Mi Madre Es Inmortal

Still from Tarkovski Los Espanoles
Still from Tarkovski Los Espanoles

It is amazing how many good shows we have seen at the Círculo de Bellas Artes. We walked over there this morning, after coffee at the place around the corner, and we were thrilled to find a show about Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie, “El Espejo.” The film portrays a re-occurring dream the director had about growing up. An actress plays his mother and then his real mother appears in the movie. A portion of the film, in Spanish, touches on the horrors of the Franco era so the film is especially important here.

Film clips were projected on a big wall, clips were looped on monitors, sometimes with headphones, other times with the sound in the room and there were lots of extras. His notebooks were under glass cases with still photos, studies for the film. He worked with a photographer before shooting and the photos were displayed here along with contact prints from the movie, and many photos of the making. All exceptional. We must track down a copy of this film when we return.

“La madre lavó cabeza del niño inclinándose hacia él y con un gesto familiar para mi, empezó a estirar su cabello duro y húmedo. En aquel momento, de pronto me sentí tranquilo, y comprendí con claridad que mi madre es inmortal…”
— Andrei Tarkovsky, guión literario de Espejo

In a gallery upstairs, “ Psico Delia,” psychedelic posters from 1962-1972 from the private archive of Zdenek Primus, a Czech/Germán art historian and collector. And in the basement gallery, a delightful show by the architect, Lars Lerup.

And for an extra euro we rode the elevator to the top of the building for a 360 of the city. Madrid is spoiling us.

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Todos Los Santos

Nun costume in shop window on All Saints Day In Madrid
Carousel near the Royal Palace in Madrid

All Saints day was always a day off when we were growing up. A holy day of obligation, mass was a must. It is a big holiday in Spain. It was loud as hell outside our hotel room at four in the morning when the clubs let out. All the shops were closed today but there was a book fair in the Plaza Mayor. Lots of weighty material, literature, poetry and books on Machado, Lorca, Buñuel and the Spanish heroes, modern day saints, but all in Spanish.

We walked over to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo for a show of Ramón Gómez’s work. A Dada artist, he was forced to flee Franco’s Spain and spent the rest of his life in Argentina. The Museo reconstructed his apartment, reproduced his witty drawings and showed some of his crazy movies.

We asked the gallery workers if there were any festivities in connection with All Saints/All Souls days and they suggested we take a bus to Cementerio de la Ermita de San Isidro where people decorate the graves of their loved ones. Peggi asked how far it was if we walked and they said maybe an hour. She told them we just walked the Camino, we can do that.

The cemetery was alive with people, fresh flowers and candles. The grave stones were covered in crosses and crucifixes and the mausoleums are surrounded by statues. We stumbled onto the tomb of La Argentinita, the famous flamenco dancer, who was forced to leave Spain when Franco took over. In 1943 she presented the flamenco troupe El Café de Chinitas at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, with her own choreography, text by Lorca and scenery by Salvador Dalí.

One grave had a beautiful quote from Aurelio Muñoz Garcia on it. “Nacemos sin traer nada, morimos sin llevar nada, consciente de ello jamás ambicioné ser dueño de nada.” We are born with nothing, we die without taking anything with us, conscious of that, we never strive to be owner of anything.

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The Argonauts

The Argonauts 1950 by Max Beckmann at Thyssen-Bornemisza Bornemisza in Madrid
The Argonauts 1950 by Max Beckmann at Thyssen-Bornemisza Bornemisza in Madrid

There are so many reasons to love Madrid. When we passed through here a month ago, on our way up north to finish the Camino, we saw an announcement for a Max Beckmann show at the Thyssen-Bornemisza. It opened last week so it was our first order of business today. We were there when they opened the doors at ten and we spent a good four hours with the fifty or so paintings. We broke for lunch and came back as our tickets were good for the day. We walked slowly through the Beckmann show again and then wandered through their permanent collection finishing right near closing time.

The Argonauts was Beckmann’s final triptych before he died in 1950. Beckmann was a medical orderly in World War I. The traumatic experience shaped his dramatic, expressive style. He was thrown out of Germany by the Nazis for what they called degenerative art. In this final painting the hero as a dreamer or the dreamer as a hero has conquered the nightmarish aspects of life. The young artist paints his model. In the center panel Orpheus and Jason are shown embarking on their search for the Golden Fleece with the old man on the ladder giving them advice. And the third panel shows the all women band in action.

