Wednesday 30 November 2011

It Was a Dark and a Stormy Night…

Off the coast of Camariñas in the month of February 1890, the Costa da Morte lived up to its name.

The British cadet ship The Serpent was on route to Sierra Leone when she ran into the treacherous weather this coast of Galicia is still famous for. There were 179 young men aboard, some on their very first voyage. The rain fell in torrents and a sea mist obliterated the headland upon which stood the Cabo Villan lighthouse, at that time manually operated.

“We was three days out of Plymouth, sailing along at half speed. Most of the lads was below deck. As we began to make our way down to Cape Finisterre, the waves began to swell and crash over the leeward side. That started it: we got pushed nearer and nearer to the coast and the visibility was something rotten. Somehow we got turned around. We was about three miles out from Cape Villan and about a mile only from the land.‘Course, we didn’t know it then. We didn’t know where we was with the fog being so thick, see?”

Upon passing Cabo Trece, The Serpent ran aground on the treacherous Punta Boi..

The ship did not sink immediately; instead, pinned there by the tumultuous waves the sailors climbed unsteadily up on deck battered by a sea which would show them no mercy.

The commanding officer, Harry Leith Ross, a veteran of Her Majesty’s Navy, ordered the lowering of the lifeboats. The launch cannon was fired but the waves were so great that the projectile never reached land. Men were scrambling down into the lifeboats just as an enormous wave hit the ship broadsides and washed both the little craft and the men overboard. At that point the Commander’s voice could only just be heard: “Every man for himself!” he cried.

Some of the men had managed to put on their lifejackets, although only a very few. The Serpent remained wedged. Soon nothing and no-one remained on deck: the crew, the lifeboats and even the deck of the ship had simply been hurled aside by the force of the wall of water. All that remained were the six cannons pointing uselessly at an enemy which shot could not defeat.

First Seaman Edwin Burton here picks up the tale:

“There was only three of us: Gould the lifeboat captain, Luxton and me. Luxton managed to hold on to the rocks. I saw others around him try the same, but all were washed away. Luxton he was a strong one, to be sure, but even he was half-dead by the time he reached the shore. A big swell threw me against the body of Lacane, one of my shipmates. We slammed into each other trying to save ourselves. There was bodies all around us, some with the arms ripped away, with their heads just … gone. It were a gruesome sight.

“Somehow I was able to reach Luxton. We managed to reach some folks in the little parish just up from the shore: Xavina they told me it was called later. I looked back and saw Gould struggling in the water, but with so many out there, there was little we could do for him save get help as quick as we could, like. We got to a fisherman’s cottage and called the alarm. We was exhausted, I can tell you. He was ever such a good man: he gave us food and dry clothing and called others out to help. For most though, it was too late.”

Gould finally made it to land. Overnight, The Serpent broke in two. Forty Eight bodies washed up on the shore. Most were in their lifejackets but even so they were in a terrible shape: mutilated by the wrath of the ocean as it battered their lifeless bodies against the rocks. One of them was the Commander. Over the next few weeks, one hundred and twenty eight bodies finally made it back to land, all in an advanced state of decomposition.

Depending upon whom you talk to, there may have been a sinister motive for the sinking of The Serpent. According to writer Ramón Allegue in his book Mar Tenebroso, the English government needed to transfer a substantial amount of money to its Colonial army in South Africa: this was to secure the release of crews of other boats which had been captured by the enemy. The Serpent had another ship, The Lapwing, along with her as protection.

But wreckers didn’t just exist in the coasts off of Cornwall, a la Daphne du Maurier. Indeed, the Requeros, as they were known, were just as active and dangerous in Spain. Some were even in the pay of the landowners who stood to gain from any cargo washed ashore. It may then have been the Requeros who turned off the lights at Cabo Villan luring The Serpent and all her crew onto the rocks…

The Lapwing sped away for help and came back with another ship, The Sunfly. Between them, they managed to salvage a chest filled with gold coins.

But the second chest was never found.

After the shipwreck, the English Admiralty gave a rifle to the Parish priest of Xavina in gratitude for all his help. A gold clock was given to the Mayor of Camariñas and a barometer to the City Council: you can see the barometer still. It is embedded in a wall in the town’s centre and is signposted. The figurehead has been preserved as well

The bodies were buried close to where they lost their lives: today it is called simply The English Cemetary. It has its own eerie peace there on the headlands, and a chilling lesson when the winds raise the ocean along the Coast of Death. The cemetery is just north of Camariñas around the coast on the way to the fishing port of Camelle, which has its own story to tell, as you shall see later.

Until 1950, when an English ship passed this part of the coast, it shot a salvo as a sign of respect for the death of so many fine young men.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Monte Neme and the Wolfram Mines...

One of the truly compelling things about moving to a new area is discovering all the little walks and passageways, all the roads you’ve never been down, all the little hidden gems to be discovered and uncovered. Even though I won’t be in residence in the Little Fox House for another 6 weeks, I have begun to do a virtual tour of the area ready to take pilgrims out to places they could never have had a chance to see from the bus! Since I am taking a bit of a break from researching The Dove and the Yellow Cross while waiting for St. James’ Rooster to make it onto the shelves (and packing!) I thought maybe you might like to learn a little bit too and so in the next few weeks I am going to explore here some of the places of the History and Mystery of the Coast of Death in Galicia… Once La Casa del Zorrito is up and running I hope to offer some of these tours to those of you who are interested.

One of these places involved the Nazi exploitation of a little town called Carballo.

In the First World War a mineral called wolfram was discovered in the Monte Neme close the area of the Costa da Morte. Wolfram was used to harden steel and not surprisingly became in great demand especially on the eve of WWII as the Germans were rebuilding the navy denied to them by the Treaty of Versailles. Since they foresaw that there would be difficulties obtaining wolfram from Burma and China, their usual sources of supply, the Nazis turned to Franco.

Wolfram is very scarce in Europe. Only areas of Portugal, some parts of Caceres in Extramadura and Galicia had it in any quantity. Hitler appealed to the Generalissimo for the authorisation to exploit the wolfram as compensation for economic and military help during the Spanish Civil War. Two virgin sites were opened up: Casaio and Carballo just south of A Corunna. The Germans then created a company in Vigo called the "Estudios y Explotaciones Mineras de Santa Tecla" and by the end of the Civil War the mines were already producing in great quantities.

The Galician Wolfram had a decisive importance for the Nazis. It was practically their only supply source. The Nazis needed the Galician Wolfram to harden the steel for their armament trades and supposedly neutral Galicia became a meeting place for Nazi agents willing to get the material at any cost. The price of the mineral skyrocketed to amounts far exceeding its pre-war limits and the scramble for the grey gold began in Monte Neme. Needless to say, mining fever brought all varieties of adventurers and speculators. More than 1000 workers needed to be housed in the golden days of wolfram. Some stole the wolfram to sell on the black market but the sentences were grim for those who were discovered!

Money was plentiful and the little city of Carballo grew more and more, doubling its 1500 inhabitants in 1940 to 3000 in only ten years.

Women played just as important a part in the mines as men did. Not only did they do domestic service, but they also moved the carts, separated the ore, and brought water to homes and factories until running water was introduced. They carried firewood and gorse brush to the ovens and driers. No doubt their children also played a part. No laws against child labour in those days: the only moral code was whether your family ate or starved.

The constant dust in the air led to many deaths, most notably by silicosis, the bane of all miners. Stealing and smuggling led to many a body being thrown down a shaft on a moonless night...

The wolfram was used to coat different weapons to ensure a greater strength. The demand from both the Germans and the English made the price go up to 200 pesetas per kilo, a sizable sum in those days. The close of the hostilies of World War II meant the end of this first mining fever, since prices fell as other countries' minerals became available once more. Other new sources were discovered such as a large mine in Bolivia with cheap labour. A second fever did break out in Carballo in the early fifties due to the war of Korea but with the end of that conflict, the whole Galician wolfram lost its importance.

The exploitation of Monte Neme continued on - in fact, for a long time right up to 1980 – but it never regained the splendor of the war times.

Even closer than Carballo for me in Carantona, at the end of the lovely coastal walk known as the Insua route, are the remains of the old Amparo mine located in the so called Campo do Turco. All now is overgrown, of course. The walk itself begins at a picnic area overlooking the Camarinas ria. A little further around and a small promontory opens out into a vista stretching all the way to the pilgrim town of Muxia just across the bay. If there is a perfect spot on earth just to sit and reflect on your Being, this has to be it. The mine workings are signposted in one place and the subsidence can easily be seen in others.

I don’t think I’d want to walk too far off the track though...

Next time: Shipwrecks of the Costa Morte, old and new.

Friday 21 October 2011

Age before beauty ...

A very short one today connected with the post below. This one I found by accident Googling for "Border Collies".

I love the Internet, don't you?

