Tag Archives: Spain

El Camino de Santiago

Have you ever seen The Way? It’s a small movie, but with a large heart, telling the fictional story of a father who unexpectedly walks the renowned Camino de Santiago – The Way of Saint James – to honour his dead son.

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And I’ve also just watched the fascinating Walking the CaminoSix Ways to Santiago, a more recent documentary film focusing on 6 very different people and their own motivation for walking the Camino.

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From the film’s website:

Officially, the Camino is any route that starts in Europe and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral city of Galicia in north-western Spain. It is named after Santo Iago – Saint James – one of the 12 apostles. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed up on the northern coast of Spain thousands of years ago.

His remains were transported inland and buried under what is now the cathedral in Santiago. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.

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Since then, hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino every year, most as a personal pilgrimage. The classic route is 500 miles/800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France, across the Pyrenees into Navarra, through La Rioja and then heading west across the flatlands of Castilla y Leon before the final approach through verdant, gently undulating Galicia.

Both films and reality tell of the personal journeys each pilgrim makes, and the people you meet along the way. It is said to be a life-changing experience. You stay in albergues, special pilgrim hostels run by volunteers – hospitaleros – pilgrim themselves, whose love for the Camino has inspired them to come back and help others along the way.

At recent travel shows in London I chatted to the lovely people promoting Camino Ways, a commercial business promoting the many different ways to experience the Camino now.

I have been drawn to attempt it myself since seeing The Way. But I have shied away from the classic route…..too far, too hard and too many people! But there are some appealing alternatives, all ending in Santiago, that might be a good way to share some of the Camino emotions, if not the full self-examining 500 mile route.

Perhaps this is the year to walk the Caminho da Costa, the Portuguese Coastal Way. Starting in Porto, you cover 265 km of northern Portugal before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and leaving the coast at Vigo to head towards Santiago.

I wonder how pale this imitation might be, or whether it will still be powerful enough to stir the soul. I am not religious, but perhaps it will nevertheless be a small spiritual awakening, as well as a physically demanding and fulfilling walk.

And who knows what else it might inspire me to do after arriving at the cathedral square, with all those other pilgrims……

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Book review – As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

In 1934, aged just 19, Laurie Lee walked out of his family home in rural Gloucestershire, carrying a rolled-up tent, a violin in a blanket, a tin of treacle biscuits and some cheese.

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I was propelled, of course, by the traditional forces that had sent many generations along this road – by the small tight valley closing in around one, stifling the breath with its mossy mouth, the cottage walls narrowing like the arms of an iron maiden, the local girls whispering, “Marry, and settle down.” 

For the next 2 years, he walked. To the south coast of England, to London and then the length of Spain, from Vigo in the north-west to Andalucia – and briefly across to Gibraltar – in the extreme south.

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He survived by busking, labouring on a building site in London for a year, and – briefly, when his trusty violin disintegrated in Malaga – as a tour guide.

With beautifully poetic language, he describes his experiences in green northern Spain and in the unrelenting heat of a southern summer, and the many kindnesses he encounters along the way, even from the very poorest people in the most remote villages.

In the valley of the Guadiana I saw herds of black bulls grazing in fields of orange dust, and square white farms, like desert strongholds, protected by pack of savage dogs. Somewhere here, in a barn, under a roof crusted with swallows’ nests, a mother and daughter cooked me a supper of eggs, while a horse watched me eating, chickens walked on the table, and an old man in the hay lay dying.

And then war intervenes. He gets caught up in the first skirmishes of the Spanish Civil War and, reluctantly, returns home.

Laurie Lee wrote this memoir in 1969, as a sequel to his more famous Cider with Rosie. And in the epilogue to As I Walked Out….he talks about his sense of betrayal in leaving his friends in Spain just as the Civil War is starting, and about his dangerous return – across the frozen Pyrenees – to rejoin the struggle. A Moment of War – the last volume of his semi-autobiographical trilogy – tells of his time fighting there, from 1937-38.

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His adventurous spirit, and his mastery of language, put him alongside Ernest Hemingway and Patrick Leigh Fermor. As I Walked Out…..is a joy from start to finish.

Theatre review – Carmen

Carmen – review for Essential Surrey website

Andrew Morris enjoys a timeless story of Latin passion, love and tragedy, at G Live in Guildford

Well, that was a multinational introduction to opera.

Carmen is a classic opera, with something of a complicated bloodline. The score and text were written by the Frenchman Georges Bizet in the 1870s, adapted from a novel by Prosper Merimee and a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin. This performance was produced and directed by Ellen Kent, a prolific English purveyor of opera and ballet, while the cast hailed mainly from Eastern Europe, and the Orchestra was from Moldova.

The story takes place in Spain, a timeless story of passion, love and tragedy that unfolds in Seville and its wild surrounding mountains.

The honest and naive corporal Don José is besotted when fiery, beautiful Gypsy Carmen shakes her flouncy Flamenco dress in his direction. He has soon deserted both the army and his childhood sweetheart Micaela, in the belief that his and Carmen’s passionate attraction will endure. Unfortunately for poor Don José, a life of crime hidden in the mountains doesn’t sit as well with him as does the wayward Carmen, and he soon finds himself torn between blind devotion and his duties.

Carmen, on the other hand, is soon distracted by the glamorous toreador Escamillo, and they fall in love, with Carmen taunting the hapless Don José. Well, everyone knows Carmen’s affairs only last 6 months.

With that, the tragic die is cast, and the inevitable, fatal dénouement takes place outside the bullfighting arena back in Seville.

Bizet’s musical score is rightly acclaimed for its melody, atmosphere and orchestration. This production captured its ability to represent the differing emotions of the protagonists. We’re introduced to the exotic, free-flying Carmen in one of opera’s most famous arias, Habanera (officially titled l’amour est un oiseau rebelle – love is a rebellious bird), and when Escamillo shows up with his flashy entourage in Act 2 you can’t help but hum along with the rousing Toreador aria.

The actors suit their roles as well as the music. Liza Kadelnik was born to be independent-spirited, buxom flame-haired Carmen, while Maria Tonina perfectly captured the sweet nature of Micaela, and Iurie Gisca as Escamillo strutted around in his cape as though he had already slain 1,000 bulls. Ruslan Zinevych was a timid Don José, and it was no surprise when Carmen moved on to the dashing bullfighter.

As thrilling as the story and music remained, however, this production felt strangely disjointed.

The English translation, scrolling through on a panel high above the stage, was a boon for Carmen virgins. Unfortunately, it conveyed dialogue and speeches that were more stilted than flowing and passionate, and perhaps also a little condensed from the original French words.

The evening was spread over 3 ¼ hours, with one intermission after Act 1 and another just before the final Act 4. Some of the transitions between scenes were a little clunky, and I’m afraid the time taken to change the set between the middle two Acts dragged on so long that the audience could be heard asking if the cast had gone home.

Despite these weaknesses, it was still an enjoyable evening. Merci, Monsieur Bizet. Grazias, Carmen. Thanks, Ms Kent.