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December 9, 2017

Blue Pumpkin Revisited

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic
'camino' begins when you are home."
-Beatitudes of the Pilgrim (from a church along the Camino de Santiago) 

     If you remember, and if you have been following this story, I was telling you about the blue pumpkin I had purchased once I arrived home.  I am getting to the bottom of the mystery as I cut into it. What colour is the blue pumpkin inside? You must all be in suspense. I know I am.

      As I carve, I contemplate. A friend has died. Another here on the island is seriously ill. My grand daughter is being born. The deer have eaten the Swiss Chard. I clean out drawers. A group of women who I have known for years do not believe I don't have blisters. I take off my shoes to show them. People ask me questions that are difficult to answer in under ten words before their eyes glaze over and they change the subject. I find that there is a signature within that is much more stark, like being at the brink of death or is it rather birth - where there isn't time for a bunch of nonsense and simultaneously and in contradiction to this, nonsense feels very important. What is not true falls away and as I was to write in my journal "all rubbish is going out in the trash. End of story." Living life lightly is a serious matter and one I am enjoying and getting much better at. And so I put up the Christmas lights and let go even more. Thank you dear readers for being here with me and may your own Camino's be ever so savoury.

     The interior of the blue pumpkin is....? a brilliant orange, much like a fleshy and rather juicy cantaloupe. I am guessing it tastes sweet. 


By Maryanna Gabriel 

"Keep silence before me, O islands.... - Isaiah 41:1

     I am thinking of home, so very precious. I was however, in the wrong airport and at the wrong hotel, wondering if I was being abducted by my Arab cab driver. I had landed in the Orly Airport and I had thought I was in the Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was learning the hard way just how far apart the two airports were as we sped along the highway. The taxi driver tells me in French that I am lucky it is late at night because if it was the morning we would be stuck in traffic and it would cost me a lot more. As it was, the total cost was only $150 to get to where I was supposed to be. Seriously stressed. My room was prepaid. I had no choice.

    What is it going to be like to wake up and not go walking? I thought to myself that I will need to be silent for a period when I arrive home and process this precious time. My knee is twinging badly and waking me out of a sound sleep. Imagine, no more church bells throughout the night. If I am lucky I will hear owls when I get home and watch the moonlight move through the trees. I love the bird calls in the forest and I won't be missing the frenzied feeling that I had experienced in Santiago. I just about kissed the sandwich in the Paris airport. It had basil in it. Love the French. I am thinking to myself it never was about the church, or the bones of the saint, it was more of a question. Would Spirit speak to me in an amplified way? Would I be more spiritual? The answer to these questions are not terribly profound but as I have written it all felt like a Buddhist body meditation. I am happy that I have packed so well, avoided blisters, that careful plans were successful, and that I have accomplished this. The body really is a miracle of creation. I am grateful for the amazing people I have shared my time with, the kindnesses, the love, the  laughter, the enjoining of pain and joy, the visual feast of a culture that is rich and so different from my own, and I am grateful for the blessing of health, hearth and family in a much more acute way. I do feel like I am going home renewed. I contemplate how Saint James is a 2,000 year old slow burn that has caught fire. When we discussed it, The Man From Montreal had said to me that as long as people feel they are safe they will keep coming. What is it exactly that drives us? This is an answer I feel I have discovered but like most matters of the soul and spirit it is difficult to define and articulate and one in which I am internalizing. For now. 


By Maryanna Gabriel

"...and if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it is a heightened state of awareness, 
in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.
That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end." – Pico Iyer

     Coming in past the Mount Of Joy, as it is called because the gleaming towers of the cathedral are visible, I was persevering
. I was not exactly experiencing joy as I was negotiating the will of The Way, feeling much like
Mount Of Joy
a pull toy following a magnetic track. Now the road is curving this way, I say to myself, now we are going up, now we are on pavement, here the road could have been shortened but the city wants us to go on this long round about curve and into nasty traffic, no bridges or crossings for safety, as the heat cinches the deal. I had booked near the cathedral and walking into the city seemed to go on and on. I longed to stop at an Italian Restaurant and five star hotels I was passing but I had promises to keep. It was a 
surprisingly dull suburban approach, no fancy shells, no hallelujah chorus's from welcoming choirs, no maps to understand the layout of the city, no brass bands of congratulations. I was exhausted to the bone. I got lost. Tears of frustration spilled over as I tried to negotiate the old city. How could I have come so far and be going through this now? I was impatient and frustrated. I was given reluctant help. My room was really pretty and I started to feel better.  So now, t'is the end. I was so very tired.

