Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Misery, and Mattresses

Want to know what pilgrim misery feels like?

First, walk 30 kilometers uphill, in the rain. With 8 kilos on your back.
Arrive at the mountaintop, and realize you don't have the money for a 10-Euro bed, not if you want to eat, too. Go to the place that accepts donations.
Check in. Eat a nice hot meal, take a hot shower, roll out your sleeping bag, wiggle inside, and take that first deep breath that says, aaaah, sleep! Roll over.

That first deep breath tells you that mattress has been hosting pilgrim bodies for, oh, maybe a couple of decades. Probably longer. And then the mattress starts to sag, right down the middle. You're enclosed on either side, like a wiener in a hot-dog bun.

Every mattresses in the place is shot. The albergue lives on donations, and a lot of the people who stay at "donativo" albergues are traveling for free, leaving nothing at all in the box. New mattresses would run 2,000 Euros or so, and they don't pull in that kind of money there.

You sleep just fine, because you're exhausted, but you wake up miserable. Everyone in the place wakes up miserable. You are not wet or hungry, but you're stiff and crooked.

A decent mattress would have made the difference.

You can make that difference for a pilgrim this year, like you did last summer at San Anton de Castrojeriz. Up in the mountains of Leon at Domus Dei de Foncebadon, they need new mattresses on their 18 pilgrim and 2 hospitalero beds. A new, decent-quality mattress costs about 100 Euro. A waterproof, bedbug-proof mattress cover costs another 20 Euro.

Can you step up again this year, people?
Peaceable is still not a non-profit organization, but that's in the works. Meantime, use the PayPal button up to the right, and give what you can to outfit another worthy place with a better night's sleep.

We won't fly your nation's flag outside, or put up a plaque with your name on it, but hundreds of tired pilgrims will bless your generosity. Anyone who wants an accounting will be given one for the asking, as well as I can provide.    

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Heavy Weather

dormitory to be

Pilgrims hunch into the wind, their gazes on the ground before them, rain streaming and splattering off their plastic capes and hats. Miserable walking weather. But they're pilgrims. They signed up for it.
Some of them find their way to the Peaceable. A day ago it was a wiry Belgian walking east, on his way to Jerusalem. Today it's a Swede who met the Belgian last night in a shelter in Carrion de los Condes. He told her about our place, that it's warm here, worth an extra couple of miles in the rain.
It makes me feel warm, hearing that.
I got mail like that today, too, an email from a couple of pilgrim ladies who stepped up to the plate at San Anton last summer when the scheduled hospitalero couldn't make it on time:

So Lois and I spent one night there as pilgrims, and two nights as hospitaleras. And both of us have said it was the best experience of our entire Camino. We loved being able to give to pilgrims in that way, in a sense paying forward all the wonderful things that had come our way as pilgrims. The people we met, cooking and eating by candlelight, the singing around the table, welcoming visitors during the day. In fact, Lois said to me, after our return, "You know, if you would have told me before we left that the best part of our trip would be spending three nights in a place with no power or hot water, I would have never believed you." But there it is. 
So thank you, thank you, for giving Lois and I such a wonderful opportunity.

 It's that kind of goodwill that makes the camino hospitality network so miraculous: a sudden need, a realization that "Yes, I have the time. I can do this job."
And sometimes the job turns into something magical.

St. Francis of Assisi said it best: "It is in giving that we receive."

I am very happy that Ollie is here to help us these days. From the outside it doesn't look like I'm doing much, but here at my little computer screen I am going full-speed, juggling. Not just getting the new book to prospective agents and publishers, not just overseeing production of a little San Anton history... I am still trying to find two people to take two-week shifts at San Anton this July.
Now add this to the mix: I need last-minute recruits for a truly Green and Pleasant posting at FICS' newest enterprise: a spanking-new shiny pilgrim albergue in Grado, Asturias.

the new place, still under construction
It's the polar opposite of San Anton: the water is hot, the tiles gleam, the kitchen is fully equipped, and the town is an architectural jewel. Grado is the first day's walk out of Oviedo on the Camino Primitivo, a tough, 300-kilometer trek over steep green mountains. Almost nobody walks it in winter, so we'll close up through the coldest winter months. Even so, it's open March through October. And who gets to find volunteers to keep it going?
I do. Or I hope to.
I have written to hospitalero coordinators in nine different countries. Three have responded.
The place opens on May 15th, which is not so far away. I have a volunteer to take that shakedown shift: a seasoned Portuguese. But then come June, July, August... I need at least six people, experienced pilgrims and pilgrim hosts, people with some English and some Spanish, and two weeks to give.
The Canadians, God bless them, are taking September.
An Italian lady is taking the first half of October.
If you want to serve in summer, or you want to come and finish out the season, October 15 to 30, let me know. It's a sweet gig, hospi-wise. It's right up there with Salamanca or Zamora.
shiny kitchen

