¡Buen Camino!

Dear Friends,
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My first pilgrimage experience from the French frontier with Spain to Santiago itself took place in 2003. You can read the details of this first walk along the famous Camino across Spain in my book, To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008). (You can order it from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or from your local bookseller).
In the summer and early fall of 2007, I walked from Belgium most of the way across France, with the hope of at least making it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near the Spanish border, where I began the first pilgrimage. I didn't quite make it. A bad case of plantar fasciitis took me down in the Bordeaux village of Sainte-Ferme. I continued on to Santiago by train and bus, but the "defeat of my feet" and those last 175 miles or so that were left undone, gnawed at me over the ensuing five years. Happily, I was finally able to wrap up this grand pilgrimage with a third walk from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this past summer (2012). It was a joy to have completed all 2,370 kilometers between Leuven and Santiago.
My adventures and misadventures, my thoughts and prayers of both the 2007 and 2012 pilgrimages have been shared in this blog. I will leave the blog and its archives open for some time to come; if you want to read bits and pieces of it, feel free, but remember that the beginning is at the bottom and the end is at the top.
My contact e-mail remains the same: kacodd@gmail.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
As the pilgrims in Spain greet one another, so I greet you, my reader: "Buen Camino!"
And as the people of France greet their pilgrims along the "Chemin", I also wish to you: "Courage!"

Grace and peace to you all!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Unreserved kindness and generosity

Signy l’Abbaye. I have a few days to catch up on due to phone problems once I crossed far enough in France to lose my Belgian system. I am back in contact with a new phone number: +33 674 70 42 61.
I woke up on Friday morning still very “burned” from the previous day’s tramp through the mud of the Ardennes, so I decided to take the day off and use it to write in my journal, catch up on laundry, and just give my body and spirit a chance to take a breath and recover a bit from the beating they had been taking the previous four days. It turned out to be a very good decision for two reasons. I got to see the Bastille Day fireworks over Rocroi that night and the next morning; and yesterday I was really ready to go again.
My goal for the day was Rimogne, but once again I misjudged the distance involved (this time in my favour) and arrived there after only three hours on the road … all of them pleasant and easy. It was a sunny and fresh morning, which made the walking a pleasure. At Rimogne I decided to keep going a couple more hours to the village of Remilly-las-Pothees and was assured by the barmaid who served me a sandwich that I would find lodging there.
So, off I went about noon, just as the day was getting seriously warmer. The first hour or so was fine, and I was greatly enjoying the vistas of the rolling hills covered in wheat or clover for the dairy cows all around. But the last two kilometers up to Remilly turned into a very steep climb up, up, up. My body was slowing down, and various parts were starting to earnestly complain. I finally arrived in the small village quite hot, dry, and exhausted. I was assured by an old couple sitting under an umbrella in front of their ancient house that there was indeed a gîte in the town where I could spend the night. I came upon some young people, one of whom took me to the man in charge of the gîte. He answered the door and told us both that there was no room in the inn… and that the next place was just two or three kilometers down the road. Catastrophe! I didn’t know what to do … I just didn’t know how I could walk two or three more hilly kilometers.
I stewed for a while before going back to the gîte man to ask which place on the map would have lodging. I also asked about staying in the local sixteenth-century church. He showed me the town with no guarantees and told me the lady with the church key lived down the street. Meanwhile his wife brought me a slice of freshly baked rhubarb pie, which I wolfed down; then I headed out to find the church lady. I didn’t find her, but I did find Jean in front of his house painting his garage door. When I approached him, he smiled warmly and immediately took my cause as his own, even inviting me to take a shower and rest in his and his wife’s beautiful home while he sought permission from the mayor for me to spend the night in the village hall. He and his wife, Anne, treated me like an honoured guest, even welcoming me to their dinner table (well, actually the garden table), where we enjoyed a light supper, some fine wine, and warm though laboured conversation until well after 11:00 pm. Jean walked me to the hall, where I laid out my pad and sleeping bag on the tile floor for a decent though far-from-elegant night’s sleep. So my “catastrophe,” as so often happens out here, turned into a grace. It was a pure joy to come to know Jean and Anne, and I continue to be amazed by their unhesitating and unreserved kindness and generosity towards me. Thank God for such good people as these!
Before supper, Jean wrangled the church key from the lady next door (it took some convincing on his part), and the three of us walked over to look inside this sixteenth-century treasure. Sadly, the interior is in very bad repair and terribly neglected. Mass is no longer said there except for an occasional funeral or wedding. The old stained glass is falling to pieces, the statues are lined up to one side, dusty and removed from their once proud niches, the plaster and stones are deteriorating. An age has passed.
This morning I woke from my first night’s sleep on a floor a bit stiff but not really too much more than usual. The sky was mostly blue, and the first rays of sunlight were already warming the earth as I walked out of Remilly, though not before leaving in Jean and Anne’s door a brief note of thanks written on a coffee filter robbed from the village hall’s kitchen. And off I went for today’s relatively short hike (fifteen kilometers) to Signy.
It began with another serious climb out of Remilly, but the road was fine, mostly a paved single-lane path through the same rolling hills that had become so familiar … and that are so beautiful to behold under the morning sun. About two or three kilometers before Signy the GR route ran into some deep woods; pretty soon I was ankle deep in mud on a road that had been overrun by 4x4 vehicles leaving deep tracks and the same gloppy mud that I have come to hate. The heavy underbrush on either side of the road limited my options for going around the worst of the mud. At one point I misstepped, lost my balance, and thought I was finally going down into the mire; just in time my Nordic walking pole caught my weight and I avoided disaster … but my poor boots, which I had just cleaned and waxed, were once again covered from top to bottom with this awful stuff.
I arrived in Signy at 11:15 and headed for the church, open but empty. Mass here was celebrated last evening. Nobody in the presbytery either, so I got a room at one of the town’s hotels for 38 € for the night, then went and ordered a proper Sunday dinner at a restaurant. Now as the afternoon grows hot I am watching the Tour de France on television and comparing it to my own Tour de France. I am happy with my slower version. In a while I’ll say Mass in my room … no other options today … and eventually get a good night sleep in a real bed and be ready to head out again tomorrow for another leg of the Tour.