Friday, 21 October 2011

Time to squeeze lemons

Monastery at Oseira
This week saw the announcement that my home city of Glasgow still tops the list for having the highest death rate in the UK. As if that wasn't enough to cheer me up I looked out of the window at the rain clouds hovering over Santiago. I was also conscious that it was my birthday. Another birthday. Shhhhhh.  I knew it was coming and in reflective mood I've been re-reading some of Graham Greene's novels. The novels of my youth. Greene was very much in my mind when I visited the Monastery at Oseira during the later stages of my last camino. I found the place full of peace and exquisite beauty. So too did Graham Greene and he visited there regularly for many years. As I walked around the cloisters I remembered the effect his work had on me when I was younger. His great insights into the human condition. In his novel the Power and Glory he explores the frailty of an alcoholic priest and in doing so exposes the weaknesses of humanity and the institutions we build. Recently I've enjoyed again Greene's 'Stanboul Train'. This is the opus which established him as a great author. It concerns the struggle within us all, our ambivalence, between being realistic and being romantic. I remembered that Graham Greene lived until he was 87. The probability is he would have died 16 years earlier had he lived in Glasgow.

With these morbid thoughts in my mind I decided it was best to forget my birthday. Who wants to celebrate getting older? My friends however had other ideas and I couldn't refuse their invitation to dine at one of my favourite restaurants. It is called O Dezaseis (which means 16. The street number where it is located) and you won't find better Galician cooking anywhere, all served up in the loveliest of rustic surroundings - and the Menu of the Day is still only 12 euros. During the meal I had to put up with a battery of questions like, "What did you do during the Second World War? and "What was the Camino Frances like in 1958? I was more than compensated for the teasing by the excellent bottles of Godello, the type of regional white wine I prefer, followed by a rich deep red Mencia for the second course. By the end I had inevitably warmed to the whole birthday thing and although I was contemplating bed I was easily persuaded by the gang's late night plan.
Vaova Cocktail Bar, Santiago
Santiago it seems is changing and now boasts two cocktail bars which specialise in gin based cocktails. The bars wouldn't look out of place in London or Manhattan. Off we went into a land of ice cold glasses, cocktail shakers, 100 flavours of gin and the glamorous people of Santiago. Of course there wasn't a pilgrim in sight. This is another Santiago. Was it good? Well I enjoyed myself and it was a great laugh but frankly an oversized and overpriced glass with gin, tonic, a slice of cucumber, a vanilla pod and a rose petal isn't quite what the boy from Glasgow feels most comfortable with.

The next day naturally became a day of rest and recuperation. I was secretly pleased when I got messages from the younger people in the gang who appeared to be suffering more than me. Put it down to experience...or just getting older. Because you know it has its compensations. I find some of the changes a challenge. I am moving at a different pace now from the striving of my previous life. The keep-all-of-the-plates-spinning-at-the-same-time life. But I feel I am getting there. And of course a night on the tiles with the gang shows me that I can still do it. But I need that less and less. Other things are becoming important. Poets can express this much better them me. Take "A Poetic State" by Czeslaw Milosz:

"Things once difficult are easy but I feel no strong need to communicate them in writing. Now I am in good health, where before I was sick because time galloped and I was tortured by fear of what would happen next. Every minute the spectacle of the world astonishes me: it is so comic that I cannot understand how literature could expect to cope with it. Sensing every minute, in my flesh, by my touch, I tame misfortune and do not ask God to avert it, for why should he avert it from me if does not avert it from others?...I was impatient and easily irritated by the time lost on trifles among which I ranked cleaning and cooking. Now, attentively, I cut onions, squeeze lemons and prepare various kinds of sauces."



  1. Well, a belated Happy Birthday, John! It looks like your friends knew how to celebrate you.

    I hope to go to the Monastery of Oseira next year. I did not know Graham Greene used to go there. I also read him when I was younger...

    Wishing you a mellow year!

  2. Take a day off from the computer and this is what I find..Happy Birthday!! Sounds like it was wonderful...and very happy to hear you may have added 16 years to your chances..esp at blogging!! For which many of the rest of us are grateful!

  3. John
    I was routed here to look at Camino Madrid, and what a wonderful post, squeezing lemons and making sauces, I know exactly what he meant! I am just back from 31 days on the Camino Frances and am now going to read all of your blog to see where am I going next!
    Thanks John
    Celebrate Life!

  4. Hola Claire and Karin - thank you veyr much for your birthday wishes - I'll raise a glass of JW you.


  5. Hola Una

    What a generous comment. Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy my scribblings as much as I do writing them.

    Happy planning for your next camino adventure.

    Celebrate life - indeed!


  6. mmm Godello... from Valdeorras? Gotta get you down on the Invierno soon, where the goodest godello goes!
    May you celebrate many more birthdays, and may all your gin be for sparkle and not anesthesia.


  7. Love the post! And yes, know too well that "Yet another birthday" feeling :-). A happy belated birthday, Johnnie, and may you have many more birthdays to come, and the company of good friends to celebrate the years with.


  8. As another exGlaswegian I also noted the mortality rate there. And the falling population. I too push away morbid thoughts on age and birthdays, though I am thankful to be around to have them. I also am not completely at ease sipping cocktails and I too have around a quarter of a century of tramping on camino ways. Such things in common must be something to do with the water pumped from Loch Katrine to that 'dear green place'...

    Happy birthday October '13, pilgrim!