Oliver Schroer Radio Documentary Update


You can now listen to the documentary I wrote about recently online. It’s a great documentary with amazing music and tells a wonderful Camino story.

Check it out on the CBC website. Don’t press the “play” button at the top; scroll down the page and press the button next to “Listen to Inside the Music? on Radio 2 on Sunday 3 p.m. (3:30 NT) and Radio One on Sunday 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).”

Be sure to leave a comment—it’s always good to encourage such wonderful documentaries.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 4:00 pm
,
1 Comment

A Radio Documentary about Oliver Schroer on the Camino


I wrote over a year ago about fiddler Oliver Schroer and photographer Peter Coffman’s amazing (and highly productive) Camino journey.

Canadian pilgrims have a chance to learn more about (and listen to) Oliver Schroer’s musical pilgrimage and the album that came out of it by tuning into CBC Radio this weekend. David Tarnow’s radio documentary uses extensive interviews with Oliver and some of his unreleased recordings from the Camino. It will air on Inside the Music on CBC Radio this weekend. Choose from these listening options:

  • CBC Radio Two on Sunday, May 13 at 3:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m. in Newfoundland
  • CBC Radio One on Sunday, May 13 at 9 p.m. in Ontario, Quebec, Central, Mountain and Pacific; 10 p.m. in Maritimes; 10:30 p.m. in Newfoundland
  • Sirius Satellite Radio on Saturday, May 12 at midnight, and Sunday, May 13 at 6:00 a.m.

No matter where you are, you can listen to the documentary on the CBC website. Be sure to leave a comment—it’s always good to encourage such wonderful documentaries.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 5:24 pm
, ,
Comments Off

Leonard Cohen … Just Because


Leonard Cohen’s music was a theme of my Vía de la Plata pilgrimage. It started a few days in, when I saw a bird sitting on a barbed wire fence and Like a Bird on a Wire started to play in my head.

Anthem was another song that often ran through my head when I was feeling discouraged—and one I heard at the bar in Alberguería. It has possibly the best chorus ever:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

And then there was Hallelujah. I heard it in a grocery store in Mérida, and it made that gloomy day a little brighter. I had a wonderful time in Alberguería because I stuck around to hear Hallelujah, and couldn’t seem to leave. I heard it again in Santiago, played by protesters in the Praza de Obradoiro.

The Solitary Walker collected some of Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on this amazing song. Here’s a snippet:

… [R]egardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say “Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.” And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation.

(If you got this by e-mail, you might have to click through to the post to see the videos.)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 10:21 am
,
3 Comments

Walking the Voie d’Arles and Camino Aragonés: An Interview with The Solitary Walker


[Mountain view]

Between Jaca and Santa Cilia on the San Juan de la Peña detour of the Camino Aragonés. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

But the Camino had not finished with me. It had gripped me. It had got under my skin. It called me again this year. It drew me back. Be warned, Camino lovers, it does not let you go.
- Robert, The Solitary Walker, introducing his pilgrimage from Arles.

Robert’s wonderful blog, The Solitary Walker, has thoughts on walking and philosophy, poetry and life. It also describes his three pilgrimages to Santiago. The second of these began in Arles, along one of the four major Camino de Santiago routes through France.

[Sarrance]

Sarrance, France. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

Three of the routes meet up just before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The Voie d’Arles or Via Tolosana, the southernmost route, crosses the Somport Pass and continues through Spain as the Camino Aragonés before meeting up with the Camino Francés at Puente la Reina.

Robert walked the 870 or so kilometres from Arles to Puente la Reina in 46 days in 2008. He was recently kind enough to answer my questions about the route.

As usual I had no real strategy. My preparations were fast and minimal. I would see in the due course of time what might unfold, what the Camino might reveal…
- The Solitary Walker

Anna-Marie: How did the landscapes and terrain, and the difficulty of walking, compare with the Camino Francés and the Le Puy route?

Robert: Well, first of all, both routes are absolutely lovely—very rural, sometimes quite remote—and I’d walk them again like a shot. They are different, sometimes obviously and sometimes subtly, despite various landscape features common to south-west France:

[Horses]

White horses of the Camargue. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

hills and gorges, woods and forests, flat and rolling farmland. Whereas the Le Puy route starts in the hills of the Auvergne, the Arles route begins on the flat, drained deltaland of the Camargue, a strangely haunting area of rice fields, black bulls, white horses and exotic wading birds. But it’s not long before you’re high up on the breezy plateau of the Causses, with its deep gorges and spectacular limestone outcrops.

