Camino 16b – 3 October 2014
By Parson Thru
Nobody seemed sure what to do next. People said their goodbyes outside the cathedral as the crowd dispersed into the evening. Somewhere in the middle of it all, a small group formed.
Among its number were David and Astrid, Kirsten, Ursula and Jurgen and the Irish lads (Stephen, Michael and Mick). N and I looked round for Ziggy, but there was no sign of him.
Inevitably, someone asked “Anyone fancy a drink?”
Stephen said he’d seen a good bar. The little group began to move through the general melee. More goodbyes were said as we parted company with familiar faces.
We made our way through Santiago’s narrow streets until we found a place in a small yard and settled like migratory birds around one of its tables.
We ordered cold beer in large glasses running with condensation. Wine was ordered as more people turned up. An attractive couple with sun-bleached hair recognised Ursula and Jurgen as they were passing. I hadn’t seen them before. They sat down and ordered drinks. Tapas began to appear on the table.
I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and looked round. It was John, the American we’d been reunited with on the way into Santiago. I felt a real affection for this bear of a man who we’d first met struggling against steep gradients and heat in the mountains of Leon. He found a space next to Kirsten and pulled up a chair.
The table was soon alive with conversation – excited voices competing to be heard. I barely noticed the tourists and peregrinos bustling past. More drinks were ordered. I could hear Ursula’s voice becoming more animated. Jurgen, who I’d assumed to be practically teetotal, was holding a glass of Rioja and seemed to be making up for lost time.
As day turned to night, the waiters brought more cervesas and bottles of wine. It wasn’t long before the singing began. I think it was Michael first – an Irish folk song. From within the midst of the conversation, his voice dreamily rose and people turned and listened. When he finished there was general cheering and clapping.
I’d been keeping myself going for days with the couple of Dylan songs I could remember. I screwed my eyes up to conjure the first verse of “Tangled up in Blue”. Somehow, I rolled out all seven verses to more cheering and banging of glasses.
A group of young Spaniards had gathered at the next table. As we fell into catching up on people and stories, a boy of around twenty stood on a chair and started singing. As the others joined in he urged them on with a passion, clapping his hands and almost tumbling in his excitement. We turned and watched, cheering them on.
I chatted to John for a while as cameras flashed around the table, capturing the scene. N was deep in conversation with Kirsten at the other end of the table. Mick gave us another Irish song – “Seven Drunken Nights”. I joined in as some of the words came back to me.
The Spanish youngsters were up again bellowing and stamping their feet. It was like a small riot. Their youthful leader looked set to topple right off the table. The waiters merely looked on.
Just to my left, Michael began singing in the softest of voices. It was a song called “Dublin in the Rare Old Times” which Ronnie Drew used to sing. Michael sang it beautifully and movingly. Our friends at the next table listened. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
As the night wore on and the booze flowed, the faces around the table beamed one minute and fell into earnestness the next. The Irish songs kept coming. With some coaching from Stephen, Michael and Mick, I threw in a couple I knew.
In the midst of all this, a ruddy-faced man, expensively dressed in a light-coloured suit and tie, appeared at the table. He was with a woman I took to be his wife.
”Now then,” he shouted “are we all Irish here?”
Feeling like an imposter, I waved in the direction of the three who were.
“Well, here we are.” he said, clapping his hands together. “What’re we all having?”
He looked like he could stand the whole place a drink without flinching. A space was made for them and they sat down. More wine and beer was ordered. He was one of those people who fill the room as soon as they walk in. He filled our little corner of Santiago. He had the look of someone who’d got where he was through sheer hard work and force of personality. If I was guessing, I’d say he was in Construction. Whatever, he shared his generosity and bonhomie evenly.
The table began to fragment into smaller conversations. N was chatting with Ursula and Kirsten and the German couple. The young Spaniards moved on, presumably to greater things, and crowds continued to drift through the narrow street. I remembered the cider bar in Oviedo and thought about how far the two of us had come since then and the meal in London’s Chinatown almost two weeks ago. My head was filled with faces, scenes and snippets of conversation and I looked around the table to take this moment in that I knew would pass.
Waiters began collecting chairs and stacking them. The writing was on the wall. Sun-shades were collapsed and soon we were being gently urged on our way. The pain of parting was much reduced by the effect of alcohol and the general warmth around the table.
Everyone was hugging and shaking hands. Some would be setting off to walk to Finisterre next morning, others, like us, would be boarding flights home. There were some notable absentees, such as Ziggy, Cyril and his bicycle trailers, Chloe who we’d last seen in Cebreiro and the California Girls. No sign, either, of Maria, Claudache and Lionel, the French picnickers. It was unlikely we’d see any of them again.
I had a last handshake and bear-hug from John. N exchanged email addresses with a few people – always an optimistic gesture – then it was time to head back to the hotel.
On the way, we walked past a café with gorgeous raciones piled high inside the window. The place was absolutely buzzing, despite it being way after midnight. We had an early start in the morning, but we couldn’t resist it. We turned back and went in, perching at the counter where we ordered wine and tried some of the raciones. It was good to be together – the two of us – doing what we do best.