Oct 19, 2010

strangers and pilgrims on the earth

having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16

Monday evening, I gave a talk to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship chapter at the University of Toronto on the subject of Orthodox pilgrimage. I discussed some of the biblical precedents, some of the forms that pilgrimage can take, and some of the traditional pilgrimage destinations. Then I gave a brief slide show presentation of some of my own wanderings, with commentary.

Waiting for me when I got home was a DVD I'd borrowed from the public library. Saint-Jacques... La Mecque is a delightful film, and I recognized several of the characters from my own journey to Santiago de Compostela. There was added delight once I began to recognize some of the places they were travelling through.

Sep 27, 2010

Men Have Forgotten God

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a
number of old people offer the following explanation for the great
disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why
all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years
working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read
hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have
already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of
clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked
today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the
ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I
could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten
God; that's why all this has happened."
-- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Sep 23, 2010

(anti)social networking...

I've been playing around with Twitter for a day or so, and now I *think* I have things fairly well-integrated. We'll see just how much of a feedback loop this produces once it gets propagated.

Aug 6, 2010

Road Trip

I'm on my way out the door now, for a weekend road trip to Galion OH via Buffalo. I'll have sporadic access to email, but my phone will be off most the time.

Jul 31, 2010

War and Peace and Zombies

Well actually, there were no undead in Tolstoy's masterpiece. Nor have I read the 2009 mashup I reference in this post title. (I'm curious, though, and a big fan of the Austen original so I may pick it up one of these days.)

A few months ago, several bloggers decided to do a summer reading of War and Peace, using the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky. There was a schedule, and bloggers being bloggers I'm sure people also wrote as they read. Me being me, I read it through in several fairly intense sessions.

In actual fact, I haven't quite finished it. I began reading Part Two of the Epilogue, but after four or five pages of Tolstoy's maunderings about fate and the destiny of nations and the soul of the people, I gave up on it. I skimmed through the last twenty or so pages, searching for any type of narrative but in the end it was just too much for me. Much like the excursuses in Les Miserables, the political and historical questions being addressed were too far removed from my interests. Ah well.

Anyone know of a good English translation of Don Quixote?

Jul 27, 2010

memory and identity

After far too much wasted time on Wikipedia, I wound up at the statement that "in the process of forgetting, memories fragment and gist and verbatim traces can become independent." Time to revisit Augustine of Hippo, perhaps. The latter part of his Confessions address the relation between memory and identity.

This is of particular interest to me, as over the past four years I have witnessed my grandfather's descent through Alzheimer's. His physical sufferings came to an end in June.

I believe that ultimately, each person's identity is a mystery, known fully to God alone. This is why the Orthodox chant of "Memory eternal" at the death of a person resonates so deeply with me. Even as the body decays and the brain is eaten by worms, the full identity of that person is preserved in the love of God. In the eschaton, we will finally be revealed for who we really are, each person clad in the glory of God to the extent each has participated in it.

Jul 25, 2010

Fiesta de Santiago - Año Santo Jacobeo 2010

On the western ecclesiastical calendar, July 25 is the feast of St. James the Apostle, son of Zebedee.  Any year that his feast falls on a Sunday is considered a year of jubilee, a holy year -- Año Santo.  For this reason, millions of people have gathered in Spain, in the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Earlier this year, I followed the pilgrim's path to Santiago.  I have not written much about my experiences along the Way, other than a few notes here on this blog.  This is mainly because I'm too lazy and ill-disciplined to marshal my thoughts and impose structure on them, but it is also because there is a lot to say about the journey along the Camino.  I have posted some photos on Flickr.

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate this great saint on April 30.  Today is not a liturgically significant day for me, but today my heart is in Spain, in Santiago de Compostela -- and with the many wonderful people I met as I walked west towards the See.

In France, it was possible to go into a church, buy a candle and leave it lit.  In Spain, these flickering representations of prayer have been replaced with small bulbs which light up when a coin is deposited.  The larger the denomination of the coin, the longer the "candle" stays lit.  (Liturgical docetism, I call it.)  By the time I got to Santiago, I had resigned myself to this sad state of affairs, but I still bought a candle in the cathedral gift shop.  (Signs were prominently posted in several languages announcing that these candles could not be lit inside the church.)  I will bring this candle to church with me today, and as I light it I will remember my fellow pilgrims, as well as all those who helped me along the way.

The feast of St. James will not fall on a Sunday again until 2021.  I would consider it a great blessing to be there again at that time.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
James 4:13-15

Jul 24, 2010

fun times

Several months ago I walked into a computer shop that specializes in Apple goodies and bought a copy of Snow Leopard. Finally this week I had gathered the necessary gear and gumption and settled in to install OS X on my ASUS 901 EeePC.

What can I say except AWESOME!

I'm now in the process of installing WINE (using MacPorts) so very shortly I will have a netbook that I can take anywhere and run anything on. Okay, for CPU intensive apps it may be a little slow but it does everything I need it to do, and at a small fraction of the cost of an actual Mac.

It may be some time before I get on the road again, but at 1.2 kg I suspect this will find a spot in my pack.

Jul 1, 2010

Canada Day in Montreal

The Parish Life Conference begins today, and here I am in beautiful sunny Montreal.  The view from the 28th floor includes the St. Lawrence River, but I think this evening I'll head up the mountain to catch some fireworks.  From there we should be able to see everything that goes up.  The Museum of Fine Art is just a few blocks from the hotel, adn there's a metro station just across the street.  Montreal is a fantastic city!

(Oh yeah, and there's that conference thingy too.)

Jun 30, 2010

HELP !!!

The other day I received an email from an old friend of mine. He was mugged while on vacation in the UK -- no more credit cards, cash, or bank card -- and needed quick financial assistance. The problem is, this friend of mine died a year ago, and the message that was sent from his GMail account is a fairly standard scam. If you receive solicitations for money, the best course of action is simply to delete it. Here's what my deceased friend allegedly wrote:

This had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state. I'm in some terrible situation and I'm really going to need your urgent help. Some days ago,unannounced,I came to visit a resort center in Cardiff, South Glamorgan England, UK..but I got mugged by some hoodlums and lost all my cash,credit cards, I'm financially stranded right now and my return flight leaves in few hours time but I need some money to clear some bills, I didn't bring my cell phone along since I didn't get to roam them before coming over. So all I can do now is pay cash and get out of here quickly.I do not want to make a scene of this which is why I did not call my house,this is embarrassing enough.I was wondering if you could loan me some cash, I'll refund it to you as soon as I arrive home just need to clear my Hotel bills and get the next plane home, As soon as I get home I'll refund it immediately. Write me so I can let you know how to send it.

Jun 13, 2010



Grandpa breathed his last a few hours after his grandchildren came to visit him in the hospital. He was one month short of his 91st birthday.

May 31, 2010

Such Playful Thoughts

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. In his acceptance speech, he wrote the following:

One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world".

There's just one problem. Dostoevsky never said any such thing. This quote is actually a line from one of his novels. While an author's perspective will certainly be revealed in his literary work, it is unwarranted to assume that every word penned by an author is meant to be read as if it were a direct representation of his own thoughts.

One aspect of Dostoevsky's writing that I appreciate is precisely his ability to embody philosophical ideas within the pages of his great novels, to show how these ideas shape and direct the thoughts and actions of the characters he brings to life. While it is tempting to assign the author's own viewpoint to the main protagonist, even this can be misleading. The Western tradition of literature typically tracks the growth and development of characters. This is particularly the case with Dostoevsky's novels of redemption. Within the course of a novel, the main character may say one thing early on only to recant later.

With this, let us examine the context in which the infamous quote is found. I'll quote extensively from the translation of The Idiot done by Pevear and Volokhonsky and published by Alfred A. Knopf in the Everyman's Library series in 2002. The scene takes place in Prince Myshkin's rented dacha, late in the evening on his birthday. There has already been much carousing and speechifying, when the consumptive nihilist Ippolit begins to speak.

“Is it true, Prince, that you once said 'beauty' would save the world? Gentlemen,” he cried loudly to them all, “the prince insists that beauty will save the world! And I insist that he has such playful thoughts because he's in love now. Gentlemen, the prince is in love; as soon as he came in today, I was convinced of it. Don't blush, Prince, or I'll feel sorry for you. What beauty will save the world? Kolya told me what you said.... Are you a zealous Christian? Kolya says you call yourself a Christian.”
The prince studied him attentively and did not answer.1

Notice here that as the reader, we do not actually hear the Prince make the statement he is alleged to have made. These words have been put in his mouth by a man whose own view of the world is diametrically opposed to his own. Oddly enough, he chooses to keep silent. Perhaps this is a tacit admission of the truth of what has just been said, or perhaps Dostoevsky intended to create a parallel between Prince Myshkin and Christ in the way they remained as silent as a lamb before the shearer.

There is only one other place in which the phrase “beauty will save the world” appears in the writings of Dostoevsky. Again, it is a statement attributed to Prince Myshkin by one of his acquaintances. In this last occurance, Myshkin is being briefed prior to his engagement party by his soon-to-be fiancée.

“Listen once and for all,” Aglaya finally could not stand it, “if you start talking about something like capital punishment or the economic situation in Russia, or that 'beauty will save the world'... I'll certainly be glad and laugh very much, but... I'm warning you ahead of time: don't let me set eyes on you afterwards! Do you hear? I'm speaking seriously! This time I'm speaking seriously!”2

Clearly, this is the sort of thing his nearest and dearest expect Prince Myshkin to say. Just as clearly, it is a statement for which he is ridiculed. While it is possible that Dostoevsky meant this statement to be an expression of his own personal viewpoint, it seems like a rather ineffectual way of putting it forth.

A more convincing refutation of the notion that Dostoevsky actually believed that the world would be saved by beauty comes from a consideration of the novel. (Spoiler alert: the rest of this paragraph reveals several plot denouements.) Alone of all Dostoevsky's post-exile novels, The Idiot does not contain a moment of redemption. It ends in madness, death, and apostacy. The Prince returns to a state of idiocy far worse than his previous condition. Nastasya (a name referring to the Resurrection) is knifed by Rogozhin, as has been foreshadowed throughout the novel. And finally, Aglaya (“light”) departs from the Orthodox Church into the “darkness” of Roman Catholicism. (Note to my RC friends: this comment reflects the virulent Romophobia of Prince Myshkin.) If Dostoevsky intended this novel to illustrate the thesis that beauty will save the world, he has done a very poor job of it indeed.

What, then, was Dostoevsky's purpose? Why write such an unrelentingly bleak novel? I am indebted to Richard Pevear for the following insights from his brilliant introduction. He provided the following extensive quote from a letter Dostoevsky wrote to a niece on January 13, 1868.

The main idea of the novel is to portray a positively beautiful man. There is nothing more difficult in the world and especially now. All writers, not merely ours, but even all European writers, who have merely attempted to portray the positively beautiful, have always given up. Because the task is immeasurable. The beautiful is an ideal, but this ideal, whether ours or that of civilized Europe, is still far from being worked out. There is only one perfectly beautiful person – Christ – so that the appearance of this immeasurably, infinitely beautiful person is, of course, already an infinite miracle. (That is the sense of the whole Gospel of John: it finds the whole miracle in the incarnation alone, in the manifestation of the beautiful alone.) But I've gone on too long. I will only mention that of beautiful persons in Christian literature, the most fully realized is Don Quixote; but he is beautiful solely because he is at the same time ridiculous.3

Does this mean that we should view Prince Myshkin as a Christ-figure? Perhaps, but only as a contrast and not as a direct parallel. While Dostoevsky intended to present his idiot as a positively beautiful man, the figure of Christ is not absent from the novel. In his travels through Europe, Dostoevsky went out of his way to visit Basel precisely to see one painting in an art gallery. This painting is The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein the Younger.

For commentary on the role this painting plays in The Idiot, I turn again to Pevear's introduction:

Each of the three main male characters of the novel – the saintly “idiot” Myshkin, the passionate, earthbound Rogozhin, and the consumptive nihilist Ippolit – defines himself in relation to this painting. The question it poses hangs over the whole novel: what if Christ was only a man? What if he suffered, died, and was left a bruised, lifeless corpse, as Holbein shows him? It is, in other words, the question of the Resurrection.4 . . . . what if Christ were not the incarnate God but, in this case, simply a “positively beautiful man,” a “moral genius,” as a number of nineteenth-century biographers of Jesus chose to portray him, and as Leo Tolstoy was about to proclaim -- “a Christ more romantic than Christian,” in René Girard's words, sublime and ideal, but with no power to redeem fallen mankind?5

If Dostoevsky intended Prince Myshkin to provide a contrast to this portrait of Christ, it may be that there is another contrast to be found. The Saviour of the world appears as a painting of a horribly mutilated corpse, but this is not the only portrait the reader encounters in The Idiot. The doomed Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov presented one of her suitors with a photographic portrait of herself. Speaking of this portrait, another character declared, “You can overturn the world with such beauty.”6

Comparing this statement with the more famous one regarding beauty and the world, I am forced to conclude that Adelaida Ivanovna Epanchin has provided the more accurate summary of the novel. The literary evidence indicates that Dostoevsky did not himself believe that “beauty will save the world.”

This does not invalidate the truly profound theological opinions expressed over the past century and a half which have taken this quote as a starting point. I have written what I have written because I am a middle-aged fogey who experiences mis-attributions the way some people experience fingernails on a chalk board. If, after reading this, someone still insists that Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will save the world” I will simply ask to see their citations. And no, Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not provide any when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


1. page 382

2. page 526

3. xv

4. xiii

5. xviii

6. page 80

May 23, 2010

Apr 7, 2010

a good old age, and full of years

The summer before I headed off to seminary marked my paternal grandmother's 80th birthday, and there was a large surprise birthday party in her honour.  She has always been healthy and clear-minded, but about two years ago she began experiencing pain.  She had a gall bladder operation 18 months ago, and that is when the doctor discovered the tumor.  It was cancer, and it was successfully removed.  We spent Christmas Eve of 2008 in hospital with Grandma, rejoicing that the operation had gone well and that the cancer had not spread.  From the hospital she moved into a retirement home to recuperate, and eventually made the decision to sell her house and remain at St. Jacob's Place.

She had a good year, but for the past several months has been in some pain.  A new lump was detected, a biopsy was done.  She was given a prescription for pain meds, with the result that she can no longer drive herself around.  Today my parents took her to see her oncologist.  They were there for several hours, and just called a few minutes ago with an update.  There are four different cancers.  My grandmother is being admitted to the oncology ward of the hospital, and it looks like she will not be going back to the retirement home.

