The Road to Santiago.

October 6, 2004

Photo of a cathedral.


Hay lluvia afuera!! (It’s raining outside!) These are the three words I most detest in the Spanish language. Whenever I hear them, I know that it’s going to be a miserable day. So at four in the morning I was jolted awake by the sound of those words. Rain was pounding on my window and somehow those words penetrated my sleep.

I couldn’t go back to sleep, I just laid there fretting. I was expecting rain eventually in Galicia, but not so early on the walk, and the thought of getting soaked so soon on el camino depressed me. So, I made an executive decision that I would remain for one more day. Soon I was fast asleep.

Photo of a tunnel.

Later that morning, I decided that this would be a good opportunity to mail off some of my receipts, reference materials no longer needed, and other miscellaneous things that I had collected on the way. So I went through the tunnel to the main part of the city and to the post office to buy a large sobre y sellos (envelope and stamps). I entered the correo (post office) and took a billete (ticket) from the dispenser. Then I waited for my turn.

People stood or sat patiently until their number appeared on the marquee which would also display the appropriate window number. I kind of like this system because you don’t have to stand in a long queue and slowly snake forward. I wandered around looking at the various announcements about the different stamp series that were obviously published to exploit stamp collectors. I found myself wishing that I could buy some blocks of stamps for my friend Bob, the philatelist. (I was a philatelist once but then I saw the error of my ways and became a numismatist until my mother made me quit even that.)

Well, eventually my number appeared and I told the young lady at the window what I wanted. She stood there impatiently while I stuffed the envelope and gave it to her to weigh. She gave me the appropriate postage and I paid la cuenta (the bill). She handed me my cambio  (change) and walked away. Well, after I addressed the envelope (to myself at the hotel in Madrid) and affixed the stamps, I didn’t know what to do with the envelope. So I stood there waiting.

Eventually, she came back and asked with an exasperated expression ¿Que? (What?) I asked her if everything was all right as I pointed to the envelope. She just said ¡Si! I asked her what I should do with the envelope. She just said ¡Buzon! (mailbox) Okay, I said to myself, I’ll play this silly game and asked her politely: ¿Donde está el buzon? (Where is the mailbox?) She just shouted something that I couldn’t understand. So I politely asked again ¿Donde? She just kept shouting and waving off to my right. I held my ground.

Finally, another patron came up to me and took the envelope and went to a window that had a small hand written sign “Buzon.” Some mailbox! Generally, the workers at a Spanish correo are quite nice and very helpful. I think that this person transferred here from Boston’s South Postal Annex!

I saw a statue of Alfonso XIII the king who was forced from power in 1925. I don’t understand the reason for the statue because he is the ultimate “has been.” Social unrest drove him from power and he was succeeded by the dictator Primo de Rivera. After almost a decade, Primo de Rivera lost power which led to Spain’s second republic. Within a few years, factional squabbling led to the Spanish Civil War, a tragic war that lasted from 1936 until 1939. It resulted in some unspeakable atrocities committed by both sides. The civil war, considered by historians to be a prelude to World War II, ended with victory for the Nationalists and the 40-year authoritarian rule of Franco. After Franco’s death, his will put his grandson, Juan Carlos, into power, and Spain became a constitutional monarchy. In the early 1980s, there was an attempted coup by factions on the Right, but Juan Carlos went on television and asked everyone to reject the coup. It failed, and Spain has since become a modern democracy.

King Alfonso XIII
The statue shows the famous Hapsburg nose and lip, which fortunately Juan Carlos doesn’t have. Felipe, his son and the heir to the throne, is well over six feet tall. He has the look of his mother, la Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia), and is, in the words of the Spanish, muy guapo (very handsome). He is the personification of Prince Charming of whom every little princess dreams.

But, as my editor, Jerie, would say, that’s more about Spanish royalty and history than the average American cares to hear about. Except, of course, my neighbor, Mindy, who is a Spanish teacher — she got up in the middle of the night and actually watched (and recorded) the recent wedding of Don Felipe!

Later in the afternoon, I went to a museum of local anthropology and prehistory, which I had spotted two days earlier. It was neat. One exhibit was a computer monitor with 360° viewing of some of the famous local caves. Also, by touching the screen at any place on one of the walls, the computer would highlight the cave painting.

Another computerized display showed an excavation of a Roman villa. With animation, you were able to see how the house was built and how the baths and heating systems worked. It is interesting to note how present day Spanish architecture is a derivative of the Roman heritage. Spain was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and many of its Emperors were natives of Spain. In fact, modern day Spanish language (as is the case with other Romance languages) is just Latin as heard by the Iberian locals.

On my way back to the hotel, I wandered into a liberia (bookstore) where I made a great find — a decent guidebook. Unlike the other I had been using, this had actual maps, drawn to scale, which made it a lot easier to interpret.

At dinner I spent over an hour pouring over the maps and descriptions of where I had been. I cursed the writer of the first book for all the unnecessary confusion I had been through. I now had a good idea of where el camino went. I was no longer wandering in the wilderness.
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