Saturday, 7 December 2019

Spain is in the House

On FaceBook I sometimes post what country is “in the house,” and often the followers enjoy a glimpse of life on the international pilgrim trail.  Today it is Spain.

The pilgrim arrived this afternoon, a taciturn Valenciano with pale skin and worn-down boots. His name is Pop. His Spanish has an odd French twist to it. He did not take off his hat, or say much more than hello. He had a cup of tea, and ate up the cookies I sat down alongside. He was gruff.

He greeted Paddy with a “You clearly speak no Spanish at all.”  Paddy surprised him with a reasonably fluent response, but nothing much more was said. Ollie shot me a look that said, “how rude!”  

We get the occasional Spaniard in winter, and they often decide to not stay here, especially if they are traveling solo. We try to make them welcome, but we clearly are too foreign for them, our house and company a bit too intimate for comfort. I thought Pop might move along, too, but he was clearly exhausted.

We let him get on with his shower and nap. Ollie made spaghetti Bolognese. I found some good wine in the little kitchen, left over from Thanksgiving.  Pop showed up for dinner.

He was transformed. Once he got his ear around our accents and some food in his belly, we chatted about Paddy’s painting studio, this week’s visit to a museum in La Rioja, the arts in Spain. And we learned that Pop is a professional puppeteer who travels from festival to festival doing “micro-theater,” 10-minute dramas performed on a stage the size of a bread box, using teeny-tiny marionettes. The audience watches through little peep-holes. He calls it a “Pop Show.” It originated in Brazil, he said, and it’s definitely adults-only entertainment.

And so our worlds expanded. We learned of an art form we’d never seen or heard of before.
Pop got a hot meal and some company after a long day on a lonely stretch of Camino.  He went to bed early, smiling a big gap-tooth smile.
I don’t like flags, or nations, or the concept of countries and states and tribes. I think those ideas have served their purpose, and are becoming obstacles now to our evolution. It’s time we stopped celebrating the things that divide us, and focus on what we have in common.

But it IS fun to scan through the pilgrim registry books here at Peaceable and Villa de Grado and see where all our pilgrims come from, what place made them what they are.

Tonight it’s Valencia, over east, along the Mediterranean coast.

Spain is in the house, along with Germany, England, and the US of A.  

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Coming Right UP

No, I am not dead.  I have spent the last few months dedicating my energies to Peaceable Projects Inc., the US-based charity we founded two years ago.  I've edited three books with author Mitch Weiss, and just this very day released this to the whole world and a few thousand email contacts:   

Back in America it's Thanksgiving Day.
The Ditch Pigs Camino Cleanup is out on the road somewhere between Vilares del Orbigo and San Justo de la Vega, picking up trash in the rain.
Meantime, me and Kim are hogging two "office tables" in the bar at Hotel Asturplaza in Astorga, Spain, using their internet and friendly food and drink service...
"A Furnace Full of God" is now registered, barcoded, and posted on Amazon!
This memoir is the product of years of work: writing, editing, designing, drawing, and just plain living, by me (Rebekah Scott) and Kim, aka Stone Boat Midwifery, who made it all look so good.
(I think this makes us digital nomads!)
We still need to look over the final author copy before we make it public, and then we will post the final link and let you know ... and you'll have them in time for Christmas giving.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Walk in the Dark

