Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Santiago de Compostela

物の哀れ (mono no aware) (n.): literally "the pathos of things"; the bittersweet awareness of life's passing beauty. (Japanese)

Even though I really didn't walk the Camino, I still felt a connection with the peregrinos that did. I paid my dues, following the iconic yellow arrows and seashells across northern Spain, hitting almost every cathedral on my modified bus-Camino route and finishing with an intense sense of accomplishment in Santiago de Compostela. SDC's weather is a bit of a downer, as it sees the same amount of sun as Seattle and it's high is usually in the upper teens (Celsius, people. I'm trying to fit in) so my arrival wasn't quite the sun-drenched march of victory that I had anticipated but rather a cold and wet treck to an apartment on the top of a steep hill. These little presents from the universe keep me humble.

The Cathedral of Santiago is fantastic, although it was a rather different experience than the quiet communion with space that I have come to love. Rather, as the end of the Camino, Santiago Cathedral is a mess of ponchos and hiking backpacks, filled to the brim with exhausted but exhilarated pilgrims babbling in every language you can imagine and snapping photo after photo with omnipresent selfie-sticks. I visited the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela first as a tourist--I made the obligatory circuit through the ambulatory, visiting all the chapels and oohing at the impressive baroque main altar with everyone else. The Cathedral there is enormously popular, as it marks the end of the Camino de Santiago, and it is filled with elated pilgrims and all their hiking gear. It gets kind of loud in the church (the crowds are hushed periodically by guards patrolling around the perimeter) but when I visited the hum made the church feel alive and exciting.

The second time I came, however, was on completely different terms and the experience was transformed. I had received word from home that my youngest sister would be undergoing surgery , and I wanted to visit the chapel of the Sacred Sacrament to meditate and pray for her safety and a speedy recovery (she's recovering well!) As I pushed my way through the walking sticks and ponchos, the hum of the crowd was no longer exciting. It was disconcerting. The camera flashes capturing the monstrance I knelt before were distracting--couldn’t the visitors see that I was engaging with the Sacrament? I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl, and that my interaction with the Sacrament and my time of quiet prayer was being interfered with. I had the chance to see both sides of the interaction with sacred objects that exists in places of worship, and it was disconcerting and more than a little unsettling, to say the least.

Admittedly, the barely controlled chaos of Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral is something of an exception. In most places of worship, tourists and visitors are not even allowed inside the building during mass.As my flatmate pointed out, there are more churches in Santiago than people, so I had no shortage of places to visit in the endless drizzle. We even got two days of glorious sunshine, and I followed the sounds of singing and bagpipes to a massive circle of newly-arrived pilgrims dancing in the plaza next to the cathedral. Not too shabby at all.

Perhaps my own greatest sense of achievement derived from the day I visited Muxia, the second westernmost point on Spain's Costa de Muerte. I visited the Church of La Virgen de La Barca and reached the sea, finally collecting my own seashells to commemorate my pilgrimage to the ocean. Come to think of it, those shells are some of the most sacred things I own. I wonder if they'll ever make it into a museum someday.


Fernweh (n.): a feeling of longing or homesickness for a place one has never been to. (German)

I'm all settled in Kyoto and still rather behind on posts, so to continue my retrospective journey:

Lugo is a bit of a forgotten stop on the Camino de Santiago. To be fair, I went in without a plan and winged it, which isn't really my strong point. I'm getting better at capitalizing on following my nose, but my spontaneity turn-on-a-dime factor is a bit low. Lugo has the immediate advantage of being a walled city, however, which makes up for an infinite number of sins. The Roman wall around Lugo is still very intact, and the intrepid tourist or Classics nerd (c'est moi) can make quite a day (or several) of it. I did get quite the sunburn, but (spoiler alert) IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT. I had the ability to look within the old city and pick out places to visit from the skyline, a luxury that tiny winding streets and tightly clustered city centers have prevented in most of the Spanish cities I've visited.

