Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In praise of cobblers

Finding the Way
Having set off from Seville Cathedral we made our way through the city streets following the tiles set on the walls of buildings. In the South these are the other way round from the Camino Francés. The point rather than the rays show the way to go. The tiles aren’t placed consistently in this way throughout the route, as if someone forgot what had been decided at the committee meeting. But the way is clear and in addition to the tiles there are plenty of yellow arrows and special Via de la Plata markers to ensure that we wouldn’t get lost. And we didn’t.
The first time I walked this route I relied heavily on a guidebook. But that was 7 years ago and now the waymarking is infinitely better and there is much more pilgrim infrastructure. On this Camino I used a simple list of accommodation available on the Pilgrim Forum http://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/accommodation-and-walking-schedule-for-the-via-de-la-plata.17077/ and also the walking notes provided by Eroski: http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/los-caminos-de-santiago/via-de-la-plata/
If you are looking at the Eroski guide don’t be alarmed by the length of the suggested stages. The route doesn’t have to be walked in 26 days. First time round I took a total of 36 days and this time we took 22 days to reach Salamanca rather than the 19 suggested by Eroski. We used the walking notes and the accommodation list to plan stages which suited us better.

Leaving Seville
On that first morning we strode out confidently. Crossing the bridge to the barrio Triana I overheard two tourists remarking on the padlocks on the railings. “These can’t be for bicycles,” they said, “there are too many of them.”  The locks all had two names or initials written on them in felt pen, and a date. I had seen these before and found out that rather than an old custom the lock thing had appeared in the last couple of years, started by some Italian students who were spreading a craze that started in Rome on the Milvio bridge, based on the story of the romantic comedy Ho voglia de Te (I Want You), which came out in 2007. The film was adapted by Federico Moccia from his novel of the same name. In the newspaper El Pais there was an interview with Federico Moccia, in which he threw a bit more light on the whole thing. “I was looking for a Roman legend about love, but there wasn’t one so I made one up: I just put together the idea of the steel lock with chucking the key into the river, something final,” he said. So now you know!

We crossed the bridge dotted with hundreds of padlocks and turned right. This road in a kilometre or so would lead us out of the city.

On the way to Guillena

The sun was shining as we strode along on this first 22.7 kms stage. We had a glorious walk along the river as we followed the path. At one stage I glanced down at the Big Man’s boots. I was certain there was some amiss. We stopped and looked. One of the seams on his boot was coming loose. This on the first day of a winter pilgrimage! We decided to press ahead to the albergue in Guillena and consider our options there. On arrival it was clear this was a serious problem. The seam was opening up along its line. The boots were no longer waterproof and might come apart completely. We had 500 kms to go. I came up with a plan. “There is no bus...let’s get a taxi back to Seville to Decathelon, buy new boots and get a taxi back?” At a rough calculation that would be 50€ for the taxis and over 100€ for new boots. Hmmmm. I wasn’t pleased. I never quite said, “Why didn’t you check your boots before you left?”  But the unsaid accusation hung in the air. Time was going on. It was getting dark and cold. Then the Big Man said, “I wonder if there is a cobbler here?” Now Guillena is a small pueblo a few minutes drive from Seville, I doubted if it would boast a zapatero. Undaunted off we went, boot in hand. 
“Hay un zapatero aqui?” was the question asked of several people. Some gave blank looks. Others shrugged. Then we were directed to the village shoe shop. They confirmed that there was indeed a zapatero who worked from his house across the road. There in the garden shed were the accoutrements of cobbling and a young woman talking to the cobbler. He was altering the size of her leather boots and asked us to wait. When our turn came he examined the boot, adjusted his sewing machine, applied some glue, zapped in the stitches and presented the BM with his boot as good as new.”There, that will get you to Santiago” he smiled.  “How much is it?” the BM enquired. “3€” was the reply. Certainly cheaper than my plan. The Big Man said nothing.           

On the way to Carñaveral

Let’s leap forward some 300 kms.  We enjoyed excellent weather in the first two weeks of this Camino but the forecast predicted rain during the third week. The weather broke on the day we walked 30 kms to Carñaveral, a little white village set in the hills. I was plodding along with my head bowed to avoid the driving rain in my face. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There on my trusted boots a seam was opening up. I could see the lining inside. Parts of the route were water logged and rather than walking through the puddles I started to take detours around them. Failure of footwear miles from anywhere with no prospect of finding alternatives in a pueblo of a few thousand people is a serious matter for long distance walkers. I was worried. As the sky got blacker and the rain got heavier I wondered if this was retribution for my uncharitable thoughts about the Big Man not checking his boots before he left. “This time” I realised there was no obvious plan, “ possibly I’d need to give up, wait for a bus which might come a few times a week, and go home”.  “Maybe there will be a zapatero in Carñaveral “ the Big Man hopefully wondered.  I looked at the size of this tiny pueblo ahead, “Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly”, I thought.

We were cold and very hungry when we reached the Hostal Malaga, the only place to sleep since the albergue closed. It was late in the afternoon but the kitchen was still open. They brought us bowls of piping hot fish soup, red wine, crusty bread followed by a plate stacked high with pork ribs cooked so slowly the meat was falling off the bones. We started to feel better.  “Hay un zapatero en Carñaveral?” I asked the lady who was serving us. “No”, she immediately replied shaking her head at this stupid question from these foreigners. Then she paused, “wait a minute...there is an old man who fixes shoes, but he isn’t there all the time...you could try.” We asked for directions. “Go back the way you came,” she said “then after church turn right into Love of God Street and then left into Christ Street. You’ll need to ask where his place is.”  Only in Spain would there be streets called Calle Amor de Dios and Calle Del Cristo.
Off we went. A women confirmed that the zapatero was at number 14. We knocked and waited, No one home. We saw a light on in the next door house and so we knocked the door. The young woman who answered saw we were pilgrims and told us to come with her when we asked for the zapatero. She closed her door and led us down the street and into the Old Folks Centre. There was a group of men playing cards, “Zapatero” she called out, “two pilgrims need you”.  The man well into his 80’s shuffled out. He looked at my boot and said he could fix it tomorrow.  “We have to leave early walk to Galisteo tomorrow,” we explained. He told us to come with him, shouted to his companions that he would be back later and led us up Christ Street. As he opened the door to what used to be his family home we were transported into another world. This could have been the workshop where Pinocchio was made. It was a chaotic glory of old fashioned shoe making and repair. The old cobbler took my boot, placed it on the last, punched some holes and hand sewed the seam. He finished the job with a sealant. We asked him about the wooden feet in a basket. “Oh I still make shoes,“ he replied and reaching under the bench he brought out a pair of the most beautiful handmade gentlemen’s shoes. Such skill and such kindness to pilgrims. When we offered to pay he refused to take money. “We’ll give the Saint a hug for you” we said pressing a little cash into his hand. At that       
he hugged us. “Buen camino peregrinos”. In praise of cobblers everywhere!

Next...In praise of decent accommodation.

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