Saturday, May 08, 2010

St. Jean Pied-de-Port--Roscideuallis

My first night in a parish refugio was an eyeopener - the communal dinner with prayer, speeches, 3 courses and wine was something I had no idea I'd missed until I found it. 

Eva, on the picture below, would become a great friend. She was so proud of her 5 kg backpack - and I guess with good reason. It can be done - cause she had everything she needed except a hairdryer. Later she would get one. 150g; usable for drying both hair and wet clothes and shoes.

I guess she took a liking to me when she realized I was a smoker. After dinner I went out to have a evening 'sigarette', and when I came back everybody was about to go to bed. I brushed my teeth and went to bed. As I passed Evas bed (we were all sleeping in bunkbeds in the same room as is normal in refugios) she said with a note of surprise in her voice you smoke? I answered the only possible and truthful answer in a room full of 50 year+ pilgrims I don't smoke... cigarettes.

32 years of age she'd grown up in Transylvania, and she did seem to have some of that rumored Transylvanian magic. Menfolk flocked to her like bees to honey and it was a fascinating spectacle to watch - seeing the Transylvanian princess surrounded by up to 5 guys ready to do her bidding on the camino I felt almost disgusted with my gender. 

Until our trails parted in Burgos the only true friends she seemed to get was me and the French guy who's name I've sadly forgotten. Both us weresomehow more or less immune to her allure. 

Crossing the border to Spain.
She had father-issues. He had been a very strict father. Way ahead of his time; doing ecological farming as a hobby in the 70's and 80's. Refusing to have a television. Filling their home with books, music and culture. And when the hard times came; he'd filled their home with refugees until they gave up and moved to Budapest  around the time of the fall of the wall.

Like willful intelligent children often do; she rebelled. She became a nurse and just as she was starting to make peace with her father he sadly passed away. I helped her deal a bit with that, I think. Just as she helped me deal with growing up in the opposite environment with my permissive hippie father.

She didn't particularly enjoy being a nurse. She worked one summer and then quit. She opened a fashion-store that was rather successful, took a master in english litt. Did the runaway bride-thing a couple of times. Sold her store and ran away to France with her new boyfriend. And now she'd run away from him aswell.

You might think it sucks to be unpopular with the opposite sex. Eva is living proof that it sucks to be popular aswell. Proving, perhaps, the Buddhas theorem of Suffering.

She'd started writing and somehow someone in publishing had gotten to read some of her stuff; and she was under contract to write a book for them. Being afraid of happiness, being the runaway bride incarnate, she is ofcourse unable to finish her novel. I sort of hope she does though.

Lousy picture: but this scarecrow has seven heads. Its a scarehydra. They should have given it 10 horns. Just to fuck with people. Click on pic to enlarge.

There wasn't much snow; and I was kind of upset that I'd taken the advice not to walk the Route Napoleon. But the next day I met an Austian peakclimber who's a way more experienced mountaineer than me, with better equipment and in a lot better shape - and he'd had to turn back.

Taking this picture I realize I've forgotten my cane on the top of the pass. I turn back ofcourse.
Entrance to Ronchevalles. You just walk out of the forrest and in to the "village" - a monastery, a church and three restaurants. Very bureaucratic place. Julie and Eva was keeping a place for me in the monastery refugio - but as it was full I got a red ticket instead of a green ticket.

I went to the provisoric campingground with huts filled to the brim with weary travelers; accepting my lot. And then Julie found me and told me they'd saved a place for me in the monastery. But when I went there I couldn't have my bed because my ticket was the wrong colour. The hospitalero (who was behaving quite inappropriately towards Eva - something I'd soon stop being amazed and shocked by; and study with amazement instead) said to me Don't be angry. I answered I'm not angry, I'm just very very sad.

And I guess that got me in - because later in the evening he'd thunk better of it and gave me a place afterall.

And for that I am eternally grateful to Jack. (Pictured below). Everybody who's done the camino for more than a week has some amazing story about the sleeping of sometimes hundreds of people in the same room. 