Some Lugo highlights: sitting for a few hours in the main plaza with all the vecinos, until an old man came up to me and confronted me--surely I couldn't be from Lugo, girls as pretty as I only live in Valencia. Ahahaha *runs away*

Lugo Cathedral! Gorgeous! It's incredibly well maintained, although I think a lot of this is due to the fact that there are services held in almost every chapel and the nave at least once a day if not more frequently. It's not as big a tourist magnet as some of the other cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago, but this might be because tourist visits are not allowed when mass is underway, so tourists have maybe fifteen minutes a day in which to visit and tour. And, no gift shop.

Like most cathedrals and churches I've visited, there is a coffer next to the biggest entrance for visitors and worshippers to contribute to the cathedral's maintenance. I tried talking to the men who swooped in with brooms and polish in between services to clean the main altar, but they were quite short with me and refused to talk. In any case, Lugo Cathedral seems to be a well-visited (at least by Lugonians? Lugo-ites?) place of worship, although its objects have been removed as the cathedral has been modernized and replaced with modern pieces.

Which led me to my next major stop: the Museo Provincial de Lugo. Since Lugo has a very obvious and well-preserved connection to its Roman past surrounding its center, archaeology and ethnology are visibly and proudly preserved within the city limits. All Lugo's historical objects are condensed into this historical museum (which has an incredible collection of Roman mosaics, and I highly recommend a visit if you're ever in the area) and it makes for a rather mixed collection but endlessly entertaining visit. Interestingly enough, Lugo's museum keeps its religious artifacts (like monstrances, crucifixes, relics and altar pieces) seperate from the rest of the collection. In almost every other museum I have visited, there have been very concerted efforts to treat sacred art as unremarkable and only significant within its art historical boundaries.

The Museo Provincial, however, has a designated "Sala de Arte Sacro" which is the location in the museum where capital-s capital-a Sacred Art has its home. There is other art within the museum's collection that has sacred iconography, but I believe that this Sacred Art label is important (both in its inclusion and exclusion,) since it shows that the Museo has a fundemental understanding of what is and isn't sacred, plus a desire to hold the sacred seperate and make it distinct. Why the "Pieta" upstairs was deemed "Moderno" and not "Sacro" is another question. If I had control of the museum's collection, where would I put it? And what implication do those distinctions have for the objects themselves? Is there a gray-area term that can serve art-historical purposes and still preserve original sacred connotations? Maybe I need to invent one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Change of Plans

Bricoleur (n.): a person who builds from whatever is available, scrambling to gather the pieces as it all comes together. (French, English)

Hello hello! I know that there are some posts on Spain that are overdue, but I need to get this short post out first.

As most of you know, I designed my project to be spent in quarters; a year divided between Spain, Turkey, Japan and India. I spent three fantastic months traveling in Spain, and I then headed to Bulgaria (where I'm writing from) for a week as I prepared to head to Turkey. I planned and prepped and had housing and contacts all lined up, my flight to Istanbul was booked--

And now Turkey's not happening.

Don't panic! I promise, I did that already. And I have a plan. But to explain: one of the conditions of the Watson Fellowship is that Fellows are not permitted to travel in countries that have Travel Warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State. And, as I discovered last Wednesday, Turkey is on the list. Until the Travel Warning is lifted, I'm not permitted to visit Turkey and I have to restructure my year accordingly.

So, tomorrow I fly to Japan. This is all rather sudden, and I'm still a bit tense. However, I'm incredibly thankful to have the resources to turn on a dime and head off in a completely new direction, and I'm very excited to have Japan lined up. As of today the plan is to live in Kyoto for the next three months, and I can't wait to dig in!

This also means that I'll be returning to research and revisiting my previously rock-solid country list, just in case Turkey retains its Travel Warning. My plans for my travel are a bit more written in the sand from here on out than I had hoped for, but I'm told that's all part and parcel of the Watson deal. Who knows, maybe this will be a blessing in disguise. Fingers crossed! Next time I write, I'll be in Kyoto.