People of the Camino

At a small Fiesta in Puenta de Orbigo on the Camino de Santiago, we saw this young woman playing the bagpipes. Her face was a study in concentration as her fingers moved skillfully over the chanter. Life did not appear to be easy in these towns.

Hospital de Orbigo

It is said that the weight of your pack is the sum of your fears. Sometimes the way people carry their pack expresses much about the kind of life they’ve had – and the inventive ways to deal with carrying a pack if your back is no longer as strong as it once was. I wondered how the trolley handled some of the rockier or muddier paths. But, by suspending it from his waist, this walker is able to keep his hands free to assist with the effort of walking itself.

pack on trolley

Beside the road the chestnut gatherers laboured to reap the harvest while dodging the falling chestnuts, ignoring the steady stream of pilgrims passing through.

Chestnut gatherer

Marcelino the hermit and self-styled ‘trainee pilgrim’ (peregrino pasante) ran a donativo stall. He was dressed in traditional medieval pilgrim robes and shared his wisdom and provisions with any pilgrims who stopped to chat.

 

Ermita del peregrino pasante

In Burgos, we encountered these hard-working cafe staff setting out tables and chairs ready for the evening trade. The cafes are an essential supply line for the pilgrims and for the locals who exchange stories and observations on the passing parade of tourists and peregrinos.

Cafe workers

We were serenaded by this accordion player in Logroño, who moved from table to table sharing his cheer and Spanish ballads. He was a delight and reminded me of my early faltering start on my road to being a professional musician. I began by busking – and in the process learned a lot about the art of entertaining, irrespective of any skills on the instrument itself. I have seen many performers play skilful music, but in such a deadpan way that they fail to engage the audience. This guy lit up the square with his joyful music and singing.

street performer, Logroño

 

In Madrid there was a festival of Santa Maria, patron saint of Madrid. The statue of the Virgin was paraded around the town accompanied by a huge procession of people from various community and local groups. I was captivated by the characterful faces in the procession.

 

This woman was carrying her young son, and she gave me a huge smile as she saw me lift the camera towards her.

Smiling Woman with child

Some took their Dowager role very seriously

Dowager

While others perhaps mourned for loved ones lost

Matriarch

A father’s love

Man and child

For some, there is always a better way

Gossip

Or contained their thoughts

containing her thoughts

There is a real strength in these people – and a sense of community – of people bound together despite day-to-day trials. And a genuine warmth, yet a distance from strangers. It was a privilege to walk among them.

Holy procession

Canberra – Nara Candle Festival

Australia’s Capital, Canberra, hosts an annual festival of Japanese culture at the Nara Park on the lake foreshore. Canberra has ‘twin’ status with Nara city in Japan (near Kyoto Prefecture) and the Nara Candle Festival celebrates this link.

Woman in Japanese kimono

Woman in Japanese kimono

In addition to the amazing cuisine, there were demonstrations of traditional Japanese dance, Sumo martial arts and floral displays.

Japanese flower display

Japanese flower display

You could try your hand at caligraphy – and a large banner dedicated to peace was laid out with great care.

Japanese Caligraphy

Japanese Caligraphy

The high point following speeches from the Australia-Japan Society and the Japanese Ambassador was the lighting of the candles. Many had taken up positions on the foreshore hoping to see candles placed in the lake, but the central attraction was the massed candles at the Japanese shrine in Nara Park

Nara Candle Festival

Nara Candle Festival

There was an excellent turnout from several thousand Canberrans who made the most of the wonderful warm evening to enjoy this cultural event. Many wore traditional Japanese dress as part of the occasion and the Australia-Japan Friendship Society and many other community groups were present.

Nara Candle Festival in Canberra

Nara Candle Festival in Canberra

There were stalls for Japanese and Australian food with lengthy queues for rare treats, demonstrations of caligraphy and origami. The kids events were very well organised and there was a relaxed atmosphere all round. The Sumo demonstration attracted a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters.

But for me the highlights were the candle lighting and the dance troupes – which were excellent as were the live music entertainers. The organisers would have been very happy with the size and composition of the crowd – and anyone who spoke Japanese could be heard practicing their linguistic skills with members of the Canberra Japanese community.

Japanese dancers

Japanese dancers

Japanese dancers

Japanese dancers

The sunset was stunning and as the sun went down the surrounding trees were lit by coloured lights which transformed the scene into an other-worldly space. The Nara Candle Festival is just one of the many cultural events for which Canberra is known.
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