Images bring literature to life

By Rachel Fitzgerald

Scallop shells engraved in cobblestone streets led us out of the city of Leon to the meandering gravel roads of the countryside graffitied with vibrant yellow arrows. Pilgrims on the trail wear scallop shells on their packs as a medieval reminder of pilgrims trekking to the ends of the earth following the arrow that points the way, a marker of the revived camino. These symbols have become emblematic of the camino and directed us to our first milestone on the journey, Mazarife. The stone streets rumbled as tractors passed through completing a days work. We scoped out the rural grocery store (what most would equate to a rundown convenience store) and picked out items for the next day’s breakfast.

Then we ventured to the Panaderia or bread store. Upon entry, a smoky fog choked the room clouding the smell of the freshly baked bread. What struck me was the wall clock, paralyzed at 12:01 PM most likely years ago. For me, these are the images of Spain. A simple metaphor that symbolizes a Spain and a Spanish people stuck in the past like the broken clock that lays beside the shattered mold of baby Jesus in the realism of Galdós’ “La sombra.” The reappearing image as a compulsion to remember the past resurfaces stagnant on the wall even in the contemporary, fantastical fiction of Cristina Fernandez Cubas’, “El mascardon.” Spanish literature again came to life as a woman (whom I imagined was in her late-80s) served us fresh bread in a small rural community that would be a ghost town if not for the tourist traffic of the camino. The next town brought a local busybody lingering in the bar of the alburgue and happily conversing with any pilgrim who could muster a simple Spanish sentence. With every cafe con leche he poetically waxed “read ‘ Don Quixote de la Mancha'” that’s how you ‘ll learn Spanish.

It surprised me how often the Classics pervade the ordinary life of Spain. Even when the 73-year old volunteer in the alburgue in Molinaseca calls his adopted dog, Lazarillo, literature is alive again. The mangy pet, seemingly deranged like most stray street dogs with a gnarly growl and protruding teeth, exemplifies his name. Donning the title of the protagonist of Lazarillo del Tormes, a picaro, or vagabond who scavenges, begs and steals from his master in a series of tricks in order to survive, this little mutt signifies a whole class of Spanish literature. Everyday instances with locals along the camino de santiago are reminders of a country that always keeps the past present through its literature. The rigors and vigor of walking 300K across Spain provide a very organic experience and place of cultural encounter with the local color of life in Spain.

Photo: Rachel hikes with Ashley.


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