A Pilgrimage: Day Two

Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.

Hard to know when anything, including a pilgrimage, actually begins. That moment when you go hmmm and nod your head with a slight tilt may be the actual start to any journey. In this case it’s the 9:30 train from Barcelona to Pamplona.

It was so easy to take Metro from our hotel to the train station, so easy to find our train and make our way to Pamplona. So easy for me to turn to my son as we exited the station and tell him that I had done all the planning up to this moment and that it was now up to him to find the camino. I was too eager to get started and we didn’t explore the famous narrow streets of Pamplona as much as we should have, because we soon found the first pilgrim’s scallop shell, which images-6pointed us on our way.

*****

We walked until 4:45, stopping to rest in the tiny village of Zariquiegui. The cold water fountain was a welcome sight after a very hot, uphill walk. Wonderful views of snow-capped mountains behind us, fields and many moments of absolute silence all around us. Our first buen camino was called out to us on the outskirts of Pamplona, but we saw only a few other pilgrims along the way.

Not much hope of having a place to stay in Zariquiegui, so it seemed to us, but we met an older French-speaking couple who were on their 54th day of walking!  They said there was indeed an albergue just up the street, which had a room and we decided to stay. A quiet hour of reading, and smells of dinner in preparation.

Six courses! Soup, which tasted much better than the dishwater it resembled, beans, tomato and lettuce salad, fish stew, pork (we think…), flan and ice cream for dessert.  All ten of us at the communal table were pleasantly surprised.

Moments of absolute silence and dinner with strangers who feel like friends. These seem like reasons enough to have come here.

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A Pilgrimage: Day One

Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.

Authors of books about walking the camino want the pilgrim to have a clear answer about why you are doing this. I figured I might know the “why” of it when I got to the end, but am not very clear at the beginning. I can begin with two possible why’s, both true, if not the complete answer. First, a chance to spend time with my newly-graduated, cusp-of-adulthood son, and second, I walk in memory of my friend’s son, who died at 22.  My friend will never get to walk with her son and I am doing this in part because she can’t. I wonder if people who begin their pilgrimage with a clear idea of “why,” find that reasons change over the journey’s course. If our lives are pilgrimages, we can probably all agree, midway or more through our time on earth as we likely are, that our lives have gone in lots of unexpected directions. How can you possibly know the “why” of pilgrimage at the beginning?

If one beginsimages-2 a pilgrimage by flying to Barcelona, then the journey must begin with some experiences of that city! Breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Lloret – faded elegance right on La Rambla. What a noisy night. Late night drunken shouts simply evolved into morning delivery sounds. A walk through the city’s Gotic neighborhood of narrow streets, and a tour of the beautiful Palace of Catalonian Music, which is a dazzling example of the Modernist movement that Barcelona is so famous for. The Palau celebrates music, Catalonian culture, and nature in equal measure, and it seems that maybe the architect wanted to bring nature inside. A local amateur choral organization commissioned the building in the early 20th century….could that happen now?

images-5We walked then to architect Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Familia. A cathedral-sized church of such strangeness that Gaudi is more aptly spelled gaudy, in my humble opinion. A woman sitting next to us at lunch across the street opined that Gaudi was surely manic depressive, that such a creation could only have come about during a period of mania.  And yes, she was a psychologist by profession.

440px-Σαγράδα_Φαμίλια_2941I admit, the place left me cold, but perhaps I’m too far removed from Catholic piety? The building soars, but in a bizarre, seemingly random way that looks like a creation from Dr. Seuss’s imagination.

In contrast, our visit to the local Dali Museum (not the large and better known one an hour from Barcelona) made me think that Salvador Dali was something closer to “normal.” Many drawings on Biblical topics, very few wilting clocks, lots and lots of horses, a fixation on Don Quixote.

My big disappointment of the day –– the evening’s treat of kiwi gelato did not taste very good! See, I’ve learned something already.

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Next week: our camino begins

On Pilgrimage

We are all on pilgrimage – it’s called living your life.  And, like life, pilgrimages have beginnings and endings, are full of plans that go awry and serendipitous moments, boredom and hardships, times of confusion and others of utter clarity. Important touchstones to which we later long to return are created during this pilgrimage – our birthplaces and ancestral homes, places that nurtured us in one way or another, and others that we yearn to be part of.

Pilgrimages are usually made to holy sites that have called generations before us, but “holy” is in the eyes of the beholder. Tuscany or Machu Picchu or the Great Barrier Reef are holy sites for some. Six years ago I made one such pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the way of St. James in northern Spain. It was a gift – nearly four weeks of walking during a sabbatical period – and I kept a journal which I revisited not long ago. Over the next few months I will share those entries in this blog, affirming some of the lessons I learned and perhaps including some new insights too. We’re never not on a pilgrimage after all.

There is something about walking that causes us to clear out our minds and which allows us to notice what is right around us. Just as computers and air travel collapse the world, walking expands it again. As I walked that journey six years ago I felt that the world had slowed, and my place in the continuum of time seemed clearer.  The rootlessness of my sabbatical made me all the more aware of my rootedness in a life of family and music, and a belief that we can find our joy in simply being the connection between past and future.

A book that I read a few years before going to Spain, and again – with much more appreciation – afterwards was Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Walking from one end of England to the other, a man wounded by life finds that by living completely in the present as he walks, he is able to understand his past more fully and to have hope for his future. On the face of it, his pilgrimage makes no sense, anymore than walking the Way of St. James across Spain, or threading through the crowds at Graceland makes sense. Harold was walking because he believed that as long as he did so his friend would not die. Near the end of the book he wonders if what the world needs is “a little less sense and a little more faith.”

We don’t always know why we’ve gone on a pilgrimage, we certainly don’t understand life’s purpose most of the time, nor can we fully fathom the tragedies of our life or say that we deserve our good fortunes. Perhaps we need Harold’s words to take root in us so that we begin to need a little less sense out of our existence, and rely more on faith that our lives have meaning in ways we’ll never understand as long as we keep from getting stuck in one place, whether that be mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

Journey on!

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Next week: Day one of a pilgrimage on the camino