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

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Camino People (2)

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 would I recognize it?' '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 told 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!'

I joined them all at table in the priest's cosy living/dining room - the architect, the priest, the teacher. And 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, a jug of water. 'Help yourself! Tuck in!' All men together. Arms on the table. Smoke between courses. Smoke between mouthfuls! The architect, the priest, the teacher, 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. For 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 the tourists on the Costa Brava. 'Never again!' He fetched some huge chunks of pig meat, which the priest threw on the grill above the hot embers of the fire. It was soon ready. We gorged on the succulent pork and gnawed on the bones. Later we drank strong, 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 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 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...

(My photo shows the priest on the left and the cook on the right.)

8 comments:

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

What a simply wonderful night…and memory. See, real adventure to me isn't climbing that peak or swimming through shark-infested waters—it's moments such as this, where something almost magical transpires.

Tim Shey said...

I like the way you write.

This piece reminds me of a short story by Ernest Hemingway: "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

Everyday life can be an adventure. Any conversation can be gold, silver and precious stones. When we walk in faith, the Lord is always putting people in our path that will help us on the way.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I agree with both of you. There are diamonds in the mud if we would but look.

Thanks, Tim (and thanks for your other comments too back in the blog). Stylistically, Hemingway is one of my literary heroes (and George Orwell). It's far too easy to overwrite, and, if I feel tempted, I look to Hemingway and Orwell as models. I think you can often say a lot more in fewer words, and in understatement, than you can in flowery, fat prose. Though it's massively dangerous to make any rules about this - there are plenty of wordy, rambling writers I admire, Faulkner and Powys to name but two.

I've talked about Orwell already on this blog (look under Labels). Might write about Hemingway too at some point.

Tramp said...

SW
I love reading pieces like this, such a meaningful way of travelling, such simplicity.
Originally I got to your blog when I looked for anyone writing about John Hillaby. I read his "Journey through Britain" while snowed up in a hut in the Antarctic some years ago.
Tramp

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Tramp. What were you doing in the Antarctic?

Tramp said...

For a year I watched the sky, supposedly with some technology but mainly marvelling at it with my eyes. Then in the second year I was relieved of the technology (or the technology was relieved of me) and I had more general base duties so I kept looking and sometimes I saw.

gleaner said...

A wonderful story and love the photo of the priest and the cook (I had to enlarge it to get the details such as the cigarette ash on the table beneath the cook's hands). The priest has eyes that seem very familar to me.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Bella. I've enjoyed doing this little series on the people of the Camino. The people bring the Camino alive.