I have a habit of making notes, or trying to do so, when I am traveling alone. It dated back to the days when I used to keep a diary, which was when I was an undergrad. I had an aspiration to be a scientist, which by definition is someone who is highly disciplined and would keep detailed records of his observations on things happening around him. My problem is that I am not exactly a disciplined person, which explains why I never make the ranks among scientists. My notes, from lecture notes to travel notes, are often too sketchy to be useful. Furthermore, they are not always legible or intelligible, but I still make an effort to make notes during my travels. I would pack a small note pad which can fit into my shirt pocket; and if I forget to pack one, I would buy one at the airport, which is why I have plenty of small note pads all over the place, some barely used, while most of them only slightly used.
On my last trip, for example, I kept details of all outgoing flights, including the flight time, the weather conditions at take off and landing, the model of the aircraft, particularly when they are small aircrafts, any delays, and waiting time between flights. My notes included such trivia as the seat capacity and range of the aircraft which took me to Madrid and Pamplona and my observation that I was the only Chinese or even Asian on both flights. Read on, if you are interested in trivia.
I spent Pentecost Sunday at the F & G Logrono Hotel at Logrono which is situated near a river called Rio Ebro, which I can watch from my hotel room. This was to be the last day I would be on my own, because later that day, Gus would arrive with the group which would have started their cultural tour from St Jean Pied-de-Port. It was a very sunny morning, with blue sky and few clouds. As I looked out of the hotel window, I saw a white bird with long legs picking up twigs on the patio of the hospital opposite the hotel. I quickly went for my camera and trained my long lens on it. I watched it fly up to the roof of the hospital, which was not tall, only three storeys, and into a rather well-built nest. There was another bird there flapping its wings; and even as I watched, I saw through my camera lens a few, two or three, fledglings inside the nest. I think I was watching the parents feeding their babies and teaching them how to fly at the same time. I could not name the species of the bird: it could be the Great Egret, or Snowy Egret or a heron species; but it could not be a crane species because its legs were not long enough and its neck was not outstretched when it flew. I took many pictures of the family before I went to the Catherdral for Mass and I had a few loaded on my Facebook page. Later on in the trip, we saw more of their kind nesting on rooftops or top of castle ruins. Iago said they were storks, but I cannot be sure either because I could not spot the characteristic red legs and red beaks.
There were nine priests con-celebrating the Mass, assisted by four or five deacons. I suppose it was because it was Pentecost Sunday. The Mass was said in Spanish, of course, but there were parts in Latin which I could recognize and still remember from my altar boy days. The choir sang well and the music was soothing, but I could not follow a word of the Spanish sermon.
On sermons, Fr Robert Ng gave very good sermons during Mass which he said almost every day during the Walking Tour, beginning from 1 June, which was also a First Friday, for eight days. Mass was always held in my room because I had taken out a double room throughout; and every evening, Robert would come to my room five minutes before Mass was to begin to have the room laid out to accommodate for everyone who would likely turn up. We were in Santiago de Compostela for the following Saturday and Sunday when we attended Mass at the Cathedral. We had Mass in my room for the last time on this trip the following Monday in the morning, before we set off for Finisterre.
At the beginning of the first Mass on 1 June, Robert gave an overview on the Catholic’s tradition of pilgrimages, citing the three most important routes, namely, first, the Holy Land or the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage in Jerusalem, which is a short route covering 500 metres depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross; secondly, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Scala Santa or the Holy Steps leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem; and thirdly, the El Camino, which is where we were. Each route involves different degrees of physical exertions and personal involvement; and each pilgrimage would give the individual opportunities for reflection, contemplation and introspection. It is a blessing for an individual to be participating in any pilgrimage in general, and a special privilege to be a pilgrim on any one of the three routes in particular.
Robert’s homilies during the week beginning with Trinity Sunday (3 June) were particularly enlightening. Robert said that the modern man could be relying too much on the human experience and wisdom and thus could be spending too much time and effort trying to understand the Holy Trinity when one should have more trust in the power of prayers and in the Holy Spirit. History has shown that no one can understand such mysteries. Robert then expounded on three consecutive days, the Gospel readings according to Saint Mark, chapter 12, in relation to the questions put to Jesus by the Pharisees, the Sadducces and the Scribes. I would try to summarize the wisdom of Robert, but I would probably do an average job at best.
First, the Pharisees, who were supposed to be of a superior class and wiser than the average people, asked whether they should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. It was meant to trick Jesus into a no win situation, but Jesus saw through their devices, asked them for a silver coin which they produced, and then asked them whose face was on it. We all know what Jesus said. Robert said Jesus had not used the occasion simply to win an argument. Rather, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them to pay to God what belongs to God. Secondly, the Sadducces. They did not believe in life after death, and they asked about the fate in heaven of the woman who married seven brothers in succession, to which Jesus told them that they were wrong to assume that life in heaven, or life after death, would be the same as life on earth. Here again, Robert highlighted that Jesus used the occasion to tell his audience that the God he was preaching is the God of the living and not of the dead. Thirdly, the Scribes, who were law professors of those time, asked Jesus which commandment was the most important of all; and at which point Jesus gave them a new commandment, to love our neighbour as ourself.
A theme that runs through the Gosepel readings I have just outlined is the general unwillingness and inability of the average person to speak the truth, for fear that the truth would put him in a less advantageous position or for other political, economic or personal reasons. Robert reminded us of the importance of truth, citing a line from St John’s Gospel, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). This last line somehow sticks in my mind and I used it a couple of times afterwards during the trip, not always cleverly though, but I commend it to all of you.
I would talk about other aspects of the trip in my next letter.