Video of Nancy’s talk: The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age (Jan 2017, London)
By Nancy L. Frey
In January 2017, I gave the keynote address at the Confraternity of St James’ Annual General Meeting in London titled The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age. In the talk I briefly review some general changes I’ve noticed over the last 25 years and then present my research on the incorporation of new media technology into the Camino and how this has impacted being a pilgrim. The rise of the Internet is the single most important change in the Camino during this period and has dramatically impacted how people engage with the pilgrimage experience before, during and after the Camino is over.
The video is long. To help facilitate listening to the parts that are of most interest, I’ve broken down the video into segments and themes. Please let me know if you have any questions or observations.
0:00-1:00 - Intro to video
1:00-4:35 - Intro about talk and Nancy’s 25 years’ experience on Camino
4:35-5:30 - Nature of change on Camino
5:30-22:15 - General Changes on the Camino over the last 25 years
• 6:55 - Pilgrim’s Office and Statistics
• 7:45 - Numbers
• 8:27 - Sex
• 8:50 - Internationalization
• 10:11 - Mode of Travel
• 10:50 - Roads Traveled and Development of other routes
• 11:44 - Acquisition of the Compostela Certificate & Certificate of Distance
• 14:18 - Motivations and Expectations
• 16:33 - Infrastructure
• 17:50 - John, the Pilgrim Helper and Red tape
• 18:29 - Equipment
• 19:13 - Invasion of our Attentional Space
• 19:42 - Graffiti & Pokemon Go
• 21:08 - The Cathedral: Security, protecting patrimony and limited access
• 21:33 - What happened to the wild dogs?
22:15-23:38 - Changes related to Internet Age. Tech is a tool but not a neutral tool.
23:38-26:44 - Pilgrimage/Camino is a Rite of Passage with three stages: Prep, During, Return. “While the physical component has remained relatively the same, for most people the mental component has changed dramatically…” The Camino in the Cloud.
26:44 – 35:47 - Stage 1: Preparation for the Camino in the Internet Age. Anxiety is normal. Information overload, we overly complicate the Camino, developing pilgrim identity pre-Camino
• 33:12 - What to take and packing lists
35:52 – 1:02:15 - Stage 2: Being on the Camino
• 35:52 - Outcomes of preparation and spectrum of mobile tech usage
• 38:45 - Experience of time and place impacted, Incorporation of “Tech time”; bracketed time away disrupted, stay inside comfort zone
• 42:56 - Internet age pilgrims have new needs and new neediness; my sacred tech time; increase virtual connections and decrease face-to-face connections
• 47:10 - Impact on Camino community and social relations
• 49:53 - Relationship to Home; the importance of “missing” and “longing”; collaborative pilgrimages
• 53:48 - Digital Detox pilgrimages
• 56:25 - Shift in thinking and expectations about “what is the Camino?”; controlling the Camino and fear management; “not having a bed” anxiety; having a “Trip Advisor” Camino; dilution of the power of our experiences
• 1:00:30 - Tech industry encourages us to trust tech and not ourselves; WiFi App; Progressively outsourcing skills to phone and atrophying those abilities within ourselves.
1:02:15-1:05 - Reaching Santiago – transition point; experiences mediated by phones; losing trust in our memories; capturing moments vs contemplating moments
1:05-1:11 - Stage 3: The Return Home
1:11-1:14:59 - Conclusions
There are some people you never forget! Virginia and George Havens traveled with us 12 years ago in May 2003 along the Camino de Santiago. They formed part of a special group that came together as strangers and ended up sharing many wonderful moments and developing friendships that still endure today. I have a photo of that memorable group taken at the Camino’s literal high point – la Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross). Looking at each face brings back a flood of memories. Some of them went on to travel with us two or even three times. Others we have kept in touch with via email and holiday cards.
One such special couple is Virginia and George. At the time they were a spry 78 and 79 and they are still going strong! Jose and I fondly remember how beautiful Ginnie was always lovingly cared for by George. Ginnie’s a birder and I can still remember hearing about her work with birds and building birdhouses. As we walked she’d point out birds I couldn’t even see. Many times over the years I have wished she were along on other walks to keep teaching me! On that trip we also discovered that Ginnie and I and another woman on the trip, Nancy Grandfield, are all Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters. That was a great coincidence! At the end of walk, during our final dinner at the Parador in Santiago de Compostela, George got up, ordered champagne for the group and gave a very special and meaningful toast! What a couple!
