Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A scallop shell embedded in the stone wall of the St John Baptistry at the gate to the Cathedral in Aix-la-Chapelle marked my starting point. After taking a turn around the inside, seeing the opulent gold casket containing Charlemagne's 1,200-year-old remains, I was standing there gawking at a map to find my way to the Franciscan Convent for the night... I didn't even know the scallop shell was there until a German foursome of Christmas Market revellers saw the scallop shell hanging from my backpack and made the connection. They raised their heavy mugs of Gluewein to me and went on their way.
As I finished a watercolor of the building wall, a giant Austrailian couple came by looking for the shell to take a photo. For an instant I thought they might be pilgrims, too, but their packs told me they wouldn't be walking to Spain over the winter: hers seemed big enough to house a family of four quite comfortably; they could invite all their friends for Thanksgiving dinner in his. The three backpacks sitting side-by-side on the bench looked comical. The woman patted mine like it was a lap dog. 'Ooh, how absolutely adorable', she squealed. I'm fully satisfied with my pack - all 16 pounds of it.
Shortly afterwards, I was buzzed into the convent courtyard and was greeted by a gnome-like nun. She asked me to wait until she was done distributing bread to poor families. When she returned, she saw me sling my pack over my shoulder. 'That rucksack is too heavy to be carried to Saint Jacques de Compostelle', she tsk-tsked me. Too big for some; too small for others: I think it's just right.