lunes, 23 de junio de 2008

Blogging The Camino

Back in 1995 when I set off on the Camino de Santiago for the first time, the internet had not yet become a feature of everyday life, and there weren't any computers to be found along the route in the pilgrim's albergues or cybercafes. So, one of the things nearly every pilgrim did on the Camino was to keep a journal.

There is a long and venerable tradition of Camino journalling. It could be said that the first pilgrim to do this was Aymeric Picaud, the 12th century monk from Parthenay-le-Vieux in Poitou, who wrote what has been called the first “guidebook” to the Camino in five books relating to St James and the pilgrimage. The compilation is known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Codex Calixtinus since it is prefaced by a letter attributed to Pope Calixtus II, who was pope from 1119 to 1124. The fifth book of the compilation the "Pilgrims’ Guide", and it describes the four routes across Gascony, Burgundy and Provence that entered the Iberian peninsula as the Camino Francés via the passes of Roncesvalles and Somport, and the unified way westwards from Puente la Reina in Navarra. The author not only describes the terrain and rivers that pilgrims encountered, but also a vivid, and frequently none-too-flattering, foreigner’s view of the inhabitants along the route. Not very politically correct, but an entertaining read.

The internet and blogging have now made it possible for pilgrim's journals to be written, published and read while still on the road. I've never attempted to do so, and I'm not certain how I feel about the idea. I certainly understand the appeal of the virtually-real-time Camino blog, particularly for family and friends back home who want to share the experience with the pilgrim in some way although they're unable to physically make the journey themselves. Logging onto the computer and sharing your loved ones' experiences as the journey unfolds must be very exciting, and very enjoyable.

On the other hand, the experience of making an 800 kilometer (500 mile) pilgrimage on foot, with all of the suffering that this implies for we sedentary moderns, affects a person in ways that are difficult to describe in all but the most superficial terms while the journey is unfolding. Fully appreciating the lessons of the Camino requires returning home and reflecting on the experience. Like all the truly beneficial experiences in our lives, both joyful and sorrowful, genuine understanding requires some time and distance from the event. This is what a friend of mine meant when she described making a pilgrimage on the Camino as being akin to eating a meal: the real benefit of the meal isn't in the eating, it's in the nourishment you draw from the food after it's been digested. I wonder how many of the bloggers who write about the Camino from the road return to their cyber-journals later to reflect upon and re-evaluate their experiences from the distance of time.

Two things have provoked these reflections. The first is a blog published by one of the participants on a pilgrimage I organized and led for a fantastic group of students in a Study Abroad class from Texas A&M University. That journey ended just a couple of weeks ago when we arrived at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela on 6June. Spencer 's blog about the experience can be found in the Blog List column to the right of these entries. I think that he did a very fine job summarizing his experience for his family and friends back home. Have a look at it if you want to
get a little taste of the real thing through the eyes of a young man making the Camino for the first time.

Oh, and the photos in the Presentation in the sidebar are also photos that Spencer took of the Camino and the other kids in the group. He has kindly put them up on Picasa and given me permission to use them.

The other thing that got me thinking about all this was coming across my old journals from previous pilgrimages along the Camino. The oldest is from 1994, the year I attempted to make the pilgrimage starting from the great cathedral in Chartres, France. If you're wondering, that's roughly some 1609 kilometers, or 1,000 miles from Santiago de Compostela, and it was neither the easiest nor the most successful of my Camino experiences, though I would say that I learned quite a bit from it ... mostly how not to walk the Camino, and just how friggin' far 1609 kilometers really is, and just why it is that man invented the wheel and later motorized transport, and how many things there are that really do belong in the "superfluous" category when packing a backpack that you will be carrying on your back every day and every step of the way for two whole months, and all sorts of other practical, little gems of human wisdom that more intelligent types do not need to walk 1000 miles to figure out.

But, jokes aside, reading through that first journal again after all these years has been great. I can now look back very fondly on what was a rather disastrous first experience and smile about it all. It certainly didn't make me give up nor has it kept me from coming back for more. So maybe I'll post a few entries from that and my other Camino journals sometime to give anyone thinking of doing the Camino with us or on their own a little glimpse at life on the road.

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