Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Twenty Five

DAY TWENTY FIVE: 2 November 2012 Staying in Leon
There is a strange, paradoxical relationship between the unhurried quiet of the rural camino and busy vibrancy of the city pilgrim halts. I have been tickled pink by Pamplona and tempted by Logrono. I basked in the bounty of Burgos but I am feeling let down by Leon. I notice every day is a unique creation of confluence between place and my state of being. I can be flat and depressed and then lifted into elation by the majesty of a kite, the cheeriness of greeting or the poignancy of a quiet church or ancient monument. I can be ebullient and optimistic then felled by the absence of coffee, the misery of rain or the carelessness of litter. I could not put my finger on anything in particular about Leon. Many other pilgrims found it to be one of their favorite stops, in many ways it is a paragon of integration; the multiple strands of history, culture, style seamlessly woven in with modern business, 21st Century tourism and urban hedonism. Perhaps it was the high speed jarring of the bus trip into Leon, the realisation that I was alone in this city orthe acrid reminder of my religious origins as I checked into the Albergue del Monasterio des las Benedictinas. I am not sure whether I read that the Nuns Hostel is one that is not to be missed or whether I have an inner compass that guides me to think that staying in religious hostels will soothe my soul. I read austere and I think post modern, I see religious and envisage the dulcet tones of choral music, I imagine ‘to be experienced’ involves copious amounts of wine and uproariously funny conversations, with dark handsome strangers. My programming had already been proved flawed at St Juan de Ortega – clearly there was still a bug in my thinking. I am sure if this was rectified I would have really appreciated my stay at the Benedictine convent but in the light of my expectations it was crowded, cramped, uncomfortable, the ignominy of a 9.30pm curfew (the earliest yet) meant that I didnt have time to eat and had resigned to slipping into an early sleep when I found myself being firmly, herded out of bed and up to the convent chapel for benediction with a cosy crowd of multi national pilgrims. There were prayers, there were hymns. I was buoyed by the novelty but quickly deflated by this tiny congregation of aging women. Perhaps inside they were inspired and alight with glory but on the outside they looked tired, distracted, weary hands, work worn wedding bands, itching and fiddling, bowed and submissive. My deflation leeched into my day of rest. The wonders of Leon passed me by and it was only in hindsight seeing the record of the city on my phone that I began to appreciate it. This skyward of Gaudi’s Modernist Casa de los Botines, now the headquarters of the bank Caja Espana, must be one of the few moments I wasnt walking around with my nose morously in the gutter.

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