Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Swallows Have Flown

The tooth was abcessed, it spread infection up into my sinuses and into my tonsils. I got pretty sick pretty fast, and the dentist finally pulled the molar. It was awful. I passed out in the chair. I scared the dentist!

And now, after two courses of antibiotics and many hours of sleep, I am getting better. I feel like I lost the first half of the month, as well as the back half of my mouth.

This is a truthful year for me. I have taken three good hikes -- the Camino Ingles in February, the Peñalba trail in July, the little slice of Camino Madrid in August. Two of them left me beat-up and battered for days after. I tire faster now, and stay that way longer. I am not the Iron Woman I used to be.

But today, today I feel like myself. In the morning light we loaded up the dogs and went out to the Camino de Galgos and walked a good 10 kilometers along an old canal, past a fox den and under the new high-speed railway line. The dogs love that hike. We do, too. The light out there is yellow and soft, and the sky puts on spectacular cloud shows. No one else ever goes there. We have it to ourselves.

The songbirds are flocking. The swallows are gone from the barn. This week, the leaves on the chestnut trees turned yellow.

At long last, Alfredo the Leña Man delivered 2 tonnes of firewood inside the back gate. Pilgrims arrived, Hungarians and Germans and Italians. We stacked the wood in the shed, in stages, over time. It was hot, sweaty, righteous work. The heat here is dry, so I find breaking a sweat is not so terrible. It drips off and disappears. It doesn´t make me all yicky-sticky.  

The pilgs had to eat strange food, but they don´t care.
I have nothing profound to report.
Life is good out here on the plains.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Practically Perfect

I love a good ending. I love a good beginning even more.
And here it is, the first day of September. A bit of both. All the abundanza of the end of summer, the lush gardens, the grapevines coming on strong, a sky full of thunderheads. But when I am outside at 1 a.m. with Orion and Mars and the stars, it's almost cold.
Crickets sing in the dark. On the little boom-box we play Muddy Waters and Jussi Bjorling. One speaker points out onto the patio, and one into the kitchen. Someday we will get a proper stereo. We are kinda afraid what the dust here would do to a proper stereo. We will stick with the cheap option until they stop manufacturing these things. Then, well.
Silence is great. But everyone should have some "Long Distance Call" on September first, when the night is warm and the little string of solar bulbs switches itself on, the white wine comes up from the bodega at the just-right temperature. The end of a day of planting out the Fall crop of kale and chard and lettuce, topping up the dog- and chicken-feed, finally paying back Julia with a box of eggs for her many tons of apples, plums, membrillo and advice. (Her hens stopped laying when the men started re-roofing their house. Hens are touchy critters, and this time of year they molt -- they change their feathers, they stop laying. Bob Canary changes his feathers, and stops singing. Everybody needs a holiday.)
The Spaniards are back at home, back at school. All last week the trains were full, Moratinos and Sahagun teemed with out-of-towners, but their numbers slowly slackened. The Spanish summer madness winds down. The European Camino madness winds up. More and more foreigners show up now, thinking they won't have to compete for lodgings and dinner-tables. There's litter on the trails. A paint-can philosopher worked-over our labyrinth in the last couple of days, advising passing pilgrims that "The Silence Speaks."
(The Silence has spoken there for centuries without any help from dumb-asses with spray paint.)
And so it continues.
The Peaceable was busy in the past week. Patrick and I took turns going to Madrid to help a friend who's feeling low. I attended an Anglican Eucharist, which is always utterly delicious. We hosted pilgrims here, met some fine people, heard some great guitar music, ate  razor clams and sardines and drank some good vino.
It is tempered by the troubles of our friend. And Momo Cat going on another walkabout. And my own issues. I developed a toothache at the end of the week, and lost a good portion of the weekend to pain and pain-killers. Worrisome things. Paddy made lovely soup from beans and bacon. I harvested the tomatoes out back and made the year's finest gazpacho. Tortillas, salsa, rice, easy things to eat. I am well cared-for.   
And today... today was textbook late summer. The morning dog-walk was lovely, the dogs all had good runs and tumbles, almost no blood was shed, nothing was killed, we ran into no hunters, and all returned panting and well-aired. We went into town and found almost everything on the list -- alas, no dentist available until Thursday! Out on the camino I spread manure and calendula seeds and lots of water round the base of the Phil Wren Memorial Tree, and discovered the mess at the labyrinth.
My tooth did not hurt so much, long as I didn't use it for anything.
We made naan bread, a weekly team event. We read books, sitting out on the patio with dog noses poking at us. In the silence of the afternoon I went all round the walls of the house next door calling for Momo, just in case he was locked inside one of their outbuildings. (Mo has a distinctive bourbon-and-cigarettes sort of meow, and he answers when I call him.)
No Mo. How tiresome.
I took a nap.
The sun went low. The dogs lolled and wrestled on the patio. We had naan and gazpacho out there, listened to Steely Dan on the speaker, talked about old friends, and the old house that's for sale downtown.
And just as Paddy wound up a discourse on Heideggar, we heard a noise.
A yowl. A yip. Unmistakeable. Paddy's eyes met mine, and we both gaped and grinned.
Momo Cat, up on the barn roof, shouting to be let into the house. Home again, the bad cat!
And so our evening is complete, our family circle re-connected. We put the hound dogs to bed in the barn, and opened up the front door so Mo and Tim and Rosie could join us in the gloaming.
Beauty, it was.
The music ended on the box. The crickets took up the tune.
And now, upstairs, I can hear Patrick snoring. Down here by my feet, Tim snorts in his sleep, too.
My tooth hurts, yeah. But everything is so fine.
Even with a bad tooth, I have to say it: I live in the best place in all the world.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Fruits



