Sons of Thunder is the first of two books based on one summer's 2000 mile trek across southern Europe. It celebrates the adventure of walking medieval pilgrim trails from Andalusian Seville to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia, and brings the reader along the journey in a first-hand way by weaving emails, journal extracts and walking poems.
The broad agricultural expanses of the Spanish countryside form the backdrop for reflections on what it's like to pare life down to food, water, will and ambulation while exploring the little villages dotting rural Spain. And from such sparsity, to walk into monumental cities... Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca; cities thriving modernly around Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals; cities of-fering music, regional cuisine, stunning architecture and art in the heady awe of human history... Then, to walk out again through tranquil forests and plains.
But more than a travelogue, these physical experiences are part of a spiritual journey, a journey which on one level culminates en masse with hundreds of other pilgrims celebrating in an incensor swung and organ boomed baroque Cathedral, the shrine of St. James, and that on another deeply individual level ends with an intro-spective three-day walk to face the finality of the sea, the true end of the road, and cast an intention-rich scallop shell into the cliff-crashing tide as a symbol of all that continues beyond physical boundaries.
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Sons of Thunder
By James Timberlake
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 James Timberlake
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSunday, May 28th, 2006.
Subject: testing one, two, three
Swiftering off thick layers of dust from many of these e-mail addresses brings to mind what a poor keeper-in-toucher I am. Apologia. I know I have to work on that so I'm writing now to invite. For those who haven't heard me rambling on about going away since February, the background is this: In the Summer of 2004 I trekked 1000 miles across southern France, over the Pyrénées, and across the north of Spain to the pilgrim-destined Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I rested, feasted, feted there, and then set off for the final three-day march to the sea. 'Amazing experience' hardly cuts it as description.
It's hours I'm counting now, not months and days until departure. The trails call; I'm heading back to hike more of this 1000-year-old network of paths and my intent is to take my People with me on the Way.
This is to be brief. I'm checking that all the e-dresses I've been given are in working order. Peace, and I'll write from Seville. I have a few days there before beginning the journey north.
journal - 5/29/06
peculiar beginnings ... somewhat lackingly devoid of departure day thrill and excitement. was i too prepared too early? is five months too long a time to wrap my mind around? or maybe it's the numbing effects of nerves, despite my pre-trip ritual at Casa Portugal which normally opens me up to the celebration of travel, even when i'm not going anywhere but home. a bottle of spicy Alentejo red wine; homemade prosciutto and fresh white cheese alongside sliced tomatoes doused in a paprika vinaigrette; littleneck clams steamed open in the classic trinity of garlic, parsley and wine; grilled bone-in bacalao with brightly yolked hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, barely cooked green pepper and onion strips bathed in hot garlicky olive oil ... and a warm humid pollen-perfumed stroll home. delicious and beautiful, but no thrill.
irrelevant flight. passive-aggressive jockinations for leg space with the fat man beside me reading Ludlum. a scant handful of words exchanged. when i bought my ticket i preordered the vegetarian option so's to get served first and, (to please my pestering nature), annoy the herd-minded folks craning necks to near occiput- popping lengths trying to see how soon their fodder would arrive. "Why is he first!?" 'pester pester pinch and vex' would be my hex were i one of Shakespeare's witches.
London-Heathrow is thriving at this early hour. hit the Duty Free Shop looking for a hard candy called Uncle Joe's Mint Balls - can only buy them in England but apparently not here. asking at the counter the teller looks at me with complete quizzicality, totally perplexed. get used to that face and mien, kiddo. with my slapped together Spanish i'm sure many a visage will buckle into that squint-concentrate look when i speak, as if trying to see something far and indistinct.
a long day of travel. six hours in the air, three in a layover, two more in the air, one in line in the bright and thronging Madridian transport station waiting to buy a high-speed train ticket, and three more blurry hours on the turbo-thrusted AVE to Seville.
sour subcutaneous fatigue,
vague what've-I-forgottens roam
keeping rest at fringe firelight bay.
hardly halfway to my Seville hotel,
in this first homelessness it's hard
to find the thrum and thrive.
waking. mind and calm fissured with
crackt camera what-to-do's,
the bank account frozen,
and a leviathanically gaping five-month-wide maw
breaching the horizon ahead ~
by morning mist-veiled Cathedral stairs,
one black draped peasant beldame
grasps tight talons to my tender inner-elbow flesh,
withers well-practiced eyes and
por favoring lips for me to buy a sprig of green.
