another couple of days and then I'll be all up to date.
Then I have to leave you all for a while while I go to Canada and another book tour...

If mornings didn´t start so early, I am sure I might learn to enjoy them.

To compensate for my extra day’s stay at the monastery, I had to set my alarm at five for an early start. It was still full dark when I left at six. Having complained about Simone’s arbitrariness regarding the air con, I now found myself with ice cold feet. I was retracing the territory I drove through during the thunderstorms but although it was a green line road, I still didn’t get to see any of it.

But it doesn’t take long in northern Spain for the sun to make his appearance and the “rosy-footed dawn” over Zaragosa was simply splendid. I spent the next few hundred kilometres exhausting my stock of music – all on tape. I have a CD player (and 12 speakers!) but I play my CD’s at home, whereas the tapes rarely get an airing. You know that feeling when the DJ plays your favourite song? Even though you might have it on an old album or whatever at home, you feel like it is a special gift – just for you, and you crank the volume up. This is what I did to Pat Metheny, and Elton John, and even a bit of old folk music, since I now belong officially to the Old Folk.

At one point about 50 kilometres north east of Madrid, just as I was playing Peter Gabriel´s Solisbury Hill “Winds were blowing, time stood still; eagle flew out of the night…”, an eagle did just that. Not the night as it was a good 10:30 by now, but it flew less than a metre away alongside my window, and almost into it for a good five incredulous seconds. This is the second time I have had the same experience.

Whether we have a totem or a “daimon” or angels around our shoulders I don´t know. The older I get (oh dear, there I go again), the more I am prepared to entertain the possibility: perhaps a “good journey guide” as my friend Lance Hurst believes.

One thing I have noticed though is that I seem to attract hawks, falcons and eagles. I find them beautiful and graceful in the extreme. Creatures in a total world of their own where only they exist. For a few moments on this ever-increasingly hot summer morning, this eagle and I shared “a moment”.

Madrid is never easy to negotiate but I found my way around the ring road easily despite the weekend traffic and soon I was approachingToledo.

There are a few cities in the world which from a distance just don´t seem real. Granada is one with the high Sierras behind it, snow trimmed even on a July day. San Francisco is another, especially when it is glimpsing the Pacific out of a summer fog. Toledo is one such: a wedding cake of a city from all sides, ringed by ancient walls and the gentle (here) Tajo river. I was lucky enough to drive right into a parking spot (Goddess Gladys again) and then all I had to do was find the tourist office for directions to the radio station for my first interview of the day.

One thing I like about central Spain is that the Castellano is generally very easy to understand. I was able to respond well to the questions about Priscillian, Diego Gelmirez, the Camino de Santiago and my own retrospective trip. I haven’t the faintest idea what I said (I never do); I only remember myself rambling on as usual, and as the day wore on I was to repeat it several times.

Before the last interview I decided to pay a visit to the cathedral but balked at paying seven euros. Our holy places are little more than museums these days. I was not there for a mass, but neither was I there for a cultural visit: I wanted to experience the grandiloquence of a thousand years of Catholic might. I really should not have been such a skinflint but as I expected to be attending the Mozarabic Mass the next day, I thought I would wait until then.

Instead I fell prey to the posters around town inviting me to an “exhibition” on the Templars. This loudly-touted display consisted of a poorly-done film presentation much limited in scope, and several wall displays with little more than a bunch of propaganda and nonsense about the Order of the Knights of Jerusalem which I already knew. It was almost worth the 4 euros entry fee, however, just to see the mannequins dressed up in what someone thought would fool the public as “Templar Garb”. Shame no-one thought to check whether Templars were required to grow their beards and hair though (they were). The visit took me all of 5 minutes as the heat was enough to produce fainting spells (I wonder if that’s another thing the poor Templars were accused of, or maybe even Priscillian: Feinting Spells…but I digress).

So as the sun was turning the lovely shadows of Toledo a little longer, I met with the TV interviewer and cameraman under the clock in the main square. By this time I was so hot and exhausted that I completely forgot their names and for that I deeply apologise.
It was decided that the riverside would be a good place for the interview (for a short news item actually, though it took much longer to record). I had the sun in my eyes and the river was surprisingly noisy so I had to both squint and shout (Well Shake it Up, Baby Now…). This I handled with my, by now, professional aplomb.

However, what completely unglued me was The Man With The Fish.

Behind me at the river´s edge there was one of those long cylindrical fishing nets. You know the one: you can buy something like it at IKEA to put your kids’ teddies in. As I was speaking, a man came right behind me and pulled it out of the river. He then proceeded to plonk it down a couple of meters away from me and empty out its contents. Out flopped a couple of pretty hefty fish of some variety I didn’t know (I don’t know many!) And flop they did, covering themselves in a layer of river sand and dust. Fish Man ignored them completely while he put his nets back in the river. I tried initially to carry on as if nothing had happened, but as you can imagine, that didn´t last for long.

By the time he came back, I was helpless with giggles (a bit like Felix in Pilgrimage to Heresy) The filming, of course, had to stop as by now my total lack of control had affected both men.

Fish Man, meanwhile, took no notice of any of us, not camera, microphone nor

Instead he simply picked his fish up out of the dirt, opened up a wooden basket, and throwing them into it wiggling away (the fish) he walked off into the sunset! This made me completely lose the plot in two languages and we had to start all over again.

Now you don´t see that every day, do you…?

I had been invited by Juan Frisuelos – who we have met before at the refugio of Acacio and Orietta—to stay at his house for a couple of days. I think I mentioned that I had met Juan through his publication El Correo Camino when I sent in a correction to an article he had picked up from syndication which had stated very wrongly that I never walked with a backpack not more than 5 kilometres a day. Juan is a member of the Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Toledo and he had arranged a special mass, a Mozarabic (Visigothic) Mass to be celebrated on the 24th in the church of a closed order of nuns in his own town, Escalona. I was very excited because the loss of the MOzarabic Mass features as a reason for rebellion in Compostela, as you will already know if you have been following my research here.

I arrived at Juan’s hot and sticky and tired. It was lovely to see Juan again and he wanted us to eat straightway; but Maria, his mother, understood that women have priorities which men don’t always place first. “She wants a shower first,” she said and hustled me off to her bathroom, towel in hand. Bless her.

I was a bit nervous to begin with. After 14 years in Spain I have still only been invited into a Spanish home three times. It is not that the Spanish are anti-social, far from it. It just isn’t the custom here to entertain, other than family, at home. You meet friends away from the house in a bar or restaurant either on the coast (a “chiringuito”) or inland (a “venta”) in Andalucia, or probably in the Plaza in most parts of Spain.

So this was a new experience for me, and the bullfight on the TV didn’t do anything to make me feel many more at home initially. Juan explained that his mother loved the corrida and that in this part of Spain it was a very much ingrained part of the tradition. He even had ancestors who were famous matadors. I decided that it was OK as long as I kept my back to the telly and soon Juan’s friend Maite arrived from Madríd, so I had someone I could talk with. I liked her immediately. Here was someone with the same sense of fun as my own.

Dinner was wonderful Spanish fayre, the mattress was latex, the night was quiet, the fan was welcomed. After my sunrise start and all the excitement, I slept like a baby.

How on earth does Angelina Jolie do it?

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