Over the years we have kept in touch and George sent me an email telling me about Ginnie’s continuing education through Case Western Reserve University. He wrote:
Her latest [class] was Sports History which required writing a short paper on an object related to some athletic activity (baseball bat, football, etc.). Ginnie chose her scallop shell and we thought you would enjoy seeing her report to which she attached a copy of the Camino certificate that you gave us.
We did enjoy seeing her report and asked if we could have permission to publish it here with a photo of Ginnie. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did! We greatly enjoy seeing how the Camino continues to evolve in people’s lives and can inspire projects such as these 12 years later! Buen Camino, Ginnie and George!
The Scallop Shell
By Virginia C. Havens
The symbol that evokes memories of achievement, endurance and adventure is the white scallop shell hanging on a cord at my desk. This type of shell was first worn on the hat of St. James, patron warrior saint of Spain, and today it signifies a completed pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago across Spain.
First, a brief history of St. James, a disciple of Jesus, and this 500-mile trek to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. James came to Spain shortly after the crucifixion to spread Christianity. On returning to Jerusalem, he was beheaded by Herod and his body sent in a casket by the other disciples back to Spain for burial. After some 800 years, the burial spot was forgotten and unknown, but on a certain night the field was illuminated by the stars and with this guidance the burial casket of St. James was unearthed and discovered. This startling discovery resulted in a sacred pilgrimage to this holy site that drew pilgrims from all over Europe.
The Camino starts in eastern Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains that separate France and Spain. It descends through Roncesvalles (a historic location where Charlemagne once fought the infidel Moors) then on to Pamplona. Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Bierzo, Arzua to Santiago to be blessed in the great cathedral there. In the middle ages, pilgrims walked the 500 miles across Spain seeking redemption and a spiritual encounter with St. James, and receiving forgiveness for their sins. This walk along this ancient road became a venerated tradition and Santiago became a popular pilgrimage destination. Last year over a million individuals were reported to have traversed the Camino and then received the scallop shell to reward and verify their experience.
In my years of reading I would come across references to this famous “road” and I would think “Oh the experience of walking it...walking, thinking a and meditating” with all of Spain stretching out before me, all open, no restrictions, no time table...just me and the world.
In 2003 my husband and I decided to tackle the Camino, at least a part of it. We would do 100 miles in 12 days in an arrangement that extended across the entire road, but avoided the less interesting parts. It was for me a magnificent experience and the shell recreates memories of golden wheat fields filled with red poppies, impressive ancient buildings, bridges and churches, warm and kind mountain people, owls and great beech trees and exotic foods. And then the memory of walking 8 to 10 miles each day on weary, weary feet, then the last demanding push for 12 miles up an almost unending mountainside on a never-to-be-forgotten day.
What are the lasting, indelible effects of such an experience? First of all, I am always aware of having the gumption to do such a trek at a senior age. Then having the courage to cross the ocean, plant my feet on strange soil and move out on a 100-mile effort, and accomplish it. It was a singular decision in my life – that produced a bold, unique and highly satisfying experience that confirmed my commitment to an adventurous life. It reinforced my love and appreciation for Spain. It left me with regrets that we were not able to do the tough trek to the Everest base camp at 18,000 feet in Nepal (which we had planned) and on to the Antarctic in the footsteps of Shackleton.
by Nancy L. Frey, PhD
One of my favorite objects on display in Santiago de Compostela's Museo de las Peregrinaciones (Pilgrimages Museum) is this scallop shell dated to before 1120. Identified as "Vieira de peregrino (Pectem maximus) " (Pilgrim's Scallop) the room text tells us it: "was found in a burial place in a plot that was later occupied by the north central nave of the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago. Therefore, it is prior to 1120. The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago, taken by pilgrims on their way back home to the most remote places in Europe." We are looking at the oldest known scallop shell used by a pilgrim to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela.
