A Spiritual Journey -The Camino de Santiago as a metaphor, metaphor as a spiritual tool, art making as the Path.
In the Pyrenees foothills, just before the steep descent into the town of Zubiri, along what Alain & I call Dinosaur Ridge, this little creature crossed our path.
We paused and watched him/her inch, crawl, slither, moonwalk, travel up and across the gravely path in the direction of Santiago.
Much smaller than us, much, much slower, but going just as fast and far in it’s own way.
This beautiful creature (in all its manifestations) would accompany us through Navarra, the vineyards of Rioja, over the karst hills of Atapuerca, past the fields of ripening wheat barley oats peas, up the climb onto the Meseta across the blazing Terra de Compos, and into León.
We chose the el Caracol as our ‘spirit animal” to guide our walk.
The Grove snail is a ‘good’ snail, does no harm to the agricultural growth.
It’s ‘grounded’; walks solid every step of the way, one step (with one foot) at a time, never jumping over the hard parts.
As it’s namesake ‘snail mail’, it’s a metaphor for real, not virtual or alternate real. Real real, here & now, physical, real.
And according to the science “they have excellent associative thought which helps them remember the places where they were or where the objects of their surroundings are” - a wonderful trait for our Camino journey, and for the art-making journey of Painted Steps.
You see this sign on posts and walls in the pueblos and towns along the Camino. It means here is post office for your postcards back home.
Peregrinos are encouraged to take a weight off their backs – sort through their back packs, mochilas, box up their unnecessary baggage, and mail it home. In the big main post office in Burgos we saw a number of people taking this advice. There are special large boxes for bicycles.
From the corner of my eye, at a quick glance I always read the logo as a snail - maybe not the desired association!
Snail reminds us to GO SLOW
Stay calm, Look for the signs…
My first ‘Camino miracle’ occured in St Jean Pied-de-Port on the eve of our departure into Spain, our last night before we hit the trail.
We were on a terrace enjoying this delicious dinner, something with meat and oranges, and we struck up a conversation with a fellow at the next table whom we thought might be a pilgrim which he turned out to be.
A youngish Swiss man, he told us he had been walking for weeks, having started the Camino in Le Puy-en-Velay, near Lyon, in France over 700 k away. He was having a short stay in St Jean before continuing towards Santiago. He was still enjoying himself and was happy to answer our somewhat anxious questions.
He generously offered us our first piece of on-the-trail advice:
Stop every two hours, take off your shoes and socks and dry them out, rest. Trust me.
And we did. For the next 500k, every two hours we allowed ourselves to stop walking, to sit down, take off our shoes/boots. Sometimes we had a bite to eat, paddled in a stream, made drawings, prints, lay in the grass (or dirt or rock), had a siesta!
This way we avoided making blisters, infections, pain, misery, slogging, boredom and using pharmaceuticals.
It is a great piece of advice!
The miracle is that we took it!
Thank you, our first peregrino, like our spirit animal, showing us how not to be in a rush to get there.
P.S. Interesting ‘facts about Grove snail - Caracole de la arboleda (from wiki)
The grove snail or brown-lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis) is a species of air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc.
It is among the largest and, because of its polymorphism and bright colours, one of the best-known snails in Western Europe.
The width of the shell is 18–25 mm. The height of the shell is 12–22 mm. with from 4½ to 5½ whorls.
This snail is comparatively slow-growing, usually taking three years to develop from an egg to a breeding adult.
It is used as a model organism in citizen science projects.
Cepaea nemoralis predominantly moves in an upwind direction.
They first randomly move in any direction before following the upwind stream. The decision to move upwind is made when the odor of favored foods is detected.
Those dots are their tentacles /antlers are eyes.
They can move their tentacles up or down to improve their ability to see.
The sense of sight of snails is useful but only to detect changes in the intensity of light to recognize whether it is night or day
They are practically deaf since they have no ears nor ear canal.
To compensate this absence of hearing they have an excellent associative thought which helps them remember the places where they were or where the objects of their surroundings are.
On the Camino no satellite GPS is needed: the shells and painted arrows point the way!
My Prado Museum experience was a perfect counterpoint to walking the Camino.
The bottom band of Painted Steps is the place for painted studies from the works of Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes and Hieronymus Bosch, El Bosco, the two artists’ work that I spent the most time with in Madrid.
