Third Letter from the Government of Spain

The third letter I received from the government of Spain arrived in early January. As before, my informal translation is below, followed by the letter itself. I offer some observations after that.

[Address]                                                                                            Jacobean Council

Ms. Julie Gianelloni Connor
[Address}

Madrid, January 7, 2019 [sic]

Dear Ms. Connor:

In relation to your letter of the 23 of October of last year, in the first place, please permit me to thank you for the interest that you have shown for the Camino de Santiago and for your comments related to it. As for the Spanish government, we are aware of the importance of an asset of such interest as is the Camino de Santiago and for that reason we invest great effort and resources in improving it.

The Camino de Santiago, already in 1962 designated by the State both as historic-artistic, is an asset of undoubted value, as much from a cultural and social as from an economic perspective, about which we are proud and for which we labor in a responsible and committed manner.

In that respect–paying attention to the multidisciplinary character of the Camino de Santiago and the division of responsibilities in regards to tourism and culture among the distinct public administrative organizations involved, the State, and the Autonomous Communities [of Spain]–the Jacobean Council was created in 1991 to facilitate communication among all these institutions, coordinate programming, and [promote] cooperation in activities. The Council consists of representatives of the departments of the General Administration of Spain with responsibility for culture, education, international cooperation, tourism, territorial cooperation, the economy and treasury, development and the environment, as well as similar representatives from the Autonomous Communities along the Camino de Santiago: Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja, Aragon, Navarre, and Castile and Leon.

Moreover, this Council, with its inter-territorial character, regulated currently by Royal Decree 1431/2009 of September 11, can convoke meetings with religious, cultural, academic, and other institutions related to the functioning of the Jacobean Council. In that way, we can coordinate with civil society representatives also.

Each political institution, in accord with its responsibilities, maintains an up-to-date webpage with information about the Camino de Santiago. Specifically, the Minister of Cultural and Sports, as president of the Jacobean Council, gathers at the website below this information as well as links to the rest of the webpages of public institutions:

https://www.culturaydeporte.gob.es/consejo-jacobeo/camino-de-santago.html.

On that webpage, one can also find, in diverse languages, information of interest for those persons who wish to travel the Camino de Santiago, from the signage [for pilgrims] to follow, to a guide to emergencies with information about the physical conditioning required to enjoy this authentic experience, including information about care for feet as in the case you presented in your letter.

All of that information is in addition to the information about the Camino available on the web at https://www.spain.info, on which one can also find greater details about the ample touristic offerings of our country, including references to our gastronomic and cultural patrimony.

I hope that this information will be of interest to you and will contribute to the improvement of your research for your future book.

With a cordial salute,

[Signed]
Adriana Moscoso de Prado Hernández
Secretary of the Plenary of the Jacobean Council and
Director General of Cultural and Cooperative Industries

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In this letter, Sra. Moscoso del Prado Hernández expands upon the previous letter, giving more details about the composition of the Jacobean Council. She also asserts that the Government of Spain and the various provinces invest “great efforts and resources in improving” the Camino.  She gives, however, no specific details of those efforts or resources, nor does she specifically respond to any of my suggestions or comments, other than explaining about the Jacobean Council.

This third letter is the last one I have received, and, frankly, it does not satisfy me.  So, my next step will be to draft a new series of letters, thanking those who wrote me but asking for specific responses to my various questions.

Second Letter from the Government of Spain–Progress or Not?

As I previously reported, after returning from my journey on the Camino I sent a letter to three ministries in the Government of Spain raising issues that I had noted as I walked the French route of the Camino. My letter let the ministers know that I planned to publish my letter, and any response I received to that letter, on this blog.

My  last post carried the first response I received. As I wrote in my comments about the letter, it was a cordial interim response that did not address any of the issues I raised but rather just informed me that my letter was being forwarded to another office.

Sometime later, I received a second (undated) letter, this time from Amparo Hernamperez Martin, also in the Ministry of Development.  Below is my informal translation of that letter, followed by a copy of the actual letter.  Please take a look and see what you think. Are any of the issues I raised in Chapter 25 of my book addressed?

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Ministrerio De Fomento Response

Here is my thinking about this second response.  In my letter to the three ministries, I informed them that I had asked the Spanish Consulate in Houston which Spanish government office was responsible for the Camino. The Consulate was unable to direct me to a specific office, saying that the responsibility for the Camino rests with the various Spanish provinces through which the Camino passes. Since the Consulate could not identify the specific ministry to which to direct my letter, I sent it to the three most likely responsible ministries.

