Last year, Jennifer and I went to a Sydney Camino dinner.
We don’t normally go to these dinners – in part because we’ve found them to be very clique-y; and by that I mean that groups quickly form, and then you’re not made to feel welcome into that group.
Some people can become very proprietorial about the Camino. Very possessive. They don’t like to share it. It becomes their very reason for being, and so they hold it close.
Too close, sometimes, I believe.
Jennifer and I go to those dinners principally to hang out with Britta and Jenny and Janet, who are like those fairies you see in the old Disney movies, that fly into a dark room and light it up with their magic energy.
Anyway, at this one particular dinner Jennifer and I sat opposite a couple who had driven down from the Blue Mountains. Two hours. They were hoping to walk the Camino soon, and wanted some information from the dinner meeting.
But they found that no-one would talk to them.
They were ignored.
There was no way for them to find out anything about the Camino.
They later told me they felt like getting up, walking out, and driving back to the mountains.
Jennifer and I had come late and we sat down opposite them, and we asked them questions, and they asked us questions, and we ended up having a good old chin wag.
We discovered they both had major medical disorders which would make the Camino difficult for them – the man had a sleeping disorder which would require him carrying a three kg machine to help him breathe at night.
His wife had major issues with both knees, which would require surgery.
At the time I admired their resolve and determination, and wondered if they would ever go through with it. I suspected they would, because they had the bug bad. (The Camino bug that gets into your bloodstream and can’t be cured until you walk the Camino.)
We kept in touch, and via email, we became friends.
His name is Tony Jacques, and his wife is Ce.
They walked the Camino, and averaged about 20kms a day. It was a remarkable feat.
Next I heard that Tony was setting up a Camino group dinner at Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains, and he asked if Jen and I would like to come.
It was to be held at Glenella, a very famous guesthouse / restaurant, which Jennifer and I knew from the 80s, when it was owned by Michael Manners, and was regarded as one of the state’s finest restaurants.
The dinner was last week. $25 a head for a pilgrim meal, which included warm tortilla, grilled chicken on skewers, salad, and home made ice-cream, fruit, and home made meringues. Wine was included.
It was a delicious meal.
Glenella is now owned by a couple that recently cycled the Camino – Rowan and Margaret Boutell. They said it was the Camino that brought them to Glenella. Along with Tony and Ce, they are now keen to make these dinners a regular event.
Certainly the evening was a wild success. There must have been about 50 people – and unlike the Sydney dinner, you walked in and were immediately met with conviviality, and made welcome.
During the dinner there were three speakers who gave information about the Camino to those who were thinking of walking – quite a few at that dinner it seemed were either thinking of, or planning to, walk the Camino.
Tony also very generously plugged my books –
Towards the end of the dinner, he got up and did a Powerpoint presentation which gave a lot of information about the Camino, and what to expect. He spoke with humility, grace, and engagement.
And then over dessert everyone got up and mixed, and chatted, swapped stories, and got to know one another. I have to say it was the antithesis of the Sydney dinners we’d been to, which have been cold and aloof and uninformative.
Since that dinner, in follow up emails, Tony tells me they have plans to not only continue the dinners monthly, but to expand to other towns in the Blue Mountains / Central West area. And possibly hold film evenings, showing a Camino movie.
(Anyone from Mudgee or surrounding district that would want to have a dinner in Mudgee, let me know and I’ll help organise it – firstname.lastname@example.org )
What I find amazing about this is: the level of interest in the Camino, for so many people in the Blue Mountains area to come out on a winter’s night as they did –
And, the commitment of Tony and Ce – and Rowan and Margaret – to organise such an event.
They must love the Camino…