Monday, October 10, 2011

The Way

The Way
seen @ AMC Loews Kips Bay 15, New York NY

Dear Andi,

What are the odds? What are the odds that you would choose to fulfill your dream of taking the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in the same year that a film is released about the Camino... and that I, a film blogger, would have the inclination to see and write about this film because I know you? It almost makes one believe in kismet... because all these improbable coincidences coming together at the same time can't be mere chance, can it?

But then, I suppose you would know more about that sort of thing than I would. A higher power, I mean. That's why you're on the Camino now (although you're close to the finish, if I'm not mistaken) - because you do believe in a higher power. We've had discussions like this before; you know that I've never felt anything like a divine presence in my life and that I find organized religion highly suspect... but I can't deny the positive effect it has had on you (though I imagine you'd still be a good person even without it).

I found out about The Way from your Facebook updates - I imagine there must be quite a bit of discussion about this movie amongst you and your fellow peregrinos. Directed by Emilio Estevez (he's come a long way from The Mighty Ducks) and starring his father, Martin Sheen, the film is about a father whose son dies while walking the Camino and how the father chooses to continue the walk in his son's name, against his better instincts. I caught an 11 AM showing (only costs six bucks before noon at AMC theaters) and I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the crowd. While it wasn't packed, there were a lot more people in the small auditorium than I anticipated, especially for a film opening the same weekend as a new George Clooney drama and a big-budget sci-fi action flick with Hugh Jackman.

Your Facebook updates have done a great job at describing all the wonders you've seen and the friends you've made these past few months, but seeing the Camino amidst the Spanish countryside, on a big screen, is something else. Estevez and his cinematographer do a solid job of conveying the verdant hills, the winding roads, and the rustic villages along the path. I realize there's more than one route to reach Santiago de Compostela, so I don't know for sure if the places captured in this movie correspond directly to the things you've seen, but surely it's in the same spirit. I certainly imagined you doing much the same things that Sheen's character does, though I hope you didn't suffer any of the same obstacles.

The religious aspects of the Camino get some play in the film, though they're not a major focus. Tom, Sheen's character, and the other people he encounters, have different reasons for walking the Camino but I'd say there is a definite sense of reverence for its spiritual side - certainly when they reach Compostela at the end. Tom refers to himself as a lapsed Catholic, but traveling with the ashes of his dead son puts him back in touch with his beliefs. There's never any preaching in the movie, which I greatly appreciated.

There's a scene about halfway into the film in which Tom's companions discuss what constitutes being a "true" pilgrim on the Camino: walking with the necessary items for survival and maybe a modern accessory or two like an iPod, or roughing it like the pilgrims of old, living on the charity of strangers. We've reached a point in our lives where many of us can't imagine life without our technological accessories. The paeans to the late Steve Jobs last week are a testament to their impact. (Ironically, Tom laments early in the movie how everyone on Earth has a cellphone except his son.)

We're conditioned into believing we can't get by without this stuff, but how badly do we really need it? Do the villagers along the Camino care whether they have the latest iPad or not? If The Way is any indication, I doubt it. You've lived the past two and a half months with less than you normally do, and you've done fine. Seeing this film makes me wish for the courage to find a better balance in my life, one in which less is more.

Could I do the Camino one day? I hadn't given it any thought before now, but The Way made me see the appeal, for you and for others. The religious aspects give me pause, I'll admit, but I don't believe they'd be an impediment. It might be nice to do one day. I like the fact that the Camino is a well-worn route and one can count on support from local residents familiar with it as well as from fellow hikers. I dunno. It's worth thinking about at the very least.

I've said it to you before, but I wanna say again how proud of you I am for undertaking this journey. Now that I have a stronger indication of what you've been through thanks to this movie, I can better appreciate what a truly unique experience this has been. May the rest of your pilgrimage be a joyous one and your trip home safe.



  1. Well done my friend, really love your approach to writing this.

  2. I kinda knew how I wanted to approach this one from the start.

  3. Thanks, Rich!

    I've just returned to Santiago de Compostea, Spain, today, after completing my second Camino this year. The first, as you know, was the most-traveled one, the Camino Francés -- the very same that Martin Sheen's character walks -- and my starting point, as his, was Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. That Camino took me eight weeks to complete, including several much-needed rest days.

    This time, my pilgrimage was a curtailed version, due to severe lack of time, of the Camino Portugués, and, over a course of eight days, I walked from Valença do Minho, Portugal, back to St. James' glorious tomb in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

    Pursuant to tradition, and following my first Camino, I also ventured to Finisterre, Spain ... but by bus, instead of on foot, to my great regret. Finisterre was once considered the end of the known world (as its name suggests), and, nowadays, it's customary to burn something at its lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

    During the Middle Ages, pilgrims would burn all of their carried possessions there, after completing their journey, but this was out of necessity: Can you imagine all the lice, fleas and bedbugs they must have picked up along the way? In contrast, I didn´t burn anything, but I did leave behind a pair of well-worn hiking socks. When I waved goodbye to those socks, they were keeping assorted hiking boots, shirts, shorts and jackets company.

    A few days after visiting Finisterre, I ventured to Muxía by bus. Muxía is another site on the Atlantic Ocean important to all of the Caminos, because it is here that the stone boat bearing St. James' headless body is said to have landed. And it landed here, because Iria Flavia, now known as Galicia, was one of the places where St. James was said to have preached after Jesus' crucifixion. St. James' corpse was buried in Iria Flavia in 44 A.D., and in about 820 A.D., what is widely believed to be his corpse was discovered; now, it is entombed in the Cathedral and city that have been named for him.

    Must go now, but I'll add more later.

    Thanks again!

  4. I knew you'd enjoy yourself, but it looks like you're really having a ball. Good to know.

  5. Cool post! I quite enjoyed this film, I just haven't got around to reviewing it. It'd be nice to do the Camino with a loved one, a great way to meet new people as well.

  6. I quite agree. The best part is that it's non-competitive, so there's no rush to completing it.


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