Something remains for me to do or dare
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear
For age is opportunity no less than youth itself,
but in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day


Monday 17 October 2011

Beauty is Truth; Truth Beauty...?

For the past few days I have been thinking about youth and old age. Not, actually, connected with me personally. More that I spent two days at the Marbella Film Festival and three of the films I saw involved a juxtaposition between people when they were younger and now.

One of these films was called Mila’s Journey. It is the story of Mila Jansen, a woman from Amsterdam, who when young had gone with her husband to India there to embark on a 1500 klm trek through the Ladakh area of the Himalayas. The journey was filmed by herself and her husband. Some sort of serious disagreement ensued once the trek was over, however, and was so acrimonious that the couple parted, and so did the footage of the journey with Mila keeping one half and her husband and soon to be ex-husband the other. Mila doesn’t elaborate on the source of the split, but she does hint that he wanted not to return to India, and she most wholeheartedly did.

Fast forward almost 40 years and Mila wonders what happened to him. She finds that he is dying, of cancer, and goes to his bedside.

My first thought on seeing both of them in the 70’s was how incredibly beautiful both were. Hans, her husband even comments on this when he sees his picture. Mila, so many years later, is still a beautiful woman with fine bone structure and laughing eyes. Hans is a skeleton. His once fine and handsome cheekbones reduced to painful protuberances.

Mila wishes her ashes to be scattered at a certain lake high up in the mountains and decides to go back, to try to meet up with some of the people with whom she had walked and, most especially, to locate the guide who had become one of the family. She succeeds in most cases, although many have died. Mila has had a recent heart attack and is far from well physically, but this doesn’t stop her initially; although later she finds that the altitude is too much for her. The crew must go on, and she must return.

The second film I had pause to consider was called Spanish Steps. This film looked at a group of mainly English people (and a few Spaniards who had found themselves transplanted in England) who had become not only aficionados of flamenco, but practitioners of the art themselves, mainly in dance. The footage this time took us back to more or less the same time period as Mila’s Journey; perhaps a little before.

In both cases, the people I saw on screen were more or less the age I was when singing with a band and later a folk duo: running a folk club in the Midlands and spending late nights entertaining many musicians who were to go on to considerable fame, and their friends. The film footage of those times was so dated that I might have been looking at Dageurrotypes!

What struck me about both films (and both were truly excellent) was the realities of aging. Once young, beautiful and energetic, the people in these films were now overweight, lined, slower of movement, more ponderous, and in some ways, more innocent than they had been before, although most of the dancers in the latter film had no problem once the Duende – the spirit of flamenco - entered into the scene.

The last film called Beyond the Noise directed by and featuring Dana Farley, a young filmmaker who had struggled all her life with serious learning problems. Dana had been introduced to Transcendental Meditation by the filmmaker and director, David Lynch and it had helped her enormously to concentrate and overcome her fear of such things as exams and so on. The last third of the film is an interview, initially Dana interviewing Lynch, until then he turns the microphone on his young friend. The resulting conversation is quite an extraordinary one: a sharing of knowledge and most of all camaraderie between the famous man and the young student. The juxtaposition between young and old simply melts away in the light of a shared passion.

“She doesn’t really know who he is,” her almost lookalike mother Karen told me over a beer on the hotel’s terrace. Lynch, of course, is perhaps best known for the series Twin Peaks and the award-winning film The Elephant Man. Dana had met him in a context quite different from the Hollywood glitz in which most people would meet such a person. As a result, while she knows of his fame, it doesn’t seem to have any impact on their interaction. Dana's film follows her own difficulties with growing up dylexic and suffering from attention and processing difficulties and the bullying and self-esteem issues which are endemic to young people with learning "disabilities". As an educator myself, I greatly enjoyed it and for one so young it is a remarkable effort.

So going back to my original thoughts. Why do we have to change physically as we grow old? Do we really have to "wear out"? Do we have to become redundant, leaving the world to a younger and more attractive "race" of people who do not have our wisdom and abilities, nor our own particular beauty? Why do our limbs begin to fail us? ("Bits are falling off," said the outspoken Prince Phillip recently.) Why do our thoughts become so much harder to process? Why sometimes do we make excuses for ourselves citing our age as reasons? Why do we so delight in sending each other those slightly offensive (but “fun”)) “age” cards for our birthdays? Why does “beauty” so often seem to be equated with “youth”? Is it because once we grow beyond our childbearing years (and of course I am speaking more for women here) that “looking beautiful” is no longer seen as so important because we have no need to attract someone with whom to mate? Yet from a man’s point of view, it also seems to put most of us out of the running in the romance stakes… Have you ever watched a man sitting at a café on the street direct his gaze to the butt of a woman in her 50’s? I thought not. And what about the one who said: “Well, with her long hair she looked pretty good from the back, until she turned around”. (From a Facebook post from someone I have as a “Friend”: Not about me as far as I know, but it could have been!)

I watched a film recently in which Angie Dickenson’s words were (mis)taken as a “come on” by a much younger man: “Why would I do that with an old stick like you?” the man says. Under the dirt and trappings of an alcoholic bag lady, Dickenson still looked beautiful, at least to my eyes.

Why when we look at a photo of someone when they were young do we say: “Wow. S/he was so good-looking/pretty then,” when the person in question has gained an inner beauty through self-confidence, risk, knowledge, peace? Can't we acknowledge that instead?

Oddly, I would not want to be any age but the one I am now. Not if it meant that I had to go back and re-live all those years of struggle and doubt. I look at a photo of someone like Vanessa Redgrave, gorgeous still at seventy something and without a trace of hair colouring or botox, and say: “I’d like to look like her” whereas I have no desire to look like, say, Cameron Diaz or Keira Knightley. I don’t mind at all what I see in the mirror.

Furthermore, I know that what I have to give today is of great value. In that sense, I guess I consider myself “expensive” in the way that a younger woman might value her looks. If diamonds littered the beaches, then diamonds would have no value.

What does concern me though is this assumption, often by men closer to my age than either of the stars above, that women “of a certain age” are no longer attractive. Living in Marbella I see so many “trophy wives” (the Marbella Woman is legendary) on the arms of men who quite clearly have left their own wives to start a second family. Often these men are in their 50’s and 60’s, even ‘70’s and well… not what my mother would have called “an oil painting” themselves. Do they think those women are in love with them? What about the wife or wives they have left? I find this very, very sad indeed.

Is there a conclusion to this general rambling and ambling I am taking? I don’t really know. Perhaps I am looking less for a “Fountain of Youth” and more for a shady avenue of trees under which beauty achieves a broader recognition and in which we can walk together without coming into a meadow in which we are to be put out to pasture...

Your comments (young and old!) would be most welcome.

Monday 10 October 2011

Pay It Forward...?

I was trying to come up with a blog post this morning and nothing would come. I made myself a cup of tea (always good for inspiration and sympathy) and had a quick look on Facebook. A mutual Friend had posted a link to another Friend's blog. I have been thinking about it all day.

There is no way I could top this one today, Rebekah, and perhaps not ever.

From Big Fun in a Tiny Pueblo by Rebekah Scott who practices love every day from her home on the Meseta.

Will you Pay It Forward just a little today...?

Link to the original also follows.

"This is going to sound "woo-woo," but what the hell.

I watch the news, and most of it is bad. Soon our money will be worthless, the plans we made to keep us in comfort for the next few years are not so stable and sensible after all. What can I do? How can I get ready? How can I change a system so evil and so entrenched?

I felt scared for a little while. I looked at the wall of negativity on the Web, and I sat down with it to think. I decided to look round the other side of it, at what else could happen. I looked for a glimmer of light.

On the other side of this mess is something simple and beautiful.

I pray for it. I think so much of the answer to the fear and suffering around us, the suffering that is and may be to come, is for everyone to calm down, shut up, and do something Good.

Doing Good doesn´t have to cost anything. It is therapeutic, calming and cleansing. It has tons of historic precedent. You don´t need lessons or workshops or seminars to learn to do it. You don´t even need to believe in anything or anybody. It is as natural as breathing. It is something humans just do, whether or not they call it "prayer" or "works of mercy" or "charity work" or "volunteering" or "standing up for what´s right."

My friend Claire made me think a couple of days ago, when she quoted author Brian Taylor, an Episcopalian Rector:

'Do you feel God most directly when you sing the blues? Then sing the blues and call it prayer. Do you blurt out things that everyone seems to be thinking but no one is saying? Blurt one, and call it the prompting of the Spirit. Do you love to cook and eat? Hold parties and consider it Holy Communion.'

So he expanded on the "prayer" thing a bit. My point is, many of the things we do naturally are, with a simple re-phrase, doing Right. Doing Good. People have stuck labels on all these things and assigned them to lists and Virtues and Gifts of the Spirit, Sacraments, etc. etc., as if they were church property.
Nope. If God is as big as the church people say (s)he is, no one can co-opt goodness. It is from God. It is natural and human and therapeutic. It is not Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, liberal or conservative. You know what it is, because you are good.

