From Najera we walked across La Rioja towards Granon and the albergue built into a church that had been recommended to us by Kay and Graeme Young. It was a longish day, about 30 km but the countryside was level and the track good. We were not in Basque country anymore, but in Spain proper, and the towns began to look...well... more Spanish. So did the sky. That is, unrelentingly blue and clear above fields of startling colour. As someone we met observed, this is sacramental country: grains and vineyards. At a town whose name I forget we paused to look at the roosters caged in the church. There is a legend about the delivery of some children and some roosters and in commemoration two magnificent white leghorns are permanently ensconced in their own gilded and highly decorated cage just near the entrance of the nave. They crowed as we entered, apparently a sign of a good camino. Somewhere just after the roosters my knee began to hurt.
Blisters are a nuisance and if they are treated properly shouldn´t slow you down much. This was different. A sharp pain inside my knee whenever my foot hit a certain angle on the way uphill: the sort of pain which could mean camino by bus. I walked for a few kms trying hard to remember the advice on posture and walking that had been given by many people over the past few months, and by experimenting a bit, managed to minimise the occurences and their severity. Walking patterns, like all the manifestations of our personality are the cumulative end product of many choices and attitudes long forgotten. Changing them is not easy. It involves first of all, being aware of how we walk now, and then being aware of how we could do it differently. In other words, we need to unlearn lessons we had all finished and done with when we were about 3 years old. The motive to change is pain. Pain - physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological - is usually a sign that we are doing something wrong. It is a sign that there is something that we (note, we, not other people) need to change about our habitual ways of being. And here, under a blazing Spanish sky, was this little pain, a gift of God, helping me to set right a long established problem.
We made it to Granon. The albergue was all that Kay had told us it would be. We slept on mats on the floor, marae style, and ate together at huge long tables. There was wine: the ordinary glorious Spanish wine which they keep for themselves before shipping off the other stuff to New Zealand. There was table companionship of the highest order. We sat with an an Englishman and his Israeli partner who were disciples of Eckhart Tolle and with a Korean who was a fairly advanced practitioner of Mindfulness meditation. We all helped clear and wash and then a few of us went into the church and into the choir, which sits high above the back of the nave. There are stalls where people have sat to sing the praises of God for five hundred years. There was an enormous music stand, dating from the days when books were too expensive for every chorister to have one. We sat around it, in candlelight, one of us in every stall and sang some Taize songs and prayed. A candle was passed from person to person and each holder of the flame said a brief prayer. Spanish, French, German, Italian and three voices in English. There was no translation because none was necessary: ...because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each......
In the morning it was cloudy and cool. There was a breakfast of the usual rolls, jam and coffee and the community of the night before dissolved forever. Across an astonishingly wide language barrier the Korean had sympathised with my problem of trying to meditate lying down, and taught me a way of practicing mindfulness as I walked. So I tried a new way of walking and a new way of being. The cloud melted away and the sun blazed down. Another 30 km to this village, Villafranca, with not many problems. The pain had begun its healing work.