Wednesday, 23 May 2007

It's really really OLD here

I hope the last posting wasn't too wet.
It still is raining here, but I will not go into that. The sky is dark, the nights are stormy, the days are dark. The inside of the house is unspeakable. Best news for today is the chickens gave us FOUR eggs! Not bad for six chicks who are new at this egg business. They don't care if it rains, long as the food keeps showing up!

This morning the work crew rolled up at 10 and stood in the back yard and smoked for a while, waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't, so they went away. Rather than sit in the kitchen and snipe at each other, we decided to have an Expedition. We looked through our guide books and histories and realized that Ryan's been here for almost two months, and still hasn't been to a Roman Villa!

I don't know how you feel about Roman Villas, but if they're your cuppa tea, we got 'em... two very fine ones, some of Europe's best, within a half-hour drive of our very own villa. Because there's so much other art and architecture around, it's easy to kinda forget about them...maybe because they're out in the middle of wheat fields. Or maybe because they're not really buildings anymore. Or perhaps they're just so OLD.

I am an American, so my idea of old is oh, about 150 years or so...the civil war. Back from there you start getting Colonial. And before that, you have to go to Europe to really get your teeth into anything. Around here 150 years ago is almost a living memory. The church in town is probably at least 800 years old. Parts of my house are made of the same style and type of brick I see over in Sahagun -- bricks laid about 500 years ago. Our town, Moratinos, dates back on historical records to the 10th century, and its name means "little town of the Moors..." Moors, aka African Muslims, showed up in these parts in the 8th century. That means 1,200 years ago. There are all kinds of cool little stories hanging around the place, involving martyrs, Templar knights and evil monks and leper asylums. Some of the stories are themselves at least 600 years old, and they're passed out in an offhand way by everyday people.

The N120 road that passes by my back gate was the Via Lancia, a Roman highway. Now it's the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim path once traveled by St. Francis Assisi and a Borgia pope or two, and now by hundreds of pilgrims every day. Very, very old, and truly, deeply cool. I love old things!

So we drove in the rain up to Saldana to Villa Olmeda, where the very best and most famous of the Roman Villas is, with the finest mosaic polychromes anywhere (or so says the brochure!). Paddy and I went last summer to see it, but it was closed. They told us then they were putting a new roof over the place, to come back in the Spring.
So it's spring, we came back. And it's still closed. Next fall, maybe, the man said. It's a government job. Who really knows?

No Romans. So we went on northward, to check out some Romanesque. After a long slog over some really bad roads we came to a stony little town called Moarves de Ojeda, where the front of the 12th century church is carved with an outstanding and wonderful Christ and Apostles. A nice guy lived across the way (in a stone house with a coat of arms carved outside, dated 1601!) and had the keys to the church. I was having a good Spanish day, so I chatted along happily with him. The inside is damp and dark and ancient and dead simple, which is why I so love Romanesque! (in an ironic way it appeals to my Calvinist Inner Child.) Paddy and Ryan grooved. It rained, but it that was OK.
The best part is, this is one of dozens of these things scattered around the district. Palencia is packed with the stuff.

We stopped at an ancient Cistercian monastery hidden away nearby. We went into the enclosure but the Romanesque cloister was closed while the brothers took their afternoon naps. Another cool place, unchanged for centuries. Everyone oughta have a cartuja in their neighborhood.

We kept driving, had an outstanding "menu del dia" in Herrera de Pisuerga, in a restaurant full of utility workers and road construction guys. Stuffed peppers and rabbit stew, and a baked apple for dessert! Yum!

It stopped raining after that. We stopped after that at Quintana de la Cueza, our "local" Roman Villa. It's about 9 miles away from Moratinos, and almost nobody ever goes there so the attendant is overjoyed to have someone there to show around. It's a sweet, peaceful place, about a half-acre of mosaics and floors and under-floor heating systems (which we still use around here); all under a big pole building out in the middle of a wheat field. Ryan gave it his "four thumbs way up" rating.
If this thing was in America it would be overrun, a national treasure with t-shirts and campgrounds and a miniseries. Here it's pretty well forgotten, even by us history buffs who live within walking distance!

So, if you come to visit us, don't let us forget to take you to at least one Roman Villa. It's so old, it makes even Paddy feel young! (you can meet the fun mosaic man in the picture).

The sun will come out, tomorrow. Maybe.

No comments: