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So what next? My most recent Camino, walking in hot central Spain has ended. The five weeks and 400km of sometimes striding out joyfully, sometimes stumbling out half asleep in the dawn is transferring to photos and videos and the “ do you remember?” basket. As is the occasional shambling grumpily over harsh, flat and sparsely treed terrain, the blisters and sore hip. All these experiences have undergone a metamorphosis. The good and bad and the indifferent, the highs and lows and contradictions are enveloped in that one word response to enquiries: “ Great”.
I have written “ done and dusted”.
I wonder about the connotation with dust, there are many idioms to do with dust: shake the dust off one’s heels. Raise the dust. Bite the dust. Dust off. Make the dust fly. Throw the dust in one’s eyes. Dry as dust . Let the dust settle. Dust is always moving, usually extraneous or not pleasant, to be avoided, a delusion or a trouble.
Dust oneself off, and start again . I’m a bit dusty. Ha, that one rings true. A dusty brain after Covid.
But there’s also fairy dust of course. And dust particles in the air. There’s a special dust in Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials( 1995- 2000). The other side of waste and a dustiness that clouds one’s eyes or has to be brushed away are minuscule particles, scarcely seen by the naked eye, floating randomly in the atmosphere.
So the Camino has an ambiguous ending , at least for me. The Spanish walk is complete, yet it continues at home. Strangely the continuation is harder than that recent clear- cut walking every day in central Spain .
So much has been written about The Camino ( Frances) , caminos generally , and about” El Camino de la Vida”, the path of life. Some of this is , I think, just words , or like the dust thrown in eyes, deceptive . I hope I’m not adding more to a growing body of sentimentality. I’ve just remembered bull dust.An Australianism?
The turn -around -camino is a concept I came across when I reached the end of the Madrid Camino in Sahagun . The idea is to spend the time between the end and the return home contemplating and practicing the virtues or qualities / behaviours learned in the past weeks of walking day after day; contemplating the perennial questions of identity, becoming and change. The big one is how do I want to lead my life, or what there is left of it if you’re older. Each person will make their way home in their own way .
Now I’m home and finding it hard to adjust to my real life, in the place I have lived for the last forty years. I think this is a common claim by Camino people. For so long the main task each day is to get up and walk . There are no other people to worry about or to take care of, no food to prepare, no house to clean or dishes to wash. Not even clothes to select each morning, it’s whichever set of clothes that has been rinsed out in the sink the night before. Clean underwear and socks, of course (my mother taught me right, in case I was run over by a bus on the long cycle ride to school !). No makeup, just lots of sun cream and the good old standby moisturiser that doesn’t weigh much, Nivea!
Clothes hanging out to dry, overlooking Segovia roofs. My grey walking pants and Doug’s brown ones . Easy.
Now the jobs are lurking in each corner of this house: things to fix and buy and throw out . There are also bills to pay and work to be written . Food to buy and to be cooked.There are friends to contact and talk to.The cats await their biscuits each morning and the weeds loom green and long as it’s winter. Yes it’s winter and cold
What seemed clear cut in the turn-around is not as simple now. Cut out anxiety, be patient, don’t rush, keep your friends, be kind and loving . I reckon all those saints and writers advocating calm and acceptance of life’s happenings are single. They are single or living a monastic life.
“All shall be well and all shall be well . And all manner of thing shall be well “ wrote Julian of Norwich .
Does this help me now, back here in this life ? Those 15 Century words help a little,but the impact is lessening each day if I don’t hold onto them more tightly.So also is the memory of that striding out each day to the next place, the next discovery.A marvelling at the wonder of life.
I think it’s a matter of clutching at those metaphorical dust particles and watching them flicker and shine as they float around Its not all done and dusted yet, there are caminos to walk here. And there are other Spanish caminos too !
