Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Farmers On Parade: Moratinos does St. Isidro
The explosions started at about 11 p.m. last night. It's the Feast Day of St. Isidro, you know. And everyone around here in the farm towns of Castilla-Leon celebrates community events with exploding skyrockets, set off at random moments. (I think Una The Dog, her nerves shattered, is still shivering in the hay barn.)
At 9 a.m. the gypsies came to clear out our garage. We've been piling junk in there since October, when we moved in. The gypsy is part of our municipal service. He comes and hauls everything away for no charge.
And so he came, with his wife. She must have been a beauty once, but now she's missing several teeth. She looked hard at me where I stood in the patio, watering our dust-and-debris dotted flowers. She looked hard at the house, then followed her man out to the back garden and the packed garage. They worked hard and fast and did a great job, took out two truckloads of rebar, bent nails, seatless chairs, and a hair-raising red Naugahyde living room suite. We'd been warned to watch, to make sure they only took what we wanted them to.
We were glad they were gone in time for us to make it the Big Event.
At 11 a.m., a half-hour after the church bell rang we headed up Calle Ontanon, dressed up in our Sunday best. Outside the church the entire village gathered -- at least everyone over age 40 -- we all totaled about 20 souls. (that leaves about four youngsters at home, sleeping off last night's party or playing video games.) A few pilgrims, on their way through Moratinos to Santiago de Compostela, saw the open church and stepped in, too. They knew something was up... you almost never see an open church along the Camino, especially on a Tuesday morning.
Tourist guidebooks say St. Thomas church in Moratinos is "of little of architectural interest." But today was a cultural treat, offering the curious a ritual that dates back to pagan days. St. Isidro is patron of laborers and farmers. And this morning we set off on the annual procession to bless the crops and fields. How cool is that?
After a quick hymn four healthy farmers shouldered a little platform beneath the resident statue of St. Isidro, whose feet were piled high with flowers and fragrant herbs. We all followed him out, singing "Santo, Santo, Santo es el Senor." Outside in the street Isidore met our friend Jose, who was struggling to control the parish flag. A snappy breeze was blowing, and the banner is heavy brocade, a good century old and flapping on a mast a good 20-feet tall. The flag led the way up Calle Real and east out of town toward the cemetery, up the Camino.
The oncoming pilgrims saw the parade heading their way, and each one stopped dead, produced a camera, and started snapping away furiously, delighted to stumble into this splash of Local Color. We must've made a good picture, flags and vestments flapping, psalms and smiles, and Isidro's armload of fresh barley and alfalfa stalks bouncing in time to the four farmers' strides, all against the background of Moratinos' signature "hobbit-house" wine cellars in the hillside.
Jose was carrying the banner, so maybe that's why we stopped adjacent to his field of fine, ripe barley. Don Santiago read a blessing, shook a little wand of holy water on the barley, St. Isidro, and on us. Segundino blasted off another skyrocket, and we all marched singing back into Moratinos, our numbers doubled now by the pilgrim throng.
We marched around the Plaza Mayor and back into the church for Mass, with St. Isidro standing in a place of honor up front. Afterward we all gathered around sawhorses and planks for chips and olives, pickles and cookies, vermouth and lemonade and a couple of samples from Celestino's latest vintage. The pilgrims stayed a little while and chatted -- travelers from Valencia, Asturias, Andorra, and Australia, all happy for a moment's rest and hospitality.
And so we headed home, changed from our church clothes, and started whitewashing the courtyard walls. Laborers from Bulgaria and Ukraine are working on our roof. We have an American pilgrim staying with us this week, and we are, ourselves, American and English. A whole world of people, laboring at our many jobs. It made me think about the nobililty of work, how we've come to honor one another not for our workmanship or industry, but for the amount of money we make.
And I thought of the gypsies, how they do essential labor and are paid nothing for it; how they are looked-down upon because they operate so often outside the cash economy. Their hard looks, their hard lives, make us suspicious, wondering what these hungry people might take from us if we don't keep an eye on them.
St. Isidro, it's said, was so devoted to daily Mass that he left his yoke of oxen out in the field when the church bell summoned him to worship. And when he lingered inside, his fellow farmers saw someone else manning Isidro's plow. It was an angel.
Doing essential work, for no cash payment. What kind of nut does that?