On Tourists and Pilgrims: A Finde en Galicia

Finde=Fin de Semana.

Today at Nebrija we got divided up into our new classes as it was the start of a new semester–I’m with four Furman students and five non-Furmanites, which is really exciting. Hopefully, the weeks that come will bring a marked improvement in my Spanish, as I feel like I haven’t challenged myself to learn more since I’ve been here. Vamos a ver! The energy at Nebrija was completely different today as more students filled the halls–it was anticipatory, exciting, fresh. More opportunities for me to break down any mental boxes I’ve created, because I’ve realized that the only one limiting me, is me. I can do anything, meet anyone, go anywhere. I’m in Madrid, and any limitations or constraints I feel are pretty self-imposed. Except my bed. That small limit is not self imposed 😉 Moving on . . .

Friday we left Madrid at noon and got to Coruña at about 7:30. We went on a walk to the beach and then had dinner. Dinner was a gift sent straight from los cielos. YUMMY.

Saturday and Sunday we spent most of the day on the bus with our sweet but overspoken tour guide. (Ej: ‘This is a sports complex, where you can practice a lot of different types of sports.’ Hm. Que interesante?). We toured several small Galician towns and walked around a bit, but all ended up spending a lot of time sleeping on the bus. We’d climb onto the warm, cosy bus, sit down, and then be lullabied to sleep by the soft voice of our guide. Thirty minutes later, the group would wake up, walk around a small town, and then have nap time again. It made for a really surreal experience, but we all needed to catch up on sleep after a few weeks that we’ve been lacking.

Santiago de Compostela was a fascinating place for me. People from all over the world end their pilgrimages at this church, some coming as far away from France. The minimum walk (for purification of pecados) is 100 km, but tourists can do less and others can do more. I am encantada with the author Paulo Coehlo (as I’ve mentioned) and the Alquimista is one of my favorite books. It is about a shepherd named Santiago who goes on a pilgrimage to follow his dreams. Coehlo has actually written several books related to Santiago de Compostela, and it was neat to be reading one (El Zahir) while I was actually at the site he referenced.

The legend goes that some shepherds were out tending their flocks by night, and a huge star appeared in the sky (sound familiar?). They followed to where the star led and found the bones of the apostle Santiago. The pope at the time declared the bones to be authentic (lotsa controversy about this), and it’s been a pilgrimage site since.

While I think pilgrimages are important (I named my old blog after one, for goodness’ sake) the church was discomfiting to me. Lots of locks. Lots of restrictions. Lots of tourists. It made me feel the way shopping malls make me feel (anxious, crowded, hyper-aware of materialism and commercialization), but with some history and spirituality thrown into the mix. Reconciling the spiritual nature of the trek with the commercialization of the cathedral is difficult. Like many things in our world, what I saw caused a mixture of emotions and thoughts. This is no longer just a site of pilgrimage, but a site of tourism.

I celebrated internally alongside a pilgrim, watching as he arrived at the door and with great jubilation embraced his companions. What the journey must have taught him. Who did he meet along the way, what struggles forced him to grow? What relationships deepened and expanded, most of all within himself? Are these pilgrimages and experiences then cheapened by the tourism, the commodification, the misappropriation of religion for money’s sake, or are the two just occurring simultaneously at the same site, without interaction that mars the sacred?

Inside the church, there is an area marked ‘door of faith’ that promises all who enter can meet the Lord. Ironically, the sign is situated next to the door of the gift shop. I guess we’re still buying our way into good graces these days, which isn’t that contrary to the message of the pilgrimage itself. If you fill up your booklet with stamps proving you’ve done the minimum amount and ship it off to the vatican, you too can be absolved of sins. But not all of them. Not the real bad ones. If I am misrepresenting the ritual, please correct me. This is simply what I understood from my class and our guide. This goes contrary to what I know of pilgrimage, of what I know of journeys, and even christianity. Unsettling. I feel like I need more time of reflection on this topic, and perhaps should have left the blog post until a time when my thoughts had developed more.

 

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This entry was published on September 17, 2013 at 7:43 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

19 thoughts on “On Tourists and Pilgrims: A Finde en Galicia

  1. Hi Michaela! Only one correction about the “ritual”:

    You have to pay (last I did it it was 15€, I think) and need to ask for stamps at acommodations only if you want to get “The Compostelana” (It’s like a degree).
    It is like this cos many people only want to walk the pilgrimage to get the degree and they only walked few hours and went to the cathedral to ask for it.
    Besides it is one way to pay all the accommodations (almost free for pilgrims) and maintenance of the road.
    I have walked the Camino three times and I don’t see wrong to have to pay. Just my point.

    Hope you enjoyed the city!!

    Bye!

  2. The houses are so brightly colored, and the food looks delish. What is your favorite local food so far?

  3. This is straight-up food porn. Especially the bread. I do not have good bread memories from Spain. Maybe it’s different in Galicia (I did the Santiago-Leon-coast thing), but I didnt try it there…

    • I hope to have good food memories from Spain! I lovveeed (for the most part!) the food in Galicia. Sometimes my food in my host family is a struggle, but it’s getting better.

      What was the bread like for you? White baguettes?

      • not even…just general white loaves. actually I didnt take advantage of Spanish food enough – I was SUPER well-fed by my host family, and also I was majorly craving US food at that point (being gone almost a year), so I went to VIPS a lot (does it still exist) which were all over Madrid, and ate burgers and chicken ceasar. I know, blasphemy… but also, I felt like all the Spanish ‘meats’ were either the weirdly tasting ham or tons of mariscos, and I dont eat the latter.

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