The World is Round, so Brothers Let us Travel

sanjosegermans

This is the motto of the guild of two young tradesmen we met today in San Jose. It is a very quiet town in winter but fate seems to put new and fascinating things in our path all the time.

img_7532Have you ever heard of the German tradition of craftsmen walking around the world for two years and a day after their apprenticeship? Well, today we met two young men embarked on just such a practice right here in this little town during the “dead” season.

As we were settling down for an afternoon coffee after a bracing walk along the promenade in gale force wind, two odd-looking fellows wandered across the square. Everyone in the café was wondering who on earth these young men dressed like old-fashioned chimney sweeps could be. Everyone wondered…but only Joe jumped up and went over to strike up a conversation with them.

In a few moments they were sitting down at our table “invited” for whatever they would like to drink. What a wonderful thing it is to learn something completely new – to talk to people living an experience totally novel and intriguing to me.

I had never heard of this practice which started in the Middle Ages requiring newly qualified tradespeople (ours were carpenters) to travel around for two or three years – – and a day— just like in the fairy tales. In the old days young tradesmen would go from town to town helping to build great cathedrals and learning new skills from other masters. The custom was banned by the Nazis – fascists always have to spoil things! – and it has only come back into favour since the 1980’s. Now it is a voluntary exercise but it is growing in popularity. As it is, there are only about 600 to 800 people doing this so really what were the chances we would meet these two?

The practice is called the “walz” and there is some evidence that the Australian song “Waltzing Matilda” is based on this practice. The “Matilda” is, in fact, the cloth-wrapped bundle the craftsmen carry.

The young men, who spoke pretty good English, soon made it clear that there were quite strict rules about “the walk”. They must register with the town authorities where they visit. They had little hard-cover books with stamps and comments from town halls in England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Spain. They must wear their distinctive dress so as not to be mistaken for hobos or tramps. They leave home with very little money and must return with the same amount. Our new friends, Simon and Paul, told us they avoid topics like religion and politics and that their behavior must always reflect well on their guild. They did not give me permission to put their pictures in my blog. I always ask! However, these pictures were stock photos in the public domain and I wanted you to see what they were wearing. They did give me permission to publish a picture of  one of their hand-carved staffs!

They told us tales of sleeping in the open, in empty castles and the homes of kind strangers. The principle of the walk is that craftsmen must pay for food and accommodation with their skilled work. They hitch-hike from place to place and only take busses or trains when they are really stuck. These days women journeymen (get it!) also go on the “Walz”. I was absolutely fascinated by this custom and so grateful to these youngsters who patiently answered our questions. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…… If you want to learn more, Buzzfeed has a great article as does wikipedia.

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Costa Verde, Brazil

Between Rio and Sao Paulo lies a protected coastline known as the Costa Verde.  There is limited coastal roadway and the main way to visit the spectacular islands and beaches of this area is by boat.  A range of mountains covered with tropical greenery rises almost from sea level.  Tiny coves and beaches and islands dotted along the shoreline offer countless opportunities to swim and walk.  The sea is clear and full of life.  A crust of bread dropped overboard attracted hungry and curious fish who then got their treats.  I was happy that they were not too attracted to my toes when we swam from the boat.  It is something of a leap of faith to jump into the greenish water that is as calm and inviting as any pool.  The temperature was perfect , not too cool and yet not that cloying bath tub warm I experienced once in Florida. When we wanted to explore the empty beaches we just swam to shore or paddled in the little dingy attached to the boat.  I was very careful to wear a big white hat most of the time and even to swim with a white cotton shirt as I have experienced some pretty bad sunburns in the past.  My days of coveting a tan are done.  I just want to be comfortable.  At one of the beaches we visited there were two little shacks with tables set in the shade of a vine-covered cliff.  Two young boys got out of a boat carrying several silvery fish and ….in a few moments, lunch was served!  Desert was watermelon just cut from a patch out back.  As we ate, a boy of about six climbed up one of the massive rocks on the beach, grabbed a rope attached to a tree branch and swung out over the water.  He let go and plunged down into the waves. Under the indulgent eye of his grandmother he told us his name was Kaiki and that next year he would go to school.  Later we found the aquatic version of the school bus moored in our night harbor. His grandmother told us she never left home and that she had no desire to go to the city.  Who could blame her? She was bone thin, had not a tooth in her head and was clothed in a faded sack of a dress.  Yet she was surrounded with beauty, her family, her strange city visitors who came to bring her a little money.  She smoked her pipe, tended her garden, saw the waves come and go on her pristine beach.

Later over supper that night we wondered if we could live in this paradise forever.  Would we get bored?  Was that perhaps the problem with the first paradise? It was enough to have seen and experienced this beauty and to know that it still exists.

Next day I refused to look through the binoculars to see the new nuclear power plant a few miles away.

At Last

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I really am under a Montreal sky.  Many many Mexican nights with cold stars, socks worn to bed, fireworks, lonely moments but dreams of Freida too.  A little swing on by home just for one day, an unexpected weekend in New York and now, home at last!

I went to New York to hold hands with some people I love because I needed to hold those hands.  The world is full of surprises because …what is the because?  We are not awake.  We only see routine.  Habit is human.  Beauty is ignored.  Death is constant, like air, like water.  All these, we take for granted and if our attention is drawn to them, we are confounded, confused, bewildered.

My little house, full of things from my parents’ house, of books from my childhood  of old favorite clothes, of children’s’ drawings, of furniture I never notice.  And spirits?  Are there spirits too?  I think so.  Just as on a voyage, there are spirits.  In the dark roads where only the driver knows where he is going and we the passengers trust him absolutely to bring us to our destination.  Planes, miraculously slicing through the clouds, a little pink lightening off,the wing to enliven things a touch.  The old fashioned bus thrumming onward on the highway, passing mysterious trucks.  The destination, utterly unfamiliar and yet trusted.  Nothing matters except the other people.  Nothing at all.  Beauty, familiarity, objects, travel……nothing except other souls.