This past Sunday she did not feel up to attending the family Easter dinner, but we stopped by to see her afterwards.  We had called before heading over to the home.  Although she had already gone to bed, she got up again to see us.  That evening she gave me the New Testament which had belonged to her father.

Please remember Elmina, and her extended family.

Mar 20, 2010

The unexamined life is not worth blogging.

Well, so the actual words attributed to Socrates in his Apologia were "not worth living."  Nevertheless, I think it's an apt saying.  I have busied myself with many doings since returning from Santiago, and have not engaged in much reflection. 

One of the greatest luxuries of the Camino was the utter simplicity of life.  There were no distractions.  Consciousness, prayer, morning ablutions, breakfast, walk.  (Or perhaps walk for an hour or two before finding breakfast.)  Some conversation with people encountered on the Way, or maybe complete isolation until arriving at the night's lodging.

Stillness.  Simplicity.  And yes, serendipity.  The timely meetings on the Camino de
Santiago are blessings for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

But I'm back in Toronto now.  Back to school, working part time, paying off debts.  Life is good, but it is so very easy to distract myself from what is truly essential.  And so, I have not been blogging or writing in my journal, or even taking many photos.  My consciousness has been almost entirely submerged in the flow of twenty-first century life.  Even the "bright sadness" of Great Lent is easily relegated to a ritualistic abstention from foods and attending church services.

It was much easier to pray on the road, with no home or possessions or agenda or distractions.  (cf. Matt. 16:25)

Feb 23, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Last Tuesday morning I walked into the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela to spend a bit of time with St. James before leaving Spain.  I blundered down the stairs to the crypt with my pack on my back, set it on the floor, and then realized that there was a Mass being served on the altar before the reliquary.  I planted my knees on the kneeling bench and followed along as best I could.  After the service was over, the priest carried the chalice and paten back upstairs while the communicants remained downstairs in the crypt.

Reluctantly, I left the cathedral and hightailed it to the nearest bus stop.  I'd decided to walk to the airport, but spending 0.90€ to save an hour seemed like a smart move to me.  (It would have been a real bummer to miss my flight for the sake of a stubborn desire to walk all the way.) After almost a week in Santiago, it was good to hit my stride again.  The short walks around town and my day trips to Iria Flavia and A Coruña were good, but having my pack on my back again felt just right and 8 km was long enough for me to feel as though I'd gone somewhere.

From Santiago, I flew to London Stansted and then took the train in to King's Cross / St. Pancras station in London where I met an old friend who had graciously offered to host me for two days.  Wednesday morning, we hopped a train to Canterbury and it was then that I realized I was headed to yet another ancient site of Christian pilgrimage.  The relics of Thomas Beckett were destroyed at the command of Henry VIII in 1538 and shortly after that large scale pilgrimage to Canterbury came to an end.

Thursday morning I crept out the door and made my way to the train station where I had time for a coffee and a sandwich before catching the 6:44 to Victoria Station.  From there it was the Gatwick Express and on to my flight.  Fourteen hours after I laced my boots on in England, I was back in Canada.  The next morning I was at my first session of the TESL class that I'll be taking over the next four months.

So, why haven't I posted much lately?  A big part of it is that the time I spent walking in silence was what I needed for me to be able to write.  Once I arrived in Santiago, my experience changed.  The first few days I spent a LOT of time in the cathedral, but the quality of the silence I absorbed there was somehow different from the moving meditation that I experienced on the trail.  Now I'm home, and there are Lenten services at church, class Monday to Friday, and Olympic hockey.  There are a few more post topics rattling around in my brain, so I will likely be updating this again fairly soon.  And perhaps there will be another pilgrimage to record again one of these days...

Feb 12, 2010

Monte de Gozo

I'm now staying at the "youth" hostel in Monte de Gozo, which is the first hill from which the spires of the cathedral in Santiago can be seen. (Hence the name "Mount of Joy.") There's quite a complex here, developed originally for the 1993 pilgrimage year. The best part is, the room is only 9€ per night for pilgrims, 12€ for the non-crazy types.

Anyway, my plan now is to stay here for the next four nights so I don't have to lug my backpack around. It's a nice 5 km walk into the city centre, or I can hop a bus which runs every 20 minutes and costs 0.90€ -- but I think I'll do the walking anyway.

I will probably make a day trip to Finisterra by bus. It's 12€ each way, and the last bus leaves the end of the world at 7:00 pm. I'm also planning to do a one day trip to Padrón, where tradition says the boat carrying St. James' body landed. It's 20 km from Santiago, so I'll take the bus there and walk back.

I've also located a good internet cafe in the city, which means that probably this evening I'll be uploading lots of photos. Today I'll be taking a guided tour of the roof of the cathedral, and it's a bright sunny day, so there should be lots of photo opportunities.

Feb 10, 2010


Made it here in good health and good spirits. I'll be looking for a cheap internet cafe tomorrow to upload photos and write more, but for now just this.

Feb 7, 2010


Today I passed the 100 km marker. Less than four easy days of walking until I'm in Santiago, and I could do it in three without much difficulty. Finisterra is looking like a good way to extend my walking.

I'm finding that I have fewer and fewer words when I sit at the keyboard. I suppose it's because I enjoy walking so much that I'm walking longer and later into the evening, which leaves me less time to process my thoughts by writing in my journal. And in spite of "not much happening" I feel like I have a lot to process.

I was originally planning to walk a bit further today, but when I arrived in Portomarin at 3:30 this afternoon, I realized I had walked 24 km on nothing more than coffee and lots of tea biscuits. A hot meal was soon found, and also a very good conversation with a Czech woman I met on the trail today. Even though there were still several hours of daylight left, I decided to stay in Portomarin for the night so I would have time to sit and write and think and read. And now here I am at a computer uploading photos.

Feb 5, 2010


The last few days I have not covered much ground, but even if I continue to drag my feet, I will probably be in Santiago by this time next week. At this point, I have very mixed feelings about that. Yes, I'm eager to reach Santiago, but I would also love to just keep walking. Perhaps to Finisterra (the end of the world) and then turn around and head east.

It's been a good few days since I last posted, but I haven't really had time to process the events and the timer is ticking down on this computer. I suppose I'll just log out once the current batch of photos finishes uploading, and perhaps scribble a bit in my trusty notebook. (Paper, that is. I left my EeePC at home.)

Feb 1, 2010

sunrise, sunset

Just call me Rev Tevye. Or not.

I got underway this morning from El Acebo before dawn. In this part of Spain on February 1, that means by around 8:30 in the morning. Once I found my way out of town, I realized what a spectacular view I had and so I just stood and watched (and snapped a few photos) while the rising sun gradually touched the snow-capped peaks around me and 40 kilometers across the valley at the next major ridge of mountains. Wow.

The first 10 kilometers of walking yesterday was glorious -- cold and crisp and snowy. (I've uploaded some of those photos to Flickr already.) The problem was that once we'd hit 1517 m above sea level, there was nowhere left to go but down. And that's when the fun began. I don't know what our altitude was when the snow turned to rain and the head wind picked up, but after 90 minutes of high winds and rain at about the 3 degree mark I had decided to call it a day at the first town after the pass. My friends decided they would push on, however, so we parted after a mid-afternoon meal. It was 3:30 when they left, and I figured they would be walking for at least another four hours. Oh, and sunset in the mountains comes quickly. By 7:00 it is dark.

