Getting soaked and warming up

No pictures today. The heart of Celtiberia here in Galicia rejects internet waves, just as the Templar church would cut off any phone reception. I can’t put in pictures so I will have to, as Ruskin put it, word-paint. I have been reading Ruskin and Yeats, the kind of books you can get from Gutenberg. org, the source of thousands of copyright-free books. I loaded a lot of classics I had never gotten around to before I left. I did have a few KIndle books I bought, but I knew the classics were lurking. It’s sort of like eating all the junk food in the house first and then being left with actual nutrition.
Today I walked for four hours in a windy, chilly downpour in the middle of June. Heading down the mountain I climbed with the steed Carlotta, I felt like I was paying for the angelic ascension by a sort of hellish descent. It must have been in the forties, with horizontal rain and pretty good winds. Once again, I seemed to be walking alone for hours. I felt like the giant black slugs I saw on the pavement… moving soooo slowly. I just had a quick coffee before I started, so at a certain point in the morning I found myself with a hot chocolate, bread and cheese from yesterday, one hardboiled egg, a soaked travel salt, and a small glass of cognac to warm up… brunch. I got back on the road and the rain got worse. I slowly soaked up water, wicking it up from extremities as my shoes filled with water.
And yet… it’s all so beautiful. Spurs of a brilliant fuschia foxglove flower are everywhere, and hidden waterfalls are running. Because this is not a plain old backpacking trip, I am working on a good outlook as I walk. It’s not to Pollyanna up an uncomfortable situation– walking alone on a strange mountain in a big storm– but to try to notice the beauty around in the middle of my discomfort.
The first room I tried to stay in didn’t work out, and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve landed in a solid country paradise, with a huge wood stove pumping out heat, home made Galician soup, chickens pecking among the tables, and heaters in the albergue room that are actually pumping out heat. This reminds me of the Wanderhutte my former in-laws, Hans and Paula, used to run. That place was always full of farmers and travellers, like this one. The so-called town has about 50 people so it’s the only game in town. It’s a throwback, the kind of country place that hardly exists any more in California: real, hospitable, cheap, a grandma in front of the fire, and local guys from town at the bar. They’re discussing things in Galician, yet another Spanish language.
Ruskin would say, if you can’t actually draw, paint a picture with words. Shoes and boots are drying in front of the cast iron stove. I watched someone take off their shoes and their socks literally steamed! An orange rocker is reserved for the grandma. A Swiss youth who looks like the hope of the blond nations is chatting with a dismayed middle aged German couple. The chickens were let out of the bottom of the farmhouse as soon as the rain stopped , and are pecking and crowing among the plastic outdoor cafe furniture. The plain molded plastic chairs sensibly have holes in the seats to let rain run out. Now why don’t we do that? The hostess yells at me, not because she’s angry, but because if you yell, the foreigners understand better. Three huge, dispirited German shepherds are lying sadly in the courtyard, too tired to interact with guests, A black and white kitten is in the woodpile. And behind it all, the beautiful hills of Galicia loom, spotlit with gathering thunderheads filtering the late afternoon sun.
I could never have found such a perfect place to stay if I had spent days on the internet and in guide books. I am working on abandoning myself to the travel spirit, intuition, and guidance. I have good friends in the books I’m reading.
The poignancy of this journey is that it can hold so many emotions, and so much beauty and fatigue, in a single day, or even a single moment. Last night I saw one of the historical contenders for Holy Grail, a golden chalice with a golden sun like disk in it . It was lovely, and the setting was amazing… the original 9th century church, arguably the oldest church still in original form on the Camino. I watched people kneel before it and pray, while outside, drunk tourists were posing and singing. What use can this ancient myth have for us?
In the churchyard, the cemetery, the graves are raised slate boxes, one for each family. I have also seen tombs that look exactly like vertical bank or gun safes, including a lock and stainless steel handle. While the revelers sang, an old grandma went into the churchyard and spoke quietly to someone who lived in the slate box of her family. Her ancestors may well have lived in the same place for over a thousand years.
Yeats, in Celtic Twilight, said, that it was not so much what one believed, but that one’s beliefs can somehow be knit together, to make a cloak that keeps us warm. Here in this Celtic land, I am willing to believe a bit in fairies, virgins, and miracles. I am traveling through and inside a landscape of rich metaphor. And I am so glad for the soulful spirits that knit me together and keep me warm. It’s really cold here, and I’ll need it. Suzanne

6 comments

  1. “it was not so much what one believed, but that one’s beliefs can somehow be knit together, to make a cloak that keeps us warm”… I exhaled a spontaneous “Ahhhhh” when I read this, it was such instant resonance and comfort. Thank you, Suzanne, for my good fortune in traveling with you.

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  2. It appears your travel spirit and the many smiles of ancient virgins are leading to just the places you need to be. Sorry about the sogginess from the rain, I guess your poncho is not as effective as hoped — but I can feel your appreciation for a warm fire at the end of your stormy way day.

    Here is to singing “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the Plain”……

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  3. Greetings, dear sojourner, from the 95-degree day we’re having here in Guerneville as I read your account of cold, wet hiking. I savor each of your blog entries and all the wisdom and poetry and observations they contain–for me, vicarious glimpses into other worlds as seen through the eyes of a true artist/poet–YOU! I do hope you can publish a little book with all these entries and artwork; they are treasures! Sending you lots of love and courage…Sandra

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