The Sound Somebody Makes When They’re Getting Away

Playing guitar on Camino

Playing guitar after dinner in Villamayor de Monjardin.

We were back in Canada in July, and I now curse myself for not thinking to fish out my journal from the Camino. Ten years ago, my wife and I walked 800 kilometres from the Pyrenean border to the grand cathedral city in the corner of green Galicia. I kept a couple of journals, in fact – one for the reflective narrative of the walk, and another thin black notebook that fit in my pocket into which I scrawled immediate notes – images, distances, quotations, particularly good meals.

Its two most potent functions, though, were musical. First, I wrote song lyrics in it – and I composed four good ones whilst walking. Okay, three good ones and a comic riff on a comic song called “Rick the Newfie” by Ottawa folk writer Charlie Gardner. Charlie is one of many who met at Rasputin’s most Wednesday nights to play songs at the legendary open stage. Rick, the aforementioned Newfie, was another, and Charlie’s song was a tribute to him, with a stompy jangle and a drawled-out accent. In the original, Rick has an encounter with Death whilst fishing, but the naïf manages to outwit the spirit visitor. I jotted down “Mike the Pilgrim” with a similar motif, in which Mike meets Death; but before he is taken prematurely to his eternal rest, “up come three lads from Belleville” who “left Leon this mornin’ – where ya goin’ to today?” They thump the Grim Reaper with no trouble and invite the protagonist for a beer, so all’s well that is well in the end. I played it back at Rasputin’s with both Rick and Charlie in the house, and it went down a treat. Continue reading

Buen Camino

Peregrinos on the border from France to SpainMy wife and I are counting everying in tens right now. On Sunday, we ate discounted pain aux raisins outside the Tesco with the kids before walking home with our shopping, and I said, “Hey – ten years ago tomorrow morning, your mum ate a pain aux raisins on a bridge in Bayonne.”

It’s kind of a weird way to talk, and both the mathematics and the significance were not immediately obvious to the kids. But it’s deep enough to be ingrained for Katie and me, because ten years ago today, we walked into a new way of experiencing life. From Bayonne, we had caught the slow Pyrenean train to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, from whence we began a month-long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

It was the kind of experience that telescopes so many of the sensations, such that I can know a decade on that I was a jerk (albeit an unwitting one) when I bought the pastry, missing the cue that the clerk at the patisserie was in fact trying to serve someone else first. Boorish American, she might have thought. Me struggling with French was a constant theme on the journey, though so was me gaining competence in Spanish. But the more important language for us was the rhythm of walking, the movement on an elemental scale. Continue reading