From the experiences of the sick fucks who can't stand the snoring and wakes everybody up by snapping their fingers, clicking their tongues and whatnot - to the guy who after stopping the guy in the bunk above him from snoring 10 or 15 times by gently pushing the mattress: simply got up and kissed the guy on the mouth - whence the snoring stopped completely for the rest of the night. 

Maybe it was magic, maybe the guy simply was to afraid to sleep anymore that night.

In the ancient monastery in Ronchevalles almost 200 people sleep in the same room. In the middle of the night I'm woken up by some guy talking in his sleep. A Spanish guy; I have no idea what he was talking about; even if it was at all coherent or just random words like the ones sleeptalkers often utter from their sleeping reptile brain who has little language and work with images, notions and feelings.

He wasn't really talking by the sound of it. He was pleading. For his life, his very soul perhaps. It was soulfull, heartfelt, truly like you'd imagine a broken and powerless Al Pachino or Brad Pitt would plead for their love and soul; and there was something very funny about it. I really had to hold myself from lolling.

Now, you might ofcourse think that this just proves what an insensitive jerk I am. And thats your prerogative. But I assure you: I was not the only one.

And to experience the muffled half strangled laugther of atleast a 100 people is a bonding and liberating experience. Really: I do recomend it.

Jack disapproves.

Friday, May 07, 2010

St. Jean-Pied-de-Port day III

Sitting at the same spot as the previous morning, having my morning cigarette I met Julie of Quebec. Her english was comsi-comsa (or however one would spell the french expression meaning something like so-so) - but we were soon having a nice little conversation.

The Route Napoleon was still closed, and I'd been trying to decide whether to give up and go, or wait another day. Julie convinced me to stay. Not the hardest of tasks admittedly. We chatted for a while, decided to go looking for a refugio, and after checking a few (amongst others the camping) we decided on the Accueil Paroissial Kaserna - the Parish Refugio.

And then we did some shopping. I'd lost my Swiss army-knife, My Bål-pants had proven themselves to be rather useless when it gets (very) wet, I needed new socks, new shoes and provisions. Julie needed a poncho and a walking stick - a pilgrims staff.

It was a beautiful day, so after finishing our shopping (I got everything but socks and shoes) we went for a slow lunch by the river. We shared some wine and did the ingenious little lunch-gimmick of each making every-other sandwich (small loafs of french bread makes for slow eating of appetizersized sandwiches).

Julie turned out to be a fallen angel. Almost literally. A few years ago she'd done her first parachute jump. The chute didn't open, but she hit some tall trees and miraculously survived. Now she'd just finished nurse-school and was going to walk the camino to find out what she wanted to do with her life and to maybe find some healing from the trauma of surviving what should not have been survived.

She wanted to go to Africa or take an extra year to get a specialization. The last time I met her was in Pamplona where she took an extra day. She was a strong willed walker, but her weight and lack of training made her suffer from blisters and whatnot. I hope she finished. I hope she decided to go to Africa.

The Ninja and the Cowboy.
And then came along the first 'proffesional' pilgrim of my camino. Was he a man of God or adventurous free soul who'd found a niche? It's hard to say - a littlebit of bout - but there is no doubt, atleast, that he was not a pious man. A traveling monk; and not a prophet is my conclusion after spending a few hours with him.

Julie seemed a bit distressed by him and his younger friend, and soon she left. (But first we helped her repack her way to heavy bags...) She reassured me time and time again that she completely understood my desire to get to know these fellows. And then she left. I wonder how she felt though. Uncomfortable with the drinking and the smoking? Uncomfortable with the free spirited brotherhood? Uncomfortable, perhaps, with her own discomfort?

We got drunk and stoned together. He told me he'd been walking for 17 years and that he was on his way to India. He told me he was ex-military, but upon closer scrutiny it turned out he had been a military clerk and not the fieldgrunt he seemed to want me to believe that he was.

I don't know what he was searching for. We spoke a bit of things spiritual; and when I sensed that his mind was indeed open I did preach a bit for him. In return he spoke to me on matters of the road. Of God he did not speak.