In December 2013 the BBC aired a three part pilgrimage documentary with adventure traveler and writer Simon Reeve as the presenter. I was consulted by the BBC for their film preparation as an expert on the Camino de Santiago and then interviewed by Simon Reeve in Santiago de Compostela in June 2013. A small part of that interview appears in Episode 2 of Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve in which Simon covers pilgrimage in northern France, along the Camino de Santiago, and then, finally, in Rome. In this clip from Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve, Episode 2, I answer Simon’s questions about Santiago de Compostela as a pilgrimage city, about Santiago or St James as a multi-faceted figure (Apostle, Pilgrim and Warrior) and about the sticky issue of whether or not the bones of the Apostle James are really in Santiago de Compostela or not.
For more information about the full episode, please see the BBC website. This segment in which Nancy Frey appears with Simon Reeve is reproduced with permission from the BBC.
Here is the direct link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01kqjg3/episodes/guide.
First blog. First day of the new year 2010. A good day for firsts. Today the Holy Door of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain was reopened ritually marking the beginning of the 2010 Holy Year (An/~o Santo). Holy Years occur in a cyclical pattern of every 11, 6, 5, 6 years when the feast day of Santiago/St James the Greater, July 25th, falls on a Sunday. The last Holy Year was in 2004 and the next one will not occur until 2021. Pilgrims from all over the world will walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this year and end their journey by passing through the Holy Door.
The first time I walked through the Holy Door was in 1993 after I finished my first pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago/Road of St James. Little did I know how much would transpire between walking through that door the first time and this latest passage 17 years later. In 1993 I entered with my pilgrim companions on a very hot July afternoon after waiting in line to enter for nearly an hour. The cathedral was packed and I felt overwhelmed with the emotion of the arrival. Today, I also, unexpectedly, found myself overwhelmed with emotion by the journey through that doorway. This time I was accompanied by my partner of 16 years and our three children. Gratitude was the prominent feeling. As we walked through the door and got on line to ‘dar un abrazo al santo’, ie, give a hug to the saint, all those years, and how much I have to be thankful for, came rushing through me. It was an ideal way to start this new year.
On this blog I hope to tell part of this story – what led to that first initial crossing and what transpired in between. Little by little.
Nancy’s Book Review
Walking Your Blues Away. How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann (Vermont: Park Street Press, 2006).
I was gifted this book by a body worker who walked with us along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2005. After sitting on the shelf unread for at least a year, the right moment finally arrived to crack open the pages. It’s a quick read and easy to access. The most compelling parts are when Hartmann discusses how walking is a potentially healing activity for emotional trauma. This concept immediately began to resonate with my own anthropological work on the contemporary reanimation of the medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which culminated in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998). In the late 1980s people from many different backgrounds, countries, walking experience and belief systems (and frequently without a religious motivation) began to take up the traditional symbols of the Santiago pilgrim, the scallop shell and staff, and set out on demanding journeys walking westward across northern Spain (and even the far corners of Europe) to reach the tomb of the apostle James the Greater in Santiago de Compostela. Every year since then, more and more people undertake this walking journey and come home with positive stories of self-discovery, personal triumph, transformation and, even, change.
I found over and over again during my research that many people were led to walk the Camino (a personal journey that can range from one day to four months depending on the walker) to work through their own personal issues. Many were at a breaking point – graduate from college, mid-life crisis, retirement – or had experienced a loss – divorce, death, employment. Whereas many pilgrimage sites, framed within a more religious context, are sought out by pilgrims to heal the suffering body, I found repeatedly that along the Camino, as they walked, people were healing the suffering soul. In Pilgrim Stories, I write:
The journey of the Camino can reveal wounds – loss, failure, fear, shame, addiction – left festering from daily life. Experiences along the way often act as the catalyst that allows them to be exposed. It has been, and appears to continue to be, a road for hopes and miracles of fulfillment of a different order. Some pilgrims, acknowledging this themselves, refer to the Camino as la ruta de la terapia, the therapy route (Frey, p. 45).
Through the walking experience people opened themselves up, usually without any perceived intention on their part, to a whole series of unforced emotional experiences. Time and again, people recounted thinking of people that had not been in their conscious thoughts for years, developing a more active dream life as well as feeling ‘more deeply’ while on the road.
