Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Like falling out of a window

Yes, it’s been seven months since I blogged. Shame on me, though I do have excuses. It is one year since I had a melanoma removed. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like falling out of a window [a thousand other metaphors or similes come to mind] and ‘so far so good’ as I haven’t yet hit the ground. My quarterly check three days ago showed NED = no evidence of disease and no need to come back for four months.

You want more excuses? In July I had two related operations, nothing to do with cancer, ‘just bad luck’ consequences of the original melanoma operation. Successful, albeit with a long period of enforced inactivity.

Still not happy? Okay. This week I completed the first draft of ‘Stopping Time’, my novel about the challenges confronting modern universities; that is, the pressure to do more with less and to be more commercial, competitive and ‘relevant’ while maintaining core values of academic freedom. One hundred thousand words of pure gold. Maybe.

No more excuses.

Now it is decision time. Time to cross the river, not the Styx fortunately. The photo is one of many river crossings when I was hiking in the Flinders Ranges in September perfectly timed to coincide with a ‘once in 50 years’ weather event. Three ops and you gotta keep going through flood, storm, whatever.

Anyway, I digress. My decision, my metaphorical river to cross, is this. Which of my two manuscripts do I revise first? ‘Death on the Camino’, the one with potential but needs more work [according to an editor] and which is my first love? Or ‘Stopping Life’, the one which my mentor likes and which is probably more commercial and topical? The heart versus common sense.

Time for a walk in the rain and a spot of pondering…

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An island stroll

Tomorrow I fly to Adelaide to commence a 6 day hike on Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, situated off the South Australian Coast and fronting the Great Southern Ocean.

It is a gentle walk, the longest day is only 18 kilometres and not at all like the long walks I have done and have planned.

But…

Staying in a lighthouse – yes

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Staying in lighthouse cottages – yes

Mingling with penguins, sea-lions, goannas, kangaroos, echidnas etc – yes

sea lions

Seeing rare Australian native birds – yes

Spectacular cliff top walks and scenery – yes

cape borda

Wandering in the sunshine – yes.

The stars at night, crystal clear far from city pollution, peering into infinity – yes.

‘What’s not to like’, as we say down under [and possibly elsewhere].

In the meantime I continue to ponder doing the Via Francigena in 2016, a hike of 950 kilometres from Saint Bernard’s Pass to Rome. I have learned that the Pope has declared 2016 a jubilee year for the Catholic Church.

I have zero interest in religion, however, I am informed that the jubilee year declaration will lead to an influx of people/pilgrims to Italy [and higher prices] and the last thing I want is to be surrounded by hordes of people!

I know that the Camino Frances becomes even more crowded in jubilee years.

What do readers know of the possible impact of a jubilee year on the Via Francigena?

If I decide that the Via Francigena is ‘off’ for 2016, there are other enticing possibilities – the 88 temples pilgrimage in Japan, Jakobsweg in Switzerland/France and the temptation of hiking  in Scotland, about which I have heard so much.

I could do the first half of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Saint Bernard’s Pass, but that one is less appealing. Mind you, it would certainly be solitary!

Either way I shall continue to learn Italian, a beautiful language and a fun class even if I do not walk there next year.

First world problems, I know.

One year ago today since I walked the Camino

Today it is one year, give or take a day, since I walked the Pamplona – Leon Section and completed my 1530 kilometre amble from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago. Approximately 400 kilometres in 15 days. This year I have no long walks scheduled, hopefully next year is the Via Francigena. In 2016 maybe the 88 Temples in Japan.
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The low light of last year’s Camino section undoubtedly was suffering a ‘march fracture’ in my right foot, fracturing 2 metatarsal bones only 150 kilometres after Pamplona. A lovely sunny day, pleasant country side and kapow. With no warning, my right foot suddenly felt like I was dragging a lead weight on it while at the same time going numb. Took my boot off that night and I had a swollen bruise from the ankle to the toes. Nothing to be done except to push on with no idea what I’d done, finally having it diagnosed in London 7 weeks later. Such is life. All is fine now apart from scar tissue pressing on nerves meaning that my toes feel tingly or numb most days: very much a first world problem, right?
Another disappointment though not actually a low light, was walking the Meseta. My reading had led me to imagine a wild high plateau of solitude and starkness, in other words, precisely what I love. Um, no. It was civilised – crops, irrigation canals, flowers, little birds singing – nothing like what I expected and so soft and colourful compared with the country Australia of my childhood.
Highlights?
Waling through the wind farms high on the hills after Pamplona, the air reverberating and humming like a giant pulsing heart so that my body sang for hours afterwards.
Staying with a family in Mansilla de las Mulas in a lovely little house and eating dinner with them in the courtyard at night, waking in the morning to storks preening and grooming in the church tower outside my window.
Meeting and walking with strangers who became friends for a while.
Celebrating my birthday in the tiny village of El Burgo Ranero, drinking in the bar and writing while the old men played cards with much shouting and laughing until their women came and swept them away home. The daughter of the family discovering it was my birthday and making a ‘special’ vegetarian meal for me.
Lots of other stuff.
Oh, and I remember having a snack near a creek, actually more of a swamp, and a family of rats coming out of the reeds to watch, eager for scraps, nervous of coming close, much twitching of whiskers and squeaking. Yes, I left crumbs for them as a fitting symbol of the Camino.
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Next year I plan to be back on the pilgrimage trails, this year I shall miss it.

