Tuesday, November 3, 2009

home from walking in france

Just back from an amazing eleven-day, 240-kilometre walk along the Via Podiensis, the road from Le Puy, most venerable of the French pilgrim ways to Santiago. It's a wonderfully bucolic walk from Le Puy, pop. 20,000, to Figeac pop. 10,000, with the biggest town in between, Saugues, clocking in at 2000 inhabitants. You can go for hours without seeing a highway or a power line; what you will see (and hear and smell) is plenty of cows. The scenery is spectacular and ever-changing, though all those magnificent vistas come at the cost of a lot of ups and downs.

There was only a handful of us walking, ten or a dozen the first week, down to four by the end of the second, and many of the gites (equivalent to Spanish refugios), to say nothing of the cafes and bars, were already closed for the season. But we were always able to find a bed somewhere. The facilities were comfortable and clean, the ways clearly marked, the bread, cheese, meat, coffee, wine - all very French.

Many differences between the French way and the Camino Frances. Most of the people I met considered their journey a walking holiday rather than a pilgrimage, and there is no need to carry a credential or identify oneself as a pilgrim in order to stay in the gites (with a few exceptions). It's easy to buy groceries in France early in the morning, not so easy to find an open bar or restaurant at night. The churches are more likely to be open at any time of day here than in Spain, though most are surprisingly unornamented compared to Spanish churches, having been burned down or stripped bare during the Hundred Years' War, or the wars of religion, or the Revolution.... Lively history, France.

Lots to talk about! I'll save some for the next blog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

and one more thing

What? Me again already?

A couple important items I didn't mention in my last posting.

First, the fall meeting of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, Toronto chapter, is coming up fast. Arthur Paul Boers, author of The Way is Made by Walking, is the featured speaker, while four other Canadian Camino authors, Sue Kenney, Jane Christmas, Guy Thatcher and yours truly, will be chatting up our wares as part of the halftime festivities. That's Saturday, November 7th, 1:30 at St. Matthew's United Church (more details at santiago.ca)

And what was the other thing? Oh yeah, the first foreign sale of All the Good Pilgrims. As of fall 2010, my Camino tales will be hitting bookstores in..... Poland!

So how do you say Buen Camino in Polish?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Something to blog about

Blog? Who, me?

Hey, it could happen. I just need something to blog about.

Is that why I'm going to France next week? Just to gather blogging material? Hey, any reason for going to France is a good reason.

Actually (since you asked) I'm going for a walk along the ancient pilgrim route from Le Puy. I hope to make it to Conques, 200 kms down the road, with a detour to Rocamadour. Le Puy and Rocamadour, as home to two of the most celebrated "Black Virgins," have been high on my to-see list for a while now.

I hope to come back with some great pictures, and something to blog about!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

a terrific camino gathering in toronto

Last weekend saw the closing of the Toronto run of the "Sacred Steps" exhibition and the opening of a new chapter in the story of Toronto's Company of Pilgrims. "Sacred Steps" was an unqualified success -- an eye-filling, soul-warming array of art and photography curated by veteran pilgrim and Camino nut, Professor George Greenia of the College of William and Mary, and laid out with loving attention by Saint James Cathedral archivist, Nancy Mallett. A special feature of the Toronto show was a tribute to our two most celebrated Camino artists, Oliver Schroer and Lupe Rodriguez, both of whom succumbed to leukemia in 2008. The tribute to Oliver came in the form of a display of photographs by Peter Coffman, his pilgrim companion, while one wall of the cozy St James gallery was given over to three of Lupe's bold Spanish landscapes.

February's opening ceremony, held in the Cathedral, brought out a crowd of 350, a tribute to our city's growing Camino-awareness. But equally impressive was the turnout for the show's final weekend, which doubled as a meeting of the revived Toronto pilgrim chapter. English-Canada's original Camino group had been dormant since long-time movers and shakers Barb and Anthony Cappuccitti took a well deserved retirement last spring. But now, thankfully, Pat Sayer and a new team have stepped up to the plate. One-hundred-and-fifty seats were filled for Saturday's meeting, hopefully a sign of many more good things to come.

