Snail trails

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Photo courtesy of Anna Chandler. Gracias companera!

 

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post honouring Domingo.

He was a man I met in 2009 in a pueblo called El Ganso on the Camino Frances.

You may recall his story from Sinning Across Spain, but if not, please click here and have a read.

It’s one of my favourite camino memories, and it still fills me with happiness whenever I recall the time I spent with him at the end of a long and dusty plod. I have longed to go back and see him ever since.

For the last month or so, I’ve been getting updates from a smiling pilgrim called Anna Chandler as she made her way along the trail on the Frances. She’d read Sinning Across Spain and contacted me via Facebook just before she left. I wished her well, and asked her to have a vino tinto for me. She did – and also updated me on blisters and pilgrim numbers. I asked her to have a sol y sombra. I think she did, then she updated me on her progress as she edged toward the meseta. I asked her to look up Domingo for me when she reached El Ganso, out there on the plains.

She did. Sadly, she didn’t find him.

But she did find his sister.

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Anna Chandler with Domingo’s sister. Gratitude to you, Anna, for this gift.

This is what Anna reported via the wonders of Facebook…

“She was thrilled to hear her brother was in a book and is going to pass on your regards to him by phone. If my understanding was correct, either him or his wife had eaten too many sweets, got fat and needed a leg operation. One son or daughter lives in America and Domingo and wife were recuperating in Madrid before heading to the US for a wedding.”

I can’t tell you what it meant to me to know that Domingo was alive, even if he isn’t altogether well. To hear that he is able to go and see his son, when he had told me of that young man back in 2009 – well, it seemed like a miracle.

We live on opposite sides of the globe, and are separated by culture, language and time. We only met for an hour or so. Yet our encounter continues to live in me and to light my days. Domingo came to represent a particular kind of kindness, and his generosity called up something of the best in me. He invited me to attend to him and his life. To really and truly pay attention. He did it by offering me his story.

In the last month, as Anna has been walking and updating me, I’ve travelled across Australia. I’ve talked about Domingo in Geraldton in Western Australia, in Melbourne in Victoria, and in Thirroul in NSW. His story always touches people – perhaps because we all yearn to connect deeply, even if only for an hour or so. Perhaps it resonates because we are so busy and move so fast, even though we know that slowing down is something we should be doing. Somehow…we can’t.

Domingo was a guru for me, and I thank the stars of the Milky Way that he is still on the planet, and that I can continue to remember and honour him by repeating his story. Our stories are sacred, I believe. In the end, they may be all we have. I marvel constantly that I am taken out onto the road by virtue of a book about walking a road. A story leads me out to tell more stories, after having borrowed stories to fill the book. It’s a cycle that keeps on expanding. It’s a cycle that expands me. It’s a trail that always leads me deeper into myself.

The other guru given to me on the camino was the snail. They continue to find me, to remind me. Slow down. Keep your antenna up. Move with care and attention. Just this week in Sydney, I was reminded again!

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Wherever you are walking, let it be at snail’s pace for some of the day.

And may you hear every story that is offered to you along your trail.

Gracias, Anna, for giving me another chapter in Domingo’s story.                                        And congratulations on walking your camino with such joy and optimism.