Beckmann has his own set of symbols, some based on the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture. He paints allegories and makes mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Clowns, circus performers, ladders, swords, horns and eclipses make frequent appearances. I love the way he paints, like Rouault or Marsden Hartley, big and bold and expressive. This show was so much fun to look at.

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Next Yellow Arrow

Wooden boat in Finistera, Spain
Wooden boat in Finistera, Spain

After a perfect cup of café con leche at the Noche y Dia Café we took a 6:45 bus from Muxía back to Santiago. We had just enough time for a second cup there before boarding a train for Madrid. Traveling southeast, only an hour from Galicia’s lush microclimate, we passed through snow covered mountains along the northern Portugal border. They are big on alternative energy here so the mountain tops were strewn with windmills.

It feels uncomfortably strange not walking. Looking out the window from our train I kept spotting footpaths and wishing I was out there. I miss the smell of the Eucalyptus trees, the cracked open chestnut pods, the fig trees and the giant mushrooms. I miss the cow dung on the stone streets of those small towns and those long lonely stretches in the the mountains. We were lost a few times on the Camino and now I’m lost without it. Where is that next yellow arrow?

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Costa Da Morte

Famous rock in Muxía España
Famous rock in Muxía España

For three days now we’ve been walking along the Costa Da Morte, the Coast of Death. We are in Muxía, the end of the unofficial extension of the Camino de Santiago. The locals speak another language here but Spanish gets the job done. Once settled in a hotel we walked out to “Santuario da Virxe da Barca,” a version of the Virgin for fishermen. It was originally a pre-Christian Celtic shrine and sacred spot. If it is possible for a rock to be famous the one above is. The Celtic stones near the church are now said to be remains of the Virgin Mary’s stone boat.

This part of Spain was resistant to conversion to Christianity. It was the pilgrims flocking to Santiago that finally won most of them them over. It is called the Costa da Morte because there have been so many shipwrecks along its treacherous rocky shore. The people of the area still preserve pre-Christian ritual places and pass on the traditional beliefs. Giant pedras de abalar or “oscillating stones” are still sacred locations. There is a local legend that the wind creates wild nightmares.

It is a fitting endpoint to a long walk.

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Blind Faith

Horreos near Lires on the way to Muxía in Galicia
Horreos near Lires on the way to Muxía in Galicia

In 1969 Dave Mahoney and I hitchhiked down to NYC to see Blind Faith. I really liked Traffic and was excited to hear the supergroup. I liked the alternate album covers and I liked their name. In Catholic schools I had religion class every day, a lot of hours to wrestle with questions of faith. It was never blind but I got the sense it was for some. Of course, some people blew the whole thing off. I was always struggling to understand and it was a lot to think about but I’m thankful for the experience.

The religious overtones to the Camino have slipped away since we left the cathedral in Santiago. There are still Cruceiros in the small towns and a few shrines on the path but the four days from Santiago to Muxía are more like a walk in the park, the big Celtic park of northern Galicia.

Walking the Camino gave me a deeper connection to the faith I was brought up in, the legends, the mysteries, the Saints, the martyrs and the miracles. I went in preferring Christ without the miracles.

Then there is that thorny, direct-line between the nuns telling us the Jews couldn’t get into heaven because they didn’t accept Christ and the priest who celebrated our Pilgrim’s mass at the Cathedral in Santiago. He announced that Communion was “solamente para los Católicos. Separating us from them just like the Trumpster.

As we climbed the hills out of Finisterra we passed the small church of San Martiño de Duyo. Voices were singing inside and a man was standing on the steps smoking a cigarette. We asked if it was a misa and of course it was. It was Sunday morning and the guy was probably waiting for his wife to come out. I wanted to be inside.

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Always Wanted To Walk Across Spain

Fisterra as encountered on the Camino de Santiago in España
Fisterra as encountered on the Camino de Santiago in España

We were in Fisterra twenty two years ago. It was a much smaller village. We had a hotel room right in town, a room that had a balcony, a boxed out, glass enclosed space, typical of Galicia. We had driven here from Madrid in a rented car and we were intrigued by the pilgrims we saw trudging along the Camino. We saw women on the rocky coastline gathering percebes (barnacles) and wooden fishing boats anchored in the inlet. We walked around town and stopped to watch a group of women mending the nets in the sun and old men in berets and blue sweaters sitting on stone benches, smoking cigarettes and chewing the fat. We ordered percebes at a restaurant near our hostal and I remember the waiter walking toward our table with the barnacles on a plate. They shook and sounded like a a small pile of stones. He told us how to approach them. You suck the meat from them and they were delicious. It was the only time we ever had them and I will never forget it.