I just walked in the dark down the road to the labyrinth, trying to settle my Christmas dinner deeper down into my stomach. I am keeping more fit this winter.  
I saw a star fall down. 
It´s been a very full day. The neighbors came over after Mass for a champagne toast and snacks.  A pilgrim was at church, so we brought her home with us. She was alone for Christmas Eve, but not now for Christmas day. She´s from New York City. She doesn’t  speak Spanish, but we made her  welcome. 
We ate an enormous pan of lasagne with fennel seeds in the sauce. Wonderful. (there is no ricotta to be had here, so I subbed-in smashed-up cottage cheese and mascarpone…wow!)  Greens from the garden, and some  Caldo Gallego from Maria de la Valle.  We drank dark red wine from Valdeorras, a gift from Laurie up in O Cebreiro.  Joaquin and Luca, Maria and Nancy from New York, Oliver and Paddy and me.  Christmas.  No presents, but lots of gifts.
It seems a lot more than average numbers of people are sending holiday greetings this year. Times are scary, maybe we feel the need to hug a little closer...  
There are some fine people in my life. 
We got a tree this year, a plastic one. It is very jolly, it makes me happy.
I am working on a book for AP, another sad and harrowing story. Kim has started production on “Furnace Full of God: Love and Death in a Camino Village,”  my newest book.   
Paddy is well, considering. He´s had a bad cough for months now, the doctors can´t figure it out so they simply say “wear a scarf,” or “don´t have ice in your gin & tonics.”  Paddy is sure this is going to kill him, but he´s been saying that stuff ever since I met him.  He is slowing down, and he cannot see so well, and he can´t always hear what´s going on, or maybe he´s just not listening. He is still dearly beloved.  He got a beautiful new black hat for Christmas, and he won an enormous basket of goodies in a lottery draw at the local tavern.  What more could he ask for?
Oliver is here with us again this winter. He is a great help to us.  The house stays much cleaner when he is around, especially as I am working many hours on manuscripts.                                           
Peaceable Projects is quiet these days since the Ditch Pigs´ big gig in Portugal.  I hope in 2019  to get the Memorial Grove better marked,  identifiable and accessible.  I meet in late January with FICS members who usually know who has pressing projects we can help with. 
So there is plenty to do now,  and the future is wide open.  And this year has been excellent, if a little hard on our hearts…   Harry Dog and Jean-Marc Kitty both  went off to A Better Place, and left big holes in our household.   
I am very privileged. My stomach is full, my house is warm, my neighbors are friendly. I can walk out in the dark alone and watch a star fall, and know I am loved.
Thank you all for making me so very, very rich.  

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Rain in November

Paddy and Reb, at Stone Boat, Rabanal

A voice cries in the wilderness... A longtime reader wrote and said "Please write a blog entry!"
He asked Please. So here goes.
I am not in a writing kind of mood these days, even though there are a few things happening that are blog-worthy... especially knowing so many blogsters will write about their every eyelash, for audiences of thousands.

It´s raining hard in Moratinos, the pellet-burner, draped in cats, is humming away in the corner. We are down to three dogs (two of them ours) and four cats (two and a half are ours.) Someone suggested I write about how I name our animals, and why so many of them are from two particular villages in the mountains west of here. All our critters have human names, except perhaps Juan Carlos Gato, who I call Punkinhead. (Juan Carlos is not my cat, he just lives here for months at a time and is involved in a deep intimate relationship with Gus, in whom we hold a half-share.) It´s complicated. And probably very tedious to those who are here looking for Camino Tipz.
Ruby, Judy, and Laika 

 I know much of our fame is built on our connection to the Camino de Santiago. I still enjoy individual pilgrims a lot, we are still listed as a winter camino bunkhouse, but in the last few months I find myself ever more bored and ill-disposed toward the whole Mystique, the Mystery, the Tourist Commodity That Is The Camino. I am not suffering fools gladly, especially the ones who want to be my friend so they can somehow monetize me. It´s Camino that people want, but I don´t have a lot of it to give right now. That is why, I think, I´ve pulled away from blogging.

I am putting my writing chops to work for the Associated Press. I am helping an investigative reporter turn their long-term projects into book-length narratives.

The Ditch Pigs continue. We meet up on Sunday outside Oporto. The weather forecast says rain, heavy rain, and showers. We shall see! On the other side of that somewhere is a trip to Grado, Asturias, to wrap up 2018 at the albergue there. Milio, the magical guy behind the whole operation, has it all under control... I am not really sure what my role is, hospitality-wise. But I´ve been recruiting volunteers for next year, and the Power of Social Networking is working in my favor. I only need about four more people to have the whole March-through-October rota covered! I think that is why FICS keeps me around. That, and because I am American -- they need a few non-Gallegos so they can keep the "international" in the title.

