ON THE ROAD WITH ANN—Reading the Road on the Camino

image007Our Camino trips create a rather different balance between reading and walking, with the latter taking up most of the day and leaving time for shorter discussions of briefer works in the early evening.

But Dante, Wordsworth, Thoreau, Emerson and others have made the strong link between words and walking. One of the authors we sampled was Rebecca Solnit, who said, “If the body is the register of the real then reading with one’s feet is real in a way reading with one’s eyes alone is not.” Another, Anne Carson, writes, “A pilgrim is a person who is up to something. What is it?”

I thought readers might be interested in perusing some more quotations from the readings we imbibed along with wine and cheese at days’ end. Sources are shown at the end.

You can also look at pretty pictures here: SLIDE SHOW—Taking Your Soul for a Stroll: 160 kilometers along the Camino de Santiago.


Reading 3:

Centuries of travel lore suggest that when we no longer know where to turn, our real journey has just begun. At that crossroads moment, a voice calls to our pilgrim soul. The time has come to set out for the sacred ground—the mountain, the temple, the ancestral home—that will stir our heart and restore our sense of wonder.

Reading 7:

There is no question that I am someone starving. There is no question I am making this journey to find out what that appetite is.

Reading 1:

As a Muslim with more questions than certainties, I wonder at the meaning of the daily rituals that make up the pilgrimage.


Reading 2:

It’s this that makes pilgrimage, with its emphasis on repetition and imitation, distinct amid all the modes of walking.

Part of what makes roads, trails and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by the sedentary onlooker. They unfold in time as one travels along them, just as a story does as one listens or reads, and a hairpin turn Is like a plot twist, a steep ascent a building of suspense to the view at the summit, a fork in the road an introduction of a new storyline, arrival te end of the story.

The image of the walker, alone and active and passing through rather than settled in the world, is a powerful vision of what it means to be human, whether it’s a hominid traversing grasslands or a Samuel Beckett character shuffling down a rural road. The metaphor of walking becomes literal again when we really walk.

Reading 1:

Isn’t being a spoke in this colorful wheel of humanity part of the point?

Reading 5:

The undertow tugging at our casual conversations is about our pilgrim motive, and it’s beginning to seem tangible. It was only a matter of time before it burst through the veneer of the aimless banter about history and backpacks and water bottles. Ideas about proper pilgrimage are losing their abstractions and shaping into coherent concepts—and judgements.

“I am saying that a pilgrim must accept the hardship that the road imposes on him. The difficulty of the walk is inherent in walking. We needn’t artificially add more hardship than is already there. That, in my thinking, is being a false pilgrim.

We all eat at restaurants. We all have used the telephone. We all have stayed at hotels. I don’t believe pilgrims ignored the creature comforts of the road five hundred years ago any more than we should. Each of us assumes the hardship that the road demands of us. That is enough.”

Reading 1:

Pilgrims were people who figured things out as they walked.

Pilgrims were people wondering, wondering.

Pilgrims were people who tried not to annoy the regular inhabitants.

Are there two ways of knowing the world—a submissive and a devouring way?

It is an open secret among pilgrims and other theoreticians of this traveling life that you become addicted to the horizon. There is a momentum of walking, hunger, roads, empty blow of thoughts that is more luxurious—more civil than any city.

A pilgrim is a person who is up to something. What is it?

Love is the mystery inside this walking. It runs ahead of us on the road like a dog, out of the photograph.

What is the breaking point of the average pilgrim? I feel so lonely, like childhood again.

It would be an almost perfect love affair, wouldn’t it? That between the pilgrim and the road. No mistake, it is a beautiful thing, the camino. It stretches away from you. It leads to real gold: Look at the way it shines. And it asks only one thing. Which happens to be the one thing you long to give. You step forward. You shiver in the light. Nothing is left in you but desire for that perfect economy of action, using up the whole heart, no residue, no mistake: camino. It would be as simple as water, wouldn’t it? If there were any such thing as simple action for animals like us.

How is a pilgrim like a blacksmith? He bends iron. Love bends him.

Stars are spitting out of the cathedral as we enter Compostela: the cathedral! No it is not a mirage, this stupendous humming hulk of gold that stands as if run aground upon the plaza at the center of the city of Santiago.




Reading 1:

An hour later, squeezed in the back of the car returning to Jeddah, everyone around me is sleeping. But I am too scared to nod off. I have become very comfortable in this sanctified world of the past five days. I’ve been free of worries about money, how I look, jealousy, and envy. I don’t want to expose my self to the real world again.

It feels strange to sit around with my sisters, Reem’s long wavy hair still wet from washing, looking just like we did a week ago, but feeling that we’re not the same.

But I do feel different – more than the sum of my appearance, job, money, and education. I feel more centered and balanced, my backbone straighter. My inner space is larger and richer.

I want something to mark and remind me of this feeling, something I can wear or keep with me.

Reading 6:

A hard time we had of it.

With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?

Reading 4:

When I came back home from the Camino, I observed how rushing and hurrying and pushing are evident everywhere. Over-achievement, competition, comparison, addiction to work and duty, unreal expectations of needing to do more, the obsessive pursuits of having more—all these fall on us as heavy cultural and self-imposed burdens. When these attitudes and messages press in on us, they cause us to lose our harmony and self-satisfaction.

I still have a tendency to run but I am slowing down more often. I even walk slowly sometimes. Every day is a day to walk in a relaxed manner. I’m getting better at it.

Reading 5:

Is this pilgrimage a sacred task or is it trumped-up tourism?

Reading 3:

Epiphanies sometimes flash and flare for pilgrims, but there are also flickering movements of discovery on your journey, seen out of the corner of your eye. Small joys, humble experiences, such as twilight falling on the old columns of Amiens cathedral while the choir practiced; the tumble of dominoes and tinkle of children’s laughter in the cafes next to the Blue Mosque; the woman who dashed across the street in a pummeling rain to give you directions to poet Anna Akmatova’s apartment in St. Petersburg, after you had walked in circles for three hours, utterly lost.

You knew these things about people and places before you left home, but you had forgotten them. This journey reminded you of the sacred rhythms. How will you remember to remember when you return home?


  1. “The Pilgrimage to Mecca: One Woman’s Journey” by Faiza Saleh Ambah
    A Saudi journalist prepares to participate in a 1,300-year-old Muslim ritual
  2. Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
  3. The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau
  4. Walk in a Relaxed Manner by Joyce Rupp
  5. Off the Road by Jack Hitt
  6. “The Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot
  7. “Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela” from Plainwater: The Anthropology of Water by Anne Carson

See also the SLIDE SHOW—Taking Your Soul for a Stroll: 160 kilometers along the Camino de Santiago.


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