Thursday, 12 July 2007
Castles and Cheese
This week has been a glorious racket of churning cement and pounding nails and whatever sound a timber makes when it's slotted into a hole in adobe. Mario the Boss Builder has called in all the workforce to get crackin' on our place and use up all the building materials that have been languishing outside our back gate.
(The fact that he still hasn't paid for the materials is immaterial...once they're part of our house I guess they can't be repossessed, like one of the concrete mixers was last week.) The guys are working hard because Patrick and I had a big powwow (aka "shouting match") on Monday with Mario, who wants MORE money because we've had him do a few extras outside the original agreement. We'll happily pay him for the work he does. But not cash, and not up front, and not another 42K! And not another cent before we see some really tangible progress. (we played good cop/bad cop with him. I was the hard-nose, seeing as it doesn't take too many verb conjugations to say "no," "no mas," and "ni modo.")
He thinks we will give him a couple of thousand if he does some miraculous amount of work this week, so that explains the big push over the past two days. It really is remarkable what happens when a work crew puts in a full day on the job. I can almost see what the place might look like, sometime within the next few years and thousands of Euros. Not a palace, but our own little Castle in Spain.
We've gotten some solid advice from Eric the Architect, who says any more money paid to this clown should go to pay the supplies bill. That way we know our Euros are going to our project, not to Mario's bookie or Visa bill or dentist. (Mario has a toothache. His face is all swollen and he looks like hell. He asked us for some Strong American Painkillers the other day, so I gave him Advil with a sherry chaser, which he seemed to enjoy. We have some really powerful stuff left over from Paddy's eye surgery last year; I think we oughtta give him one of those and THEN start negotiating terms!)
So tomorrow will tell. Paddy has a mischievous twinkle in his eye, so heaven knows what he'll come up with.
Tomorrow is also our fourth wedding anniversary, but we need to be here all day. Today we went out to celebrate. We drove down a country road in Valladolid and Zamora provinces called the "Ruta de las Castillas," the Castle Route. And that's what it was: classic medieval castles, large and small, ruined and restored, one in almost every little village, some of them visible from the others! Why each of these tiny cowpat towns would NEED a castle of their own was not explained anywhere; Spain is notably short on interpretive material where monuments and tourist attractions are concerned.
Castilla-Leon, the province where we live, is castle-rich: "Castle" is its first name. We have almost 200 castles here, the most of anywhere in Spain; a couple of them are within a bike-ride's distance of our house. South and east of here are some huge honking castle/palaces, some of them worthy of a Disney Princess. Problem is, sadly, the average castle is a lot more interesting from a distance than it is up close. Most are basic generic gray stone wall with a tower in the middle, a fabulous view, and usually a resident population of storks, hawks, and pigeons.
More interesting by far are the ruined abbeys and churches that go along with the castles...these have sculptures, fonts, bells, arches and just a lot more going for them visually and vibe-wise. I'll post some pictures. (I wish I knew how to do lots of pictures on this blog thing. Ryan, where are you?)
Our trail took us to Toro, a big town out on the plain near Zamora. It's famous for wine and cheese, two of my favorite things! And these I had at lunch... exquisite cheese, sheep and goat and cow's milk varieties, blue cheese, soft dessert cheese, and some cured so hard it was grainy and sharp. All of it with a green tempranillo wine, absolutely deelish! We then went to Santa Maria de Mayor, the big old 12th century church in town, to see its famous doorway and sculptures.
Wow. I have a new favorite place in Spain now, and a new favorite Santiago statue! The church is relatively small, but a pristine transitional Gothic stone structure, so cool inside on a hot afternoon. I don't want to enthuse too hard on something you really need to see to appreciate. Suffice to say I will be back there, probably in the winter, when I can sit down and spend some quality time appreciating the sculptures -- they're a good 800 years old, and still are brightly painted! It's so fun to see architecture somewhat the way it looked when the builder finished it... almost all these stark stone churches were once aglow with color.
Like the countryside here. The fields are full of combines and tractors, baling and rolling, cutting and mowing, leaving behind furrows or cubes or cylinders or sheaves. Others are bright gold with sunflowers, acres of them, all their faces turned in one direction, smiling at summer. How I love this place!
I got too much sun out there, so now I have a headache. Still, it was a superb day's expedition. I feel like I'm on vacation every day. Almost.
When I'm not questioning my sanity, or shouting "No way, Jose!" at Mario.