Since I knew where they were planning to walk to today, I decided that after a short walk and long rest yesterday, I'd catch up with them today. On to Ponferrada, then, where I dawdled a bit. I spent three hours in the city, in fact. Apparently Mondays the museums in this part of the world close, but the 10th century Mozarabic church on the outskirts of town had a sign telling me which of the neighbours had the key to unlock the church. That was well worth seeing.

By the time I was done poking around, it was almost 4:00 pm and I was sorely tempted to take another short day and just stay in the city. I knew there would be a Mass at the cathedral for the celebration of Christ's entry into the temple 40 days after His birth. If there had been a service in the church of Santo Tomás (the 1100 year old church previously mentioned) I probably would have stayed put.

Instead, I decided to head out to Cacabelos. Yesterday when we parted ways in El Acebo, that's where my friends said they hoped to spend tonight. It is a good 18 km from the city centre, and the church of Santo Tomás was on the opposite side of the city. Still, it was a flat route with a nice smooth, even path and I made it in three hours.

Except that the albergue in town is closed until March. Since my friends had arrived in mid-afternoon, they simply kept walking to the next town, but it was 7:30 by the time I realized the place was closed. (Yes, it is located at the far end of town.) I rested for a few minutes and then headed back to where I'd noticed a few hostals. And thank God for friendly helpful strangers, because one guy I asked pointed me towards a place that had rooms for almost a third less than the place I was headed towards. And the clincher was, they have internet access with computers I can plug my USB devices into.

So, today I walked from sunrise to sunset, probably a total of about 40 km. My friends are 8 kilometers further along than I am, but at least tonight the only snoring in the room will be my own.

The Kings of León

No, not the band. Twenty-four members of the ruling family of León are entombed in the Panteon in the Basilica of San Isidoro in León. The iconography on the ceiling of the royal crypt dates to the 10th century. The Pantokrator and the Last Supper were clearly recognizable to Orthodox eyes. The library and treasury of the monastery attached to the Basilica have been looted several times over the centuries, but they still have a Bible dated to around the year 960 AD and a communion chalice also from the 10th century.

In Canada, we consider a church to be an historic building if it's been around for a hundred years or so.

Pascal the Pilgrim

dinner party

From left to right: me, Antonio, Pascal, Arancha, Joseba

Pascal is a Swiss gentleman. In his corporate career, he has lived in the U.S. and France, and most recently in Italy. I met him in Sahagún, Spain and at that point he had been walking for 107 days. He began in Genoa and wandered over to Marseilles, up north, back south again, got to Santiago by the Camino del Norde and the Primitivo in time for Christmas. He spent New Year's Eve under the stars at Finisterra and is now headed for Rome. After Rome, he plans to walk to Jerusalem. Oh, and three years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

I will not be complaining aloud about any aches or pains I may experience on my trek.

Jan 28, 2010

intermittent internet

We arrived in León yesterday afternoon, and after some walking in circles found the albergue.  It's very nice, and there are two computers with free internet access.  And of course, last night the network was down.

This morning I woke up a little earlier than the others and eventually discovered that there was internet access.  And of course, now the others are eager to get going.  So, just a brief update while the photos upload, and then a spot of breakfast.  Then I plan to re-visit the 13th century Gothic cathedral and the museum.  By the time we got there last evening, the museum was already closed.  Then perhaps I might even do a bit of walking today...

Jan 25, 2010

Sunny Sahagún

This morning there was frost on the parked cars in Sahagún, and not a cloud in sight.  So what am I doing sitting at a computer terminal instead of walking on such a gorgeous day?

First, I am waiting for a massage.  There is a physiotherapist with offices in Sahagún and Leon who specializes in pilgrim's feet.  Thankfully, I don't have any blisters.  What I do have is a sore foot, related I think to my fallen arches.  I figure that a professional massage and a rest day may help.

Secondly, I am waiting for my friends Antonio and Arancha to catch up with me.  The uphill slog through mud I wrote about last time left Arancha with some very nasty blisters, and the extra day of walking she did after that was probably not the best thing for them.  She and Antonio decided to stay behind in Carrion de los Condes and she sought medical treatment.  I really enjoyed travelling with them, and I hope they are only a day or two behind me.  Now that I've added more minutes to my mobile phone, we can actually contact each other again.

Since I've mentioned them, I thought I'd mention some of the other pilgrims I've met so far.  Carmina left Burgos with us, but the second day of walking from there she received a phone call.  Her mother had been in a car accident.  She was not seriously injured, but Carmina finished the day's walking and the next morning  caught a bus home.  I'm not sure how far she'd been planning to walk, but I suspect police officers in Spain don't get five or six weeks of vacation in a row.

I set out alone two days ago, and after a few hours of walking saw something about a kilometer ahead of me.  (Yes, the road is that flat and straight.)  I wasn't sure if it was another traffic sign or a person, but then I noticed the object had moved from the right side of the road to the left.  After walking another hour or so, I was close enough to see that, yes, it was another pilgrim.  I whistled and a few seconds later saw the figure turn.  I was still too far for my waving to register, though, but the pilgrim pulled over at a rest stop and got some water. 

Eventually I caught up with Javier.  He had decided to walk a section of the Camino on his vacation before returning to wife and work in Madrid.  For two days we walked and talked, or walked in silence.  At dinner in the evening our discussions were surprisingly wide-ranging.  Javier's English certainly improved more than my Spanish did.  This morning, he headed to the train station here in Sahagún.  In Leon he will catch another train to Madrid.

Another pilgrim who caught the train to Leon this morning is Alejandro.  I actually saw him in the café in Burgos the day I got off the bus from Paris.  He's been walking from Roncesvalles, but when he began his pack weighed 21 kg.  Since the accepted wisdom is that your pack should be no more than 10% of your body weight, he suffered quite a bit over those first few days as he shed more and more of the non-essentials.  He had been walking with several other pilgrims he'd met along the way, but decided to stay in Sahagún to rest his leg.  He's planning to stay in Leon for another few days of rest, so I may meet up with him there.

I've tried to make this experience more than just a long walk, so I've also been taking the time to poke my head into churches and museums along the way.  Friday evening, A & A and I were relaxing in the resto-bar attached to the hostal we had booked into for the night.  (The local albergue was closed.)  The bell in the massive 13th century church across the street began to toll, so Antonio asked the woman behind the counter why and she said there was going to be a Mass.  Friday evening struck the three of us as a rather odd time for that, but I hurried across the street anyway.

I really don't know much Spanish, but I do know a bit about liturgy.  It was fairly easy to follow the half hour long service.  The Great Doxology sounded the same, and of course the sursum cordum and the Lord's Prayer were in the expected places.  At one time, Villalcázar de Sirgar had been a major town and the size of the cathedral bears this out.  That evening, however, there were only eight or nine of the faithful present, along with the priest and one Orthodox pilgrim.  It was a very beautiful service.