This all is worrisome. I am not a logistics person, I don't do details so well. I'm a founder, an apostle, not an administrator or pastor. Or so I think.
I don't get paid to do this work, but that doesn't matter so much. It keeps me sharp, keeps me interested and involved. It keeps me faithful.
It takes three hours to drive from here/ to Grado, over the mountains. I can't run up there from here to fill in the holes in the rota, not with San Anton another hour away in the opposite direction. Do I have enough qualified friends and acquaintances to keep two places running? What will I do when someone cancels out? How do I work this?  
This time it's not coming so quick -- Grado is an unknown quantity. It's up on a less-traveled path, it's not got the juju of San Anton. So my faith is being tested. Who will step up and take on the unknown? Who wants to be a camino pioneer?
? How did I get myself into this?
I could get worried. But so far, I hang on to the lesson San Anton taught me last year, a wise message that arrived on a tea-bag tag: "Let Things Come to You."
Last year, I had one month to staff San Anton. The volunteers poured in.
I needed $2,000 to buy new mattresses and bedding for the place. The money showed up, BANG!
Grado: the back yard

Who wants to walk across the plains of Spain, in the rain?
We are pilgrims, on a journey. We can't complain, not too loud. We signed up for this. I did.
At the end of the day is shelter, a friendly place to get warm and dry, a place to rest.
We can't see that, out on the trail.
But it was there for us yesterday, at the end of the day. We have to believe it will be there again today, and tomorrow, too.
And in between, we just keep on walking.  

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Spring Tonic

I drove home today from the eye surgery in Palencia with Patrick in the seat next to mine. Patrick's eyes were closed, he couldn't see the greening landscape or the Canaletto clouds. He'd just had cortisone shot into his right eye. He's had several kinds of chemicals shot into his eyes in the last few months. None of them is helping to restore his vision.

The cortisone shots hurt more than the others, I could tell. Paddy is philosophical about his aging body. He doesn't complain very much, but  it is sad, seeing the parts fall slowly off Paddy's fine old machine. He is 75 years old.
Paddy kept his eyes closed, and reached across the gear-shift, and took my hand. He kissed my knuckles.

At home the telephone rang -- Juan Carlos from Astorga, talking about the memorial tree project. The city council says Yes.  Faith in Santiago, with some more good news on the same project. We will plant trees right after Easter, in a park just outside Astorga, to memorialize pilgrims who die on the Way.

The book is finished, it's being shopped around London and the Cotswolds among Paddy's literary friends; it's being read by various and sundry. I sent queries out to a couple of literary agents, but got only immediate, automated rejections. I am letting this process trickle and bubble quietly, just to see if this book is as good as I think it is, if it is good enough to catch the attention of any of the few real human publishing contacts that remain within my purview.

I am translating documents from the FICS conference that happened last weekend in Sarria. I am reflecting on the green spring days I spent walking from Sarria onward to Santiago de Compostela in the company of George Greenia, an august professor of Spain and Spanish things, and a dear old friend. He too is aging. He's retiring this year, he's getting his head around that idea.

We spoke a lot about death and dying, people who'd done it, people who were doing it, what we wanted to happen before and after we die. It was not gruesome or morbid. It was real.

Most of the people I love are a good ten years older than I am, or more. I will probably spend a lot of my life alone, after they all shuffle off this life. If asthma and allergies don't give me the drop on them.

It's fearful stuff. But I am still fit enough to walk 110 kilometers in a few days, and enjoy it. I am sharp enough to translate between two languages, at least in writing. I write very good books, even if agents don't find them worthy of their time, even if I am past the age of rich and famous. I am still well enough to take care of business.

I am important, in small ways, to the running of several enterprises, as well as several hearts. Even with so many flavors of failure and death around me, my life is full of meaning. I am wealthy beyond imagining, at least for now.

I drove into town at sundown to buy eye-drops for Paddy, and some new lettuces. Sahagun is full of people home for the holiday, parking their cars up on the sidewalks, embracing one another in the middle of the street, flinging open the pharmacy door to shout out at a passerby, "Hombre!"  