I pull away with ire as deep as her plea,
take six quick don't-grab-me steps away,
then a recollection ...
last night's e-mail from Mirjam
wishing me blisters for poor correspondence,
wishing me blessings and well for having writ.
Mirjam née, non, rather devenue, Rosemary White Foot
for our having met by that herb-shrub gone to thicket,
gone wild in flower...
"So delicious with potatoes," she said in precise German syllables.
friends on the road to Santiago,
parting with hugs by the sea ...
the green rosemary sprig in a gnarled bruja's hand
to whom I return with
soft steps, a smile, and a Euro coin,
plucking her little branch away to
garnish the day's breast pocket.
rolling twig between palms like a tinderstick,
the sharp herbal scent wells sinus and soul.
I have arrived,
I am home,
and all burdens become light.
journal - 5/30/06
since 10 p.m. skies still bear bright dusk light, the morning world is a tranquil place. Seville's 7 a.m. streets don't exactly bustle. a few guys with hand-trucks making deliveries to still locked doors, a few shop ladies mopping the dog-shit-sole-smeared storefront sidewalks, a few still-aglow halogen lanterns reach wrought iron arms out from high walls holding cool dawn shadows in and the heat of the day away ... the fading squeals of a few swirling sparrows.
long siesta sandwiched between elliptical strolling. ferias! a holiday today and all is shut down so there's not much else to do except fret about the busted camera, frame with squared forefingers and thumbs the shots i 'could' be taking, and worry about my bank account which seems to be frozen while no one at Customer Service in the States, (or India), is picking up the phone!
found calm on Plaza Alianza ... a compact plaza north of the Cathedral got to through warrening streets lined with the pastels, deep golds, and rust stucco walls of Andalucía. two cafés. a fountain. dopplering flocks of bird madness careen above the shade-sheltering plane trees. patrons to either side of me got guano- spackled - one on the skirt, one on the brow. i sat at a table with an umbrella. it's sparrow hour now when they fly by the thousands in fluid flocks, thickly whirling the space between clouds and Brillo- mesh rooftop aerial antennas.
a distinctive Spanish smell is stirring olfactory memories ... a phero- roma that's a farrago of flash-fried sardines, onions, bacalao, coffee, Ducados, dry-ageing hams hung by the hoof and strung by the dozens, and a waft of what flows beneath these ancient streets. the scent is not particular to concentrated café-bar-restaurant areas. it emanates erotically from the sun-licked skin of the city.
fingers flying like Edward Scissorhands at the privet hedge, i ended up jerry-rigging the Lomo camera's shutter button with an aspirin boxtop flap, medical tape, and a plastic pen cap tip i sawed off with my Leatherman.
i think the mounting mental torque and woe's-me stress is over. The Book of the Tao's Chapter 41 helped, but i'm sure some tension got lodged within. will have to focus some 'pre-sleep in the sheets' time on decompression chi gung to flush out the muscles, marrow, cells and soul. with the mind scanning from above the crown of the head, through the body, to below the plantars of the feet for the awareness of strength, tension, contraction, or anything that doesn't feel right; dissolving strength, tension, contraction, or anything that doesn't feel right as ice dissolves to water, water to vapor, and vapor drifts away ... ice to water, water to vapor, and vapor drifts away. honestly, i found myself regretting the whole five months ahead in a handful of pissy hours. pat on the back to me it was a stroke of genius to call the Spanish Customer Service number on the back of my bank card and ask to speak English. brilliant!