On my third day back from Spain, waiting for my daughter and grandchildren in the newly named Walyalup Koort), heart of Fremantle), I saw Fremantle with new eyes. Not exactly the excited or critical eyes of a tourist or a traveller, but certainly with fresh eyes. Eyes still familiarising themselves with clean, organised spaces,well dressed people and fast cars which don’t slow for pedestrians, even those who are just crossing with their children to the holiday activities in the square. I hear English all around and muted, streamed background music. However, most pressingly,what are these people doing in the middle of the day ? It’s siesta time, isn’t it?
I park my bike and probably for the first time, really look at the reinvented City Square. I read the plaques under the sculptures as I did in Spanish plazas. Why don’t I blog about my home town ?
First off is John Curtin . He looms over me as I turn away from my bike , shaking a rolled up paper.But he’s not angry. Maybe frustrated , disappointed. The plaque tells me he was a journalist in his early life, long before becoming Australian Prime Minister, and that he is the only West Australian PM to represent the WA electorate.
I see another photographer across from me and she’s pointing a proper camera at a beautiful girl dressed as a bride. I walk towards them and nosily enquire about weddings. The photographer explains that the girl is following an Asian custom of dressing up as a bride and having bridal photos taken for her friends . She is happy for me to take a photo for my blog . So here it is.
I walk across the Square past the face painting and the children rolling down the lawn and the Lego blocks half assembled .( Wheres the live music ? ) to the FOMO building and the sculpture of the 3 women, one of whom is holding a baby.
I realise that I don’t know enough of the history of this latest sculpture to write confidently, But I do know I like it. I also know that in a Square full of male heroes it is soothing and gratifying to see women and a child. I stand taking photos for a while, watching children line up to collect their Lego prizes, and lunch hour workers move down the corridor between the Varsity Bar open to the street and the new Civic Centre and Library. It’s a sunny winter day here in Freo and there’s some sitting around with lunches and cups of coffee .
On my other side is the new playground, next to the over 100 year old Moreton Bay Fig. I move around towards Hughie Edwards. His helmeted head is turned firmly upwards, towards the sky.
Next is my favourite : A sculpture by Greg James to Pietro Giacomo, the Italian artist who worked in Fremantle.The sculpture was funded by his friends and the Italian community.The late afternoon sun is behind the Moreton Bay fig and the surface of the work is glinting. It seems as if magic is brewing ; as in fact it is, this creation is fluid, with clear curved lines and features,moving underneath its creator’s hands as he smiles.
St John’s Church(1943), a glimpse of the Town Hall ( 1887) and the new Dept of Communities/ FOMO building( 2021/2022) combine to offer an interesting and colourful backdrop of the historical and the contemporary.The Fig tree grows solidly alongside.
I’m on my way back to my bike now, parked underneath JC and the refurbished Town Hall.The fountain to commemorate Tom Edwards, the Fremantle wharfie killed by a police baton in the 1919 strike, flows into the bird bath A reminder that Fremantle is still a Tom Edwards type of place.Modern has combined with the old to give Freo life,and it’s old heart is still beating .
If I need more reminders, catch a glimpse of the drinkers around the table next to the church . They’re diminished in number, but still there, still drinking.
They wave cheerfully as I get on my bike and cycle home.
See https:/en.m.Wikipedia.org for a fuller account of the Wharfie Strike in 1919, and the bravery of Tom Edwards
FOMO : Fremantle On My Own ( for non fremantle-ites)
We have been in Segovia for the last week , since Covid finally got us. I was going to say “stuck “ in Segovia,but that’s not entirely correct although some days it does feel like we’re in limbo. Like “ you can’t go over it , you can’t go under it…” we could go through it , and onward. However that requires energy and motivation, both in short supply in recovery mode.
But this blog is not about Covid or being unmotivated. It’s about rediscovering happiness.
Early on in my Covid story, before I started to feel really unwell I shut the door of our Airbnb and walked. It was a directionless walk with no map, no phone, no intention of seeing a particular building, landmark or gallery. After the first 10 minutes I felt free. Unhassled. I didn’t have to get anywhere at all and there was no one with me. I just had to move and look.
