Monthly Archives: May 2018

Triple-Spiral Stair

The Vatican has its famous and grand two-spiral Bramante stair, and there are other examples of double-spiral stairs throughout the world; for example, Calling Alice (San Francisco) and Edificio Cuervo Rubio (Havana, Cuba) are images I’ve made based on two-spiral staircases. But as far as I know, Santiago de Compostela boasts the only three-spiral staircase. At least the only one I have ever seen or heard of. Please let me know if there are others I’ve missed.

Triple-Spiral Stairs (Looking Up) © Harold Davis

The image above is looking up, and the image below was a quick high ISO photo with a gaggle of kids from a class trip looking up at me!

Triple-Spiral Stairs with School Group © Harold Davis

I really like Santiago de Compostela very much. Not only does it have a triple-spiral stair, it also has a wonderful old town, a university population, and a constant flow of colorful incoming Camino pilgrims.

When the Camino de Santiago first became a pilgrimage, it was thought of as a walk to the edge of the unknown. Remember, Columbus was still centuries in the future at that point, and the apparently endless Atlantic lies only a short distance beyond Santiago. So pilgrims came laboriously from all over the known world to get a taste of the unknown.

For me, walking to this city still has a bit of the edgy feeling of contemplating what comes after all that is known.

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Compostela Haraldum Davis

Compostela Haraldum Davis © Harold Davis

Today I trudged into Santiago de Compostela, having completed my Camino, tired and footsore, but happy. At the queue in the cloisters waiting for our certificates we all compared blisters to see who had the biggest (losing a toe nail seemed to outrank my painful blisters).

The line to show our Credencial with its stamps from along the Camino reminded me of a passport control line, with an electronic board and buzzer in the front to show which station one should go to to get the Crendencial checked. Sheer numbers help explain the queuing and the setup: right now 600-700 pilgrims a day are coming into Santiago de Compostela off the various Camino routes.

I had heard that in order to get the Compostela in Latin (as mine is, shown above) one had to do one’s Camino for religious or spiritual reasons (otherwise you get a somewhat smaller certificate in Spanish). One of the people I was chatting with on line told me he had a friend who liked to joke around, and last year when asked why he had walked a pilgrimage route said that he had walked his Camino to “lose weight”. He tried to take it back when he realized he would be denied his Compostela, to no avail.

So when I filled out the form that had three possibilities (Religious, Spiritual, and Cultural) I knew not to check Cultural. If you are curious, I went for Spiritual reasons, which is even mostly true (I think).

The image below shows my stamped Credencial and my Compostela in my rather incredible room at the rather incredible Hostal dos Reis Catolicos Parador. Since I am staying a few nights here, I am looking forward to photographing the four interior cloisters and other unique features of this place.

My room at the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos © Harold Davis

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Camino Seen via Hotel Room Interiors

Phyllis says that for her my Camino is visually a succession of hotel room interiors. This is because of the nine-hour time-shift with California. When she is sleeping, I am walking, and when she is going about her day I am sleeping. Our hours are close to orthogonal.

Old Wood Door with Blue Paint © Harold Davis

We FaceTime when I wake (her bedtime), I walk and she sleeps, and we usually touch base again after I’ve checked in, my late afternoon becoming her early morning. She sees my Camino essentially as different window treatments in the backgrounds of my screen: red curtains morph into lace, and then into green shutters, or a stone wall.

Letter Box © Harold Davis

By the way, these are hotels that cater to pilgrims. They are okay, some better than others, and all more than a little bit odd. So far, they’ve had the necessities: a bed and a shower and a “pilgrim’s dinner”.

Tree and Wine © Harold Davis

Posted in iPhone, Photography

Walking the Camino for Wild Camels

Today on the Camino I met Rosa, a zookeeper from Denmark. Rosa has walked the Camino from the French border to raise awareness and donations for wild camels. Wild camels are the eighth most endangered mammalian species, with less than 1,000 individuals surviving in northwest China and Mongolia.

You can click here to learn more about the wild camel cause, and here to learn more about Rosa’s walk (and to donate).

Posted in Photography

Music in My Head

Yesterday I wrote about group singing along the Camino. It turns out that my biggest mistake in preparing for my Camino was musical.

By way of background, I like to listen to music when I am at home arranging flowers on the light box, or working in Photoshop. Often I will pick a particular genre, or performer. This way I have spent weeks listening to Brahms, and worked my way through Paul Simon (never again, many of Simon’s songs are ear worms), Bob Dylan (amazingly creative artist if you listen to his progress across the years), and Leonard Cohen (wonderfully moving, but a bit depressing).

The problem is that I had a jag listening to Broadway musicals before I left home. Specifically the original cast albums for The Sound of MusicThe King and IFiddler on the Roof, and (most deplorably) My Fair Lady. More than once. In fact, many times.

These are not the tunes one wants running through one’s head as one walks solo along the Camino de Santiago!

Straight and Narrow © Harold Davis

Sure, many of the melodies are catchy (part of the problem) and the lyrics seem sunny enough. Until the songs have run through one’s brains in tandem with the rhythm of one’s footsteps, over and over again and sunny begins to seem facile and fake.

Take My Fair Lady, one of the worst offenders. This misogynist version (“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”) of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion manages to trivialize the heinous and wasteful rigidity of the British caste system. It seems that all you need to do to land a toff in marriage is to get a little help with enunciation—even when the personal plumbing is a mismatch because the Rex Harrison character clearly has no use for cis-gendered females.

And, yes, it really does rain in Spain! In my recent experience, considerably.