the problem, come to find out, was my entering a five-digit pin- code when the Spanish ATMs accept only four numbers. the fifth number i punched supplanted the fourth, made my pin-code 'wrong,' and made me out to be a thief trying over and over again to access my cash. understandably the system kept freezing my account for 24 hours ... but! you'd think the representatives for an international corporation like Bank of America could have mentioned that keypad-fact when i called to inform them which countries i'd be in and for how long i'd be away. you'd think an electronic flag would have come up on their computer screens when they punched that information into my file. (i survived.)
Thursday, June 1, 2006. Subject: ouch
This was a lovely day - after spending the last three days with a barbed wire pried open mouth, hogtied and bobbing in the fetid swamp where every profuse sewer in Hell empties ... figuratively speaking, of course. I had the sense something was askew. While heading to the grocery store on the morning of my evening flight, a melanic squirrel screeched at me from a low bony-crone-finger limb. There's just no favorable omen to be read there. I don't ever remember experiencing such unsettled edginess before a trip.
After 15 hours of international travel percolating an unshakeable fatigue within, I arrived in Seville with my camera's shutter button broken, a frozen bank account, and a Bank of America phone number whose recording insisted the call center was closed - thereby preventing me from speaking with a human for days. No! I do not want a mortgage or a Circe-baited loan you greasily smiling cyborg!
Cut to the chase - resolution! With the aid of an old peasant woman draped in widow's weeds who begged me to buy a sprig of rosemary, an herb which called to mind a friend who was a warmhearted support on the trail two years ago ... And reminded by Joe, a relationship-ravaged co-worker whose constant refrain one Winter was, "Going home to the loneliest room in Somerville and read The Book of the Tao" - I brought The Book of the Tao along to read and rest within. "The way that is bright seems dim / The way that is level seems bumpy." Accordingly my mind realigned and began to settle in the foreign air.
Palm slapping lap, how about a dose of first-impressionistic tongue-in-cheek sarcasm? A) Is it some Spanish joke I'm not in on, or is it a result of the local tendency to holler the softest of sentiments? Why they put their public phones on traffic-ridden roadways I will never know. Just try calling home! B) I'd eat gazpacho out of any Spaniard's toilet, they're so meticulous. But why, the moment they cross thresholds, do people throw garbage in the streets? I'd blame it on Urban Mentality but I've been in the countryside and the same habit persists there. C) Last one. There's a Spanish horn common in traditional folk music that sounds like a goose getting whipped in a high-speed blender. Horrible, horrible sound. D) I lied. Seville is where Dutch, Germans, and French come to watch Dutch, Germans, and French sweat, eat tapas, and get their front teeth kicked in by drunken flamenco dancers.
Now, where is that lovely day I mentioned? Ah, yes. In my future age and dementia, if anyone sees me smiling through the drool I'll probably be mind-wandering through the Alcázar, where I spent most of today. Built by King Pedro of Castile in the XIVth Century, the Alcázar is Seville's synthesis of royal palaces, ponds, courtyards and gardens. And it is one of the best examples of Islamic Mudejar architecture in the country. What peace and calm and beauty in mid-metropolis.
Eyes looking up in awe of the architecture I stepped right into a demurely bubbling ankle-deep fountain pool. La Guarda just shook her head. I'm sure I'm not the only soggy frog-footed tourist here today, roaming among these ornately carved stone walls with lapis lazuli cabochons inlaid among the curving filigree; dizzyingly interlaced tilework under-arches; mosaic, marble, mother of pearl, and mirror inset dark polished wooden walls and doors; pied tiles masoned into the stonework walkways and raised-stone paths that massage meandering plantars; rust and gold shaded stucco arcades; blue columned loggias; forty-foot bougainvillea cascades; towering willow-drooping trees with mimosa-like feathery leaves shower the ground with saffron petals; orange trees bearing the gamut from blossoms to fruits orange, green, mottled in-between, and the fruit-fly-infested fallen ones composting round the trunk base; tall pine and palm boughs form an umbrella for the thousands of ululing mourning doves and for the syncopant sounds of fountains middling small pools - the sound itself, another massage. Through this tableau passes a flock of ageing flame-petticoated flamenco women strutting then twirling with clackering castanets and gypsy-dipthonged melodies, trying, oh so trying to be the center of someone's attention ... conchas secas in an ebbing tide.