In my book, I discuss this process of opening as part of the elimination of the distractions/stressors of daily life. When life is reduced to its basics and your mind is not absorbed with the minutiae of running a busy life, full of obligations and demands, all of sudden there is space for feelings, emotions, memories to come to the surface. While walking (though also many times during sleep and dreamtime), pilgrims described to me how they came to new insight, resolution or clarity regarding issues from the past. The walking became a healing process for both known and unknown or conscious/unconscious (prior to beginning the Camino) issues from the past.
In Walking Your Blues Away, Hartmann has added a new dimension to my understanding of this healing process on the cognitive level with his discussion of ‘bilateral therapy’ – the alternating stimulation of the right and left lobes of the brain ‘while thinking of a problem or issue’ (p. 30). Stimulating both the thinking and feeling parts of the brain with the bi-lateral movement, the person is able to process the experience in such a way that it is moved from the forefront of memory to the past thereby reducing its negative hold on your psyche. Apparently most of our memories are processed during our REM sleep – another form of bi-lateral stimulation. Sometimes, though, the memories are too big/painful to be worked through in REM. Bi-lateral therapy works to simulate the same type of memory processing so that painful experiences can be worked through and moved into the past. Hartmann explains, “With the walking therapy…in most cases this recognition that the experience is in the past happens during the walk itself. That is the key indicator that the session has been successful” (p. 13). By applying bilateral theory to walking (an activity that requires the constant stimulation of the brain’s left and right hemispheres with its side-to-side motion), Hartmann offers an excellent way for people to heal themselves without having to resort to traditional ‘talk therapies’, or even any kind of verbalization of the trauma or painful memories. He posits that perhaps we have been healing ourselves, since the dawn of time before we had experts – psychotherapists, psychologists, shamans, etc. – by engaging in our most fundamental human activities: walking and thinking.
His work is strongest when discussing the history of bilateral therapies and the application of them to walking based on his own experience and practice. Bilateral therapy has its origin in the development of healing techniques derived from hypnotism first recognized as therapeutic by Mesmer in the 1700s. He describes the fascinating story of Freud’s initial usage and success with bilateral therapy and hypnotism before he abandoned this path in favor of psychotherapy when hypnotism was discredited in Europe and America in the 1890s. His middle chapter on cultural bi-lateralism is over generalized and I found it to be an unnecessary distraction to the larger theme.
The last three chapters provide concrete advice on how to utilize his technique not only for resolving past trauma or negative feelings around a nagging issue but also as a means to increase creativity, motivation and physical health. His technique is thoroughly described and is easily accessible to the lay person. It consists of five steps very briefly summarized here (pp. 62-67):
1 – “Define the issue”. Figure out what’s bothering you and picture it in your head.
2 –“ Bring up the story”. Flesh out the issue and determine its level of strength inside of you.
3 – “Walk with the issue”. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to get resolution.
4 – “Notice how the issue changes”. While walking observe how your feelings around the issue shift.
5 –“Anchor the new state”. Review the transformation of the feelings to fix it in your mind.
He encourages a positive and optimistic viewpoint and helpfully reminds the reader: “Remember: There is no failure. There is only feedback. Learn from the feedback and continue on.” (p. 65)
His ideas resonate with my own observations of how people experienced the walking along the Camino. It was very common for those walking to come to some kind of resolution or decision. Many people wanted to do something more creative with their lives upon return home. Others spoke about returning to the Camino to ‘recharge their batteries’ – that the walking along the Camino gave them mental and physical energy that they felt lacking in their daily lives. Perhaps it was simply engaging in this process of bi-lateral movement while walking that allowed people to stumble along the path to their own healing process. In 2008 I interviewed a modern-day Camino legend, John the English gentleman who aids wayward pilgrims in his campervan, for a chapter I wrote for Lonely Planet’s 7th edition of Spain. He had a nice of way of describing the same process of healing. I asked him why he thought people were walking to Santiago today and he responded :
“My impression is that a very large proportion have suddenly been confronted with a grave problem with home, work, family, career, their physical health or love life…and they are so overwhelmed by their everyday preoccupations that they don’t know what to do about it. Walking the Camino is a unique kind of therapy. I call it ‘Self-administered Ambulatory Psychotherapy’. Troubled minds heal themselves – by walking the Camino de Santiago. (Spain, 7th edition, article: Camino de Santiago by Nancy Frey, p. 125, Lonely Planet, 2009).