No one went away disappointed either, as pilgrim-author Guy Thatcher talked us through his Camino, and George Greenia (above) offered up an address that was part heart-felt ode to the Camino, part a medievalist's take on where the contemporary pilgrim experience departs from the traditional. If Guy's presentation at the meeting is any indicator of the quality of his book, it must be a great read - straightforward, unpretentious, digressive in a good way, just thoughtful enough, gently humourous, and with lots of colour photos. The title says it all: A Journey of Days: Relearning Life's Lessons on the Camino de Santiago.

Incidentally, if you're not hooked into Canada's ever-growing network of Camino groups, check out santiago.ca, where you'll find announcements of gatherings from BC to New Brunswick.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

i'm back!

And you probably never even noticed I was gone. But I was. Four wonderful weeks in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Great food, friendly people, dreamlike landscapes, thrilling overnight bus rides and - ah, the heat. Stole an extra month of summer this year.

But we're back to Canada now, to see winter through to the bitter end.

I could go on about the beauties of South America, the beaches, pampas, vineyards, hot springs, and blue lakes sleeping at the foot of smoke-puffing volcanoes. Or about the human wonders: the cafes of Buenos Aires, Carnaval in Montevideo, Valparaiso's polychrome houses... But what I'm going to tell you about instead is a saint I discovered while I was away, a saint you may never have heard of before, but who may prove worth knowing. His name is San Expedito - Saint Expeditious - and there is a special devotion to him in Chile, where I found this altar to him, in the Mercedarian church in Santiago.
According to legend, Expedito lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor. He started life as a pagan, but when he heard the gospel, he resolved immediately to convert to Christianity. The Devil spoke in his ear to dissuade him from this path. "Think it over first," said the Evil One. "Do it tomorrow." But Expedito replied, "No. I will become a Christian today." Which is why he is prayed to as the patron saint of just and urgent causes, and why he has that little cross in his hand bearing the Latin word "hodie" - "today."

So if your problems can't wait till tomorrow, call on Expedito, the Fedex of patron saints!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

sacred steps on the camino de santiago

Over the past few months this blog has featured three exceptional visual artists of the Camino. Well, here come some more. The Sacred Steps exhibition, which has already visited several university galleries around the United States as well as the Spanish Consulate in Montreal, is on its way to London, Ontario and Toronto. Sacred Steps brings together the artwork of eight American and Canadian Camino photographers and painters.

I'm a fan of the saturated colours and understated symbolism of my friend Wanda Sawicki's work, which was a highlight of the 2005 joint gathering of American and Canadian pilgrims in Toronto, but I'm also looking forward to seeing up-close the topsy-turvy townscapes and steeples of Father Jerome Tupa, the scenic watercolours of Katie Lopez, and - well - anything that evokes the Camino. (Click to see Wanda interviewed by London Free Press, January 18th.)

The exhibition appears at London's King's College, January 23rd to February 15th, with an opening address by Arthur Paul Boers, author of The Way is Made by Walking, then peregrinates off to Toronto's Saint James Cathedral for a February 19th to March 8th run.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

happy new year! (and a call for collaborators)

January 1, crawling out of the smoking debris of 2008 - and into a bright shiny 2009! First resolution: blog more often. No, wait. First resolution: be a better person. Second resolution: blog more often.

Seems it's been a snowy snowy winter on the Camino. (A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter.) And the bedbugs are still biting (for updates, tune in to Yahoo Group Santiagobis or Pilgrimage to Santiago.com). Still, there's nowhere I'd rather be right now than slogging through a metre of snow up the slopes of O Cebreiro...

No, wait. Where I'd most like to be right now (with slogging up O Cebreiro a distant second) is where I will be this time next month, in steaming hot Argentina. Don't know what kind of pilgrimages I'll find myself on there (gaucho? tango? the Che Guevara trail?) but promise to blog about it (see resolution #2).

Let me peer a little deeper into the future. March and April 2009, I'll be doing several talks and readings around Toronto. If you've never come to one of my readings, I'll be expecting you. Dates and places to come. And then in May, I'm off to start work on my next book. Off to where exactly remains a secret even to the author. Feel free to contact me with bright ideas.

Before then, however, I hope to have some news about what turned out to be my project for 2008, Discovered Madonnas, a three-act play full of magic, miracles, poetry, passion, twists, laughs, pilgrims and twisted ankles set (where else?) on the Camino de Santiago. Alert to theater folks with a love for the Camino: I've done the writing (or the first six drafts, at any rate). I need your help to get it on stage. No joking, I'm waiting to hear from you!