Day Twelve. Francisco.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Someone wrote to me that I should remember the song Tomorrow, from Annie: "The sun'll come out tomorrow...". I did actually sing that last night, trying to raise my soggy spirits. I also prayed to my mom and the Little Flower, St Therese of Lisieux, her favorite Saint. Little Flower in this hour, show thy power: please let it stop raining at least for a little while. Well the day did begin a little misty, but as I walked it gradually cleared up and the sky brightened and so did my whole mood. The world was once again transformed by the rays of that beautiful Brother Sun. The grass was greener, the water in the sea was blue-er, the cows were browner and of course flowers were, well, more than they were the day before.
I was so happy I decided to wave to everyone who passed me in a car, and of course smile and say hola to everyone who I saw walking. Out of 29 cars and trucks that passed me, I got a return wave and smile from 25! Pretty good, right? There were few pilgrims today, not sure why, but I had a great walk. Except for the gunshots.
Throughout the day, at probably five places, I heard one or multiple gunshots. They were pretty loud, and I actually wondered a few times if they were shooting at me. I looked around--it was mostly flat farmland, with a few rolling hills--but couldn't see anyone doing the shooting. Of course I didn't really think I was in danger. Well, maybe a little bit.
Last night I was reading about Aleppo, Syria, in the New York Times online. The reporter was talking (it had a video) about gunshots he heard there in that war-torn city and region. He didn't know if it was from rebel forces or government soldiers, but it was scary for him. It got me thinking about Spain's civil war, which lasted from 1936-1939. It was a contest between right-wing Nationalist and left-wing Republican parties. The Nationalist party was made up of monarchists, landowners, employers, the Roman Catholic Church and the army. The Republicans consisted of the workers, the trade unions, socialists and peasants. The Nationalists eventually won, under
General Francisco Franco, who allied himself with the fascists of Hitler's Germany and Italy's Mussolini. After the war, Franco became a dictator of Spain (until his death in 1975) and many of his opponents were imprisoned, tortured or murdered.
I checked to see how much of the civil war occurred in this northern area of the Camino. It turns out that a lot of it was fought here, and that Franco's forces pushed the Republicans back towards Compostela de Santiago (my final destination) pretty much along the same route I am taking with the other pilgrims. This was all in my mind today as I walked through these peaceful towns and fields, and of course I imagined how many more gunshots rang across these same acres many years ago, not unlike Aleppo today. You take it all in--the beauty of the countryside and the people here, but you can't see the horror that it has experienced through the years.
That's when I encountered another Francisco. He was walking right towards me down a long straight stretch of a farm road. I was still doing my smiling and waving, and when he was close enough, he immediately came up to me and started talking a lot in Spanish. He had one of those old men's really high voices, and he seemed really happy to see me, and immediately recognized that I was doing the Camino. It was hard to communicate, but I gathered he was telling me how far it was to the next town, and did I have enough water, and how about food? We did most of this with a lot of gestures and smiles. And then at one point I couldn't get what he was trying to say, but it seemed to have something to do with him. After a lot of confusion, I figured out that he was telling me how old he was. He did it, of course with words I didn't understand but also with fingers, which I did. He is 95 years old, which would mean he was born in 1921. Which would mean that he was 15 when Franco began his murderous fight against the Republicans. Which would mean he probably heard those gunshots right around where we met from that civil war, and perhaps suffered the kind of horrors that children in Aleppo are suffering right now. Francisco didn't look like he was from the upper classes. My guess is that he was a farmer all his life. I would have loved to ask him about the world he remembered--the war, how he lived, if he had a wife or children, what makes him happy now. Of course that was way beyond our mutual communication skills, so I thanked him a great deal (because he seemed to be saying some nice things to me), asked if I could take his picture, and shook his hand. It was actually a little hard to take leave of our encounter.
Francisco is undoubtedly among the last remaining witnesses to the trials this country has experienced during my parent's generation. Spain is a now a constitutional monarchy, whose citizens are guaranteed rights by the constitution of 1978. Everywhere I look, it seems that its people are free, and that they enjoy relative prosperity. It is not the country that Francisco knew as a boy, and I wondered if he was happy. He certainly seemed to be as he met me. I'm grateful that we were on the same path.
It's Saturday night, and it looks like the town I'm in is coming alive. Time to go to bed!!