This bottom band starts as a horizontal stretch of bare paper interrupted by vertical pillars and patches painted in to indicate placeholders or niches.
I’m using this space for visual footnotes or commentaries, or as a Greek chorus, or as emphasis, like drawing a line under a word.
To see Bosch’s and Goya’s work in one building, the Prado Museum, was fantastic, hitting the jackpot!
The Bosch are all in one room: The Adoration of the Magi Triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych, The Haywain Triptych, the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, and Extracting the Stone of Madness and others.
The triptychs are displayed on large plinths, opened, free standing and showing the backs as well as the fronts. The backs of the ‘doors ‘are painted in monochrome grisaille, somber, meaning to be closed during Lent.
And opened splendidly to reveal the inside. No reproduction of Bosch of any size or close-up-ness prepared me for the gorgeous colour, crystal clarity, and focused wealth of information in these works.
The Goyas are in a few separate places in the Museo. The Black paintings taken from the walls of the Quinta del Sordo (country house of the deaf man) in Bordeaux, stretched and hung in the Prado in the 30’s, are together.
There are the rooms of paintings Goya was commissioned to make as cartoons for tapestries.
There is gallery with the Royal portraits, with the centerpiece- The Family of Carlos IV 1800).
(near to Velasquez’ las Meninas – (The family of Felipe IV 1656)
The first one I chose to paint is the royal family of Charles? Carlos IV, a group portrait of parents, children, cousins, whose familial dysfunction had lethal consequences.
The painting is huge, the figures seem life size.
The occasion is formal but the individual portraits are intimate.
I spent a fair amount of time over 3 days with this painting, looking, going elsewhere, returning, taking a break at the Prado café, returning again and discussing it with my partner.
It’s amazing to see it close up and real. The brush strokes are so loose and relaxed, and super descriptive…the chiffon layers of the dresses, the grosgrain ribbon of the ‘Order of the Golden Fleece medals (that everyone is displaying) the velvet breeches, brocade, skin over flesh……
You can see the magic happen.
The brushstroke of paint and the picture of the thing –spark in my mind - become ‘real’. Brilliant!!
This is the power of human imagination- a species-selected trait.
Copying, making studies of existing art works, is new to me.
Also representational painting is not something I’ve used much, being more a drafter or constructor of images.
So basically I have to work out a method, technique, process, skills...
I’m painting from a number of reproductions wildly different in size, colour, tones, levels of detail.
These reproductions are to the real-life painting as Skype is
to a real hug.
To start I made multiple sketches from the various sources on drawing paper, layering and tracing adjustments in my attempts to ‘copy’ the painting.
I became aware of how complex this painting is, not formally, but in terms of the human relationships.
It took a lot of looking and sketching to see these gestures- the way Isabella’s strong arm divides the composition, her holding her son’s hand proudly…her son - her achievement in bearing heirs, timid Carlos peaking out behind his cousin his little hand around the waist of the tyrant-to-be- Ferdinand,
I sketched “The Royal Family” in place on the right hand panel of Painted Steps. I blocked it in with pencil lines, noting that the soft paper would not lend itself to erasing, my usual MO.
I am going to add, change, shift, with paint itself, relying on the layering and opacity of gouache.
I will have to learn to paint!
And in the course of making a picture of this painting, I wandered down many interesting avenues: the Order of the Golden Fleece (a 19th c ‘club card’), Spanish history of succession, revolution, classism, and the Spanish shoe industry, as well as family gossip.
It’s not an easy painting.
I put it aside and work on other parts.(TBC)
And so the basic structure of Painted Steps is established and most bands ‘activated’.
In the top band I intend to paint variations of the Camino shell motif and yellow arrow that guide us along the hundreds of kilometers.
I want to paint in some of the artwork I saw outside, recent public art made for the Camino, as well as historical works.I'm not exactly sure where it will go.
The basic structure is in place, all I have to do is paint it!
On the Camino no satellite GPS is needed: the shells and painted arrows point the way!
“Stay calm! Be brave! Wait for the signs!” *
*Thomas King “The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour” CBC Radio1997 to 2000
Virtually every peregrino I met was walking towards the west - towards Santiago.