We walked into Fisterra today on the Camino and with one break we have walked across Spain. It was pretty dramatic seeing the ocean after starting our walk in France. The owner of our place in Olveiroa last night recommended a hotel here and we just assumed it was in Fisterra. It was three kilometers before it and we walked right by our place. What’s another three kilometers when you walk all day? We did the Camino and walked across Spain.

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Too Much, The Road

Old stone window and door along the Camino de Finisterre
Old stone window and door along the Camino de Finisterre

We were at the edge of Negreira at 7:45am, about to head into the woods, and it was still dark. Two other pilgrims, a tall Australian and a short little Chilean woman, had stopped ahead of us to read a sign. Peggi turned the flashlight of her phone on and the other two followed our torch down the path. They were talking behind us, introducing themselves, and the Australian started singing “The Teddy Bear Picnic,” a minor key children’s song, and something that was a favorite of my father’s. I helped embed the song as the intro to his presentation on Edmunds Woods. The Australian told us his parents organized a Teddy Bear Picnic for him and his friends when he was a kid.

While he was talking and we were listening we walked by a turn we should have taken. We were still on a similar path but there were no yellow arrows at the junctures. After three turns we all stopped and debated what to do. This was to be a twenty one mile day and we had already traveled a mile without a sign. When you’re in a hole you should stop digging so we backtracked. The sun came up and we found where we had gone wrong.

We stopped for a cup of coffee after 10 or 11 kilometers, a quaint little place, with a shelf full of art books. I pulled one out with photos from the 1950’s by Virxilio Vieitez, a Galician whose portraits looked a bit like August Sanders or Diane Arbus.

We were enjoying our second coffee after twenty kilometers or so when a guy came in the café and groaned, “The road, too long.” He lifted his feet like they were beat and I knew exactly what he meant. Unlike most of the Camino there was a lot of pavement involved today and the bottoms of my feet felt like they were bruised.

It takes a long time to walk twenty two miles especially when there are big hills or small mountains involved. We started before eight and didn’t reach our destination until five and we hardly stopped at all. We walked around Irondequoit Bay in preparation for this but that was a piece of cake. When we were filling out the paperwork to receive our certificate (called the Compostela) in Santiago we had to enter our age in one of the columns. We have seen plenty of people our age on the Camino but as I scanned the list of the entries on the A4 page, they were all younger. Maybe that’s why my boney feet hurt so much.

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Dos Peregrinas

Sunrise over Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago
Sunrise over Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago

Did I really pick up a cool looking rock and put it in the bottom of my backpack on our second day out? We bought food for breakfast this morning and then found out el desayuno está incluido so our bags were extra heavy for the walk to Negreira. It may have have been the prettiest day of the whole Camino. The temperature was in the mid seventies and Galicia is so lush it seems they could anything they want here.

Santiago is perfectly livable city. A class of college art students was out in the Plaza yesterday drawing the Cathedral. I dreamed about what it would like going to school here all day. And then last night I came awake dreaming a dog had grabbed ahold of my leg from the rear. A real walkers’ nightmare.

Marble tile is everywhere here. And where ours is a quarter inch thick. In Spain it is a half inch or thicker. It’s not only on walls and floors, it’s outside on sidewalks. Masons are at work wherever you look either putting new tile in or repairing old stone walls and walkways. A lot of it is big pieces of rough cut stone or just field stone. You can hardly tell if a wall was built yesterday or five hundred years ago. The trade/craft/artform has endured.

We had a new beer in Santiago, a craft beer that is made right here. It’s called “Peregrina,” named after us, the pilgrims.

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End Of The Earth

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea group show of young artists from Galicia entitled, “En Constructión.”
Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea group show of young artists from Galicia entitled, “En Constructión.”

We slept in today, our first day off from the Camino. And with an extra day in Santiago de Compostela we walked through Alameda Park, a beautifully designed sixteenth century park, and had an extra cup of coffee at a café. We headed over to Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea and saw a group show of young artists from Galicia entitled, “En Construcción.” I loved this piece (above), a carefully arranged collection of building supplies, something our friend, Julio might also enjoy. I felt the urge to build something.

We had another cup of coffee in the Museo café and tried to make reservations at Casa Marcelo and we were told it was first come, first serve. It was highly recommended by the Korean woman we had talked to yesterday. We found a couple of spots at one of the three long tables, the best seats in the house actually because we had a close up view of the chefs and sous chefs chopping, slicing, squirting, deep frying whole fish and baking chicken and fish in a big green egg. The waiter checked for food allergies and preferences and then told us he would prepare a meal for us. He did, raw tuna, cherry tomatoes with a frozen Peruvian ricotta that melted in your mouth, a high end version of shrimp pil pil, leek potato and pork belly (fancy tortilla Española), steamed hake with lemon sauce, spring rolls with chicken basil and mint and limon ice cream with coconut over a Twinkie like cake.

We stopped back at the hotel and got a text warning us of suspicious activity on our credit card. A false alarm. We dealt with that and walked in a different direction but wound up back at Alameda Park again where we sat outside and had an Estrella Galicia.

Santiago is noted for its night life but we are not going to experience any of that. We shopped for breakfast food and will walk out of here tomorrow morning on our way to Finisterra, the end of the earth.

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Not Afraid To Be Naked

Botafumero being swung in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela
Botafumero being swung in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

We left Pedrouzo at a quarter to seven, our earliest departure yet, only because the Camino is its most crowded on this final leg we and we like to be alone. We followed a thin little woman in a long skirt who was walking briskly with a head lamp on. She lit enough of the trail for us to see the things we could trip over. A guy joined her for a bit and we listened to their conversation. He told her he believed in God. He believed in Jesus but he no longer believed in the Church and then he moved on. We stayed with her for the first hour and then ducked into a coffee shop along a road that we crossed. The woods were ghostly beautiful under the stars. After coffee Peggi used the flashlight on her phone and by 8:30 the sun was starting to come up.

We stopped for a second cup in San Lázaro on the outskirts of Santiago. We had no time to waste because we were trying to get to the Pilgrim’s mass at noonat the Cathedral. We found our hotel, checked our bags, and headed over to the Cathedral. On high holy days or when a wealthy pilgrim pays the church, they will bring out the big incense burner, the Botafumeiro. We were lucky. They swung it today.

At lunch, our dinner, we sat with a Korean woman who had just finished the Camino. She went to school in Boston, worked in Sweden and London and is now living in France. She told us walking the Camino and interacting with and observing the people on it had restored her faith in humanity. And then she shared her observations of the many nationalities. The Asians were way too polite. The English are brutish. Americans are boring. But the French, she felt, were deep. “They are not afraid to be naked.”

Two of the twelve apostles were named James. Saint James the Greater is considered the first apostle to be martyred. King Agrippas ordered him to be beheaded in 44AD and his head is said to be buried under the altar in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem. So how did he become the patron saint of Spain and Portugal? He is said to have preached the gospel in Iberia as well as in the Holy Land. After his martyrdom his disciples carried his body by sea to Iberia to the coast of Galicia and then inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela. We started the Camino in San Jean de Port, France and followed it here. Today we viewed the tomb where the majority of Santiago’s remains are said to be and we received our certificate, the “Compostela.”

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Una Mas Torta De Santiago

Peggi walking the Camino de Santiago near Triacastela, Espana
Peggi walking the Camino de Santiago near Triacastela, Espana

Spanish may be the loving tongue but English is the common tongue. I get a kick out of listening to two peop le, neither a native English speaker, try to converse in English because the two do not speak each other’s language.
I wish I had some other languages to fall back on. Studying Latin and French in High School has not helped me in that regard.

We waited for the coffee shop in Ribadiso to open and then left in the dark for Pedrouzo. We had read that a lot of people jump on the Camino for the last few days and we really like it when we have our own space. Even though we stopped a few more times for coffee, Tortilla and juice, we did have our own pocket to travel in and the stone and tree lined paths today were especially beautiful.

