santiago de compostela

 

shells-tattoo

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it becomes very clear to me during the ayahuasca ceremonies in murcia that i am light years away from having my head fully into the concept of doing the camino. i have a conversation with a friend about the futility of putting energy into things that are not in line with the camino that the true heart wants to follow. everything else is a distraction. it may be a lovely, pleasurable distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. the thought resonates, bounces around for a couple of days, and it comes to me that it would be a good idea to just head up to santiago de compostela. i decide that i am in the mood to engage with the pre-camino camino. there are some things to do….. 7 kg’s of gear to be packed, reading, making notes, getting a map, figuring out some more of the features on the go pro, hanging out with gerry, wandering santiago, rebooting. yes, it seems that a good ol’ fashioned reboot is in order here.

leaving murcia, my mind is all over the place. i get dropped off in alicante and take a bus to santa pola, a small seaside resort town where my tia merce lives. a numbness pervades, probably from a slight overload of information from the preceding four days. surprisingly, even though i am not really in the mood for the massive “catch up conversation/aunt+niece bonding time” that i know we will have, i end up having a great time with my aunt. one day we go for a long walk along the beach and on the way back stop to have lunch. we devour calamares that set a new benchmark for calamares…yum!. drinking cold beer in the warm sun while the remnants of winter whistle past on the cold sea breeze, chilling exposed skin. we watch and pay out on spanish soap operas and shitty spanish sitcoms. the highlight is definitely the evening that we spend painting stones together. sitting with the stones, it is an exquisite pleasure to simply connect with the flow of whatever comes up in that creative space between the mind and the heart. there is an initial blankness, but slowly stories begin to emerge, reflected in the images. the music we listen to flows alongside us, around us, through us, as we work and sometimes sing. it merges seamlessly with the mind and in the hands. an endless succession of moments melting into each other.  after, i begin to ache to just be walking  with space all around me, energy and thoughts flowing down through my feet, tracing a line, leading me towards the focused, dense emptiness of now.

i need to take care of a little bit more business in madrid, so i go back there after a couple of days. i stay at cesar’s and, as usual, we go on a little wander, which is always lovely. there is also a hang out with peter…i cook mejillones and we laugh a lot. but when the time comes to say g’bye- my heart stumbles. blech! sticky, unwelcome feelings that i just want to peel away…they have no place here. why sadness? what actually changes? and i do peel them away, to some extent, as i get myself organised and to the train station and onto the train to santiago de compostela.  still slightly numb, i sit on the train, but as we move away from madrid, i feel my rhythm coming back. it’s all good. everything changes, yet nothing changes, that’s the truth.

seeing gerry again is a joy. we lived together for a short period of time in a share house in australia ten years ago and a wonderful friendship blossomed. what i love about spending time with him is that i spend a majority of that time either smiling, giggling or belly laughing. a type of dynamic emerges in my interactions with him where the laughter becomes so infectious that  one laugh feeds off the other until i have to stop just so i can breathe! as you can imagine, being around someone like this is really nice. he is a wonderful, gentle soul. a pianist. gerry shares an apartment with two others, iria and paula, and it is really nice to immerse myself in their space. so, i settle in. the only expectation i have of myself is to do one thing per day that goes in line with organising myself for the camino. the rest of the time i want to walk the city, write, laugh as much as possible, and, of course, eat. try to reboot into the now, a now that is taking me forward into a new experience.

being in galicia is a change of pace to other parts of spain. for me, it exudes a soft, slow but mellow, yet naughty vibe. every time i come here i have such a lovely time, especially sitting at dining tables! galicia is a place where you come to eat. it is a a double edged sword kind of eating here. social. delicious. full-on. heavy. so good you don’t want to stop, but you know if you take one more mouthful you will actually die…. oh my god that flan de cafe “esta que te cagas”…..i’ll take just one more spoonful…..the culture of food here is one based on generosity, on making sure that everyone has a full stomach because it wasn’t so long ago that people in this region were starving. it manifests through the bountiful tables and resounding “eat more!”‘s that come out of galician mothers’ mouths when they see you stop to take a breath….

