as I mentioned in the previous post, the architect of the Pórtico da Gloria got permission to carve his likeness into one of the pillars. here he kneels, on the other side of the pillar on which he carved the Tree of Jesse and which millions of peregrinos have placed their hands, facing the altar. as you can see, he’s also cordoned off now, to prevent anxious students (or anyone) from knocking their head to his in exchange for some luck on exams (or anything).
we opted for the less scenic route from León to our next destination — off our guidebook’s preferred path –of San Martin del Camino. while probably “less scenic” as it followed more of the highway-hugging sendas, this alternative route provided more amenities and a shorter step count. I guess I should qualify that following the sendas made the trip shorter on balance; we actually walked farther the day after León than our book suggested on the “scenic” route but we had fresh legs and the day after San Martin, to Astorga, was shorter. rather than a 22km day followed by a 31km we had a 24km day followed by another 24km day. no brainer!
our route took us through a series of small towns, most of which had a distinctly different character from small towns we’d walked through prior to León. as towns on the US-highway and/or Interstate system all across America can attest, proximity to a major highway and the national autopista system definitely affects the viability and character of your town. in lots of ways the highway adjacent were the same as the ones at a distance from the highway — quiet with any number of abandoned structures or windows shuttered to keep out early morning sunlight or allow for afternoon napping. it’s quite odd, though, to have a major two-lane highway — one down which lorries come barreling without much warning — bisect your town. maybe you get used to watching for and dodging highway-speed trucks and traffic on your way to get a pack of smokes at the shop across the street. as a peregrino, though, it was nerve-wracking.
in Villadangos del Paramo (the last town of the day before arriving San Martin), we encountered a disoriented Brazilian peregrino in search of a bus stop to catch a ride to San Martin. though we hadn’t any idea, we walked with him towards the “center” of town — really, just an arbitrary distance mid-way through town on the highway — in search of a cafe for answers (and nosh for us). by his estimation, he hadn’t eaten a good enough breakfast in preparation for the day and decided that busing the last 4km to San Martin might be a better idea. sometimes your body makes decisions for you. he had a smoke and got something to snack on while he waited for the bus outside a cafe; we ate our bocadillo and headed onward.
there were several albergue options in San Martin, including the municipal one “directly under the watertower.” we opted for a private one on the road into town and snagged a private two-bed room with access to some chilly showers. it’s one of the only places I remember seeing crucifixes on the walls… we had a tasty communal menu del peregrino, sharing our table with some Quebecois and an Australian couple. dinner conversation ranged all over the place, from housing crises in our respective countries (and Spain), to politics, to our respective Camino experiences. at the end of the meal the proprietor brought out three bottles of liquor as after-dinner drinks, something we’d never encountered before but which our companions had enjoyed occasionally at albergues before. in addition to brandy, we tasted muscatel and a boysenberry non-alcoholic drink that, I have on reliable authority, tasted like jell-o. all the chat and drink kept us later than normal and meant we started out later to Astorga, but it was a good time and I certainly enjoyed the company of our Australian companions. we saw them several more times before the end of the Camino — and if we hadn’t taken that extra day in León we’d never have met them!
while sufficiently impressive as a structural marvel, the building occupying the Plaza San Marcos — once a monastery, now an up-scale hotel — has a rather remarkable back-story to go with it. in the 12th century, Alfonso VII provided funding at the behest of Dona Sancha to construct a simple building outside the walls of León to serve peregrions, later becoming headquarters for the Knights of the Order of Santiago. by the mid-15th century, however, the structure was mostly in ruins and offered little in the way of services for peregrinos; improvements were recommended but little done for another eighty years or so, when a grant from Ferdinand prompted the demolition of the modest accommodations for replacement by the far grander building that stands today.
consecrated in 1524, the church and attached convent was designed by architect Juan de Orozco (church), with help from Martin de Villareal (facade) and Juan de Badajoz (the Younger — cloister and sacristy). Ferdinand fired the original architect when the project did not proceed at his desired pace; this decision proved only partially successful as it took a further two hundred years to complete the structure.
