I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Monday, 28 December 2015

Camino

I began writing a novel about the Camino in the summer of this year, but haven't looked at it for several months. Now I realise that it's seriously flawed and needs rethinking entirely. Oh, well. Who ever said writing was easy? I've salvaged a few sections . . .

I’d first heard about the Camino several years earlier. I’d been walking the Pennine Way and had booked my final night in a B&B close to the Scottish border. There I’d met another hiker, a merchant seaman called Martin. Martin used to spend months at sea, followed by equally long non-working periods on dry land. At first he had passed this ‘holiday’ time like many young men with cash in their pockets — drinking, taking drugs, lying on beaches, picking up girls. Then one day it struck him that he was bored and wasting his life. A magazine article about the Camino he’d picked up in a dentist’s waiting room piqued his curiosity. He went to bookshops and libraries, discovering more and more about this old pilgrim route. He was hooked. From that moment on he spent much of his free time trekking these ancient trails. He found that there was not just one but a whole network of paths criss-crossing Europe and beyond. And the more he researched and walked these paths, the more he realised that caminos existed anywhere you wanted them to be. There were caminos in every country and in every culture, caminos across time and through space — even caminos in the mind and in the heart . . .

The story of the Camino goes something like this . . .

After taking Christianity to the Spanish, the apostle James returned to Judaea, where he was tortured and beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 AD. According to the legend recounted by various anonymous authors of the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus, and later by French scholar Aymeric Picaud, some of James’s disciples shipped the body of the martyr back to Spain, but their boat sank in a storm just off the northern coast. The undamaged corpse was washed ashore covered in scallop shells — the scallop shell ultimately became a potent symbol for the Camino — and was buried in a secret place. Centuries later a hermit called Pelayo saw a star shining directly over the spot. A bishop called Teodomiro had the site investigated, soon identifying it as the apostle’s tomb. This was a shrewd and farsighted move, promising much future revenue for the church. A chapel was built there, which later became a cathedral, and a city grew up around it, which was named Santiago de Compostela — ‘Santiago’ meaning ‘St James’ and ‘Compostela’ meaning ‘Field of the Star’.

During the Middle Ages, Santiago was celebrated as one of Europe’s holiest shrines. Routes led here from all parts of Europe. The four most well-known paths through France to the Spanish border started in Paris, Vézelay, Arles and Le Puy. It was in Le Puy, of course, that I had begun my own journey. The Reformation and the Black Death put an end to this enthusiasm for pilgrimage for a while, though a trickle of penitents continued to flow. Then, four hundred years later, in the mid-1980s, pilgrim numbers began to rise again, and they have carried on rising ever since. So, this year, perhaps thousands of hikers, pilgrims, tramps and vagabonds had already passed this way before me, vanishing into the dust. Or at least disappearing into the next bar . . .

10 comments:

donna baker said...

I have little deer trails throughout my fields that I follow, looking for treasures like owl pellets, bones and such. Perhaps those trodden paths are enough for me for I too, am a solitary walker.

Amanda Summer said...

I never knew this history of the Camino. Such a beautiful thing to come out of a beheading and torture.

Margaret Butterworth said...

I too would like to write about the Camino. I have walked parts of it 5 times now and think about it often in the "off season". My intention was to publish an e book about my adventures! However, ive come to the conclusion that my writing just isn't good enough. Yours, on the other hand, is quite inspiring and I have collected several of your quotes. Please do not abandon this idea! But why a novel?

The Solitary Walker said...

The deer paths sound delightful, Donna.

Yes, it's such a potent legend, Amanda.

Margaret — thanks for reading! I'm pleased you enjoy my Camino writings. I've always wanted to write a novel, but find it so difficult. Non-fiction may be a little easier, and I already have some basic material, but I do regret not making more notes and taking more photos as I walked along — one forgets details so easily. I'll see what happens.

dritanje said...

More and more it seems to me that the writing has its own ideas - a bit like the 'secret destinations' as Buber wrote about - and it was your blog that alerted me to this wonderful quote. We might start out with a certain idea about what the writing will be or we want it to be, (novel, poem etc) but it tends to stubbornly have its own way/journey. It could be part fiction, part non-fiction for example? I agree with Margaret, your writing, whatever form it takes, is inspiring, and so glad you share it with us!

am said...

Your writing style is consistently engaging and thoughtful, and you have a splendid sense of levity and gravity. Good to hear that you are in the process of finding the right form for some extended writing in connection with your experiences with the Camino.

Ever since your recent post about visiting an exhibit of work by Elisabeth Frink, I have been steadily looking at her work, watching videos about her and her work, and listening on the link you posted. Thank you so much for introducing me to Elisabeth Frink. Inspiring.

https://youtu.be/lXNSsq0cklk

Also enjoyed this one:

https://vimeo.com/148269842

The Solitary Walker said...

Morelle (Dritanje) — thanks so much for this. It really has helped me. 'Writing has its own ideas' (yes, rather like that Buber quote!) — this I will hold on to. You've given me a clearer sense of direction — or rather have enabled me to be more in tune with being directed. And thanks also for your nice compliment about my writing!

The Solitary Walker said...

Amanda (Am) — many thanks to you too for your appreciative and appreciated comment.

I hadn't seen those two videos, and watched them this morning. I enjoyed them tremendously. I'm glad you like her work. I thought you might.

Anonymous said...

Spelling/printing mistake. The codex is Codex Calixtinus.
Thank you for your writings. They always inspire to further research.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Anonymous. I've now corrected the spelling.