Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A tourist in Spain (and homecoming)

Lola in the San Roque Living room

Today I was a tourist again in Santiago. After serving breakfast at San Roque for the last time I said goodbye to all the pilgrims (tears from the German) and collected my things. Isa and I just hugged each other. "Hasta siempre mi mama Africa" she says.
Begona arrived from Finisterre with another passenger for Lola to taxi up to Santiago. "Thank you" she says, "I think you enjoyed it?"
"I did, very much. I'd like to come back sometime." She asks me if I would mentor other volunteers from South Africa. Something to think about when I get back.

The weather clears as we head towards Santiago and when the sun shines it is actually quite warm. We park in the catedral parking and the first thing we do is have a hot chocolate at the Dakar bar close to the cathedral. The Dakar Bar forms part of the chain of bars that used to be called the "Paris to Dakar" pub crawl in Santiago. Then I take Lola to the Pazo de Agra to find a room for the night. Fernando is surprised to see me and we get a very warm welcome. I've stayed there in 2002, 2004, 2009 and have sent many friends there. He shows us Lola's room and then we head off for the cathedral and take our places on the pews for the pilgrim's mass. A young girl from the US sits next to me.
"Do you think the Botafmeiro will swing today?" she asks. The famous silver incense burner is already suspended above the altar. "Yes, there it is" I point it out to her. The nun with the beautiful voice sings the responses required of the congregation. The mass begins. I look up at the cathedral, water stains, ancient mason signs in the columns, stained glass windows.

A statue of Maria the mother of James gazing down at the people in the congregation. She must be one proud Mama! She looks like the nun who leads the mass.
This is truly a 'pilgrim' cathedral. It is one of the few medieval churches that was never an abbey. How different from Rome - from St Peter's - which is not warm or welcoming. As pilgrims in 2006 we were not allowed into St Peter's because our arms were not covered. Here, pilgrims of all ages, in shorts, t-shirts, boots and sandals, with backpacks leaning against the ancient pillars, cram the aisles and sit on the flagstones. It has always been like this. When communion is over the men in maroon grab the large wheel with the ropes attached and start swinging the botafumeiro higher and higher. It looks smaller than I remember it from 2002. This is a replica and is not the 80kg silver thurible that we saw 7 years ago. It still elicits gasps from the congregation as it almost touches the ceiling. After mass we throng out of the cathedral back into the sunshine.

Lola's phone rings. It is Judith, phoning to say goodbye to me. She and Francelino had intended driving to San Roque today to wish me farewell but I had left already.
"We did our best to keep up the warm tradition of San Roque" I tell her.
"The pilgrims won't forget" she says. "I hope to see you back again one day".
I hope so too - I'm already feeling nostalgic.
Santiago is crowded. There are many groups of young people (it has a huge university and it is holidays) lolling about on all the steps around the cathedral. The narrow streets are filled with pilgrims, tourists and a few stoic residents who have to negotiate their way through the milling crowds. There are beggars, some with dogs, buskers playing guitar or flute, there are singers, harmonising troubadours in traditional La Tuna tights and tunics. Santiago is truly medieval. I don't imagine it looked too different 700 years ago with its myriad of tiny alleys, cobbled or grey granite streets, overhanging balconies, alleys and arches.

We make our way back to the Dakar bar for lunch. They have an excellent Menu del Dia for 10 euros (better than most) which includes salads, a drink and a coffee. One of the Spanish pilgrims from 4 days ago finds us and there is much rejoicing - kiss, kiss, hug, hug. I leave them chatting and go in search of souvenirs to take home to friends and family. How many fridge magnets or key rings can one have? Then I find the internet cafe and send emails home. I meet up with Lola again in the square and we sit on the stones in front of the cathedral enjoying the music, the happy sounds of pilgrims and enjoying the sun. Then it is time to go. We get the car and pick up a friend of Lola's and stop at a little bar on the way to Lavacolla for a drink. It is less than 10km to Lavacolla - I could have walked there. At 6pm I am at the airport. Bye-bye Lola, gracias por todo - kiss, kiss, hug, hug.
The plane leaves at 8h40pm and I arrive at Madrid Bajaras airport at 21h45. My flight only boards at 1h25am - we'll be half an hour late. I sleep on the plane but am still tired when we arrive in Johannesburg. I see black faces and hear the familiar sounds of isiZulu. I am home.
There is snow on the mountains when we fly over the Drakensberg. It is winter and it has been cold in Durban. We fly over the beachfront and I take a photograph of the new soccer stadium. When I land in Durban at 3pm Finn and my sister Patty are there to meet me. How wonderful to have family to greet you when you return home. After asking about the boys, their wives, our baby Emily and the dogs, Finn says, "Enough about us, tell us about your trip."
My trip?? Sigh. Is that what it was - a trip?
"I'm jet-lagged" I say, "I can't even think straight. Ask me questions rather and I'll answer as best I can." They ask a few questions, 'what time did you leave Corcubion? Were you sad to leave the albergue? How was the flight? Easy questions to answer. Everything else will have to be remembered, savoured, understood, processed in the coming weeks.
We visit Mark & Tammy and I get to hold my little Emily. She recognizes me and her grin is so huge that her little cheeks look like apples. I sing the 'Emily-Ann" song and she waves her hands about in recognition. I give my family their souvenirs and then we drive Patty home where I get a big warm welcome from her furry little Yorkie called Muffin. Then it is home to my Labbie and street special. Wag, wag, lick, lick - the doggie version of kiss, kiss, hug, hug. I chuck everything onto the floor. It can wait for the morning.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe on your 'reactions' section, you could add 'moving,' for most of all this post 'moved' me.