The way of the stars

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The way of the stars

  1. 1. The way of the starsReflections of an American Pilgrim<br />1<br />
  2. 2. READING FOR UNIT 2:Nicetomeetyou, pilgrims!<br />2<br />
  3. 3. As far as the actual journey is concerned, the Way to St. James (Camino)starts at home and, if home is where the heart is, it starts there. Practically, however, it has become the tradition to start in France in St. Jean Pied de Port or in Roncesvalles on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees .This is the beginning of the Camino Frances or the French Route. But, there are other caminos: the Camino de la Plata which comes from Granada in the South, the Camino del Norte which follows the wild northern coast of Spain and the bay of Cantabria and the Camino Primitivo, one of the oldest, a detour to the north from the Camino Frances that was used to evade the moors who controlled most of Spain to the south. There is also a camino that rises northward from Portugal<br /> My goalwastokeepbothbody and mindfit, toenjoythechangingcountrysides of northernSpain, and reflect in a natural setting. Justbeforegoing a friendcalled me and mentionedthattheywantedto do anarticleonthe Camino de Santiago for a publication and askedthat I takesome notes on my way. I agreed, and thisis a summary of my note taking. <br />3<br />
  4. 4. Days 1-3: Finding The Rhythm<br />Day 1<br /> I drive two hours northward from Madrid to Burgos, a town on the Spanish meseta or mesa that is known for its constant winds, the bitter cold of its winters and the quality of its morcilla, a type of blood sausage that is considered the best in Spain. The meseta has similarities with the geography you might find in the southwest of the United States, raised tables of arid, slightly undulating land. Burgos with its sausage and spires would be completely alien on any American mesa. <br /> I check into the refuge in the early afternoon and am helped by a young man. He shows me to my bunk in a large room which is shared by both men and women. A healthy snoring rises from some of the beds, and the air smells of mentholated cream, the kind used to alleviate the aches of muscles and joints. A woman whose feet are being attended to by a friend laughs at the snorers. Despite the laughter and the noise of people shuffling about and moving their baggage, the exhausted walkers continue sleeping contentedly and soundly.<br /> <br />4<br />
  5. 5. After checking in, I visit the 13th century cathedral for which Burgos. It is the largest in Spain and is nothing less than spectacular. The cathedral of Burgos is resplendent, a brilliant, creamy white, its interior and its ceilings of an extraordinary lightness and beauty. On the way back I take the time to sit on the tree-shaded terraces and have a coffee, and watch as the locals begin to emerge and the cafés become busy as the afternoon heat subsides. I learn how much the sun and the heat mark the rhythm of life in northern Spain and on the camino. <br />When I come back to the refuge, I find a crew of six or seven doctors working around a picnic table in the courtyard. At first I fear the worst, that someone has had a serious accident or suffered heat stroke. Then I realize that they are only here to attend to the sore and blistering feet of the pilgrims. They wear black uniforms with reflective international orange and seem a bit overdressed and overly serious for the task at hand. They appear to be enjoying the opportunity to listen to the pilgrims who are keen on telling their stories. <br /> Within minutes I hear French, German, English and more languages I don't recognize. Few of the walkers are Spanish. Apparently, some 80% of the travelers this far out from Santiago are foreigners. The Spaniards tend to join the camino 100 kilometers before Santiago, perhaps because they are less disposed to physical exertion and long journeys. 100 kilometers is the magic mark since it is the minimum distance for which the pilgrim can get a certificate for making the pilgrimage. <br />5<br />
  6. 6. Nowisyourturntothinkaboutthetext.<br />Wheredoes St. James Way<br />start, accordingtotheauthor? <br />HowmanyroutestoSantiago<br />doeshemention?<br />Which places doesthepilgrim describe? Whichadjectives and comparisondoes he use?<br />Explainthemeaning of thefollowingsentence in thetext: “I learn how much the sun and the heat mark the rhythm of life in northern Spain and on the Camino”. <br />Discusswithyourclassmatesabouthowyou can communicatewithpeoplewhichdoesnotspeakyoursamelanguage.<br />In pairs, imagine thatyou are theauthor of thisdiaryanyoumeetanotherpilgrim. Write a short dialogue askingeachotheraboutplace of origin, job, family, etc. Thenactoutthe dialogue.<br />6<br />