On the way home the moon rose up in the northeast, a huge orange coin on the horizon. I thought of Kim and Melissa who are making the new San Anton history booklet into a work of art. I thought about Filipe in Belgium and Kathy in California, and the friends in Santiago who took me to lunch, the ones who let me stay at their house, and said they'd send my book manuscript around to their literary friends... I thought of Paddy, whose hands I hold. I thought of my dog Harry, and his dark wet eyes and fat black nose, how much he loves me.  

Like a big fat moon, it all is so temporary. We'll all be gone soon. But it all was so beautiful I just laughed out loud, right there in the car, alone.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Sowing in winter, gleaning in Spring



Peaceable time is not like regular time.
Time stands still around here, especially in winter. That’s why I try to keep at least one long-term project going all through the slow months -- I need something to keep me alive!
I work long hours, but it doesn’t feel like I am achieving much. It’s a lot like walking across the Meseta –  you’re walking forever and you never arrive anywhere. Like a treadmill. The scenery doesn’t change, but you sure can tire yourself out.
We can go for weeks around here without seeing a single visitor, and suddenly WHAM! The house is packed, the phone’s ringing, the joint is jumpin.’  
Writing works the same way. It’s just a lot more solitary, and less fun to read about in a blog.

In November “Holy Year,” the memoir about Peaceable life, a book I’ve been writing for years, really shifted into gear. I finished the draft at the end of that month. 
In December I researched and co-wrote (with Scottish-American author and San Anton hospitalero Robert Mullen) “San Anton: A History of the Mystery,” a fundraiser booklet for the albergue in Castrojeriz.
In January I re-wrote both of them. (Any book worth its salt needs to be rewritten and severely edited at least once.) I had a couple of trusted people read the manuscripts and tell me if and how and if they worked. I also sent “The Moorish Whore,” my first novel, to be professionally translated into Spanish, to give that book a new lease on life.  
And now, as February winds up, all the birds are flying home to roost.
“Holy Year” is finished.
“San Anton” is gone on to the graphics department. Kim is making it beautiful. Melissa West, printmaker extraordinaire, might do the artwork. It will be the first English-language document of its kind, and any money it makes will buy food for the pilgrims who stay at Albergue Convento San Anton this summer. (You can help offset the up-front costs by donating via the PayPal button above.)   

“The Moorish Whore” is now also “El Capricho del Rey.” Ella esta en las manos de la redactora de traducciones en Paris… ella va a afinar (y afilar, tambien!) el texto y (ojala) muy pronto voy a tener una novela de éxito aquí en Espana, y en las países Hispanohablante de todo el mundo.

Paddy and I are going over “Holy Year” together, word by word. I am reading it aloud to him, because his eyesight has gone back to bad again, and because reading aloud is a superb way to hear the rhythm, or lack of it, in a piece of writing.  

I am happy with several parts of “Holy Year.” A couple of more parts still need some hashing-out. And once a real editor gets hold of it, I may have to rewrite the whole thing at least once more!

It is not a Camino book. It is much broader than that. It’s along the lines of “Driving Over Lemons” or “A Year in Provence,” but it’s set along the Camino. Yes, there are tons of pilgrims in there -- It’s a story of what happened here in 2010, the last year we still cared for all the pilgrims who passed through Moratinos. I describe pilgrims and the pilgrimage, and dogs, but I also delve deep into village life, too – how we came to be here, how things changed. It’s funny and thought-provoking and very sad, too. And it has a lovely ending, very redemptive.  

I just need to find a publisher for it. I may be a professional writer with a successful novel and decades of experience behind me, but I might as well be a raw amateur where that part of the process is concerned. I feel I am staring down a long, black tunnel.

Maybe that will be the next long, silent project, after all this rush and noise dies down?  (If you are a book agent, or a publisher, or you know one of those, do get in touch. I want to make you very happy!)        
I didn’t mind publishing “The Moorish Whore” myself, it was a first novel. But “Holy Year” is in another class. It deserves the full professional treatment.

I feel a lot more hopeful about finding a home for “El Capricho del Rey,” even though I’ll be dealing in a second language, in a publishing environment I know nothing about. Spain is a smaller country, it loves historical fiction, and the book’s already sold thousands of copies in English. The translation work’s already been done for them.  And I know a couple of people…

I know this is all pretty dull reading, and I apologize.  I want you faithful Blog readers to know where all my energy’s been going, and where it will be going in the future.
      
Books, and San Anton, and another big FICS camino project that’s still very hush-hush.