On the whole, the Arles route is probably more difficult: it has steeper climbs, more extensive forests, fewer waymarks, a more rigorous descent from the Pyrenees. (To balance this, however, there are three days of flat and easy towpath walking along the Canal du Midi.)

[Camino Aragones]

The lunar landscapes of the Camino Aragonés. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

On the Spanish side, before the routes join at Puente la Reina, the difference in the two trails is quite marked. The Vía Aragonés takes you from the awe-inspiring, high-sided mountains of the Spanish border to the little-visited, lunar landscape of the Aragon valley west of Jaca: a lonely and remote, undeveloped, captivating region of low hills and terraces, deserted villages and friable, grey rock.

From reading your blog, it sounds like there was a lot of pilgrim accommodation. What was it like, in general?

In September I had no difficulty finding pilgrim accommodation and never booked ahead (of course you don’t reserve places in the Spanish albergues anyhow.) I can imagine, though, now the route is becoming a little more popular, a few places will be extending the range of their accommodation to cope with demand. Having said this, I met with only a scattering of pilgrims (and weekend walkers and mushroom gatherers!). Indeed, sometimes I even had a gîte or albergue to myself—or perhaps shared with just one or two others). The standard varied enormously, as usual, but I was pretty impressed—Lacommande, Boissezon, Borce and Santa Cilia come to mind—and a gîte in Lodève was more like a boutique hotel, complete with lifts and an hospitalier who was also a talented chef (not the norm, I might add.) At the other end of the scale, the basic gîte in Barran had flea-ridden bunk beds and a kitchen solely consisting of two rusty electric rings which took an age to heat up.

[Toulouse]

A monastery turned art museum in Toulouse. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

The Arles route goes through a more touristy part of France than the Le Puy route does. Were there more people who spoke English than on the Le Puy route?

I suppose this is true, though to be honest very few parts of the route are ‘touristy’. Of course there were lots of tourists in Montpellier and Toulouse (you pass through these superb cities on the Arles route—well worth spending an extra night in both) and in some historic towns such as Castres.

As for English being spoken, well, it just isn’t—except in some of the tourist offices. Luckily I’m reasonably fluent in French, and can get by in Spanish, so the language barrier isn’t a problem.

You mention being bitten by mosquitos at the beginning of your trip. Was that a problem throughout the route, or only at the outset?

No, only at the outset. The marshy, low-lying Camargue area in late summer teems with mosquitos. Go prepared with a good repellent. I didn’t have any other issues with biting insects for the rest of the trip.

[The Solitary Walker]

Robert and a GR balise (way mark), on a tricky part of the Voie d'Arles after Sarance.

You say you lost the route fairly frequently. Was it usually easy to find again?

Did I really say that? Come to think of it, I suppose it’s true—I often lose my way briefly, though rarely seriously. Quite frankly, if you have a guide book, you’re not going to get lost. Also there are plenty of signposts and red-and-white striped balises and reassuring conchas. I lost the path once in the vast forests of Bouconne, but manged to retrace my steps. Truth to tell, I’m lazy—sometimes I just trust to my instincts rather than bother to get the map (especially if it’s raining!)

Were there serious differences between walking in France and Spain on the Arles route/Camino Aragonés?

The main difference was the utter contrast of landscape, climate and culture between France and Spain—which became immediately apparent as soon as I stepped down that precipitous path from the Col du Somport. As far as difficulty goes, when you’ve crossed the Pyrenees (which isn’t that difficult, in fact) the rest is plain sailing.

What was the best part of the walk for you?

[Limestone pleateau]

The limestone plateau above Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. Photo courtesy The Solitary Walker.

Oh, so many wonderful places and people encountered, it’s hard to pick out the best. The high, airy limestone plateau above Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. The wooded valley of the Aspe gradually rising up to the Col du Somport. The banks of the Aragon river. Meeting up again with young Spanish pilgrim friends in Puente la Reina. Sharing raw, freshly picked wild mushrooms anointed with olive oil with some friendly walkers from Lyon. So many great moments, so many rewarding experiences.

The worst?

Well, it would have to be that day and night in Barran, wouldn’t it? You can trace it on my blog if you want the whole, sordid tale! Total physical exhaustion, a thunderstorm, and a flea-ridden mattress. Need I say more?

If someone was having trouble deciding between the Arles route and the le Puy route, what would you tell them?

For someone new to walking Caminos I’d recommend the Le Puy route first—slightly easier, more frequented, more plentiful accommodation, better signposted. From the very start you’re in beautiful countryside—peaceful villages, country churches, gentle hills and valleys. After that you’ll want to return to do the Arles route as soon as you can—I promise you!

[Puente la Reina]

The famous bridge in Puente la Reina, where the Camino Aragonés meets up with the Camino Francés.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention to people who are considering walking the route?

If you don’t know any French or Spanish, you’d be amazed how just a few words and phrases—along with a friendly smile and an inquiring expression—make all the difference. If you can learn more than this—perhaps go for a few French or Spanish lessons beforehand—I guarantee you won’t regret it, and you’ll have a far deeper and more meaningful Camino. Buen Camino, everyone!

* * *

You can read more about Robert’s journey along the Voie d’Arles (and see a lot more photos) on his blog. Scroll down to the bottom on each page and click “Newer Post” to navigate through the entire pilgrimage.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 10:29 am
, , ,
6 Comments

Walking with a Donkey: An Interview with Roland Garin


[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

I photographed a donkey in Santiago’s pilgrim office when I was there at the end of May. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Sarah De Martín (thanks, Sarah!), I discovered that the donkey was named Praline. She walked some 1,900 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago—from her home in France to Finisterre—with Roland Garin.

Roland was kind enough to answer my questions about walking with Praline. Thanks also to Aude Verbeke, a friend from my first Camino, for editing my translation from the French. (Ici est la version française.)

Anna-Marie: Was this your first time walking the Camino?

Roland: I walked previously on the Camino de Santiago from Lyon to Le Puy to train myself. The first time was with two donkeys. Praline was accompanied by her friend Amandin. The second time with Praline alone, and then we did the GR-70. It’s also called “The Stevenson” in memory of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer, the author of the adventure novel Treasure Island.

Where did you begin your walk?

We left from Saint-Pierre-la-Palud, a village of 2,500. It’s 25 kilometres from Lyon, in a region that we call here “les monts du Lyonnais.” We took the following route: Saint Pierre to Le Puy to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela to Muxia to Fisterra. It was around 1,900 kilometres in 77 days of walking.

Why did you decide to walk with Praline?

Why with Praline? That’s a good question! Some people go alone, with a friend, with their wife…. Me, I like donkeys. (There are four at my house.) Praline is my walking partner and since we’ve been walking together we’ve made a good couple. Between us there is a complicity and an affection that only donkey owners can understand.

[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

What was the best part of walking with a donkey?

As I told you already, when there’s complicity between the man and the animal, it’s a true pleasure. Praline regulates the walk: it’s not the man who guides the donkey! The man walks in the footsteps of the donkey. I must confess that I’m lucky to have an exceptional animal. I talk to her all day and even if some people are skeptical about this, I know she listens and understands every word … to the right … to the left … straight ahead. Sometimes she follows the marks on the way before I have the time to tell her! I am very lucky.

The worst part?

There’s no worst part with a donkey! It’s a question of education … the donkey is a very intelligent animal. Some say that it’s one of the most intelligent species of animal in the world. Unlike a horse, you don’t train a donkey: you educate him.

All is complicity, sweetness and patience … you don’t impose your will on a donkey! Some say that the donkey is stubborn. That’s not true; he thinks … he analyzes the road, the danger, the sounds. When a donkey doesn’t want to advance, it’s up to the man to understand why. And when the man becomes as intelligent as the donkey, all goes well!

Where did Praline sleep?

At night I slept in a tent and Praline slept beside it. Donkeys sleep very little and they use the night to eat. Praline felt secure to know that I was next to her. Sometimes I slept in gîtes d’étapes … she was very unhappy and that caused problems because she didn’t stop braying all night. The other pilgrims didn’t always appreciate that!

Did she need special food while walking?

Above all, don’t supplement a donkey’s diet. The donkey is a rustic animal; he is happy with grass and hay. And fresh water … and, as a reward for working all day, a fruit or a crust of stale bread. If you really want to make him happy, a handful of crushed barley…. But he himself needs to carry it … so….