I’m attracted by a sign on the steps towards the aqueduct “Puerta de La Luna”. The gate of the moon. Steps lead through an archway to a garden alongside the old wall. In the distance are the mountains, soft and blue this sunny morning, and the few clouds above are mere wisps of cotton. I’ve walked here before, but this time I’m meandering and thinking. I’ve missed the corners and shadows before. There are tiny bits that maybe I can call regalos (gifts) : shapes and textures and colours, small scratched plaques that commemorate poets and statesmen, a sparkling fountain.
After a while I turn back up the steps to the Church of San Martin and on the wall, hidden in the shadows, is a plaque to those Segovia resistance fighters who died fighting the Franco Nationalists: 3,000 Segovian men (31 May to I June 1937). A lot of men .
Then I see the sign”Espana Oculta”(Hidden Spain).I go into into an amazing exhibition of photos taken over 10 years from 1973, by Cristina Garcia Rodero. I was in Spain thirty years ago, in Seville working in a bar in the last few years of Franco. I was young and ignorant: now I can see some of the fervour, the intensity which I felt then but couldn’t explain. An intensity of emotion in the cities where I was mostly: emotions clamped tightly under the women’s black mantillas, hiding within the ugly dark,shapeless clothes of widows and threatening to break out from beneath the skirts of carefully covered up young girls. The men strode around jauntily with their “guapa ”(attractive, but given an edge that implies sexy, or similar ) and other words that I didn’t understand tossed into the air at random women.
Cristina’s photos of that time tell of poverty and humour, of anger and religious intensity, and of cruelty. Many of the photos are of the Semana Santa rituals in the villages especially of Northern Spain.There are penitents on bloody knees in the mud or on hard stones, bare feet bleeding, old women standing stoney faced as they look towards the image of Jesus on his cross, villagers in processions klu-klux clan-like walking with the stark landscape in the background, carrying the Madonna or the crucified Christ. And these statues are heavy.
There are also photos filled with humour, families eating and drinking together, children playing, young girls dressed for first communion.
My mind goes back to the beginning of the Madrid Camino, a long 4 weeks away now, back in Fontiveros. We joined a celebration , a launch of a book of poems by Sanchez-Teran. The poet wrote on my copy : “Stay within the borders”. This suddenly makes sense.
His poems are about homelessness, poverty and war Corri (run) says the title, as if evil has no borders. We run but the borders shift, even as we run.
But there are no borders to interior thought. Some things are are always present, even within the chaos of our lives, within those borders. Perhaps especially within the borders: family, friendship, home, love. Also passages named Puerta de la Luna .
Ref;Gonzalo Sanchez-Teran Y Corri si el Mal Tuviera Lindes(2022)
Ref: Cristina Garcia Rodero.Espana Oculta(1989).
Last night was our last night in Segovia . Today we head to Madrid and the plane home. Last night was also the Finale of the music festival that has been on all the week. We have a prime spot for music : adjacent to the main stages off the Plaza Mayor . We are also directly above Bar Rubi
Last night the music started at 12.30 pm and went until 4am, loud music interspersed with fireworks and random drumming. Because we had to be up and packed early we moved mattresses to part of the apartmento which was least loud. Hence we spent most of the night squeezed onto the kitchen floor.
This morning we get up somewhat warily, but we’re up. We replace the furniture we moved last night, clean up snd check for the last time. We place the keys carefully on the table, click the door behind us and walk down the stairs to the main door.
Locked . We thump and yell, But no one is up this hour of the morning (in Spain, 10am.) Besides the door is locked from the outside, presumably by the man who delivers the bread to the bar underneath our apartment. I can see the loaves of bread with direction Bar Rubi in the corner.
Finally we remember we have Marianne’s phone number, the woman who let us in. We phone. No answer. We phone again, and again, repeatedly. Silence. We compose a Spanish text:
“ Estamos encerrados. Las llaves son dentro del apartmento”.