And my dogs, of course. And the Asociacion Cultural – we are planting flowers all over town, starting with Holy Week. 

Come and see us. We are lonesome!  


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Paddy's Eye and Anton's Arm

pilgrim bear 

After all that long, cold, quiet on the mountain, I walked right back into the spinning blades of The Peaceable. There's much to do here at our house, even if anyone passing through Moratinos would think a neutron bomb went off. There's nothing moving but the occasional crow.

The funnest thing lately was recording a Podcast with David Whitson, and American pilgrim who's tech-savvy and a fine interviewer.

You can hear it here,

 I was cleverly paired with Rom Bates, an Irish guy who did something like we did at about the same time: he quit the Big Job in Dublin and went with his wife to Moissac, France to open a pilgrim shelter. Rom and I are mutual admirers, and we both enjoy talking about ourselves. Pull up a glass of something nice and have a listen.

Another reason I came back was Paddy's eyes. He's under a long-term treatment for vision troubles, and in the last three months he lost the ability to read without hugely magnifying the object or book or screeen in question. It's a hard road for a man whose house is a scattered pile of books, magazines, pictures, and paintings in progress. Paddy's been amazingly philosophical about it, for the most part... he's still got Podcasts and YouTube videos, and a good set of headphones.

He had a minor surgery on one eye last Friday, an experimental procedure that shoots an anti-cancer drug into the tube that connects the lens in the front of his eye to the retina in the back -- if I understand correctly, the optical nerve runs through there. The drug kills overgrowing blood vessels that are squashing up the space in there.

This morning, Paddy picked up a paperback book I've been reading, opened to a random page, and realized he could see it clearly! Glory be!

After church we went to Mansilla de las Mulas to celebrate at a nice restaurant. It's a joyful day.

I am beating the bushes for volunteers to host at the Albergue Convento San Anton de Castrojeriz this year, and I'm learning about how many mattresses of what size they need at the old donativo Domus Dei Albergue in Foncebadon -- theirs are in pretty rotten condition, and folks I know seem to like buying beds for donativo places... so get out your wallets, people! I'm back!

>I need to start a little non-profit to handle project donations.
>The memorial grove for fallen pilgrims idea is already well-developed among a little volunteer group in Navarre. I may need to take a trip over to Pamplona soon to learn all about it.

>I've pretty much finished a short history of the ruined Monastery of San Anton, written by me and Robert Mullins, a writer who volunteered there last summer. Before I decide how to package it, (and how to pay for it) I need to find out what's become of the relic that used to give that old monastery its Holy Ghost Power healing juju -- they had St. Anthony's left arm! It was kept in a silver "reliquary" case, and used to sanctify medicines and elixers the monks used for healing St. Anthony's Fire, an epidemic disease in medieval Europe.

When the monastic hospital at San Anton closed up for good in about 1795, all the riches and artwork were sent to the parishes of Castrojeriz, where a lot of it still is. But the arm? It left town. No one seems to know just where it ended up. Probably Burgos, the wise heads say. Look at the big imperial convent. Look at the church in that neighborhood -- the Church of San Anton.

So that's the plan: an expedition to Burgos, to find San Anton's missing arm. I bet nobody else is doing that this week. First one to find it wins the Arms Race!


Sunday, 24 January 2016

A Month On the Mountain

Laika Dog in The House, photo by Kim Narenkevicius

So here I am, living in a dream house on the side of a mountain, 1300 meters above a deep green valley.  The scenery stretches out on all sides, at varying degrees of steep.

Here there are no sheep, but many cows. They are beautiful Galician reds, with big soft eyes and spongy wet noses and bell-bottom fetlocks. I hear them in the mornings, bells and bellows from inside their grey concrete bunker a few yards away. When the breeze blows right their moist perfume flows up the street, up toward the pasture where they’d like to be. When the sun comes out the farmer rolls open the door and they walk slow and easy out, right past the front gate and around the curve, up to their favorite place. They don’t wander. They know where they want to go. The farmer lets them.

But the sun doesn’t come out much these days. The cows stay inside where their bodies warm the space, safe from the fog that slides like a grey hand down the steep banks from O Cebreiro. I can see O Cebreiro from the big picture window, when the fog clears – but the fog doesn’t clear much these days, at least not at Cebreiro.  They get the worst of it up there. It’s only about 200 meters higher-up than here, but it gets all the fog, snow, wind, rain, pilgrims, and tourists. 

