Day Twenty Three. The Botafumeiro.
What a wonderful city in which to wake up!
I had a leisurely breakfast in the self-serve breakfast buffet here, and got a message from my friend Carlos that he was going to be able to meet me at 1:30. That gave me time to do some exploring, so I got my act together and when out.
It was fun to see pilgrims arriving in the morning. They must have gotten going very early like I did yesterday to get here before noon. It was funny, because already I felt like a veteran...look at those newbies arriving all wet behind the ears! But it was fun to see them looking around in wonder and relief as they came to the end of their own walking trial. I realized that this scene repeats itself every day most especially during fall, summer and spring (I guess some really hardy people do the Camino in the winter), and I wonder what the locals think of it. I can imagine that they're pretty jaded and maybe--like a lot of New Yorkers with foreign tourists in Times Square--they find it annoying.
On the other hand, it certainly brings a lot of cash into the city as the pilgrims get places to sleep and eat, and buy tons of memorabilia. As you might imagine there are lots of things to buy to remind you of your trip: t-shirts, hats, maps of the Camino, reproductions of the Camino shell signs, statues of St James, all sizes of the Cathedral models.. on and on.
OK, I'll admit it. I've already bought some stuff. But it's really really meaningful, I swear!!!
I did a little of that kind of shopping, but I also took in the narrow streets, the beautiful old buildings, some chapels, the plazas full of people eating, drinking, and pilgrims meeting one another again. There were a bunch of performers as well. One guy was playing the bagpipes. I think he was dressed in some kind of native dress (although I always associate bagpipes with Scotland), but when I tried to take his picture, he immediately turned away from me. At first I thought he was adjusting something on his bagpipe, but when I tried to take a few more pictures he did it every time, including putting his arm over his face at one time. I thought it was very funny. It kind of reminded me of the characters in Times Square who expect money to be photographed...except this guy didn't try to punch me in the nose!
I wandered over to a food market. It was pretty cool. Lots of fishmongers, meat sellers, fruit salespeople, cheese merchants, and bakers selling bread and cakes. Some pretty interesting stuff in the display cases.
Just before I met Carlos, I spotted something very familiar: a Jesuit high school named after St Francis Xavier SJ. Apparently there are also Jesuits in the city who provide inexpensive rooms, meals and If desired, a spiritual program of some kind for arriving pilgrims. I might see if I can find those guys just to see what they're up to here.
My 'reunion' with Carlos was great. He had just returned from Finisterre, for some pilgrims the ultimate end of the Camino. It's about 90 Kms from here, and the name means 'the end of the world'. In medieval days, it was literally considered the end of the known world of Europe...a very dramatic spur of land that juts out far into the Atlantic. The views are supposed to be awesome, and Carlos said that the sunset last night over the ocean was unforgettable. He called the place magical. I'll try to get out there before I leave--by bus! I'm done walking for the moment!
Carlos and Iwent looking for the bus station that he will need for his departure tonight to the airport. He'll arrive at his home in the Canary Islands around midnight. He was really tired and was looking to sleep late tomorrow and catch up on his favorite program, Game of Thrones. (I'm behind by three of four episodes!). Even though we only had an hour or so, we continued our good talks, filling each other on our adventures since we saw one another last, and talking about the Spanish elections. Before he had to leave to meet a friend from Barcelona, we decided we'd continue to stay in touch, especially to talk about filmmaking. Carlos has been interested in movies since he was little, and he has a very sophisticated appreciation for them. It will be fun to collaborate with him over the ocean in the next months. He is, as I've mentioned before, a very special person and I'm grateful I met him.
I finally ended the day at the Cathedral. I wanted to pray for an hour or so on the petitions I brought, and then attend Mass at 7:30. It was packed, and although I didn't understand a lot of the specifics I understood most of the Mass (except the homily) and enjoyed being there.
It ended the same way every Mass does in the Cathedral-- with a dramatic lighting and swinging of a giant--I mean MAN-SIZED--incensor. In the Catholic Church, the device that the priest uses to spread burning incense in the church is called a thurible. The Cathedral has the world's largest and most famous thirible, and it has a name: the Botafumeiro (means 'smoke expeller'). It is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome on the roof of the church that was installed in 1604. The Botafumeiro is carried and swung by five men in red robes who are called tiraboleiros (incense carrier). Apparently the use of a swinging censer in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral began in the 11th century. It is really the highlight of the Mass, and every gets their phones and camera ready (mine included) when they swing it above eveybody's head waaaaay high---to almost the ceiling of the building!
Tomorrow I'll be at Mass again, and I will be leaving the petitions at the bones of St James. I'll end this blog tomorrow night!