My plans to leave Santiago by the night train were frustrated by the simple fact that there were no more seats available. The man at the train station told me so, emphatically, several times: “no hay ninguno.”
You could tell he was frustrated with me. I hope he could tell I was frustrated with him. It wasn’t his fault, of course; he was just an officious RENFE man with no vested interest in helping a stranded foreigner; it was my own fault for deciding to wait until the last minute to buy my return ticket.
If this had been an episode of “Amazing Race,” and if I were 15 years younger, blond, and female, I might have been able to work a miracle. But in my present condition I didn’t think flirting would work with him, so I stalked out to find a place to stay. I resolved to try the first hotel I came across, which happened to be fairly close to the train station. It also turned out to be not only cheaper, but nicer than the place I’m staying in Madrid, except for the fact that the shower didn’t work and I ended up having to take a bath. Why did I wait so long to head back to the train station, you ask? Because it was Corpus Christi and I thought it might be interesting to see the procession.
Earlier when I had visited the cathedral I had picked up a flyer announcing that the Corpus Christi procession would take place that evening at 7:30. I thought, ok, I’ll hang out by the cathedral for awhile, take a few pictures of the procession and head over to the train station around 8. This was a foolish assumption. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that I would have to stand through another mass first. Yes, actually, I do know why. Because when I went to the fiesta for my friend Joaquín’s pueblo in Asturias (San Román, if I remember correctly), they started with the procession and ended up at the church for the mass. Alas, that was not to be in this case. I had already been to one mass earlier in the day, but I wasn’t sure at what point in the service they would break for the procession, so I decided to stick it out.
About 90 minutes later I found out that the procession came at the end (I’m sure if I were Catholic I would have known that already), and then the procession left through the door opposite the one where I was standing. By then I was tired of standing, so I decided to hightail it over to the train station before I collapsed altogether. Despite my tiredness and non-Catholic ignorance, I found it to be a fascinating service. This one pulled out all the stops. The entire cathedral chapter was there in full regalia, including the archbishop. They had the organ going, which was pretty cool. I like a good organ. It sounded pretty great, which must mean they keep it in better shape than it looks. Not that it looks bad, it just looks old and a little spider webby.
After awhile I wandered toward the Portico de la Gloria, still under the illusion that I could make a quick escape and take pictures as the procession left the church, and got to witness a moment of high irony when the police loudly rousted a beggar out of the doorway at almost the exact moment that the archbishop was talking about the Christian duty to remember the poor.
There was a lot of singing and chanting in this mass, which I found quite moving. I was not the only one; at a key point in the service when the archbishop was chanting, some boneheaded pilgrim (I assume, from the shorts and general air of greasiness) moved out into the aisle and started doing what looked an awful lot like the antler dance (obscure SNL reference -- 1976, Lily Tomlin hosted). I saw a tie-died sixties relic dancing that way at a Santana concert once; I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the pilgrim hold up acigarette lighter and start flicking.
Then it was over, and I was off to the train station, only to find myself stranded. I could have looked at the bright side and chosen to see this as an opportunity to head back up toward the cathedral, eat tapas, and have some fun. But by that time I just wanted to climb into bed and sleep. Which I did.
Speaking of tapas, I found a cool tavern where I sampled an array of montaditos while I waited for the Corpus Christi mass to start. One nice thing about Santiago is that everything is cheaper than in Madrid. They had some cool montaditos for maybe 1.50 euros. One of the better ones was a piquillo pepper stuffed with tuna. There was also one with bacalao and roasted green pepper.
I have never been to the Pacific Northwest, so I might be way off base, but Santiago de Compostela strikes me as being somewhat akin to what I imagine that area to be like. Clouds moved through all day, so in a split second you could go from bright hot sun, to cool shade, to misty drizzle, to a downpour. I was sitting in the Plaza de Obradoiro working on a paper when random, fat drops began to splash near and around me. I quickly grabbed my things and got undercover with other refugees from the plaza. Within 15 minutes it was over.
Speaking of the Plaza de Obradoiro, there’s a tunnel-like walkway that open sonto the plaza where a bagpiper chose to stand and play, probably because of the acoustics. A bagpiper can be a cool thing, good for a picture. But gradually it dawned on me as I tried to work on my paper that an hour had gone by and the guy had not shut up. Two minutes of bagpiper for a photo op is tolerable; a bagpiper who won’t shut up is a tool of the devil. I’m just saying.
One last observation: Santiago de Compostela has the cleanest train station restroom I have ever seen. Kudos to the cleaning lady.