speaking of galician mothers, gerry and i go to his parents house (angel and marisa), where they are planning to have a churrascada (barbecue). aunts, uncles and cousins descend upon their house and we eat. i try my best, but it is the pork that finishes me off. i am an absolute lightweight. gerry, enjoying his one day off, decides to hit the bottle, and what ensues is a hilarious family afternoon. lots of laughter, paying out on each other, playing parchis, chatting, enjoying the food. we eat a massive salad made from veggies grown in angel’s  garden. then we eat chorizos, chistorra, grilled chicken..an orgasmic flan de chocolate made with love by tia pili. after lunch we go for a walk to try and get our digestive systems moving faster and we end up at a local cemetery, wandering around the tombs. the cemetery takes us into a discussion about the civil war. i learn that franco came from this area……it used to be that in this place many people were executed and then tossed into unmarked graves. my walking companions get into an animated discussion where they recount family anecdotes relating to the war and franco. the trauma is not so distant for my friends. for me, it is an echo of a story told to me once by my abuelito about his experiences in the war. one story and the feeling to not ask questions because it was an extremely painful topic. you can’t get further away from spain than australia, so when i look to the tombs, i see the vestiges of murder carried out in the name of political ideology and i understand more deeply what it might have been like to live here. this further contextualises the decision made by my father and mother to leave. although i have the strong desire to live in this country, and am actively trying to make that desire manifest, at this moment, i am grateful that the beginning of my life happened in australia. i grew up far, far away from these stories of death and crazy politics, hearing only occasional commentaries from my father that left me with a detached, simple vision of the franco years.

walking back along the winding road towards gerry’s parents’  house, i break down the layers of sounds in the surrounding space. birds, cars in the distance, conversation, laughter, underneath it all, the breeze in the trees. even though my stomach feels like a bomb went off inside it, i punch through the discomfort with every footstep, vowing that i will never eat any food again. ever. when we get back to the house gerry is in fine form, and the night descends and descends in terms of logic and intellect, until we find ourselves on the back porch at 1 am, quite high, laughing our heads off as we plot the kidnapping of a large ornamental ceramic sheep that is grazing under a tree in the next door neighbour’s garden……

spending time in santiago is a welcome chance to have a desk space and wifi, with a couch nearby. this means that i spend hours sitting around, listening to music, writing, thinking, staring into space…during these periods of time the sediment from the ceremonies in murcia continues to settle and i begin to make broader sense of things. some emails arrive that seem to be pointing me in the direction of australia, probably in july. the art here will lie in walking that line where i focus on open doors without blocking off other opportunities that might be emerging in the background. my conclusion is to, for now, stay centred on the camino whilst continuing to expect the unexpected. the last bit is non-negotiable.

i go on some really nice walks around santiago. after three days of grey, the sun appears, so i get out onto the street and walk aimlessly for a couple of hours through the historic centre, taking photos, listening to music. my path takes me past the main cathedral, the place where i will come again in a few weeks. although my intention is to make finesterre the final stop, arriving in santiago de compostela will mean that i only have to walk another eighty or so kilometres to finesterre, so it will be the beginning of the end of the camino….the sun that was on fire five minutes ago has retreated and is now mischievously peeking out at me from behind the clouds. i take a seat close to the front doors. so many people are wandering around this area. school kids on excursion, tourists, some locals…..santiago de compostela only has a population of 70,000 people, but the fact that it is a major tourist destination for people travelling to the north of spain means that there are constant flows in and out. a friend tells me that the historic centre used to be inhabited mostly by locals~ that has changed. now, what you will see are thousands of different faces, many of them from elsewhere.. an upside to this is that it allows the walker to enjoy a degree of anonymity as he or she wanders. and it is this anonymity, this perception that i am not being watched, that opens up spaces for my own observation, thus affecting the ways that i interact with my surroundings.

the sun makes a triumphant return from behind the clouds and suddenly i have to peel my coat off. the heat touches my skin and i relax, leaning up against the stone wall. during this moment when my guard is down, he pops into my mind, the one who has been on my mind an awful lot lately……….and here he is again! surprise!!! i swim against the inertia of this thought and try to put my attention where i want it to go, but sitting in front of the cathedral in the sunshine, my mind is like an unruly child that needs one of those leashes to stop it from accidentally running onto the road…. it takes some doing. i think about neutrality. flexibility. expecting the unexpected. up, down, sideways. acceptance. all this speculation, imagining, projecting is just me pushing against what is actually happening, what is already there.

that day, as i walk around the city, i notice little details on the pavement, on the wall, cracks in the paint, dilapidated chic, crucifixes, lonely, curvy spanish village streets…..i get lost in the streets and i take out my camera and photograph whatever makes me stop. i don’t ask any questions. i stay within the nucleus of the labyrinthine and surprisingly empty historical centre of santiago. it feels the way a spanish town feels on a sunday afternoon in the summertime, when everybody has had lunch and is in the middle of their siesta. as i walk i encounter pockets of this vibe looming in the street, and there is something a little bit lonely about it but, all the same, the simplicity of one person walking a curved path between old stone houses is beautiful. on those streets, empty space is given a chance to speak, water and stone sing together, and the cracked wooden doorways whisper stories as you wander past. sitting in the sunshine, i wonder what it will be like to walk into this plaza in front of the cathedral, after i’ve done the walk?

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