Today, we are aiming for an ecumenical hostel in Villamayor de Monjardin, figuring we’ll join the Scottish woman before she leaves the camino and goes back home.
On the road, we stop at a Church of St. James in Estella, which has a lot of steps. We are fools. We will eventually stop visiting every grand old church we come across, but we’re still Camino newbies, and still guided in part by the traditional tourist impulse. The cloisters are nice though. We see Anthony, Eleen and Chris talking at the bottom of the stairs, and they greet us, saying “The Americans have arrived!” Ad the church, we get a stamp from a nice old lady who tries to speak English. She says “good journey” and Dorcinda has no idea what she’s saying.
Fuente de vino. Fuente divina, de vino, divino. A group of pilgrims at our last hostel had excitedly told Dorcinda about a fountain that give out free wine at a little town called Irache, and they’re shocked that we had never heard of it. Sure enough, it’s there in our guidebook, but Pious John makes only a grudging reference that we skimmed right over in our focus on the routes and planned stopping points.
We meet a Pennslyvanian woman named Alice at Irache, and she asks us to take a photo of her sipping wine from her cockleshell. We love the idea and ask her to take the same photo of us. There is nothing new under the sun. The wine is chilled, and better than expected from a free spigot in the wall. There’s a webcam which takes pictures of pilgrims drinking. I consider buying a bottle of water at the vending machine here and dumping it out to make room for wine, but its hot and I don’t imagine the wine will help with the journey ahead.
We walk for a while with Alice and she’s very fast. We sympathize with her, she’s a 27 year old stockbroker who wanted to change her life, but her job convinced her to take a leave of absence instead of quitting for the Camino, and then her mom insisted on tagging along rather than letting her go it alone. At a fork in the road, Alice takes the scenic route ahead and we take the main route.
A little further on, we pass her mom, and she’s a real grim puritan character. She doesn’t want to chat with us, but Dorcinda at least informs her that Alice went a different way. The mom says she’s a fool, and that they’ve left bags in Monjardin, while backpedaling to Irache because they missed the wine fountain on their way in. The mom is Polish, which maybe explains her negativity, or maybe its just the heat, and frustration at backpedaling. We pray for a St. James intervention, and Dorcinda offers to take the bags ahead from Monjardin if Alice is delayed getting back from the scenic route, which bypasses the town. Fortunately, Alice has already raced ahead and come back to Monjardin by the time we arrive, and they are able to get their bags and go on without too much searching for each other or time lost.
When we arrive at Monjardin, we meet a few travelers from Ciraoqui, Jeff the Canadian preacher, Steve the English guy, Maddy from Australia, and Brenda from the Netherlands. They seem like a pretty tight pack, and they’re all soaking their feet when we arrive. Jeff and Steve complain loudly about Salvatore’s snores, and we find out that they were the ones who went upstairs to sleep on the terrace. They were the ones who alerted Dorcinda to the existence of the wine fountain.
We are greeted by younger american missionary types, from Minnesota and texas, as we get in. The American volunteers are churchy, but seem nice enough. Things start to go downhill when we move inside for a shower and a break. There’s bad singing coming from a room nearby, and outside I can hear one of the German travelers badgering one of the volunteers about her refusal to drink wine. He tells her it can be a spiritual experience, it can bring you closer to God, and your fellow humans. She says she just doesn’t like it, and has to repeat herself two or three times. I later overhear him talking about anger and how God has helped him channel that anger into something more positive. He seems like a real swell guy.
I hate this place. I’ve already been turned off by the ostentatious piety of Tom the Englishman and Masha the Russian, and by the excrutiatingly tedious prayer at the convent, and by Eileen’s off-the-wall-sounding conversion experience on the Camino. But here we are at Bible camp.
I nap, and put in earplugs to avoid the lame-o guitar singalong stuff that is happening in the room next door. Dorcinda and I briefly share our condescions towards the music. The guitar guy (A Dutchman who runs? The hostel), has a terrible voice and strums lazily at the guitar, one off-rhythm downstroke hovering around every beat. It is a type of music, where the point is something other than the music (praise? Communion?) and to me, what’s the point. It’s intentionally graceless, it’s anti-music. Dorcinda says its “self-indulgent, theologically vapid, and annoying-sounding.” It waters down religion into something meant to be accessible, inoffensive, to people used to pop guitar music. And it waters down guitar music into something bland, inoffensive to people used to religion.
Things don’t get any better at dinner, where I find myself trapped between two conversations about God and church-going. I alternate between abject boredom and the perverse desire to get a word in edgewise, but only rarely can interject when the topic strays to something like the Camino or walking or travel or work. Jeff Rock, the gay Canadian priest is talking with a hostel volunteer, Carissa from Texas, and Dorcinda meanwhile draws the attention of the Scotch woman from the convent, who again talks about her religious transformation and her belief in the word of the gospel over any church tradition. We get it, lady. She seems relieved and encouraged to have a receptive audience, though, which must be a rarity for her in regular life. The priest seems like a potentially fun character, but also sort of smug, and I still have a grudge from when we arrived and he asked us if we were Southern. He has a tattoo of a clock on one arm, and the golden ratio image on the other. He tries to bond with Carissa over the idea that they’re both religious, but cool.
“You’re a traditional Texas girl, but you’re sassy,” he tells her. “You’re a little sassy.”
They give us the Gospel of John as a gift to carry with us, and I know right away that mine will go no further than this hostel. People start flipping through it, which starts a whole new round of religious talk. I manage to weakly interject that one of the referenced sections, Jeses and the Samaritan woman, was the subject of our really boring prayer at the convent, but fail to stay engaged. Jeff makes a point about how marriage used to be so pragmatic – a man brings home the money, a woman cooks and cleans, and love is there but not the primary point – and how we are still evolving into how to find and define marriage in a more equal and idealistic society. I sense a topic that my secular self could dig into, but am immediately cut off by Eileen, who says that the most important thing in any marriage is each person’s relationship with God, and goes on to tell a boring story about her Christian friend who married a non-Christian and struggled with anger issues until he converted. So many of these holy roller types talk so often about letting go of anger, letting go of hate and prejudice, and I wonder wha the big deal is, and to what extent their lives revolve around considerations of anger hate and prejudice and negativity. Stop talking so much about letting it go and just let it go already!