I just watched a Japanese tourist scuttle fifty feet across the plaza to stub her cigaret out in a café-table ashtray rather than toss it on the ground. Honeybabychild, you need to recall which country stamped your passport. Anyway, tomorrow I bus to the Alhambra and if I was this amazed by the Alcázar I may drop cold and dead before ever taking a step on the Camino.
Santa Maria de la Sede is the largest Gothic Cathedral and the fourth largest Christian Church in the world. Within, it boldly exhibits an immense gold retablo, a masterpiece of Gothic woodcarving, but for me the outside is the dream. Massive walls bubble broad domes out of the stone, knobbed spires in wet mud- castle style stretch skyward and the Giralda, the minaret of former Moorish times, is now its bell tower! No stairs, all rising ramps within with increasing views of the Cathedral's buttressed heights up close and urban Seville sprawling away. 'They' say two horses could canter abreast up to the minaret gallery but I'd hate to be their riders' outside knees. Learned a scientific factoid here. As the sun warms the minaret's high dome, natural convection occurs and these towers actually become air-conditioning ducts whisking heat away from the connected temple down below. AND! the Cathedral and Giralda at night are exhilarating! The halogen-sparked sparrows juking around illuminated spires and towers - like throwing green pine boughs on red-hot coals ... that entrancing to the eye from the plaza round of lamp-lit benches.
The 'credential' is dually the pilgrim's passport and 'proof of purchase' document. It allows one to stay in the albergues along the Camino, and the stamps received from the albergues bear witness to the journey proving to the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago that the pilgrim has indeed earned his or her Compostela. I picked mine up this afternoon so I'm ready for Sunday morning - to start traipsing the long road north.
Enough for now. I'll bet there's a glass of la Gitana manzanilla waiting for me back on plaza Alianza.
with gentleness overcome anger.
with generosity overcome meanness.
with truth overcome deceit.
cypress walled away tour busses rumble,
the boil of 500 voices waiting at
th' Alhambra entrada for a 2 o'clock
tour to begin ~
sunburned and negroid, pitting out and perfumed,
every broken Latin, Germanic, and hybrid tongue...
she passes by. who knew camel toe
was desired design? why not
paint your coochie baboon blue
and sashay naked 'cross the sandy plaza?
a white-haired abuelita tosses crumbs
to dust-bathing wrens,
the something else that has not
changed since these
walls were new.
journal - 6/2/06
Granada, i like. clustered, crumbling, bustling ... a southern European busking bohemian feel to it.
and this city's got the get-the-tourist-to-the-Alhambra thing down pat. step off the bus and you trip over the information booth ... from there take the #33 local bus to the Cathedral and transfer to the shuttle up the hill to the Alhambra gate.
Excerpted from Sons of Thunder by James Timberlake Copyright © 2011 by James Timberlake. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Funny, Irreverent, Emotionally Moving, Spiritually Stirring! This is not a travelogue or travel guide... and at the same time it's the best travelogue and travel guide you'll ever read. Timberlake not only captures, but embraces and makes love to the essence of what it's like to walk the medieval pilgrimage trails of Europe. I just finished part two to this book - Autumn on the Trail to Santiago - and I'm stunned by the emotive response left behind in my heart. I feel as though I, too, have walked 2000 miles and want to take up my pack and leave again tomorrow. His website -(google jim timberlake)- is also engaging!