We have a lot more Spanish volunteers this year, and Dutch. And one each from Bulgaria and  Uruguay!

The apartment and house in Torremolinos are sold, thank God. I am not sure why that was so difficult for me, knife-wielding burglars notwithstanding.

Ollie is here, right through December. His presence is directly due to a timely reading of St. Paul´s Epistle to Philemon. Being a Benedictine means spiritual disciplines like "Lectio Divina," a close reading of obscure scriptures and holy books. Which are by their nature demanding, character-wise! I am driven more and more to silence, and solitude. It looks a lot like my old nemesis Depression, but it is not.

At least I don´t think so.

Paddy is slowing down, slowly. He has a cough that the doctors do not take seriously, because he´s had it for so long. He cannot see very well, and his dicky retinas won´t let him fly in airplanes, and he doesn´t like walking for more than a mile or two. So if you want to see Paddy, you have to come here. He is still very much himself, but a bit worn around the edges these days.

And now I must go and make a pumpkin pie, and a pumpkin roll... Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, and we have company coming, and 16 tons of roasted pumpkin in the freezer! 

Monday, 13 August 2018

We Go To Hell and Meet Machete Man

It was an 8-hour drive to Torremolinos, but I took a wrong turn and ended up in Cordoba. By the time we could see the high-rises and smog against the sea, the sun was way up and the autopista was steaming. We made it past Malaga and through the tunnel to the sudden turn-off for Torremolinos. Paddy has family down there. Lots of working-class English people do.
Torre was the place to be in the 60s and 70s, and Brigitte Bardot and Frank Sinatra shot movies there and posed with cocktails and fishermen. Spain was sunny and cheap, and some say the package holiday was invented in Torremolinos – weather-weary English and northern Europeans flooded in on charter flights, bought little studio flats in concrete towers, spent their Golden Years in little ethnic enclaves here. Many never learned a word of Spanish.
Torremolinos in 1966

