Robert Burns, the Scottish bard, wrote in his poem To A Louse, these famous lines:
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, to see oursels as others see us
Loosely translated as: God give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us.
I met Gino in Santiago. Aged 16 he had come for a week's work experience. He'd never heard of the pilgrimage before and he'd never met a pilgrim. As promised his words are posted as he wrote them:Teenagers, religion and smelly pilgrims
A life in the day of Gino Di-Castri a student on work experience in the Pilgrims' Office in Santiago de Compostela
"Well, my day seems to kick into gear at a similar time to most others in Santiago. At 8.45 the sprightly tones of my alarm clock wake me up to another fantastic day in Santiago de Compostela. Not like my regular car journey to school at home in St. Albans, I shower then leave the building picking up some sort of pastry and a coffee along the way, far from the normal Bran Flakes and OJ.
As I walk along the street I soak up the Spanish culture which surrounds me. The hustle and bustle of any city in the morning is quite frantic at times but drivers here seem to be more relaxed than others; no bendy busses like London, no honking like Rome and no traffic jams like Bangkok, just an all round more tranquil mood. However as soon as I hit la Zona Vieja of Santiago you begin to understand a different Spanish culture. The contrast of the old narrow streets and antiquated buildings with the convoy of transit vans delivering various products to various bars and shops is a recipe for disaster especially when school children, office workers and the general public are involved. Having been handed the “20 minutos” (the daily free newspaper) and avoiding the traffic I make my way towards the centrepiece of the town, the great cathedral de compostela, another typical aspect of Spanish culture.
The purpose for my visit to Santiago de Compostela is for work experience with a group of other students of my age, 16. We are all currently studying Spanish at A Level at various schools in and around London. Everyone received a work placement for the week and I was given the job of working the Pilgrims´Office. Every morning I turn up at 10 to meet the amiable staff and although there isn’t a huge through flow of people (an average of about 3 pilgrims an hour) I chat to the staff and learn Spanish well. Other jobs range from stacking books on shelves to translating scripts for a local film company, some enjoy their placements more than others, but we all struggle through and get to the evening when the fun really kicks in!
In the office I have been impressed with both the commitment and endurance of some of the pilgrims. Although a little smelly after long journeys which they have been proud to talk about all have been happy to cross the finish line which is the office door. I am surprised at the variety of pilgrims which has come through the doors. Some with huge backpacks and loads of gear, others with just a stick and themselves all completed the pilgrimage proving that where there is a will there is a way. There has also been variety in nationality which I did not expect so much, a few from South Korea, Germany and Denmark.
Spending a week in such a religious place has confirmed and made me doubt my views on religion itself. As a non practicing catholic I have always felt a slight obligation towards God but more recently have started to become quite sceptical about all religion, I still sometimes go to church but find myself thinking and reflecting on myself and others lives rather than praying. Although I admire the blind belief of some religious people I cannot comprehend it and therefore I try to avoid it and just get on with my life but in the society of today there is so much exposure to both extremes of the creationistic and atheistic. Recently the campaign in London by Richard Dawkins both shocked me but I could also see some truth in it. By saying “There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” he is showing his extreme views but there may be some truth in it in how much of an argued ground it is. We have seen over the years how fragile religious views and how volatile some groups are to the slightest offense. Maybe instead of praying to help the world we should stop worrying and get out there and do something, but it is an issue which will be debated until the end of time.
Moving away from the serious stuff, now for the nightlife. Santiago is a university city which is full of students especially at the weekend. The streets are packed with people in carnival dress from air hostesses to devils and the spirit is definitely that of carnival. With bars in every other window and people running about the streets it is nightlife to please anyone from los viejos verdes to the youth of today.
To sum up, a wonderful city, an interesting pilgrimage but most of all the Gallegos and Españoles are fantastic. A great trip to Santiago, I definitely plan to come again, maybe not by plane next time!!!