Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ah'm offski then - that's 'o' 'f' 'f' - 'aff'

as the late Ricky Fulton would say on Scottish TV every Hogmanay night. Actually, this is the approximate translation into Scottish of the title of Hape Kerkeling's book 'Ich bin dann mal weg'. This is extremely unlikely to be translated into English, since - who is Hape Kerkeling? It would appear that he is a German comic - yes, apparently they do do them. He is supposed to be on German TV all the time, and famous. Not so I've noticed but maybe I don't watch the right channels; I'm also inclined to change channels after a glimpse or two of most comics or other 'Promis' (celebrities). So what am I doing reading a book by this guy?

Actually, I was given it, and thought I'd take a look. Since it's a hardback it's not one I care to shlep with me to Georgia (having said that someone has just given me a copy of the huge tome of Grout's 'A history of Western Music' which is as we speak in my backpack to read on the plane, together with another hardback book which looks too good to leave at home). Kerkeling, while he is, as we said, a comic, is quite bright really. Someone who has been in the media since the age of 16 has to be. I'm sure being a successful comic is as hard work as being a successful concert pianist, and as a spoken comic people may expect you to be funny all the time, whereas a pianist at least needs a pianna to perform. He also speaks about 5 European languages, including Dutch.

So this book is about his time on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim's walk to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He started at St Jean Pied de Port in France, some 769 kms from Santiago. Impressive, no? There were moments where he hopped on a train or a bus, but these seem few and far between. According to the rules, and to get your certificate of completion, you have to finish the last 100 kms on foot or horseback, or cycled the last 200 kms. It should be added that northern Spain is not flat, and some really quite significant hills and passes have to be overcome. Our hero is blessed by the fact that his time seems to be unlimited and he can put in rest stops as he needs them.

The book then describes his progress and his pain, the people he meets, tells a few stories about his progress in life so far, and it also contains a considerable amount of deep thinking about the meaning of life and God (not in a missionising way). Like many of the other pilgrims he faces many adversities, including being too wet, too hot, the path being very steep or running alongside an extremely busy highway. The pilgrim's hostel accommodation seems to be as good as the price you pay for it (nothing, except a donation), so he finds small guesthouses etc. He meets a wide range of characters, of whom the funniest is a couple from Remscheid, Germany, who he hears arguing through the wall in their bedroom before meeting them face to face - so he knows both their private and their public lives, and observes them with appalled fascination. Right at the end of the treck he also makes friends with two women, one of whom he had met at the start but who had eyed him suspiciously until he tells her that, seeing as he is gay, he has interest in her body. After that they are the best of friends.

The book is very well written, and in fact unputdownable. It's written fairly simply, at the same time entertainingly but also containing 'insights of the day'. These you can take as deep meaningful lessons to learn (as he may have done, it seems that for many people this walk is a life-changing or life-reviewing event), or you can skip over them lightly. It's a good book for anyone wishing to embark on this walk since it describes what it feels like, which is just as important as having a travel guide. It makes such a walk quite tempting!