In this response, Ms. Hernamperez Martin identifies the organism that coordinates actions on the Camino, the Jacobean Council.  According to Ms. Hernamperez Martin, the Council includes representatives of nine Spanish provinces and eight federal ministries.  Every meeting must be quite a gathering, with 17 principals and, no doubt, their deputies sitting in second chair! The size and composition of the Council reminds me of some coordinating meetings I used to attend in Washington–good for sharing information so that everyone keeps informed, but not so good for taking needed action. Ms. Hernamperez Martin also clarifies that the Minister of Culture chairs the Council.

As to the issues I raised in my letter, none are addressed. After receiving this letter, I was left with a number of questions. If the Minister of Culture chairs the Jacobean Council, why is neither the Cultural Ministry nor a representative of the Council answering my letter, but rather officials in the Ministry of Development? Will there be a further response, specifically reacting to my observations, suggestions, and comments? What sorts of actions is the Jacobean Council undertaking to improve the Camino the pilgrim experience?

What are your thoughts about the responses of the Spanish government so far?

First Letter from the Government of Spain

In Chapter 25 of my book, Savoring the Camino de Santiago, I included an open letter which I had directed to three Spanish ministries about issues related to the Camino that I thought about as I walked the Camino. As I explained in my book, I drafted the letter, put it aside, thought about it more, showed it to my writing critique group, thought about it some more, put it aside again, and finally decided to mail it in October 2019. In my letter, I informed the recipients that I would post any reply on this blog.

The first difficulty I had in mailing the letter was determining the best government office to which to send the letter. The Spanish Consulate here in Houston was unable to direct me to the Spanish federal office responsible for the Camino, so in the end I addressed the letter to the three ministries that seemed most relevant to Camino-related issues: the Ministry of Culture and Sport; the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism; and the Ministry of Development.

My letter was sent on October 23, 2019. Amazingly–at least to my way of thinking, given the time it takes for international letters to transit, not to mention the time necessary to clear any response up the ranks of a bureaucracy–I had a reply within a month. Very responsive, indeed, I thought, as I opened the letter.

Here is my informal translation, with the original below.  I’ll add some commentary at the end.

Screenshot (20)

Ministrerio De Fomento Response 11-7-19

A very nice letter, right?  The words are all kind, and the text shows that my letter is being taken seriously and handled expeditiously.  But what does the letter really say, in response to my suggestions? Basically, nothing. The letter is what, in my government days, we would call “an interim reply.” It’s a reply just to let the recipient know that the in-coming letter has been received and transferred to the appropriate office for action.  Still, given my worries that my letter to the three ministries would hit the trashcan as soon as it was opened, I am relieved.

Bottom line:  one interim letter from one of three ministries to which the original letter was directed.  Will there be another letter?  I’d have to wait and see. Please, as they used to say, stay tuned.

Blog + Book = Bonus!

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Over the Christmas holidays, I have been updating my blog, which I had largely allowed to lie dormant while I finished writing, editing, and publishing my book about the Camino de Santiago. Once the book was published in December I turned my attention to updating my blog.

I began writing this blog, my first, just before I set out to walk the Camino de Santiago. I found that I had set myself a hard task, because WiFi in northern Spain outside of the major cities left a lot to be desired. I struggled with uploading, besides other technical issues. About ten days before the end of my 49-day journey, I gave up on the blog, thinking that I was wasting too many hours fighting technology and would finish the entries later.

“Later” never really came, until now.  Once home, I turned to writing a book about the Camino. That book, Savoring the Camino de Santiago, was published in December 2019 and is now available on Amazon in both eBook and paperback formats (https://amzn.to/2QTkpXV).

In publishing the book, I was foiled in my desired to include lots of color photographs.  Color photographs in a book are very expensive. First I decreased the number of color photographs I planned to include, and then I decided on black and white photos only.  In the end, I only had a reduced number of  photographs–color photos in the eBook and black and white in the paperback.

And this is where the blog covers the gap. I have now added posts for the last ten days of the trip, but more importantly I have added many, many color photographs to the site.

Neither book nor blog is complete without the other. If readers only look at the book, they miss all the additional photos. And if they only read they blog, they only have the contents of one chapter of the 29-chapter book. I intend the blog to be a companion to, and extension of, the book. I hope you will read the book, and supplement Chapter 23 by turning to the blog for all of the additional photos.  Happy reading!

