Monday, October 13, 2014
No more arrows - a Day in Salamanca
Conrad and I left Elias and Jakob at the hotel, so that they could walk to Finesterre while we took the bus. I then left Conrad at Finesterre as I returned to Santiago to catch the pilgrim's mass and take the night train to Madrid, connecting there, and heading towards Salamanca.
Salamanca has the 4th oldest university in the world. Not only is it filled with academic history, but was once considered to be the jewel of higher education. Today it remains a vibrant city with an impressive ecclesiastic history.
It's blessed with two cathedrals, one built adjacent and around the original cathedral. Unlike other building projects, the city chose to preserve the original cathedral and have it serve as a sort of mega-chapel to the new cathedral. The Gothic lines of the new cathedral contrast beautifully with the Romanesque architecture of the original building.
What most fascinated me about my stay in Salamanca wasn't the large number of young people. That's to be expected in a college town. No, what I found odd was that there were no scallop shells or yellow arrows to guide me around the city.
I had to find the hostal on my own. I had to find the gorgeous and youth-filled Plaza Mayor without staring at the sidewalk. I found the cathedrals and convents all without following another person walking with a backpack.
All this was a jarring return to normalcy, to a life where there are no directions, no guides, no signposts. You might know where you want to go, but it's a mirage. We depend upon a false sense of assurance that the signs will take us where we want. Even if we think we're following arrows, I've noticed on the Camino, there's no guarantee that you are heading in the right direction.
Did you see every sign?
Did you understand what the sign was trying to convey?
Were you too busy talking, taking photos, thinking about your hunger, nursing your blister to notice?
Did you forget you were supposed to be looking for those signs.
All that is while we are actually on the Camino. But like life, when we're not on the Camino, we have to try even harder, to discern, to listen, to see, to grasp.
With the people I met and walked with, we talked much about being present. The Camino forces you to be present in the moment. Life gives you all too many ways to be detached, to float away, to stare at your phone. None of these are meant to keep you present but are meant to take you to a different realm.
And if we're trying to find our destination, the place we feel we want to be, how will that be possible if we escape the notion of now?
I marveled at the beauty, the food, the vibrancy of this wonderful city. And I felt uneasy at how difficult and tenuous it was to know where I was so that I could know where I wanted to be.