John has also observed the healing quality that is experienced by those who walk this historical pilgrimage path. Intuitively people have sensed that walking to Santiago will be good for them and have heeded that call to go, once again, the ‘human speed’.
Hartmann’s book and technique will potentially be very helpful to people who walk (or those who don’t but who would like to) and who would like to more consciously make their walks productive for healing, creativity and focused thinking. While for many people the bi-lateral movement brings about the healing without realizing it, by having the technique available, it can potentially help people focus on problem solving as well as ‘anchor’ the new state so that the change is more lasting. In Pilgrim Stories, I write: “While it will not determine outcomes, making the pilgrimage can help the participant on a personal level to ‘rework the past’ and possibly ‘move toward a renewed future’ (Frey, p. 46). This sentiment is in essence the point of Walking Your Blues Away – it takes a very basic human activity and explores its great potential for healing and future well-being. Go take a walk!
 Thank you Erin Susan Parks for bringing this book to my attention. Erin is the owner of LMT Massage for Optimal Living in the Atlanta area.
Emilio Estevez's film The Way set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and starring his father Martin Sheen premiered in Santiago de Compostela on 8 November 2010. Nancy was there and met them both.
By Nancy Frey:
When I heard that Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Way, set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain would be premiered in Santiago de Compostela on November 8th, I was eager to go. Starring his father Martin Sheen, Estevez wrote and directed the film as well as appears in it as Sheen’s on-screen son. I knew that in 2009 they had been filming along the route and I wondered what kind of Camino film two Hollywood notables would make. I invited my friend María Santos and off we went to the elegant 19th century Teatro Principal in Santiago´s historical quarter to find out. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to see Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez walk the mini-red carpet surrounded by a sea of umbrellas as the rain accompanied their entrance.
As we sat down to wait for the movie to begin, I realized how interesting it was to have María at my side. The Camino is something that I’ve lived and breathed for the last 18 years. María, born in the US and a daughter of Galician immigrants, knows about the Camino de Santiago but has no personal experience with it herself. How different, perhaps, our perspectives would be. When the movie began to roll I was filled with emotion as I could I identify nearly every scene, landscape, historical monument and bit of Camino.
Estevez and Sheen’s angle was clear early on: It’s a movie of the heart from start to finish. 2010 has been my own personal year of the heart and so this tack resonated strongly with me.
Countless times over the course of this year I’ve been reminded to listen to my heart: Let the heart be your compass.
(I’ve accompanied the article with several photos from the film and post-premiere event as well as images of heart stones that Jose and I have collected over the years along the Camino de Santiago that we have in our house.)
In The Way Sheen plays Tom Avery an ophthalmologist from California who becomes an accidental pilgrim when he receives the tragic news of his son’s death on the Camino.
Estevez and Sheen take us on a gripping, epic journey in equal parts hilarious, deep, heart-wrenching and moving as we share the struggle of a father gripped with confusion and remorse to understand the tragic loss of his only son Daniel, a person he realizes he never really understood. Tom suddenly finds himself in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small village in southwest France where many pilgrims start the Camino today. Impulsively, he decides to take his son’s pack and ashes and walk the 800km across Spain making the journey that his son could not.
The opening scenes are very moving and set the stage for the profoundly human story of how we must each fumble along to find our own way. In the movie Tom says to Daniel before he heads to the Camino, ‘I live the life I chose. Why can’t you do the same?’ Daniel responds, ‘You don’t choose your life, Dad. You live it and that’s what I’m doing.’ The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and the pilgrim the lost soul who finds his way back home by following his heart. Estevez (and Sheen through his inspired performance) makes you care about this lost soul and wonder how he will ever make it. Unlike other Catholic centers of worship where pilgrims often look for a cure of the body through faith, modern pilgrims to Santiago (most of whom would not define themselves as religiously motivated) frequently seek some kind of answer for life’s inner woes. The focus is on the power of the journey rather than simply reaching the destination. Many people find themselves doing the pilgrimage to Santiago and are not sure exactly why but somehow know that it is the right place to be. The contemporary pilgrimage to Santiago is very popular precisely because of its openness: there’s a place for everyone irrelevant of age, background, faith (or lack thereof) and motivation and it has a way of hitting each individual in just the right spot (even though what that spot might be can be quite a mystery).