Unless you are a sociopath, you know what is right, and you know what needs to be achieved in your house or yard or street or neighborhood. Shut off the goddam TV and/or computer and go do it.

For all our sakes. For God´s sake.

It will put your mind at ease. It will correct wrong, clean up the mess, solve a few problems. Just imagine if everybody stopped snarling, snarking, fighting, and worrying, and just did something good. Every day. Not waiting for the government to do something, not worrying about someone else taking advantage. Just doing it because it needs to be done, and our hands are free, and the needs are clear.

Even if the über-rich win and we all must live under a bridge, if we all are in the habit of doing Good we will make the bridge into a community, where good people do good for one another, without having to make a buck out of it, without having to score points at someone else´s expense. Maybe when we are all collectively screwed out of all our "belongings" we can dump our over-hyped, alienating "Individualism" and learn to take care of each another.

Jesus talked about that. Jesus the homeless brown-skinned revolutionary, the woo-woo Jew. (If I am just a silly dreamer, I am in very good company.)
We cannot stop a financial armageddon. But we can stop being afraid, and go out and be kind to our neighbors. This is the only answer I can find."


Wednesday 5 October 2011

Review of Emilio Estevez' The Way...

My pilgrim daughter, Rebecca, and I went to see the film in Malaga last year. I was expecting to be disappointed. But I wasn't.

First of all, it is balanced. There is acknowledgment of the religious aspects of the Camino, but also the idea of the Way as the destination, as Tom spreads his son's ashes at various waymarks along the path, but also decides - having had a conversation with a helpful gypsy in Burgos - to take the path beyond Compostela to Muxía to scatter the remainder of the ashes in the sea on the rocks in front of La Virgen de la Barca. Having visited Muxía myself this year I was delighted that they chose this place rather than the more commercialised Finisterre.

Secondly, it is powerful. The notion of a Tom who changes gradually from someone who sought to impose his own values and lifestyle on his adventurous son follows the idea that no matter who your are or what you believe in, the Camino WILL change you in one way or the other, as Tom does, "seeing" his son along the Camino and even visualising him pulling the ropes of the Botefumeiro with great satisfaction in the Cathedral.

Finally, it is funny. The scene where the four are practicing baton-twirling with their bordones had me laughing out loud. In fact, the dialogue free part of the movie as they move across the Mesa was my favourite. It helped to encapsulate what happens when individuals with nothing whatsoever in common, come together in commonm circumstances.

I didn't particularly like two of the characters and in this Rebecca and I were in agreement: Sarah the Canadian is much too brash and intrusive from the outset (and who wears skin tight jeans on the Camino?), but perhaps she had to be hard in order to mellow through the journey, as she seems to do. There was nheed to flesh out the character but perhaps little time. The Irish writer selfishly only wants to take the lives of others in order to break out of his writer's block and it is hard to warm to him at any time although even Tom accepts him for what he is later in the movie.
Tom, however is brilliantly portrayed by Martin Sheen whose facial expressions leave extensive dialogue unnecessary. A true award winning performance.

Purists will complain about the non-Latin Compostela and the fact that the replacement was given so easily (can't tell any more though...). No we don't go up the steps and through the Great Door: I believe only the King does that! Both Rebecca and I as long term residents of Spain were offended by the unpleasant "Madame Debril"-type character who has never walked the Camino and who informs Tom that he is in Basque country - Navarra in this case - and not Spain. This was a gratuitous, misleading and unncecessary throw away by Estevez and I could hear people bristle around me here in the cinema in Andalucia. It's a touchy subject. More Catalunians think themselves "not Spanish" than Navarese, or even those from Pais Vasco. Also police are not likely to throw enebriated and noisy pilgrims in the drunk tank (God knows they'd never get any real work done else!).

On a positive note - and there are many - "El Ramon" from Jack Hitt's wonderful book Off the Road was a great little vignette as were others taken from that favourite Camino book of mine (though not where the bird drops from the sky, alas). Read it for yourself; it is still the best.

I am looking forward to the DVD and the chance to see it in English. Certainly it can only have a positive effect on those who are feeling the Camino draw them closer. It's gently done, perhaps too gentle for a general audience, but it has a lasting effect and made me want to get my boots out (yet) again.
More soon on my recent adventures in Galicia and the birth of the Little Fox.

Friday 30 September 2011

I Love Ryanair...

Yes, you read it right. After weeks now of worrying about all the hidden charges I was expecting to pay, my first flight with the dreaded low-cost Irish airline turned out to be the most stress free I have ever taken.
Now, I admit I have never booked with either Virgin or Easy Jet, and maybe if they had flown from Malaga to Santiago I might have chosen one of them instead. But they don't. Previously I have flown with Vuelling (OK) and Monarch (OK) and both were cheap and efficient, but not THIS cheap and efficient. I moved straight from daughter's car to seat 18A window (it's open seating I was told - well, of course it is!) without the slightest increase in my blood pressure and with a strong sense of faith in Sense. The Polish steward (inexplicable and frankly completely impossible accent in both English and Spanish) made all of us laugh with his dramatical salesmanship of perfume, Snickers and "Vodka!" and as we landed there was a starter's trumpet. Everyone in the midsection of the plane spent most of the time in hysterics. I loved it.
Mr. Ryan o' Naire, you got my bizness man.
And if all goes well with The House of the Little Fox that might amount to quite a bit. One and three quarters of an hour from south to north. Sixty euros return(could even have been cheaper as I found out with another booking for later next month though more on that when the time comes). All of this is going to become more and more important as I contemplate the downside of being a country away from my daughter and granddaughter in order to follow that loco pilgrim dream you all will likely know about by now (and if not scroll down and WHERE have you been?).
I decided this time on a rental car. "What colour is it?" I asked, anticipating wondering around in the semi-darkness looking for an Opel Corsa amongst many. The key fob was duly checked: "Lancelot", she said. "That's yellow."
"Yellow? Are you sure?" I said surpressing a giggle. Yellow cars are still rare in Spain as the colour yellow is traditionally associated with bad luck.
"More or less yellow," she confirmed. "Anyway, if you click the key it will sing to you."
Such a delightful possibility could only be spoiled by explanation.
Lanceleot was indeed yellow, or kind of light gold. Rather pretty. Sparkly and yellow inside too. I have an older Corsa at home and when at my daughter's drive their Astra, so this was a piece of Tarta de Santiago.
Easily now negotiating the ring roads around Santiago I found myself singing the theme song from Camelot (since Lancelot was my trusty guide for those of you with short-term memories):
"A law was made a distant moon ago here
July and August cannot be too hot
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot."
I started to laugh so hard that I completely missed a turn and had to go the roundabout once more.
"That's Galicia!!!" I said aloud.
Car and bags parked at the Hostal Alameda - now known as my second home - I ventured out to find pimientos. My usual haunts were closing up as it was by then 11 at night. But oddly, I had had the image of a certain restaurant in my head even before I headed towards the Suso. Skirt the cathedral, down past the Palacio de Rajoy, down the steps...and I walked bang slap into a Quemada, all in delightful and fumerous flame and being nicely encanted by a man from the 15th century.
No, I hadn't walked into a time slip, as Laura does in St. James' Rooster (you'll see). This was a nightly occurance during the Mercado de Medieval I was told. The brujo sang and clapped. He indicated when we should sit and listen and when to leap up and disclaim. My chiperones arrived and my Estrella, and my second. Somewhere later I sent over una jarra of cerveza to the musicians which included a cherub-faced gaitero who might have been chosen to play before the gates of Jerico. With a nod or a sideward glance he brought the others (percussion mostly) in to join him at the right moments. I was captivated, entranced. In love.
"You play better than Hevia! Better than Carlos Nuñez!" I said as I was taking my leave. "Como te llamas?"
The comparison to Galicia´s most famous gaita player went down well.
"Soy Pablo," he said delightedly. "Desde Orense."
"Estoy enamorada," I said as I made my wobbly way down the Rua de San Clemente and "home".
I would NEVER behave this way in Marbella. The opportunity would never present itself. Que lastima: what a shame!
Santiago!!! I'm home...
(P.S. I have missed out the bit where I nearly fell over the drum case.)
Oh and by the way, it's 25 degrees today and not much colder by night. If this is climate change you'll ALL be moving to Galicia.
Pix to follow. Post Script Novemeber 2011: I no longer love Ryanair. The honeymoon is definitely over! And as for Michael O'Leary........

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Competition Winner! (and Banned Books bonus)

In the absence of a post this month (the first time ever), and in honour of Banned Books Week 2011, I am adding a link to a webpage called Banned Books online which is part of a much larger collection of free books. And of course if you have Kindle you must check out the Gutenberg Project for over 36,000 free books.