On to Madrid

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Santiago de Compostela to Madrid
Day 50

This was our last day as pilgrims. We weren’t leaving Spain yet— we still had stops in Madrid and Toledo planned—but we would be transitioning from pilgrims to tourists. I wanted to take advantage of these last few hours of the trip that I had thought about, and planned for, for such a long time.

I went back to the cathedral and spent some quiet time in prayer. Then out to the plaza to buy a few things I had spied the previous day but had not purchased. The most significant was a resin statue of St. James as a pilgrim. I had seen it and liked it the previous day, but finally opted for the ceramic St. James.

Over the previous night, I worried that the ceramic version wouldn’t survive the trip home, besides which I liked both statues. So I bought the resin one too. Mentally I placed them in my home: one in my bedroom, overlooking me as I slept, and one in my living room, where it could be admired by my visitors.

Because the shop check-out process went slowly, I had to sprint back to the cathedral to catch the 10:30 am mass in English. James met me there, but spent his time looking around the cathedral rather than following the mass.

After mass, we went back to the hotel to pack our bags and check out, and then caught a taxi to the train station. Adios, Santiago. I’ll be back sometime, I’m sure. Once is not enough.

12,203 steps today

For more photos, go to https://wordpress.com/page/caminoforboomers.com/1801

Land’s End

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre to Santiago
Day 49

Many pilgrims, having arrived in Santiago, continue on to Finisterre (Land’s End). Some walk there, but James and I took a bus.

We had wasted time after breakfast by going to the Pilgrim’s Office to see if we could purchase discount train tickets to Madrid (we couldn’t), so we felt pressed for time.

By express bus the trip to Finisterre was an hour and a half. I had proposed to James that we perform a time-honored pilgrim custom: burn a set of worn-out Camino clothes on the beach. Judging by the raggedy clothes I had seen drying on lines along the Camino, many peoples’ clothes deserved to be burned. We didn’t have any “holey” clothes, so James declined burning anything.

At a seafood restaurant, I finally found percebes (barnacles) on the menu. I had searched for them all along the Camino, but this was the first restaurant to offer them. I first had a taste of these salty sea delights years ago in Portugal, and I hungered for them. They were every bit as good, though a lot more expensive, than the ones I remembered from Portugal.

We took advantage of the restaurant’s specialties and also had octopus and seafood paella, plus cava (Spanish sparkling wine), all of which we shared. This meal was another splurge to celebrate having gone to the ends of the earth on this journey.

After our late lunch we walked out to the lighthouse and tossed pebbles into the Atlantic. I thought of the rock I had left behind at the Iron Cross, and tucked a pebble into my pocket. We took photos, had a quick look around an exhibit, and purchased a couple of Finisterre souvenirs, such as a lighthouse bottle opener. (How could any‐ one pass that up? Too unique!)

We raced back to the bus station to catch the 7:00 pm express to Santiago.

9,150 steps today

For more photos, go to http://caminoforboomers.com/july-19-santiago-de-compostela-to-finisterre-to-santiago/.

 

On the Plaza

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Monday, July 18, 2016
Santiago de Compostela
Day 48

A day to savor Santiago. After breakfast, we went shopping. I bought a ceramic statue of St. James wearing pilgrim attire. I really like it, but of course buying a ceramic item is crazy. I’ll be lucky to get it home unbroken. I also purchased a number of small souvenir items for gifts back home.

Mass was at noon at the cathedral. I had asked if the famous San‐ tiago Botafumeiro (a thurible, which is a censer that releases incense) was going to swing at any time on Monday or Tuesday. There doesn’t seem to be a regular schedule for the Botafumeiro.

One of the cathedral assistants told me that some groups pay to have the Botafumeiro swing, but such times are unpredictable. Lucky pilgrims just happen to be in the cathedral at the right time. I wasn’t lucky. The assistant suggested that I try again the following morning. There was a large number of African pilgrims in the cathedral, including a youth chorus that sang during mass.

We ate lunch at a café right on the cathedral square. I had sangria and read my book. A guitarist strummed and sang. James went to speak with him and to examine his guitar. This is what I love: sit‐ ting in a Spanish plaza with a beautiful view before me (the cathedral and all the activity on the square), with a jug of sangria and a good book. Heaven. The pilgrims arriving at the cathedral—journey’s end—were all joyous, taking photos and embracing and laughing.

