On any given day in Baton Rouge, I usually find myself speaking English. Occasionally I get to make use of French and Spanish, with a smattering of Ecclesiastical Latin, but for the most part it’s the language I speak in, think in, and probably even gesture in.
Out here on the Camino, I’m continually amazed at how it’s oh-so-common to have at least a conversational ability in more than one language. Since waking up this morning, I’ve heard German, Dutch, French, Spanish (of course), Italian, Polish (I think) and Hungarian — which I wouldn’t have been able to pick out of Henry Higgins’ record collection (yep, that’s a vague Pygmalion reference!) unless I asked. And it’s staggering at how many will at least have the ability to ask the “touristy” questions and understand the answers of each other:
“Where are you from?”
“How long have you been here?”
“Where in the USA do you live?”
“Is it this hot in Louisiana?” [Much hotter!]
“Do you know the WiFi password?”
Now, with the non-Romantic languages, the hand-off isn’t as easy. But it’s not uncommon for the German, Polish, Hungarian, or Slovakian people that I’ve encountered to have a pretty darn good “basic” English. Europe really does a great deal of unity, even in the midst of extreme cultural diversity. And it’s really second-nature for a person to speak several languages.
It really puts us USA folk at a disadvantage, since learning multiple languages – like more than just one other one – isn’t really a part of our English-speaking lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to communicate a simple thought, but lack the vocabulary (or remembrance of the word) and so I just stand there like an astronaut watching the air slowly leak out of his space suit. It’s a consequence of Babel that I find most annoying! Of course, it’s equally distressing for the person to whom you’re trying to communicate, so they stand there expectantly like the astronaut at the airlock unable to remember the code to the door. At least we can share our frustration at being unable to completely share our thoughts (and hearts in some cases).
I had always hoped to study more languages, because I have the knack and the fascination with how words form, but as with many things there’s simply no time to do it in a proper way with so many responsibilities back home. Of course, if the Lord wants me to learn something else, it’ll happen. But, my brain is a sponge beginning to harden. It’s so difficult to admit that my mind isn’t as malleable as it used to be!
That said, I had several good exchanges with folks on the walk today. There’s a French family (a whole family!) who seem to be synchronized with my daily walking plan. We pass each other in the kitchens in the morning, “Bonjour!” and throughout the day with the same salutation. Their son even rode his bike forward about a kilometer to bring my sleep sack which successfully made a break from my pack as I left Castrojeriz before sunrise this morning. Even though there isn’t a shared spoken language, the language of charity speaks loud and clear.
Along the way also today was a church group from French Martinique traveling in style along the Camino. They were on a giant motor coach which let them walk as much of the Way as they liked, and then met them at a restaurant or stop so they could hop on the bus as they liked. They were praying their rosaries and in the midst of a few decades we were able to have an elementary conversation.
This simmers my brain in an olive oil reduction, because I’m attempting to switch back and forth from French to Spanish, think in English, translate back in to French and vice versa (assuming my internal dictionary wants to activate!)
I also visited and spent this leg of the Camino from Castrojeriz to Frómista with a young lady from Ottawa, Canada. It’s neat to listen to the stories of other folks and I get to play the old game of “how long can I continue a conversation without revealing that I’m a priest?” Whenever they ask “and what do you do for a living?” I just come clean. It makes for some very interesting conversations, because so many on the Camino have long left their religious practice behind. Rather than bash them over the head with a Catechism, I rather enjoy listening to their point of view – which usually comes down to the same root: “But, I don’t want anyone –even God– to tell me what to do!” As I say, I spend most of my time listening, simply sharing my life when asked. I think that just being me is often the best witness to the Gospel that there is. And consequently, listening to those who are legitimately searching for God (though they may not call it that!) attempt to give voice to the ways in which they are looking is really fascinating.
Today, as I arrived in Frómista (which does indeed have some local cheese, but I don’t fancy carrying a whole darn wheel of the stuff) I was able to rest a bit, wash some clothes, and visit the Church of St. Martin, which is a beautiful and simple representation of Romanesque architecture. It’s actually an ancient foundation of the monks of Cluny, even though there’s no monastery here anymore. It’s well preserved and the Mass is even celebrated on Wednesdays there. The rest of the time it’s a kind of museum with the parish church of San Pedro holding the regular Mass schedule for weekdays and weekends. Indeed, I did get to go to Mass today and even concelebrate, which is so nice for a priest to be able to do. Many of the churches along The Way aren’t what I’d call “Camino priest friendly” in that they are either locked, have strange hours of “operation,” or require a 3€ entrance fee (no matter what, Señor!). So, to meet a priest who says, “sure thing!” is refreshing.
I’m sure that there’s more I could say, but the albergues have a general “lockdown” of 10p.m. ( like summer camp!) so I’ve got 30 minutes to finish my wine (cheaper than water, so why not?) and get to my bunk. Tomorrow, Carrión de los Condes. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t read ahead to see what lay ahead in that town. But, you know how it is: to the unprepared, The Holy Spirit brings unexpected joy – and that’s a language that speaks right to the heart!