Sunday, 5 August 2007

Good Bad Ugly French Dutch Spanish

It is late at night on Saturday, the only sound out in the dark is the owl´s scrapey voice in the distance. Even Una Dog is asleep. I am awake because my old friend Dick is on his way here from Madrid. His plane arrived there at 11:30 p.m., and he´s rented a car and DRIVING here, as I write. It´s a three-hour journey on some of the most boring highways of Spain. I hope he´s smart enough to stop and sleep. But in case he´s not, we have the ever-ready mattress made up for him on the kitchen floor, at my very feet. The dog is sleeping on it, her paws softly twitching. Even in her sleep she can hear that owl.

Dick lives in a little town near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He´s extra special to me because we walked parts of the Camino de Santiago together, back in 2001. He introduced me to after-dinner brandy and tiny cigars, (SUCH a buzz!) and taught me how to sing, in Dutch, "Yes, We Have No Bananas." He´s the one pilgrim who was with me when I finally hiked into Santiago de Compostela, the end of the 6-week journey, a powerful spiritual moment.

Matter of fact, the section of camino where I live now is part of the camino I walked with Dick, six years ago. I have no memory of this town from then. I wonder if he does. I hope we can do some walking while he is here.

A huge amount of things have changed in both our lives in the years since, but we´ve managed to stay in touch and even visit one another, sporadically, and in a vast variety of exotic locations and conditions. Dick is a very elegant and tasteful man, and I´m kinda intimidated having him here when the place is still such a wreck. (His house is right out of a design magazine... but then, he is Dutch. They are SO architectural there!) He´s done lots of construction work in the past, and says he´ll help us out with whatever... and we do need to put new roof timbers in the Hen Hut. And he´s 6 feet tall, which helps even more!

It´s been a very hot week, and most of it ordinary. On Wednesday evening a big extended family from France rolled up in a couple of vans and set up tents in Moratinos´little park. They had a couple of priests in their party, and asked if they could use the church for a Mass. The Julis, you know, keep the keys. They said ¨sure, so long as we can come, too.¨

And so we did. The kids took turns ringing the church bell, and a good number of Moratinians turned out to see what the hubbub was about. Inside the church was a genuine Latin Mass, which made Modesto go all misty-eyed with nostalgia for his acolyte years. Afterward the family gave us a bottle of their local cider to share among the plaza-sitters, so of course Jose had to bring them all up to his bodega to try ¨the champagne of Moratinos.¨ (And Modesto, not be outdone, subjected them to his latest vintage, too.)

The local wine is very nasty. It takes real cojones to serve it to people from Bordeaux. No one said anything out loud, but I think the greenery outside the bodegas got a good dousing with wine "accidentally spilled.¨

Still, a good time was had as the sun took its sweet time setting. The travelers had ten children among them, uniformly beautiful and blonde. Seeing them run barefoot across the grass, bopping one another with cattails and sunflower-heads as their parents set up camp... it was right out of an LL Bean catalog. The two families vacation together every summer, and walk a stretch of the camino each time. Even the 6-year-old kids. The parents take turns driving the vans 25 km. stages, find a place to camp, then bicycle back to join the others. This is their fourth year. I was impressed.

Interestingly, at least one other pilgrim was not. As all the bodega-visiting and cider-swilling was going on, a bearded old man with a military-surplus backpack wandered into the plaza, looking lost. I asked him if he needed anything, and he told me only that he was French and he couldn´t understand what anyone was saying.

I don´t speak French, but I understand a little. I told him (in Spanish) a group of French were set up over in the park, they could communicate with him. He waved his hands at me. ¨I am a pilgrim. Those are tourists,¨he said. He stalked away. The hell with him, I thought. Some pilgrim. Seems to be a lot of these cranky old bastards around these days.

A lot of us were tourists before we turned pilgrims. You gotta start somewhere. And who is he to decide who´s what?

We talked more on that this afternoon, when a French guy with a fabulous name turned up: Christian Champion writes a popular French guidebook. He´s out doing updates for next year´s edition, and bemoaned the recent closure of a few excellent old pilgrim albergues. The people who run them burn out, or are out-touted or harrassed by newcomers anxious to squeeze money from the pilgrim flood. The camino´s been here for a thousand years, and this is nothing new, obviously. Still, he said, so many hostal-keepers want to be the one-and-only in a given town or area. There are plenty of pilgrims to go around, but every traveler who stops at the other guy´s restaurant or hostel is seen as taking money from the other´s pocket. Ugly stuff. We´ve seen a good bit of that right here, ourselves. The very people who offer hospitality and kindness to pilgrims are full of jealousy, fear, and loathing for their neighbors.

So...all these French people all week, and now we wait for a Dutchman to arrive. The nationality thing is cool, but ultimately really quite meaningless. I´m beginning to not believe in countries or patriotism. People are good and bad, pretty and ugly, sad and glad and mean and sweet on a person-to-person basis, not a national one.

Speaking of such things...I have this ¨hit counter¨ thingy now on this blog, you can see it over there to the right. I am not sure I like it. It may disappear one of these days. It makes me all too aware of how popular/not popular this or that entry is. And it just feeds into the self-absorption that is so everywhere in Blog World... did they like me today? Will I be a ¨blog of note¨someday? Am I almost famous? Are those real people reading, or is it really just my mom, signing in over and over because her slow computer is forever timing out? Life is too short for all that. AAAAAUUGH! Bedtime for me!

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Well I must account for several of those digits as I am a regular reader of your blog after you announced it on gocamino or something.

I have no memories of Moratinos either although I must have walked past it in 2005. I've done my camino in sections and in a strange order. I have only walked the Meseta section once, in March 2005 just before I started my current job.

I'm interested in your blog because I want to set up my own refuge along one of the routes some day.

Caroline x