Watch What You Say And Say What You Mean
The trail from Tui to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela took us into the Galicia region of Spain. The language of Galicia is neither Spanish nor Portuguese but Galego, an amalgam of Latin and Portuguese with a few German and Celtic words tossed in. And because their traditional music has bagpipes, it sounds more Scottish than Spanish. The region is wet and lush and could be described as a cross between the Washington coast and the dairy lands of Wisconsin. For Sue and I, Galicia was the prettiest part of both our Camino Portuguese and Frances.
As we approached Santiago the number of hikers grew. We leap frogged each other repeatedly throughout the day and often slept across from each other at night. One pair of hikers that stood out was an elderly Polish grandmother and her ten year old grandson. She would trudge up the hills looking as if she was about to expire but hours later I would see her in the hostel scrubbing clothes in the wash tub and handing them to her grandson to hang up. We didn’t share a language but always greeted each other with a smile and some pantomime expressing how hot or tough the day was.
In Padron we tried the famous Padron Peppers, in fact we ate Padron Peppers three different times during our Camino including the last day of our hike in Muxia. To me the Padron Peppers are more of a clever idea than a delicious dish. They are small, roasted light green peppers, sprinkled with sea salt and have a mild flavor. But what makes them unique is that buried somewhere amongst those mild peppers is one hot pepper that looks like all the others. It turns eating peppers into a sport, you push yourself to eat more and more in search of that hot one. My theory is Padron Peppers was invented by a mother who wanted her children to eat more vegetables.
Speaking of childhood, sometime during my Boy Scout years when all mail was delivered by men in blue uniforms and coffee perked along side sizzling pans of bacon I was taught, “Watch what you say and say what you mean”. That was good advice back then and today I think it still is. That saying came to mind as we were visiting a small bookstore in Pontevedra, Spain. The other saying that came to mind was one I had learned in the Navy, “Never ASSUME because you will only make an Ass out of U & Me”.
The book store was small but had an exceptionally good selection so Sue and I strolled up and down every aisle. A woman around thirty years of age entered with a burst and started talking to the female owner about heading out to a pub after work. She encouraged the owner to close the shop early then glanced over at Sue and I and in her proper English accent said, “Well those two aren’t going anywhere fast”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the owner look our way with an embarrassed expression, her friend continued to talk as if we were not there. She talked about the financial woes of the bookstore and the great things that the owner could be doing with her life if she sold the bookstore. The owner leaned forward and spoke in a hushed voice as if she was confessing to her priest, in contrast her British friend responded as if she was in a pack of Harleys on her way to Sturgis.
Upon completion of our tour of the bookstore I walked up to the owner and her friend and in English said, “You have a beautiful bookstore and if I wasn’t walking the Camino I would have loved to have bought some of your books”. She thanked me for the compliment and as I stood there I could see her friend’s jaw strike the floor and her face turn as white as a cotton ball.
It took a moment for the British woman to find her voice but when she did she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were French”.
“No, we’re American” I said with a smile. Of course whether we were French or American was not the issue.
Even though we had a few more days of hiking to reach the Galician coast it felt good to enter Santiago de Compostela and visit the Cathedral. At the Pilgrim’s Mass the pews fill with packs and walking sticks and the air with the earthy aroma of burning incense. Hundreds of pilgrims sunburnt and sore hobble up to the altar for communion and just like in the movie ‘The Way’, men in medieval cloaks pull on ropes and send the silver Botafumeiro into the air spreading blankets of smoke over the pilgrims. At the exits new friends say goodbye and many tears and hugs are shared. Despite having seen a few Pilgrim masses and having stepped away from the Catholic church years ago, I would gladly attend another. But we have a few more days of hiking to do. The prettiest part of Galicia lies between Santiago and Muxia and that’s where we’re headed next.