Reading the posts in a chronological order is recommended.

jueves, 17 de abril de 2014


Cheese and religion are not concepts that we tend to associate with each other, but they do have something in common.
The words ‘cheese’ and Kaas (Dutch) come from Caseus, a Latin word that originally meant ‘curd’. The first people, who became familiar with this new product, found that the fact that the milk had taken a solid consistency  was its most relevant characteristic.
Also the words fromage (French), formaggio (Italian) and formatge (Catalan) come from Latin. In these words we recognize the word ‘form’. Whereas at first our ancestors produced only fresh cheese or cottage cheese, later on they learned to give it more consistency. This made it possible to give it a form. To differentiate this product from the normal cheese they gave it a new name. First they called it caseus formatus and later they shortened this to formatus.
In certain regions this new name was so successful that several centuries later it replaced the word caseus so that nowadays, it not only refers to a solid cheese with a form, but also to fresh cheese or cottage cheese. However, caseus still survives in caséeux, a French word that means cheesy. In other regions the opposite occurred. There it was the word caseus, which after referring originally only to a cottage cheese, evolved in such a way that, today, it also refers to a solid cheese with a form.
The pronunciation of formatus later evolved till eventually it led to the French word fromage, the Italian word formaggio, and the Catalan formatge. These different names are due to the fact that after the fall of Rome, Latin evolved differently in the different regions which previously formed part of the Roman Empire. This occurred because: 1. these regions were not as well connected to each other; 2. other tribes passed through each región and their languages ​​competed with the Latin spoken by its inhabitants. While most people expressed themselves in a Latin that continually adopted new words and changed its pronunciation due to contact with those tribes, the intellectuals of the different regions continued to use the traditional Latin to communicate with each other.

Esparto grass was formerly used in different parts of the Mediterranean region to wrap cheese, leaving its characteristic imprint on the cheese rind. The esparto was first braided into ribbons of different widths and shaped into circular moulds. These were placed on wooden boards often carved with patterns similar to those of the esparto braids. The moulds were then filled with curdled milk.
The most common cheese form is the cylinder. This is the case of the Manchego, the Emmental, the Gouda, the Brie, the Roquefort, the Camembert, etc. It is also the case of a creamy cheese made ​​of cow milk, which is made in large parts of Galicia in northwest Spain. In Santiago de Compostela and its surroundings, however, this cheese has the shape of a female breast. And here is where we find a relationship between cheese and religion, because the origin of that peculiar form has to do with a decision taken by an archbishop several centuries ago.

For a lot of people, the most beautiful part of the cathedral of Santiago is the Portico de la Gloria. This gate of the Romanesque period, which is the work of Maestro Mateo, originally faced the Obradoiro Square, but is now hidden behind the ‘new’ Baroque facade. One of the biblical figures represented here is Queen Esther. The sculptor portrayed her with big breasts, but the bishop didn’t like that. When he ordered to reduce them, the people of the city protested by giving their cheeses the form of a breast, creating that way the famous Tetilla Gallega.

The sculpture of Queen Esther no longer draws our attention, but another one still does. It is that of the prophet Daniel who looks at the queen with a mischievous smile. Formerly, these sculptures were polychromated –painted– and even today we can see that Daniel blushes because of what he saw so many centuries ago.
There being no written reference to this ecclesiastical order, historians believe that this story, which guides in Santiago de Compostelo often tell to tourists, is a legend. However, it may be true, since there are other stories about bishops who were scandalized by certain sculptures of Romanesque art.

In Cantabria and the northern provinces of Palencia and Burgos there are several Romanesque churches with wall anchors that represent erotic and even pornographic scenes. According to some of the local guides, a bishop of Palencia had most of them removed from the churches of his diocese. That is why in Fromista, which is on the road to Santiago, the church of San Martín, which was completely restored more than a century ago, now only has such erotic wall anchors on the towers. These were not removed because one needs binoculars to find out what they are about.