Accidents, stopgaps, decisions made at the last minute three years ago, they all are cropping now, they are budding and flowering and bearing fruit. Literally. 
This is the most wonderful time of the year for anyone mad enough to try growing flowers and food in the ground around them. It´s a ton of hard work and hassle, and the rewards are often not so great, or just nada. Good produce is very cheap here, sometimes it is free. I don´t know why I bother, but I do. This is why. 
 
This year, for some reason, the skinny slices of dirt in the patio out front are booming, blooming with plants I expected to see, well... The same year I planted them. Three years ago, I planted poppy seeds out there, all different colors of California poppies, all over the place. Not a single one showed its head. Duds, I thought. (Meantime, wild poppies grow in great profusion by the acre, in the same kind of dirt, all over the region.) This year, in a big pot out front, a new plant put out lacy leaves and then little bright flags... bright yellow! Poppies! 
Something similar is going on with the nasturtiums, flowers with pretty round leaves and edible flowers. I planted a gang of them last year, with nominal success. This year they zoomed back, and are popping up all over the place in long plumes and tails, fat saucers of bright green, and only a few flowers. They all are orange. 
And the calendulas, too, are yellow and orange, and they are everywhere, front and back, tough as nails. I like these little guys because I got the first handful of seeds while out hiking in the mountains with my bud Kathy. We were in a mountain town called Boca de Huergano, on the Camino Vadiniense. I admired the flowers growing outside a trim little cottage, and the lady there broke off a couple of seed-pods and folded my fingers round them. "If they will grow here, they will grow anywhere," she said. And she is right. Three years later, they threaten to overrun the back yard. Which would be kind of pretty. 
I wonder why, with all the multi-colored things I plant, they all come out orange or yellow. Which works perfectly in the red-tiled patio outside an ochre-colored house.  
The flowerbeds are not just full of flowers. This year there are tomatoes growing in there, and an enormous eggplant (aubergine) covered in patent-leather fruits and purple velvet flowers. These were leftover seedlings, the ones that didn´t fit in the raised beds out back. They do a damn sight better out front, even with dogs walking and whizzing on them. Some visiting stoner disposed of a roach in the potted Pony Tail palm, and now there´s a marijuana tree in there that is taller than me. I did not plant it, I swear. There´s a grapevine out there, too. I never planted that, either, but it´s grown right up the trellis and is now heading west, over the wall. No sign of grapes, but what would I do with more fruit? 
Out back the fig tree is loaded down, the apple tree this year has clusters of fat green fruit. Edu and Milagros, Pilar and Modesto all have given us buckets and baskets full of plums, damsons, cherries, cucumbers, chard, and courgettes (zuchinni). Three stalks of sweetcorn grew this year, and we ate the first cobs last week, raw. The tomato plants are in overdrive -- we are consuming gazpacho by the bucket (I asked Milagros for a single cucumber for a gazpacho, and I came away with three cukes and two courgettes). Tomorrow I make salsa. And plum tart. And a red-pepper quiche. 
It is delicious and gorgeous and good for us, and there´s enough left
 over to share. 
Abundance, sweet providence. The fruits and vegetables of our labor.         