I am house- and dog-sitting in a village called Laguna de las Tablas, which is six stone houses and some barns strung out along a single street. It’s all that will fit along this ridge. Pastures and fields are neatly mapped-out with mossy stone walls, even the most steep drops are delineated. They are property lines, watercourses, stands of trees, meadows. Birches, beeches, pines, willows, trees whose names I don’t know. Their branches are bare, but they still are full of color – the tops of the trees are pink, red, soft green, almost yellow. I walk the dog in the morning above isolated, abandoned valleys. They are full of wind-battered, mossy birches like Japanese woodblock prints. Plastic bags are carried there on the wind. They wrap themselves in the branches and turn, over time, to tattered pennants. You see them trapped down there in the box canyon, waving like some odd white crop from the trees in just that lot.

Somehow, though, inhabited places, valleys with even just one house, have softer trees. The ones with halos of spring hovering over their heads. I wonder how they know.

Pilgrims love this part of the camino. Its beauty is overwhelming in spring, summer, and fall, but in January it is not so obvious. I drove today up the isolated camino path from Las Herrerias to Cebreiro, one of the most breathtaking hikes on the Frances route. The view was invisible, laden with fog. I do not remember that road being paved – I recall a soft green pathway… but I have not walked up to Cebreiro for more 20 years!

Today I stopped almost to the top, in La Laguna de Castilla, a tiny hamlet with a very good restaurant. (Yes, there are two La Lagunas here, within about 2 miles of one another!) Rain was falling. It was just me and Isidro, the barman, but he lit the fire and pulled up a glass of local tinto. We talked about taking care of pilgrims, building fires in old-fashioned iron stoves, how tough it is, keeping big stone houses warm. I was having a good day, Spanish-wise. I told him I love staying at Laurie’s house, how I’m getting some good work done, but I am always cold – I have never had the indoor temperature higher than 14.5 degrees. (58 degrees Fahrenheit).

“How many layers are you wearing?” Isidro asked.

“Indoors? Three up top, two on the bottom,” I told him.

“You have to wear a hat,” he said. And keep your shoes on always. Or boots, even.”

“Indoors?”

“You’re living in a house that was a barn not so long ago,” he said. “If you want to feel warm,  you need to bring a couple of cows inside, and sleep upstairs!” He roared with laughter. He poured another glass of wine. I haven’t been drinking, but it would be churlish to say no.  He carved a couple of slices off a chorizo – another thing I’ve been passing up. It was delicious. I told him so.

“What are you doing in that house for a month, all by yourself?” Isidro asked. (This is a variation on the perennial question any solo woman gets in Spain: “Where is your husband?”) 

“I am editing a book,” I told him. “I’m a writer.”

“Like Laura! It’s a literary house, then.”

“Yes. It’s a great place to work. And I like the dog.”
“Tell me, because I am wondering,” he said. “Are you famous?”

I laughed, probably a little too loud.

“Really, though. I think I have seen your face,” he continued. “And you have the attitude of a famous person. You are comfortable.”

“I am not famous in Spain,” I told him. “I am not famous anywhere, not TV-interview famous. Only in a very small part of the world. But there, yes. I am known. I am comfortable.”

That gave me something to contemplate through the afternoon. The sky cleared a bit, and I took Laika Dog out walking. I picked up litter along the road up to Cebreiro. After the second hairpin-turn I looked over the little town of Laguna and beyond, miles and miles of green fields, forests, deep valleys and mountains with snow on top. I looked at the hamlet, at “our” house. 

I thought how beautifully restored it is, comfortably decorated, “tastefully appointed,” even – full of food and Canadian recipes, a working kitchen, a labyrinth in the garden underneath the snow… Yeah, it’s cold as hell sometimes, but I have a cozy bed beneath the eaves. And that view! Oh, the view!
And I thought, yes. I have this place all to myself for weeks. A spectacular place. I work, but only because I want to.

I took the dog home. I drove up to Cebreiro, where the Franciscans have a Mass every single day at 6 p.m. – a real luxury! I went to the hotel bar afterward, a cozy little place, to use the internet. A group of young men were there, pilgrims, Japanese and Korean. One of them played “Long Distance Call” on a harmonica – well enough the barmaid lowered to TV volume.  The room went quiet while he finished.

The fire snapped and thumped. A huge flaming log dropped out of the hearth and rolled across the floor. The pilgrims shrieked and scaled the barstools, their steak and chips and flip-flops abandoned for a moment. An old man in the corner laughed out loud like a little boy, and the pilgrims, recovered, joined in.        