Torremolinos was an early bloomer. The rich and glossy soon moved on to Marbella, and Torre headed downhill and down-scale. Think Daytona Beach, Atlantic City, or Margate. Still fun, but scruffy, too. Sunburned binge drinkers and the people who prey on them.   
Apparently, even on a weekday, everyone in the world wanted to go to Torremolinos, too. Traffic was backed up onto the six-lane highway. We joined the start-and-stop queue, inching along to a tangle of roundabouts and underpasses. I saw people in a car ahead waving their arms and shouting, then another carload doing the same. It was hot. I switched on the air conditioning and rolled up the windows. I was just in time. A cloud of hornets descended from the shade of the underpass and flowed over our car.  
I looked at Paddy. He looked at me. “Welcome to Hell,” he said.
I should not have laughed.
We had lunch with an aged relative in shocking decline. Something had to be done, and soon. The reason we went down to Torre was real estate. The ailing lady asked me to sell her apartment for her.
She sent us over to see it with her niece.
It was in Aries Block, a dark canyon of a high-rise development with a once-groovy zodiac theme. There´s a little bar outside the front door that caters to Danes. Any hour of day or night, a collection of stoned Birgits and Bendts is parked in plastic lawn chairs, watching life go by.
“It´s pretty bad,” said the niece, jangling the keys. “Squatters lived in there for a couple of years. We just now got them out. It stinks in there.”
Paddy looked at me.  “What the hell,” I said. We stepped into the elevator.
We stepped out of the elevator, and up to the front door of the apartment. A man was there, shirtless, jiggling, jangling something against the door handle. He was a burglar. We asked him what he was doing. He said he was opening this door, that this place belonged to his uncle who had died, and because it was empty and his place downstairs was crowded, he was moving in. His child needed a place to live, he said. I have a child, he said. He said a whole lot of things very quickly. He was scared, angry. Probably high.
The niece speaks fluent street Spanish, and that´s a good thing. She also has a steel backbone. And steel other things, too. She told him to go back downstairs and we´d forget about this.
He told her to open the door if she had keys.  
“I´m not opening anything long as you´re here,” she said.  “This man is the uncle,” she said, pointing to Patrick. “He´s alive. This place belongs to him. He´s got children to think about too.”  (Oh great, I thought. Give him someone to hate!)
“If you go inside that apartment, I´ll be back here with my friends,” the man said. “We´re all home downstairs. Five, six of us. And I have a machete. You go in there, and I find you there, I´ll kill you. I´ll kill all of you.”
“I am phoning the police now,” I said, pulling out my mobile. “It´s time to go home.”  I dialled the emergency number, then realized I did not know the address of the building. I didn´t hit “send.” I bluffed.  I turned the phone toward the man, I pretended to snap his photo. “Hola! Policia? Si. Un ladron, sin camisa, con muchas tatuajes... En el acto, rompiendo el candao…”
The man scuttled down the stairs.  We turned to one another. “What are the chances?” we cried. “What´s the address of this place?” I said.
And then the man came back, swinging up the stairs two at a time, still no shirt, still wild-eyed. And now he had a machete. Forty, fifty centimeters, silver. Japanese style, with holes along one edge.
I don´t recall what the niece said next. She got right into his face, and I held up the phone and snapped away, and said, “si, si, that´s him. How soon can you get here?” Paddy shoved his way forward, in case the guy started swinging that knife… but the niece kept talking, kept the guy engaged, and he kept running his mouth, threatening, angry at the great injustices of his life. I think that´s why I never really thought the guy would use the weapon. He couldn´t shut up. And he finally went downstairs. A door slammed.
We got the hell out. Called the cops for real, and after what seemed like forever six carloads of Policia Nacional rolled up in full riot gear, Policia Nacional. They stormed into the lobby and swarmed up the stairs and bashed on the doors til they found our man. They dragged him out in cuffs, but they made us go around the corner and out of sight. They brought out knives, said “which one?” and we pointed and said “that.”
The Danes got a great show.  Me and the niece got a ride in the broiling-hot back of a police cruiser down the station, and cooled our heels for another couple of hours before a nice man took our statements.  We spent another five hours at the Night Court. At the end of it all, the man was sent to jail for four months.
I learned his name is Miguel. He is 23 years old, without any prior convictions. I felt bad for a few moments… he evidently loves his child, and wouldn´t see him for so long. But as time went on, and we talked it all over for a while, I realized he could´ve just walked away down that hallway when we showed up. He didn´t have to get all macho-man. He really didn´t have to come back upstairs with that corn-cutter. He had a choice.
With Machete Man safely away, we finally got inside the studio flat.
It was as nasty as we´d expected, but still desirable. A neighbour told us another family of vagrants from upstairs had been there earlier, testing the door and locks. We scrambled to get a locksmith, a new door, someone to clear out the place and paint it. Valuations. Powers of Attorney.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Still Alive Out Here!

After all these years of blogging and chattering at you all and "building a platform," it looks like I have got up and walked away from it all.

Like I said at the last posting, the ground is shifting underfoot.
We don´t see so many pilgrims these days. We don´t go to local pig-stickings, or bull-runs, or baptisms so much. We hole up at home, we read books, we walk the dogs who remain with us (we are down to a mere TWO!).
 Much of it is to do with Patrick´s health. He cannot walk so far these days, and he does not like to travel far from home. He´s getting older, and sometimes crotchety. I cannot leave him alone here for more than three days or so.

Some of it is me. I am spending more time in contemplation, when I am not working on someone´s book manuscript, or out saving someone´s butt. It seems that making measured decisions and following them through with calm action is now a Superpower. It wasn´t always so... or maybe I only recently got my own act together enough to step up and help out other people. I dunno.

