Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 23: Villar de Mazarife to Astorga

We headed west out of Villar de Mazarife this morning at 7 am with the rising sun at our backs. Our shadows stretched out far in front of us, along country asphalt through grain fields toward a blue line of mountains 60 kilometers dead ahead and directly across our path. Somewhere on that ridge, beneath a full moon suspended in rosy mist, lay the Cruz de Fero, the highest point on the Camino, which we hope to reach on Thursday. But as we came within 30 kilometers of the mountains late in the day and entered the town of Astorga, all we could see on the ridge ahead were wind turbines—enough to baffle a whole cavalry of Don Quixotes. We had done our first hill climbing since entering the bread basket of Spain at the beginning of last week, and we stumbled to the first reasonably priced hotel that guaranteed hot showers and clean beds. Take it from me: Bargain-priced albergue living gets old fast.

As we walked in the early morning, I did not know if Marian and I would spread out into separate silences again, as we did yesterday. Instead, she began to dance. "Sometimes," she said, "don't you just want to, like—” She began humming the song "Tradition" from "Fiddler on the Roof" and broke into the Tevye shimmy. You know the scene, when Topol or Zero Mostel extends his arms and shakes his shoulders, stomping and striding in time with the music.

She found the song on her iPod and played it: "The fathers! The fathers! Tra-di-tion! . . . . The daughters! The daughters! Tra-di-tion!" Tevye says tradition is what tells us who we are, and what God expects of us. Without tradition we are as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. Playing disk jockey, Marian seguéd to Alfred Drake, from the original Broadway cast of "Oklahoma!" singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!" And our day was off and dancing.

Our father-daughter conversations have been a highlight of my Camino, and today's was the best so far. We began talking about tradition in various forms. Marian said it was tradition that drew her to Ashtanga yoga—“not just something some guy made up," she said, but a school of yoga with a lineage. And it was the Catholic tradition within Katie's family that drew her to the Catholic Church. We talked about the tension people feel today between obedience to tradition and their own inner voices—if indeed they follow any tradition at all. I have been thinking a lot on the Camino about the need to follow something, anything beside our fickle appetites. What do I follow and do I really?

We passed on to other subjects. Marian began explaining some basic points about strategic consulting, which she studied in business school. She talked about decision trees, and I asked her to illustrate by helping me answer a personal question: What are the various ways I can earn money as a writer at this stage of my professional life, with the condition the work be spiritually fulfilling? She suggested I look at a 2x2 matrix, with content on one axis and financing on the other. That is:

I can write either my own ideas (the content) or I can write what clients want me to write. I can be paid (the financing) either by commission (agreed in advance) or royalty (a percentage after the fact). Looking at this matrix, I realized that I had one non-negotiable: For my writing to be spiritually fulfilling, it needs to be my own content. The only variable is financing. Marian helped me to see new ways here.

She then brought up her own life-and-work situation, which is as undecided as my own. She said that she had been trying to visualize, not the perfect job, but the ideal living conditions at this time of life. Where? With whom? What parish community? And so on. I asked her to apply a matrix to her situation, and she said she wasn't ready for that.

I realized that at my age and in my situation, it is easy for me to visualize, not the ideal working model, but the best living conditions. They are exactly the conditions I have now at home: living with Katie in our house north of Boston, being a member of our parish community, working out of my office at home or downtown, sharing meals with Katie . . . There is nothing about my life I would change!

We talked about God's will for us and how that might be revealed on the Camino. And we agreed that this did not have to come in the form of spiritual insight only. It is enough to know more about how to live our lives from day to day. God's plan for us is revealed in the daily details. God wants us to be happy.

When we take a break from walking, the conversation often shifts dramatically. Marian went inside a bar to use the bathroom. "That's a strange bar," she said when she came out. "It has an Indian toilet and a booby calendar." I knew that she meant the kind of toilet where you squat and a pin-up calendar. Why did she suddenly launch into a summary of the film "Role Models"? A young man on probation performs community service by taking care of a child. The child describes himself as a booby watcher. OK, I got it now.

As we came into Hospital de Órbigo, we stopped to take photos of each other on the remarkable 13th-century stone bridge built on the foundation of a 2000-year-old Roman bridge. It has 19 stone arches and is probably 150 meters long. Onto the scene came Constant and Lucille from Paris, a couple about my age and the only black people we have met on the Camino. I had dinner with them and Carrie a few nights before in Terradillos, and I have bantered happily with them ever since, whenever we've run into one another. Now, seeing me posed for a photo, Constant kidded me, calling me Henri Plantagenet, or King Henry II of England. We pretended to joust at each other with our walking sticks before he and Lucille, former sprinters, moved on ahead.

This prompted Marian to ask me about Henry II and the British monarchy. I explained about his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons Richard the Lionheart and King John, of Magna Carta fame. We quickly jumped four hundred years and six Henrys to Henry VIII, who he was, who he married, and who he killed—some of his wives being martyrs as well.

We moved on to the evolution of the English language, with its Viking and Angle and Saxon influences followed by the Romance strain brought by the Normands. I explained about the Welsh, with their aboriginal Celtic language pushed into a corner, much as the Irish were pushed west on their island. This led to Dylan Thomas and my recitation of his great poem "A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London."

I recited once, then again with annotations. When I broke into a third rendition, imitating Thomas's declamatory style, Marian kindly asked me to stop. Soon afterward, and it was just about time because, let's face it, Dad was getting carried away, we drifted into our separate silences at last.

Over a long wave of three hills—where I finally listened to iTunes for the first time on the Camino, for just the inspiration I needed—we finally came into Astorga at 5pm. On Wednesday, we hope to make it to Rabanal, at the base of the climb to the Iron Cross.

[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]

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