Friday, September 14, 2018

About Place: A painting workshop on the Camino

Rebecca Crowell and I are staying in a gorgeous retreat centre on the Camino de Santiago called Flores del Camino. It's in the small stone village of Castrillo de los Polvazares with a population of 100.  Voted one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, the streets are cobblestone and each of the unique earth-coloured stone houses is joined to the next in rows that wind through the town.

There are no yellow arrows or brass shells embedded in the village road marking the way of the Camino, as there are in larger cities. It basically consists of one-street and the  Camino resumes at the edge of town.  Paying attention to the moment doesn't stop though when you come into the village because walking the uneven cobblestone streets is an exercise in mindfulness itself!

The owners of this retreat centre, Bertrand Gamrowski and Basia Goodwin are committed to supporting pilgrims who are walking the Camino, offering them a place to stay as well as offering dinners (payment by donation) for those staying at the local albergue. Bertrand and Basia also offer workshops and lectures on various aspects of the Camino, the nearby petroglyphs and sacred geometry and will offer a couple of lectures to the students in our workshop to help us more deeply connect with place.

I am struck with the integrity of the pilgrims and the commitment of Basia and Bertrand. After walking the Camino, both felt called to Castrillo, leaving their jobs and their lives in London, England to move here. Now their two small children will grow up in this beautiful village, speaking Spanish and feeling comfortable with pilgrims coming and going through their home.

Way-marker for the Camino just outside of Castrillo de los Polvazares

As we learn more about the village, the Camino and this centre, Rebecca and I are rethinking our workshop. We're looking at a more spiritual focus, where we take the importance of the Camino into consideration. How can we not? It's the very essence of this retreat centre and of the little village.

To learn more about the area, we drove yesterday on a circular sightseeing route that Bertrand laid out for us. His tour took us to see petroglyphs and other beautiful sites. On our drive, Rebecca and I fell in love with the soft stones we found that we could grind up for pigments, and we collected local soil from this hillside below. We stopped to look for soft stones by a couple of rivers and when we spotted a patch of bright yellow soil on the roadside, we turned the car around to scoop some up! We mix the earth with a binder to make it into paint. 

Red hillside

Smashing the soft sandstone. What fun!
Painting made with natural pigments

One focus of the Camino and of all pilgrimages is the connection between heaven and earth, between the spirit and the body. It seems right then that one aspect Rebecca and I will explore in our workshop is to have students create pigments from various local soils, symbolically connecting the spirit of the Camino with the physicality of the earth to better identify with place.