Day Nineteen: Luarca to La Caridad — Over pizza last night, when I wasn’t talking to Gail back home by phone, I made myself useful by updating Martin on new developments in the English language. Since most English speakers are in the USA it’s high time that Brits like Martin caught on to current usage of our common tongue. Truthfully, it was good fun to share conversation with an articulate Englishman like Martin. Occasionally he did have to stop for a moment and define some exotic English word. We both knew, of course, that his use of the King’s English is far superior to my West Coasty slang and he can get me giggling by saying something completely silly in his tweedy lilt.
Since Martin wanted one more day to rest his knee he decided to stay in Luarca another night and meet me midday tomorrow in Tapia de Casariego, or “Tapioca” as we’ve come to call it. That will give him another day of rest followed by only a couple hours walking on his first day back. So I awoke at 7:15 and bid adieu to Martin just before 8:00.
Outside it seemed just perfect for a 30 km (19 mile) day — clear, blue sky and moderate temperature. I found a panaderia (one of the few Spanish stores open on Sunday) and bought a pastry to help me get moving. The tasty little treat was finished well before I reached the top of the hill above town.
The camino was very clearly marked out of town and I had no problem making it up to the N634, which the camino would more or less follow again all day. Occasional crossings of this highway were interspersed with quiet strolls through dairy farms and fields of newly sprouted corn.
In a couple of hours I was in Pinera, where a kind barkeeper offered to make me a racion (snack sandwich) of pollo a la parrilla (grilled chicken). It was delicious, and I washed it down with a small glass of beer.
About 100 meters past the bar I heard the sound of church bells from the ancient little church just down the road. I’d been hoping to have the opportunity to go to church today, and the sound of church bells calling from the distance has always evoked in me thoughts of what medieval life must have been like.
Two men standing by the church noted that I’d turned into the church yard rather than onto the camino and they pointed me back to the trail. But I asked them if Mass was soon, which they said it was, and they waved me into the church.
I was about 30 minutes early for the service, so I had time to study the little, stone building. It was much wider than it was long and had a central dome over the worshipers. The main altar was in front of an elaborate, gilded reredo and the side altar had a more modest reredo of carved wood. Opposite the side altar was a Santiago Matamoros scene — my beloved St. James slaying a Muslim.
Although the scene is 1000% politically incorrect, I always feel a little embarrassed affection for Santiago Matamoros. He was seen on a white horse, slaying Moors in a dramatic battle of the Reconquista 1000 years after his death, but today we shake our heads at the inevitable remaining statues that depict the scene. Still, he’s a part of Spanish history, a part it would be dishonest to deny.
A nice altar boy noted my presence and kindly offered to stamp my pilgrim credential. A few minutes later the little church began filling with people. At precisely noon the 100 or so present fell silent, a woman coughed, and the priest appeared from a back room. The worship began and I realized immediately I’d set myself in the middle of the choir. All the women around me erupted into exuberant singing.
Rural Spanish churches seem to share a common concept of “choir.” About a dozen women of all ages sit at the front of the church and sing the worship songs in loud, unison voices. Their husbands sit quietly and respectfully in the back pews. The priest and the women seem sometimes to be in musical dialogue as the service progresses.
The Mass proceeded as normal, with the exception of the sweaty pilgrim sitting in the choir pew. I’m sad to say, though, that my quick sandwich and beer made it hard for me to stay awake during the sermon. I was awake enough to notice that the sermon text very oddly was from Holy Week and was about the Last Supper.
But the oddest part of the service came when the priest announced the Hocus Corpus (“This is my body”) which as always was followed by the ringing of a small bell. Today, however, the bell was followed by something like this:
A baby started crying, and then the priest said, “This is my blood shed for you.” Ring, ring. And then:
I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded like there was a small cache of explosives just outside the door and they were being set off precisely at the most dramatic moments of the Mass.
After everyone received their wafer (no wine today) the remaining host (the blessed bread) was put by the priest into the clear center of a sun-shaped silver and gold vessel. Six men came forward and picked up poles that support a silken canopy and another picked up a pole with a red flag. The rear doors of the church were opened, bathing the priest and altar in sunlight, and then he, the men, the host, and everyone else got up and walked out of the building.
As they walked out there was the sound of:
Riiiiiiiiiip BOOM! ….
…. a sound which rang out at least another dozen times, to the accompaniment of bells ringing and babies all crying anew at each explosion as priest, congregation and host paraded once around the building. It turned out that a dark-haired man was setting off fireworks from his car as part of the religious festival. He’d light the fuse, it’d rocket into the air (Riiiiiiiip) and then explode in a BOOM! that echoed through the whole valley.
When it was over the priest and host were escorted safely back into the church. The first question that came to my mind was, “did everyone count their fingers and toes so we can be certain no one was injured?”
The second question was, “why don’t our Catholics back home have cool fireworks like this?”
Party over, it was time to get back to walking. After another 7 km I made it to the riverside town of Navia, where I had a salad for lunch. Then I headed on to Jarrio, where I met a nice Hungarian man named Carman, and where, unfortunately, it started to rain.
By the time I got to La Caridad I was dripping wet. I found the lux rural hotel, Casa Xustes, and am comfortably ensconced in a room full of antiques, my clothes drip drying onto towels in the bathroom floor. Apparently there’s an Italian restaurant 150 meters away, so between rainstorms I’ll head there for pasta.
Just 10 days left of this camino — I can’t quite believe it. Today, though solitary, was a good day of reflection and meditation. I’m adjusting to the balance here between solitude and fellowship. I’m also missing home, family, pets, and church friends. But I’m thankful for this adventure and am enjoying how each day contains a surprising, new delight.