     There was a carnival atmosphere in the square below. A man was singing Italian opera. Vendors were selling crafts. The entrance to the famous cathedral was blocked off for renovations. I mostly needed to eat and to rest. I couldn't though. I needed the Compostela. This is the famous certificate of completion. It was almost the end of me waiting in
the line up that wended through hallways and rooms. I knew that once I lay down that would be it. In the line up I heard there was to be a pilgrim's mass that evening. Tough day on the pilgrimage. That attendance was a must. No rest for the wicked. I must be very wicked. Hey wait a minute, I have been granted reprieve from such thoughts. 

    These special pilgrim masses have the butofumeiro - an enormous incense holder that is not at every service and so I wanted to be present. I sought the entrance and ended up in another church. My first clue was the low number of attendees. I rushed to another doorway for I was
Pilgrims Mass 
worried I was not going to get a seat. Security was tight. I was in and hundreds were present. I went to the very back and the altar seemed so small, I was so far away from it. A nun was singing in Spanish. My German friend, Tim, tweaked my side and we gave each other big grins, happy to seeing each other and to be doing this with a fellow peregrino. As we watched the proceedings he was making me laugh. The service acknowledged the countries of the world that were represented and it seemed to me that the clergy had gone to huge effort with acknowledging the accomplishment of many of us present. It took many men in long purple gowns to pull the butofumeiro and make it swing. It was brilliant to see and I appreciated being able to experience this Camino rite de passage.

     After it was over I said goodbye to Tim as he threatened to come and see me one day. I really, really, really needed to lie down. Rested I did. I had deliberately arranged the time so that I would have some flexibility but I was not interested in doing too much. I don't think I understood how deeply exhausted I was. I know the lady in the hotel cut me toast that was about three inches thick. Maybe I looked to her like I needed it. 

December 7, 2017

Sarria Final Stretch

By Maryanna Gabriel

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
 – T.S. Eliot

     It was to be the last quiet stretch and I reveled in the silent hours. I passed a piper. He
was really magnificent and I again wondered at the Irish and Scottish influence upon this part of the world. As I passed Sarria there was a marked difference. Hoards had descended. Walking the last 100 kilometers still meant the reward of the certificate of completion and the forgiveness of the church. There were freshly laundered types with lipstick walking who looked like they had just come off of a golf course. Tour buses were pulling up. I passed a huge group of women wearing hot pink tee-shirts. I began to maneuver trying to avoid hoards of high school students. I was wondering if I had left my heart under that tree where I let everything go for my spirit seemed to have left the Camino. The Camino, however, had not let go of me. I felt infused with an iron grip as I walked with the tide and the magnetic pull to the final destination that is Santiago.

     A younger man named Tim from Germany had helped me in Burgos with directions and we had been seeing each other every day since. He made me laugh because he always made a face at  me and I would make one back. He caught up with me. "I hate this," he said. I had to agree. It was just not the same. I told him my story about Mercedes and Maria and he thought that day was a 36 kilometer day, much more than I had thought which explains a few things. Tim sped off trying to avoid as he put it- a crazy French woman. I walked more slowly. I was negotiating with a cold that had decided to invade my system. By now I had laryngitis and I sounded like I was on death's door but I still felt fine enough to walk. Pushing on I thought there was a surprisingly low number of cafes and bars to accommodate the numbers walking that I was witnessing. I was having trouble finding food that I felt I could eat. By now I was taking Ibuprofen much more often. The use of Voltaren on my knees, an anesthetic, was routine. As I turned in to a little place for coffee, The Man From Montreal and I were delighted to see each other  catch up on each other's Camino news. We were both in need of cheering up and arranged to meet for dinner. It was a fun evening and captured the spirit of the earlier part of the journey. Santiago was very close.


December 4, 2017

Maria & Mercedes

By Maryanna Gabriel

"...renewed in strength they shall mount up with wings as eagles... "
Isaiah 40:31

      You know how it is. One can manage in the face of aridity and disenchantment and as soon as someone shows an understanding, the flood gates open. My heart was open. Mercedes whisked off to the counter and prepared a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice waving my money away. I promptly burst into tears again. I wondered how this woman could take the time for me in what was clearly a busy period, it being the height of the season. I felt humbled. It was too much. I could barely manage receiving the gifts of care she was giving. It still didn't stop. Where was I going tomorrow? And the next day? And where was I staying? Tsk. Tsk. No wonder I am having a hard time. No this would never do. She was making arrangements. She would call her friend Juan to help me. Off she went to find some slippers for my feet. Yes, we would most certainly drive me to where I was supposed to be staying. A long history on town politics followed. I was going to O'Cebreiro. I must pray to the saint. Would I pray to the saint for her? Funny things happened in that church. They will come to see me in Canada. We were friends for life. She would be phoning Juan to look out for me. Here is their card. When we said goodbye I bowed. It seemed like the right thing to do. She would have none of it and hugged me close. Call if I need anything. Please be careful. 

