Somewhere And Nowhere

by solitary walker

I am reluctantly coming to the end of Cees Nooteboom‘s book, Roads To Santiago, which I have been savouring slowly and sensuously. I will finish the book tonight. The magnificent last chapter describes Nooteboom‘s circuitous approach to Santiago, and Santiago itself (the true capital of Spain he calls it), and I am finding it haunting and evocative. I cannot resist quoting his thoughts on travelling and the traveller:

“Perhaps that is the traveller’s deepest melancholy, that the joy of return is always mixed with a feeling that is harder to define, the feeling that the places you have ached for since you first saw them simply went on existing without you, that if you really wanted to hold them close you would have to stay with them for ever. But that would turn you into someone you cannot be, someone who stays at home, a sedentary being. The real traveller finds sustenance in equivocation, he is torn between embracing and letting go, and the wrench of disengagement is the essence of his existence, he belongs nowhere. The anywhere he finds himself is always lacking in some particular, he is the eternal pilgrim of absence, of loss, and like the real pilgrims in this city [Santiago] he is looking for something beyond the grave of an apostle or the coast of Finisterre, something that beckons and remains invisible, the impossible.”

Cees Nooteboom Roads To Santiago

What a superb piece of writing! Here Nooteboom puts his finger on the heart of that inherent feeling of schizophrenia which all true travellers will recognise, that sense of being somewhere and nowhere at the same time, that feeling of melancholy joy.

I’m reminded of one of my own poems about the Camino:

All By Myself

I’ve leaned so much
On conchas and flechas amarillas,
I fear I may be lost
Without them.

So now
(Guided by no maps or marker stones,
Pricking no shelled and arrowed way,
No trail angel appearing mysteriously
At a crossroads in the middle of a prairie
To point the right path)
I’ll try contact
Some benign spirit deep within
For comfort and counsel;

Though along the Way I learned,
All by myself, with sweat and tears,
That the more I’m lost, the more I’m found,
And that all roads lead to somewhere and to nowhere.

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