Monday, 16 May 2011

Two legs good. Four wheels bad.

   On my return from last year's pilgrimage i was able to use the notes i'd taken to write an account of the journey, called "Our Lady and the Tramp". Some time ago i thought of an excellent title for the account i hope to write of this trip, but i can't let on, because if i don't make it to Mexico it would make me look a little bit silly, and furthermore, it won't work properly unless i really do walk a considerable part of the way. From American films etc, i'm aware that instead of a figure walking, or standing, to indicate when one should cross the road, they have signs which say "WALK", or "DON'T WALK". I need to walk, but the danger is that, instead of asking "Have i cheated over the last few days?", i could soon find myself asking "Have i actually done any walking recently?".
The Steppe, Stavropol region, Russia. Ride 'em cowboy!
   At least on Saturday i had quite a long walk, from a town called Ipatovo, where there is a well-known brewery, to Divnoye, in the North East of the Stavropol region of Russia, where Mikhail Gorbachev comes from. Without trying to hitch a ride, i actually turned down at least ten offers of lifts, before accepting one for the last few kilometres, from a very kind (Russian) Baptist pastor, who took me to stay with a marvellous family of no fewer than nine children. Somehow they made space for me, and it was a great blessing to join them for their service on Sunday morning. Then yesterday evening i walked on into the vast expanse of 'Steppe' which characterises this region, except that after a time it became very marshy, with reed-beds on both sides of the road. Last week i reached a village, also in the Steppe, where the locals were quite clear that there were not only wolves, but wolves with a reputation for killing people, so when i found a little abandoned hut in which to spend the night, i took pains to block off all the windows and the entrance; i was reminded of the refrain; "I'll huff, and i'll puff, and i'll blow you're house down!". Last night i settled for a patch of dry ground under a bridge, comforting myself with the thought that you don't really hear of 'marsh wolves'; and although Russia has many of the same things that America has, there are no alligators. With the sound of a Bittern 'booming' in the distance, and myriad birds and frogs making all sorts of other noises, it occurred to me that, apart from insects, the only danger might be that i'd be disturbed by a 'National Geographic' camera crew.

    Then this morning i accepted an offer of a lift to this 'small city', Elista, in the Kalmykia region of Russia. The driver pointed out that, oddly enough, we actually passed from Asia back into Europe (i hadn't been aware of being in Asia at all), but in lots of ways this place feels Asian. The people almost all look Asian-Chinese, and i was dropped off next to an impressive Buddhist Temple, containing 'the largest Buddha in Europe'.
   Without any pretence to logical ordering, here is a beautiful 15th century prayer to Our Lady of Walsingham;

O gracious Lady, glory of Jerusalem,
   Cypress of Sion and Joy of Israel,
   Rose of Jericho and Star of Bethlehem,
O gracious Lady, our asking do not repel,
   in mercy all women ever thou dost excel.
Therefore, Blessed Lady,
   grant then thy great grace,
   to all that thee devoutly visit in this place.

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