I am calling an early end date to the competition as in fact I have a clear winner for a couple of weeks now. Congratulations Los Hitos del Camino for correctly identifying (rather publically!) that the marker stone is on the corner of Rua de San Bieito. The other street I was looking for was Rua Travesa and yes, you do know where they are: just a hopskip from Casa Manolo, the best pilgrim restaurant in S de C by far! A copy of Peregrinos de la Herejía winging its way (literally - with me) to Santiago in the next few days.

I have had over 230 really wonderful and encouraging responses to my questionnaire and today I am preparing charts and a report prior to looking into financing arrangements. It's not going to be easy. Mortgages in Spain are no easier to come by than anywhere else, and for a single self-employed woman "of a certain age" damn near impossible. (Note the word "near".) But I have Plans B and C at hand too and hopefully a plethora of gods and goddesses on my side.

Mike Doolley says "Thoughts Become Things": I have a band on my right wrist which reminds me of that 24 hours a day.

"If you build it, they will come..."

More adventures next month.
P.S. I am keeping the Questionnaire open. It will take you only 3 minutes (7 easy anonymous questions). Please do continue to submit because your participation and opinions are TRULY NEEDED:

Here's the survey LINK:

And here's the Banned Books link:

Saturday 27 August 2011

Naughty Stones in Santiago...(and nuns)

First off: a Challenge!

Somewhere in the city of Santiago de Compostela is this stone. Were it in any Indian village we would have to call it a "lingam". Call it what you may, it's pretty obvious what it is supposed to represent. I don't know the history of this stone but hope one day to find out. Presumably it dates back to the days of the dolmens and the castros. If you can tell me either one of the streets it is on the corner (of!), I will happily send you a copy of Pilgrimage to Heresy either in English or Spanish, or, a very limited copy of my new book Being and Paradox which looks at the question of the "rights" of nature and the problems in trying to define them. Send your entries to: by September 30th, 2011 and don't forget to say which book you would prefer.

As usual, I walked the equivalent of a day's hike on the Camino while in Santiago. It is such a walker's city and I always use any excuse I can to pass through the Obradoiro Square and also the cathedral itself. This frequently sends me well out of my way. I never feel at all guilty using this "short cut" as to me it binds the "hub" of the basilica into my meanderings both purposeful and not.

This time there were certain little things I intended to buy. I wanted to add to the growing collection of what I consider "amulets" on my silver necklace. I began with my first Holy Year medallion of 1999, then added a Cruz de Caravaca when I visited the shrine there (one day I want to learn a lot more about that story too). The year 2009 saw me add a shell for my Camino Portuguese, and last year yet another Holy Year medallion. This year, I was not sure what I wanted so set out to find out. Had to be silver; had to be less than 10 euros. I found a little Tau.

Now of course, anyone else would think that I simply added a T for Tracy, and that is also true. But I have always been attracted to the Tau and decided it would make a nice addition to my collection. I don't wear the necklace all the time but it always goes on - almost automatically - when I head for the Camino. I don't want to overdo the additions either (my daughter says: "Mom, you are looking very Spanish and very Catholic").

Not at all. It is very suitable for a Happy Heretic. The Tau, according to Wikipedia is: a symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek Attis, and their forerunner Tammuz, the Sumerian solar God, the consort of the Goddess Ishtar.

Tammuz, like Christ, was associated with fishing and shepherding. The Tau cross takes the shape of the letter of his name, and is one of the oldest letters known. A solar god, the death and resurrection of Tammuz were celebrated every summer

I like to think that the Camino also celebrates "death and resurrection" and so I am happy with my little present to me.

The next thing I wanted to hunt down was a suitable present for Mariana, the daughter of my friend Fernanda who opens her home - and her heart - to hundreds of pilgrims on the Camino Portuguese every year. Mariana always puts on Abba and Celine Dion and dances like a professional. She is 11. I feel that I have been watching her grow up every year I have gone back there.

I stopped into a gift shop with the intention of buying a "hada": a Galician fairy. Mariana always reminds me of a sprite with her mother's pixy face. I found the perfect one, but then, remembering her age, and that what is symbolic to a grown-up may seem childish to a pre-teen, I had misgivings.

As luck would have it, behind the counter and helping her mum was a girl about Mariana's age.

"What do you think?" I asked as she was wrapping the fairy. "Would a girl your age like this?"

"No," came the definitive answer. "Maybe a pulsera (a bracelet), or a CD?"

I left the shop having learned, yet again, that no matter how in touch you might think you are with today's kids, you are far from the mark.

I found the pulsera ... and the CD ...

Guess which she liked the best out of the three presents?

Yep. The hada!

Next stop for shopping meant going to Encontros Bookshop on the Rua do Castro to see how their stocks were for Pilgrimage to Heresy in English. They have sort of an "exclusive" mostly because I hate going into bookshops to sell my books (and everywhere has the Spanish version Peregrinos de la Herejía including El Corte Inglés and FNAC). I also find it hard to collect my "profits" so stick with Encontros (and Bookworld España in the Costa del Sol and Madrid).

Anyway, they had only one copy left and so I took another bunch.

As I was leaving, I noticed a book in the window. It was called: Compostela: Una Historia Entrentenida. It was a history of the city, beautifully illustrated with maps and fanciful pictures of all the things I have been writing about in St. James' Rooster.

All the money I had just received was then duly handed back ...

It IS a lovely book though.

I have been trying to track down the original altar from the cathedral for some time. I had read (very obscurely - can you read obscurely?) that it was in the Museo de Arte Sacro, a little visited museum attached to the Convent of San Paio which is that massive building with the frighteningly small (and high) windows, all with their own iron grill, on the side of the cathedral where the Puerta Sacra is. (That sentence is too long!)

I paid my couple of euros and asked. "Yes, we have it," the young girl said. She was reading a daily prayer book so I assumed she must be a novice perhaps... She was very young? "It's over there." An older nun with a sweet face appeared. She was delighted that I wanted to see the altar. "It was carried on the boat that brought Santiago to Galicia," she kindly informed me.

Over there turned out to be just around the corner. "But you can't take photographs. It is forbidden!" The novice pointed to a sign with an old fashioned camera and a big X through it.

"But I wouldn't use a flash," I offered. I should really know by now that Rules are Rules.

"No. No cameras. No fotos."

I put my little Canon back in my purse.

The original altar was rejected by Diego Gelmirez as not grand enough. The monks, who actually had had the custody of the shrine for 200 years, were not pleased. They took it back and here it still is, almost 1200 years after it was first installed in the first basilica. There was writing on it which seemed to say that the original inscription had been erased in the 16th century (I think). I wrote down everything and I haven't seen my notes (or my sketch) since!!!

What intrigued me was that the altar stone appeared like a tray. It had raised edges all around. Now I may be wrong about this (if I am I hope you will let me know), but it is my understanding that altar stones were standardised very early on in Christian history and stones such as these were banned because they were like those used for pagan sacrifice. I was also desperate to look around the back to see how the flat stone was supported by the (separate and later dated) base.

Yes, being led into temptation, I did it again, I put one leg over the rope in order to sketch what I could see.

The young nun was on me like a ton of bricks.

"¡Usted no se puede hacer esto!"I explained I was a writer (I didn't elaborate. People in convents are a bit funny about happy heretics)and researcher and this stone was muy importante en la historia de la catedral y ...and I just wanted to ...

Nope. She wouldn't budge. Further more, I had shrunk to approximately 30 inches tall; smaller than the altar.

So, I can assure you that the original altar does exist, that it has had the original inscription removed, that it is said to be of the first century, and that it has a support dated later. I can't prove it though 'cos I've lost my notes.

And "¡No fotos!"*

Tomorrow, on foot to Muxia...NOT. The best laid plans, even of pilgrims, have a habit of not quite happening the way they are supposed to.
P.S. PLEASE don't forget: I need your help! It will take you three minutes to fill my little 7 question questionnaire on the viability and the need for a pilgrims "refuge" for after the Camino: a place to get ready for "re-entry". I really do need YOU to add your voice. It is all anonymous.

Here's the LINK:

*P.P.S. There is a picture of the altar on Google images...(Not me!)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Lead Us Not Into Temptation...

And forgive us our trespasses...

This one is very personal.

I didn't mean to gatecrash their mass! I got up early to go to the cathedral. It is lovely first thing in the morning. There are no crowds and you can commune with your own sense of the divine without feeling either lost, or conspicuous. You can trace your fingers over the builder's marks and no-one asks you if this is some sort of a ritual. I went "down in the basement" as I call the crypt to have a quick word with Priscillian: just to let him know that I was back. I heard them singing you see. Singing very sweetly in German. It was a private mass, behind the tomb in a place I longed to visit. I didn't take myself there; my feet did.