Walking the Via Francigena

The decision is made. My next long walk will be the Via Francigena, the old pilgrimage route, from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome. Some 940 kilometres, I plan a leisurely timetable of 6 weeks, allowing days to detour and wander on the way, commencing in June 2016 once the pass is open for walking and aiming to arrive in Rome late July.
Commencing here –
saint bernand pass
and finishing here –
rome
I have walked from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago along the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances, 1500 kilometres or so depending what book or map you believe and this one will be quite different in character and terrain.
This gives me 14 months to have my novel-in-progress published, in the process of being published, self-published into probable oblivion or consigned to the rubbish bin.
Step one: start learning Italian.
Step two: start pondering ideas for a novel set on the Via Francigena. Maybe a series of linked short stories?
Step three: stay open to this changing. The 88 Temples pilgrimage in Japan is tempting… or a stroll in the Cotswolds or the new walk along the Turkish coast or ….
Again, there is no religious element involved. It is the joy of wandering and writing and of meeting people and experiencing places the old-fashioned way; by foot.

Love and death on the Camino: is there ever a single truth?

chemin de saint jacques july 2013 070
This is embarrassing, right? I have not posted on my novel-in-progress since late October [I forced myself to check the date].
Do any of you remember what was happening to our lovers? Well, in case you do not, they are in south western France and Tom suspects that Anika is murdering pilgrims on the Camino and is torn between his love for her and trying to solve the mystery of the killings.
What to do?
Trust her?
Confront her?
Keep quiet and pursue the truth on the Camino?
Is there ever a single truth?
Tom has been attacked and may be in danger; should he give up and slip quietly away?
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So, what have I been doing in the last x months? Apart from living life and earning a few dollars consulting?
November was NaNoWriMo 50,00 words in a month and I have revised my effort down to a 25,000 word novella which I intend to submit to a competition in May. I have experimented with 6 and 100 word flash fiction, partly as a bit of fun and partly as practice in writing intense moments of prose with no verbiage, explanation, backgrounding etc.
Is this a list of excuses for inactivity on my Camino novel? Fortunately not.
Most days I have been writing the 4th draft of ‘Love and Death on the Camino’ and have revised to that point of the story where Tom is forced to face the very real possibility that his lover is a serial killer. Yes, we are back to where we left off.
So, watch this space!
Oh, am I happy with my revision? Hmm. the plotting is tighter and the characters more rounded and sympathetic [says me]. It will need at least one more total rewrite after this and I shall be ready to send it out maybe by the end of 2015.
So, once upon a time two people crazed by grief fell in love ….what could possibly go wrong?
Le Puy to Espalion May 2013 036

Ritual deaths

Tom learns bizarre details of two pilgrim deaths on the Chemin near where he is currently walking. The deaths had been almost an intellectual puzzle to solve, now they take on a grisly reality.
The bodies of two elderly female pilgrims have been found in nearby villages, meticulously posed on the steps of little village churches in positions of prayer. It is as though they have fallen asleep and been taken by the angel of mercy whilst in the act of prayer; calm, meditative expressions on their faces and no sign of struggle or harm. No sign of violence and one could be simply the death of an old pilgrim struggling to reach the church for succour and shelter; two deaths the same is stretching coincidence too far.
Nobody except Tom seems to know or to care.
What is he to do?

My characters have been waiting impatiently to get back on stage

Remember Anika and Tom? You do? It has been only one month since I wrote here of their adventures, it seems longer than that as I have been busy on other tasks.
Both have been walking the Camino, they have met and (like in the Hollywood classics) have agreed to meet in a year. No contact during the year, no plans, they will find each other for true love always finds a way.
Back in Australia, Tom is gathering information on pilgrims dying on the Camino in Spain and on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France; in fact, some 10 or so people are known to die each year walking or cycling to Santiago, there may be more that are not recorded, and there are plaques here and there to commemorate their lives and deaths. This has always been a reality on pilgrimages, more so in the past when illness was rife and banditry a constant danger.
Now Tom is returning to Europe to cross the Pyrenees on commission and then to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port to gather more information re peregrino deaths and, of course, to meet Anika on 22 May.
He has decided to write a novel about love and death on the Camino as a cover for his research on the personal tragedies of the dead pilgrims. Yes, there is some old fashioned post-modern reflexivity at work as I write a novel about a guy writing a novel. Do not to be alarmed, there will be no linguistic tricks or theorising, it is simply a device for Tom possibly to earn some money (he has no source of income) and to put a little distance between him and the realities of pilgrims dying.