Sunday, 8 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 7

From Moratinos to Viloria de la Rioja, one has to drive from one side of the Meseta to the other. On the highway this is a two hour drive, tops. It took me all day.

Kim and I discover that we have something fundamental in common while I am having breakfast this morning. We both spend our lives suspended between adventurer and hermit. Perhaps that is where the Camino takes on a special function. For Kim at the present time, Moratinos is a special sanctuary and she need not venture out too much.

She is affected by “noisy energy” and retreats sometimes to her studio. She has no immediate plans to move on and is clearly a very necessary and loved part of the life at the Peaceable.

I very much like Patrick. He is, in that lovely English word, a “curmudgeon”. Or that’s how he likes to portray himself. He has exchanged his Fleet Street life for a fly-blown pueblo on the Meseta and he seems very much a happy man. I find myself wanting his respect. I think I have it. Patrick believes that Pascal´s wager promises only hell or nothing; I disagree. Pascal said that you might as well live a good life because if Heaven exists you have a first class ticket. I have always seen this as very optimistic: live a good life; but Patrick thinks that it is a threat. I guess I am such an optimist that I have never considered this side of the equation!

It is time to leave the Peaceable Kingdom and I do so very reluctantly. I want to stay, like Kim, peel potatoes and weed the garden. Lulu the greyhound seems much better today and Patrick is much relieved. I say goodbye to Una the three legged dog (Rebekah made a pilgrimage from Ourense last year in promise of a pledge she made about Una’s necessary operation), Murphy the cat, Tim the Love Dog and all my new friends in Moratinos. I tell Patrick that next time I come back we will engage in more philosophical discussion.

And then I am on my way.

I am trying as much as I can to follow the Camino but this proves to be more difficult than I anticipated. I miss Fromista altogether and, realising it, I double back on a road so little used it has grass growing up through the middle. One thing I am learning on this Camino is to truly listen to inner promptings. I am actually not very good at this yet but improving daily. I spot a little village and an impressive Romanesque church. “Go there,” the voice says and I turn off the road.

The church, of course, is closed. But I become fascinated at the whistling of the swifts as they dart up against the tower. A voice behind me says: “Si usted quiere visitar a la Iglesia, tengo las llaves” (if you want to see the church, I have the keys). I tell her I would be delighted; that I am enchanted by the sound the birds make and their agility.

And so I have the delightful experience of meeting Socorro, which means “help” in Castellano.

Socorro (she pronounces it as Shocorro)is about my age, perhaps a little younger. She shows me the church’s treasures. I ask her about the village. There are 12 people in the winter and likely not that many more in the summer. In the church part of the stone struts has collapsed, paintings are in dire need of protection. The Paroquia has no money, Socorro explains. We discuss the vast wealth of the Catholic church and the money to be spent on the upcoming celebrations in Santiago; but Requena de Campos is slightly off the Camino route. No Jacobeo money will be coming here to the plains of Castilla.

Nevertheless, the church contains a lot of love. Socorro tells me she has written a book. Up to this point I have said nothing about mine. It isn’t appropriate. She says she has written a book about the village life and the people left in it. “I will get you a copy,” she says and disappears. While she is gone I take the opportunity to do something I do in empty churches. I sing. This time a Kyrie from Hadyn. The acoustics are wonderful but I hope I don’t shake down any more “nervios” (struts) from the “boveda” (roof).

When Socorro returns I tell her I too have written a book and I would like to give her a copy. I tell her that it suggests an alternative story to St. James and that, if she is very religious, she might not like it. Then Socorro surprises me: she repeats back to me what I could easily have described as my own attitude to organised religion, and my own belief in God. I am astonished. Here we are, two women “of a certain age”, with completely different places of birth and life histories, who meet in the middle of “nowhere” (forgive me Socorro – it’s only an expression) and we find that we have something most fundamental in common.

We walk back to the car and I pull a copy of Peregrinos de la Herejía from the trunk. We each write a dedication to the other on the flyleaf. I notice she underlines her signature with a flourish. I do the same. Her book is called “Donde la Soledad se viste la Luz”. I prepare to say goodbye but just before I do I turn her book over. There on the back is a quote. It is a line by Rabindranath Tagore.

My favourite poet.

I meet so many lovely people today that I can’t remember all of their names. Amongst them was Agripina the guardian of another lost church to wait for visitors who must seldom come and this at 3 in the afternoon. There was Juan who lives next door to the refugio in Hontanas who insisted on taking all of my bookmarks after the hospitalera (clearly not a pilgrim) refused to take them once she saw the title and shrinking from them as she would from the Devil himself said she did not want “propaganda” in the albergue. Juan and I sat talking for a while about the Fuego de San Anton, a terrible disease that had afflicted the convent in the Middle Ages. I had just visited the convent expecting to see the ruin I passed through in 1999. Now it is a most atmospheric – though admittedly rustic –pilgrim refuge with the Tau as a central theme. I was told it had been that way since 2003 and I am glad it has been put to this use. If I ever were to volunteer as hospitalera, this is the one I would choose. Anyway, Juan turns out to be a sympathetic listener and tells me of the hospitalera “She will be gone tomorrow”.

So I arrived at the Refugio of Acacio da Paz with only half an hour to go before dinner for a much needed shower. (My air conditioning works when it feels like it. Yet another of the delightful quirks of Simone Volvo.) Orietta reminds me sharply that the refuge is run on “Pilgrim Rules” and I have to remind myself that here I am a very special type of guest: a pilgrim.

There is a ring set in the walls above my bed amongst the perhaps 12 others some of which are bunks. It is to tie animals too and I wonder if donkeys are also welcome. Certainly everybody else is.

Acacio, I am to learn, was once a very successful and wealthy business man. But he walked away from it 10 years ago. In an interview he said: “I wanted to find out what it was like to be poor”. He certainly succeeded by spending three years moving from one albergue to another: “I saw 80,000 pilgrims pass through,” he says. It changed his life.

Today, with his Italian partner Orietta, whom he met on the Camino, Acacio runs one of the most atmospheric refugios you will find anywhere. It manages to combine the efficiency of a well-run hospice with the atmosphere you would find at Fernanda’s home in Portugual. Posters of Paolo Coelho – who is a close friend- and artwok by Coelho’s wife Christina Oiticica, decorate the walls along with hundreds of photos including one of Pedro, the man from Barcelona whom I met last year in front of the cathedral and who made the necklace I am wearing. Look at last July and August and you will read a remarkable story of coincidence. Pedro, I am told, is "on his way". I am to hear this again. It becomes like: "Aslan is on the move".

Eight o’clock brings two things. The first is Juan Frisuelos from Toledo. It is he who has arranged this meeting between himself, Acacio and me. I will be talking much more about Juan later. The second is dinner.

There is a special ceremony which takes place at the refugio just before everyone digs in to Orietta’s great cooking. Acacio invites everyone to introduce themselves and tell a little about their reasons for being there that night... in their own language. "Everyone knows what is being said," he says. I realise that this is a truth perhaps only known by pilgrims. Since Spanish/Brazilian seems to be the Lingua Franca, I find myself explaining at length in Castellano. It doesn’t seem to be a simple story. As I am telling it, I realise that I have been talking so much today. I feel the need for quiet.

But I am not going to get it tomorrow. Begoña has lined up lots of newspaper interviews for me, and radio, and…television.

Oh boy! Where is my make up? My public awaits!!!

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