She phones back and I explain. “Madre!”she exclaims and there follows a mass of instructions and messages. Soon someone will come and let us out . We wait. It’s dark in the corridor and I’m feeling like I can’t breathe, how long more? She said as soon as she can and“ esperar”, to wait . We wait.
The lock turns from outside and we’re out. Marianne. A series of hugs and Gracias and lo sientos and we’re off across the Plaza Mayor to, hopefully, make our bus connection to the train.
Lesson learnt, always check the Puerta Principal door before locking keys inside your accomodation. Las llaves (the keys) have ways of testing you.
We’re here in Segovia and just moved into an Airbnb above the bar I’m sitting in right now. I’m drinking a hierbas, a light yellow liquor, telling myself it’s good for diminishing the remaining symptoms of Covid, and for adding to my Spanish learning. The bar is filling up gradually. It’s still early in Spain; 10pm is the beginning of the night. Even Sunday night.The people standing beside me at the bar are not young. At home they’d be in bed by now, especially on a Sunday night.
So what am I learning, or rather what am I having to remember from the learnings on the Camino just finished. Only a week ago , before Covid struck.
Obviously patience. Surprisingly, patience with myself first of all. I want to rush ahead, experiencing this borrowed life before it all fades or changes. Before I’m back in my real life and the this life loses its vividness, is diminished as it becomes another travel tale accompanied by a swag of photos. The Covid has just acted as a “stop” sign; stop and take in the scenes for longer, wait, rest, relish the slowness. So I’ll have another Hierbas ( only half though, it’s 70 % alcohol)
The father in Elizabeth Jolley’s My Fathers Moon (1989) insists that his daughter take in the “splendid view.” This is what I’m still trying to do, to take in that view. It is the long look, the abstracted, metaphorical sweep of what’s ahead. Like this morning when I saw the view from the surrounds of Segovia’s Alcazar in its clear light. The view was a Namatjira painting ,with unencumbered sky and the trees just sticking up above the line of the hills.
Patience also means another sort of seeing: to absorb the immediate. To stop and really see, not just glance. Listen, note, take in the gestures, the voices, the colours. Hey, that’s why I’m in this bar with Hierbas. Spanish voices float over me. There are instructions, explanations, descriptions, too early in the night for arguments. There’s a lot of “ claro”,”valle” and nods and hand movements. As usual, the men talk more but then there are more men here in the bar.
Patience also means dropping my expectations and accepting differences. I’m doing well with taking in the music performances on the Plaza Mayor here that have happened each night we have been in Segovia. Music lasts until 6am. In addition the bar underneath our hostal finally called it a day at 8am, and people spilled out underneath our window as we grabbed a few hours early morning sleep. But I have to acknowledge a degree of relief that Sunday night, right now, this bar below our present place is closing at 11 pm.
There’s patience too with my partner and fellow traveller. He doesn’t feel well enough to frequent bars or needs to rest when I feel like walking on, or drinking on. That’s up to him, and patience means doing what I want to do and leaving him to do what he needs to do, without resentment. We are not inextricably bound together at all times. I remember all the things he does that I don’t do, like finding the way, looking out for both of us. I acknowledge that and am thankful, while I go ahead and drink Hierbas in this bar, listen and write.
“ All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich, Showings
(Anchoress,and mystic Middle Ages)
I have been trying to practice this philosophy for the last 5 days since ending our Camino Madrid. The “turn -around camino”started from Sahagun and has brought us to Leon and then to Segovia. By train. Now we both have Covid. My cousin in UK, where we were to have flown yesterday, has Covid. My aunt whom I really want to see, has Covid. Even if we recover in the next few days, there is no way we can turn up to possibly infect others.
So here we are in Segovia. Recovering, we hope. Plans have changed. We’ve managed to cancel some internal journeys in UK, (a lesson in booking ahead), and paid to change our flight back to Australia earlier.
