Liralen's Reviews > All the Good Pilgrims: Tales of the Camino de Santiago

All the Good Pilgrims by Robert Ward
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's review
Dec 31, 2014

really liked it
bookshelves: z-2014, camino, nonfiction, travel, reviewed

I almost didn't read this one,* but it turned out to be a good thing I did -- one of the better Camino memoirs I've read to date. Ward's walk across Spain in 2004, which he covers in this book, was not his first: he had done the Camino four times previously, so he already had a trove of stories to draw on, and he was able to look back and compare his 2004 experiences (and goals) with earlier ones.

Ward managed to do something that surprised me: This was, I think, the seventeenth book I've read about the Camino (yes, really, and yes, I know, I know), and yet there are details that I haven't seen elsewhere. A new twist on the Santo Domingo de la Calzada story -- that the innkeeper's daughter and local judges had to wear a symbolic cord around their neck for years; the goose symbolism and the Goose Game; the tau of Saint Anthony by Castrojeriz.

The other thing that's really nice about this book is the focus on other pilgrims, and on Spaniards he meets along the way. There are the Weird Sisters -- As a pilgrimage, a project and a performance, they are walking the Camino in the demure white pilgrim shifts fashionable in Chaucer's day. In every village, the Spaniards stop in amazement to watch them as they pass. They make an especially ghostly impression in the misty dawn and at twilight. One of them explains (with academic footnotes) that their process is meant to result in two "artifacts": dresses soiled with the dust of the Camino (113). There are the Spice Pilgrims, twenty-something whirlwinds of energy and good humour (wish I could emulate them and also suspect they'd drive me nuts...). There's the sixty-two-year-old artist who views painting as both an art and a trade, who paints some things for his own pleasure and others because they're what sell. (There's something to be said about artistic integrity here, but not in the sense that he doesn't have it -- just that he views it as a different thing, I think, than artistic integrity as creating art without concern for money.) Then, too, the man in Santiago dressed in full medieval fare, who tells eager journalists his inspiring Ward stands quietly in the background, calculating distances and walking speeds and noting that the man's tale doesn't seem...possible...and then, (view spoiler).

Last small gem: Ward's glasses broke (were accidentally destroyed, really) quite early on in his trip. It's an unfortunate delay but also a very lucky one: although he lost time, he was able to get a new pair promptly...and in a badly needed (but unrecognised as badly needed) new prescription. The trickster Camino has produced a gift from behind its back. Those are often the best ones (41).

*Couldn't find in the local library. I read it over the holidays, when staying with my parents -- their library had a copy -- but there are so many books that are available one place but not the other! How to decide? And isn't it time I stopped reading about it and just did it? Etc., etc. But it's a good one.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 31, 2014 – Shelved
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: z-2014
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: camino
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: nonfiction
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: travel
December 31, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed

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