Sunday, 6 September 2009

Two Weddings and a Crisis

I feel so at home in Santiago I always feel slightly sad when I Ieave. Being a creature of habit I usually have a final turn around the great square and then mount the steps to sit in the Cathedral for a few moments. It isn't the biggest in the world but the imposing sanctuary dominates and draws the eyes to the figure of Santiago presiding over everything.
Santiago is a pilgrim city. Of that there is no doubt, but I wonder if after seeing us for 500 years whether pilgrims have become pretty invisible to the shopkeepers and hoteliers of the town. Pilgrims don't stay for long and in my hostal there is often a turnover of clients every 24 hours. Many talk about the emptiness of Santiago when their Camino ends and friends from the Way disperse. There are lone diners in restaurants and whereas on the route strangers would strike up conversations about the weather, the albergue, blisters and the Menu de Peregrino, now back in civilisation other conventions seem to apply. Being Scottish I suppose, I've tried to chat to strangers in bars and restaurants often to be met with the cold stare of the tourist looking at me, a pilgrim in tired clothes, as if he might be robbed at any moment. I sense a tangible difference when I wear regular shoes, trousers, socks and shirts in Santiago. Indifference changes to respect. Perhaps because tourists spend more than pilgrims. Or maybe pilgrms have just become invisible.

In these last few days there has been a fairly constant stream through the Office. Yesterday I read out an internet posting reporting that over 200 pilgrims per day are still setting out from St Jean de Pied Port. This news was met with a resigned groan from colleagues. There is to be no respite yet.

Yesterday pilgrims thronged in the old town rubbing shoulders with many of the middle classes of Santiago dressed to the nines. Cocktail dresses and ball gowns adorned haughty looking women with their hair piled precariously high. Men in morning dress congregated outside bars drinking bottles of beer. There was an air of expectation and a cloud of confusing aromas as many different perfumes mixed with stronger colognes. All awaited the arrival of the bride. It is now September and like salmon leaping with the season churches are festooned with bouquets and uncomfortable grooms in patent leather shoes with their wedding uniform look as if they wished they were wearing anything else. Perhaps some wish they were anywhere else!

The bride duly appeared and the crowd of locals, tourists and pilgrims ahhhhhed with the waiting wedding guests. Then she was gone. The church doors closed to outsiders. The morning suits retreated back to the bar. Weddings are for women in Spain. Then there was a ripple of excitement. Round the corner at another church there was another wedding. The crowd shuffled off.

I'm booked to play at 3 weddings when I get back. I try to avoid them. Funerals are much more my thing. At funerals there are no photographers, no preening, no video makers, no horse-drawn carriages and hired bell ringers and the principal participant is never late.

Weddings are hugely extravagant. All the more so in Spain where style is everything. They seem unaffected by the financial crisis which has gripped the world and still dominates Spanish news and political TV programmes. Everywhere in Santiago shopkeepers and bar owners report a down turn in sales and an increase in bankruptcies. This time there are noticeably more beggars on the streets. And like the price wars of English breakfasts on the Costa del Sol there is now a Compostela version. Three bottles of wine and two Tartas de Santiago for €10 was the best offer of many. Menus of the Day now start at €5.50. Signs of the times.

We left having been presented with bottles of homemade Liquor de Hierbas. Green and very dangerous.

Hasta la proxima. Until the next time.

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