Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shifting Gears: From Pilgrim to Tourist....

We followed the River Aragon all day to the medieval city of Jaca. In France, the Pyrenees were in front of us, beckoning. Now in Spain, they are behind us, bidding farewell.

I hate to say goodbye.

And I have to admit, crossing them was the part of the trip that most excited and terrified me. Mountains are a fierce landscape, gracious and unforgiving depending on the weather. We were lucky to cross these mountains in a fine drizzle rather than driving rain or dazzling sun.

As we push west to Pamplona, though, the mountains recede. I can barely see the snow-capped peaks over the walls of Jaca.

We have only another day of walking, from Jaca to Santa Cruz de la Seros, where we´ll spend two nights, making a day trip to the monastery of San Juan de la Pena. We´ll do that without the packs that have become like another appendage.

As much as I groaned picking up my pack every morning, I will hate to say goodbye to that too. Everything I needed was in that pack. I´ll feel naked without it.

Not surprisingly, I´m already fantasizing about the sundress I´ll buy to cover the nakedness.

I can shift from pilgrim to tourist so fast it scares me. The clothing fantasy that kept me going for the last days into Santiago this past September were a pair of Spanish jeans. I wanted something besides my trekking pants to wear.

This time I lust after a sundress -- and a pair of high-top sneakers. I must want to shed both the pants and the boots. I can´t vouch for the combination, but the fantasy is there.

So what´s the difference between pilgrim and tourist? I think it´s interesting that I long to "buy" something. Consumption marks tourism. You see it in the way people take pictures with cameras and iPhones, "bagging" another experience for their scrapbooks. Pilgrims, in contrast, are too busy walking.

You see it in the difference between tourist hotels and pilgrim hostels. Hotels are full of "stuff" to do and places to eat, each flyer vying with another to catch the eye. Pilgrim hostels are empty, tables bare and rooms waiting. The blank space work like empty canvasses, inviting impressions to emerge. Like animals along the trail, if long enough to become part of the landscape.

I see it in the difference between my tourist and pilgrim habits of mind. Believe me: I am a full-bore, world-class tourist, and I can "graze" a city like no one else, figuring out in record time what needs to be seen, when, and which route gets there most scenically. But as a pilgrim, I simply reach a city -- and sit. I can sit for hours watching.

It´s as if my pilgrim feet have taught my inner tourist to slow down. After all, the speed of consumption is far faster than the speed of simply looking.

Mary Oliver put it well:

"I look. Morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around,
As though with your arms open.

And thinking
Maybe something will come, some
shining coil of wind
Or a few leaves from any old tree
They are all in this too.

And now I will tell you the truth:
Everything in the world comes.

At least closer.

And cordially." ("Where does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?")

I hate to leave this kind of looking behind.

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