Did you have any difficulties walking through cities?

Walking in a city isn’t always easy. The man with a steering wheel in his hands thinks he’s master of the world, so he often becomes the worst of the boors and cretins. I’ve never had a problem going through big cities (Pamplona, Burgos, Léon and Santiago). Praline is used to cars and they don’t bother her.

I was especially afraid of being stopped by the Guardia Civil, because some guides specified that donkeys and horses were forbidden to pass through cities. But I never had any problems. On the contrary, representatives of the police force made me feel very welcome. I even took some photos with them. The biggest difficulty was crossing certain metal bridges. Praline didn’t want to! So we had to avoid them … and all went well.

The most dangerous thing wasn’t the cities, it was when we had to walk along national roads with heavy traffic. The trucks were fast and made a lot of noise, so any animal could have been scared…. I had to stay close to Praline to give her confidence. The worst is when people honk their horns … but I can’t blame them: it comes from a good sentiment. They want to say hello to us.

How far did you walk each day?

That depended on the road, on the place: we walked better in the forests than in the cities. It also depended on the altitude of the stage. As I told you already, it’s not the master who commands; it’s the donkey who controls the speed on the path. It depends on whether the road is rugged or easy. We did some 20-kilometre stages, but also some stages of almost 40 kilometres. But our average walking was 25 kilometres per day.

Do you have a favourite story about Praline on the Camino?

[Praline]

Praline joins the pilgrim throngs outside the pilgrims' office in Santiago de Compostela.

There are hundreds of stories about Praline. In fact, she’s started to write her memoirs…. The book should be 600 pages! We work every day to write this work. Praline dictates her impressions to me and I transcribe them on the keyboard. It’s not fast, because she is very, very demanding and often the work from Monday goes in the garbage on Tuesday. But we have done the Camino together … so we also write together.

The most fantastic story is that not a single day went by in Spain without someone wanting to buy Praline from me. Someone even tried to steal her! Each time someone asked me “Se vende? se vende?” I answered no, obviously. But the people insisted, so I said: “Okay, 30,000 euros … 50,000 euros with the equipment.” The exorbitant price discouraged the buyers. But I confess I would have been very annoyed if someone had accepted, because I wouldn’t be separated from my Praline for all the gold in the world.

Where is Praline now? Does she live with you?

Praline is in her meadow, next to the house in the village of Saint-Pierre-la-Palud. She is with Cadine, Florentine and Kakao. She rests, waiting to go out on another journey … maybe at the end of the month of September we’ll go on a fifteen-day hike in the centre of France. Sometimes on Sundays, we go on walks through villages, and meet people who are interested in the Camino de Santiago. We speak of the association “Le Chemin Pour Tous” (The Camino for All) which takes some people with disabilities to Santiago every year.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Other things that I want to talk about…. I’m going to write about them mainly so that others may benefit from my experience on the Camino. I want to tell them about the beauty, the hazards, the fantastic events but also, because nothing should be concealed, about the hardships of the road.

It’s the road of stars … but you know, both roses and brambles have thorns.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 12:33 pm
, , , ,
4 Comments

The Codex Calixtinus—Stolen


[Codex Calixtinus]

Part of a page from the Codex Calixtinus. Photo is in the public domain.

The Codex Calixtinus is a twelfth-century illuminated (illustrated) manuscript with a collection of works related to Saint James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It includes sermons, music, stories about miracles performed by Saint James, and the earliest guidebook to the pilgrimage routes from France.

The best-conserved version of the manuscript (not the only copy), was kept at the Santiago Cathedral.

It’s not there any more. Its absence was first noticed on July 5, 2011, but it may have been stolen any time in the previous week. The manuscript, described as “priceless,” was not insured, since the insurance cost had been estimated at six million euros.

You can read more about the robbery in the Guardian and The Olive Press. There’s also a more recent article from El Correo Gallego in Spanish, that describes how researchers generally used a photographic reproduction of the text, and only consulted the original when they couldn’t make out a subtle but historically and linguistically important detail.

To learn more about the manuscript itself, there’s a helpful Wikipedia article. You can also read the Pilgrim’s Guide section of the manuscript on-line.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Buzz

Posted by Anna-Marie at 2:48 pm
,
Comments Off