By Rachel Fitzgerald
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.