A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Death In The Afternoon

I left the suburbs of Pamplona and its university, its cranes, its new housing blocks. And stopped for a beer in Cizur Menor just outside the city. It was only late morning but I felt like a brief rest. The bored, red-lipsticked, black-haired bar girls were either languidly staring into space or talking passionately into their mobiles. It was still hours before they had to set the tables for lunch which in Spain starts at 3 pm. Refreshed I headed out into a bare and treeless countryside of red-brown earth. Arid, red-brown hills reared up all around me. This was a quite different landscape from the gentler, more rounded, wooded hills near Roncesvalles. I had never seen such a landscape in all my life. I passed a memorial to a pilgrim who had died at a spot close by.

It seemed an age to reach the windy top of the Alto del Perdon, the Hill of Pardon. No guide book study or map reading was necessary. You just placed your feet in the direction of the whirling monopods of countless wind turbines which desecrated the wide hill on the south-west horizon. But right then I didn't feel like being a Don Quixote tilting at windmills. On the summit there's an east-west procession of medieval pilgrim silhouettes sculpted in wrought iron. It was no place to hang about for long as the wind blew chill. I slipped and stumbled down the stony slope on the other side. From here you could see all the villages for the next 12 km mapped out before you in a meandering line: Uterga, Muruzábal, Óbanos - and Puente la Reina, my day's destination.

At Uterga I witnessed a sad accident. A cat raced across the village street and was crushed by a car right in front of me. Its legs twitched convulsively. A passer-by urged me to put it out of its misery by striking it with my walking pole. But as I approached it stopped moving. A couple of weeks later another pilgrim caught up with me and told me she had seen the dead cat and had carefully carried it to the side of the road. I wish I had done that. This incident haunted me for days afterwards. I felt somehow guilty for an accident that was not my fault... I kept thinking about Hemingway, and the killing of bulls, the ritual spilling of their blood. Spain was something else. Something more primitive... The path stretched before me like a snaking wound through the open landscape.

Traditionally and mystically there are 3 stages of the Camino: from Roncesvalles to Burgos lies the Way Of Reflection; from Burgos to Leon the Way of Penitence; from Leon to Santiago the Way of Glory. I had begun the Way of Reflection. Would I ever attain the Way of Glory?

My photo shows the church porch at Puente la Reina.


Alan Sloman said...

Sensitively written. Thought provoking. I wish you well on your journey to your third stage.

The Solitary Walker said...

Many thanks for your comments, Alan. I fear that after the first stage it's downhill all the way (only metaphorically speaking, of course - the hills of Leon loom...)

Compostelle 2008 said...

It would have been fun to know about the three stages when we walked the Camino. When I think about it, they are entirely appropriated and even go with our experience, especially the Way of Penitence! Thanks for a great blog, it brings back a lot of memories.

Michèle (Ottawa) Canada

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm glad you liked my account, Michèle! I met several French-Canadians on the Camino.