The Camino landscape becomes a beloved character in this artistic memoir

Books on people’s journey along the Camino de Santiago are a dime a dozen.
What makes The Artist’s Journey special is the fact that landscape artist Marcia Shaver brings her artists’ eye to the endeavor.
She and her walking partner Tannis set their priorities to travel just far enough every day that they would still have the time and energy left to draw when they arrived at their resting place for the night. The book is full of her pen sketches, made along the Camino and they are delightful.
This philosophy contrasts starkly with many other pilgrims who rush toward their destination, covering too many kilometers and arriving exhausted without any idea of what they had just steamed past.
The two artists set off with a promise of wine and laughter every day and this is a promise kept.
Marcia also allows herself one luxury item: a two-ounce travel size Chanel #5 so that she would not be the Pilgrim la Pew, hence her nickname the Perfumed pilgrim.
Filled with amusing observations and moments, like “our spiritual journey consisted of praying we would not keel over and die on the spot” while climbing the Pyrenees or her description of using an accessory that allows women to pee standing up for the first time with hilarious, disastrous results, The Artist’s Journey is highly entertaining.
Marcia’s wit shines throughout. “It quickly became obvious that we had trained at sea level, on flat ground, without our packs. Climbing mountains hauling an extra twenty-seven pounds in inclement weather with mud oozing over the top of your boots and between your toes, wearing pants you had peed in, is slightly more difficult.”
She details encounters with animals, beautiful architecture, interesting characters and her own thoughts along the way, interspersed with philosophical questions such as “Why is it that the churches were all closed and the bars were all open?” The book contains enough historical context and information to be interesting, without becoming overbearing.
What shined most though is the artists’ perspective she brings to the descriptions. Listen for instance to this description of Pamlona: “The old section of Pamplona paraded its beauty as a light mist alternated with sunshine. The streets are so narrow that you can almost touch the buildings on each side with your arms outstretched. Tiny balconies of intricate ironwork overhang cobbled streets. Like a canyon, the winding streets focus your view on what is directly in front of you. Surprisingly, as you round a corner, huge elegant churches loom up to dominate the skyline, the stonework glowing a soft, warm yellow ochre against the porcelain blue backdrop of the sky”.
Or Saint Jean Pied a Port: “The town itself is all whitewash and mauve colored stone, red window shutters, narrow cobblestone streets, and flower boxes laden with blue, white and deep yellow pansies. Bright pink cherry blossoms peeked over gray stone walls to frame the red tile roofs far below”.
As a result, reading this book is almost like being there with her with all your senses engaged. You taste the food, smell the “cafe con leche”, see the colours and feel the emotions. You feel every hill, every plain, every mountain, smell every flower, the clean scent of the rain, the freshly turned soil and the earthy aroma of the animals in the fields, right along with the author.
This is what makes The Artist’s Journey truly stand out from most other Camino memoirs. Marcia starts the journey with a question: “where had the soul of my soul gone?” and takes the reader along with her on a richly layered journey of rediscovery.
It relies less on the fellow pilgrim characters met along the way, as so many Camino memoirs tend to do. Instead the undulating beauty and contrasts of the landscape and setting of the Way becomes the most interesting character we meet and it is such a joyful meeting.
As Marcia explains in the afterword: “I see the landscape as a metaphor for the lives we live and the mysterious forces constantly at work. It takes on human characteristics for me, and as I take note of the intricate beauty displayed, I merge with it, becoming one with it. As it struggles, so do I. As it changes, so do I. And as it embraces new life, so do I with joy unbounded.”
The Artist’s Journey captures something of this special talent of hers within its pages. It is highly recommended.

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