Sunday, 15 May 2011

Trust the arrows

Meet John, the big gruff Irishman I was walking with on the Camino Inglés last week. For years he has been going on about coming walking with me in Spain and now his ambition is fulfilled. His reaction to the Camino was fascinating. As an older chap he had done a lot of training. He discovered the “London Loop” a series of day walks around the capital. Each stage starts at an underground railway station and finishes at another. John had also planned his equipment thoroughly. He had got his feet used to walking in the shoes he was going to use and had walked with a fully packed rucksack. I’d also sent him a slide show of the route so he would know what to expect. Still he was surprised. I asked him to describe how he felt...”I never thought it would be so beautiful and straightforward. You told me about the yellow arrows marking the way but I couldn’t quite believe it.” His sense of wonder about the journey continued as we walked along. He saw arrows of all kinds from the granite waymarks put in place by local authorities to the yellow arrows painted by local Amigos Associations. I told John that I had left Seville Cathedral following an arrow on the pavement and that and many hundreds of other arrows showed me all the way to Santiago 1000kms later. “Amazing” John concluded. And so they are.
On Tuesday more yellow arrows will guide me out of Valencia. I’ve never been there before and I am very much looking forward to exploring the city. Yesterday I picked up credenciales from the Pilgrims’ Office and tomorrow the local Amigos in Valencia are meeting me so that I can buy the guidebook for the route. Then I’m off in the company of another friend who walked with me on the Camino Hogmanay last year. The Big Man is also one of the South London gang and we three had a brief reunion before John returned to the UK. The Big Man is a very experienced camino walker but the 1300kms route from Valencia to Santiago is the longest either of us have undertaken. We should be on pilgrimage for about 7 weeks more or less. This route, the Camino Levante, is only walked by a few pilgrims each year and those who have done it say it is beautiful and at times challenging. My friend Andy who writes a super spiritual blog has walked most of the route and recommends it. He says that the waymarking is generally very good so yet again for most of the time all I’ll have to do is trust the arrows.
Trust has featured a lot in my life recently as I’ve moved home to another country. At times I’ve found it pretty scary. I’ve been worrying about whether I’ll fit in here, make friends, be understood, understand what they locals are saying? I’ve been waking up in the night asking myself random questions...what do I ask for in the butchers if I want to buy a sirloin steak or a kilo of mince? What’s the word for carrots again? How do shirt sizes work in Spain? Will I ever see or hear the BBC again?
Well the other evening I cooked dinner for friends having been at the shops and bought all the stuff. I’ve got my computer up and running and can listen to the BBC anytime I want. I bought a shirt in the Corte Inglés yesterday and I was out with other friends on Friday evening and I understood what was being said and with their help managed to communicate myself. I’ve also been making phone calls in Spanish. I’ve become quite fluent in the language of booking rooms in hostals but phoning to arrange to meet a friend or indeed to talk to someone who is a relative stranger made me really anxious. But it had to be done. Taking a very deep breath I phoned Don Jaime the parish priest of the Basilica of Santra Maria in Pontevedra. “It’s John the organist” I said, “May I come and see you on Friday, as I’d like to learn more about the music in the church and perhaps play the organ a little?” He couldn’t have been more helpful and told me to come before 11am. I turned up at the appointed hour to find the church filling with people and himself vested to start Mass. “The organ is open” he laughed, “ it is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, so you must play for us.” I played, they sang and already I began to feel a little at home. After the service he led me over to his office for “a chat”. After some preamble he got to the point. “What are you doing on Sunday?” he asked. I was non committal. “You see,” he went on, “we have 40 children from our own and a number of other parishes being confirmed. The Bishop will be there and of course the church will be full. Would you play?” So yesterday was spent emptying boxes of music, planning a programme and rehearsing. Just exactly as I have done in Scotland and London for most of my adult life. The Spanish may have different names for them but the notes of music still make the same sound.

As I came out of the train station in Pontevedra I wondered how easy it would be to walk to the Basilica. I was about to ask directions when my eye was drawn to a familiar sight right across the road. A waymark with a yellow arrow. This was the Camino Portuguese and I knew the route went through the centre of the town so I just followed the arrows. Guess what? They took me to within 200 metres of the church. A good omen or what!
So, friends, this morning I’ll follow the arrows again to play at my first major event and on Tuesday I’ll start following them again on my pilgrim way from Valencia. I’ll try to let you know from time to time how I am getting on.

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