One of the common sayings among pilgrims along the Camino is that ‘You can start alone but you never end alone.’ The power of community and friendship is a theme reinforced throughout the film. Tom starts very much alone but soon acquires three unlikely companions who share his journey.
As Estevez shared with me at the after-party, The Way is a modern-day Oz story as three flawed characters help Tom (Dorothy) find his way back home to his son, his heart and, ultimately, himself and his faith.
The movie brings vividly to life the sights, sounds (both pleasant and annoying – in addition to a great soundtrack including Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and James Taylor), color and feel of the Camino as we see the group of pilgrim friends share meals, sleep together in the pilgrims’ refuges, walk through the varied landscapes as well as have both good and bad encounters with locals and, importantly, with each other.
Despite their conflicts, and also because of them, the pilgrims are able to have unexpected moments of liberation and insight.
The Way gives us a picture of the Camino, warts and all, to show how pilgrimage is a process of trial and error, forgiveness and insight, sorrow and laughter and how pilgrims’ motivations are as varied as a rainbow from the deeply religious to personal angst to physical challenge to the apparently trivial. The characters are credible and you care what happens to them keeping you riveted until the end.
Estevez and Sheen want to show how the Camino’s magic helps to work change in pilgrims – when people leave behind their normal lives and go to the pilgrimage stripped of most of their possessions, normal stress and obligations, they connect more easily with the world (ie, self, nature, God, others, body, history, etc). Unhindered by the labels, status and titles they may have back home, when the day’s obligations are reduced to the basics (walking, eating, and finding a bed), suddenly life seems much easier. As pilgrims lighten their loads mentally, they often describe how their inner worlds also free up giving way to the possibility of greater insight and self-awareness. On the Camino people describe connecting more intensely to everything around them and inside of themselves. Making the pilgrimage to Compostela helps many people discover their own way on the Way – it can be a type of mobile therapy.
After the premiere I asked María her general impression of the film. Overall she was very positive but was surprised at how ‘religious’ it was. I hadn’t felt the same way. Reflecting on it more, the themes of re-finding one’s faith and connecting with something spiritual are definitely present but it seemed to me part of each person’s private story and not an imposition on the audience. Also, being a religious pilgrimage in its origin, it’s inevitable that elements of the Catholic church will be woven throughout. I think I also take for granted with my years along the Camino the incredible diversity of stories and how on the Camino it is possible to be steeped in religion yet not feel religious. Yes, religion is inevitably present throughout the film but its intention is not to prosthelytize.
The moving story behind the story also involves the heart. When Emilio Estevez introduced the film to the audience he started with a quote: ‘It’s a pleasure to return from whence I came.’ He said, ‘It is the same for Martin and me. Our film is a love letter to Spain. It’s a love letter to Galicia.’ Before Martin Sheen took his stage name he was Ramón Estevez son of a Galician immigrant from Salceda near the coastal town of Pontevedra. Spain remained close to Sheen’s heart and he continued to return to his father’s native land. Seven years ago Sheen invited his family to tour Spain with him. They ended up doing their own road trip of the Camino as they crossed the north of Spain to Galicia. This journey and Sheen’s own faith eventually led them to make their own film about the pilgrimage way and transform it into a tribute to the land of their ancestors. The film is dedicated to Martin Sheen’s father.
Anyone who intimately knows the Camino will find a number of odd edits of landscapes. Emilio Estevez explained to me after the premiere that his original movie was 3.5 hours long and he was required to do some creative editing. This is inconsequential to the overall feeling of the film as the scenes selected are visually rich and conjure the depth of beauty of Spain in its many facets (and at its best). They did skip the sections where pilgrims must walk along roadways or wait in lines at refuges but one would expect that type of poetic license. Also, the pilgrims themselves remain remarkably immaculate during much of their pilgrimage, they don’t seem to have any physical problems and Tom tends to charge through the whole Camino with great determination and vitality. I would have softened his pace as his character softens and evolves over the course of the journey. The development and transformation of Sheen’s character is particularly good. We see how the others are deeply touched by the Camino but I did wonder how the experience would stay with them over time. Of course, this a major interest of my own (How does the journey impact people in the long-term, if at all?) as I explored in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.