Once there and realising that I was truly intruding, I could hardly turn tail and run. So I stayed. As I listened to the mass in German I began to think of the things I was grateful for: the opportunity to be so close to these people who were in some way "related" to me. I thought of being a grandmother and how much joy that brings me - the child of my child - and then suddenly remembered that my paternal grandmother, "Oma", was a Catholic from the Black Forest. I never really knew her at all. In fact, I don't remember liking her very much. I think somehow I knew that she wanted to steal my father and take him back to Germany. I spoke no German, although her English was good. But I didn't trust her and that was that.

Neither of us made much attempt to bridge this gap.

My father did not go back to Germany. At least not then. That came much later. In fact he died there. I didn't know him either and I have written about this at length in another book of mine entitled The Índalo Quest, not now in print.

So while I was thinking about my granny and my father, something very embarrassing happened: I began to cry; quietly, but very visibly and in that small space and with that small group, very noticeably.

To make matters worse was something I hadn't even considered: when it came time to take the sacrament, I hoped that I would be passed over, but I was not. I did not know then that one may cross one's hands over one's chest and just receive the blessing. I was not baptised. At all! I had to make a decision: run? explain? (no chance of that!), or accept that this was perfectly OK, Catholic or not. I had made myself part of the group's worship and no-one would mind if I continued to participate.

I should not have done it, of course. I do not accept the transubstatiation. But somehow, it didn't seem to matter. I felt a wave of love from somewhere in that normally inaccessible chapel, the one I was really trespassing in. As soon as the mass was over, I left immediately. I went to sit on the front row of the south transcept and made myself small.

And then the most amazing thing happened...

A woman from the group approached me. She seemed to be seeking me out. She said no words, but she came up to me and gave me the most wonderful hug I have ever had in my life. It was completely maternal even though she was probably a little younger than me. I started to cry again and, learning she spoke English, said I was sorry to have barged in to what was clearly a private service. I told her about my thoughts: about my German half that I had never acknowledged and the father and grandmother I had never known.

She kept on hugging me.

Finally she said: "You know that God is with you?"

I said that Yes, I did. I really did. I knew he was.

"Behold I stand at the door and knock..."

Someone once said to me: you know the handle is on the inside?

Words and times to ponder.

The woman's name was "Garda": a guardian angel perhaps...?

Please don't forget to fill out my "Post-Camino Refuge" Questionnaire. Go down two posts for the link. Help me get to 200 responses by Sunday. It's just 7 questions and 3 minutes but it's worth a million to me. Thanks, Tracy

Sunday 21 August 2011

Post Camino Reflections ...

I realise that what with all the excitement ´n all, I haven't followed through with my promise to tell all about my non-Camino. I shall begin to put this right every day this coming week (ojalá). But please don't forget the Post Camino Questionnaire below...

Having driven as much of the Camino as I have walked (and the Ruta de la Plata many times by now) I tend to think of myself as a Motorperegrina as much as a walking pilgrim. For two years now, I have had very good intentions of walking from Santiago to Finisterre and Muxia. Last year, two cracked ribs kept me from doing that. I drove it instead, and another 2,500 klms to boot (no pun intended). This year it was stitches on my leg, there post-removal of a nasty basal cell carcinoma which now, thankfully, is history!

I went to the hospital in Santiago for the 10 stitches to be removed. It was a day earlier than suggested on my little piece of paper from the surgeon in Málaga.
"Mujer! Estás loca?" was the reponse from the doctor when I told him I was planning a little 230 kilometer walk. This was agreed by all in both Castellano and Gallego. "Crazy pilgrims!"

Anyway, it was not the doctor but the leg that decided it in the end. Each step down on the right leg felt like it was pulling at my muscle (and with inside soluble stitches, it probably was!).

Once again, the Motorperegrina made her way to Muxía. There to fall in love as you all know by now.

But I am getting well ahead of myself.

One of my main reasons for going north this year (apart from that Homing-Pilgrim instinct) was to appear at the II Encuentro de Peregrinos in Villafranca del Bierzo. The conference is to take place every year between the Holy Year of 2010 and the next in 2021. Of my own appearance I shall say very little other than ask you to imagine being in a tunnel where you know there is an end and you know where it is, but that it seems like forever until you get there, and nobody else knows it is there at all! This is what it was like reading Peregrinos de la Herejia, the Prologue of five pages, to a group of completely Spanish-speaking pilgrims.

Having read through it in my head I thought that it would be easy: 20 minutes tops...? But reading out loud in a language that - even if you do quite well in it conversationally - is not your own is a truly horrific experience. It was just like being back in third grade when you haven't quite got those long and short vowels sorted out. Truly. I realised that I was not reading my words, but those of the translator Lorenzo Luengo. Lorenzo did a wonderful and eloquent job, but some of the words just would not come out properly and that was that. I found myself actually apologising as the back row began to talk and then the row in front of them (a bit like a Spanish church service actually).

It ended. Finally. I felt just mortified. As I left, Jesus Jato, that great legend of the Camino and hospitalero of Ave Fenix, took my hand and gave me a knowing smile.

They say he's a brujo. A witch. He knew just how I felt...

Despite the general humiliation, I did enjoy myself greatly. The response was good (and I sold a few books which at least helped me pay for some of my expenses). The best part was meeting Sienna Reynaga who was there on behalf of Lydia Smith. Lydia, as you may know, is the director of The Camino Documentary, a beautifully put together glimpse into the world of pilgrims and pilgrimage. Lydia is strapped for cash (aren't we all) and despite the promotion she has received from Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen (The Way), she still hasn't been able to finish it. Another casualty of a dream postponed for lack of (financial) faith. Click on the link to see the trailer, and if you think you can make a donation you are helping Lydia to share the Camino with many more people than just those who are able to traverse it.

Sienna and I hit it off immediately. She has decided to make her home in La Coruña having moved there recently from California. Sienna is a dynamo. In many ways she is everything I am not: genuinely open to everybody whereas I am more reserved sometimes; thriving on public relations where I would rather have dental surgery than do a book signing (last year, Sue Kenney, bless her, took the bull by the horns in one main Santiago bookshop, and virtually dragged people to where I was signing!) Sienna mentioned she needed a ride back to Santiago. "I'm going that way tomorrow," I piped up. That "casualidiad" (coincidence) seems to be morphing into a really good friendship.

As luck (on her part; really good timing on mine) would have it, we arrived just in time for the fireworks and light and sound presentation in front of the cathedral on the 24th of July. For me this was my third time; for Sienna the first. I say "in good time". In actual fact we had to wait for almost four hours. I brought the El Gallo de Santiago manuscript to do a final proofread. Sienna brought her laptop.

Within minutes, thanks to the Golden Girl, we knew everybody around us: Italians, Germans, Spanish, one very charming and garrulous New Yorker, and an annoying French group who came and stood immediately in front of us blocking our view. Everybody else was seated. They wanted to stand (for 4hours?) so that they could videotape it. "It'll be on YouTube in a few days," I said, "Far better than you can do it." "French! Speak French!" said one of the women glowering at me for living. I have a feeling I may have responded rather rudely (in French).

The display was, as always, crafted entirely for me. I wonder how the Xunta knows just what I want each year? This year it was a history of the building of the cathedral, starting with the leafy and pagan Celtic dolmens and a dragon which destroys them, rain, and the Stone Boat bringing St. James. The first basilica. The second. Almanzor and the burning of the Romanesque cathedral; the Portico (you've never seen nothin' til you've seen the cathedral towers spin round on clockwork cogs! Simply magic). In short, everything I have written about in The Camino Chronicles, especially my upcoming St. James' Rooster!

Finally, the doors open and we are transported into the cathedral to pay our respects to the golden St. James on his pedestal. (We all know who I believe is down in the basement...) A gigantic Botefumeiro swings out into the Plaza de Obradoiro to the delighted squeals of the childlike spectators.

And then the fireworks begin!

But don't expect me to really convey what it was like being there, go instead to:

This a pretty good version. Not as good as being there (it was all three dimensional. Brilliant) Watch it in the dark on full screen! And don't worry if the begining is a bit difficult to see. Just you wait ...!

Next time, I'll take you on a walking tour of Santiago. Oh, and I've got a mystery for you! If you can figure it out, I'll send you a copy of either Pilgrimage to Heresy (or Peregrinos) or my new, very limited edition, Being and Paradox, which otherwise, so far, is only available on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.

Buen Camino...

Oh, and PLEASE, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE ... don't forget to fill out my Post Camino Questionnaire (see below). A great start and lots of very encouraging reponses. But things have slowed down. I want to try to get to 200 responses. It has only 7 questions and will take you 3 minutes, and I REALLY DO NEED YOUR OPINIONS

Tuesday 16 August 2011

HELP WANTED! Post Camino Questionnaire

Dear Blogsters and Pilgrims all:

It's official! I am trying to buy a little house in Galicia near Muxía. It is everyone's dream of a Gallego house: stone and wood and surrounded by meadows, mountains and with the most beautiful beaches ever just a 3 klm walk away. It's not big, but there is room for 4 or 5 pilgrims plus me.