4 thoughts on “Snail trails

  1. Ailsa

    Just returned from three+ weeks in Istanbul (lots of walking around the historic reaches both sides of the Golden Horn) and a swing – with guides – around western Anatolia. [The Lycian Way and other established walking trails beckon should the chance ever come.] My wife is the Travel-Planner these days – and on the recommendation of friends who were in Turkey a year ago followed their plan as the basis of our visit. We added four days to the start of the tour with that extra time in Istanbul – clearly the centre of the world. I once sat an hour at Ataturk Airport in early 1973 – returning from time in Europe – but had not been closer. The father of a girl-friend when I was 17, 18 had been born in Stamboul – as he called it. “Murder on the Orient Express” was otherwise about as close as I got the city – thanks to the movie from Agatha CHRISTIE’s who-dun-it. There was much to be amazed at apart from the splendour of ancient structures and civilisations – the slap-stick humour of street touts and ice-cream sellers – the clever ruses of shoe-shine operators – the deep conversations, too, which sprang from encounters with just such people – and others. My wife and I travel to learn and understand – not to shop. She says I have collected enough dust-catchers over the years and a life of travels – and she’s right – but the conversations with those who have interrupted my reveries as we walked along tourist site streets have led to much more interesting memories than of the otherwise haggling over the price of (admittedly) beautiful handicrafts might bring. In Konya – visiting the holy shrine/mausoleum of the Sufi thinker – Mawlana Jalaladdin RUMI (who passed away in the late 13th century) we were advised that absolutely no photography was permitted within the building. Of course not. Then I noted an elderly woman, head be-scarfed – surreptitiously snapping photos of his sanctified clothing – on her cell-phone. I grinned to myself – then saw that I was being observed by her high school-aged grand-son. I feigned shock – he grinned. Later he told me his name – and yes – he wants to head off to study engineering at university in Istanbul when he completes his secondary schooling. On the Mediterranean coast at Kas – our guide had the bus pull up on the highway high above the town so that we could look out the two kms to the island called Meis in Turkish – but otherwise known by its Greek name: Kastellorizo. Most of the inhabitants of this Greek island emigrated – the bulk of them to Australia in fact – there is a large Castellorizian Club in Sydney’s lower Eastern Suburbs. A writer friend in Newcastle is Zeny GILES – her mother was a child when brought to Australia over 80 years ago. Zeny GILES will launch her latest book next month: The Daughters of Castellorizo. Further along the coast we could see a part of Rhodes. And then off from Bodrum – now into the Aegean – the island of Kalymnos. I am sure some of your readers here will be aware that George JOHNSTON (My Brother Jack, etc) and his wife Charmian CLIFT lived here for a time – and from that experience she wrote: The Sponge-Divers. Still an on-going local industry in Bodrum, we noted. And finally – in Kusadasi – on the waterfront – looming out of the Aegean Sea – outlined against the warm peach glow settling into gloom of the setting sun – Samos – where my wife and I spent a recuperative three weeks (following a personal tragedy) some 25 years ago. Best known as the home of Pythagoras. At its narrowest point scarcely a kilometre from the Turkish coast. The next day – heading for Troy and Çannakale – on the southern Asian side of the Dardanelles – our bus sped via expressway across Izmir (formerly Smyra) – now a city with a population over four million. We weren’t stopping but had we done so I badly wanted to visit the Church of St Polycarp in its old port-side centre. Our guide pointed out some tall buildings in the distant east which more-or-less marked the location. The father of a friend in Riverina NSW was Greek. He in turn had a great uncle who was the Metropolitan Bishop of Smyrna (1909-1914 and 1919-1922). In the great upheaval/exchanges of the early 1920s he was a little unwisely (?) outspoken politically – and ignored the advice of the French troops stationed there in a peace-keeping capacity. Suffice to say he was lynched (though if the Wikipædia reports are to be believed – and I can’t vouch for them – it was mediævally grotesque) – but in the early 1990s canonised – as St Chrysostomos KALAFATIS. The Church of St Polycarp suffered severe damage in that era but has been re-built and serves still – though a much smaller community than in earlier times when more than 50% of the city’s population was Greek. The final sobering element to the visit was to the Gelibolu/Gallipoli Peninsula – Anzac Cove and cemetery – looking up at “the Pyramid” – from the Dawn Service site just along – the road and appointments pushed through to some disquiet re the disturbance of the bones by the Howard Government. (In fact at the same time someone called Danna VALE was proposing a re-creation of the site down along the geographically similar Mornington Peninsula – to save Australians having to travel so far??) Looking at the ages and names of the young Aussies and Kiwis and Indian troops buried there – I think I can safely say that the feelings were of sorrow at such waste – and an anger at the way politicians and War Lords create and promote these wars – and go on doing so. We visited Lone Pine Cemetery, too – looking along towards Anzac Cove – and then a little further to the heights of Chunuk Bair (Suvla Bay easily visible from here) where the Turkish commander Kemal MUSTAFA later ATATURK) held back the British/French/ANZAC advance – defending his country against the invasion and laying the seeds for his own rise to post-war leadership of his nation into its post-Ottoman reincarnation as a modern secular Republic. Our guide spoke movingly of how on his first visit to South Shields in northern England (near Newcastle) where his English wife was from – he had recognised the face of an historic figure he had grown up knowing well from Turkish Gelibolu/Gallipoli history. It was that of Simpson – the man with the donkey. He told us too that he had a six-year old boy whom he prays will never have to face a war. I am craving your indulgence here Ailsa – I remember well the many conversations I had in my 88-temple pilgrimage around Shikoku four-and-a-half years ago – and on this journey – aroused further by reading your piece on your visit to El Ganso and meeting with Domingo during your pilgrimage. Thanks always for your passion/compassion.

    • JIm!
      Extraordinary generous reportage of an astonishing tip. Whetting my appetite with every sentence. Thanks so much for an incredibly generous offering, stitching together so very many stories. Lovely. Muchas gracias, as ever.

  2. Love your stories, I too walked the Camino in October 2000, (27 days) and arrived for All saints Day… memorable. My daughter Virginia Walsh gave me your book, she was at your Melbourne book signing. I am sure we would have lots of stories and experiences to swap, would love to hear when you are in Melbourne next. Fond Regards Margaret Garing

    • HI there Margaret,
      Thank you to you for visiting and to Margaret for giving you the book. I’m so thrilled that you both enjoyed it and found echoes of your own experiences. I’m actually doing a chat at the Travellers Bookstore in Melbourne on October 24th. Would love to meet you if that worked for you. I will put details on the events page here, and also on Facebook. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kindness. xx

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