In China I’m sent a link to a movie by one of my former students. ‘The Way’ charts a journey across northern Spain by the way of St James, otherwise known as the Camino de Santiago. Ever since seeing the film I’ve been smitten with the idea of doing the walk though it requires much planning and the purchase of specialist gear, there’s no way I’m even going to contemplate doing it in my LI-NINGS! On my future shopping list are some sturdy MERRELLS, a poncho, a walking staff and maybe shin cards to protect against the mud one may encounter.
On the literal way to Camino country I’m spoilt for picture postcard imagery. Shooting snow burnished fields married against atypical Spanish blue skies from a moving bus is as always going to be hit and miss. Snow and low lying cloud smother the mountains like a frothy shaving foam or an ice-cream whippy comb-over. Further into the journey the fluidity of the landscape shifts as the blue sky evaporates to an ash grey or white, more like winter at home.
There are other momentary glances of interest. The bus takes its time getting to Pamplona ambling off the main road to call at any town with even the most modest populous. Though the people catch my eye in passing they are not the main attraction. As the bus continues I note these towns (no idea what they’re called as it’s all new terrain to me) are smartly designed, affluent, the trees are unlike any I’ve seen before and at one stop the newly built brick bungalows sit next to a bus station styled like Pan Am’s now demolished World Port at JFK. A circular concrete hub of modest proportions compared the aviation version, but there’s no vantage point or time to snap a shot before we’re in motion heading for what I hope is the last leg into Pamplona before daylight ends.
When I arrive at my residence, I’m asked several times by others if I’m here to do the Camino to which I can only reply, ‘not yet.’ I do spot some brave souls doing it though, brave or crazy as the surrounding mountains would be cold if not foggy, snowy and muddy or a combination of all three. I manage to walk the portion through the city but it’s small fry to doing its entirety which takes at least a month and one imagines aching limbs and blistered feet.
Pamplona is also home to the Fermin Festival, that means bulls (see the Tears for Fears cover) and a known haunt of writer Earnest Hemingway so it affords many interests. The bull ring near part of the camino is silent during the days I’m there. What is perhaps most noticeable is the city’s overlooked modernity from its underground bus station to its pedestrianised Avenue Carlos III, unique in that it features no fast food outlets and I’m reminded by a local that fast food is not the done thing in Spain.
If the modern side of town is visually overlooked you can be sure that dissent is not. The desire of some quarters for independence hangs from many apartment balconies. It’s a possible future but, forgive my Roger Waters style analysis here, is chipping away at Spain’s current geography the future anyone really wants? And what difference will it actually make given they already have a fair degree of autonomy (more so perhaps than even Wales and Scotland). That said I am no expert in regional politics, especially those of another country or would be countries. Alas for now Navarra’s chic oasis of modern cool and rustic soul reminiscent (to me) of both Bruges and Ljubljana is another interim between Spain’s central capital and its northern hillside valley town Bilbao which is up next.
Los Reyes Católicos – Tears For Fears
Before the Bullfight – David Sylvian