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Scheme is Hatched!

I give up one thing that doesn´t fit any more (like training hospitaleros) and another, bigger, more interesting thing zooms right in to take its place.

I came to terms with the Depression. I agreed to sit still while the darkness lasted, because maybe there is something down here for me to learn. Sitting still is against all my upbringing. It is un-American. When anything is less-than excellent, you get up and do something – anything! -- to make it better. Even when doing something is really not the best idea.

So it is hard for me, just sitting here.
But sitting here, after a while, I start to see the big picture. The writing on the wall stops being part of the décor and starts demanding translation.

With fewer and fewer pilgrims stopping here, I don´t need to focus on accommodating them. I have lost a lot of interest in things Santiago. I have answered the same questions 100 times, and I´ve barked up the same trees at least as often to fix the things that don´t work so well. And I realize maybe the Camino does not need any fixing. It is exactly what it is. Pilgrims come and go, like they´ve done for a thousand years. We´ll continue giving them a bed and a meal if they need it. But what I achieve, or don´t achieve, camino-wise, means little or nothing.

So I decided to stop training people to be volunteer hospitaleros. I sent in a resignation to the Canadian Confraternity and the Spanish federation a week ago, and posted the news on www.caminodesantiago.me, the forum where I am most present, camino-wise. Nary a ripple was seen on the stream.

And a day later, up from Moratinos jumped another fish to fry. It´s fiesta week, and the town is heaving with friends and relations, come home to see granny and the cousins in the old pueblo. Everyone is happy to see the new chestnut trees and flowers blooming in the plaza, the cleaned-up streets, the fincas now for sale. Both church bells rang for the Santo Tomas procession, a jolly racket that echoed for miles across the fields and made all the dogs howl out loud.


video
procession of Sto. Tomas Apostol

And so we struck. A little group of us year-round residents rounded-up the visitors and founded a new Cultural Association, aimed at preserving Moratinos´ memories, informing outsiders of our little hidden treasures, and maybe shoring up our crumbling cultural patrimony, which is made of adobe.  

Response was overwhelming. No fewer than 55 people put their names down, along with a 10-Euro note to get things started. Men and women, young and old, all of them with some tie to this town, people determined – even though only 20 of us actually live here all the time --  to not let Moratinos die.  

I was made president. No one asked me. I was told.
I think it is because everyone can talk to me. My uncle didn´t offend their cousin back in 1985, so I am OK. I am a goober, clueless to a lot of historical inter-familial bullshit – when that comes up, I pretend to not understand. I work hard to keep a civil relationship with everyone here.
 
Costume contest: the Asturian chickens
This, I think, offers an opportunity to heal old wounds.

