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Monday, 05 May 2008

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle - Page 3

Written by Cameron Karsten
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I came to Le Puy after being inspired by a book written by Paulo Coelho entitled The Pilgrimage, which chronicles the author’s mystical quest along The Way of Saint James (Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle) or El Camino a Santiago de Compostella – its commonly referred-to Spanish equivalent. This lengthy pilgrimage from France across the Pyréneés and traversing Spain is rough, challenging, cultural, and it is isolation from the external world for le pelerin (the pilgrim).

Slowly, I began to feel the weight on my shoulders and the aching of my back. I came to feel like an old temple of Angkor Wat—in the Cambodian jungle, hot and sticky beneath the weight, I became contorted from the growth of the flora’s roots as they shifted and rearranged my bones. But there was nothing to do except move on and not forget to breathe.

Food was abundant along the trails. Overhead, apples in the hot sun hung before me; their boughs stretching beyond locals’ fences and finding their way into my hands. I ate when I came upon a full tree, plucking them off their nodes and discovering the sweetest to be lying on the ground, camouflaged within the grasses. Soon, my shoulder bag was full with ripe apples, crisp and sweet, warm on the outside but cool within the inner flesh. I was careful to spare the worms and stick to a vegetarian lifestyle. The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, Santiago de Compostella, El Camino a Santiago de Compostella, The Way of Saint James, pilgrimage France

There were apples and pears, as well as tangy blackberries, and a variety of trees depositing the most succulent prunes—so called in French. To my common knowledge, they were plums, but much smaller. This was prime summer season and the fruits were abundant, especially the prunes. Wherever I walked, through whatever terrain or degree of weather, prune trees scattered their savory morsels. They were squashed beneath the pilgrim’s feet and the open pits and rotting flesh carpeted the black asphalt. Bees and wasps hovered over their sweet odors and instantly I took to their liking.

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, Santiago de Compostella, El Camino a Santiago de Compostella, The Way of Saint James, pilgrimage FranceThe moment I stepped into Cahors the clouds opened their hulls. Cargos of rain poured as I laggardly entered civilization and sought shelter within a phone booth. Inside the one-man encasing, shielded by the glass, a steady wind swept the water underneath onto my sandals. I looked around and saw the town. My back was sore, my legs were stiffening, and my feet were getting wetter. I could even feel my head beginning to daze from exhaustion. My mind and body were spent, and so as I waited for the weather to calm, I pulled open my shoulder bag and removed an apple. It was my seventh apple that day; I was on an unintentional apple diet. I had not seen any prunes or pears despite looking—only apples and more apples.

As the rains softened into a fine summer mist, and the humidity increased within the damp air, I recalled the days—their brilliant sense of adventure. So far it was ten days of walking, covering over 500 kilometers, camping each night in a freezing field or forest, eating wild fruit and collecting corn husks, meandering alone, and passing pilgrims and smiling and conversing. It was ten days of pilgrim-ing, to devise such vernacularisms, and so I stepped out of the phone booth and moved deeper into the city-center.

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, Santiago de Compostella, El Camino a Santiago de Compostella, The Way of Saint James, pilgrimage France

Along The Way one finds small kiosks and welcome centers for the pilgrim. Whether organized by the town or village, or perhaps by generous locals from out of their wayside barns, the pilgrim is welcomed with the shade of shelter and complementary drinks. Just across Pont Louis Philippe on the left side when entering Cahors, two women stuck their heads out of a small square construct.

“Bon jour,” they both welcomed. I stopped and peered back in: “Bon jour!”

“Viens, viens,” one called from behind a counter. “Le pèlerin, viens!”

(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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