Tuesday, October 20, 2009

St Andrew and a Can of Yams

I've been searching for the perfect pilgrim bling for this upcoming continental walk. A scallop shell is such an easy one for St James - the French order St Jacques right off the menu and get scallops. Crossed keys are a no brainer for St Peter, they're plastered all over Rome and anything to do with the Pope. Jerusalem is the palm leaf, far less violent then the recognizable crucifix, but well established as the appropriate symbol for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But my boy Andy... not so clear.

A bit of wiki research by a friend yielded some medieval blazons, crudely fashioned out of some soft metal to be sewn to a cape or hat. The thing was, the pilgrims who sported them were headed toward St Andrew's on the firth of Fife, Scotland. Maybe it was that not many Europilgrims headed to Patras? Nonetheless, asking around clergy, scholars, and any Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Turk, or Greek I've come across in the last few months got me no where - no one can provide any insight to a modern, known, universal symbol for timeless Andy.

Scots were somehow descended from the ancient Scythians, who lived in the 'Terra Incognita', and they did adopt Andy as their patron, so why not borrow the symbol of pilgrims from the Middle Ages? It's the best I've got.

Another friend offered up a can of yams. I removed the top and bottom lids and sautéed the yams for dinner. From one of the metal discs, I tinkered a prototype, making measurements and choosing the right tools from the basement collection. Once I got the kinks ironed out, I made my little blazon out of the other lid... tin snips, a hammer and awl, and a nail file, some felt, cement, and a ribbon off a Christmas reindeer in the basement. I've got a pilgrim symbol.

I found sporting a symbol on my other journeys absolutely useful, except in Spain where there are so many pilgrims, any symbol is redundant. From a greater distance, the message was clear. I was surprised how many people, old and young, recognize the significance of the symbol. The sight of it produced many a cup of coffee and glass of wine. The manifested symbol started many conversations. I like having the symbol hung around my neck to break any silence and demonstrate my mission.

From a can of yams, I have my pilgrim symbol. One step closer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Countdown Begins!

That first long climb of a rollercoaster brings together stomach-churning excitement coupled with the disarming reality that there’s no turning back. That's the sensation I had moments ago when I hit ‘send’ and confirmed the booking of my flight to Kyiv, Ukraine. Gulp! Yeah! (Gulp!) It’s far more real now than when I was just googling around for fares. I’m now committed to arrive in Kyiv on November 12th and plan on beginning the walk on November 16th. The countdown has officially begun.

Planning is high up there on the excitement scale of any trip, but the existence of a hard date makes it something of a race. There’s still a lot to be done: continue with the languages, understand as much as I can about the countries and regions I’ll be going through, obtain whatever letters of introduction I can, get my hiking gear in order, figure out an appropriate route… I should probably reread the Iliad and the Odyssey, maybe Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, while I’m at it… I could fill a month or a year with all of this preparatory stuff; it’s time to get on with it. The snow’s already flying here in Denver.

The pilgrimage will allow me to explore the route of St. Andrew, a peaceful guy of the first century. The legend behind his travels is as probable as the legends behind St. James, of Santiago de Compostela fame. Both were pretty young fellows, likely in their 20s, and illiterate fishermen. Andrew has the distinction of being the ‘first called’ to the apostleship, but I haven’t read anything about why he chose to go to the area north of the Black Sea, labeled as ‘Terra Incognita’ on the Roman maps of the day. Whatever his reason, it must have taken some combination of great faith and chutzpah.

I can imagine Andrew’s apprehension, though I don’t really share it. These days American’s don’t even need special visas to stay 90 days or less (I’m planning about 75) in Ukraine. Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece are all in the travel-friendly EU now, and I’ll be able to get a visa for Turkey at the border. The Terra’s pretty well Cognita-ed these days. I should arrive in Patras right around Easter. I’ll look forward to two Christmases this year – I’ll be walking through in an area that uses both the Eastern and Western calendars for religious events. In 2010, however, Easter is coincident on both calendars. Easier on the waistline (and gallbladder?).

The network of Roman roads in the first century would have given Andrew a path to walk on between the Danube delta and Patras (Greece) by way of Byzantium (Istanbul). It will be interesting to see if there are any remnants of these roads left, as I found between Germany and Santiago and Canterbury and Rome. Parts north of the Danube were roamed by nomadic tribes during Andrew’s day, although it seems there were permanent settlements. Among the northern-most of these was Trypillia. The legend seems to indicate that Andrew went up the Dnepr River, which empties into the Black Sea just west of Crimea, about 800 miles to Trypillia and talked with the locals about recent events down in Jerusalem. During one of his talks, he’s said to have stuck his staff into the ground proclaiming that ‘God will grace the land’. An eponymous church was later built on the site, now in the center of Kyiv (Kiev). So this will be my starting point – St Andrew’s Church.

The absence of Romans, and thus their lovely roads, only suggests that the Roman-style civilization prevalent in Western Europe will not have left a mark in the first half of my journey. In fact, the total 2,000-mile journey I’m undertaking can be divided by this distinction – the first half historically independent of the former Greek/Roman/Byzantine civilizations and the second half the heart of it. From the perspective of history, it will be very interesting to see how this influences the modern world.

Nonetheless, the differences between the varied regions will be more distinct than what I experienced in Western Europe. The languages, food, customs – it’ll be great! Я є паломника! (= I am a pilgrim.)