Yesterday featured another evening Mass.  Sunday morning just after we'd left the village of Moratinos (pop. 84), the church bell began ringing.  Although Javier is not religious, he knew that I am and offered to wait for me if I wanted to go back for the service.  I considered it briefly, but decided to keep walking with him.  Since I wouldn't be communing anyway, it would basically be a chance for me to sit and pray surrounded by others doing more-or-less the same thing.  After settling in to the albergue here in Sahagún, I headed off in search of coffee and internet access.  I found both in a bar near the albergue, but both the internet terminals were in use.  While I was sitting there nursing a coffee and watching the football game (that's soccer in North America), Javier came in and told me that the church was open and they would be celebrating Mass very soon.  It was very thoughtful of him to tell me, and off I went.  Strange pilgrimage, to be dashing from bar to church....

I just received a phone call from Arancha.  They have arrived in Sahagún, so as soon as I've finished uploading the current batch of photos, I'm off to meet them!

Jan 21, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Yesterday was my first day of walking the Camino in Spain.  Leaving the albergue (pilgrim shelter) where I stayed in Burgos, I walked a bit in the dark and drizzle, stopped at a bar for a cafe con leche (yes, the bars are open at 8:00 am, and not all the clientele are drinking coffee), and promptly got lost in town.  Wandered in what I thought was the right direction for a bit without seeing any of the waymarks, but then I saw a gas station.  The attendant didn´t speak a word of English, but between the two of us and my map he pointed me in the right direction.  That's when I saw the three west-bound pilgrims, two of whom had bright yellow rain covers on their backpacks.  I paced myself, and in about 20 minutes I caught up with them.

This is now the second day we've been travelling together and it is a nice thing.  Artense speaks English, her husband Antonio speaks French far more fluently than I ever will, and Carmina studied French in school.  (I suspect I've been out of school much longer than she has.)  So we communicate with humour and sign language and snippets of French and English, aloing with my broken phrase book Spanish.

Of the three of us, I've got the most time to make it to Santiago, and I suspect that once Artense's blisters clear up, she and Antonio will go back to their 30 km per day pace.  So far, 25 km seems about right for me.  Today we only walked 20, but yesterday was fairly brutal, even for the experienced walkers.

As I mentioned above, it started out with drizzle, but after about two hours the sun came out.  And I honestly thank God that it did, because the thought of walking the last section of the trail we covered yesterday afternoon in the rain makes me weak in the knees.  The first 25 km went well.  The section of trail we're on now reminds me of the parts of North Dakota I've driven across -- plateaus, with the occasional river valley punctuating the high plain.  It's very beautiful, but when you're on foot you experience those hills somewhat differently.

Five of the final six km of trail yesterday was a constant uphill slog through mud with a strong head wind.  It was indescribably miserable, and part way through (while I was still capable of coherent thought) I realized that fire is not the only biblical image for hell.  There is also the miry deep.  Finally I crested the hill and saw a sign which almost had me weeping with joy:  Hortanas 0'5 km.  Only half a kilometer to go, and it was all downhill WITH NO MUD!!!  And at the end, my companions had already told the hospitalera that I'd be arriving.  Marta waited patiently while I dropped my pack, removed my mud-laden boots, and fished out my pilgrim's credencial.  She stamped it, recorded my details in the log book, and led me to the kitchen where my companions were waiting and she'd already begun cooking our dinner.

After a quick bit of refreshment, she led us upstairs and showed us to the dormitory.  A hot shower, a clean change of clothes, and a foot massage later I felt human again.  And then it was time to eat.

Today was a much easier walk.  No mud, for one thing, and it was walking on the meseta.  There were a few slopes, but much of it was walking on more or less level ground.  I arrived in Itera de la Vega about an hour ago and poked my head into the first place that was open.  Carmina had walked on ahead of the rest of us, and she wasn't there.  Still, it was warm, it had beds and food and a nice big bathroom for each dormitory room.  I was sold, especially since I knew we'd meet again on the trail tomorrow.

As I was scraping the mud from my boots (well yes, there was a little mud today, but nothing worth mentioning), Antonio and Artense came along the road.  I hailed them and they told me they were headed to the albergue next to the church, which is where Carmina had settled in.  We agreed that we'd meet back at "my" place for dinner together at 7:00 and I headed for the shower.  When I came out a new man, they had changed their plans.  In fact, so had Carmina, so the four of us are booked in here together again. 

Dinner will be served in an hour, which gives me time to stretch out a bit, massage my feet, and relax with the others.  I'm not sure when I'll be posting next, but I'm keeping notes as we go.  Hopefully the next time I log on, I'll also be able to upload photos.  The current machine is locked down, with only keyboard, mouse, and monitor accessible.  Makes sense from a business perspective, but it is a tad annoying.  Ah well.

¡Hasta luego!

Jan 19, 2010

Adieu Paris and ¡Hola Burgos!

After a delightful stay in Paris, I have finally made it to Spain.  The 14 hour bus ride from Paris to Burgos would have been quite relaxing except that the heat was cranked up after the first two hours.  People were in t-shirts, but somehow I neglected to pack any summer clothing so I had a very fitful sleep.  The last time I woke up sweating from the heat on a long distance coach was in Syria.  In that case, the air conditioning wasn't up to the job but because it had A/C the windows were all closed.  In this case, I can think of no rational explanation.  I survived.

I arrived in Burgos at 8:00.  It was still dark, there was a light drizzle, and nothing was open yet.  I suppose I could have stayed in the bus terminal and bought a coffee and some sort of breakfast there, but at that point I was eager to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.  I left the terminal with no clue where I was in the city.  The Camino map I brought with me has things like churches, cathedrals, and hostels marked on the individual city maps, but no information about bus terminals.  (Since the idea is that you're walking, that information would just be redundant.)

As I stepped out into the street, I heard a bell chiming the hour.  I followed the sound, thinking it would either be city hall or the cathedral.  It was the latter, and I finally had oriented myself.  The cathedral didn't open for tourists and pilgrims until 10:00, so I found a small cafe.  Walked in, and noticed two lean guys with backpacks and wearing gaiters having their breakfast.  We nodded to each other, and I settled myself down.

After getting the first stamp in my pilgrim's passport and seeing the cathedral (12th century Gothic, very big and a UNESCO World Heritage site) I bought a cheap mobile phone.  ATTENTION  CANADIANS:  We're being ripped off.  For 19€ I got a basic Samsung model and 12€ worth of airtime.  That should do for the local calls I'll be making.  After a quick visit to the local tourist information booth, I found the cybercafe I'm currently writing from.

Next on my agenda for the day is more coffee and then on to the nearest albergue (pilgrim's refuge) for a hot shower.  I may even be back to this cyber cafe later to upload some photos. It's conveniently located for me, although at 3€ per hour it will add up quickly if I'm not careful.

Jan 18, 2010

On Being in Paris

Some observations from the past 11 days.

You may have heard that Parisians are rude.  I have yet to experience this.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The first day I set out wandering on my own, I emerged from the Metro to street level and stood for a moment trying to get my bearings.  I pulled out the guidebook Sharif was kind enough to lend me.  As I stood there, a passerby came up and asked if I would like help.  Unlikely to happen where I come from.

You may have heard that Parisians refuse to speak anything but French with tourists.  The last time I sat in a French class was in 1984.  My accent is atrocious, my vocabulary is abysmal, and I have difficulty understanding people unless they are speaking slowly and clearly.  And yet, after the initial pleasantries are exchanged and I ask, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" the answer has usually been, "Little bit."  (Or words to that effect.) All of the people I have encountered here have patiently worked with me in trying to communicate.  Even if I can't think quickly enough to hold up my end of the conversation, I understand more than I am able to say.  Twenty Questions is a great game, as long as you have patience and a sense of humour.