  7. 7. READING FOR UNIT 4:<br />Travel, trouble<br />7<br />
  8. 8. Day 2<br />I wake up the next morning not particularly well rested. It is not easy to rest in a room with 50 or more pilgrims unless you too are in a state of utter exhaustion. Ear plugs are advisable for those who are sensitive to noise. So is patience; there is a constant opening and shutting of windows by those who find the room too hot at night and want fresh air, and those that fear the pernicious effects of drafts. I conclude that refuges are not for the squeamish. <br /> My first contact with a pilgrim is with a pale, sincere-looking American woman from Oakland who lives, coincidentally, right across the hill from where my sister lives. As the Spanish say, el mundoes un pañuelo (the world is as small as a handkerchief). She is in her late 20's wears a long-sleeved shirt and a broad rimmed hat, a bit like that of St. James, to protect her skin. She started walking in St. Jean Pied de Port and is doing the camino in segments. This is her second year walking. Each year she walks the distance she can in her scant 10 days of American vacation. She then flies home, works for another year, and comes back and continues where she left off the year before. She is at the end of this year's journey, just 600 kilometers shy of Santiago.  Another two to three years and she expects to make it but, tomorrow she flies back to Oakland.<br />8<br />
  9. 9. The day starts sharing the same footpath with the pilgrims and I have the opportunity to observe some of their idiosyncrasies. I pass one man shielding himself from the blazing sun with a large black umbrella, balancing, seemingly, on a tightrope, a bit like a clown in a circus act. Many pilgrims break the most basic rules of hiking.  They walk dangling heavy items in plastic bags in their hands, straining arms and shoulders. Others carry weight that would strain a mule. Some wear heavy, stiff-soled boots designed for mountain climbing and others wear flip-flops designed for the beach. Each will clearly pay for their choice of footwear at the end of the day.<br /> I continue in search of a place to rest and have a cup of coffee, and begin to realize that cycling in Spain is not like cycling in other parts of Europe where villages are close and where one can expect to find frequent and inviting cafés. I go many kilometers before I arrive in Castrogeriz. On the ridge overlooking the town are the ruins of an impressive fortification that may have had Visigoth origins.  I find a bar there to have my coffee. <br />9<br />
  10. 10. As in most Spanish bars, the locals are watching football on television. A woman in a wheelchair is having a coffee at the counter. She makes twitchy, uncontrolled movements, signals to me and we begin to talk. It turns out that she has done (walked would not be the right word) the camino five times, each time along a different route. Each time, it takes her over one month to cover the 900 kilometers from her home in France. I ask her if she has someone helping her on her journey. No, she responds, she does it on her own. I am surprised at how this is possible. In response, she demonstrates that she is able to stand on her legs-somewhat-by holding onto the bar with one hand and drinking her coffee with the other.<br /> The men from the bar join the conversation and begin to argue about where I should stay tonight, Frómista or Carrión de los Condes. One advocates one village, while the other advocates the other saying that the inhabitants of the first are unfriendly. On the last leg of today's journey, I stop in a village to get water from a fountain and to wet my shirt. A monk, dressed in a long black frock that must burn under the midday sun sits down at a bench in the shade across from me. He reads and says nothing. He sees me and shouts "quetengasbuencamino" which translates as "may your passage be good", or "have a safe walk", or maybe just "happy trails". And, so I learn the typical greeting of the pilgrim. This cheery wish is oddly motivating coming from a man who can hardly walk himself. <br />10<br />
