´Middle age´ on the Camino ended on Monday.
The verdent but monotonous farmland, roads that stretched straight out along a highway for hours; stark suburbia, with nothing rising up to break the boredom, was moving slowly, painfully behind me, giving way to Galacia.
In the distance was this landscape reminiscent of my first week, the Camino´s ´youth´- the first sighting of Spain from the French Pyrenees, the first tiny dark coffee at a counter, surrounded by weird, intimidating pastries meant to commemorate a communion; the first sip of real sangria, the first taste of cheese and strawberries together, the mustard seed and lavender blanketing the hillsides, the fear of saying anything in Spanish at all, then the desperate need to say absolutely everything in Spanish.
This previous week was as bad as I had heard it could be sometimes. My Spanish was crap. I was falling out of love with my mind, winged in the beginning, free to fly from one pleasant concept of myself to another, inhaling its sweetness; now clawed and vicious, digging up the carpet to get to the source of the stench. My feet, young and true, overnight suddenly went disfigured. My heels looked like small animals had been gnawing at them. I was disheartened. I was slowing down. So this was really it. This was the Camino. Woohoo.
I watched a cyclist park his bike outside the cafe. Already I was unbuckling my pack. I had become a follower of ´signs´- signs of wear to stop for the night, which supermercado to buy at, who to sit next to at communal meals in the Albergues. A cyclist in the rain was sort of a sign.
A woman was bringing out fresh loaves of a new bread I hadn´t seen. It was round, full of raisins and walnuts, íntegral´, not white, and the smell filled the tiny shop. I don´t know where the Italian went. I bought a loaf, then stood in the alley outside the shop, my pack leaning against the bricks, just barely out of the rain. I tore a chunk off and the steam rose . I bit through the crust to a still doughy centre. It stayed warm in my hands as I tore and chewed. I made that bread last for 20 minutes in the alleyway, thinking that I will remember this bread, on this rainy day in an alley for many, many years.
It rained and it rained and it rained. I shouldered my way through a fiesta, the tents, the octopus lifted out of boiling water, snipped up, piled on a bread board and doused with olive oil, sea salt and paprika. I walked in mud through vineyards, with creepy, beautiful old homes that had stood there for centuries on the hills, watching over their bounty. The rain paused. I was soaked. The rest of my bread I was saving for dinner was soaked. I hadn´t seen anyone on the trail for hours.
The first sight of a town cathedral appeared as the sun was going down. I was so late, and I was getting terrified that I was going to get stuck without a bed for the night - it had happened in Formista - and I didn´t even know what town I was entering and the clouds were gathering again.
I saw the Albergue ´Felix´ as I heard the thunder. My hood was up still, protecting me from wind and cold, as I entered, my big pack barely fitting through the door. I pulled off my hood, then froze. Wasn´t this the reception?
I had walked into the kitchen maybe? No, a man, looking a little like Charles Manson, was lifting off my pack and saying a word I have come to love here, repeatedly, as I stared at the huge bowl of Paella, filled with saffroned rice, prawns, fish, capsicum in front of me.
Beyond the bowl, which took up the whole entryway, was a table full of people holding up water glasses of red wine and greeting me like I was their prodigal daughter.
Having put my pack just inside, out of the rain, Charles Manson began shovelling paella onto a plate and motioning me to sit down, repeating that word and making the up and down motion with his hands in case I didn´t understand.
´Tranquilo, mi amiga, tranquilo.´
I looked up the word for ´soul´that night. Alma.
Mi alma es tranquilo.
There is a next part to that quote by Rilke to the young poet, after he tells him to love the questions themselves:
¨Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer...¨