Parisian drivers obey traffic signals.  This may not seem worth mentioning, but go back to my previous post and have a look at the countries I've wandered through.  Yeah.  This is pretty cool.

Parisian pedestrians do NOT obey traffic signals.  If the way is clear, they will cross against a red even with the police a stone's throw away.

A decent cup of espresso can be had for about 1 € (or maybe as high as 1,20) in most bars, cafes, or brasseries.  Fresh baguettes are available on practically every corner, and cheese really is a staple.

Parisian girls (and by this I mean, women in their twenties) almost always seem thin, elegant, and sad.

Paris is surprisingly monochromatic.  Most of the people wear black, the buildings are almost all an off-white, it's been overcast all but two days I've been here.  Apparently fall is glorious.

Art galleries.  Museums.  Exhibitions.  12th and 13th century churches with their doors open.  Free organ recitals.  If you're even remotely interested in the arts, you will not be disappointed here.  Today's concert in Saint-Eustache featured works by Liszt and Tchaikovsky transposed for organ.

The Metro is incredible.  With fourteen separate lines plus four or five lines in the urban train system the map can look a little intimidating, but everything is clearly marked.  If you don't have time to walk, this is definitely the way to go.  Hop on the RER from either of the two international airports serving Paris and you'll be downtown in under an hour.

Paris is actually a surprisingly small city.  Yeah, sounds crazy to describe an urban area with 11 million people as small, but the downtown is easy walking (if a little confusing) and even to go from one end to the other would only be a matter of a few hours.  Like many major cities, at certain times of day it may even be faster to walk than to take a bus or drive a car in the core.

When it looked as though my luggage had been permanently lost, I gave some thought to just staying here for the next month.  I could live here, at least until my money ran out.  However, if God wills, I'll be leaving for Spain on Monday, arriving at my starting point Tuesday morning, and hopefully beginning the walking part of this pilgrimage on Wednesday morning.

Jan 16, 2010

The Art of the Flâneur

I love getting lost.

That statement deserves some clarification.  One of my favourite activities is setting out to explore a new city with no particular agenda for the day.  Maybe I'll have a map of the transit system or a basic guidebook, but maybe not.  Occasionally, I'll even be able to communicate fluently with the people around me but most of my city explorations have occurred in locations where I don't speak the language.  I have gotten lost in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, the UK, Russia, Mexico, and now France.  Eventually I get tired of wandering and begin actively looking for the nearest Metro station or bus stop.

Paris is especially ideal for these aimless voyages of discovery.  I spent a good five hours on Friday walking in the downtown area, exploring street markets closed to traffic.  I doubled back a few times, took lots of photos, watched people, and then concluded my evening with a stroll from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomph.  The sidewalks are as broad as the road along this route, and the people of Paris were out walking, shopping, dining, lining up at the cinemas, and just generally enjoying life.

According to Wikipedia, a flâneur is "a person who walks the city in order to experience it."   Paris is incredible.  Perhaps tomorrow I'll write about my impressions of the city.  In the meantime, here are some of the photos I took during my perambulations.

Jan 15, 2010

Luggage Update

Just a few minutes ago, a friend knocked on the door and announced he had good news for me, and bad news.

The bad news is that the lost luggage is no more.

The good news is that it is no more because it is here at the Institute.  It's in the secretary's office, so as soon as lunch is over I will head over there and reclaim it.  Then I suppose the next step is to un- and re-pack and then book my bus ticket to Burgos, where I will begin the walking part of this pilgrimage.  By the time I hit the road and start walking, I'll have gained 10 days in Paris and several new friends.

Jan 14, 2010


Well, I have finally set foot on the ancient Chemin de Saint-Jacques.  One of the main rallying points for pilgrims leaving Paris on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was a large church located on the north bank of the river Seine, near Notre Dame.  Today all that's left of this is the tower which is known as Chatelet.  I got off the Metro at that stop, took some photos, and then started to walk south.  The name of the street changes to rue Saint Jacques on the south bank at the church of St-Séverin.  I did make a slight detour to visit the Musée de Cluny - Moyen Age which was cool.  Lots of scallop shells on the walls and ceilings, but I think those are heraldic rather than an indication that the 15th century mansion housing the collection ever served as a hostel for pilgrims.

Then it was south again to l'église Saint Jacques Compostel.  The parish is now known as St-Jacques Haut Pas, but the older name has stuck.  There is a 14th century stone statue of St. James the Pilgrim, along with a prayer for the blessing of pilgrim's sacks and staffs.  I spent some time there today.

Leaving the church and continuing south along rue Saint Jacques, I was surprised to see a large yellow stripe painted on the sidewalk just across from the church.  From this stripe (a starting line perhaps?) a thin dribble of yellow paint led down the sidewalk for about 20 m before stopping.  A block or so later, I noticed the first yellow arrow, pointing back the way I had come, towards the church.  The arrows lasted about two blocks.  Maybe a coincidence, but a pleasantly surprising one nonetheless.  (For those of you reading this who are not up on your Camino lore, the main path through Spain is marked by yellow arrows.)

When I got back to the Institut, I bumped into Martine.  She has been a God-send.  I've been well looked after by the community at St-Serge, and Martine has spent hours on the phone with Air France on my behalf.  Thanks to her, I will be receiving 100 € from Air France plus they will reimburse me for any supplies I have bought.

The good news from today is that they know approximately where my luggage is.  They delivered it to Provence.  Because Martine has kept calling and very politely but very deliberately pushed, it looks like I may get my luggage back this weekend.

I think I will go on to Spain on Monday.  I've lost a week of walking (about 150 km or so) so I will take a bus to one of the bigger cities further along the route.  I should be able to buy what I need there if my luggage doesn't arrive in time.

I sure hope it does, because a battery charger for my camera will cost a minimum of 60
€, if I can even find one in Paris.  In the meantime, Sharif lent me his camera for the day.  Once he gets back from the library, I'll ask him where the USB cable is and start uploading photos to Flickr.

Jan 11, 2010

a delightful day

I now have more than just the clothes on my back!  This morning I went out to a department store and bought some clothes to wear: socks, underwear, a t-shirt, pajama bottoms, slippers.  Oh yes, and razors!  Things are not cheap in Paris and the items added up to 63 €.  Yes, I expect Air France to reimburse me fully.  Five days of wearing the same clothes was a tad inconvenient, and I still don't know when I'll be able to collect my luggage.

On a happier note, two people celebrated birthdays at St-Serge today, so there was a very nice lunch in the dining hall of the seminary.  This being France, there was a nice red wine with the meal.  This being a seminary established by Russians, there were shots of slivovits distributed as well.  After the tables had been cleared and we were drinking coffee, the singing began.  Last Thursday was the celebration of the Nativity of Christ here at St-Serge (and elsewhere in the Orthodox world) so Christmas hymns and carols in a variety of languages were the order of the day.

Later that afternoon, I headed out to run some errands.  My goals were to get my documents photocopied so I could submit the originals to Air France with my request for reimbursement, and also to cancel my train ticket and get my money back.  Successful on both accounts, with a little help again from Anne.

When I returned to St-Serge, I realized that it was only 7:00 in the evening and that I was feeling pretty good. Since the weather has warmed considerably over the past few days, I decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower again.  Even if the elevators were still shut down due to the weather, I could at least get a photo or two of the tower lit up at night.