My dream for years now has been to work with pilgrims after they have completed their Camino. I have always thought of a Post Camino Centre, perhaps in Santiago de Compostela but that has become impossible: real estate in S de C is prohibitively expensive, still.

Post Camino Syndrome is a very real condition. Many find it hard to re-integrate their experiences of friendship and openness and simplicity into their lives. Camino Blues ensues (sic).

As a psychotherapist/counsellor and hypnosis practitioner, I have long wondered how I could be of any service. I hope to open a Post Camino Refuge, a.k.a. my home, to pilgrims who want to spend between 2 and 5 days simply reflecting, writing, reading, resting or walking some more, swimming, working (a job jar is planned: work is therapy!)

For this reason and to gauge reactions I have created this little questionnaire. It will only take you 3 minutes or so to complete as there are only 9 pertinent questions. There is a short (very important) "Comments" space at the end. At the moment it is only in English but I am working on a Spanish one too.

Do please be a sweetie and fill it out. My moving is not contingent on this as I shall have to support myself on my teaching and writing as I have always done (I don't think I can do hypnosis in Galego). The more interest I can show, the better chance I have of pulling this off...

Pretty please..?

Here's the link. If it doesn't work, or you get redirected to their main site, please let me know at

Generosity and Gratitude Part 2...

Pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago often experience unexpected acts of kindness along the way. A hand profers an apple, a barra de pan, a cupful of water, a place to sit in the shade or out of a torrential downpour. Often these gestures are accompanied by "Un abrazo por el Apostol": A hug for the saint. On occasion something fortuitous happens, seemingly for no reason. Synchronicity? Who knows?

St. James.

But these things are not limited to while one is actually walking the Camino. Pilgrims seem to trail some sort of air of, dare I say, sanctity? Joy. Pilgrims cut the path that many others would love to follow but do not, or cannot. They take wishes, prayers, blessings with them, often unknowingly.

Just this past trip, these four things happened:

1/ I was admiring a game about Galicia in the 26th of July cafe in Santiago(opposite the new Police Staion - great breakfasts). I asked where I could buy one and the response was disappointing. It seemed it had been the result of a promotion by a local radio station some years ago. "But you can have it if you really like it," Noria said.

2/ My hosts at the Hostal Alameda (rua San Clemente - really recommended and very central) looked after my other luggage when I went to Muxia. Upon my return, Rosa gave me a beautiful book of old photos of Compostela. "It is Antonio´s favourite," she said. "He wants you to have it." Inside where these words:

Que esta visión al pasado sea una inspiracion para tu futuro

I doubt I need to translate but it means:
That this vision of the past will be an inspiration for your future.

It was signed by Antonio, Rosa, and Lia their granddaughter whom I have watched grow up year by year.

3/ Seeing my interest in having a go at reading Rosalio del Castro's poems in Galego, the bookseller at the stall by the park gave me a little book about colours for children in Galego. "For your grandaughter," she said.

4/ My car's electrics were playing up most of the time. In Muxia it seemed to get worse. I asked the lady cleaning my room for a local garage. I figured it was something small like a fuse (it was) "Nothing in Muxia," she said, "but if it won't start tomorrow, you can take my car and go to the next town". I had met her just 5 minutes earlier!!!

And then there is Portugal. Five times in the past years I have found myself looking for something I can't find, and five times someone has either walked with me or jumped in the car or their motorcycle and said "Follow me!"Whenever I am in north Portugal I stay at the house of Fernanda Gomez Rodriguez and her husband Jacinto and their daughter Mariana. Fernanda treats every pilgrim who comes up her steps, weary and thirsty, as though they are the prodigal son, or daughter. Such love and kindness I have never ever seen elsewhere, though there are some which come very close along the Way.

Today in the mail I got a packet. I did not recognise the address. Three weeks ago I was presenting my books Pilgrimage to Heresy and the new book St. James' Rooster (Peregrinos de la Herejia y El Gallo de Santiago) at the II Encuentro Mundial de Peregrinos in Villafranca del Bierzo. I got talking with Jacob from Barcelona, or near it. "The Holy Grail was in Montserrat," he told me. I said that I thought this was actually a later Catholic myth designed to cover up that it might have been in Montsegur. He was insistent. I demurred, and then said how I had been looking at every flea market and yard sale for years for a figure of the Black Virgin of Montserrat. "I'll send one to you," he said.

Well, I had truly forgotten about this til she stepped out of her wrappers in all her Black is Beautifulness. She is in front of me as I write. That search, at least, is over.

Thank you, Jacob. So much.

I wonder about these phenomena. Do we radiate something angelic while on or close to the Camino which makes others WANT to help us? Draws them to our innocence? Are we in some sort of state of grace that others can feel our weariness and our joy?

I don't know. But I sure do like it!


Monday 15 August 2011

Hither and Yon...

That is where your blogger has been for the last three weeks. Here and there, there and back again: a wannabe Pilgrim’s Tale. Wanna be because despite all my good intentions, the walking was restricted to Santiago and the lovely seaside town of Muxia. Stick with me over the next week or so and I'll tell you why...

I drove overnight to the north along the Ruta de La Plata, the “Silver Route”. Silver because the Romans used it to transport that metal, mined in the north, to the south. Silver, iron, gold even: they are still to be found in the hills around Pontferrada but very little is mined there now.

I had intended to overnight in Merida but passed it just as I was enjoying the drive (about four hours from home in Marbella). So I carried on to Santander because I wanted to see the cathedral illuminated. Passed it, or it passed me. I was in a Zen trance by then (I’ll bet you never realised that when you are driving long distances you are in a state of hypnosis). Too late to stop and look for a hotel by now…

Zamora, Benavente, Leon, Sahagun. Finally at 3:00 in the morning, having driven 1,100 klms straight through in 12 hours, I pulled my car up beside Rebekah Scott’s front wall, let the passenger seat all the way down, put my backpack in the footwell, pulled out my sleeping bag and …….zzzzzzzzzzzz

The next day, having been duly breakfasted (and taking a short afternoon nap in the silence of The Peaceable Kingdom ,broken only by the trill of the canary), I drove Rebekah and her American friend, Kathy (who had just arrived after an exhausting trip from San Francisco) up to Cantabria.

“Doesn’t Kathy want to rest?” I asked, innocently.
Both women looked at me as if I were Raggedy Ann. O.K. Potes and Liebana, here we come.

The drive through the Picos is quite spectacular: mountain goat country and a few wolves to keep the goats on their horny toes. Vertiginous heights and babbling brooks and a few old monasteries to keep the history lover happy. (It's so deserted up there that any lovers would be happy!) Reb and Kathy were to walk back along the Camino Vadiniense, an almost lost trail named after a native people who once inhabited that area. Rebekah is writing the Pilgrim Guide for the Confraternity of St. James.

We had visited the monastery of Beatus of Liebana - who, if you read earlier posts, you will realise is a bit of an arch-enemy of mine - (from a Priscillianist point of view you understand: I am sure Beatus meant well as he tried to promote the cult of James. No doubt he was a lovely man). I had visited it once before. Rebekah and Kathy went inside to touch the fragment of the True Cross the monks claim to hold. I went outside and splashed my face in the Pagan fuente. We heretics do that sort of thing.

Then it was top of the mountain, photos taken, and off they went!
I believe the words “Lucky buggers” escaped my lips as I watched them go.
Photo by Rebekah Scott/Kathy Gower

Saturday 30 July 2011

Love at Sixth Sight...

There are no longer any horses at Cabo Touriñan, the man with the twin dogs told me this morning. He spoke in a toothless Gallego but I knew what he said somehow. Someone got too close and was kicked and denounced the owner to the police (at least I think that's what he said, but it could have been because the horses were hobbled: something about the legs or ankles anyway); so one thing I had hoped to find again is no more. There is nothing at Cabo Touriñan now except the smell of the soft turf and the salt and the wind on your skin. Nothing except the lighthouse, and the sapphire waves below. Not even gulls.

As for me, I am in love. With Galicia. Deeply, blissfully, joyously, perhaps hopelessly in love. This should come as no surprise either to me or anybody who knows me as every time I have been here (five, six. I don't remember now) I have furthered our relationship. I love the countryside, the fields of corn and pimientos, the woods, the barren wild lands; I love the sea, the long spread of white sandy beaches and the vertiginous heights of the lighthouses on the Costa Da Morte. I love the food, the wine. I love the wild flowing rivers and the slow sedatious ones closing to the sea. I love the music and the dancers in their native costumes so far removed from the idea of "Spain" that most of us have with its flamenco and castanets. None of that here. I love the granite; I love the rich loam which would grow anything and the blue clad ladies who tend their grelos and potatoes. I love the language, Gallego, which each time sounds more familiar. Sometimes I understand it even better than I do "Andalus". I love the people and the fact that when driving you never have Mr. Big with his BMW up your tailpipe, flashing his lights and beeping his horn. People actually stop to let you pass, and if you do this for others, they wave to thank you!