St. James awaited us. When the pilgrim rush thinned out, we went into the cathedral and got in the queue to hug the statue of St. James and see the crypt and tomb where the saint rests.

After paying our respects to St. James, I did a bit more light shop‐ ping, then back to the square to listen to music and watch people. A delightful day.

9,986 steps today

To see additional photographs, go to https://wp.me/P7rs4v-sY.

Last Sprint

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Sunday, July 17, 2016
Pedrouzo to Santiago
Day 47

Up early to start the final day of walking. I wanted to avoid the heat as much as possible and get to Santiago as early as I could. The weather forecast said it was going to get up to 100 degrees today. I didn’t even stop for lunch, though I did grab a cold drink at mid- morning.

I don’t remember much about the walk other than the relief of finally walking into Santiago. I was heading for the main plaza when who should rush out of a restaurant but our Romanian journalist friend. We hadn’t seen her for weeks, and then suddenly there she was. She said she saw us coming up the street from her seat by the large picture window. She had made it to Santiago several days previously and was winding up her Camino broadcasts. We hugged, and made plans to meet later for drinks.

Later in the afternoon, James and I went to the office dispensing Compostelas. I only took my second Camino passport, not realizing that there was an advantage to taking both. (Having completely filled up one passport with stamps, I purchased a second one about a month into our pilgrimage.) As a result, my Compostela just records the 100 kilometers I walked from Sarria to Santiago, not the whole distance I had walked from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

James and I later went to the appointed meeting place, but our Romanian friend did not appear. It was fine. There was a lot going on in Santiago. We ran into the New Jersey Six, and all of us high-fived at having completed our pilgrimage.

Dinner was a celebration, with two kinds of sangria. After dinner, we came across some street musicians playing Galician bagpipes and stopped to listen. Of course, we further celebrated while listening by ordering an after-dinner drink.

40,470 steps today

Additional photos of this day can be seen at https://wp.me/P7rs4v-sW.

Why Didn’t I Stop?

 

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Saturday, July 16, 2016
Arzua to Pedrouzo
Day 46

I’m afraid I’ve gotten into the “I want to finish this” mindset. Two days to go until Santiago, and I am ready to do something besides walking for the sake of walking. Truthfully, I found this stretch of the Camino very boring, with little to see. But maybe it isn’t boring, maybe my mind is just so focused on getting to Santiago that I have become like others who rush past everything in their hurry to get where they are going.

I saw the six Americans again and the three Filipinos. We exchanged “Buen Caminos” in passing. Early in the morning I saw three nuns who were giving passersby a stamp and talking to them. I already had my stamp for the day, so I didn’t stop. I regretted it later. I also walked right by a church and didn’t even check to see if it was open. I was too anxious to walk as far as possible before it got too hot.

The road was fairly good, though there was shale. The temperature rose throughout the day until it was scorching.

The only interesting thing I saw was an ultralight aircraft with a man suspended below the wings. I wondered where he came from, and whether there was some sort of commercial concession around to take advantage of all the visitors, like the parasailing you see at beaches.

At dinner, James and I celebrated our last night on the Camino.

35,247 steps today

To see more photos, go to https://wp.me/P7rs4v-sU.

Starting at Your Front Door

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Friday, July 15, 2016
Melide to Arzua
Day 45

James’s foot was really bothering him, so we went to two pharmacies to find more foot rub and perhaps new boot inserts. It was after 10:00 am before I could set off down the Camino, a very hot day. I encountered several groups I had met previously: the six Americans from New Jersey, for example, and the three Filipinos, one of them a priest, we had seen at dinner the previous night. I chatted briefly with them all.

The most interesting conversation I had was with an American woman from California. She took seriously the old pilgrimage method in which a pilgrim began her journey when she stepped out‐ side her front door headed for Santiago.

Instead of starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, or Sarria, or some other famous jumping off spot, she began in California. She exited her front door a pilgrim and took three days to walk to LAX airport. She did have to take a plane across the ocean, but otherwise it was walking all the way. She gave me a handmade cloth rosary.

When I made it to Arzua, I was very hot and sweaty. The last six kilometers had been particularly rough. I was too tired to seek out a laundromat, but I needed some clean clothes. I turned a few things over to the hotel receptionist to have washed.

There was a fiesta in Arzua. Two bands struck up at 10:30 pm and played until 4:00 am. Heavy traffic roared by the pension at which we stayed. I found it hard to sleep.

30,922 steps today

For more photos, go to https://wp.me/p7rs4v-iS.