Well.  The highest level is closed for some mid-winter repairs, but since the middle level is 120 m (394 feet) above street level, I had a pretty good view of things.  It was wonderful.  The noise from the traffic was still audible, but it actually added to the sense of peace and detachment I was experiencing.  The lights of the city are very pretty and I walked around the deck several times before I finally let the cold drive me back towards the elevator.  

I managed to get a few shots from on high before my camera battery finally died.  And guess where my spare battery and the charger are?  Well, actually I don't really know where they are, other than in my luggage.  I sure hope the airline figures out how to deliver my things to me. Tomorrow morning after the ritual phone call to Air France, I intend to head over to Sainte-Chapelle again.  I will ask Sharif if I can borrow his camera.

I am very glad I've had this time in Paris, but I am also very eager to get on the road to Santiago de Compostela.  I had hoped to be in Roncesvalles this evening, after having walked across the border from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port.  Ah well.  Church starts less than five hours from now, so I suppose I ought to log out and get some sleep.

Jan 10, 2010


In the very first post on this blog, I made the comment that "for six weeks at the beginning of 2010, I will become radically dependent on other people and the providence of God."  Little did I realize how rapidly I would realize the truth of my prediction.

It's late and the story is involved so I will just say that without Sharif, Anne, and especially Martine, my prospects for a speedy resolution to my luggage misadventures would be non-existent.  It turns out that the delivery company somehow delivered my luggage TO THE WRONG ADDRESS!  How they managed to do this when I had been told I needed my baggage claim ticket to get my stuff is beyond me.  Thanks to Martine,  it looks as though Air France will be paying me 100 € for my trouble as well as reimbursing me for the basic essentials I will be purchasing tomorrow.

It also looks as though I may still have a chance at leaving Paris on Tuesday. However, if my bag is not delivered tomorrow, I owe Anne more than just the meal at the Chinese restaurant.  She came with me to the ticket office at the train station to verify that I would be able to cancel the ticket and get a full refund as late as 8:00 tomorrow evening.  When I bought the ticket online, there was a disclaimer stating it was non-refundable so I had already written that 49 € off as a loss.

Here in Paris, my "resourcefulness" has amounted to a willingness to shrug, laugh, and hunker down to wait as long as necessary for my bag to be delivered and then adjust my plans accordingly.  Thankfully, the people around me are far more resourceful than that.

Jan 9, 2010

Peter in the snow, with no luggage

Paris, it seems, shuts down if there is 2 cm of snow on the ground.

Today before venturing out to a café for my first hit of caffeine, I phoned the airline baggage hotline.  "No problem, your bag arrived last night, it will be delivered by noon."  My friend offered to stay and wait for the delivery, so I sallied forth.  As a side note, the Metro system in Paris is fantastic.  There are 14 different subway lines, plus two different train companies.  There is a single ticketing system and there are several stations which allow transfers from Metro to RER without an extra fare.  According to one site, there is not a building in Paris less than 300 m from a station.

My first call was at Sainte Chapelle, which has been constructed by the order of St. Louis (aka Louis IX) in the 13th century to house relics.  Two-thirds of the stained glass windows which remain date to this time, and are the oldest in Paris.  After winding my way through the Metro I arrived to discover a sign -- Fermée.  I asked the person at the door whether he thought it would be open tomorrow, and was rewarded with a shrug and the reply, "It depends on the weather."

Fine.  On to the Eiffel Tower, although I had my suspicions.  Sure enough, I got some wonderfully monochromatic photos from ground level, but the elevators (and the stairs, although that was never a serious option for me) were closed due to snow and frost.

Well, then.  L'Arc de Triomphe should be weather resistant.  One or two transfers later and I emerged on to the street from the Metro station.  The Arc was there, sure enough.  I got what I hope will be some decent pics and then looked around for the ticket kiosk to buy admission to the roof.  Guess what?

After a brief detour for lunch and a session of puzzling over the map of the transit system, I headed towards Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre.  It's built like a traditional Byzantine cathedral, but there was no possibility of confusing it for an Orthodox structure once inside.  The walls were bare stone except for the huge mosaic in the apse, which extended on the ceiling the length of the altar area.  The only other colour was found in the numerous side chapels.  As I walked in following the flow of tourists, I happened to turn back for a glance at the rear wall.  I was surprised to see an altar there, flanked with two mosaics.  Looking more closely, I realized that the mosaic on the left of the altar (i.e. on my right) was Christ calling the first disciples to "Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men."  The icon opposite it depicted Christ lifting Peter out of the water as he was sinking.  For some reason, seeing these two icons of my patron saint really moved me.  Even yesterday at the Louvre, there were unexpected sightings of St. Peter.  Well okay, perhaps I should have expected to see paintings of the chief of the apostles in an art museum, but I certainly did not go looking for them.

While Sacré-Coeur is certainly big, the real treat for me came around the corner.  On approaching the basilica, I had noticed another, much smaller church across the street.  Across the street, but also 3 or 4 metres higher than street level where I was standing.  I followed the signs to St. Pierre de Montmartre which took me through a very scenic (and touristic) neighbourhood of Montmartre.  Art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, and not a few sketch artists who were very eager to do a caricature or serious sketch.  I wound up bantering with Luigi, but even after he realized he was not going to get any money from me he was willing to keep talking.  Charming guy, and did not mind posing for me to take a photo of him.  (In Egypt, I would immediately have faced a demand for money after taking the picture.)

Then I found St. Pierre.  The building suffered greatly under the Revolution, but was returned to use as a church in the 19th century.  It looks like the oldest of the furnishings are the paintings, of which at least one was commissioned in 1839 for the parish.  The stained glass windows, the pews, and the altar all seem to be of late 20th century provenance.  I noticed none of this at first glance.

My first impression of St. Pierre de Montmartre was that of silence.  The door was open, there was a sign requesting silence and respectful behaviour since this is a house of God, of worship, and of prayer.  There was not, as at Sacré-Coeur, a churchwarden hissing at the gentlemen who forgot to remove their hats.  There were not, as at Sacré-Coeur, hundreds of tourists murmuring and milling about.  There were two or three other people inside, so I slipped in, breathed in deeply, and began to look around.  Walking down a side aisle, I wound up at the side altar and noticed one of those Romantic paintings.  There was no indication of the artist's name, but as I looked closer I realized that the figure warming his hands at the charcoal brazier was none other than St. Peter.  He was turned to face the maiden behind him to his left, and behind her in the shadows was a soldier.  I spend some time at that side altar, just sitting in the chill.

Eventually I got up and continued my tour of the church.  It was no surprise to see the statute of Peter seated on a chair holding two keys, with the inscription TU ES PETRUS ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM.

Since all of my walking clothes except my outer fleece jacket are in my luggage, I got fairly chilly on the way back to St-Serge.  It was with some disappointment (but no real surprise) to learn that my bag had still not been delivered.  When I called the airline at 6:00 pm, I was told that the bag could not be delivered yesterday because of the snow, but that it was out for delivery right now and I should get it before midnight.  Hmmmph. After Vigil at St-Serge, I had dinner with Sharif and we got to talking.  Theories of biblical interpretation, a comparison of the banking systems of France, Canada, and Mexico, Mexican beer (they never drink Corona except as a last resort, rather like Australians and Foster's) -- the conversation wandered.  Eventually Sharif looked at the clock and said, "Oh yes, we were waiting for your luggage!"

