Our Research Centres Manager Jane Wild went to hear Jean-Christophe Rufin, doctor, co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontières, former ambassador, prize-winning novelist, and author, most recently, of The Santiago Pilgrimage: walking the immortal way, which I just discovered was subtitled in the original French "Compostela in spite of myself", demonstrating perhaps why we English speakers find ourselves resorting to French to express the concept of 'nuance'. But I don't want to keep you from Jane's interesting and nuanced post about the session. Here it is:
|c. Editions Guerin|
Rufin took his path following a stint as French Ambassador in Senegal. The lifestyle contrast would have been extreme, but I sense that Rufin possesses a natural level of enlightenment to start with. His accent is beguiling too.
A doctor by training, Rufin explained that the Camino is a virus – “Touch it and you will be contaminated”. The preparation for the walk starts with your backpack. The larger the pack, the more anxieties you are carrying. He was clear -- he didn’t take a water bottle, he didn’t carry a journal and he kept his pack light. His memories are the thoughts which returned, unbidden, once back at home, triggered by the experience he gained.
Here are his three stages on the way:
Step 1 – Focus on your body and most particularly your feet. The walk requires attention to the physical. Walking eight hours a day takes its toll. Sleeping close together does too. The goal each night was to get to sleep before the snorers.
Step 2 -- Observe the places you see and allow this to connect you to the past. This walk has been taken since the ninth century and covers mountains, forests and cathedrals. Rufin chose the more mountainous route to avoid some of the high season's foot traffic.
Step 3 – This occurs when you are on your way as a pilgrim and it takes you by surprise – the simplicity of being in the present and relating to others as fellow pilgrims. Questions on the route are reduced to: “Where did you start the way?” which must be followed by, “How many days?” These may be skewed by human competition – including the taxi after nightfall.
The arrival at the destination must be a shock. St James in the Cathedral is where the trail ends. The lesson learned on arriving at Santiago presents another challenge. The much anticipated arrival – “It is nothing”. The learning gained – “the aim of the way is the way”. For some, this becomes a pause before starting a repeat pilgrimage.
And with this the hour is up, and the lights come up for the inevitable irrelevant question before the thoughtful crowd moves on to their next event and the possibility of the book.