As soon as my new music video, "Can't Stop These Tears", was uploaded, a pilgrim friend asked,"Was that a bottle of Estrella Galicia cerveza I saw?" Well indeed, it was. My intention had been to send a "hello" to all Camino Santiago pilgrims so it was wonderful that it had worked so quickly. This bottle, an empty one at that, was the only souvenir I brought home after spending a month in Spain walking El Norte in the spring of 2013. Here's why I couldn't leave it behind.
I was on my way to Miraz, having just spent a lovely day in Baamonde relaxing with an utterly charming fellow pilgrim. It wasn't a great distance, maybe 15k, so I was anticipating a light stroll with, hopefully, a few stops for cafe con leche and/or cerveza.
Just before Miraz, I was startled to hear very loud music seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Walking a little further, I found the source -- a somewhat solitary, sky-blue house, scarcely visible behind an ancient stone wall. I could not contain my curiosity so, a little brazenly I suppose, I opened the gate and just walked in.
I was expecting some kind of party, but there was nothing of the sort. It was a party of one, a single man diligently tapping away at a large, intricate, stone carving. His name, I learned, was Chacon, and he was an artist. We smiled and said hello. He was extremely congenial and apparently quite pleased that I had invited myself in. Though he spoke no English and my Spanish is rudimentary at best, we managed to communicate well enough. He was working on a magnificent carving, a near-completed commission for a client in Bilbao.
Chacon was enjoying a bottle of Estrella Galicia cerveza and, without too much difficulty, I managed to convey that I would like to join him. He smiled, disappeared into his house and quickly returned with a nice cold one. I pulled out some euros but, try as I might, payment didn't appear to be an option.
He then took me for a tour of his house, the front room of which was pretty much a gallery for a variety of his marvellous carvings. Back outside, he asked if I wanted him to stamp my credencial and, of course, I agreed. But he didn't just use a stamp -- he melted some blood-red wax onto the appropriate square, then imprinted a cross thereon with a bronze signet tube. It was certainly a grand gesture, though not especially practical as, once cooled, the wax was far too brittle to survive the rigours of the Camino, at least mine, anyway. I was awestruck with Chacon's kindness and hospitality, but he was not done yet.
On his workbench, I noticed a scallop shell, on which Chacon had hand-painted a green Templar cross. When I offered to buy it, he picked it up, smiled, then added a leather cord so that I might wear or attach it to my knapsack. Now surely, I thought, he would accept a few euros--no chance, he remained steadfast in his refusal.
Back over by the carving-in-progress, I showed him my guitar and he signed the back, not without some enjoyment I might add. Watching him, I suddenly realized that I too might have a gift for him. Thinking he might enjoy my Camino-influenced song, "Peregrina" from the Steeltown Pilgrim cd, I offered him one of the download cards I had in my guitar case. Anyway, I had nothing else to offer except a pile of dirty laundry. Now, to be sure, explaining exactly what this little plastic card was took some doing but, with the help of his charming wife, I managed.
We said our goodbyes, but Chacon had one more act of kindness up his sleeve. I hadn't walked 10 metres when he called me back, gently sat me down and raised his finger as if to say "watch this". He then grabbed a chisel as well as my empty Estrella Galicia bottle, sat down in a chair and started grinding and scraping. Minutes later he proudly stood up and handed me the bottle which was now inscribed : "a Matthew--Chacon" I smiled, then we both started laughing.We hugged, then said goodbye.
I carefully brought the empty cerveza bottle back to Canada. It was a great relief that I did not have to explain such action to Canada Customs in the presence of a legion of tired, grumpy onlookers.
When shooting the video, I included my treasured Camino souvenir not only as a greeting to all my dear pilgrim friends but also as an expression of my deep respect and gratitude for Chacon....my pal Chacon.