Only one family told me No, this can´t work, that people need to go home and mind their own business. They´ve been hurt in the past. I think they are just taking a “wait and see” stance. Once they see how things progress, they may jump on board, too. Because I feel pretty positive about this. And when I set out to make something happen, it usually works.  

I don´t have to handle money. There´s a treasurer for that. No need to take notes, because we have a secretary, too. Total transparency will be written into the bylaws. I might have to mount a FaceBook page, and update it with photos and copy – I can find someone to help me translate. Maybe this will improve my Spanish. Maybe someone will step up and make a web page. There is a lot of talent here.
Talent is cheap. Follow-through is what will make it really happen, once the initial enthusiasm goes. I am as hard-headed as a Castilian. I can make this stick. I just hope I do not step on too many peoples´ toes on the way.  
 
this year´s winner: a Pirate Ship!
We are starting out small. Tomorrow we will deposit all those ten-Euro bills in a new bank account. We will file papers to make ourselves an official Asociacion Cultural in Palencia province.  (You can join, too, and donate as much money as you like!)
We will clarify our goals. We will settle on what to call ourselves. And then start doing.

I have ideas, simple things we can execute with or without help from ministries or government groups. A sad fact is, many people here wait around for the government to improve things.  They don´t step up til they have a grant in hand, and grants don´t happen so much any more. But we can build a signpost, an information station to tell visitors what those caves are in the hillside, (bodegas), what those round buildings are in the fields (dovecotes). We can organize ourselves enough to open the church, open our bodegas, to show our children and our visitors that this is a rare sight, a disappearing resource, a  rustic little gem to be treasured.        

Small things, simple things. If we can make that work, we can tackle larger projects. Make the collapsed bodegas safe. Fix the uneven pavement in the plaza. Rationalize the reams of mouldering historical documents into a small archive. Label old photos. Collect old recipes and craftwork and stories from the elderly, while they are still here.Things people say are impossible, or too much, or beyond the reach of a small town and little people.


We are not many, but we have a big reach. We are scattered all over Spain, and most of us have some skill or another to offer. We love Moratinos. And we are only as small as our expectations. 

And here in the dark is something I believe in, something new worth working on.  