In June I walked from our house to Santiago de Compostela with Jon, my 17-year-old nephew. I am still not sure that was a great idea, but we both made it in one piece, and I got a real close-up look at what this holy path has become since I last walked it long-term, lo those 9 years ago. I have walked the Camino Frances three times now. It will never lose its fundamental juju, but let me tell you folks, it ain´t what it once was. The trail is changed, yes -- parts of it I have no memory of ever seeing before in my life! But what´s changed most is the pilgrims. Don´t get me started on those! (Maybe the next blog post?)

I swore a great swear at the end of it, however. I will not walk the last 100 km. of the Frances (Sarria to Santiago) again, at least not in pilgrimage season. It is no longer the Camino de Santiago, not so far as I can see. It´s become a parody version of itself, a cardboard-cutout pilgrimage for people who kinda like the idea, but don´t really want to walk too much -- and a great gang of rapacious capitalists
angling to empty their pockets.

Yeah, I´m crotchety, too. We are dealing with a family crisis down in Malaga, sad circumstances that take a ton of emotional energy. We may live on a magical trail, but real life still happens, and it happens hard.

I need to write. I love you guys. I will do better, promise.

Meantime, the sunflowers are glorious. The barn is full of swallows. Combines cut and comb the fields and lay a layer of golden dust over everything and everyone. Venus and Mars shine bright alongside the blood moon. Wine prices are way down, and I am refilling our depleted bodega, even though we don´t drink so much these days. The apple trees bow low under a huge load of fruit, but the vegetable garden is making a lot more leaves than fruit.

We are still alive. Come by and say hello.


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Lord Taketh Away

Continental shifts are happening here.
Harry Dog is gone. He was ill last week, and on our Saturday walk in the Promised Land he ran off and did not return.
We´ve had an awful time with animals in the last year or so. Lulu, much like Harry, ran off into nowhere last January. She is still deeply missed. Hillary the lovebird flew away in mid-summer, and Tim, the last of the Old Firm, shuffled off this mortal coil not long after.
Heartbreakingly, little Rosie Dog died of a sudden cancer in December. Momo, my half-tail ginger cat, vanished right around Christmas. Maybe he figured it wasn´t safe living around here!
And now goes Harry, sweet goofy Harry Dog.
We love our animals, they are thoroughly vetted, petted, loved and fed. But they do not live long lives here, and that makes us sad.
They come, they live with us a while, and they slip away. You would think we´d learn not to become so attached, or we´d learn to not let them off the lead.

We are down to two dogs now, plus Laika, who we are dog-sitting.
We have three cats, a canary, and six hens -- only one of whom still lays eggs. We are letting them live out their old ages. We will not replace them when they die.
We will not replace Harry. We could not.
Our animals are dismissing themselves. We don´t know why. Our load is lightening.
We have to stay and wait and see what happens next.

On April 6 I became a Companion member of the New Benedictine Community, a religious order in the Anglican Benedictine tradition. It is small and new. The members are scattered all over the world. We meet weekly, online, for Vigil Prayers in English. It´s become a highlight of my week. 

I am hard at work doing rewrite on a book manuscript, a memoir by a DEA agent who hunted down El Chapo, a Mexican druglord. It is very hard work and the deadline is tight, but the money is good. This work keeps my writerly skills sharp, and it´s kinda fun to see my handiwork in print, even when someone else´s name is on the cover.

I am rewriting my memoir. I will hunt down a druglord in the meantime, so maybe then a book agent or publisher will want to see it. 

And right now, I am hunting down a bicycle for the hospitaleras at the new parochial Casa de Acogida in Hontanas. There is no grocery store in town, they have no car, and the nearest store is in Castrojeriz... I am thinking of giving them my bike, but I kinda need it myself. That bike was the very first gift that Paddy O´Gara ever gave me. Which means it´s probably pretty old now!

Peaceable Projects was quiet for a while, but this week I took a pilgrim with me to Astorga and we set a new stone in the Pilgrim Memorial Grove -- in memory of  Fr. Gerard Postlethwaite, a pilgrim who was also a friend. Gerard was a Camino Chaplaincy priest from England. He died last September on the Camino Portuguese, and is mourned by many. May God hold him near His heart. 

The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.
Blessed be His name.