This is unheard of in Malaga, believe me!

This morning I walked the 10 stepping stones across the Rio Castro without slipping or falling in or dropping my camera, though the last part was iffy. I was like the Little Fox in the 64th hexagram of the I Ching: determined to keep my tail above water (so to speak). This year there is a bridge and you no longer have to use the stones. Of course, pilgrims being the purists they are, continue to use the stones although I have been told that in winter this is almost impossible. This makes me wonder what this last part of the Camino - from Finisterre to Muxía or vice versa - would be like to walk in December or January. Even today while trying to follow it as much as I could in the car, I saw no-one.

Yesterday I visited a shrine to Maria Magdalena. Her feast day was last week and it was garlanded with white scarves and flowers and candles. There was no statue only an ancient and probably pagan spring now covered over with a granite roof and gathering in a moss lined pool. I had brought a stone (two actually) from the Cruz de Hierro in the Maragateria near Leon. I wrote two words on it in red marker: one in English and the other in Spanish. The same word. La Magdalena will know what to do with them. The other stone contained more words. I left it on a pilgrim marker by the stepping stones.

Tomorrow I will watch the marisqueros bring the Virgin de la Barxa out of the sea. Perhaps I will send her a reminder too.

All my wishes are now out there for the Universe to consider. Perhaps I am being selfish: but you see, I want it ALL.

More soon, and a photo of the horses at Cabo Touriñan which are no longer...

Tuesday 26 July 2011

A Picture...

...needs no thousand words.

At the end of January of this year I posted about what seemed to me to be Bliss, or "A State of Grace". I have come to understand it more as "Joy". I have posted yesterday about "joy" and been thinking a lot about it in the past few days. Not knowing this, my daughter sent me this as one of a recent series of photos of my granddaughter, Daniela, aged just 14 months. In it I immediately recognised what I had seen in that wonderful still from the second Fantasia film. (Do see January 29th blog for picture and comment: You will see what I mean.)

If you have ever wondered what the wind looks like ... here it is.

Zoom in, and be prepared to lose your heart.

More soon.

Monday 25 July 2011

"Generosity and Gratitude turn good into great"

This was my Note from the Universe today, the Day of St. James, and my first full day in Santiago. I went to the Pilgrim’s Mass this morning and sat very scrunched up on the tiniest piece of floor (impossible to rise to join the prayers but that's OK with me and my god) and this thought kept coming back to me: don’t ask for what you don’t have, and/or think you might want. Instead, thank whatever forces have brought you to this place in this time for all of the wonderful things you DO have: all the great gifts you have been given. With the release of this thought, I found myself absolutely deluged with all the blessings I have in my life and the feeling was just wonderful. So thank you to “The Universe” (and Mike Dooley) for reminding me.

The fireworks last night in front of the cathedral were quite spectacular as fireworks in general are expected to be, but this time I think even they were superceded by the sound and light presentation which was projected directly onto the Cathedral and its flanking buildings. Since this is the 800th anniversary of the cathedral’s consecration (NOT completion. I have had to put a few people straight on this today) the theme was the history of the Cathedral of Santiago from the time of the “translatio” by sea, the discover y (“inventio”) of the “Apostle’s” body, through the razing of the basilica by Almanzor, the rebuilding, the time of Diego Gelmirez, the Portico de Gloria, the Botefumeiro. We were invited into the nave as the three dimensional projection opened up and swallowed us, the twenty thousand. It was, in short, a brilliant piece of artwork.

Perhaps what I liked most of all was at the very beginning of the presentation: The facade covered in ivy as a red dragon appeared and swirled, devouring the foliage as it did so. Whether the makers of the film were aware of the significance of the Dragon in pagan times, the Celtic reference, I don’t really know. Certainly nothing about it was mentioned in the Galician press today. There is a repeat performance tonight and every night until the 31st when the fuegos artificiales are to be repeated. I am going to go back for more tonight. I am a real sucker for such spectacle, especially where history is concerned.

And, to think that I have written about all of this: in Pilgrimage to Heresy and in St. James’ Rooster ... and here on this blog, of course!

Going back to the thought of gratitude, so much talk today has been of death: Amy Winehouse, and the terrible, terrible tragedy of Norway. The grief of the parents and friends of those children I can not even begin to imagine.

Yet, here in Santiago I have been immersed in LIFE! I find it impossible to get this silly grin off my face whether I am suddenly caught up in a Marxist-Leninist demonstration (not intentionally may I add) or eating so many pimientos de Padron that I swear my skin is taking on a decidedly greenish tinge. I have in years past been to several sites of pilgrimage (which is an odd thing for a Happy Heretic to admit, I suppose). Jerusalem is an exception, and of course there are many others too. But I would imagine in Jerusalem as a pilgrim there would be too much sanctity for me, just as in Lourdes (though I do love the candle-lighters by the Grotto) there is too much near death and disease and despair only assuaged by blind faith. There is Age: one becomes elderly in Lourdes, fragile and mortal. This is not for me. Fatima is just strange. Rome is too Catholic, too much adoration of a man whose decisions and pronouncements and thoughts can never be wrong.

But Santiago is a place of intense JOY. It is youthful, regardless of the age of those who enter it and how they do so: Pilgrims with a sense of purpose they have trailed with them for 100, 200, 500, 1500 kilometers; Peregrinos who may not have known why they had set out or what they were seeking but along the way have found their priorities changed once and for all. And here in Compostela is the pay off. Yippee and throw that old donkey hat in the air. I know. I’ve done it: cried and cried at the sight of that beautiful, almost surreal Baroque front, and been hushed into silence by the builders’ marks on the stones, pillars, and archways. Whomever is buried in the Crypt, Santiago Cathedral simply hums with life and so does its city.

And now, if you don’t mind I am going back for a little more.

More in a few days when I begin my walk to Muxia and the ends of the earth. (Ojala!)
Photo by Francesco di Gregorio, a lovely German from Frankfurt with a very un-German name! I am sure he won't mind my sharing this here...

Thursday 21 July 2011

Wise Words from Other Sources...

This one comes without Pix 'cos I am on someone else's computer and I don't do that sort of thing. Will find perfect picture when I get home... (See: Promises Kept!)

I am currently on the Camino, helping out a bit at the wonderful location of the Peaceable Kingdom, a private home near Sahagun (Leon) run by Rebekah Scott and her husband Patrick O´Gara who welcome pilgrims year round. Paddy has given me this book to read: The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God by someone with the delightful name of Jonathan Sumption. In it, I have found the following. I could, I suppose, paraphrase it, but I would rather make risotto and sit out in the sun with the dogs; so hoping Mr. Sumption will truly understand: that I write what I have read in its entrirety. It's a really good book by the way. Highly recommended...

"Particularly interesting is the hand of Cluny in composing the elaborate promotional literature put out by the church of Santiago. Most of it is contained in the Liber Sancti Jacobi, an exquisitely produced manuscript in the cathedral library (alas, no more.Ed.)
The Liber consists of five quite separate books bearing on the pilgrimage to St. James, proclaiming at the beginning and end that it was written for the benefit of the Abbot of Cluny by Pope Calixtinus II. The attribution is fictitious for there are parts which could not have been written for the abbot of Cluny by any Cluniac. But the second book which consists of the miracles of St.James, bears strongly the imprint of Cluny. Most of the miracles (contained therein) happened to the inhabitants of Burgundy, the Viennois or the Lyonais, and some happened within a few miles of the Abbey. A few are attributed to a canon of Besancon, while another was related by an abbot of Vezelay. Three miraculous stories which St. Anselm told to Hugh (Abbot of Cluny),during a prolonged visit to Cluny in 1104 (i.e. at the beginning of Diego Gelmnirez' bishopric. Ed.)all appear with minor alterations in the Miracles of St.James. These miracles were Cluny's greatest contributions to the Pilgrimage of St.James. They were plagiarised by every collector of marvellous stories, copied out in a great number of manuscripts, from the twelfth century to the sixteenth, set forward in sculpture and stained glass throughout Europe. Arnoldo de Monte a monk of Ripoll (which,the Santiago manuscript being missing, now has the oldest copy of the Codex: ed) justly remarked that it was these miracles which had made the apostle ´shine forth as bright as the stars in every part of the world´."
Their message was clear: embrace the teachings of the saints for they were the closest to Jesus and we have the priests to interpret for you exactly what you are too simple to read/understand for yourselves. Pilgrims, afraid of the Devil - a very real entity in the Medieval mind - flocked to Compostela to the tomb of "St.James" for forgiveness. Meanwhile the townspeople were of course, to use a modern phrase: "raking it in".
Plus ca change, plus ce le même chose...?

