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OFF THE ROAD by Jack Hitt

OFF THE ROAD

A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain

By Jack Hitt

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-75818-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 A smug travelogue through France and Spain. Hitt (The Perfect Murder, 1991), a contributing writer at Harper's, had dismissed religion in college as an irrelevance. Then, as he turned 35 and approached an early midlife crisis, he became attracted to the idea of a pilgrimage, which he saw simply as ``a guy out for some cosmically serious fresh air,'' as just ``a long walk.'' A trip to New York City's Cloisters and a spree at a camping outfitter sets him on his way. The destination of the pilgrimage is Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, one of the three great pilgrimage sites of the Middle Ages (after Rome and Jerusalem), renowned as the burial place of the apostle James, who had come to evangelize Iberia. Hitt sets out to walk from France but quickly succumbs and takes a train and even a taxi. A stern encounter with an old woman who serves as gatekeeper of the pilgrims' route causes him to vow to be more resolute. He endures rain, cold, fatigue, and hunger. As he travels he encounters and falls in with others on the same path, eventually reaching his destination, leaner and older--but not necessarily wiser. He shares with readers the tales of his march and those he meets. He also includes much history and lore about the route and the age when millions traversed it. Tales of Roland, Charlemagne, Knights Templar, and the Holy Grail abound. He also chronicles the devastation of the Franco era and the country's recovery under King Juan Carlos. Though there is much of interest in both the journey and the telling, many readers will be put off by the author's self-indulgent tone.