El Camino

Sometimes it takes  several days – or weeks –  after I watch a movie or finish a book to realize how strong an impression it made on me, to the point I have to write about it.

In the case of The Way (an Indie movie – when I wrote about it to my dad in Brazil, I hurried to explain what it meant – no dad, don’t roll your eyes – this is not another Hindi – Bollywood -movie). Indie  as in independent production. I could also picture the relief all over his face. Anyway, months ago, by chance and serendipity, I watched a documentary – have no idea the channel it was on – about this movie done by Emilio Estevez (he writes, directs, produces and even plays a  small but vital part) and starred by his dad Martin Sheen. The older Mr. Estevez gets, the more he looks like his dad and brother Charlie. It’s a déjà-vu of what happened to the Douglas family – at one point I never knew whether I was looking at a picture of Kirk or Michael…

Anyway, after many vain attempts to interest any of the major California studios in their project, the Sheen clan decided to bite the bullet and pay for it themselves, as the documentary recounted.  Now don’t let that discourage you. It’s not that The Way (2010) is a bad movie. It’s quiet and heartfelt and it does not have any super tech special effects and thrilling scenes, but  I often  need a break from that too. The reason why none of the big names in Hollywood wanted to produce the movie was, according to Mr. Sheen, its religious views. Don’t let that discourage you either. There is very little about religion in the story. It’s mostly a chronicle on faith. Not wanting  the film to appeal to only one demographic, Emilio Estevez called the film “pro-people, pro-life,  and not anti-anything.”

The country  side presented in The Way cuts briefly through France and then all through the autonomous Spanish area of Galicia. It is pretty and idyllic some times, arid and deserted others. Like life itself. Charlie Sheen is an ophthalmologist who takes on the way to honor his deceased son (Emilio Estevez). Grumpy, sad and fed up at basically everything and everybody he meets at  first, he will be soon leading a gang of fellow walkers. Reluctantly though. There is the bitter smoker Sara, from Canada, who thinks she has always everybody figured out, reciting a parade of clichés about why a middle-aged American such as Charlie Sheen’s character (Thomas Avery in the movie) must be walking the trail. There is chubby  Joost, an apparently tough Dutchman, whose ebullient behavior and upbeat personality hides a more banal but equally dramatic personal goal. And when we think the group is all set, there joins an Irish author, posing as a great writer, so proud of his artistic inheritance – he is Irish after all!  Jack talks much more than listens; much more that most people are prepared to endure, especially amidst the heart breaking  event of having lost a son.

Legend holds that Saint James’ (San Yago in Spanish and patron saint of Spain) remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.The Way ofSt. James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in medieval times, along  with Rome and Jerusalem. As I searched the Web to write this blog, I found an interesting note, linking Saint James’ Way to the American Revolution and my favorite Founding Father, John Adams:

During the war of American Independence, John Adams was ordered by Congress to go to Paris to obtain funds for the cause. His ship started leaking and he disembarked with his two sons in Finisterre in 1779. “ (The nameFinisttere by the way is very meaningful as its Latin roots suggest something like The End of the Earth). “From there he proceeded to follow the Way of St. James in the reverse direction of the pilgrims’ route, in order to get to Paris overland. He did not stop to visit Santiago and came to regret this during the course of his journey. In his autobiography, he gave an accurate description of the customs and lodgings afforded to St. James pilgrims in the 18th century and mentioned the legend as it was then told to travelers.”

At the end of the trail, people are said to drop to their knees at the majestic Santiago  de Compostela  Cathedral,  atop a monumental staircase, approaching the door’s central pillar  (The Pilgrims’ Pillar) and touching it in a humble manner, thankful for having being strong enough to keep their commitment, covering around  one thousand kilometers (roughly six hundred miles)  on foot.  Others just walk in without a single look to The Pilgrims’ Pillar, blinded by the light outside  and not yet able to see into the darker cathedral. Blinded by many other sensations as well. It varies. The reactions can be as diverse as the human condition is.     Saint James himself , carved in stone,  is to be found in the center,  his own hand resting on a walking stick and his grave  located behind the main altar .                                                                       

From my sister, who attended a course at the Santiago de Compostela University in the 90’s,  I learned the town has two well defined sections. The new one, with modern stores, residential buildings, restaurants and hotels; and the old Santiago,  dominated by the cathedral  square. She told me how people hug at the cathedral square, shouting in different languages  and jumping to celebrate their victory. Some cry, others laugh uncontrollably. Others yet just sit and stare around, at the gorgeous medieval site, too deep in amazement  to speak. They probably never believed they could do that in the first place. Supposing that I could walk seven to ten miles a day, it would take me between two and three months in Spanish territory to finally meet Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.  I think I would be in the teary group, crying my eyes out and overwhelmed by so many different feelings it would take me a couple of days to make some sense of it all. The cathedral is magnificent , both outside and inside, and home of the largest incense burner in the world.  According to Wikipedia:

In 2010,  a holy year, (whenever St James’s day  – 25th July –  falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Holy Years fall every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years: the most recent ones were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2010. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032) every high mass (12 noon) was a pilgrim’s mass featuring at its conclusion the sensational spectacle of the swinging Botafumeiro, the giant incense burner that swings from the cathedrals’ high ceiling  via a pulley system, operated  by a small army of priests. This device was used during the Middle Ages to perfume the church and mitigate the stench emitted by the hordes of pilgrims…”

Can I walk six hundred miles in two to three months, I was thinking, all through The Way. No one seemed to shower much inthe movie, except for the last night, and restrooms can definitely be an issue.  But my sister assured me some of the hostels and inns along the way are quite comfortable– don’t expect cable TV in your room; however a shower and a decent meal (often three meals even, desayuno – our breakfast – lunch and dinner) are common. You will meet people from all over the world among the way and at each stop you will have your Santiago de Compostela trail passport stamped, evidence that you are a true Saint James pilgrim. Actually, most people in the restaurants, cafes and hotels among the way will refer to you as Peregrino – Pilgrim. You will temporarily lose your name but that’s nothing compared with what most people gain each step of the way.

“What attracts folks to the Camino”, asked a blog author I just read (http://www.pilgrimstales.com/caminodesantiago.html ). His own answer:

“For many, it is the solitude and chance to simply unplug and shut out the distractions of an increasingly busy world. For others, it is a chance to meditate, to reaffirm their faith, to search for answers, to give thanks, to find inspiration. This is the perfect venue, since it is ideally more of a walking meditation than a marathon.”

Buen camino!, everybody tells you onthe Santiago de Compostela trail. Literally, it translates good way. But it is said as a means to wishing all pilgrims a safe and rewarding journey. May your feet don’t ache too badly. May no storms trouble your path. May you find what you are looking for all through the way,which is, in the end, ametaphor for life.

Buencamino!

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1 Response to El Camino

  1. Sandra Mann says:

    It’s interesting that this movie leaves me with the impression that taking this walk would be the last thing I would do if I wanted peace and solitude. I really enjoyed the movie but are all the pilgrims doing this to “fix” something in their lives or is that just for the purposes of making the movie interesting? I know that this journey would not be for me because I would not be able to handle communal sleeping, bathrooms, no showers etc but I admire those who do.

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