one of the most impressive examples of a plasteresque facade in the Renaissance style, work on the the front of the building in San Marcos began in 1515, was interrupted in about 1541 and resumed in 1615, and features an array of portraits of important historical and mythical figures. the medallions sought to exemplify human virtue and include such notables as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hercules and Hector, El Cid … and an array of Spanish political figures of the period whose names have largely faded into obscurity. to say some seemed out of place next to momentous such momentous figures of history, religion and myth is a monumental understatement. (yes, yes I did that on purpose.) the plinths above all these medallions were designed to display sculptures but funding ran out; seems in the best for the impressive array of grotesques adorning the rest of the facade — sirens, sphinxes, winged horses, dolphins, dragons, and more. in 1715, the crowning piece was installed over what is now the entrance to the Parador — a Baroque depiction of Santiago Matamoros (Santiago the Moor Slayer … have I discussed that story yet?). in addition to grotesques and medallions, the buildings are also covered in scallop shells — the sign of Santiago.
I started this post right after we got back from South Dakota in September, but wasn’t inspired to complete it until I saw a StoryCorps piece on NPR about one of the stone carvers who helped craft the monument.
growing up, my family was big on road trips and on visiting Sites of Historical Importance (see also: Boston’s Freedom Trail) and Mount Rushmore and western South Dakota were on that list. I must have been … between second and third grads, or so. what I remember most from that trip is washing dishes at our campsite in what seemed an unexpectedly dense coniferous forest. it reminded me a lot of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or northern Wisconsin. also, that the Crazy Horse monument underwhelmed because they’d only completed his forehead and profile of his nose. (also, “Rount Mushmore.”)
one upside to visiting places while young, and returning later, is that appreciation can be twofold. my recollections of Mount Rushmore are vague but rosy and, now that I can place its construction into historical context, I’m rather more impressed.
the massive carving, suggested by Doane Robinson in the early 1920s, sought to entice tourists to the Black Hills. both environmentalists and Native American tribes objected to various proposed locations, but eventually supporters and opponents settled on this mountain (the tallest in the region, renamed for a New York lawyer from the original Lakota name, Six Grandfathers). (for purposes of this post, I’ll forego discussing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and ongoing tensions between the U.S. government and the Lakota people for whom the Black Hills are sacred.) Robinson convinced sculptor Gutzon Borglum (who had lately worked on the face of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain, Georgia) to come to the Black Hills to ensure the completion of the project. Borglum died before the completion of the monument, but his son, Lincoln, carried on in his stead.
political and financial wrangling ensued: Congress authorized a commission to oversee the project; President Coolidge insisted that, in addition to President Washington, the monument include two Republicans and one Democrat — Borglum based his final selections on the role the Presidents had on preserving “the Republic” as well as expanding territory for said Republic.
between the start of construction in October 1927 and its completion in October 1941, some 400 people worked on constructing the monument. nearly 90% of the carving was done by dynamite; blasters could place charges specifically enough to blast rock off to within 3 inches of the final surface. once it got close enough, carvers switched to jackhammers, drilling a series of holes into the surface in a honeycomb patter to allow for more precise carving. this kicked up an incredible, fine dust. while they were provided with masks to prevent inhalation and subsequent damage to their lungs, the masks were stuffy and, in the direct sun hanging off the rock-face, many workers opted to go without. despite the dangerous working conditions, no one died during the course of the project, something rare for a monument of this size.
while the carvings at Mount Rushmore today don’t match the scope of what Borglum had in mind initially — head-to-waist high sculptures of the presidents, plus monuments to the Louisiana Purchase, Constitution & Declaration of Independence, as well as other territories, what stands today is pretty damn impressive.
over the weekend, I went to Chicago with my parents to check out the Green Festival and after checking out the booths and speakers at Navy Pier, we opted to round out the day with a photo op at the “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park.
the sculpture was inspired by liquid mercury, as it distorts and reflects the city’s skyline as if it were a giant drop of mercury. it’s made up of 168 stainless steel panels welded together. Anish Kapoor’s designed was selected through a competition, though concerns about execution arose almost immediately. in particular, the weight of the sculpture had to be considered in the construction of the Park Grille, atop which the Bean sits. on the underside is an omphalos (indentation), that distorts and multiplies images of the underside of the Bean. the apex of the omphalos is 27 feet off the ground, or 15 feet from the apex of the exterior of the structure. (it’s dimensions are 33 ft x 42 ft x 66 ft.) the incomplete sculpture was unveiled at the opening of Millennium Park in 2004, but it was then re-covered while construction (mostly polishing) was completed. it was formally dedicated two years later, and has since become a major tourist destination and photo op.