I was reminded of this truism when a passing acquaintance sneeringly dismissed the Camino, saying ‘Oh yes I’ve done [sic] the Camino, it is just a bunch of people racing from one refuge to another to get a bunk for the night.’ It can be this and we have all seen those who appear determined to ‘do it’ as fast as possible; I met one woman who had walked from Geneva to Santiago and immediately turned around and was walking back, averaging 40 km per day with no pauses. It would be easy to say that this pace was blinding her to what was around her and that she was ‘missing the point’, but what was the point for her? A few hours in her company and it was apparent that she was experiencing a personal crisis and this was the best path for her to follow. The first time I walked part of the Camino, I knew my competitive nature well enough to be fearful that I would be one of those who did it at top speed and then wondered what all the fuss was about; so I forced myself to stop for a day every four or five days in a small town or village where there were no sights I would feel obliged to see, nothing I would feel compelled to experience for dread of the comment later ‘Oh, didn’t you go and -‘. Of course then I started to feel superior to those who did not do this and it took last year’s walk from Le Puy en Velay to Pamplona to help me see that this is pure ego and judgement. What does it matter how we walk the Camino? To state the obvious, we reach the same point via different paths and each path is equally valid, so let it go and just walk it as you want. If a driven and competitive creature like me can let it go, well then…
My fictional characters are walking because each has suffered great loss and sorrow and each is seeking forgiveness and most difficult, self-forgiveness. If others wish to do it as an adventure or as a bucket list tick, so be it.
I saw this sign in 2013 while walking the Chemin de Saint Jacques and I sat on the grass and absorbed its simplicity and strength and the power of the image. It was a small moment which has stayed with me and which meant more than many a grander monument. In a small way it captured the essence of the pilgrimage.
In Saturday’s writing workshop, I was challenged by the presenter to describe the Camino as a character. No analysis, no intellectualising, simply tell her what sort of character would be the Camino itself in my novel-under-revision. An excellent question and after various false starts, I came up with the following [remembering that I am writing as a male].
“The Camino is an exotic and romantic woman [sic] with whom it is easy to fall in love and who inevitably will disappoint, perhaps to the point of madness; the truth you seek she cannot deliver, for this you must find in yourself.”
Though not the most profound words ever written, it has transpired to be a very useful answer to a seemingly bizarre question.
the characters in your novel appear more real than the people around you and you eat solitary meals deep in thought on what will happen when character A meets character B unexpectedly and what character X would do in situation Y to be consistent; what is the perfect word to describe the sound of gravel crunching under your feet crossing that plateau or the colour of the water in that river at dawn or – then it is time to take a deep breath, surface and exhale and look around. Put down the pin board and scene sequence cards, close the computer or the writing pad and let it all wash away for a few days and be truly at one with those around you. Oh and write that three weeks overdue blog! Tomorrow is a weekend writing workshop, so it has been a blessed relief to have ‘done nothing on the novel’ [those dreaded words] since Tuesday. Deep breath…