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Pain, Suffering, Friends, and the Staircase of Truth

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The England You Always Hoped For

The England of your imagination exists in a place called Winchester. The couple in the photo are friends Gillies and Kym, who stayed at my Airbnb last fall. They have been showing us around. We took a guided tour of Winchester Cathedral. Our guide, Harry, told the history of the area from the Romans forward with a twinkle in his eye. The tour was one of the best hours we spent on this trip.We took a walk on a public path with our friends and learned that these are called kissing gates. There were quite a few so there was a lot of kissing. Famous trout fishery Itchen River flows through This area. We have seen quite a bit of the beautiful stream, but no trout. Izaak Walton wrote “The Compleat Angler” near here in 1653. This perfect cottage was across from the rural pub we found food and drink after our walk. There were many others along the way just as pretty. Our bill for breakfast yesterday came in this book. We went to church tonight at St Mary’s across the green from our AirBnb. A dozen people and a good message. One of the highlights for me.

We are most of our meals at the perfect pub-Carts & Horses.

Finally, our Airbnb hosts took us for a ride in their 1934 Riley to look fo trout. We found one in the Itchen at last – a 14″ brown trout. Before we left Winchester we saw the Round Table hanging on the wall of the Great Hall; Arthur’s? Maybe, maybe not, but from the 12th century.

Listening for Ghosts in Normandy

The image of soldiers in a landing craft is from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5817635/amp/Anticipation-horror-chaos-D-Day-landings-brought-life-colour.html

Normandy is a green and lush place with historic buildings, vast fields of wheat, and fat cows.I visited the place in the first week of June along with many thousands of people; I wanted to see it for myself, to make a personal connection with the story I had heard for so long. The French haven’t forgotten- these photos of the liberators in each community were common. This is Utah Beach at low tide. The water is very shallow and quite a distance from the beach. The landings here went well for the Americans. Today nothing but monuments remain. This is Omaha Beach at almost high tide. There was tremendous loss of life here, only 50% of the soldiers in the first waves survived the landing to engage the defenders. The heroism shown here by soldiers great and small was humbling. Pont du Hoc is a promontory between Utah and Omaha: this view is looking down to a beach. A soon-to-be-famous Texan led the Rangers up here to destroy the big guns. Col Rudder had 220 Rangers, but only 90 were able to reach the top of the cliffs to destroy this and other fortifications. This perfectly designed and kept cemetery belongs to the American people. This final resting place of almost 10,000 is above Omaha Beach. There are many other cemeteries in Normandy, and the number of men buried from just a few months of battle is staggering. I did not see the German cemetery, but it has 22,000 graves. It is hard to get the scope of this place in a day. I met an American in the customs line who walked the length of each of the five beaches over 6 days; he said it was a profound experience. If I ever go back that is what I will do. I read a book ( Stephen Ambrose) and visited 3 museums. Being there only increases my curiosity. I would like to re-visit at a time when it isn’t overrun with tourists and people wearing US battle dress as costumes.

D-Day was certainly the most significant experience of my parent’s generation; both served, my father as a B-17 navigator in England and my mother as a Marine (chaplain’s assistant) at Cherry Point. I left humbled by the sacrifice made by so many men and women.

I didn’t hear any ghosts, but I may return to listen for them at a more quiet time of year.

The Way is Made by People

We fly to London today, leaving behind lots of friends. These are the Australians, Cliff, John, and Joan. Some people just seem to part of your destiny. Liz and Alex from North Carolina are a couple we expect to see again. We don’t expect to see these Austrian girls again, but we enjoyed getting to know them nonetheless. Alejandro and The Sloth helped make southern Portugal for us. The list goes on and on: Kenton (Indiana);John, a Scot in Georgia; Peter, an Austrian odds maker; Sally, an American in Germany. Ibrahim, a Frenchman and his companion Bernadette; Iris and her son Jonathan (Finland), the two Japanese men at Pilgrim Pause albergue; Monica (Germany); Colorado Tanya- hospitalera at Alpriate Albergue (one of our best stops in Portugal); Maria Rita, Alicia and Hans-Peter (Germany) in Azinhaga; Danielle, our waitress in Coimbra; Sugikubo-Kita and Sakuji at Pilger Pause (harmonica player, Japanese); the couple who own Se Vehla where we stayed on my birthday and gave us a shot of Port for breakfast to celebrate with us; Cris and Vanessa (Germany) who we think became a couple on The Way; Les from California, and the countless Portuguese and Spanish people who made us cafe con leche, delicious meals, warm beds, and pointed the Way to us when we made a wrong turn.

Our lives touch ever so briefly, and a spark jumps between us, and we are all forever changed.

Saint James in the Field of Stars

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela yesterday early afternoon feeling beat up by 20 or more kilometers of trail. We had to walk quite a ways to find lunch. Squid, rice, and beer. We found our way to the hotel for a nap, then to the Cathedral. We found some interesting people, including this member of the university choir we saw last year. Bought the CD, of course. Met this Japanese pilgrim whose friends signed his hat along the way. Went to the Pilgrim Mass at noon. I saw that lots of the changes I had suggested last year (in a letter to the archbishop) have been incorporated. We also found the Austrians for a post-mass beer or two. We are meeting for dinner at 7. Fig ice cream (delicious) then off for a nap. We will need to be rested up for dinner.

You might be a Camino Slacker if:

You stop for a third cafe con leche?Your pack is just for show?You taxi around big climbs?A stage takes you 3 days? You’ve never slept on the top bunk?You don’t know the “albergue shuffle” because you only stay in hotels?You’ve never been in this line because you always book ahead?You’ve never been on the trail at sunrise?

Slouching Towards Santiago

We started our second Camino in Lisbon with good intentions, well-fed and rested. . Because of a lack of pilgrim support we had to walk 20 and 24 kilometer days. Our resolve got us through some hard days.

The company of other pilgrims, like The Sloth and Alejandro, kept us moving forward.

Our slug fest with southern Portugal ended when we realized there wasn’t enough time, so we jumped forward to Coimbra, then Porto, at 165 kph.

We cut back our plan to 18 kilometers per day, then to 15.

“Are you sure you want to do the whole 12 kilometers in one day?

Since the ratio of suffering to beer/wine started getting out of whack when we cut mileage, we had to cut food and alcohol consumption by half!And our diet has gone to hell. Chinese food two days ago, and pizza today !1/

We are forecasting our triumphant arrival at the Santiago Cathedral on Wednesday, but at this rate. . . .