There is a hostel in Palas de Rei, which has quite a a lot of pictures hanging on the wall. One of them is a frame with only letters, one of those so fashionable now. It was at the back of the common area, there wasn’t much light down there. Thank goodness, because at first glance it seemed to contain a sentimental message, one of those that to some people it brightens up the day and to others it is only provokes irritation.
I was sitting in that huge room because Itai and Olivier were staying there to sleep. It smelled like clean clothes. We had joined forces by gathering all our sweaty T-shirts in a leaky bag to fill a four euros washing machine. The dryer was subsidized by me. Dusty socks, sports shorts, the German girl’s hat, and my grey raincoat. It smelled of glory. They had opened a bottle of wine that evening and they wanted me, by all manner of means, to come over to share a glass with them. Delighted, of course.
We chatted for a long time. Itai was talking about his native Jerusalem, a city that drives me crazy with curiosity. Twenty-five minutes away from home, he says; just like Torremolinos from me, but premium. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been to the Holy Land! They were talking about the forty-eight kilometers they wanted to complete the next day and that I was not planning to do at all. I listened to them in the background while I imagined myself in the Galilee of the three wise men, toasting with the wine I was holding in my hand. Cheers!
With the 44 kilometers that we had done today, I had had more than enough. Also, it would rain the next day. We already knew that the biggest downpour will be on the following day and that there would be no possibility of delaying or leaving early to avoid it: tomorrow everyboooody in the soup!
But we were happy, because it is said that whoever arrives in Compostela without having been drenched, does not arrive clean or free from sin. The things people say to alleviate the discomforts of the way! But they are little relief, to be honest. Like those pictures with messages, the ones that remind you how cool you are and how great everything is, but neglecting to mention all the things we still have to fight for. Mortal danger, I could say.
I said goodbye to the group. They arranged to meet at 5:30 am. at the entrance. I did not promise anything and I said goodbye with affection, ignoring the safety distance just a little and knowing that it was more than likely that I would never see them again. I stood up, and just a millisecond before heading to the exit door I glanced at the paste-like picture. And then I realized that the pastel painting: was also looking at me.
It had been staring at me the whole time, obsessed, attentive to wine, to Jerusalem, to Torremolinos, to departure times, and to un-ironed clothes. I did not know why it had noticed me and without knowing what it wanted with me or why it insisted again and again, I walked in the opposite direction to the door. I approached the aforementioned decorative element, politely hiding that I was intending to read it …
THE TOURIST travels
THE HIKER walks
the pilgrim SEARCHES
– Olivier! Est-ce que tu peux prendre une photo de cette peinture, s’il te plait ? Je n’ai pás de batterie.
– Bien sûr
And voilà. My thanks to the person who hung that picture on the wall, to Itai for insisting that I go there with the excuse of wine and to Olivier, for sending me the photo the next day, so that I could keep the question in the telephone…
But what the heck is a pilgrim looking for? What has a pilgrim like me come here for, soaked to the bone?
I went looking for MAGIC. AND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR, rest assured: IT IS LOOKING FOR YOU. For oneself.
The pilgrim of Compostela
October 8, 20XX 17: 58h.