And here is his young friend. Getting to know the next generation (this young man is almost 15 years younger than me - he could have been my son) has been one of the great privileges of my camino. There is great hope. 

But every single one of them seem too touched by the amount of information available. The conspiracies and dark truths of this world are known to them - and just like happened to me when that veil was ripped from my eyes - they either battle windmills thinking they be dragons... or they let themselves succumb to hedonism and indifference. 

But he was young, his mind was open and when I spoke to him of choosing battles he did understand and his mind seemed to move with great leaps across traps and obstacles I myself used years to overcome by my lonesome.

I asked him why he had a moslem beard and he explained that he used it to look older and more dangerous walking through the big cities. I've done the same myself on many an occasion - but I did recommend him to grow a mustache. Not only would he look better, but he wouldn't get in trouble for looking like a muselman. 

Thursday, May 06, 2010

St. Jean Pied-de-Port day II

In the St.Jean Pied-de-Port church (or cathedral?) you can find this beautiful almost lifesized statue. At first glanse it simply looks like Mary gently stomping out evil (the snake) like you would a cigarette-butt - a gentle echo of the (for me) most striking scene in Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ. But then Alan More asks the question, concerning a similar image, in his new masterpiece Promethea: Are she stomping out evil? Or are she growing out of the snakes head? Growing out of the imagination of the coiled one, much like many a female goddess (Aphrodite, Athene et cetera) have grown out of the heads of their creators?

I guess I should have taken a picture of the long street in the old city of St. Jean Pied-de-Port. But, ofcourse, I didn't. In the very center of the city is a river - this crossing used to be one of the most perilous parts of the camino until the bridge was built sometime in the middle ages. The church is to the left - and the next picture is taken from that little landing just before the next bridge.

In the forresthill to the left you can find a small path going up to the fortress. It's a beautiful little climb, and a perfect secluded spot to have a picnic.
The Route Napoleon was closed because of snow in the passes, so I decided to stay another day - I really didn't want to walk by the highway 'cross the Pyrinees when Route Napoleon is rumored to be one of the most beautiful and history-rich (Napoleon, Hannibal ++) crossings in Europe. 

Having to be out of the Refugio by 8 or 9 in the morning it was going to be a long day. 

I spent a lot of time here; enjoying my morning cigarette and contemplating the pretty flowers dancing in the stream. I'm quite sure they are waterlilies. But man! When I see them I only think lotus. That flower used as the recurring image of the mind, the soul, in buddhist teachings due to its ability to grow unsoiled anywhere. No matter how harsh your conditions, how dirty a life you've led; there you are... unsoiled, white, perfect.

I spend most of my day trawling the shops of St. Jean - I need some equipment, and want to get to know what, where and how much. What I spend most time on - except simply walking around and getting to know the city - is whether to buy a guidebook or not.

At the pilgrimage-office (about 50 meters from the pilgrims-gate) they gave me two printouts: one of just about every Refugio between here and Santiago de Compostella with information on shops, bars, pharmacies & ATM's - and one printout outlining every (recommended) étape with graphic representation of the étapes climbs and descents. (I'll get some scans or photos of this later). 

With this, in addition to the secret guidebook I was all set as to the basics. But a 'proper' guidebook would ofcourse provide me with recommendations on where to stay and what to see; information on the history and so on. But a 'real' guidebook would also tend to bind me. When I did the walk with my mother two years earlier I had watched with horror how she would study the guidebook at every break; unable to free herself and just be, just trust, just take it all in.

Without a guidebook I would loose out on a lot of things. I knew I would pass significant places without noticing, I would see this or that without appreciating the history of the thing, I would sit in a bar enjoying my coffee without realizing there was a legendary bar 150 meters down the road (and once you've had your coffee you walk on to the next town). Or I would pass places such as the waterfall of trials, the grotto of the  Virgen de Camino and so on and so forth.

