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