Life is lonesome up on the mountain, and cold sometimes. But it is very good indeed. 





Thursday, 31 December 2015

Moving Right Along

December's gone on entirely too long. Time to put an end to it!

It's the time when people review the past months, but I live in small slices. Looking back over great sweeps of weeks and months makes me dizzy, makes me realize how fast time passes by, even as I live each little slice so intensely.

It's not like I am "practicing awareness," or "living in the moment." I do my fair share of reminiscing, as well as "what if," and "when this is done, then this." Problem is, when I look back over several months, what sticks out most in my mind are the hard times.

In 2015 my favorite cousin died in a terrible way. An American pilgrim died in a terrible way, right here on the oh-so-safe Camino de Santiago. I had a harrowing day of anesthesia-free surgery. In February all the albergues closed at the same time, and we were overrun with pilgrims: 78 people stayed here in 28 days! My son, all the year through, struggled to find work in the field he loves. My brilliant ideas for the new Moratinos Asociacion Cultural were not a big hit. My big sweet dog Bella turned mean and savaged Lulu Dog. The stitches, the horror, the loss of trust, and the final goodbye at a ditch dug out back...

No. Stop. Think of the good things.

In the bright spring I walked the Camino de Madrid, from Segovia to Valladolid, on my own. It was beautiful and healing.

The long summer evenings over at Terradillos, ringing the bells, seeing the pilgrims straggle in and sit up around the altar for a Mass in English. We served both bread and wine. The pilgrims were great, but it was the old ladies from the village who really struck me most. They came to the Mass, but sat down where they always do. We served them Communion there, like they'd never seen. They wept. It was small and sweet. It felt so important.

I re-wrote a fine new book by Pulitzer winner Mitch Weiss. In November I wrote the first draft of a new book of my own. This year I went two times to Paris, and for the first time I saw Italy: Florence and Venice. We had the front end of the house -- the old kitchen, storage room, and potting shed -- turned into its own smart little apartment.

I took the job of staffing the scruffy little Albergue Convento San Anton in Castrojeriz. Once I got people rounded-up, the place kinda ran itself, although I think I could've done a better job supervising. I am not a people person. I thought the volunteers -- almost all seasoned hosts -- ought to work out things for themselves, I didn't think they'd need to have rules. But they do. If I do not give them rules, they start making up their own, they start bossing one another around. Next year will be better.

This year, though, whilst getting ready to open up San Anton, I vacuumed the old mattresses. They started to unravel in my hands, they were mushy as old pumpkins, so I put out an appeal on email and FaceBook. The English-speaking pilgrim world rose up and opened its big, deep wallet. We bought new mattresses, and bedbug-proof covers for them, all in a twinkling. I was impressed. It made me start thinking... There's a lot of need out here, and generosity to meet it. We need to form a non-profit.

The guitarists came in the summer, and did their beautiful things all over Palencia.
Paddy slowed down. He made two of his weekend art-viewing trips to Madrid and Malaga, but a third, in November, proved too much for his weakening eyesight.

Paddy is 74 years old. His eyesight is going, and there is little the doctors can do now. He cannot hear so well, especially on his left side. He gets tired, he gets annoyed. He cannot drink they way he used to. I cannot expect him to jump up and run the way he's done since we met up.

Getting my head around that is a real challenge for me. I am selfish. I do not want to cut back on my junketing around Spain and Europe -- I want everything to stay in its comfortable rhythm!

Oliver, the German hospitalero who's been ghosting around Peaceable and Moratinos since May, has made this year possible. He helped Bruno early on, and was a real stand-by for me at San Anton all summer -- everyone who served with him left rave reviews. Ollie ran Bruno's place while Bruno walked the Camino this fall. He's staying with us this winter, he's with us now. He's a godsend.

He stayed here and walked dogs while Paddy and I attempted to walk from Samos to Santiago for Christmas. That trek was a disaster, but in the end we made it to the shrine city for the celebration. We walked together through the Door of Mercy.

Oliver is staying here through January, because I am off with the New Year to stay for a month on the mountain-top of O Cebreiro, house- and dog-sitting sitting for a friend.  I am doing this now, because I said I would, because I still can. I might need to stick close to home more in the coming year.

A month of solitude for re-writing the November book, and co-writing a short history in English of the Convento San Anton, for all the travelers who want to know about the place. I think I will publish it myself. I have ISBNs, after all.

I don't have to leave home to be a publisher!