Day 18. The name of things

Essen-Kattwich. "What are you doing at our field?" the lady with the dog asked. I had just packed all my things and was eating my breakfast at her garden table, in front of her mobile home. I knew this place belonged to other people but I had registered and payed and the man who was in charge of the "atomstromfreie" campsite had told me I could pitch my tent here, the best place, with a nice view overlooking the Ruhr river. I could use the garden furniture. And he only charged me €5, because I was an artist. 
The lady understood I wasn't to blame and she said she wouldn't have charged me anything for using her property. Anyway, I think the man sincerely wanted to give me a nice spot. And I had an interesting chat with the lady as a bonus. I heard it before but it always surprises me. How a lot of Germans appreciate it so much that most Dutch approach them without prejudices, without still seeing them as the enemy. This feeling of guilt because of the war must be huge. 

Yesterday I had enjoyed seeing the big hills, getting away from my flat country. I didn't fully realise it meant climbing though. I know now why they sell the Wheelie carts with breaks. And why this region is called "Bergland", Mountain Land. They are merely big hills though, not mountains. Which makes me thing of the "big" hill in the Netherlands at which foot I was raised in the small town of Haarle. It is called the Haarlerberg. The Mountain of Haarle. It is 69 meters high. Or maybe 72. I don't know exactly.

I walked. After a while a woman came walking next to me. People do that sometimes. We walked together for 10 minutes, we discovered we share the same name but mine in the French version, hers in the German one. Monique, Monica. She wished me a safe journey.

Fields, winding roads, but cities at close hand always. The roar of cars. I passed through another ugly conglomeration of houses, too ugly to remember its name. I had to get at the other side of a big road. 
There was a tunnel, a tunnel like all those tunnels, tl light, graffiti, dirty tiles, a concrete floor. Deserted, creepy but intruiging. I wanted to pass quickly. But then I heard the music. Soft chanting, a spacious sound, peacefull, open. I stood still and listened and hoped it would last forever. It came out of some small speakers. And when it had ended a voice was saying something I didn't fully get but I heard "traditional music from Mauretania". Later on I looked it up and I read that the musicians in the Mauretanian Moorish society occupy the lowest caste, iggawin. The iggawin are regarded as truth-telling folksingers, keepers of the poetry and heritage. They had the traditional role of messengers, spreading news between villages.

I was heading towards Neviges. By coincidence I had found out there was a big Franciscan convent there and I had three reasons to go and see it. First of all it is an amazing building, designed by Gottfried Böhm. He has been considered to be both an expressionist and post-Bauhaus architect, but he prefers to define himself as an architect who creates "connections" between the past and the future, between the world of ideas and the physical world, between a building and its urban surroundings." Secondly, I am carrying four small books, two practical ones about knots and survival, one about walking and one about the life of Francis of Assisi which I mainly bought because I am an admirer of the author, Christian Bobin. Last year I also carried around one of Bobin's books. And thirdly, because I wondered what would happen when you knock on a convent door and tell the monks you are slowly moving through the world, leading a simple life, collecting stories, talking to people, trying to be fearless and share that feeling with others and that you are looking for a roof under which you can sleep safely that night. I didn't even know then that the city is known as a pilgrim city and there is a big pilgrim house next to the convent.

I reread Bobin while walking, stopped to eat, arrived at the convent around five. It was stunning.
There was a young monk outside typing on his iphone. I waited until he went into the church, then went inside and asked him if he could help me. He asked me if I was walking the Jakobsweg, if I was a proper pilgrim. I told him I don't call myself a pilgrim but other people do. He asked if I was a practising christian. I asked him if it mattered. He told me the pilgrim house had to be booked through some evangelical organisation in Düsseldorf beforehand and that the convent had a guest room but the monk in charge of it wasn't there. He called another monk who came over, shook my hand but he also said he could do nothing for me. They gave me a book with prayers from saint Francis. I thought I could make a fire out of it later on when I would be in the cold woods. I bet Francis would have liked that.

I didn't know what to do. I sat outside, waiting, but nothing happened. It got later, it started to rain softly. I knew you can't expect people to help you, you aren't in title to count on something ever, but Franciscan monks ........ 

I read some more Bobin, some more Francis of Assisi. I read "be carefree about tomorrow, give your full attention to all living things. It is the happiness of not holding on to anything, the wonder of all presences ..... Do you want to know what joy is? Do you really want to know? Then listen. It's nighttime, it's raining, I'm hungry, I'm outside, I knock on the door of my house, I say it's me, and they don't let me in, I spend the night at the door of my house, in the rain, famished. There it is, that's joy."

I left. I walked to a cafe that was the tourist information at the same time. I asked about cheap accomodation. There was a small group of people asking if I was a pilgrim. They advised me to protest and stand with my cart in the church, they thought it was outrageous that they didn't help me but I told them you should never demand, you can only ask and if you get a no, that is what you get. You accept it, smile and leave.

The only hotel in town wanted € 59 for a single room. The man in the tourist office had told me the forest was safe and nearby.

I passed the convent's carpark on my way to the forest. There were two other monks. One of them had silence in his eyes. Brother Thomas, I learned later. I asked again. I told him I already tried, I quoted in my own words what I had read about Saint Francis earlier, I don't know if that made the difference but I said it didn't really matter anymore, I could sleep in the forest as well, I told him I was happy anyway. He asked me to wait and he came back and brought me to the guest room. He said it hadn't been cleaned for a while, that it was a bit dirty but all I saw was a lovely room. He explained that the monks sometimes don't know what to do when the abbot isn't there to decide. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

And I still don't know. What is a pilgrim? What is a christian? What is a mountain? But does it matter? You just look people in the eye, you look at things and you see who they are, what they are. You don't have to name it. And if you do, you can name it whatever you want.

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