First show of turistas. Every day there were busloads of them rushing through the city; looking at the castle, the pilgrims-gate, the refugios, the church, at the pilgrims. Looking at me.
In the end I realized the question was what kind of pilgrim I wanted to be. Cultural or spiritual? I chose to be a spiritual pilgrim. I chose to trust in the Lord our God. I chose keeping my mind and soul open and alert for the little things that would guide me to the right places. I chose accepting that I wasn't meant to see what I didn't find; and I chose to truly appreciate the things I found and the things that found me.

I chose traveling without a guidebook. 

Not beeing allowed to stay in a refugio for more than one night I move to the first refugio down the road from the municipal for my second night in St.Jean-Pied-de-Port. Sadly the private refugio sucks - the Hospitalera [photo below] is a real bitch, and while it doesn't really show on the photo [above] there is one - 1 - toilette and one - 1 - shower. ON THE BALCONY!

Local produce. Some spicy port-like fortified Basque wine. It was said to be best served chilled so I asked if I could use the fridge (normally there is a fridge for the pilgrims in these places - I had to use her private fridge). She seemed rather judgemental about the whole thing; a rather protestant attitude - but then again I'm sure they get all sorts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, and I'm sure most of them (the worst of us) are gone by Pamplona.

The next morning she liked me though. I guess she'd realized I'm a no-fuzz-guy even if my indjan blood and ptss makes me disposed to enjoy half a bottle rather than half a glass. She seemed quite the concervative; the mantleplace shrine (45degrees to the right of the pic below) was filled with Virgens, Christs and Saints. She was having quite the jovial conversation with the gay couple pictured below; telling all sorts of obviously very funny jokes in french, and my guess is she had no idea there where rainbow-people in her house and that she would not have been as jovial had she realized. 

It was... moving to see the (assumed) pillowbiter stopping himself time and time again from touching his partner; realizing on his very first day that he was back in the old world: back where he would have to hide his true identity. 

Assumed pillowbiter to the left. He's telling me not to publish his picture on the intarweb. I've been debating whether to publish or not for months now and doing it I feel like an asshole. I don't know that he is gay or what he was afraid of. Or why my guts tell me to publish - because this guy is the only one I'm publishing against his will - even including my totally unfounded speculations about his sexuality. I guess the homo-thing is the reason I'm publishing. I'll respect running from the law, living your life in the anarchist underground, proving that interdependency exists and all the reasons in the world. But being in the closet is just so 1990.

My roomie. Spanish guy. Nice guy. No english.
I love southern European kitch-art. It's not afraid of being sexy. Why O'why are the Scandinavians the ones with the reputation of being 'liberated'? Never will you find stuff like this in a Scandinavian home that doesn't display it in a self conscious, slightly ironic way - and even then will it be some kind of 30's negro girl and not something simply sexy like this or the almost CP-like piece I found in Mansilla de las Mulas. 

In the evening I went back to the municipal refugio where I spent the evening with two Norwegians - the only Norwegians I would spend an evening with until I was back in Scandinavia. The guy had that happy christian-thing going so typical for Norwegian pentecostals and such; that thing that makes you not want to believe in God.

But, to give him justice, to give them justice: charismatic, nice people. I think he had some sort of menial ordinary job; but I keep thinking of him like he was some sort of tv-preacher, a religious journalist. He had a very direct way of being, asked good questions and seemed to be on the path to wisdom. 

When he asked me why I was going, and I answered, as I usually did, that I did the walk two years ago with my mother and that I'd realized I had to do it again and that I had to make it as long as possible; the conversation turned interesting and personal. 

We had a nice long talk about parents. How we really love them even though they usually fuck most of us up. They do get blamed for that a lot. But really, I think it's life fucking us up. Your parents are only the first people having a proper chance of doing it.

Looking at him you'd think it was his mother that was his center-of-attention. But no, it was his father.

And sweet sweet... uhm... I forgot her name and never had the courage to ask again. I think it might be Margit or somesuch. We'd meet quite a few times along the road; even, in the end, in Finisterre. She was a slow but steady walker who'd walked all the way from Le Puy. An artist working with tapestries; a true pilgrim; a beautiful person with a beautiful smile.

