Roads to Santiago
For this book the born traveller Nooteboom made a selection from the many articles he has written about Spain over the last decades. That was no simple task, he explained in an interview, because of the degree of his devotion to that country. Nooteboom has been visiting Spain for forty years. He spends several months each year on one of the Spanish islands and has written a significant part of his work there. This close bond and his unconditional love made it difficult for him to maintain the distance a travel writer needs. In Berlin when the Wall fell, Nooteboom succeeded where many German authors failed by keeping an overview and the distance necessary for concise, pithy observations (Berlijnse notities, 1990).
In De omweg naar Santiago another sort of balance has been achieved. Here Nooteboom is more than just an observer. He is an emphatic participant. As a result his book is more than just a useful handbook for tourists who want to see more than just Spain’s scorching East Coast, it can also be read as an extended self-portrait. Nooteboom prefers remote locations, the vast and little-visited regions outside the tourist areas. That might explain Nooteboom’s love: the traveller who is constantly going somewhere and is always on the move finds himself confronted with places where time has stood still for centuries, suddenly he feels as though he has come home. ‘It is always contemporaries who exaggerate the changes and the media reinforces their exaggeration because it has to sell change to survive, because constancy is not attractive. For that there are other media: museums, books, cathedrals.’
This book is a medium of the last category: with a rucksack full of erudition in history and art and with the mild melancholic tone that has become his trademark, the writer travels through a country and time and visits Madrid, León, Navarre, Castile and Santiago de Compostela. At the Trappist monastery in Oliva, Nooteboom admits that he himself once wanted to become a Trappist. The abbot in whom he confided his decision at that time gave him a Latin book of the life of Abelard and said: ‘Go and translate this. We’ll see about the rest when you’ve finished it.’ That was enough. But still, in many of these pieces, we hear the echo of his craving for the still, timeless life he sought long ago.