For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Priest And The Cook

In a recent post on her blog Big Fun In A Tiny Pueblo, Rebekah Scott — writer and hospitalera from Moratinos — mentions meeting up with Don Blas, the legendary Camino enthusiast and priest of Fuenterroble, a parish midway along the Spanish Vía de la Plata. I wrote this about my own encounter with Don Blas in February 2010.

I stumbled into the pueblo late one afternoon. It was cold and had just started raining. It had been a hard day through puddles and mud. I entered one of the pueblo's two bars and put my jacket to dry on a chair in front of the radiator. The architect was already there with a drink and cigarettes. He looked angelic with his curly hair and soulful eyes. I ordered a beer. He told me to go to the priest's house just across the street. 'How will I recognize it?' I asked.
'You can't miss it. There's a bloody great cross outside. But don't sleep in the albergue behind the house. Put your stuff in the little room above the kitchen. There are a couple of bunk beds in there, and it's a bit warmer.'
So this I did.

Then I didn't know what to do. Outside it was cold, wet and windy. Nothing was happening on the streets. Except paper bags blowing around and the big cross shaking slightly in the wind. Inside it was warmer. But not that much. So I burrowed into my sleeping bag and had a lie-down. 'This is ridiculous!' I said to myself. 'In your sleeping bag at 6 o'clock?' So I had a shower, read a book, and tried to write a poem. The priest had invited me to dinner at 9. The minutes seemed to crawl by. Finally at 9.30 the teacher knocked at my door. 'Dinner!'

The priest and the cook.

I joined them all at table in the priest's cosy living/dining room: the architect, the priest, the teacher — and now the cook. A fire blazed in a huge open fireplace in one corner. On the table was a platter of beetroot and asparagus, some freshly-made fried eggs, a big bowl of home-made chips, a bottle of wine and a jug of water. 'Help yourself! Tuck in!' All men together. Arms on the table. Smoking between courses. Smoking between mouthfuls! The architect, the priest, the teacher and the cook. And now the pilgrim. Sounds like that Peter Greenaway film. What was it called? The Cook, The Thief, The Wife And Her Lover? But no wives here. Tonight this was an exclusively male preserve.

The cook was wild and extraordinary. He reminded me of a younger version of Father Jack Hackett from the TV comedy series, Father Ted. We spoke in a weird hybrid of Spanish, English, French and German. The cook had spent 20 years as a barman serving drinks to tourists on the Costa Brava. 'Never again!' he barked, spitting into the fire. He fetched some huge chunks of pig meat, which the priest threw onto the grill above the hot embers. It was soon ready. We gorged on the succulent pork and gnawed on the bones. Later we drank bitter, black coffee, and the priest disappeared — to reappear with a strong, colourless alcohol in a plastic Coke bottle. We drank. A great evening. A memorable evening. And so to bed...

The next morning I breakfasted alone with the priest. Melon, oranges, a meat pasty, yoghurt, café con leche. He gave me some fruit and the rest of the meat pasty for my packed lunch. He enquired if I wanted, perhaps, to return later that year as a voluntary hospitalero. He asked for no money. It was free to stay there — but I left 12 euros in the donation box. He showed me the rest of the house, the renovations, the old wooden cart which was being restored and repainted. He was a kind man, a good man. A very good man. And an intellectual man. His shelves were full of religious books, historical books, books about Don Quixote. Then I stepped outside into the damp, foggy air, and set off once more along the Camino.

It had been yet another unrepeatable, unforgettable night on the Vía de la Plata.

12 comments:

Arija said...

Such a touching story of your experience.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Arija!

The Solitary Walker said...

PS I'm so glad the emotion filtered through the Hemingway-esque prose..! Thanks again.

Susan Alcorn said...

A wonderful Camino-esque tale--a timeless adventure. Thank you.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Susan!

dritanje said...

Brilliant! What an adventure! And such symbolic figures - and written too, with real Hemingway style. Thought of you today when I saw a sign on a wall offering lodging for pilgrims - seems part of the camino goes near where I am now - clearly, it will have to be done!

George said...

What a fascinating, memorable evening. I assume you will consider this account for inclusion in your forthcoming book of travel essays.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, dritanje. I like the idea that adventures can be created out of quite ordinary events. Yes, I seem to recall there's a camino from the South of France through Ventimiglia to Rome...

Yes, George , I thought I might include this one...

Ruth said...

Yes, this is wonderful! Warmth emanates from the screen via your words. I'm glad to hear you want to include this one in your travel essay collection, Robert. George beat me to the question.

The Solitary Walker said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Ruth!

Carolyn said...

A lovely account of your adventure. I wanted to walk the Via de la Plata but its too late now...never mind! Did you see a lot of scallop shells on your journey? TFS

The Solitary Walker said...

Scallop shells and yellow arrows in profusion, Carolyn...