In town we asked a local woman if she could recommend a restaurant and she looked both ways and pointed to one. Peggi asked her if it was good and she said it was pilgrim food and she lifted her hand and turned her wrist back and forth, the international sign for so so. We are pilgrims so went and saw a couple of local men sitting next to us eating a chick pea soup. We asked them what it was and ordered that and a salad. We both had Torta de Santiago, the almond cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, except where the cross of Santiago pattern was while the sprinkling took place.

We are now only one day out of Santiago de Compostela, the destination for millions of pilgrims before us. We plan to get up with the roosters again tomorrow and maybe arrive before the noon pilgrim mass. If we are lucky they will swing the Botafumero, the big incense burner.

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Gracias Por La Luz

Stone masons restoring an old house in a small town along the Camino de Santiago
Stone masons restoring an old house in a small town along the Camino de Santiago

Peggi has received quite a few compliments on her use of the Spanish language. It is a delight for me to see people light up when she engages them. They look at me funny when I order “dos zumo de naranja.” They usually will confirm the order. “Dos?” “Si. Dos.”

So far we have stayed in hotels, hostals, albergues, pensions, and Casa Rurales. Last night we stayed in a place that was listed as a bed and breakfast. We found it on the Apple map program and booked by phone as we walked into town. When we arrived at the place in Palas de Rei we asked about the breakfast and the proprietor told us there was no breakfast included.

We found a grocery store and bought oranges, bananas and yogurt, room temperature yogurt that was just on the shelves rather than in a cooler, and made a breakfast out of that. We stopped for coffee in a place on the way out of town and followed a young Spanish couple who were lighting the trail with their cell phone until the sun came up.

By eleven thirty we were settled in at a Pulporía in Melide, the halfway point for the day, having dos cañas y pulpo y pan. By three in the afternoon we were already at our destination, a relatively easy day. We ordered lentil soup at the place across from our room and it came with big chucks off pork in it. So many of our friends are vegetarians and I can’t imagine how they they would fare here. Every time you look at a tapa there is chorizo or jamón involved.

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Que Es Berro?

Cow along the Camino de Santiago near O’cebreiro
Cow along the Camino de Santiago near O’cebreiro

We had settled into a valley last night in Portomarín and then climbed 1500 feet or so today to the ruins of a pre Roman town. Enroute to Palas de Rei we sat on the steps of a cemetery gate while we ate part two of last night’s chorizo and Manchego sandwich. I took my shoes off to air out my socks and stepped back to take a picture of Peggi only to land on a chestnut shell, one of those armadillo looking spheres.

Galicia, the northern portion of Spain, above Portugal, is delightful. Green and lush, we walk along ancient, stone lined gravel paths between pastures and farms. There have been chestnut, apple, fig and quince trees all along the way. We saw a lime tree as well and tomatoes are still on the vine. Don’t know if they start them late or if they last this long. Ours come and go so fast. And we keep trying to identify this tall, big leaf, cabbage or kale like vegetable that everyone seems to have on their property. The locals call it “Berro” and it is a key ingredient in Caldo Gallego, a vegetable soup that we plan to make when we return.

It is easy to ask for directions in Spain because Spanish people love to talk. It is not always easy to understand the directions. They talk fast and there are a lot gestures involved. Peggi picks up most of the language and I concentrate on the physical movements, a la izquierda, a la derecha and todo derecho.

The last few days have been around eighteen miles but tomorrow is longer. We are only seventy five kilometers out of Santiago now. It is easy to see why people (like us) push it and go on to Fisterra and Muxia. You just don’t want this thing to end.

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In Sound, Way Out

Hairdressers in Portomarin, Espana
Hairdressers in Portomarin, Espana

This leg of the Camino is more crowded that our first leg (St. Jean Pied de Port to Leon). Pilgrims are granted a certificate (a Compostela) for starting in Sarria, about 110 kilometers out of Santiago, so at that point the Way is a little cluttered. It is tempting to look at them as cheaters but that is where compassion comes in. Pilgrims try to be non-judgmental.

The Albergues and hotels along the Camino are stingy with their heat. Usually radiators, the heat is hardly ever on when we check in so it is always a gamble as to whether we should wash our socks or underwear. When we go for it we arrange them on the radiator and take our chances. In the swankier places there is often a hair dryer to point into our socks in the morning if they are still wet.

