On the Praza do Obradoira a young man falls to his knees and cries into his palms. I feel the sharp corners of the rocks dig into his aching knees. He can’t be older than 30 and at the sight of him I feel infantilized, because I am immature in passion and devotion. I could be filled with the feelings that bring him to tears right now but I am immature.
He is a modern-day pilgrim. He wears a large green backpack and his face is unshaven. His blonde hair is messy and his clothes are dirty. His father, standing behind him to the right, and his mother, to his left, are pilgrims too and match this description. But they are not on their knees and he is on his knees.
He has been walking for over thirty days, over ten miles each day, to complete the Camino de Santiago, or the way of Saint-James. And now he is prostrate before this, the revered Santiago de Compostela. Now his vision is spotted with tears which blend and blur the sharp stone lines; he sees a watercolor of the Cathedral.
He looks up at it, his destination. I’m already inside, looking out on the square. I imagine the Cathedral from his eyes. The Baroque facade raises powerfully into the sky. It is intricate to the point of complication and confusion. You can really only focus on a small section at any given moment. The town is small but many villagers walk through the square around you. Some hug you and some cheer for you and some pray over you.
I don’t know what faith is but I find it beautiful from the exterior. Read more »
We’re off to meet a small live-aboard motorboat about three hours drive south of Ho Chi Minh City to cruise the Mekong Delta for a few days. The older gentleman driving has a deep, rich voice we don’t understand, speaks no English and we no Vietnamese besides pleasantries, the names of some food and a particular local beer, 333, not very challengingly pronounced baa baa baa, like the black sheep.
He’s a pro driver, no doubt about that, all turned out in a nice golf shirt and slacks, and he works our little sedan to the Saigon River then south out of town, and holds a steady course until the city falls away. He appropriates the left lane and proceeds with zealous caution, a campaign strategy he follows every bloody deliberate inch of the way.
Steady ahead. If he hurtles inadvertently to 60 kph, even on long, empty stretches, his face flushes and he brakes abruptly. Could he be working by the hour? If they say this trip should take three and a half hours, no way will he make it three hours and a quarter.
We first came to Saigon twenty-five years ago. Since then women have largely dispensed with the demure way they rode the back of cycles, both legs to one side. Back then many more women wore the traditional Ao Dai, the thin, body length robe. Perhaps that made it hard to sit any other way.
The river yields to a web of canals. Smart electronic overhead signs show the way through less kempt industrial outskirts. Now we roll along a divided six-lane highway, with extra outside lanes for every variety of two-wheeler, and this goes on for miles and undifferentiated miles. Read more »