     Rest, and more rest followed, and better nutrition. It was as though I had been washed clean. My heart was cleared by a tsunami of loving care. Angels. Angels on the Camino. No question. I felt weak but better. Like I was renewed. Strength returned. I could feel it bubbling up. The body really is an amazing creation. O'Cebreiro captivated me immediately. It was clear it was deeply influenced by Celts. The homes were rounded with thatched rooves. There was a feeling I really liked about the place. I went to the church with Mercedes in my heart and made the petitions for her that she asked of me. I read about the priest who had once presided. He was the one responsible for the yellow arrows along the Camino. He was a great advocate to his countrymen for the Camino. I heard about a statue of an angel that turned it's bronze head in front of a congregation when this priest had been conducting a service. The entire congregation had witnessed it. I stared thoughtfully at his memorial bust in bronze posed lovingly amid many plaques of commemoration and gratitude from across Spain. I counted 24 plaques. I took my time, lingering. Thoughtfully, I descended into the valley below. By now most pilgrims were long gone. I had the walk mostly to myself. There were trees for I was now in Galicia. I enjoyed the rural vistas, the unfolding valleys, the ringing of cow bells as well as sheep and horses. I was grateful it was cooler. I felt a profound peace. I passed through small hamlets and wondered about the people that lived in such quiet places. 

December 3, 2017

Get Thee To A Nunnery

Dear Reader,
This entry is out of order. It belongs just before the end of October between the posts entitled "Zubiri" and "Pamplona". When I tried to move it back I thought I had lost everything, I mean everything, so have to live with this being like this for the time being due to a condition known as "blog terror".

For some reason, one day, the blog went rogue and decided to repost this entry under a different date...
 xo Maryanna

By Maryanna Gabriel

 "The soup, thin, and dark, and utterly savourless,
tasted as if it had been drained out of the umbrella stand."
 - Margaret Halsey

    The nun who admitted me was formidable. She demanded to know why I was not getting stamps every night in my credencial. I stammered it was because I was trying to save room. Well, she said, if the police are trying to locate me they can determine where I was the night before. Good point. Alrighty then. Chastised, I managed a shower and settled in. For the next three hours the door was knocked on and I was repeatedly visited. I was in the wrong room. Would I move. Yes, I would. Then nothing would happen. Tiring of this and perishing of hunger I sought out the kitchen. Hoping to speed things up I set the table for about 25 people, a full house.

    Four men were cooking. Why, I wondered, were men cooking in a convent? It seemed a logical question. Well, one replied, it was because they were volunteers from the north of Spain who had come to help the nuns. Clearly protocol was in a revival. Dinner was at seven, of course not a moment before, this was Spain after all, what was I thinking, and we all eagerly assembled. A bottle of red wine was presented. We poured a thimbleful each. I started to worry. Bread came and disappeared. I noticed some people didn't get any. Potatoes swimming in water came next. I accepted a couple of pieces of potato and my bowl was filled to the brim with potato water. A little salt and maybe an onion would have done wonders. Feeling brave, I looked around at my fellow diners. It was a bit like the emperor and his new clothes. Everybody looked like this was all perfectly normal and some elderly German women seemed to be positively beaming that they were having this amazing Camino experience. I wondered quietly if the church box needed more donations. I duly and slowly ate my potatoes and potato water. Staying alive, after all, was a priority. The pot came around again and this time it was sausage water. Ohh. I just couldn't manage that. Besides, I am not a pork or beef person. Lettuce came followed by olive oil. Okay. This is really lovely. Courses. I nibbled on my lettuce leaves wistfully wishing I could have combined them with the potatoes, but hey, I am just a Canadian and we tend to do that sort of thing. The olive oil was very nice, I decided.

    With the meal mercifully at an end we were expected at service. The church had been built a thousand years before and I stiffly ascended an ancient spiral stairway to an upper level where candles glowed as we sat in a circle on a warm rug. About five languages were spoken. I found myself feeling moved by the fact that I was part of a mass migration, a calling that so many people were answering and I prosaically voiced what I was experiencing. I was surprised to understand that I was the only person present who spoke English. A nun translated. A woman from Brazil wept because she and her husband were having a hard time on their bicycles and the kindness of strangers helping them with moving the bikes over the rocky terrain when they were so tired was very moving for her. The nun who admitted me read Psalm 36 " your house they find rich food..." I am not making this up. A blessing for pilgrims was invoked.