Not all our rooms have had a tv and one even had the old tube style tv. I meant to turn that one on just to see what the format looked like. I usually check for a soccer match but we have only found one, an international qualifier between Portugal and Poland. It seems you have to go to a bar to watch La Liga games as they are on the premium channels. Spain is really big on nature shows. If the hotel gets 11 channels two of them will be nature shows.

We got lost today. First time for us on the Camino. At some point we realized there had been no one in front or behind us for a while. We turned around and found the turn we had missed. We came across an “alternative food” place. Run by a married couple who were attending to a baby as they waited on us. They had made pumpkin soup but there was only one portion left. We ordered that and a green salad with mushrooms. There was a keyboard set up in the room and I asked the guy if he played. He said he did and he wanted to know if we played something. I told him we did and he asked what kind of music it was. I said improvised instrumental music, sort of jazz, sort of rock, and he said, “Like Beastie Boys, In Sound From Way Out?” And I said, “Yeah.”

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Walking Man

Chef at Pulperia Luis in Darria Espana
Chef at Pulperia Luis in Darria Espana

The monk-like existence, carrying all your essentials on your back, is the most appealing feature of the Camino. It simplifies things and allows you to focus on what is really important – the world around you and the short time you have here to savor it. Just like high art the trajectory is toward minimalism. I’m thinking of Giacometti’s “Walking Man.”

Our hotel in Triacastelas provided a breakfast, jamón y queso, banana, yogurt, tostada y café con leche. We had two of the last item and didn’t have to stop anywhere on the walk to Sarria. We were in town early enough to have dinner. Spaniards have their big meal between 2 and 4, the siesta, and we are usually still walking. Shops are closed during the siesta hours and restaurants stop serving at four and don’t open again until eight, way too late for us to eat.

We asked the proprietor of our place in Sarria for a restaurant recommendation and he told us about two, one a Michelin starred place called “Roma” and the other, mas típico, “Pulpería Luis” on the river, a ways from the Camino. We chose the latter. We watched this guy pull pulpo out of the boiling water with his bare hands, cut the tentacles with a pair of scissors and dress each serving with four magic ingredients, pimentón picante (hot paprika), pimentón dulce, salt and olive oil.

There was a wait for a spot to sit down. The ten, family style, long tables and wooden benches were packed and the room was buzzing with lively conversation. This was the best pulpo we have ever had, as good as the best Italian sausage. House red and a bowl of artisan bread accompanied the soloist.

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Mega Trends

Spanish Horseman painting at Hotel Refugio in Rabanal Del Camino
Spanish Horseman painting at Hotel Refugio in Rabanal Del Camino

There is certainly a craft beer movement going on in Spain but we have not seen it. The big companies, Mahou, Estrella, Ambar, Cruzcampo all have perfectly drinkable, refreshing lagers and I don’t miss the whole fussy IPA thing.

Even though this portion (we are just about to start the last week of the original Camino, although we plan to continue on from Santiago to Muxia) is more crowded than the first half, it is still an experience I would enthusiastically recommend. Peggi and I are getting pretty good at finding our own space on the Camino, walking for long stretches without seeing any other pilgrims. Others crave the camaraderie and it is there for the taking in every language under the sun. But I have glimpsed the end of the more than a millennia old Camino de Santiago.

It is not not the imminent demise of the Catholic Church due to sexual abuse and the schism resulting from the implementation of way overdue reforms. And it is not the dwindling numbers of faithful Christians. It’s not the taxi service that is a cell phone call away, there to bail out pilgrims who can’t take another step. It’s not the transport services that move people’s luggage from town to town so they can wear a small day pack and zip up and down hills. It is the meathead guys coming up behind us on fancy mountain bikes. They shatter the solitude, saying something like “behind you” in a foreign language. We step aside and see Italian logos printed across their Spandex covered butts. They have music coming out of the packs on the back of their bikes. The Camino is their international gym. I hope I’m wrong.

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Caldo Gallego

Flamenco guitar player on steps of our hotel in Ocebreiro
Flamenco guitar player on steps of our hotel in Ocebreiro

At 6:45 AM in the small town of Villafranca Del Bierzo we didn’t expect any coffee shop to be open but as we walked out of town the owner of the last bar was just unlocking his front door. We had a café con leche and headed down the hill onto a small country road in starlit darkness. We were surrounded by mountains and not one car drove by before the sun came up around 8:30. Today was a big stretch, nineteen miles to O’Cebreiro and the last third was straight up a mountain side, a rocky, rustic path. There were quite a few small towns along the way and we stopped at most of them for more coffee, juice, water and a cheese/quince sandwich, “queso y membrillo.” The first stop was a cozy, rustic place with stuffed animal heads on the walls and holy cards behind the cash register. We had café and tarta de Santiago.