Tomorrow morning, I plan to attend Liturgy at Saint Alexandre Nevsky Cathedral.  Before leaving, I intend to contact the airline and tell them I will be picking the bag up at the airport myself that afternoon.  Since I have bought a non-refundable train ticket out of Paris on Monday, I really do hope they will manage to contact the delivery company and have the bag returned to the airport for me.  (If things really work out well, perhaps they'll even reimburse me the extra travel costs or at the very least give me a lift back into the city.)

Stay tuned!

Jan 8, 2010

lots of Louvre, less luggage

Today I logged on to the airline website to check on the status of my luggage. It arrived over night at some point. Shortly after that, the airline contacted me to tell me the bag would be delivered this evening. Great news, I thought! On to the Louvre without having to worry about meeting the courier. After a few hours, it was time for coffee and some food. As we were sitting down to eat. Then the phone rang. Apparently they were a little more "efficient" than they had expected -- except of course there was nobody there to receive it. We'll be trying this again tomorrow. Today I also booked my ticket down to Bayonne, and from there I'll hop a bus to St. Jean-Pied-du-Port. It means starting the walk a day later, but doing that will save me 30€. I'm willing to bet I'll manage to spend less than that on a Sunday in Paris.

Jan 7, 2010

Bonne Fete!

I arrived at l'Institut de Theologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge in Paris just as the faithful were leaving church after the Liturgy celebrating the Nativity of Christ.  My friend Sharif is a student there, and after lunch at the Institute, he took me on a whirlwind tour of Paris -- the highlight being Notre Dame, but which also included a visit to the cafe Deux Magots where the French existentialists used to loiter and drink coffee.  At that point I was in dire need of caffeine, so it was a welcome stop.

I actually arrived at the school somewhat later than I'd expected because I spent some time in the baggage claims department of the airport, trying to discover where my luggage was.  As it turns out, the airline did not lose my bag.  It's just that I made a connecting flight in Amsterdam that my belongings did not.

Tomorrow, the Louvre!  And, hopefully, my luggage.

Jan 6, 2010

Journey of the Magi

Journey of the Magi
T. S. Eliot 

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

* * * * * * *

T. S. Eliot published his poem Journey of the Magi shortly after he was baptised as an adult convert to Christianity.  A brief visit to your favourite search engine will reward you with some fairly decent commentaries on this poem.

January 6 marks the end of the "twelve days of Christmas."  In the western Christian tradition,  the feast is known as the Epiphany, and the focus is on the adoration the Magi offer to the Christ Child.  In the Orthodox Church, the conclusion to the Nativity season is the Feast of Theophany, wherein we celebrate the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan.  In both cases, we see the inauguration of something new and the death of something old.

The Christmas carols I remember from my childhood sustained this understanding, but now it seems that nobody sings any more than the first and last verses of these hymns.  O Come O Come Emmanuel, Joy to the World, We Three Kings -- these all tell it like it is.  No magic talking snowmen or flying reindeer here!  No surprise, then, to hear the following chanted in the Orthodox Church:  "Christ is born to raise up the image that of old had fallen."

Likewise, in Orthodox iconography of the birth of Christ, there is a mirroring of themes and images from His burial.  The Virgin reclining occupies the same location within the cave as Christ's body in the tomb, the presence of angelic beings, the figures outside the entrance.  To quote Eliot again, "this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death."

And then there is the Baptism of Christ.  As St. Paul wrote, "do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."  (Romans 6:3-4)

Today is also the day that I am scheduled to leave the comfort of home.  With the exception of a few days in Paris, I will spend the next six weeks trying to walk in newness of life.

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'

Jan 2, 2010

the wanderer

My upcoming journey to Santiago de Compostela is not the first time I have undertaken religious travel. My priest never tires of telling me how fortunate I have been to have had all these opportunities, and this is a sentiment which several of my friends have also expressed. It's a trade-off, I suppose.  Typically the people who tell me this are the ones who are married, have careers, and are raising families.

My first visit to an Orthodox monastery was at the invitation of my priest, who was going to visit his spiritual father.  A friend and I accompanied him, but even before we got to the monastery we had met the elderly Egyptian priest who had baptised him.  And then we arrived at our destination. My first meeting with Fr. Roman Braga is one which I shall remember for the rest of my life.

In 1999 I attended the SYNDESMOS XVI General Assembly held at Valamo Luostari in Finland. Following the assembly, I was one of sixteen people who took an optional journey through the western region of Karelia, ending in St. Petersburg.  One of the highlights of that trip was our visit to Valaam Monastery situated on an archipelago in Lake Ladoga.  The exact date of its founding is unknown - it may be that the first monastic was on the site as early as the 10th century, although the earliest written record of a community there dates to the 14th century.  It has seen some very hard times throughout the years, but following the end of communist rule the monastery was re-established in 1989.  When I visited ten years after this, there were over 100 monks and the community was growing.  (See photos from this trip here.)

On a trip to England to visit a friend, we spent a weekend at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights and then drove to Holywell in Wales to visit St. Winefride's Well

A friend and I did a road trip from Toronto to Los Angeles in 2001 to attend the National Convention of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.  It was a fantastic experience and along the way we managed to attend Liturgy at two different monasteries.  Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction MI is a short six hours away and is a wonderful refuge.  We also stopped in at St. Anthony's Monastery in Florence AZ.  One of these days I hope to find my way back there and spend more time.  (The Grand Canyon was also pretty cool, as was the Painted Desert.)

September 2002 marked the beginning of my seminary career.  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery was established in Pennsylvania in 1905 with the assistance of two men who were later recognized as saints:  St. Tikhon of Moscow and St. Raphael of Brooklyn.  The seminary was founded 34 years later to provide training for clergy.  By the end of my first year, I had begun to feel quite at home there.  The funny thing about feeling "at home" is that one is often blinded to the remarkable aspects of the familiar place.  Although I was aware of some of the history, I was taken aback by the Memorial Day Pilgrimage. My blasé attitude towards the monastery and school was confronted with the piety of the  thousands of people who came to St. Tikhon's that weekend.

At the end of my first year at St. Tikhon's, I was one of six seminarians who travelled to Greece in order to spend time on Mount Athos.  Several of the hundreds of photos I took can be viewed here.  It was here that I realized walking to a monastery was a much better option than taking a bus crammed with sweaty pilgrims.  I also spent a day walking half the length of the peninsula. Writing any more about this would be counter-productive.  If you already know about Άγιον Όρος I don't need to say any more, while if you have no clue then my paltry words won't help much.

The autumn after my graduation, I moved to Lebanon -- specifically to the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology at the University of Balamand.  The following nine months was an incredible time.  Visiting monasteries and parish churches in Lebanon was only the beginning.  While I was in the eastern Mediterranean region, I visited St. Katherine's Monastery in Sinai.  I walked the entire length of the "street called Straight" in Damascus and visited the city of Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.  Qala'at Semaan is now in ruins, but I went anyway.  Before posing for a photo with what is left of St. Symeon's pillar, I spent a few moments in prayer.  And then there was the ten days I spent in Istanbul.  Hagia Sophia is a museum now, but it still moved me to tears.  (Photos from all these travels and much more are on Flickr.)

Now the longest, most arduous journey to date lays before me. I leave in four more days.