These are minor complaints as The Way manages to touch on and give accurate and colorful insight into a wide ranging mix of Spanish (eg, regional differences and Gypsy stereotypes) and Camino culture. There are several scenes that poke fun at Americans and there is an especially funny moment when two characters debate about the proper word to use for Spanish finger foods – tapas or pinchos – in northern Spain that brought the house down in the predominantly Spanish-speaking audience in Santiago.
The film also wrestles with one of my favorite Camino topics: authenticity. One night around the fire the pilgrims debate about the nature of the ´true/authentic’ pilgrim. One side claims that real pilgrims only walk and must suffer as they did in the medieval past. Another pilgrim points out the hypocrisy in this idea of modern self-styled suffering pilgrims who travel with plenty of comforts (eg, cell phones, credit cards and waterproof shoes) unknown in the past. It’s not how you do the pilgrimage that’s important but how you carry it in your heart. Walking with your own pack is one way to do the Camino but it’s not the only way. Everyone must find their own Camino. That’s one of the central messages of the film: Nunca es demasiado tarde para encontrar el Camino. It’s never too late to find the Way/way. There’s no formula to be a ‘real/authentic’ pilgrim. It’s a real shame how many, many people today see the Camino as a competition of who is a better (ie,imagined ‘authentic’) pilgrim and get very snooty about where they started, where they stayed and didn’t stay, how far they’ve walked, how many times they’ve done it, etc as if that were the point of the Camino. What a sad outcome of a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Authenticity comes from within and isn’t found by following some unwritten code of oughts and shoulds and trying to impose it on others. Live your own life. Live your own pilgrimage. Follow your own heart. Walk your own Camino (and stay clear of anybody who tries to tell you there is a right way)!
***I’d like to thank my dear friend María Santos for accompanying me to the premiere and the post-premiere cocktail where we met the remarkably gracious Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.
***For more information on the film, see the official The Way-The Movie website: https://www.theway-themovie.com/
In 2008 Australian journalist and organic olive oil producer Dee Nolan journeyed with us on our On Glory Roads: Camino de Santiago pilgrimage tour.
She has crafted an extraordinarily beautiful book detailing her pilgrimage to Compostela - A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Penguin, 2010).
Dee Nolan's Food Journey Testimonial
Sometimes you just stick a pin in the map and get plain lucky. Or, as happened to me in this Age of Google, you click on one of the zillions of Internet entries for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and find yourself reading about Nancy Frey. I just can’t imagine how my pilgrimage and my desire to write a book about it would have been if I’d hadn’t met Nancy and her partner Jose.
In an act of faith, our little gang of Australian pilgrims flew half way around the world and placed ourselves under Nancy’s tutelage. The result was an experience and a relationship that has been rewarding beyond any of our expectations. Her deep knowledge of the camino, of its history and its stories, past and present, put our pilgrimage in a rich cultural context that it would have taken months, or more likely years, to match if we’d had to tackle it on our own. As well, she gave us all an insight into contemporary life in Spain via her years of living in her adopted country and her time with Jose.
And best of all, we laughed a lot along the way.
Nancy and Jose’s adorable four-year-old daughter Marina accompanied us on our 11-day Camino de Santiago adventure. At the start of the first day’s walk she gave each of us a scallop shell - the symbol of the pilgrimage. In winter the family gathers shells on the beach near their home which they thread with red ribbon and give to their guests. Jose disappeared off each morning to track down sensational local produce for our picnic lunches - not just delicious, but the ideal way to understand why regional food traditions remain so treasured. Our itinerary was carefully chosen to build, bit by bit, the narrative of the Way of St James, medieval and modern, and so by the time we reached the cathedral in Santiago, the pilgrimage jigsaw puzzle fitted together beautifully.
Those of us from the other side of the world returned home with Marina’s scallop shell and the camino forever in our hearts.
Dee Nolan journalist and organic olive oil producer www.nolansroad.com
A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela by Dee Nolan, published by Lantern / Penguin Australia, 25 October 2010, hardback 420pp, ISBN 9781920989910, RRP AUD 100.00.