Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I can’t help but be planning for the next one...

I noodled the theme of continuing my progress through European cultural history while I was walking through the west of Spain. What is it that turns me on so much about these cultural pilgrimages? I pondered this question often while covering the long kilometers, especially when the weather was particularly crappy, and questioned why I still really cherished where I was and what I was doing.

I like to learn – the language out of necessity and courtesy, the history out of interest, the culture out of curiosity, why not? It’s all right there. I like to see the art and architecture, especially to note the regional variations in style, method, and colors – it’s all so lovely. I enjoy the physical challenge, and rewards, of just walking every day, be it over the Alps on snowshoes, across barren plains, alongside peaceful rivers, over hills, dales, through fields and forests, wherever the course takes me. I like, most especially, to mingle with the local people in these areas where I walk. I noticed this particularly in Spain along the fully beaten path of the camino frances. The indifference of the local people toward a single pilgrim is understandable considering they’re accustomed to seeing tens of thousands upon tens of thousands every year.

The possibilities are being narrowed down – I want to continue this long walk through Europe somewhere where I can learn about stuff, see cool things, walk in different terrain, and talk with people. Somewhere not so overrun with other pilgrims that each one of us becomes part of a Stalinesque statistic…

James was a real live guy before he became a Saint, so was Peter. These fellows set off into territories unknown to them and without any friends to evangelize about events they witnessed. That they were real live guys is not disputed; the points of their discussions were doubted and twisted during their lifetimes, for which each was martyred, and throughout all of the centuries that followed. The veracity of their relics has even been disputed. But it doesn’t matter. The legacy that each of them left has endured for 2,000 years and helped form the modern world. Pretty whooey dudes. Learning about them and being able to connect an awful lot of what I saw directly to their efforts led me to Santiago and to Rome. This has been a particularly cool part of the experience. That’s probably an important distinction between being a tourist and being a pilgrim.

The remaining famous pilgrim destination in the Holy hat-trick is Jerusalem, but it’s not for me at the moment. As wonderful as I can imagine that experience would be, an American woman walking alone from Rome to the Holy Land would not likely enjoy an unimpeded passage these days.

James drew the Iberian card when the boys were figuring out what to do next, and Peter took Rome. Pete's little brother, Andrew, headed north, along the Black Sea as far north as Kiev, it’s said. His impact was pretty impressive, too, if his work laid the groundwork for the modern Orthodox religions. I figure it would be wildly interesting to walk slowly through Eastern Europe, learning about the history and the culture and looking out for the influence this real live guy, Andrew, had on the art and architecture historically and even today. What similarities will I find with the two long walks in Western Europe? The schism of the Roman and Eastern Churches didn’t happen until the late 11th century – will I find similarities in structures predating that time? Interesting ideas. Oh, will it be exciting.

I’m doing some research at the moment to find an appropriate starting point. Kiev is an obvious one, but his influence reached much further north, so maybe St Petersburg would be a cool launch pad, too.

The Church of Saint Andrew in Patras, Greece contains his relics, so is the obvious ending point. He’s also attributed with founding the See of Constantinople, so Istanbul is a must along the way.

Once I find the starting and ending points, the path in between will be based on both places where Saint Andrew visited or otherwise left a significant trace and, experience talking, where I can find lodging. Winter comes early in St Petersburg, so I might need to morph into more of a late autumn/winter pilgrim. No matter. I’m planning, researching, boning up on important historical people and events to make the pilgrimage as meaningful as I can, and looking into existing pilgrim paths and terrain. I’ll need to brush up on that Cyrillic alphabet and then crack the grammar codes to Ukrainian and Greek, at the least… yikes! But how fun!

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