Sunday, 1 August 2010

I’d go today

Recently I visited a new albergue in Santiago. It has 175 beds and is situated on the Camino Francés as it enters Santiago. Easy to find, it is just after the refuge at San Lázaro and is round the corner from another albergue named Acuario. It is called the Albergue Jaime García Rodríguez in memory of a previous Director of the Pilgrims’ Office. The address is:
C/ Estocolmo, s/n (entrance by the C/ Moscú)
Parroquia de San Antonio de As Fontiñas.
It has only been opened for two weeks and is already proving popular. The day that I visited my friend Danny, one of the hospitaleros, he had opened the doors at 11.30 as usual and by 12 noon it was full.
The albergue is the first initiative of the charitable foundation, the Fundación Ad Sanctum Iacobum Peregrinatio, launched by the Archicofradía which runs the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago. The Foundation has been put in place to fundraise and it has been successful in receiving grants and sponsorship to fund this new albergue. Sometime ago Susana, the secretary of the Archicofradía shared their vision of developing church premises along the routes to provide facilities for albergues. True to that objective this new albergue is built on the ground floor of the church of Saint Anthony, the local parish church in the Santiago barrio of Fontiñas. Pilgrims will be welcome at the early morning services to be held each day.
When I went along Danny proudly showed me round. Everything is brand spanking new. On arrival pilgrims are welcomed, they register and are given a disposable sheet and pillow case after paying 6 Euros. This is the cheapest albergue in Santiago.
There are 8 dormitories of 24 beds. I was worried that there are no windows but the building is fully air conditioned and the pilgrims I spoke to were unconcerned.

They seemed delighted with the facilities. As well as the usual showers there are washing machines and dryers as well as a kitchen with microwaves. There are drinks machines and internet is provided free of charge. There is a large toilet for disabled people and the building is fully accessible. It also boasts a first aid room, a room for the hospitaleros to sleep as there are staff there 24 hours per day. Around the albergue there are seating areas with chairs and comfortable couches and in summer the very large garden will be put to full use.
Whilst I was there Danny received a complaint. “The showers in this albergue are far too hot”, complained a good natured pilgrim. He was smiling as he went on, “I’ve walked from France to Santiago and let me assure you usually the reverse is the case.”
Certainly there are a few teething problems but the day I was there the pilgrims were happy and I see a great future for this new facility.
As I looked around I thought about how simple a pilgrim’s needs are. A bed, a shower, and somewhere to wash and dry clothes. Everything else is a bonus. This new albergue is very simple and functional and ticks these boxes.
I thought about how different that is from my life at home with all of the clutter I’ve collected around myself. The familiar material things which make me feel secure. Every time I’ve moved house I’ve been astonished at what I’ve gathered...and what I don’t actually need. For the last few years I’ve tried emptying my wardrobe of everything I haven’t worn for a year. I even found that difficult. Separating my needs from my wants has been a life time project.
All that changed when I went on Camino. On pilgrimage we have to live with what we carry. It isn’t a lot but it becomes all we need. These thoughts reminded me of Philip Larkin’s Poetry of Departures. If you don’t know it, I commend it to you. It could have been written for pilgrims:

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It's specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:

So to hear it said
He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo'c'sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren't so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

Oh yes, give me the choice anytime between my reprehensibly perfect life and spending more time on Camino where I feel my life becomes more authentically perfect. I’d go today.


  1. Ooh, JW, this is a post and a half.

    First you say "brand spanking new," which made me wonder if you´re hanging out with Those Americans again.
    But the Philip Larkin, one of my top ten poems of this lifetime? Redeems us all. You rock, and so does your blog.

  2. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  3. Johnnie, love the post. I'd go back to the Camino too. Just back from the Camino Portugès and I am trying to make sense of my real life!?

  4. You really do have a way with words... And that's a great gift to us all. And yes, the poem by Larkin is spot on. Gosia