Friday, 8 August 2014

Madmen, Piglets, and Sun-stroke: Three Days of Big Fun


It was only three days, supposed to be five. I only made it partway, and I should've stopped after the first day, but I kept on going. I thought it would get better, that I would get better.
I didn't. I got worse. It got bad, very quickly.
It was a really self-serving hike anyway. The day of the last blog post, the day we saw through the neighbors' house, was the day Momo Cat was last seen. Time went on, he didn't come back. Pad and I both started looking glumly at one another, started giving up hope. So I did a Spanish thing. I made a promesa to Santiago. Momo comes back okay, I will go to Valladolid on the train, and walk home, as a thanksgiving. I said it out loud, in front of witnesses (Paddy and the outside dogs). And once the neighbors came back for the weekend, Momo reappeared, shouting loud outside the back door, not a scratch on him. We think he somehow got inside their house while it was open, and was locked in all week when they left. Thank God they're coming back on weekends these days!
Thank God indeed.
You'd better start walking, Paddy said.
And on Monday, full of expectation, I took the 11.05 train to Valladolid with my backpack good to go for a short hike across the meseta on the Camino de Madrid.
In August.  
I've been wanting to walk the Madrid for a long time. I was willing to do just the top bit, from Valladolid, just for a taste -- it is hard leaving Peaceable for longer than a few days, seeing as Paddy can't drive the car.
I should've taken the 7:30 a.m. train. Should have got an earlier start. In Valladolid I knew which bus to take up to Simancas, where the Camino Madrid passes through. I knew which bus, but I could not find a bus stop for it. I wandered the city for an hour and a half, from bus stop to bus stop, like an idiot. No one knew. I finally took a taxi. By the time I hit the trail it was 1 p.m. The sun by then was cranked up to 10. 
Only seven kilometers to Ciguenela, an easy two hours.
In August, only mad dogs and Englishmen do that. And mountain-bike riders. Everyone with an ounce of sense stays in the shade with a cold drink.
I walked long and hard, I was thankful for each little breeze that blew up the lonesome country road. Roads out there are Kansas-quality dirt, mostly straight, angled around property lines. Towns hide behind hills, you can see the church tower for hours before you get close. If you've walked the big Camino Frances, you'll remember that long strip after Carrion de los Condes. This is something like that, but it goes on for days.
I fell into my long-distance stride. Heat shimmered up off miles of stubble.
About four kilometers in, I saw two figures on the road ahead, moving toward me. Bicycles. Two men, sweaty, weaving and laughing. Maybe heading home after a long, loaded lunch, I thought. As they came closer I realized they were not drunk. They were mad.
Their handlebars waggled because their bodies shuddered. Their faces were like clown masks, they greeted me with wild hilarity and a wave that almost took one of them over. I played it cool, smiled and waved back as they passed by -- I didn't want to give them a reason to stop.
They rolled past, up the hill I'd just come down, very slowly, out of sight.
I walked on. I heard my pulse rushing in my ears. I felt light-headed. Soon as I stopped walking, a headache started. And a cold. I met the only other walking pilgrim on the Camino Madrid, in the lovely albergue of Cigunuela. He was very happy to see me.
He had not seen two crazy guys on bikes, he said. I wondered if they were real.
His name was Luis, from Aranjuez. He was dark and slender, a runner. He worked in an auto-parts factory outside Madrid. I could not keep awake to chat. Later on, through a haze, I saw him soaking his feet, then putting himself to bed. He was beautiful.
In the middle of the night he woke me up. I was crying in my sleep, he said. He gave me some water.
I was sweating hard, but I felt cold. My head pounded. Only a couple of hours of sun had done that.
Luis was gone when I got up in the morning. He'd been doing 40 kilometer days, but his lightweight trainer shoes were shredding his feet.
The early-morning walk was superb. I said all my prayers. I saw rabbits and hares, sheep and shepherds and sheepdogs, a weasel, a kestrel, and a hoopoe. My nose ran, I snorted and coughed and hacked. I was glad to be alone. I still felt light-headed. I drank lots of water, wore sunscreen and a hat, I walked in the shade at every opportunity.
I saw Luis again in Penaflor de Hornija. He was slowing down. He'd see me in Castromonte, he said. I had trouble forming Spanish sentences. I drank two quick claras. (half draft beer, half 7-Up). I left Hornija just after 11, and the thermometer read 30 degrees. I went slow. A beautiful, medieval sunken lane, all dappled and dark, opened onto miles of endless wide-open blast furnace. An Allman Brothers song played an endless loop in my head.
Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy on me.
Miles on I could see a line of scrubby oak trees. As I drew closer I saw some enterprising person had set up a piggery among them, and dozens of fine black swine browsed behind makeshift fences. Acorns. Black pigs. These were Spain's famous Bellota hams on the hoof. They were friendly, they nosed up to the fence to say hello. And in the next pen were mother pigs, and a vast number of wiggly, wormy black piglets. They squealed and swarmed and ran, ran, ran, full of energy and joy. The moms were pretty active, too, at least the ones not fenced inside numbered concrete bunkers.
Luis was there, snapping photos, grinning. It was impossible not to smile. We walked on, and on the right heard something crashing in the bushes next to the trail. Out burst a line of leaping piggies, escapees, playing chase through the woods. They saw us, screamed, and split up, some running up the trail ahead, others diving into the bushes. They kept us company for a half-mile more, the most joyous pigs I ever met. Maybe that's why the jamon is so tasty -- their lives may be short, but they have them some fun!
Me and Luis straggled into Castromonte in the heat of the day. It is a gorgeous albergue. We did not see much of it. We slept. We walked into town and banged on the butcher's door til he opened up and sold us some food. We saw inside the church, with its images of 25 saints -- they take them all out for a parade every year, the Saturday before Pentecost. Beautiful adobe houses, leaning every which way, plaques marking birthplaces of forgotten fascists.
We ate simply -- pan-fried pork loin and cheese on bread. Olives. Plums from the tree outside. The scrap-end of a chocolate bar.
Luis made me a "isotonic cocktail" with energy drink and powdered minerals. I repaired his blistered feet as well as I could, with the minimal first-aid supplies I had. Tomorrow, Medina de Rioseco, I told him. There's a health center there. They can give you a proper bandage job.
There's a bus station there, too, he said. I can pick up there next year, walk on.
He'd made a promesa, he said. His mom, last year, a cancer scare. She's fine now. And so now he has a promise to keep, even if it takes him three years of holiday time to get to Santiago.  (I did not tell him about my promesa.)
We both were asleep before the sun went down. A man painted a wall outside. The roller went shush-shush-shush.
I said goodbye to Luis in the morning. I did not see him again.
It was another beautiful morning.
I do not remember it very well, but I liked it at the time.
At Medina de Rioseco I toured the churches of Santiago and Santa Maria -- the equal of any tourist attraction in Spain, and pretty much unknown outside this region. I had a horchata (an Arabic almond milkshake, cold and wonderful) at a bakery/bar run by a jolly family, but I couldn't taste anything. I enjoyed that beautiful little Castilian town -- it is known territory, a place I have always liked. But I do not remember it clearly.
I stayed at a hotel. I took a bath with salt, I drank a lot of Luis's isotonic cocktails.
I came home the next morning on the earliest bus. I thought I might try walking if I felt better, but I had the shakes in the night.
Defeated by the sun, smitten, I am taking my time getting back my energy.
Paddy is being kind and patient. We've had few pilgrims, and none since my return, and that's probably good. I am not fit company.
Momo cat slinks about, utterly ungrateful. I didn't exactly fulfill my promise, but he is only a cat.
Do not let me walk in August any more.  
   

