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In Vigo with a Better Plan

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

I woke with a sore throat and am coming down with a ferocious cold, so spending the whole night on a series of trains and ending up in Lisbon at 5 a.m. was definitely a bad idea. Instead I hopped a two-hour train to Vigo, where I can get a luxurious night´s sleep and then catch a train tomorrow at the reasonable hour of 7:45 a.m., getting to Lisbon around 3 p.m., then catching a half-hour train to Sintra. All it took was letting go of the money for the hostel, letting go of Santiago de Compostela (that was hard), and then springing some fairly big bucks (for me) on a credit card for the Hotel Mexico, located a short walk from the train station in Vigo (pronounced BE-go). On my way from the train station to the hotel I passed this internet station, two doors before the hotel door, so here I am again, after a couple of hours of lying in bed, sneezing and blowing my nose, and watching CNN. [read on]

Compostela Interrupted

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

One of the differences between Portugal and Spain is that Spain is far more prosperous, and I suppose one bit of fallout from that is the fact that public transportation is not what it was, now that so many people own their own cars. As a result, the train from Santiago that used to leave for Lisbon at 6:25 a.m. has been cancelled. I am booked in a hostel in Santiago for tonight and in another one in Sintra, Portugal (near Lisbon) tomorrow. The only way I can get to Sintra tomorrow is to leave Santiago today, in a couple of hours, forfeiting my night in the hostel here and forfeiting the remainder of my second day in Santiago. I then ride the trains all night, with various layovers and changes. I arrive in Lisbon at 5:15 tomorrow morning, wait around for a couple of hours, and finally get another train for Sintra. Migraine material, and not as I hoped it would be, but so it is. I went to the Cathedral this morning. There is a Pilgrim Mass at noon, and at 11 a.m., every seat in the house was taken already. The queue for the Tree of Jesse had over 200 people in it. There are large tour groups being led by people who speak very loudly and carry umbrellas so their tour group can see where they are. The energy has a wa-WAH-wwwwaaaaa quality, like deep feedback from a sound system. The stores selling tourist junk were open at dawn: hats and sticks with pilgrim shells on them, shell necklaces, shell earrings, shell purses, shell shoes, shell ashtrays, shell dishes, shell T-shirts of many varieties, shell candy, shell sandwiches, backpacks with shells on them (for pilgrims who may have met bed-bugs on the way and had to throw their old backpacks away, I suppose), and the beat goes on. It´s a beautiful, beautiful city, and early August is probably its busiest time of the year. I loved it. I got the book. I´m leaving it. No more time for blogging today.

Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

This incredibly beautiful city is altogether too much to take in. Even if I had a week, a month, a year, I would still be taking it in. I bought a book about it to take home, and I am not even trying to take pictures. The most surprising thing so far is that when I got to the Cathedral, I staggered around for a few minutes, and then I began to cry. I didn´t mean to cry. Nobody else I saw, of all the hordes of people, was crying. In fact they were shooting pictures and videos, talking, chewing gum, whistling, cajoling their kids into paying attention, lining up to touch the Tree of Jesse or to see the relics, kissing, holding hands, helping their aged mothers and grannies, and doing all the things that people do. I was shocked at myself, sobbing. I couldn´t help it. My sense of privilege was overwhelming. My awe was overwhelming. My sense of history is overwhelming: I feel the energies of the many people who have come here on foot, on their knees, as penance or as praise, hundreds of thousands of people for more years than I can imagine, many of whom must have died on the way. This is where they were trying to get to. And here I am. Not even a Christian. Did not follow the golden arrows. Sobbing. I found myself gazing into the eyes of a beautiful little figure of Santa Nossa Señora Salome. Salome was made into a saint? Wasn´t she the one who asked for the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter? The one Oscar Wilde wrote about? They made her a saint? Well, no matter. Obviously it is not her legend that moved me, since I don´t really know what her legend is. It is her stillness. The statue has a great stillness and presence to it that moves me. I did take a picture of her. I could wrap my spirit around her. She was the one presence in that vast and unimaginably complex cathedral that I could wrap my spirit around, and I put my hand on one of her little feet for a while, till I felt grounded enough to move again. If anybody knows anything about how she became a saint or what her story is, do tell me. But more about Finisterre, and more about this place. [read on]

At the End of the World!

Friday, August 4th, 2006

After trains and buses from 8 a.m. till 7 p.m. yesterday, including a two-hour layover in Santiago de Compostela, where the action at the bus station is better than an erotic movie (more on that another time, but let me say now that Chaucer was not wrong about the Camino and its affect on the lusts of the pilgrims)–after all that long schlep, I finally got to the End of the Earth, Finisterre. Fisterre. Finis Terra. I am here with the warm sun, a blasting fierce wind, more seagulls than I thought possible in one place, and many young pilgrims with shaggy heads, walking sticks, hiking boots, and wild joy. As I was walking the 6 km road up to the lighthouse at the end of the world just before sunset yesterday, a young man with a lean face, glasses, and blonde curly hair was walking down the road barefoot, carrying his shoes, smiling. I beamed a great smile at him, and he burst into English (so much for my thinking I am not instantly recognizable as an English-speaker): “I am enjoy life this moment. Everything is beautiful. I am beautiful this moment!” I opened my arms to him and shouted, “Yes, you are beautiful!” He rushed into my arms, gave me a long hug, and then backed off, his eyes full of tears, and kissed my hand. It was that kind of afternoon. [read on]