  11. 11. A. Nowisyourturntothinkaboutthetext.<br />Which places does he describe<br />duringhissecondday?<br />Whatkind of peopledoes he findonhisway? Whodoes he meetonthe bar? Whathappensthere?<br />Whichmeans of transportdoesthepilgrim use togetto St. James? How do youknow? <br />Discusswithyourclassmatesaboutthemeans of transportyoupreferto complete theroute. Givereasons.<br />In pairs, imagine thatyou are in your local town and youmeet a couple of pilgrimswhowanttoeatsomething and thenhave a cofee. Givethemsomeadvicesaboutthe places (takeintoaccountquality, price, location, etc.) and show themtheway.<br />11<br />
  12. 12. READING FOR UNIT 9:<br />An e-mail frommum and dad<br />12<br />
  13. 13. Day 3<br /> "This is nothing but cheap, low-cost tourism" says José Manuel the sacristan of the refuge in Carrion de los Reyes. The camino, especially during the summer months when tourism is at its height, has turned into a race from one refuge to another. People rise at four or five in the morning, in part to escape the midday heat, but also because they worry that there may not be enough room at the next refuge when their day of walking ends. People compete and compare notes on how many kilometers they walk in a day.<br /> Absent a complete change of plans, he suggests that I spend my next night in Bercianos del Camino Real where he assures me I will have the true pilgrim's experience. I go to a café for my breakfast, think over what I have seen to date and decide to trust the sacristan's judgment. The café has a computer with an internet connection in the corner.  As much as limping is omnipresent on the camino, so is the internet. People are maintaining contact, sometimes working, never entirely disconnected, never entirely focused on or aware of what is around them.<br />13<br />
  14. 14. Some kilometers later, my legs find their rhythm and I observe the countryside as it passes. The character of the small towns changes. Closed gas stations remind me of parts of the American southwest. Businesses and employment must be leaving this region too. What I see seems a bit out of step with modern Europe.  Buildings, originally built from clay mixed with straw, now crumble into ruin. <br /> After a few hours I arrive at the refuge of Bercianos del Camino Real suggested by the sacristan in Carrion de los Condes. The buildings are made of mud and straw and many have fallen into such a state of disrepair that their complete destruction is imminent. The refuge is quite rustic as well. As I arrive, I notice that there are sparrows flying in and out the front door. I guess that we'll be staying with them tonight.<br /> I am welcomed by a group of bright-eyed Augustinian nuns. They explain how they organize their day and ask whether I want to participate in a communal dinner. I agree. The evening begins with introductions from the pilgrims. It reminds me a bit of a warm-up to a business meeting but, it works. Everyone is now familiar with everyone else, and soon a guitar gets passed around and people begin to sing. A bearded young man from Canada contributes some folk songs in a thick and impenetrable Quebec accent. Some Germans sing Beethoven's Ode to Joy and a Brazilian woman sings a song of what I imagine to be lost love.<br />14<br />
  15. 15. It is here in Bercianos that I begin to get a feeling for what type of people go on pilgrimage. There is an East German family from Dresden. The husband is unemployed. The wife maintains the family; she runs a company that provides assisted living services to old people.<br />The wife is particularly interested in how old people are taken care of in the United States and in Spain. She likes the treatment of the elderly here. They are more likely to be taken care of by friends and family at home, and those in the villages continue living much as they did when they were working and younger. Since there is no need for cars in small towns, they walk to the corner grocery store to purchase their necessities, and stop by a friend's house to chat, or perhaps at the corner bar for a game of dominoes. The very modest state pensions are usually enough to cover basic needs.<br />Christian, a man in his early 50's has walked 2,400 kilometers in 75 days from his home in Hiltenfingen Germany. In that time he has grown a red-grey beard and lost some weight. He hardly speaks Spanish and his English, which could have been useful, is not strong either. In the absence of conversation and distractions, he has written the lyrics to a Gregorian chant in his head, which he sings, with a complete lack of self-consciousness, for the rest of us in the makeshift chapel of the refuge. The distance from his home and the solitude of Christian's walk are clear to all even if we do not understand German. The orange evening light backlights Christian as he sings and it is a serene and beautiful moment.<br />15<br />
  16. 16. That evening it becomes clear to me that the camino is a simple and useful metaphor for life: a linear passage where we meet people, see places and have experiences, a passage that leads to a finality. For those who find it difficult to imagine a final reward, the compensation must be found on the journey. This is what all pilgrims emphasize on the camino, and it is in keeping with the modern philosophy of living in the present and for the day. <br /> We prepare dinner together. The Brazilian woman and I cook the lentils. The Canadians help with the salad. We all pitch in to make a fruit macedonia. The Brazilian woman adds caramelized sugar, red wine and cinnamon, which gives the macedonia a tropical touch that is welcomed by the rest of the travelers. I sit down last at the table and Mercedes, one of the nuns, offers to fill my glass with red wine. I accept, and offer to do the same for her. <br /> The dinner table conversation turns to the question of whether it is better to do the camino alone or in company. Two people take opposed sides of the argument but, I get the impression that despite what appear to be irreconcilable positions, both are lonesome travelers in need of others to help them make some sense of this journey. Other hands help clean up after dinner, and some hands do nothing at all. It is a wonderful harmonious evening spent in good company.<br />16<br />
  17. 17. A. Nowisyourturntothinkaboutthetext.<br />Whatdoes José Manuel critisizeaboutpilgrimage? <br />Howdideachpersoncontributetothedinner?<br />What strikes thegermanwomanaboutoldpeople in Spain? Discusswithyourclassmatesaboutthekind of familyrelationshipswehavehere and those in othercoutriesthatyouknow.<br />In pairs, imagine thatyouare onan Internet café ontheway and yougetan e-mail fromyourparentsgivingyousomeadvices: <br />Answeryourparentstellingthemabouttherules thatyou<br />mustfollowwhendoingtheway<br />From: mumanddad@msn.com<br />To: myson@msn.com<br />Dearson/daugther:<br />How are youdoing? We hope thatyou are meetinglots of new people and enjoyingyourtrip.<br />Remembertoberespectful at therefugees and tobekindtoeveryoneduringtheway.<br />Youshouldalso listen verycarefullytoyourteacher and totheelderpeoplethatwilltellyouwhatyoumust and mustn’tdo.<br />Writesoon,<br />Mum and dad<br />17<br />
  18. 18. READING FOR UNIT 12:<br />We are artists!<br />18<br />
  19. 19. Days 4:Pushing Hard -- Perhaps Too Hard<br /> By the time I wake up, just after dawn, most of the others are gone and on their way. Christian, the singing German is dressed and packing his backpack when he stops, puts his head in his hands and breaks down in tears. He has reached his limit. He cannot believe that he has lost his strength so close-a mere 400 kilometers-to his goal. I try to console him, remind him that he has done more than what most would have the courage to imagine, and suggest that he take a rest for a day or two. I adjust the saddle bags on my bicycle and ready myself to leave.<br /> I hasten to get on the road. The sparrows fly in and out of the front door of the refuge in the orange morning light. It is time to move on despite the wonderful evening and the beautiful sunsets in this place. It takes me many kilometers before I find the calm of the road again. <br /> What a difference a little distance makes. The refuge where I stay tonight has only four beds to the room, a genuine luxury. I share a room with an agreeable Danish fellow, a tree surgeon turned wood sculptor. He is in his early 50s, powerfully built with blond hair and muscular forearms. I had observed him making sketches in a notebook after dinner.<br /> We are both rather pleased with our diary though it really is as minimal as it can get. You begin to appreciate very simple things on the Camino like a little bit more privacy at night. We also agree that human perceptions are relative. We can feel happy or sad depending on if we sleep a bit better tonight, whether the day is sunny or grey, if we're well-hydrated or hungry, or not  <br />19<br />
  20. 20. Day 5<br /> I start off the day with some straight stretches and some thoughts on geography. Long straight stretches, of which there are many, especially behind Leon, are conducive to reflection. The rhythm of the legs becomes monotonous. It's difficult to go much faster or much slower. The landscape, whether it is rows of corn, tilled land or dried scrub also tends to be monotonous. I practice putting on a bit of Chap Stick while pedaling, take my helmet off and put it back on and eat trail mix with one hand. But, how often can you do that? So, I think. <br /> The hills are a different matter altogether. The rhythm of the legs may be the same, but the pain in your legs and lungs keeps your mind off of anything but the next few hundred meters and the hope of a long descent. There are two passes that you need to cross before entering Galicia. The first in the Montes de Leon culminates in the Cruz de Ferro (or the iron cross) and the second in the Monte do Fedo at the O Cebreiro.  Both passes are marked by picturesque stone villages. The descents are steep and pure elation. With the added weight of the saddle bags, the bicycle easily accelerates to 60 km/hour and more.<br /> Later I find out that more than one pilgrim has died on this descent. The elation that I felt upon the descent evaporates when I realize how dangerous it was and how foolish I had been. Like food and water, the geography too has its magical effect on the spirit. <br />20<br />
  21. 21. When I reach the Cruz de Ferro, I take some pictures of the rocks which people have carried to the top of the hill and placed in a mound. Tradition says that the pilgrim should bring a rock from home and leave it at the Cruz de Ferro, thus relieving himself of a burden. The pile of stones is several meters high, though some of the stones are far too large to have been carried there by people. Some of the smaller ones have the names of individuals scratched into them. Other people have tacked pictures, notes and bright colored pieces of cloth to the cross like the prayer flags you might find in the Himalayas. <br />A laminated bit of paper catches my eye among the rubble. These are pictures of R.J., an adolescent boy, and a letter from his mother. The mother does not explain how the boy died, but she has advice for the reader on how to love your children. The note is heart-rending. At the bottom of her letter is an address in Reno, Nevada. I wonder what moved this person from half way across the globe to make the journey all the way to Spain, and I wonder if it helped to relieve her of her burden. I take down her address and decide to write her a post card to tell her that I will heed her advice. Perhaps it will make her feel better.<br />21<br />
  22. 22. Nowisyourturntothinkaboutthetext<br />WhatdoestheDanishpilgrim do for a living? What do youthinkistheauthor’sjob? Why?<br />What is the first monument that he finds after Montes de León? Do you know other significative buildings on the Way?<br />Whydoes he define O Cebreiro<br />as a picturesque stone village. <br />Whathappenstohimwhen he wasdescending? In pairs, discussabouttheimportance of beingfitbeforestartingthewaythedangers of inexperience.<br />Write a short note thatto post at Cruz the Ferro explainingyourmotivationsfordoing St. James Way.<br />22<br />
  23. 23. READING FOR UNIT 13:<br />Unhappymeal<br />23<br />
  24. 24. Day 6<br />Just after Ponferrada I pause to get water from a fountain .Later in the afternoon, I climb the second mountain pass into the province of Galicia, known for its green rolling hills, its foggy mornings and cooler Atlantic weather. It is famous for its food, which stands out not for its sophistication but the quality of its ingredients.. The mountain ranges to the east protected it from invasion and isolated it from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. I stop to ask for instructions and find that the language here is also different, quite similar to Portuguese.<br /> On the way up to the O Cebreiro, I pass two men on bicycles who are unusual both for their age and their enthusiasm. Later that day, we meet at the refuge in Triacastela. They are talkative types. One is 74 years old, the other not far behind. Far from being worn out by crossing the consecutive passes into Galicia, they carry on a lively conversation with the other inhabitants and make a special effort to entertain the ladies. <br /> Before calling it a day, I speak with two women from Quebec. They have been walking for five weeks. Among the many people I met on the Camino, they were best able to articulate what the Camino meant to them. Back home in Quebec, they have a comfortable "bourgeoise" existence that they haven't missed for a moment despite their aching bones. <br />24<br />