Now we are taking each day as it comes and accomodate changes with equanimity. We are enjoying the bits when we have energy and retreating for siestas when we are hot or tired. We are monitoring temperatures and other symptoms, grateful we’re not in a small village with no facilities or staggering through the heat on the Camino Madrid. We are supporting the pharmaceutical industry in Spain with medication and vitamins. And ear plugs .
Morning, 7.30 in Natura Hostal room. Faint boom boom sounds from bar below our room now have a melancholy air, echoing in an emptying bar. Voices on the street: negotiations, farewells, checking for transport, smokes,and a few final swallows from beers held lightly in hand. Ocasional yells but mostly now there’s a low hum of leisurely activity. This is just the beginning of another day.
8am and the music is turned off. More people spill out from under, there is a chorus of voices and quiet again.
I take out my earplugs and settle back into a relaxed doze for an hour or so. All is silent now. It’s an opportunity to get some sleep. Early morning and siesta time, late afternoon, are the best times for uninterrupted sleep.
Last night the bars were teeming with people of all ages as we walked back from the concert way past midnight. People spilled out onto the streets wine or beers in hand, chatting amiably and loudly. In the plaza young families arrived with babies in pushers and younger children, sometimes accompanied by grandparents. The night was just starting at 11.30 pm.
As expected the bar under our room was full and voices rose all night in a background to our breathing in and out, or coughing now with the Covid. The earplugs kept on falling out.
It’s music week in Segovia and every day there has been a series of different bands classical, jazz, brass bands and rock n’roll. Each afternoon large bands set up on the two stages in Plaza Mayor alongside and opposite the cathedral. To me this is symbolic of the Spain I have been coming back to for a long time. Catholic Church is just there, still woven into this culture with its feast days and fiestas, and music is here. Music is to the forefront, religion provides a reason. In the mix is a sort of faith.
However it’s not the bar noise at night, or the coughing and other Covid symptoms which are the main “causas”we are having to take on board. It’s the lesson in the unpredictability of life .
Only 5 days ago we had a clear outline in our heads : Leon to Segovia. To Madrid and flight to UK. The flight was 2 days ago.
In fact now decisions are made, flexible plans, there is a lessening of tension. I have let go of the picture of 3 weeks ahead. Now it’s one day at a time: while we have symptoms we’ll stay put. If we’re ok we’ll train to Madrid to get an earlier return flight. In the meantime I’m enjoying sitting in the sun watching the world go by. It’s a long day here in Segovia,and a short night .
We trust that all shall be well .
Well, since Villeguillo on the Camino Madrid when I joined the water spraying and coloured powder celebration of St Anthony’s feast day, I have felt a bit let down. Not for myself but for the saint. I have often prayed to him when I can’t find something, fairly often. He always delivers.
I have just read about why he is the Patron Saint of lost things. The story goes that he lost his missal and prayed for its return. Someone found it quite a while later and brought it to him. I’ve been thinking: is that all? Just a lost missal returned ?
Then I lost my toothbrush . Only a toothbrush but I have held onto it for nearly 4 weeks on this Camino. A red toothbrush which I place carefully next to me at night and pack in the top of my pack each morning, after cleaning my teeth of course. Then one night as I was checking everything was in the correct order on the chair beside my bed, I couldn’t see it. I had anxiety dreams all night. Dreams of falling into deep water, running but not moving,not being able to find a child.
I admit, I prayed to St Anthony.And behold the toothbrush reappeared, just as I was about to leave in the morning .
I relaxed. I could start on my way with my red toothbrush safely in my pack.
No longer am I questioning the importance of St Anthony’s missal in the scheme of things . The worth of an object is irrelevant. The depth of feeling attached to it is what counts. St Anthony loved and needed his missal. I need my toothbrush and am attached to it.
St Anthony understands attachment ( actually he is also patron saint of the poor and protector of children). So I’ll go on praying to him when I lose things, however insignificant that loss might seem. It’s the significance to me that counts.