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The House Next Door

The Peaceable is the yellow house behind THND.

I have lived only yards away for eight years, but I had never been inside the house next door.  Castilians mind their own business. They meet one another in bars or in the plaza, but almost never in each other’s homes.

Besides, there was hardly ever anybody home.

The place next door hasn’t really been a home for about 30 years, at least. Old Francisco raised his family here, but the kids grew up and moved elsewhere. When Francisco’s daughter married, he went to live with her in the city.  (It is a daughter’s duty to care for aging parents.) On holidays and sunny weekends we sometimes saw Francisco out in the driveway in his folding chair, watching the grain waving in the field over the road. He was small and stooped, but his eyes were bright and friendly. He told me once about serving in the civil war, that his military picture was on display at the ayuntamiento. 

Years passed, and Francisco stopped coming along when his daughter’s family visited town. The old man died this spring at the care home in Villada. His four children inherited the house next door. They agreed among themselves that none of them wants to keep the old place.

And so it is for sale. And so people like me, accompanied by others who might be interested in buying, can now see what’s inside the walls I walk past every day. And so on Sunday, when the daughter came to town, she showed me:
the patio

A patio paved in amateur concrete, streaked with rust and adobe. There’s a grey paisley wainscot of rising damp along two sides, and greenery is restricted to two neglected flower beds. It could be a lovely little patio. It may once have been, before sheep and cattle trumped hyacinths and hollyhocks.

A baking and roasting room, with two black-mouthed ovens built into the wall: one for bread, and one for roasting meat.  

An indoor well, a tiny room where the water comes in, a luxury in its time.  There’s a new water line and sewer line, too, installed a while back when Moratinos put in municipal systems.  Everything works okay, the lady said. They’re only here on the weekends in summer, and for the fiesta in August. They haven’t done much work on it, because it’s not really theirs.
The bathroom is windowless. Tiles, shiny, floor to ceiling, a pattern repeated over and over. A tiny tub, set up for showers. A pull-the-chain toilet. A derelict washing machine. A naked lightbulb overhead casting 40 Watts of gloom.

Not a lot of electricity. The wiring tacked-up and painted over.  

A kitchen, covered in funky 1960s tiles. No counter space, few cupboards – preparation and storage happen in yet another little room. A big, broad porcelain sink, a little fridge, a gas stove with the aroma of roasting rabbit floating forth -- Sunday dinner.
a beautiful, beautiful barn

Next little room in line, up three steps, the table is set for six. On a sofa pushed against the wall the little grandson naps. Fairies dance on the silent TV screen.  Up two more steps into an empty bedroom, cool and blue. The window looks out onto another patio, green and overgrown.  There’s a closet in this one, the lady says. Inside hangs a mop with a shriveled head.

We follow her down the steps, we turn a corner, and we’re in a sunny entry hall. Dark blue double doors open onto the sun-blasted patio; sunlight bleaches the throw rugs. It is airy there. Hydraulic tiles on the floors, moderno, very chic nowadays in New York and Barcelona. Four little bedrooms, low ceilings, small windows to keep out the cold in winter – they open onto the sunny hallway, onto another dining room, a formal room with a 1930s-era wedding photo on the wall. 

Across the patio and through a gate is another labyrinth, this one for animals.  Here is room for cattle, a mule, foals, chickens, rabbits, pigeons, tractors, wagons, hay and seed-corn.  The stalls look out on a little corral, space for another nice patio, perhaps. The walls are adobe brick, stacked and sagging, with elegant interlace of timbers, sticks, mud and tiles that make up the roofs.



And there’s the rub. This is not a large finca, but a massive amount of it is under roofs. And the roofs, neglected for decades, are failing. The timbers are riven with woodworm, walls and beams are jacked-up and coated with dove droppings. It is dusty and dark and well beyond redemption.

This finca, and thousands of others just like it in hundreds of towns in Castilla y Leon. For hundreds of years they sheltered farmers and carpenters, mule-drivers and wicker-weavers, but now that dark, grubby world is gone.


The family’s moved away, the space is useless, the maintenance and preservation too expensive. No one wants to live out here. No one wants to live in small rooms, heated by straw burning slowly in a tunnel underfoot. No one needs old fincas any more, and so they stand abandoned. They sag and leak until they collapse, and eventually the rain washes them away.

Unless a fool like me happens along.

The Peaceable was much like the house next door when we found it – just a bit smaller and less elaborate. We had to pull down the beams and ceilings, open little rooms into bigger ones, demolish the back barn, plumb and re-wire, put in windows, doors, a kitchen, floors, heating, roofs. It was a tremendous undertaking, expensive and frustrating and probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.  It turned out pretty nice in the end.  

It can be done. They are asking 72,000 Euro for the house next door. You can live in a camino village, or come here in summer, or rent it out to other camino dreamers. You can fix it up to whatever standard you like… you could bring your dog, your donkey, there’s lots of room for them. The place even comes with a bodega cave, albeit a broken one. Right next door to ours.   

And we will be here with all kinds of hard-earned advice and references, ready to remind you that Yes, it can be done, and yes, you really are insane to take on a great charming money pit in a tiny pueblo at the back end of the universe.

But this is Moratinos. Where the Big Fun is.  If you can stand the dog racket from the place next door, come and be our neighbour.  


