Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
A spectacular sunrise this morning boded well for the weather today.
As the days grow shorter and so does my time on the Camino, I come back to George's what's-it-all-about-Alfie question. Well, it's certainly a quest, religious, spiritual, personal, a journey in the tradition, I believe, of those great literary quests beginning with Homer's Odyssey.
For three Spanish lads at the albergue last night, I suspect it is religious. One wore a cross; another wore a ring. The third hospitaller, Stuart, an elderly Scot from Edinburgh, took us on a tour of the church and explained the statues, including Santiago with the heads of the moors at his feet, the same which I hear have been politically corrected at the cathedral in Santiago, and the Spanish lads were all ears, nodding in agreement and murmuring assent, and were so appreciative that they later wanted their photo taken with him. For them it is a religious quest.
Perhaps for me it's a personal quest. The most simple of the Greek philosophical slogans is also the most profound: Know thyself. As I walk, I peel away the onion skins. But that's life as well, of course. It's just that when you are walking alone for five weeks, you concentrate on these things. It's the same with the appreciation of beauty.
The first four or five kilometres across the moors were perhaps the most beautiful of the walk. Timber had been cut, and bracken and gorse and broom had taken over along with patches of heather. The occasional crocus peeped up tentatively along the edges of the track. This was wild country. At times I walked along a dirt track; at others, over rocky outcrops or flat slabs of stone.
Later, I came upon a very strange dog indeed, like nothing I've seen before. One half looked like a wooly Airedale; the other, a terrier. Then I saw another just the same. And another. And a little further on in a field there was a tumble of puppies rolling over each other, two of the same mixed breed, the other quite different. There was a very interesting family history here.
Then I heard a robin sing and saw a flash of orange.
Without the other distractions of life, one is especially receptive to these moments of beauty on the Camino.
I passed a scattering of cows. Normally they stick together for company, but these were spread outcross the field, ruminating. Contented cows.
After that it was road walking and then the last eight kilometres tramping along a major highway. No bar was indicated on this route, but just five kilometres before the town, I noticed some chairs in the distance on a footpath, and a sign, and a figure waving, and it was Preben, and there was a beer for me on the table.
I have been thinking about the man that was rooting about under his horse chestnut tree. Were they in fact edible chestnuts? A little touch of Google in the night put me right. Many of what I thought were horse chestnuts, including the tree in the man's yard, were in fact the real thing. In their spiny skins, they are difficult to tell apart, but the nuts are different. Horse chestnuts, conkers, are rounder; chestnuts are flatter on one side, and they have a stem or the remnant of one that is quite prominent. The nut on the left in the photo below is a horse chestnut and poisonous; the other three are chestnuts and edible, low in fat and high in protein. And I walk on them all the time. Preben tells me he pays several euros for a few at Christmas. I told him to hire a truck, drive down here, scoop them up, and make a small fortune.
I am staying at the Cistercian monastery at Sobrado dos Monxes. Seventeen monks remain in a monastery with room for many, many more. Eleven of them were present at Vespers. One monk did more yawning than singing. Poor fellow. He had been up since matins before dawn. Then he was going to compline because he couldn't go to bed. There was one good tenor. The chant was beautiful, even if a little feeble-voiced at times, but I imagined how it must have sounded when they were a hundred strong, singing the office they have singing for more than a 1,000 years.
Twenty-five to thirty pilgrims were present. For some it would have been a religious devotion. But for the rest of us, a cultural phenomenon? A curiosity? A touch of history? A nod to our heritage? A polite gesture to our hosts?