Next week I shall be posting more directly about the Camino and how it is affecting me. I shall be presenting at the Encuentro de Peregrinos (in Villafranca)on the 22nd/23rd. On to a few days in Santiago for the 24th through 26th, and then, God willing (I have had recent surgery in my leg and have 10 stitches to show for it!) on to Muxia, Touriñan (the real end of the world) and Finisterre. Wish me luck my friends and followers... X from T and Priscillian...

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Please Mister, can we have our Codex back...?

Like the Historia Compostelana, the Codex Calixtinus was written at the behest of Archbishop Diego Gelmirez of Compostela. By this time the archbishop was aging but he lived long enough to see the completion of the work which was composed between 1135 and 1139. It is believed that the main writer was the French ecclesiastic Aymeric Picard who may have been connected with the abbey of Cluny, although it is likely that a work of this size had many authors. As I have mentioned here often in this blog, Cluny at that time was by far the most powerful order and was establishing many churches in the north of Spain. Gelmirez had close ties with the Cluniacs (who produced more than one pope at the time). Perhaps in order to lend special credibilty to the book, the authors prefaced the Codex (also known as the Liber Sancto Jacobi – The Book of St. James) with a “letter” supposedly signed by Pope Calixtinus (himself a Cluniac). The letter of Pope Callixtus II which opens the book. The author, who claims to be Callixtus II, tells how he collected many testimonies on the good deeds of Saint James, "traversing the cruel grounds and provinces for fourteen years". He also describes how the manuscript survived many hazards from fire to drowning. The letter is addressed "to the very holy assembly of the basilica of Cluny" and to "Diego, archbishop of Compostela".

The problem is that Calixtinus died in 1124 and most scholars today maintain that this letter is spurious. (Like the rest of the St. James' story, ed.) Accuracy never really bothered our friend Diego Gelmirez.

The book itself comprises five parts: the first in Book I is the largest by far and contains sermons and homilies concerning St. James and describes his martydom. Book II contains stories – often from pilgrims – abut miracles attributed to the intervention of St. James.

The third book contains the life of Saint James and the supposed miracle of the discovery of his tomb. It is the shortest but perhaps in many ways the most important as it was this part which launched the phenomenon of pilgrimage in the 12th century. In order to bring wealth a prestige to his city, Diego Gelmirez knew that pilgrims were essential and in his 40 years as first bishop and then archbishop he devoted his life to increasing the wealth and prestige of Compostela.Book III tells of the death and martyrdom of St. James and how his body was transferred “by stone boat, rudderless and without sails” to Galicia and subsequently to the burial place discovered in the early ninth century. It also tells of the custom started by the first pilgrims of gathering souvenir sea shells from the Galician coast. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Santiago pilgrimage even today although many pilgrims acquire their shells before starting out whereas in the Middle Ages at first it was proof that the pilgrimage had been made. Later enterprising shell sellers realised that these shells could be used to hold morsels of food and to scoop water from rivers and streams.

Book IV tells the History of Charlemagne and Roland. It is attributed to Archbishop Turpín of Reims, although in fact it is the work of an anonymous writer of the 12th century. It describes the coming of Charlemagne to Spain, his defeat against the Moors at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the death of the knight Roland. It relates how Saint James then appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the route of the Milky Way. This association has given the Milky Way an alternate name in Spain of Camino de Santiago.

In fact it was far more likely that the attack against Charlemagne’s army came from the Basques. The story, however, did a lot to promote the idea of holy intervention on the part of “Santiago Matamoros” at a time when, as the Moors called upon the Prophet Mohammed when going into battle, the French (and Spanish) forces had no such protector.

In point of fact it was all very convenient.

The story of Pilgrimage to Heresy claims that St. James is NOT buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In fact it is unlikely that he ever preached in Spain or if he did he made nine converts at the very most. I have told this story in some detail if you care to go back a year or so. It is far more likely that the occupant of the tomb, still venerated by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, is a “heretic”, Priscillian Bishop of Avila, executed in Trier with six of his followers (one a woman) by the Roman secular court with the condonement of the Roman Church in 385 or 386 A.D. His body was brought back to Galicia by his disciples and buried there in an unknown place. As Compostela was already established as a Roman cemetery (hence the name) it is likely that this is where they brought him. Around the tomb many late 4th century graves have been found all oriented to the East as was the custom of the Priscillianists. The Vatican of course, resists carbon dating of the body.

St. James’ Rooster, which is due for publication later this year (also in Spanish as El Gallo de Santiago) tells the story of Bishop Gelmirez and his quest for fame and glory for his cathedral of Compostela.

The stolen Codex Calixtinus is priceless and irreplaceable. It is the earliest copy (not the original which has been lost) dating to perhaps 1150. A copy of the Santiago edition was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte and is known as The Ripoll (after the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia). It is now kept in Barcelona. The book was well-received by the Church of Rome, and copies of it were to be found from Rome to Jerusalem. This widely publicized and multi-copied book describing the legend of Santiago Matamoros or 'St. James the Moorslayer' is considered by scholars to be an early example of propaganda by the Catholic Church.

The idea that it is to become pride of place in some wealthy collector’s mansion makes me very, very angry indeed. We can only hope that it will be found and the perpetrators locked up in some medieval gaol for life!

In some things I am not merciful!!!

Off to the Camino next week and the week after. I’ll keep you all posted.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Codex Calixtinus: Crime Scene Investigation

Rebekah Scott said: “I told them not to take it on the bus but would they listen? Noooo.”

After two days, I still can’t believe that the Codex Calixtinus has been stolen from the Archives of Santiago Cathedral. It’s a Dan Brown novel (or a Tracy Saunders one: what AM I thinking!!!).

I am a hypnotherapist, not a psychic, but I do have "antennae" sometimes. If I were investigating this very real “unholy theft” I would aim my questions in these directions:

Whoever stole the book must have know that the security was lax (as is stated almost everywhere in the press). They must also, presumably, have known something about the video camera in surveillance and its times of monitoring the Codex. According to El Pais, it seems one minute it was there and the next it wasn’t. The camera timing and angles appear to be quite strict, but, so says El Pais, the access to the keys is “bastante laxo”: Somewhat relaxed. The keys were found in the lock after the manuscript had been stolen! This seems to be in contrast with other reports I have read which state that only two or three people have access to the treasure. What I have seen of the Archives, it seems very small. I don't know whether the Codex was housed somewhere else or ...?

But, you have to admit, this would point to something of an “in job”, or with the keys still there, someone who wanted to flip the bird...

I would find this almost amusing if it were not for the very serious loss. In St. James’ Rooster, the new book in The Camino Chronicles series which is to be published later this year, I have one of my characters working in the Cathedral archives leaking out certain information he is not supposed to have access to to a university professor on sabattical because he thinks it might get him a better grade in his university degree. I have penetrated the Archives myself in a very modest way. The first time a notable and published scholar who agreed to meet with me was very cagey indeed about my questions of the “pink marble tomb” in the Cathedral which appears on no maps, in no literature, and is virtually hidden in the very east end of the cathedral. But the second time I went I spoke with someone else who was very helpful in most ways (although even he claimed not to have noticed the aforementioned: rather obvious if one is of a inquisitive bent, marble … thing). You can enter the cloisters easily from the Cathedral Museum. You locate the Archives, and push a button at the bottom of the stairs. They let you in, y ya está.

So back to my investigation. CSI: Who would want such a thing? Only a private collector and you can be certain that this was executed on his or her instructions. What kind of private collector? Well, anyone interested on old manuscripts comes to mind for a start. But that just doesn’t ring true enough. Dollar to doughnuts, this collector is a Pilgrim. Yes, I am serious. The Camino de Santiago homogenizes everyone. Why not a millionaire pilgrim? It wouldn’t be for the first time. This is about possession, not money or fame. It would also indicate, to me, that the person who wanted it fell hook, line and sinker for the entire St. James story portrayed so nicely (and falsely ) in this extensive manuscript. Would I look in the direction of the US? Yes, I am sorry to say, I would. Over 40% of visitors to this blog come from North America. But the Camino has a hold over everyone who travels it. I don’t know why. I just know I am one of them.

Would I like my own personal, signed by Diego Gelmirez, first edition copy of the Historia Compostelana?

No, actually. It would worry me to death. And it, like the CC, is to be shared (the oldest known copy is at the University of Salamanca. Tighten your security you guys… One might not be enough!). The idea of such a thing as the Codex becoming part of some Goldfinger’s prized collection makes my blood boil!!!
So, Policia Xunta Galicia, my advice is to check your pilgrim records. Impossible? Probably. What a shame. But I have great faith in forensics these days so maybe.

P.S. I just thought of something: I believe that a cross given to Santiago from Oviedo was stolen many., many years ago. Maybe there is a connection. Either way, I am dying to write the book!

P.P.S. It wasn’t me, officer. I have a nice blue, not even marked up with comments, copy of my own. I wouldn't be able to write notes in the margin of the original so you can cross me off your Usual Suspects list.

More on the CC and its history in the next post then its off to the Camino with me and who knows what adventures may arise….