Monday, 14 July 2014

Heretic Laundry



Breathless, Alberto came to the door this afternoon. "Priests," he said. "Seminarians, young, in black soutanes. From Canada. I tried talking with them, but I thought I better come over and get you."
I scooted right over to Bruno's place, and sure enough, there they were. Three Americans and a Canadian, all dressed in black, blank-eyed with exhaustion. English-speakers, no Spanish, none over 20 years old. Their priest and another seminarian were back the path somewhere. They had no working telephone. And could they say a Mass, later on, after the priest showed up? A Mass in Latin? Would that be okay?
I scooped up young Nick and we drove off to Terradillos to find his missing brothers. We stopped at the church, where Modesto was on duty. Modesto bustled up to the car window, anxious to learn about these holy boys. A Mass, a Latin Mass? Dear God, he said -- just the thought of it turned his grey hairs back to black! He still has all his Missals and Breviaries, he said, he did two years in seminary himself, and was altar boy for years and years!
Mass would be at 5:30 p.m. then, young Nick said. Modesto chortled with joy.
And so at 5 we rang the bell. Modesto and Raquel were waiting in fresh clothing, they'd brought water and wine and ironed napery. (I brought some as well. So did Milagros!) Milagros pulled a silver communion kit from a niche in the wall and gave the water-pitcher a good rub. An event!
We lit the candles and waited out on the steps.
Father Daley is well over six feet tall, and the assembled neighbours held their breath as he and three young men strode up the street in their flapping black soutanes. They were tall, young and handsome. They stepped right up and inside, where the priest unloaded a bagful of vestments and altar-ware, all in matching embroidery. They moved the books and candles into new positions, and at 5:30 sharp they sang out the first psalm.
Their Latin was said with flat Midwestern vowels, but the villagers -- the few people not out harvesting wheat -- knew the right responses, or at least the timing. Father Daley said Mass with his back to us. Bells tinkled, boys bowed, knelt slowly and painfully. Over the roar of passing tractors they sang in beautiful Latin, they chanted the Hail Mary and the Our Father and the Glory Be. It was strange, arcane, ancient. It was splendid.
At the end one of the ladies called it "the Mass of our grandmothers."
The men in black went back to Bruno's. Two of them were feeling quite sick, so I brought them some medicine. I took away some dirty laundry to run through our machine. I wondered if I was being silly, giving them this special treatment. I am not one to fawn over clergy, am I?
I asked one of the seminarians which religious order they are from. They are SSPX, he said. Society of Pius the Tenth. It rang a bell with me. Not a bad bell, but something familiar, something harking back to my long-ago incarnation as a religion journalist. Something to do with Vatican II backlash and Swiss bishops and maybe an excommunication or two.
I looked them up.   
Sure enough. Very, very conservative. Broken away from Rome. Efforts made by Pope Benedict to reconcile, but talks broke down when the SSPX man copped an attitude -- or when the Vatican refused to return to The Truth --- depending on whose website I read.
And so I clipped socks onto the clothesline, pondering what I had done. I'd invited outcasts into our Roman Catholic church, and they'd used our altar to celebrate a non-standard Mass. Some received Communion, even. Had we done wrong? The clean soutanes flapping on the laundry line were not good old Catholic vestments, they were reactionary uniforms. Holy shit, I thought -- I'd just down two loads of heretic laundry.
And then I gave myself a good smack upside the head.
I have done tons of laundry for pilgrims, and that is what these guys are: Pilgrims. We serve pilgrims of every size and shape and faith, not just Vatican-approved Catholic pilgrims.
I just finished reading a turgid history of the bloody succession crises that followed when King Henry VIII of England -- a hapless pioneer Protestant -- left his kingdom to Protestant firebrands, Catholic reactionaries, and faithless political manipulators, each in their turn. Everyone said he did his deeds for God and Truth and Our Lord. Religious sectarianism is ugly and small-minded. It ain't Christian.

And today we opened our church in good faith, and faith happened there. The people came to worship when the bell rang, and God was glorified.
It is not up to me to decide whose brand of Catholic is best, or which priest or pilgrim deserves a helping hand and who does not.
Me? I am the biggest heretic, the least Catholic of anybody in Moratinos.
It is up to me to just open the door, light the candles, ring the bell.