Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 6

My world is this old schoolhouse in Spain

It´s Monday. I only realised that when Isa suggested we walk to Finisterre on Tuesday after doing our chores. "What day is it today?" I asked. "Lunes" she said.

We don´t have a radio here, no television, no newspapers. We do have a CD player and early in the morning we awaken the pilgrims with Gregorian Chants. Once they have all left, we put on something more lively, like The Full Monty or Greatest Hits and we dance with the brooms and the mops!!

For two weeks my world is a little double storied Casa on the edge of a playground surrounded by trees. In the afternoon children come to play and we can hear them as they swing and screech on the slides. Sometimes pilgrims, bored waiting for the albergue to open, mess about on the equipment too. My world starts at about 6:30am when I creep downstairs, put on the lights, the kettle, milk on the stove, get the coffee machine going, add bottles of jams and butter to the table, cut two loaves of bread and set out two flasks, one with hot water for tea and the other with made coffee and boiled milk for the hot chocolate. Then I put on the Gregorian Chants CD and and at 7am the sounds of monks chanting rises through stairwell up to the dormitory where the pilgrims sleep.

My world has become a passing parade of transients who arrive like old friends - kiss, kiss, hug, hug (no time for polite greetings or handshakes, no time for ´getting to know you´) it all happens in about 18 hours. Within 5 minutes they will lift a shirt to show me a rash on their back or stomach, or show me a swelling on a leg or blisters on their feet. After breakfast they leave with more kiss, kiss, hug, hugs and I know we´ll never see them again - unless we bump into them in Finisterre or Santiago, then we greet each other like long lost family! Its definitely a camino-pilgrim thing - me pilgrim, you pilgrim, we are family so I feel comfortable with you and can show you my blistered feet or discuss my period pains. No strangers here.

My world is sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, cleaning. I have learned that you can´t pick up a hair with your finger tips until you have rolled it into a little spiral. There is always hair in the showers and on the floors. How come there is so much hair on the floor in the living room where nobody combs or brushes their hair? Every day the broom is full of hair. Pilgrims leave little bits of themselves behind. Besides the hat, a shoe, a walking stick, bandana or other items of clothing, they leave nail clippings, blister plasters, and hair everywhere! I swear that if I was into Voodoo I could cast a hoodoo spell on them all!

At dinner time I sit at the head of the table like a matriarch - proudly watching her smiling brood tucking into their meal as though its the last one they´ll ever have. I enjoy listening to the volunteers who wash the dishes, laughing and chatting, discussing the routes, the towns, the albergues, their various aches and pains - its just like a big family. But there are always goodbyes. Instant friendship, certain farewells.
A few will continue from Finisterre to Muxia or even beyond but for most, it is the end of the line when they reach Finisterre and you can see the reluctance on their faces and the sadness in their eyes. They have reached the land of the Dark Star - the End of the World and the end of their camino.

They are like the legend of the Abbot San Virila who stayed too long in the woods, enchanted by the singing of a bird and did not notice the passing of time.
"After what I thought were a few hours, I returned to the monastery, my home. After entering the front door, none of the monks there were familiar to me. I walked through the different rooms, surprised at what I saw, realising that something strange was happening. When I became aware that nobody recognised me I went to see the Prior, who listened to my story with astonished attention. We went to the library to try to decipher the enigma. Looking through old documents we discovered that around three hundred years before, a holy monk called San Virila who had ruled the monastery had disappered, presumed eaten by wild animals on one of his spring walks in the woods."

These pilgrims have condensed 300 years of life experiences into 30 days or more and for many, life will never be the same again.

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