The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
Travels With My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago
Following in the footsteps of medieval Christians seeking forgiveness for their sins, Englishman Tim Moore decides to walk the Way of St. James, a 500-mile pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to the cathedral of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. To lighten his burden and make things more interesting, he procures a donkey for the journey. Having no prior donkey experience, Moore has to learn along the way, adding another dimension to the usual pilgrimage tale. He approaches the long walk as a non-believer, so this isn't a religious meditation. He does show a sort of irreverent respect for the legendary journey, though.

Moore provides an entertaining history of the pilgrimage, referencing guides and journals from the past 1,000 years, often with understandable skepticism. On his journey, he meets dozens of interesting characters and peppers the travelogue with humor and sarcasm. His donkey, Shinto (an amusing name considering this is a Catholic pilgrimage), becomes a celebrity. Kids want to pet him (though older ones tease him), elders who perhaps remember a less mechanized world gaze at him fondly, and a number of people contribute grains and grasses to sate his appetite.

Moore is sometimes compared to Bill Bryson (as Travels With My Donkey is likened to A Walk In The Woods), but I'd say Moore is coarser and more curmudgeonly. I formed this opinion while reading French Revolutions, wherein the author bicycles the Tour de France course as a tourist, but it fits this book, too. By the end of Travels With My Donkey, however, Moore softens considerably, though he still cannot resist photographing Shinto's bodily functions.

I read this book aloud to my wife, who loves all things equine. I found it rather difficult. Moore's sentence structures are hard to anticipate, and the mixture of Anglicisms, French, and Spanish weren't easy to enunciate. I'd say it is written at a more complex level than the average mass market book.

Travels With My Donkey (published as Spanish Steps in the UK) is a funny, entertaining tale, better than French Revolutions. Many armchair travelers -- particularly those who are not easily offended -- will enjoy going along for the walk. I just wish Moore had included some photographs.

Current tally: 27 books finished, 25 books acquired


In my opinion, this writer uses his travels as a hanging post to hitch his endless - and often tiresome - raggedy gags. I found his relentless synonyms irritating. (The most frequently used word was 'like' and every object, person, situation was 'like' something else). He was rude about the people who helped him at the start and had cruel nicknames for those he met along the way. I didn't learn much about northern Spain but I did learn about the bladder and bowel functions of man and beast.
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