She was carrying way to much though - but proof that just about anyone can do it if they just take the time and have the will. I hope I can find out who she is because I'd really love to see some of her art and I'd really love to see what the camino inspires her to make.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ostabat-St.Jean Pied-de-Port

Having walked the camino back in 2008 I knew that everything would change once I reached Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, and even the most rainy day yet couldn't really somber my mood. Not to much anyway.

In Spain there would be well marked roads. Pilgrims. English-speaking pilgrims. Shops, bars and infrastructure. Really; I am a big fan of infrastructure. Whenever I talk to people dreaming of doing the South-East Asia-thing I tell them to go to Thailand first. Good place to acclimatize; to get used to the culture et cetera. Why? Because of the infrastructure. Good roads, traffick slightly less insane than other countries in the region, 7-11's, ATM's, some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world.

Now that's infrastructure. You don't know how welcome a little shed along the road is before you've walked a few hours in pouring rain. You should make your pilgrimage as long as you can - it takes time to start appreciating the little things. But once you do, everything has already changed.

I've never been able to make up my mind about these little trolleys some people use instead of backpacks. On one level they must be very practical on good and flat/downhill roads - but considering that you have to drag them along in rugged and at times intensely uphill terrain: you cannot really drag that much more than you can carry in a backpack. Also, if you've followed me all the way from Bordeaux I'm sure you've seen pictures of terrain where a trolley would be hard pressed to pass.

And they are, indeed, as you can see, prone to mechanical failure. I'm sure some pilgrim had some very upsetting moments right here. (I'm sure he/she is feeling better by now). So, I wouldn't advice it unless you have backproblems. That pack might seem heavy at first - but you adopt, you get stronger and if you (like most beginners) pack to much you can simply throw some of it off or just send it home by mail.

One of the things I love about walking the camino is to see the changing of the seasons. You might remember the pictures from Bordeaux of the stunted winetrees not-yet-in-bloom... and here they are; whether it be the time that has passed since my start or the miles&miles in a southly heading I've walked: it's a very satisfying feeling. And this is only an example that comes well off on a photographia. The only way to discover the subtle differences; the smells, the colours, the et ceteras; is to do the walk yourself.

Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.

While French designers can fuck up simplistic tasks like designing an arrow - it's still hard not to enjoy French design. This roadsign does, though, raise some questions. Don't hesitate to give your analysis (or even your narrative) in the commentsfield.

Now that's design. Just put some sticks in the ground. It means: This road is closed/private/do not go to Santiago.

Ohhh!! Angry now! My 2-300€ Missinglink hardcore mountaineering-jacket can't stand the rain! Whatthefuck! Now, in southern France that's annoying. In Norwegian mountains that's dangerous. Really, really, really dangerous.

I will write some posts on equipment later on - I just really need to write my way home while memories are reasonably fresh. I'd love to get some sponsors for my next adventure - but I guess I'm not going to get any. Missinglink, Trangoworld, Mammut, Kuxkul, McKinley, Fuji are all gonna get trashed. And who wants to sponsor someone who trashes "quality" equipment and then proceeds to trash the producers on his well-renowned and widely read blog?

No, that's not sweat. It was a chill day.

Well; nothing like bus-shed for your lunch. If you study the picture you can see that I am still eating cake. Ohh. Pilgrim life - sometimes I miss it.

The view from my lunch-shed.

Somewhere on the camino some hours walk north of St.Jean Pied-de-Port is a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene - said to be the closest disciple to Jesus of Nazareth. Take the time someday to study the Gospel of Mary Magdalene - it is quite different from the gospels authorized by the church of Peter.

This picture of the picture of Michel Garicoits is taken inside the Church of Mary Magdalene. Im sure that if I bothered to google it I'd find that this is just another example of confusing French design.

I prefer the mystery. Who is this man? How did he become 200 years old. Why is his portrait in a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene?

