a wandering woman writes

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just walk east

Ermita de Santa Ágata, Arrés

As you've read by now, I just spent 17 days volunteering as a hospitalera in the pilgrim's albergue in Arrés, a town of 15 inhabitants lying along the Aragonese stretch of the Camino de Santiago.

With Ferran, my charming Tarragonese partner, I welcomed pilgrims stopping for a warm word and a cold glass of homemade lemonade (or gazpacho, on the right days) on their way to the next albergue, and then did my best to create a temporary but memorable home for those pilgrims who chose to spend the night with us.

Our days began at 7, with breakfast service, then moved on to the daily sweeping-scrubbing-mopping workout, invariably accompanied by some fabulous soundtrack or another screaming out of Ferran's boombox. After a shopping trip to Jaca, we shifted to warm of-course-we-have-a-place-for-you-to-sleep welcomes, multilingual conversations, a tour of the town's lovely 16th century church and the nightly gigglefest of shared kitchen duty and community dinner. Barring rain, every day ended with a walk to the mirador high above the casa rural to watch Arres' stunning sunset.

I am proud to announce I now speak Pilgrim's Italian and make one hell of a tasty garbanzo bean, spinach and chorizo potaje for 30.

My biggest challenge, however, was neither language nor gastronomy. Seventeen days surrounded by humans was a significant shock to this wanderer's solitary soul. In Arrés I existed to welcome people, to offer an understanding ear, a hot meal and good company. I shared a small bedroom, for God's sake.

And so just about every one of those seventeen days, I stole a few moments to meander down the narrow lane leading east to the town's ermita, alone, gathering fresh flowers for the table while I soaked in the view, and exhaled.

I'll write more about my experience, but first let me make a shameless plug for Arrés. The town is growing, and now boasts a lovely casa rural, where Mari Luz will cook you up some of tastiest homemade meals you'll enjoy in Spain.

And when it all gets too much, I'm telling you. Just walk east.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No te salves

One day, very early in my 17 day stay in Arrés, a Spanish pilgrim slammed her notebook down on the table in front of me, flipped forward a few pages, and, looking me straight in the eyes, gave me a direct order.

"Read this."

Next morning before heading back to the Camino, she tore it from her book and gave it to me. It faced me every morning from the shelf above my bed in the hospitaleros' room.

She gave me Benedetti, in Spanish. No te salves.

Here you have it, then. Below. Treat number 2, as I've just googled it. A quick look hasn't yielded a translation I love, but this is my favorite, transcribed below.

No te salves. I'll be back Thursday, once I've landed safely in Salamanca and (finally) met Alex, with whom I hope to rendezvous in Madrid.

No te salves/Don't Save Yourself

by Mario Benedetti

Don't stay motionless by the roadside
don't freeze joy or love halfheartedly
don't save yourself
or ever
don't save yourself
don't become
don't keep only a still corner in this world
don't let your eyelids droop heavy
like judgements
don't stay without lips
don't sleep without dreams,
imagine you're bloodless or judge yourself in haste

but if
after all
you can't help it
and you freeze joy
and you love halfheartedly
and you save yourself,
become serene,
keep a still corner in the world
let your eyelids drop heavy as judgements
and stay without lips
and sleep without dreams,
imagine yourself bloodless,
judge yourself in haste and
stay motionless by the side of the road

and you save yourself
don't stay with me.

Are you wandering woman?

I'm back!

Well almost. I left the magic bubble of Arrés Sunday afternoon, made a stop in stunning Santa Cruz de las Serós and then hiked up to the monasteries of San Juan de la Peña Monday morning. Today I've landed in Jaca, and this cyber.

Ah, wanderers, there is much to write, but for now, let me thank the self-proclaimed "bearer of messages" who walked into the kitchen of Arrés (where I was dutifully preparing cuajada for the night's dessert...) and asked, loud and matter of fact, "are you wandering woman?"

I am, in fact.

The message bearer bore just the book I needed, as well, carried overseas from the Florida Keys, and then, on foot, overland from Lourdes, just for me: Annie Dillard's "Holy The Firm".

And she left me with this, which I type now, as your first treat from 17 incredible, still days on the magic road. It's José Gasset y Ortega, from Revolt of the Masses:

And this is the simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost—he who
accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground.
Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which
to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a
questioning of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of
his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All
the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost
is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes
up against his own reality.