A Mobile Language Lab (Blog #7)

A Mobile Language Lab

There isn’t a huge amount of traffic on the Camino Primitivo. It’s said to be the hardest of the Caminos, which probably frightens off a lot of hikers. Prior to the pandemic, 320,000 people were walking part of one of the Caminos each year.

Most walk the Camino Frances, which starts at St. Jean Pied de Port in the southwest corner of France and crosses over the Pyrenees Mountains on the first day into Spain. Only about 4.3% of those who walk the Camino walk the Primitivo – that’s just over 14,000 from what I’ve read.

They are said to be mostly Spanish, but I’ve meet quite a few Italians so far, several folks from France and a number of Spaniards, and even a Romanian couple. It’s a great place to practice speaking different languages. A surprising number of Europeans whom I have met don’t speak another language.

Yesterday, I departed from the 14th century town of Salas, Spain around 10 a.m. and met Alessandro, a 34-year-old professional soccer player from Italy. His next season begins in several weeks, and he’s walking the Camino over his vacation.

Alessandro grew up in a town in the Italian mountains near the Swiss border. He’s been playing soccer since he was five. He hopes to play for two more years, retire and then coach.

I love soccer and found it wonderful to be able to talk to a professional player for five hours. It also resurrected my Italian, which has withered for lack of use over the past decade. I once was semi-fluent. Fortunately, I have been reading the gospels recently in Italian and brought along the Spanish author Benito Perez Galdos’ Italian travelogue translated into Italian. My Italian is coming back, but I mix in lots of Spanish and make tons of mistakes.

Nevertheless, we spoke for two hours non-stop and then on and off for the rest of our walk. We spoke about different players, national teams, the Europa Cup, and the involvement of doping and the Mafia in Italian soccer. Alessandro played in Seria A (the first division of Italian football) in Sardinia and in Genoa. Now, having suffered many injuries, he plays in Seria C (third division).

When he played for a team in Sicily, it was dangerous. If their team lost a game, Alessandro explained that the fans came to the player’s homes, and they could not come out. If they did, they would be killed. So much for the love of sport!

We spoke about where Alessandro grew up, about Berlusconi, Italy’s former President, Alessandro’s family, soccer injuries, and faith. We also compared the people and the faith of the Spanish and Italian people.

A language opens doors. It connects us to one another. It builds bonds of affection. Speaking another language allows us to enter deeper into another culture, rather than swimming on the surface.

I felt wonderful being able to walk in pace with a professional soccer player for 14.5 miles, 113 floors, 33,367 steps at a 2.7 mph clip, which is slowly improving. Alessandro, however, had already walked for four hours when he met me. He began walking at 6 a.m. in the dark and in the fog. He walked in two days what it took me to walk in three days. Alas, I am 61.

There’s something very healthy about the faith resident in so many Italians. It’s as much a part of their culture and their being as their language, food, customs, etc. It’s not so in Spain. Here, there is a great dislike for religion, especially among the young.

They know that the Church sided with the dictator Franco for 40 years and benefited from its relationship with him. The Church rarely speaks out against dictators, because when it does it will be punished and those who speak out are often killed. It takes great courage to speak out. There are always voices ready to suppress those who do. But to align oneself with a dictator is horrible. It’s left a scar that will take decades, perhaps generations, to heal here in Spain.

With love and prayers,

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