Walking into the Basque country I'd expected to see a lot of these ETA-tags - but this is the only one I saw. I guess they're not to popular with the kids.

St. Jean Pied-de-Port is on the other side of that hill. I wanted to savour the moment and walked up to the castle before walking through that gate.

And through the pilgrims gate. I just might have felt more joy walking in to Santiago - but walking through the pilgrims gate of St. Jean Pied-de-Port after two weeks of hell in what was rumored to take about 7 days was an enormous personal victory. 

Really, there were times I thought I would not be able to make it. It's kind of funny; meeting other pilgrims I felt like such a veteran. But two weeks later they too would have walked as long and far as me - and still there would be new arrivals for another two weeks.

There are many who insists we are all the same, we are all pilgrims.  I&I; we are all the same, all part of the Allsoul, all gems in the eye of the Allfather  Maybe especially the more experienced pilgrims, and the most politically correct mostest authentic individuals of western civilization in the age of post-modern authenticity. 

Yes; we have the same basic rights. We are all pilgrims thrust into a life we most likly never asked for. We are all children of the Universe (or whatever you choose to call God). It is all Love: But we are not the same. I am not you -whether you be more hardcore than I or you be softer - and you are not I.  Neither on the camino, nor in real life. I will write and have written more on this. But elsewhere.

In the foreground are two French-Canadians. The upper-middle-class girl is presumably rebelling and travelling with her construction prettyboy boyfriend. The guy is... I don't remember. But Quebecan aswell and quite the amateur artist. He even made a aquarell of me outside the pilgrims gate. I'll be sure to post it once I get 'round to it.

And Patrick - he took my advice and spent atleast this one night in a public refugio. For some reason, even though this was the last night I saw him, even though he really didn't make that much of an impression: he kept coming to mind when I was praying for the many people I'd met on my camino. Mayhap he was praying for me? 

The hospitalera. Basque, proud, rash, a bit rude (allthough "direct" is a much better word). In many a way she reminds me of my own people; the Northern people. Not bound by convention, strong and free. Quick to anger, even quicker to laughter.

Easy to ridicule for 'well mannered' and 'cultured' individuals. 

Ofcourse those of the Northern or Basque people who hasn't had their pride and heritage brainwashed out of them by the constant mediastorms surrounding us all; will tell you that "Southerners" and "French people" know nothing of culture or manners.

In their minds, it seems; the verbal culture of my people is something to ridicule. "Oh, northerners, they swear a lot." The southern culture - theater and art and literature all drawn out of the ass of the continent - now that's culture and if you find it pathetic you are no more than just another hillbilly.

The greatest artist I ever met were northern storytellers seemingly only chatting over a cup of coffee by the kitchen window. It takes a whole life to perfect that art, and it took me about 20 years to realise that the pretentious "artists" of refined culture have nothing on a geriatric chatty northerner with a cup of coffee as his only prop.

She reminds me of my mother and my grandmother. I love women like this. On my pilgrimage I am trying to decide whether to stay married, have children and become a priest: or to become a vagabond. Waybound. Walking Gods good earth; serving those I meet; delivering a message of hope and gratitude because His creation is good and if you ever doubt it take a walk through a trenchtown, a ghetto, barrio, a slum and look at all the happy faces and happy moments. (But do try not to look like a tourist; take your jewelery off, leave your creditcards and valuables at home and keep your eyes down brother...)

Looking at this woman I want to stay at home. I want to be a breeder. I want to be the salt of the earth. Because this is what my wife will become - only in a northern fashion.

The French-Canadian couple is only planning to travel about half-way. Then Ibiza. A compromise between academic and working-class culture. I'd say I hope it works out for them; but I sort of don't. He is a very cool guy - but once he is through liberating her from convention he will only be holding her back.

To the far right is an Italian gentleman I sadly don't remember the name of - but walking the same pace we became quite the friends even though we shared almost no language.

On the castle sharing some of the holy ganja. I preached a bit to them about the spiritual use of ganja and they seemed to take it to heart.

On top of the pilgrims gate. On top of the world.