    Somehow I slept. A sweet young woman from Italy who constantly apologized had taken the upper bunk. I told her to stop saying sorry to me and she laughed and relaxed with me. Breakfast seemed a larger attempt at generosity. Maybe the donation box was replenished by my fellow pilgrims. A volunteer showed me that olive oil on bread was a real delicacy. This was not really my first breakfast choice but being rather polite I gave it a go. It was surprisingly good. The olive oil was so light it tasted like butter. And so it came to pass that I eagerly exited. Taking great gulpfuls of air I happily turned on my head lamp and sallied forth. An owl hooted as I descended a hillside path to rejoin the road. As dawn broke one thing was evidently clear. Having been thoroughly blessed inside and out these last two days, I knew I was definitely not cut out for the nunnery.

The Kindness Of Strangers

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."
-Mother Theresa

     I was starting to get tired. A deeper fatigue. The walking was treacherous. I needed to
"Careful Of Robbers"
pay attention to my feet and watch the path constantly. It was stony and there were dusty chasms in it where earlier rains had formed rivulets
. A twisted foot would mean the end. The heat continued unrelentingly. I was a little alarmed that the sunblock I had was discolouring the material of my clothing and pack. What was it doing to my skin? I wetted my buff and wore it on my forehead to catch the perspiration. The buff seemed to dry immediately. I was watching my water carefully. The ligaments of my knees seemed swollen. Days passed. I dreamed of times long ago. It felt so real. Almost biblical. Maybe I was becoming one with the earth. I felt more withdrawn from my fellow walkers perhaps feeling a need to just concentrate on the process. Food seemed unappetizing. I was relying heavily on packages of mineral salts that I had brought from home. Maybe I wasn't well. I could not indulge in a rest. I had to push on.

     I was feeling waves of homesickness. I longed for the creature comforts of my house,

the relief of green and garden, what was mine and what was my identity. I deeply missed my family. It was like I was dissolving. The sun was beating me into a dull and insensible puddle of submission. The Camino was opening me further, to a place that seemed not really human. I was starting to sense an almost iron will exerting itself upon me that seemed relentless and unyielding. I hadn't really noticed it before. My jaw was starting to hurt. I must have been clenching my teeth.

    I was supposed to be approaching "a charming village" the guide book said. I fought off waves of nausea. I needed to stop. I sat under a tree in exhaustion warily eyeing the garbage around me. I leaned back against the trunk. It was very old. Maybe a Hawthorne. Trees are few and far between and I was appreciating the barky comfort on my back. I was realizing I could care less about the charming little village, I could care less about the Camino, in fact. I could care less about anything. I wanted to just stop. Forever. The world was in slow motion and time seemed irrelevant. Everything seemed irrelevant. The big sleep. I wanted it. Really, really wanted it. I prayed. Funny. I wasn't asking for help. I was saying thank you. Just thank you. Thank you for it all. 

     A large group of walkers passed all in a clump. Something in me was roused. The sun
was starting to abate. Evening was approaching. Somehow I found the strength to stand. A woman placed some raisins into my had. "You need sugar," she had said. Maybe. The charming village appeared and walking into it seemed an endless process. I had help finding my accommodation. They were busy at the counter. I sat on a bench wondering if they would mind if I just lay down on it and slept. I took in the care taken with the design of the place, the stonework, the use of etched glass. I could smell red peppers roasting. I liked it here. The woman at the counter approached looking a little concerned. 

      "I am Maria. Can I get you some water?" I must have nodded for a tall glass with chinking ice cubes was put into my hand. She stared at my manifest. "I hate to have to tell you this but you are in the wrong refugio. There are two places in this town with the same name. This business has been in my family for eighty years. Our good name has been copied by someone else." Rapid fire Spanish was exchanged with her mother who had now joined us. Maria's mother seemed alarmed as she looked me over. She told me to take off my socks and shoes and rest. I seriously did not want to inflict the state of my feet upon her and her fair establishment. She repeated the order in English and hastened away. "You don't argue with my mother," Maria said. Her mother bustled back with a tub of warm water with Epsom salts. "Here," she said and introduced herself as Mercedes. She placed an enormous chocolate that was the shape of a heart into my hand. 

         I promptly burst into tears. Such kindness. It was her kindness.