  25. 25. They describe how they have lost all sense of time on this journey; They feel completely in the present, and they feel good about it. As far as the "why" is concerened, "quelque chose t'amene au chemin", something brings you to the camino. Something about the camino is in you before you even start.<br />At night, I am surprised that the older more fragile partner snores loudly. No one can sleep and the other inhabitants of the refuge start making cluck-clucking sounds to get her to quiet down but without success. The Spaniards are direct and, aided by their colorful language, the air soon fills with obscenities. Nothing helps, and eventually everyone does get to sleep.<br />25<br />
  26. 26. Day 7: The Way Not To Travel<br />Moncho is indignant about how some people do the camino.He lists the things that people bring that should best be left at home: video cameras, heavy duty mountain boots, shoes for free climbing, makeup, volumes of summer reading. He knows. He has done this six times before. But, this year he will be cutting it short. His father is dieing of lung cancer and he doesn't want to spend too much time away from home. <br />Jakobo an Italian fellow stumbles in late in the afternoon with a band of red burned across his thighs. He is in serious pain. "I come from Sicily but I didn't think it would be so hot in Galicia". It's not hot but, the sun is intense under the bright blue skies once the morning mist has burned off. Jakobo was born on July 25, the day of St. James 40 years ago. He says that his christening after St. James was a coincidence, as is the likelihood that he will arrive in Santiago on his 40th birthday on the day of St. James. He is rather pleased with the series of coincidences.<br />26<br />
  27. 27. Day 8: Coming Into Santiago<br />So much for the trip. <br /> As I cover the last kilometers, I look closely at people's faces to see if I can discern a feeling. Is it exaltation or exhaustion? No doubt; it's exhaustion, but as we come into Santiago things change and a sense of satisfaction and happiness begins to creep into the walkers.<br /> Santiago, after days of sometimes austere countryside, is overwhelming. It is not difficult to imagine how pilgrims must have felt hundreds of years ago after months of walking in conditions much wilder than today's. It must have been equivalent to landing on a wonderful alien planet. There is eye-candy everywhere. The architecture is playful, unusual or inviting wherever you look. The spires of the cathedral look vaguely foreign to me, a bit like the lost temples of Angkor Wat, but more likely the influence of the Mayans or Aztecs via the conquistadors. <br /> I walk through the city with some of the friends I've made and find it hard to stop smiling. Everything seems so wonderful and clear, and I begin to wonder if I am not perhaps suffering from a very serious endorphin surge.<br />27<br />
  28. 28.  The last few steps of the trip are to the pilgrims' office. There you can get your pilgrim's license stamped and receive a certificate. As I wait in line to get mine, I read some lines painted on the wall. The hymn to the pilgrim ends with something to the effect that the traveler, now that he has journeyed to Santiago and seen its marvels, can die in peace. I am not sure if I would go so far. However, it is certain that the camino is peculiarly conducive to unhooking from life’s distractions and to encouraging us to live fully and simply in the present. <br /> My friend for whom I made these notes asks me: "What? Where's the romance?" This is not what she had expected. But, there is plenty that is romantic, and there is certainly the potential for romance. I saw people making friends, couples walking and talking together and many moments of harmony between people. Not quite within sight of Santiago, a couple walk hand in hand, wordless. Perhaps they've had an argument but, I doubt it. I guess that they have said everything they need to say.<br />28<br />
  29. 29. Nowisyourturntothinkaboutthetext<br />Howdoestheauthor describe Galicia? And itsfood?<br />Howdoes he define theSpanishlanguage? And theGalicianone?<br />What strikes Jacobo,theItalianpilgrim, aboutGalicianweather? Whatis he celebratingthe 25th of July?<br />In pairs, discussabouthowyouwillfeel and whatyouwill do whenyouarriveto Santiago.<br />Imagine thatyouarriveto Santiago withsomeforeignpeople and youhave lunch together. Thewaiterwillgivethemsomeadvicesaboutwhatto try. Invent a short dialogue and actitout.<br />29<br />

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