This was a really challenging day, about nine hours of walking with short breaks. We arrived around four, checked in and had a menu del dia, Caldo Gallego (veritable soup with the tall green cabbage plants that we had been seeing in people’s gardens along the way), three small trout each and some flan for dessert. We stopped at a small grocery store and bought yogurt, apples, a boiled egg and water for tomorrow morning.

We heard the church bells ring and Peggi remembered about the Pilgrim’s Mass at 7 so we went over to the Santa Maria church, the oldest on the Camino dating from the eighth century. In Spanish it was a bit like the days when the whole thing was in Latin. The priest called all the pilgrims up to the alter, asked everybody where they were from and gave each of us a small stone with a little yellow arrow painted on it. Most were from Germany but France, Brazil, US, Canada, Italy, Colombia and Aruba were represented.

The heat wasn’t on in our room yet so we went down to the bar for a Veterano and chatted with Trevor and his wife, a Northern Irish couple, about our age. They offered to house swap sometime.

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Tower Of Song

Vineyard near Villafranca Del Bierzo on the Camino de Santiago
Vineyard near Villafranca Del Bierzo on the Camino de Santiago

Wandering around Molinaseca we found a bar with a fútbol game on, a match with two local teams, Ponferrada vs. Pontevedra. The tables in the bar were full and the bartender, a big guy in a plaid shirt, gave us a tapa with our beer and brought a plate of meatballs out from the kitchen and passed them around to everyone in the bar. It was a 0-0 finish and the the locals seemed happy with that result. Ponferrada is the closest town. Maybe they were lucky to get a draw.

It is probably our age but when we walk all day we find walking uphill much easier than going downhill. When you put on an extra ten to fifteen pounds, the weight of our backpacks, you find the bottoms of your feet feeling bruised and the effort it takes to brace yourself against gravity on each downhill step takes a toll. Just saying, certainly not a complaint. The Camino experience is above complaining. We’ll walk by someone who is clearly in pain and they will smile and say “Buen Camino.”

Leonard Cohen learned to play classical guitar from a Spanish musician in his hometown of Montreal. “He took the guitar and he produced a sound from that guitar that I’d never heard… a six chord progression that many, many flamenco songs are based on. It was those six chords, that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs.” In 2016 Cohen received the Prince of Asturias award in Oviedo and he had dinner at the place we ate at tonight in Villafranca Del Bierzo. The owner was pictured on the wall with Cohen and the owner’s son helped Peggi figure out how to buy more minutes on her prepaid Vodaphone SIM card while we we sitting under a photo of his father and Leonard.

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Head In Clouds

Weeds in clouds on mountains beyond Rabanal Del Camino
Weeds in clouds on mountains beyond Rabanal Del Camino

We set the alarm for 6:45 and got a fairly early start out of Rabanal Del Camino. The town was so pretty we didn’t want to leave. We had yogurt and fruit in our room and then café con leche downstairs at the bar. Two woman, sitting at a table behind us, had ordered a full breakfast and they couldn’t finish it so they gave us a plate of toast with cream cheese and walnuts. We were ten minutes down the road, traveling briskly in order to get warm when I realized I had set our 1.5 liter bottle of water down. We had to go back as there were no towns for many kilometers.

The Camino today went up into the mountains and it was probably the prettiest day of the whole route but it was hard to tell. The temperatures were in the upper thirties, the wind was howling and it was pouring rain. We had all the clothes we brought on. We were basically in the clouds the whole day. The trail narrowed drastically at times with tall weeds on both sides of us and it felt like we were following a deer path in Durand Eastman.

At the highest elevation, around 5000 feet, there is a tall oak telephone pole like structure with an iron cross on top of it, La Cruz de Ferro.This is where pilgrams leave a stone, usually something they brought from home, at the base. We had two hand picked stones from the beach at Durand. You make a wish or declare an intention or vow and move on. It’s a Celtic tradition with some Christianity glommed on top.

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