I’m writing you from my favorite cafe at the end of the world, a cheery place to counteract all the endings. Seagulls shriek, cry, bark, howl, meow, and moan; I’ve never heard anything like it, all day and all night. A person with too much imagination could easily hear them as the souls of the damned, wailing before they are carried away. Did I mention that Finisterre is built on a graveyard? Hey, I watch movies: I know what happens when you build on burial sites. Or maybe only Americans notice.
This sweet woman just made me a tortilla, which has morphed from a thick egg and potato slice into a thin sweet pancake or a sort of French toast with a little anise in this part of Spain. Yum. I call it the Yelling Cafe, because there are two TVs, and music, and a pinball machine, and everyone happily yells most of the time to be heard. It reminds me of holiday meals with the Edminster side of the family. My father said that his family was too poor for toys so they went in for recreational arguing instead. It’s full of fisherman. You have to like a place that, when you ask for something, they phone to see if any has just come in on the boat.
In spite of the cheery Yelling Cafe, I had a hard time with Finisterre, the end of the world. It’s the end of the world of being and pilgrim and transitioning back to being a tourist. I was talking with a Belgian pilgrim and I said, “It may be World’s End facing ahead, but then you turn around and a world is still there. ” The man said he met a guy who was doing a bicycle pilgrimage starting at Finisterre in France on the coast of Brittany, then going to this Spanish End, and from there on to the Portugese Finisterre. I have seen another world’s end, Pacific style: standing on Hawaii’s South Point near Naalehu you face thousands of uninterrupted miles of South Pacific vastness.
I do find the place melancholy and rather sad. In spite of my love of symbol and archaic remains and traditions, there’s a point when it all feels like death, drawing the energy of your body out of you. I have noticed it before when looking at petroglyphs or cave painting, or sometimes at the old masters. That’s why we have museums and cathedrals; they are image and tradition morgues so we don’t have to live with these things in our daily life, soaking the immediacy out of our fragile, temporal existence. I reached my saturation point in Finisterre; I didn’t even want to see the prehistoric stones or carvings.
Looking at the endless reaches of ocean is a bit like looking at cave paintings, or the stars. All these beauties are physical reflections of infinity and eternity .They can restore and inspire, but they can also consume your fragile spirit. It is said that the souls of the ancients were taken in spirit ships to the Land of the Dead from Finisterre,and the coast is called the Coast of Death in Spanish, both for shipwrecks and for the many cemeteries, ancient and modern, which line the coast.
Now I have to leave being a pilgrim behind at the end of the world, and return to being a tourist. I ended up walking 260 KM out of the entire Camino, walking steadily for a month. I didn’t get the standard Compostela, because, though I did walk over 250 KM, I didn’t walk the final part. I got to 88 K and found I was no longer enjoying the road. After my long and contemplative walk– I think I was by myself about 70% of the time–it was very disturbing to have at least five times the number of people around, including huge school groups of teenager. It was hard not to judge them. Competition for beds started. After much reflection, I elected to take the bus into Santiago. When I did, I felt much better. I did get a Franciscan Compostela. The monks give them based not on distance, but on whether you feel you walked in the spirit of Saint Francis, which I did.
I’m back in Santiago now, in a cafe that feels Viennese… a huge room with chandeliers and original woodwork and rows of easy chairs. I like the city. All cities that have hosted pilgrims have an air of weary sophistication. They have a tradition of hospitality, and no xenophobia; they respect the tourists, and include them.
Tomorrow I leave Santiago for Porto, Portugal, then Madrid, then home. I am now turning the trip into an art museum tour in Porto and Madrid, including the Prado. I loved the Cathedral Museum and the gentle beauty of the mideival art.