One of the gargoyles of the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, the old pilgrim hostel which is now the Parador of Santiago, represents a man who touches his feet with his hands. What is special about him is not that when it rains the water comes out of his anus, but where he has his mouth. Since you need binoculars to see what he is doing to himself,  this sculpture was not removed.
Since I have never received a satisfactory explanation for the existence of these sculptures, I stick with the nicest comment about them: that a priest could point to them while telling his parishioners that they should not do this act or the other, because all those things were sinful.
The fact that we learned some interesting things from looking up the origin of ‘cheese’ and fromage, encourages us to investigate the origen of the word ‘religion’. It comes from Latin, from the words re, which means ‘again’, and legere, which first meant ‘to gather’ and later ‘to read’. Therefore, this verb originally referred to read certain texts again and again.
Which texts did the people that invented the word ‘religion’ refer to? They obviously meant the Bible, since it is considered a sacred book. Why did they encourage people to read that book over and over again? When we investigate the origin of the word ‘sacred’, we find that it has the same origin as ‘secret’. Both words come from the verb ‘to segregate’. Our ancestors called that part of the temple where only the high priest could enter ‘sacred’, because it had been segregated (separated) from the rest. Since what is segregated hides something from us, they associated the concepts ‘sacred’ and ‘secret’ with each other. Therefore, when they later developed certain stories that held secrets, they also called them ‘sacred’, just like the books in which these were later written down. We thus see that the word ‘religion’ originally referred to the study of sacred books in order to discover their secrets. Reading them over and over again helps to associate certain stories with each other –’to reunite them’– and this leads to a better comprehension of the whole.
The meaning of the words ‘sacred’ and ‘religion’ has changed a lot. Today most people consider that a sacred book is inspired by God and tells the whole truth, and that ‘religion’ is a synonym for ‘doctrine’, ‘belief’ and ‘faith’. When we consult a dictionary, we find for ‘sacred’: dedicated to God and to divine worship –therefore, this word is considered to be a synonym for ‘untouchable’– and for ‘religion’: a set of beliefs, dogmas, morals, feelings and rites related to the divinity.
What is the change of meaning of these words due to? First, it is due to the fact that formerly many tribes had a set of beliefs and rituals related to the divinity, but no sacred books. Therefore, they did not use the word ‘religion’. The Romans, for example, called this set of beliefs and rituals ‘res divinae’, which meant ‘divine things’, or ‘pietas’, which meant ‘obedient behavior’. Only later, when they converted to Christianity and accepted the Bible as a sacred book, they used the word ‘religion’. While at first they did so to make a distinction between the ‘res divinae’ (or ‘pietas’) of their ancestors and the new religion that was based on the study of sacred books, later this new word became a synonym for ‘res divinae’ (or ‘pietas’). Because of this today we also call a set of beliefs and rituals a ‘religion’, even though it has no holy books.
Secondly, the change of the meaning of the words ‘sacred book’ and ‘religion’ is due to their characteristics. Since a sacred book holds secrets that interact with mankind’s global evolution, there are stories that we can no longer understand when they lose their historical context. This means that it then becomes easy to interpret these stories in different ways. Since different interpretations threaten the union and therefore as well the survival of this religion, the authorities of that religion –the disciples of the disciples of the founder–, then often determine which one is correct. Since the founder of that religion is no longer there to help them, that interpretation that wins is not necessarily right. It is simply the one with the greatest support. By defending a particular interpretation and considering all others heretical, the disciples indoctrinate their followers, and that is exactly the opposite of seeking the truth.
We must now reflect on what might motivate someone to write a book that guards secrets. One possibility is that such a person understands things that his contemporaries fail to understand. In that case, if he does not want his wisdom to get lost, he has no other choice but to invent stories that guard a mystery that each generation passes on to the next until they finally reach that generation that manages to reveal its secrets.
Does the Bible really guards secrets? What are they? The most important secret of the Bible also happens to be to the most important lesson that humanity has to learn. Although I could tell you immediately what it refers to, I prefer to do so in a later article. That way I give you time to think about it. To find out what the most important lesson for humanity is, you only have to reflect upon the essence of mankind’s evolution.
In the next two articles I will investigate the origin of certain words, together with the evolution of their meaning, in order to learn something more about mankind’s past. As you may have noticed by reading this article, not only the Bible, but also the vocabulary of our languages ​​guards certain secrets ...



At  the beginning of January I moved to a place 40 kilometers from Santiago. Arzúa may not be the prettiest town of Galicia, but people are friendly and I now feel at home here. ‘Gallegos’ are said to be distrusful, but I have found them very welcoming and I would like to say thanks to some of them.
First I would like to mention Lino, my landlord, for offering me a nice appartment –I am the first tennant and everything is new– at a decent price. Winter can be hard in Galicia –it rains a lot- and finding a nice appartment with a lot of light and views over the countryside was important for me.  Lino has been a constructer and  when I rented a shop and needed professional help he put me in contact with the right people.
Then I would like to say thanks to Luisa Fernández, who lives in Santiago, and is a friend of a friend. By introducing me to her friends, she made my first weeks in Galicia so much easier. The bike I am now using to explore the countryside is hers. She also introduced me to Amaya Valencia and put me in conctact with Fran and Dolores, who are now my best friends in Arzúa.
Amaya turned out to be a great help when I was working on my leaflets about religion. She corrected the Spanish texts and gave me excellent advice regarding what information to put in the shopping windows.
Moving to a new place is not easy, and certainly not when you are no longer a teenager and are on your own. Therefore, I truly appreciate those who made things easier for me.
I would also like to thank Sisi, who helped me when I was looking for an appartment ; Pili from the Praza café, the first place I could go to for a chat; Raquel, Jesús and Carmen from the ‘Ultreya’ Albergue , the business next to mine, who are the best neighbours one can get; Monxo, from the public library, who not only knows a lot about books, but also about the people of the town, and who was very helpful when I looked for a particular service or craftsman.

At the beginning of April I have opened a shop that offers food (lots of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit, etc…) for pilgrims, as well as food for thought for spiritual pilgrims. The information panels in my shopping window are the following:

1) Go to km 0, get your certificate and embrace the apostle.
2) Visit the local market (mercado de abastos).
3) Go for ‘chocolate con churros’.
4) Get lost in the old town while admiring the stonemasonry.
5) Enjoy the views over Santiago’s rooftops from San Domingos de Bonaval.
6) Relax at a spa.
7) Treat yourself on a nice lunch or dinner.
8) Have a tapas night and try a Ribeiro in a ‘cunca’ (ceramic cup).
9) Search for Santiago’s most famous gargoyle.
10) Take a day trip to Finisterre & Muxía.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R.Tolkien
“The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.” Saint Augustine
“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Lao Tse
“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tse
“Travel is fatal for prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Flaubert
“We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth.” John Lubbock

In the Information Age, ignorance is a choice. An ignorant person is not an idiot, but someone who, often deliberately, ignores certain information.
The creation of nuclear weapons is a milestone in mankind’s history. It not only teaches us that we are capable of destroying ourselves, but also that a society that doesn’t live in harmony –like ours– is eventually bound to do so: weapons continually become more sophisticated and once there are weapons of mass destruction it is only a matter of time before they are used. This does not mean that we will destroy ourselves in the near future, but that to guarantee our survival we must discover why we have conflicts with each other and with our environment.