...a real taste miracle. ~May 20, 2006 Journal Excerpt.
Grañon sits up on a small hill and looks much like many of the villages you pass through on the Camino. The church does happen to function as an albergue (not the sanctuary itself, rather an adjacent building) which is not so common. I had planned on staying there for the night. When I got to the church, there was not a soul in sight. The church was locked up as usual, but the door next to the church, with its pilgrim staff and shell was open. I went in. It had a narrow winding staircase going up. I reached another door, but it was locked. The place seemed deserted, which wasn't so unusual for the time of day. I came back down and decided to take a break in the small plaza directly in front of the church. It was shaded and cool. I deliberated whether to stay or not. What if the albergue wasn't functioning as an albergue anymore? It was possible, but then it would be kind of silly to just sit there and wait to find out. For the moment I decided to eat a little something and drink my water and just enjoy not having the weight of the pack on my back. At about that time another pilgrim showed up, and one I even recognized.
It was the man that had been sleeping in our room at St. Jean Pied de Port when Renate, Anna, and I arrived. I recognized him clearly because of his face but also because he had a rather severe case of eczema that was visible on his legs and arms. He also went into the same door as I had, went up, came back down, and then walked out of view in the village. A few minutes later, he came back and sat down on the ground. He was eating something he had just bought. We kept looking at each other, until I broke down and said something. I asked him if he spoke English or German. He said a little. I asked him where he was going. In a fitful exchange he said to Redecilla. He then began asking me questions but he was so nervous and so flustered that I didn't understand most of it and then he waved the conversation away with his hand as if to say that we shouldn't even try anymore. He wasn't being rude, he was just uncomfortable with our lack of being able to communicate. I felt pressing the issue would only make him more uncomfortable. I smiled and sat back down. He came over and offered me a bit of his baked goodie he had just bought. It was still warm, and even more important it was very, very tasty. We sat there in silence. A dog came by and wanted some of his baked goodie too. He shooed him away, but the dog kept coming back. After he finished his snack he got up and just walked on.
I had seen the direction he had come from, so I decided to investigate about his baked goodie. I wanted some more. I walked across from the church and up near the little row of houses where he had been. As soon as I was in the street I could smell it. It was the smell of sweet pastry with a little bit of anise. It was divine. I was thinking the next time I go in a sauna, instead of those little herbal concoctions they throw on the coals with water, someone should throw a sweet anise cookie on instead. The smell was just so intense and perfumed the whole street. I followed my nose.
The bakery was just a few feet away. I went in. The place looked ancient. There were sacks of bread flour lined up along the wall. I thought I might be in the wrong place at first, perhaps the warehouse or something. I began to back out slowly, but just at that moment a man saw me and waved me into the back room. There was a woman there from the village. It was just a two room bakery it seemed, but behind the counter you could see baking equipment, and feel the warmth, and smell that smell that was practically lifting me off my feet. I smiled and said Buenos Dias, and because I couldn't speak Spanish and I could see that they were waiting for me to say what I wanted, I made the face of someone breathing in deeply with their eyes closed and then sighed out a long Mmmmmmmmm. The woman and the baker laughed. "Si, si, siiiiii," the woman said. She began to motion with her hand as if to bring the air up to her face and then smiled. The baker had just taken some out of the oven and they were sitting on the counter still on the baking sheet. These weren't small little cookies either, they were more like oblong shapes of shortbread, somewhat flat. With that hint of anise and sugar sprinkled on top they were pure heaven. It crumbled apart in your hands and mouth. And who knew that heaven smelled like anise? I don't even like anise all that much and I despise licorice, but there was something about that baked goodie that had pain-killing, healing, pilgrim sustaining, magic properties. I almost want to keep the secret all to myself. The baker gave me a couple from the sheet even though there were others already packaged to sell. I had to hold myself back then and there from reenacting a Sesame Street segment involving the Cookie Monster. Then, without me asking for it, he gave me a small loaf of bread in addition. The whole thing cost me 1,70 Euros. I suspect that that was the pilgrim discount, but I don't know really. In any case, if you are ever going through Grañon, stop by the little ancient looking bakery near the church. Here's how to get there: If you are standing in the little plaza with the little park directly in front of the church, stand so that your back is to the church, walk out of the plaza in the opposite direction of the church and to your right. Turn right on the little street that goes between the village houses that are there. The bakery was on the left. Follow your nose.
Over the next three days I did manage to ration my secret anise goodie. The cookies broke up from being in the backpack, but they tasted just as good in their crumb form and three days old as they did whole and new. Although I bought a few more in stores afterwards, none even came close to matching the ones in Grañon. Which reminds me, I have to learn how to make that cookie, or go on the Camino via Grañon again.
I walked back near the plaza and decided that I would just go on. It was only 4 kilometers more to Redecilla. I went back to the way markers. It pointed into the village. I munched on heaven and sipped on water. I reached an intersecting street. There was a man from the village standing there and I had seen him talking with two other pilgrims who were some distance in front of me. They had a short discussion and the two pilgrims turned onto the intersecting street. The way markers had pointed straight ahead, however. When I reached the man he stopped me and began talking to me. I couldn't understand much of what he was saying, but he didn't seem to care. He was trying to get me to turn right. I understood something about turning right was shorter. He made a big gesture with his arm that went in a circle. I listened but I was afraid to get off the official path. I thanked him and said I was sorry and that I didn't understand. I went straight on. He watched me with a puzzled look on his face.
I followed the way markers which took me around the entire village and then looped back precisely where the man had been standing before, only one block over. The man was waiting for me. I understood now. I laughed hard. He laughed too. He shrugged his shoulders, I shrugged mine. We laughed and he pointed in the direction of the way marker. I thanked him and still laughing, waved goodbye and went on. I still laugh about it when I think how passionately he had tried to explain to me to turn right. I wonder how many times in a day he does that, and how many times in a day he sees the same strange, slightly fearful look on the faces of pilgrims who can't understand Spanish, and how many times he stands and waits for them to make the loop back to him. I think someone could get a short film out of it.
I continued walking in the wind. Another pilgrim came walking by but said nothing, just passed on. That was ok. I kept my pace and arrived in Redecilla in less than an hour. I was fortunate, the albergue was really very nice and clean and offered a meal. I was hungry despite my baked goodie and was happy to be in a nice place for the day. I had left the province of Rioja behind, and was now in the province of Castilla y Leon. I checked in, walked up the narrow staircase to the bedrooms, found a bed to bunk in, and began the beloved rituals.