I hate having these disingenuous and deceitful lyrics running through my head as I walk along. I really should have been listening to something more appropriate before heading off on my Camino, like Mozart’s Requiem, or the Missa Solemnis. Next time I will know better.

River Iso © Harold Davis

Notes: The Camino crosses the River Iso on an ancient stone bridge at the hamlet of O Iso. It’s traditional for pilgrims to bath their feet in the river. So I descended the stone stairway, removed my shoes and socks, and bathed my feet in the wonderfully cold river. Tradition or not, it felt so good on my tired feet!

Sitting facing the old bridge I rested for a while as my feet chilled. Then I turned sideways and looked upstream for the view you see in the photo above.

Posted in Photography

The Art of Being Alone with Oneself

I fear the art of being alone with oneself has been lost. Oh, I am no saint! In the evenings I catch up with family via FaceTime, news from the US, and my email, and upload images and blog stories. But during the day on the Camino de Santiago I am alone with me, myself, and I, and my electronic devices are switched off.

Sure, in theory, it would be nice to have an intelligent companion with whom I could exchange a few words now and then. When one of us wanted to dawdle to explore or photograph we could say “catch up at the next coffee spot” or “see you tonight at the Albergo”. But mostly I think a pilgrimage on the Camino should at least partially be a time for meditation and savoring one’s own company.

Bridge Fun © Harold Davis

Many of the walkers I see around me wear headsets or ear buds and are plugged into music and the world. Some speak loudly on the phone. This is of course their right, but they are losing the chance to immerse themselves in their surroundings, and to get to know themselves better. Far more irritating are the large groups, who are constantly chattering to each other and making distracting noises. This behavior seems to cut across genders and nationalities.

Some companies, or fellowships, walking together sing Camino songs. Without understanding the language of the songs—the Camino is a veritable Rosetta stone of languages—it’s hard to be sure, but these basically seem like drinking songs, with the word “Camino” thrown in from time to time.

Today I listened to a group of men with shaved heads walking along, singing Gregorian chants a cappella.

Another way to look at this is part of my meditative discipline of being alone is for me to work to ignore the chattering of crowds! After all, travelers from all parts of the known world have been making this trek for a millennium, generally with tolerance, grace, faith, and good will. This is not a bad model for humanity to follow more generally.

Square in Melide © Harold Davis

Notes: Today I walked from Melide to Arzua. Even after a nice, hot shower I find myself stiff and footsore. The day began with roiling clouds and a stiff breeze. I was pretty sure it would rain before I got here, but my luck held, and the walk—mostly through country lanes and forest paths—was pleasant and dry.

Posted in Photography

From Palas de Rei to Melide

I woke this morning early to rain splattering against my window. Clearly the weather had deteriorated from the wonderful sunny-but-cloudy sky of the day before. I walked from the largish town of Palas de Rei on country lanes, forest trails, and beside ploughed fields to another fairly big place, Melide, through mist, rain, and damp clouds that touched the hillsides.

Curve in the Camino © Harold Davis

This day was not without some challenges, but fortunately since my suitcase had caught up with me I had the gear to keep pretty warm and dry.

Cloisters © Harold Davis

If you are interested in the Camino de Santiago, you have probably heard of, or seen, the movie The Way. The film stars Martin Sheen, whose son dies in a freak accident at the beginning of his pilgrimage. Sheen takes his son’s place, and completes the walk to Santiago de Compostela.

Free Hugs © Harold Davis

Well, I learned today that people do die while walking The Way, and some of them are remembered with memorial markers. When I looked at these markers, as far as I could see the cause of death was omitted. So my suspicion is that mostly the causes were things people brought with them, such as a health issue. Wherever you go, there you are.

Hand pump for drinking water along the Camino © Harold Davis

One marker I saw today was for someone who was described as “constantly in motion”, a man originally from Yorkshire. He died while on his fifth pilgrimage to Santiago (cause of death unspecified) with a handsome memorial on the route between Palas de Rei and Melide. I imagine he found peace, and his spirit stands, hands on hips, watching pilgrims pass on “his” stretch of the Camino de Santiago with a smile. 

The image you see below is the side of a Hórreo, a traditional granary structure that you see frequently in rural Galicia. The hórreo is usually raised off the ground with stones to keep away animals, and to help minimize moisture. The white cross I saw on this hórreo is an added, unexpected bonus!

Hórreo © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Better Weather on the Camino

I forgot to mention that yesterday’s story was written, and the images processed and uploaded, from the small bar across the street from my room. This was the only place with connectivity in the hamlet along the Camino that I was staying in. Furthermore, I got to plug my computer into a power outlet, and to warm my back against a radiator while the dark-eyed and buxom hostesses plied me with olives, fried doughnut things, and a clear Galician drink they described as “double fermented” that packed a wallop.

It was cold overnight, with a hard frost on the ground when I woke. After yesterday’s rain and hail, I was hoping for better weather on the Camino de Santiago. As it turned out, it was crisp but sunny with high, scudding clouds—perfect weather for walking.

The stone cross in the photo below is a cruceiro, examples of which are found all over the Galician countryside. Cruceiros are intended to ward off evil spirits of the dead, and protect travelers, although apparently drinking the double-fermented beverage I mentioned is also thought to help with this task, particularly if the drink is preceded by a brief prayer.

Cruceiro © Harold Davis

The yellow flowers in my next image are cultivated Rapeseed, from which Canola oil is pressed. (They really should change the name of this plant.) But Yellow! You can see what a wondrous day it has been!

Rapeseed Field © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography