Saturday, 29 September 2007

Grey Skies

Yeah, it´s dire. I haven´t posted because I don´t want to bore you with my whining. And because I haven´t been in a writing kind of mood.

I´m in the curl-up-under-the-bed-and-stay-there kind of mood, and that is not such a bad idea, seeing as the temperatures have dropped and the sky has been overcast all day. It might be warmer under there, even if the floor is concrete. We broke out the propane heater, even. C´mon, Indian Summer! I´m ready!

I went to a doctor appointment yesterday in Leon, and wouldn´t you know, that´s when my old bud Sophronia and her crew showed up at The Peaceable. (The annual gyn checkup in Spanish...another blog entirely, for a limited audience!) Paddy got phone numbers etc., so in the evening we went into Sahagun to meet Soph and her husband Jeff and their three wild n´crazy camino hiking pals at El Cordoníz, a semi-posh restaurant. It was a really nice escape from the house and the Oppressive Hopelessness that hangs over the place. It seems this crowd has a fondness for gin & tonics, and had an early start while Paddy and I were downtown picking up dog medicine and dropping off the saw at the Chainsaw Boutique for sharpening.

Sophronia and I tried to catch up on six years of life... we walked part of the Camino together in the spring of 2001. She´s from Massachusetts, has 5 grownup kids, helped run a homeless shelter for years in Cambridge and recently got a social work degree and went to work with fractured families. She is a good person to talk to, as she too has a rocky love/hate relationship with Episcopalianism.

We chattered away in Spanish most of the meal (which was citrus duck with raisins.. Wow!) One of the Madrileños said El Corte Ingles, the horrorshow Spanish department store, has the best building contractor business in Spain, she´s used it and can recommend it. ´Wish I´d known that before!´ I told her, but it was too loud for her to hear me, or she was too busy singing...

Anyway, this morning we called El Corte Ingles in Leon. They told us the contracting business ´doesn´t exist.´ (a favorite Spanish phrase meaning "I haven´t heard of it personally and/or I don´t want to be bothered to find out.") And Bozo Fran, who said he was coming here this morning to meet with us and explain everything, did not show. I didn´t cry. I was pretty disgusted, though. We decided to walk.

(Libby´s walking, taking her time on the Camino. Sounds like she is doing very well indeed.)

Sophronia and Jeff this morning were walking from Sahagun up the old Roman Road to El Burgo Ranero, (aka ´frog town´), along the same stretch where we saw the funnel cloud a few months back. We drove up with the dogs and met them and walked along too. We needed to get out and move. We did a respectable number of kilometers in good company. I got to talk to someone else about what we are dealing with, how very dark things look, and how desperate it feels to not know what the next step should be.

I heard myself saying "adventures always suck when you´re in the middle of them, in the part where you´re trapped and the boulder is rolling toward you and you can´t see any way out."

I wonder when we will see the way out of this. I wonder if the dollar will recover in time to be of any use to us here. I wonder if we will live in our kitchen all winter like pioneers. A lot of them old pioneers killed each other out there on the prairie. What will be left of us, and this stupid underfunded dream, when Spring finally comes again? Will Our Heros see daylight in time and emerge with the Golden Idol just before the poison darts pepper their flesh? Or will they become the grinning skeletons chained to the wall in the background?

All you guys out there who pray, please do. We need some daylight.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

hyacinths to feed the soul

Times are hard here in the Peaceable Kingdom, but there are bright spots too. I have found some literary things to ponder, to keep my equilibrium through the dark days. (Last September was very very hard, too. I hope this is not a trend.)

This first one is by Adam Zagajewski, translated from Polish by Claire Cavanagh. (People who translate poems are poets as well, methinks.) Blake was a nutty artist and poet, a great favorite of mine.

I watch William Blake, who spotted angels
every day in treetops
and met God on the staircase

of his little house and found light in grimy alleys --
Blake, who died singing gleefully
in a London thronged
with streetwalkers, criminals, and miracles,

William Blake, engraver, who labored
and lived in poverty but not despair,
who received burning signs
from the sea and from the starry sky,

who never lost hope, since hope
was always born anew like breath,
I see those who walked like him on graying streets,

headed toward the dawn´s rosy orchid.

(Blake did the picture at the top. That´s Isaac Newton, looking a whole lot more buff than the REAL Isaac Newton ever did, I bet! I like best all the mosses and plants. It took some nerve for Ike to sit his naked bum down on that rock.)

I am working very hard lately, on learning Spanish, on finishing the Chik-N-Hut, on keeping my chin up and hope alive. It´s part of my Protestant Work Ethic. Herbert Spencer, an English eccentric featured in the Aug. 13 New Yorker, gave me this good reminder:

¨Life is not for learning, nor is life for working, but learning and working are for life.¨

Herbert said that to a collection of America´s leading Victorian industrialists and politicians at Delmonico´s Restaurant on Nov. 9 1882. They were not impressed.
"Having administered that slap to the face of national virtue, Spencer steamed back to England."

Another very fitting item found recently is the classic cartoon setup of a hiker encountering a bearded old man perched outside a mountain cave. The old man says, "I´m not a guru. I´m just hanging out here till my renovation is done.¨

Not all the encouragement is literary. One of my favorite kinds arrives in the post. I have always adored surprises, and have been known to have things I don´t need delivered just so I can get a package in the mail!

This week my sister Beth sent me a package full of kindness: ten boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, three paperback novels translated into Spanish (my fave is ¨Dances With Wolves,¨ which in Spanish is ¨Bailando Con Lobos¨) and needful things like checkbooks and an updated charge card, already activated. Beth is my Power of Attorney in the USA. She lets me use her address, and she pays my bills for me. (she uses my money, however!) She researched our family history back to 16th century England, found a cousin nobody knew about, and sends every one of our dozens of relatives a birthday card every year. She is thoughtful. I think a person like Beth is a symptom of a functional family. Beth´s "Care Package" was impeccably timed. It made me cry like a baby.

I´m still plowing through the last Care Package, which arrived last week. It was sent by Kathy, my bud from California. This one was full of books about the myths and psychology of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a longtime fascination of mine. It also included a plastic sort of cookie-cutter thing you press into a slice of bread, to make BVM toast! (Our bread is the wrong shape, though -- Mary comes out all elongated and wavy. And using our toaster makes the lights go all brown. But Mary´s day will come, as God is my witness!) Paddy got books by Carl Popper, a superfine 20th c. philosopher who´s known only to doctoral candidates these days. And to Paddy.

Libby´s gone to walk the Road to Santiago. Anselmo still comes by to have dinner and help out with building chores and Spanish verbs. I gave him a haircut this evening. I gave Paddy one too, after dinner. There is something a bit too intimate about cutting someone else´s hair, it makes me uncomfortable but I am learning how it´s done. Both the men are now shaved almost bald. People are going to start thinking we run a monastery over here. (Just call me Abbess.)

We read, and work, and wait and wonder what will become of us when it gets cold. Maybe I should´ve left Paddy a little hair to keep him warm!

Lacking that, there´s always poetry. This one, that gave me the title for today´s entry, was oft quoted by my Mom, who is indomitable:

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

- Moslih Eddin (Muslih-un-Din) Saadi (I think he´s a A-rab! OMG!)

Monday, 24 September 2007

Bloody Sunday/Blue Monday

Sunday was bloody.

We came home from church and I spotted two of the hens in the patio, where they don´t belong. I don´t know how they got there. Stranger still was the usual hysterical joy of the dogs, jumping for joy that we´d returned after less than an hour away. How could the chickens have been in the patio with the dogs, without Tim reducing them instantly to Fryer Parts?

Tim the Dog was there in the entryway with us. Two hens clucked quietly in the opposite corner. Only the yard stood between them. I yelled ¨Get the chickens!¨

Maybe we overreacted, but we are fond of our hens! We made a run for them, and of course they skedaddled into the yard where lots of broken bricks and busted stumps of ruined rosebushes are hidden beneath the ivy. Paddy grabbed Blodwyn and headed for the back yard with her in his arms. The dogs chased after him, keenly interested in this new game.

I heard a shout from the darkness inside the house, a loud cackle, an "Oh my God!" I thought Tim had made it through to the back yard, and was attacking the chicken girls. I looked at Libby, then ran to the noise.

Just inside the back door, Tim was cowering at Paddy´s feet. Paddy continued with the "My God! My God!" The chicken was fine, making a run for it across the back yard. I slammed the door shut and turned around. The dog had seen the chicken fluttering in Paddy´s arms, and had made a lunge for her. He clamped down instead on the middle finger of Paddy´s right hand.

Libby was still in the patio chasing the Gladys, with little hope of catching her... those girls can go when they´re scared! I shouted at Libby to come get this dog so I could get the chicken, so Paddy could get into the house and get some water and soap on his bloody finger. I headed out across the yard and the hen obligingly hunkered down to be picked up. (they are getting tamer, despite having a killer dog around.) I delivered her to the back yard, freed Libby from the dog, and headed for the bathroom to patch up Paddy.

It hurt him a lot, the pain and blood even made him woozy for a little bit. But the damage wasn´t that bad... Tim´s teeth just grazed the surface of his skin, really, and made a big bloody mess. No punctures or gaping wounds. A good cleanup and gauze and antibiotic cream (and a nap) put Pad to rights. We took an expedition to the ruined castle in Cea late in the day, (that´s the picture, with me and Paddy looking so wee)to take our minds off things. ...And in the evening was a big paella, with rabbit and chicken, made up later on by Anselmo the Resident Valenciano!

Monday was hopeful at first. It was sunny and bright and we´d been told last week the Bozo Builders would be on the scene today, tools in hand.

When they didn´t arrive by 11 a.m., we drove to Palencia and filed the legal complaint papers. It was done in 10 minutes, and was kind of anticlimactic. God knows if it will go anywhere, or have any kind of effect.

We got some major work done on the inside of the Chik-N-Hut, enclosing the nesting box and making it secure for winter or days when the gates are open and workers are moving back and forth. As if.

No one came at all, except Anselmo. He helped us pull old nails out of what once were the floorboards in our house... they´ll see new use as wallboards for las chickitinas. I became more and more sad as the day went on, and the sensation was made worse by Libby´s planned departure tomorrow.

I should be very proud and happy. She is walking the Camino de Santiago! But I wanted to send her off with our ultralight sleeping bag, and an American Pilgrims credential stamped with our Moratinos "sello." I couldn´t find any of them. They all are stashed somewhere in the barn or garage or despensa, and finding them would lead only to madness and allergy attacks or discoveries of hidden nests of mice. (I did find the long-missing staple gun, though, and the Horowitz Plays Scarlatti CD.)

Libby´s big fat sleeping bag won´t fit in the ultralite pack we´d intended to send with her, so Anselmo lent her his big blue backpack, which has made two pilgrimages so far. She packed it all up, and the weight is only 5 kilos... really good!

I know it´s time to stop feeling sorry for myself, and start feeling excited for all the cool things Libby´s going to discover and live through in the next few weeks. We also expect company here in the coming weeks... including Sophronia, another old Camino buddy from my 2001 hike. Gotta keep the eye on why we are here. Not to build a house, But to take care of each other in a peaceful, warm place. And to welcome the occasional pilgrim.

And so we will, goddammit.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Severely Fabulous Monastic Treasures!

There´s a nighthawk screaming outside in the dark. I don´t know where the dogs are hiding out, but they are not in here with me, which is why I am not sneezing. Paddy is very much enamored of Tim, but I think he´s making my allergies and asthma kick up, which is something up with which we cannot put. Poor ol´ Paddy. Poor ol´dogs. I think they are curled up in the house-shell somewhere, the only people who find it habitable. The most expensive and magnificent doghouse in the land, for sure!

The house adventure continues. We were going to Palencia to file the complaint there on Thursday afternoon, but a wisely-placed phone call told us they´re only open mornings, Monday to Thursday. We called their branch office in Saldaña, a town closer to us, and the people there demanded to know who was calling and what about before they´d tell us they don´t know the Consumer Office hours! Libby told them they suck, or some such thing. In Spanish.

So we can´t file any complaints before Monday morning, and we won´t know if any complaint will be justified if the Bozos actually show up then, as promised. So we had some time. So we went to Burgos.

Burgos is the big city a little more than an hour east of us. It´s got a huge and very frilly cathedral you could spend days in, mooning at the sculpture alone. What remains of El Cid is in a box high up on the wall, and they have a really cool sort of Spanish cuckoo-clock there at the church door, with wind-up figures and such. (So far Cid still rests in peace, even with all that racket and dancing going on the wall opposite.) Burgos also has a happenin´ cafe scene, and a river with lovely esplandes and parks all along both sides, and even a ruined castle up on top it all!

But seeing as Libby will be passing through Burgos soon on her pilgrimage, we didn´t want to spoil the cathedral for her. Instead we went to the monasteries.

There are two spectacular ones.

Las Huelgas is where the extra daughters of Castilian nobility were kept from about the 10th century on and where the royal families were crowned and married and laid to rest, and where the Knights of Santiago were ritually knighted by a life-size St. James doll with moveable arms. (He´s still there. He is a scream!)

They also have a museum of medieval textiles there... which is to say they have displays of the fabulous clothing and jewelry they found inside the royal tombs a few years ago when they re-did the place. Upstairs in a stone box is the body of Enrique, a prince who was heir to Alfonso II or some such...his uncle was Richard the Lion-Hearted. Enrique fell off a horse and hit his head when he was 11 years old. The Arab doctors were called in, and his skull was ´trepanned,´ or opened at the top, to help ease the swelling. (They still do that today with traumatic brain injuries, and this was back in about 1140!) Enrique got better, even regained consciousness. But infection set in, and he ended up dying anyway. There´s a picture of his skull there, with the big hole cut in the top. And in the display case is the heavily embroidered little cap he wore to his final rest. It tied under his chin.

Catholic feminists would love the history here. According to the Catholic Digest:

"The characteristic peculiarity, however, which made this monastery famous was its abbess's exercise, for some centuries, of the ´vere nullius´ ecclesiastical jurisdiction, until, in 1873, all exempt jurisdictions were abolished by the Bull "Quae diversa". The abbesses of Huelgas, in consequence of this privilege, issued faculties to hear confessions, to say Mass, and to preach; they nominated parish priests, appointed chaplains, granted letters dimissory, took cognizance of the first instance in all causes, ecclesiastical, criminal, and relating to benefices, imposed centuries through their ecclesiastical judges, confirmed the abbesses of their subject houses, drew up constitutions, visited monasteries -- in a word, they possessed a full ecclesiastical jurisdiction."

In other words, the abbess was an acting bishop! How cool is that?

The convent is supposedly Cistercian, which was once a rather extreme version of Benedictine, but got more lax and plush as the money rolled in. The Cistercians, the people who brought you Chartreuse liquor, have since got back on the severity track. Last year a French monastery starred in "The Great Silence," a documentary about a year of life inside. The members take vows of silence, so aside from the chanting in church this was pretty much a silent movie.

But back to Las Huelgas: There are about 30 nuns still there now, but we didn´t see any of them. I wonder what their living conditions are like? If you want to join up and live at Las Huelgas, do you still have to be a princess, or bring with you a hip bone from St. Felix?

When I think about it, Las Huelgas is FULL of bones... the boxes of abbesses and kings and princes, and altarpieces with visible fingers and thighbones and teeth from god-knows-whom or what. Back in the day, they were the next best thing to a piece of God Himself, and these great ladies had them by the dozen.

We then battled traffic to find the woodstove store, and spent a big ton of cash on a very charming and extremely heavy cast-iron stove. It is from Italy. It should heat the half of the house we hope to inhabit this winter. IF we have a room to put it in, and a chimney to vent it through. God knows we have firewood for it!

Then we headed up to Cartuja de Miraflores, another Carthusian place in a park up above the city. This one is a bit later vintage than Las Huelgas, as it dates to the 1400s. It´s a former hunting lodge for Queen Isabella´s grandad, handed over to the monks by her father, and turned into a masterpiece of over-the-topness by Isabel.

It´s not a huge place. Inside a single arch of stone are a series of chambers divided by iron railings, separating the laypeople from the lay brothers and from there the hardcore priests, in the ´holy of holies.´ All the light emanates from in there, and the effect is magical...In there is a star-shaped tomb of alabaster, shoulder-high, front and center. That´s where Isabel´s parents lie buried in a star-shaped tomb. The portrait sculptures are amazing. The draperies are beyond lifelike, and the gaggle of animals, figures, coats-of-arms, and botanical doodads that surrounds them is mind-boggling.

But that´s not all! Up on the wall behind them, above the church altar, is practically The Plan of Salvation carved in wood and painted in every kind of vibrant color, including plenty of gold leaf... Columbus brought lots of gold back from the New World, and Isabel had plenty of it used on this project. These giant altarpieces are called ´reredos´and just about every Spanish church has one or two. This one takes the cake.

It, and the tombs, and the memorial wall to Isabel´s brother, are the work of Gil de Siloe, a true master sculptor of the period. The walls and tombs and sculptures heave and swirl, but they´re somehow not overwhelming. I think it´s because the adjacent walls, arches, and domes are bare stone, and the building is, itself, built to a human scale. The overall effect is so delicious we had to leave and find someplace to eat lunch!

A storm was blasting through. We gave a German guy a ride down into town, and eventually made our way back to the Peaceable Kingdom. Anselmo helped us unload the stove from the back of the furgoneta..thank goodness he was here! He looks a bit like the angels on that altarpiece at Miraflores, really.

Who knows? There have been reports of angelic activity hereabouts, reaching back centuries.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Looking At Leon

It´s 73 kilometers from my house to Leon, and I´ve been driving it back and forth for three weeks now. It takes about 45 minutes to get there. But now it is almost done...tomorrow is exam day. It seems like I´ve been doing this for a very long time.

The season is changing, almost imperceptibly. The farmers are back at their plowing, and they´re burning stubble in some of the fields. It´s still good and hot and sunny and bright, and the leaves are all still green and the shadows are long on the ground. But there´s something extra shiny and yellow about the light in the mornings. The sun comes up just a moment later each time, blasting into my rear-view mirrors as I drive west.

The drive itself is dull, but for the sharp scrim of mountains along the right-hand horizon, and the pilgrim trail following alongside the road here and there. I think the reason I kinda like the commute is the quiet. I get to sit alone for a good while and think my thoughts without interruption or questions. Sure, it´s self-indulgent. But it´s healthy, too.

On the way back today I conjugated some irregular verbs in the Preterite Imperfect, and then thought about the people in my grammar class, and some of the statements made in the past three weeks of classroom intimacy. They almost all are very very young and good-looking and smart. They all want to have houses and children and good jobs with multinational companies. The Capitalist dream lives on in Europe, and with the Euro booming, they can probably afford it.

One thing that was made clear to me, over and over, is how much living I´ve done in the 20-some extra years I´ve spent here on the planet. As they stated their dreams and aspirations in a selection of future tenses, I thought: cool. I did that. The nice house, the cars, the travel all over the world, the good jobs, the creative outlets, the pets and animals and lovely children and friends. I´ve been really, really lucky, and I´ve been aggressive and enterprising too -- grabbing up opportunities as they sprang up.

(I think asthma is responsible. Not knowing how soon it´s going to end, you make sure you do your living NOW, not at some far-off retirement date, after everything is paid-for in advance. So if I DO live a long time, I may well end up under a bridge. But so might the hedge-fund manager. And I´ll be able to tell him I lived my life, thank you very much.)

I thought it would be harder, being among all those pretty young people. They´re from all over the world, and they´re all there together for a year abroad, far from mom and dad and home. They are partyting and bonding and having a blast. It was fun to be just on the periphery. I was invited to go to the movies once, and a tapas evening another time, but alas I had to be home for some reason or another. I didn´t feel jealous, or sad. I daresay I´d be rather bored after not too long, but the Spanish practice would´ve been good. And the tapas in Leon are wonderful, and free!

I´ve very much enjoyed the city. Leon isn´t a big place, but it is old and elegant and clean and quite European. If Moratinos doesn´t work out, maybe we can tuck in over there someplace. It´s a university town, a major stop on the Camino de Santiago, it´s got the best gothic cathedral in Spain as well as San Isidore, home of the "louvre of the Romanesque," those frescoed ceilings I wrote about when Dick was visiting. There´s an airport and train station and public transportation, stores galore, and a big, wide river with trails running up and down the sides. And mountains! And food from other lands!

And so, so many cafes. It was at a cafe along the river I noticed the seasons. Sometime within these last days, under cover of darkness, summer slipped away. When I got to the city, just before 9 a.m., the waiters were putting out the chairs and tables on the sidewalks outside the bars and cafes. The sun gleamed off the silverware and saucers and the river flowing by in the background. But it shined cold and sharp. The trees still clapped their hands, but it sounded more papery, and less like flowing water. And when I got out of class and headed back to the car the streets were full of children in school uniforms, themselves on their way home from class.

Summer is my favorite time of year, no doubt. But this is good too. Tomorrow it´s supposed to rain. Today we (hopefully) got the chicken house roof in useable shape and moved the Chicken Girls back in. Anselmo came for dinner again, and this time did the cooking... he is from Valencia, and promises to make us a paella next week!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Bozos, Chumps, and Brazilian Templars

This is just an update, really. Gotta get to bed, so I can roll out at 7 a.m.

Libby and Paddy went to the city hall in San Andres on Monday morning to file the Reclamations paperwork against the bozos. They´re headquartered in San Andres, and that is where I got the paperwork a week ago. I imagine Libby and Paddy taking on a Spanish builder... or a Spanish bureaucrat. And I kinda feel sorry for the Spaniards, for a lot of reasons.

The consumer office folk took the claim pretty seriously, and said an inspector would be out to check out the ¨crime scene¨ (the Peaceable Kingdom!). But then the lawyer noticed our house is across the county line in Palencia province. SOOooo... we have to file the claim in Palencia, not in San Andres. Damn.

Still, we now know we have a legitimate gripe, and there are people out there who investigate these things. And we learned, too, that Mario knows Paddy was in town filing things that morning. Within a half-hour of the interview, Mario phoned up Patrick and assured him he´d be in Moratinos today to ¨straighten out all this,¨and that a crew is being lined up to come over starting next week to really get going on our place.

Hmmm. Probably lies. We didn´t achieve much, but it made us feel better to get a rise out of the bastard. We went to the Casa Rong, our friendly Chinese joint, and celebrated with orange duck. (Spanish with a Chinese accent...OMG. It´s almost too much.) I was tempted to introduce myself to Mister Rong, just so I could say I did. And then I remembered I´ve had plenty of experience with those.

Anyway, Mario didn´t show up. Surprise surprise! A couple of other people did, though, as it goes with these things... we never get just one visitor. One was Mariann la Suiza, back from the convent. She stayed a couple of nights in the camper van, and Libby read her palm in rapid-fire Spanish. The other is Anselmo, a Valencian pilgrim-turned-hospitalero who´s been drifting ´round the camino for several months. He´s doing some work over at the Alamo (a nickname for the future albergue on the other side of Moratinos), and came over here to say hello, and ended up hanging around. Good company, great practice with languages, lots of good camino gossip, too -- he´s up on all the latest on the Brazilian Templar refugio network!

No Mario, but we did hear from Fran, his sidekick. He says he´s just back from vacation, oh so surprised that no one´s done anything here, and he´s heading up the crew that will be here Monday to really get on the stick. Our Welsh friend down in Almeria, who oversees these kinds of construction projects and who´s been coaching us in hardball, says we need to put Fran on notice too, right this minute. But alas, we don´t know Fran´s last name, nor his address or ID numbers, etc.! We are such lambs among the wolves. (aka "chumps.") Maybe we deserve this. Or maybe nobody does.

Anyway, we´ll see on Monday, again. And on Friday we´ll see if I learned anything in the past three weeks of language class... that´s when I take the big exam. I decided to sign up for the next step of the course, which goes two afternoons per week from October through December. Gotta keep banging away at this, I think...and afternoon classes means I can take the trains. And the whole course is only €100. I think about what a college course costs in the USA and I´m staggered at how nice we have it here, even we foreigners. It´s almost like they want people to come to school and learn useful things!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Hard Labor and a Forced March

We didn´t make it over to Burgos after all. We spent the weekend here at the Peaceable Kingdom, mostly. And it was good.

We had no internet service for three days, which just about sent Paddy over the edge. Here I thought I was the web junkie. It helped to focus us, once we got past the whining stage.

On Friday afternoon Libby and I went over to the Madres Benedictinas convent in Sahagun, because my bud Mariann (aka ´la Suiza´or ´the Swiss´) was expected to come and run the pilgrim refuge there for the weekend. (I may have posted a little while ago about that... if they don´t have a volunteer to run the place, they just close it down. Which is sad. And which is why I agreed to run it for a week at the end of August. Mariann is a volunteer hospitalera, too. She is from German Switzerland, and speaks a very interesting mix of languages, sometimes in the same sentence! Luckily she chooses the languages I can deal in.)

Anyway, Mariann hadn´t arrived yet. We gave the nuns a dozen eggs from the hens (which the nuns use to make really lovely almond cookies, which go toward their support.) The outgiong volunteer hospitalera showed Libby through the place, which is quite luxurious by pilgrim refuge standards. It´s the old novitiate, where the incoming new wannabe Benedictines were kept and trained, lo those many years ago. It´s perfect for a pilgrim hostel, and it has its own little garden. And those BELLS.

Anyway, as we were leaving the volunteer told us she is from Asturias. I told her Mariann, her replacement, also has a place up there, along the coast in a village called Otur. And then I said, before witnesses: "Espero que ustedes puedan encontrarse. Tienen cosas en común." ("I hope you two can meet one another, you have things in common." It was only after we left that Libby laid a revelation on me: I had said, off the cuff, a sentence in perfectly constructed Subjunctive Mood. Without even knowing it! It made my day, thinking maybe something of this course is soaking through my thick head! Yippee!

Mariann showed up later. She hung out with us Friday night at the Peaceable, and updated us on the latest at Eunate, the mysterious Templar church and refuge in Navarre where she was hospitalera on and off for the past year before they unceremoniously kicked her out in May. Long, sad story. The camino is full of nasty politics and back-stabbing as well as peace, love, and understanding.

But it´s good to see Mariann back in the swing of hospitalero-ing. She is a natural. A bit of a strange bird, but this place seems to attract and foster those. Mariann, as is her habit, slept in her camper van out in the driveway, then hied her way off to Sahagún in the morning. Lib and Paddy let me sleep in til 10 a.m., which was deelish! And when I got up everybody got to WORK! Libby and I cleaned up the patio. If you look at the patio pic a couple of posts back you will see what we were contending with: tons of busted bricks and masonry, beams studded with nails, plastic sheeting by the acre, scaffolding, floor jacks, and overgrown and negelected garden plants. (the ones not crushed or suffocated under the debris.) We shoveled it all up and hauled it out, it took HOURS, but now the patio is transformed! (well... a bit.) Paddy, wise man, stayed in the kitchen and gave it a serious scrubbing. He made vegetable puree for lunch, and fed us beautifully.

With Libby here, and only one double bed in the dispensa, we have to take turns napping. It´s funny. And it keeps any one person from sleeping too long and getting cranky.

After our siestas we did Forced Labor Part 2: The Chik-N-Hut. Yeah, we´re still working on that bear. And the third person made it so much easier: two on the ground to muscle the great, heavy sheets of corrugated asbestos up onto the roof, and me up there to slide and haul and rassle it into place. (believe it or not, I am the lightest one of us three!)

The job still is not finished. They are forecasting rain overnight, so we will see in the morning how the place holds up. Meantime, the chicken girls are staying in the next stall over, up against the woodpile. They like roosting up on the kindling. (Put the two together and it´s a tiny step from roosting to roasting. But I don´t tell them that.) They all are still giving their all, and producing an egg per day per pullet. You can´t beat that.

With much of the ugly corrugated roofing stuff put back aloft, the back yard looks marginally better now. If you overlook the great pile of debris (formerly on the patio) that we put out by the gate. And if you don´t look at the still-monumental pile of scrap wood still awaiting its turn with the chainsaw. Someday...

We played Scrabble after dinner. Paddy and Libby are both certified Scrabble Sharks, but from somewhere I pulled a full seven-letter coup: "addition," good for 104 points! Et voila! I won!

And today, to better condition Libby for her upcoming pilgrimage, we skipped Mass and hiked to Ledigos and back: about eight miles total. Still not a full day by Camino standards, but we started out late and walked into the noontime heat, and Libby´s still getting accustomed. On the way back we stopped at the fuente in Terradillos for a breather. My mobile phone rang. It was Madeline, a woman from Nova Scotia I met four years ago in Toronto. She is on the camino, she said, and she wanted to meet up. She was in... Terradillos! Jeez O man, how likely was that? She was sitting in the refuge about 40 yards away, so we ambled over and had a little visit. I wish we could´ve brought her home with us, but there is no place to put her yet.

On that account, we have all our paperwork filled out (that we know of) and Libby and Paddy are coming with me tomorrow morning to Leon. While I am in class they´re going over the Consumer Advocate office in San Andres, to possibly file the complaint against Bozo & Co... If that´s what the bureaucrats advise. Maybe this will get them moving, or maybe at least communicating with us. And after we´re finished with business, we´ll go for a serious tapas crawl in Leon´s Barrio Humedo...where they are famous for giving you a little snack with each drink you order (including soft drinks or coffee!) You can eat very well for very little money there, and meet cool people and taste interesting and strange things, like Stewed Ears or Fried Blood or Roasted Red Peppers stuffed with Deviled Crab. Ooowa.

So things are moving forward, kinda. Maybe. Or at least we are distracted enough not to be feeling too suicidal. Or homicidal, for that matter.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A Third Person

It´s looking stormy outside, we´re going to have to eat in the kitchen tonight.
That is a challenge, what with an extra person here with all her bedding and worldly goods, and our great piles and boxes of books, and two dogs coming and going and sticking their noses in everything. It´s wonderfully shambolic.

I love having Libby here, even though moving around is not easy. We already put her Spanish skills to work on our bureaucratic obstacles -- she talked to a vet today about getting Tim microchipped and registered, and this afternoon she translated our legal complaint against the Bozo Co. into lovely Spanish. This afternoon, out on the patio, she read my palm for me...over the summer she made extra money at the Farmers Market by reading people´s palms! She is funny and bright and she is MY girl!

She brought nice stuff in her gigantic roller bag, including a box of Mac and Cheez, allergy pills, and a fridge magnet. It has a picture I swear is taken from my primary school reader, the one with Dick and Jane. The little girl is Sally. And she says:
"Mommy, when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist homophobic patriarchal bullshit paradigm, too!"

My children threw over all my attempts to instill faith in them, but it´s good to see they´ve kept hold of some of the values. And the wit! A third person can bring out all the snappy wit that goes kind of dormant when two people pretty much have just one another for company. Libby´s a delight. (I am aware I may feel differently by the time she leaves, at Christmas!)

Libby is going to walk the Camino de Santiago, starting from the French frontier the last week of September. Her mom and stepdad and little brother all have done it already, so she kinda had to, too. We walked our stretch of the camino last night, chatting about all the equipment she´s brought and what she can use of ours...we have tons of stuff, from our caminos and that´s been left here by passing pilgs. Libby has a knee that is dicey, and she broke her foot several years ago, she still smokes, and she is a big girl. I hope she makes it. If it´s just a matter of will, nothing can stand in her way. But physique is another thing entirely. It´s not always within our control.

Veremos. We shall see. Ryan was a 300-pounder when he arrived here in February, and when he headed home in August he was at least 50 pounds lighter! (That´s the lightweight version on the left, with his pants hanging off his bottom.) (Results not typical. Your experience may vary!)
It´s fun too to see Libby doing the very things Ryan did after he was here a day or so. She´s starting to read all kinds of things Camino-related, and plot where she might stop and stay and sites she oughtta visit. Including the Rabies Bridge in Zubiri, and the Cartuja de Miraflores, an amazingly plush Carthusian monastery full of sculpture by Gil de Siloe, commissioned by Queen Isabella... the same one who sent Columbus off to discover America. I think we might go back there this weekend. (it´s just outside of Burgos.) They are restoring the chapel there, and they have the sculptures down at floor-level, where you can really see them... a real treat! The picture at the top is one of the saints from the main altar, a wall of woodwork that´s so complicated and symmetrical it´s trippy.

Queen Isabella was from this neighborhood, and she spent a lot of time and money here. There´s a lonely spot called San Juan de Ortega up in the mountains just before Burgos. The original San Juan, a monk who built bridges and helped maintain the pilgrim pathway and beat back a local bandit infestation, founded a monastery and hostel in this ratty little town back in 1140 or so. He is buried in the church basement. Supposedly he was so holy his tomb dripped perfume for a while, and when someone opened the lid a couple hundred years later a swarm of bees came out. Someone decided these were the souls of unborn children, and since then the place has been a mecca for couples who want to have babies and haven´t.

One of these was Queen Isabella. And after she visited the saint´s tomb she Ta-Daa! conceived a son! (the story doesn´t end well, but hey...that´s another blog.) Anyway, Isabella had the whole place done-over in the popular Gothic style. The church is pretty nice, all restored these days with EU funds. The pilgrim hostel is a dump, overseen by a very old priest famous for making garlic soup, and his rather crotchety sister. Infertile people still go to the church, especially on the spring solstice. That´s when a sunbeam comes through the window just at noon and illuminates a capital carved with The Visitation -- the moment when the miraculously pregnant cousins Mary and Elizabeth met one another, embraced, and realized what they were dealing with. It is good to see women so honored, even if their claims to power were all based on their reproductive capacity. (more of that patricarchal bullshit paradigm, I guess.)

What this has to do with anything I am not sure. But with all the miraculous conceptions going on there, and the generally grubby and cold conditions in the refuge, I´m advising Libby to keep moving on to Ages, the next town down. There´s a couple of stories from there I could tell, too, but it´s time to move Libby´s mattress into the kitchen and put everyone to bed. No room for lat-night bloggers!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

An evening stroll in Moratinos

I´m cheating here, I know, but I´m up to my ears in homework. We just took the dogs for the standard-issue evening walk to Villa Oreja, and pictures can show you what I keep writing about... the light, the fields, the critters, the shiny bodega, the street, the place, and the incredible sky. I´ll try to get them in some kind of order. (the pics are loading funny. If you really want to see one better, just double-click on it.)

Try to imagine a good strong breeze blowing, and a little hint of rosemary in the air. And some big crows wheeling overhead, and a few biker pilgs zipping by. And two dogs, newly washed, hunting mice and rolling in stinky things.

When we get back up the street Paddy makes us a drink and I water the flowers. The roses are blooming beautifully, even among the wreckage. The sky picks up the same pink, and the horizons go all water-colory. Tomorrow, my daughter Libby will be here to see it too! Yippee!

Friday, 7 September 2007

The whole world is watching

Sorry about that last one. You get the good with the bad.

The weather is really quite spectacular. Mornings are chilly, afternoons are hot, the gardens are gone all wild and rotten and the tomatoes and peppers are perfect for gazpacho. The freezer is filling up with vegetables grown right here. The sunlight takes on an odd yellow cast in the early morning and late afternoon that throws black, black shadows for yards and yards, before and behind. In the wee hours the stars are absolutely breathtaking. This morning at 2.30 the Milky Way was alive with falling stars.

There is so much sky and wind and light here. I will never tire of that.

There´s nothing really new to report. The dogs are working things out among themselves, doing the sorts of behavioral antics people study and write about for their theses. We set a nice fat trap for the big fat mouse we saw in the bedroom cave. Over toward Terradillos de Templarios, along the Camino, someone is turning an alfalfa field into a "light farm." They´re putting up rows of solar panels and connecting them to the grid, selling the electricity back to the utility. A lot more of that is happening here now that grants are being handed out. (no one´s found a way yet to make it pay at private homes, we´re told.) It is supposed to be "green" and all, but it surely is a lot less natural and attractive than a deep-green field of protein. Oh well. At least it doesn´t make noise or smoke or fumes.

Some lovely things happened this week: I heard from dear people from all over the place! My bud Filipe sent me a copy of his long-awaited doctoral thesis, which was absolutely impressive in its incomprehensibility. It is all about the effects of genetic mutation and tissue injuries seen on specific nerve cells in the brains of particularly exquisite lab mice. Filipe is a brain chemistry geneticist, or something like that. Together we watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl a couple of years ago in an Irish pub in Rotterdam. We took a Pilates class together, in Dutch. Both were very bonding experiences.

I got a note from Jill, a wise, fun, witty friend I met walking on the Camino in 2001. She´s a solicitor in Sydney, Australia. She wears a white curly wig to work! And Kathy checked in, too, from California, with more tips for tackling bozos. She is a building contractor in San Francisco. She knows all the angles...this one involves an Augustinian priest from Valladolid!

I also heard from my long-lost dear cousin Keith Milliron, and from Dave Sturtevant, a long-lost friend. These are two people I admire greatly -- Keith for his sweet spirit, and David for, well... lots of things, one of which is durability. I have known Dave since 1979! We met at the Pennsylvania Governor´s School for the Arts. David is one of the most talented people I ever knew. He´s a songwriter and musician, a wandering folkie who apparently continues to wash up on the shore at Erie, PA. He tracked me down. He read the blog about the chicken-slaying dog (we call him Tim). Dave sent me the words to a Johnny Cash song:

"If you don't stop killin' my chickens
Though I'm not a real bad guy
I'm gonna take my rifle and send ya
To that great chicken house in the sky

Egg Sucking Dog
I'm gonna stomp your head in the ground
If you don't stop killin' my chickens
You dirty old egg-sucking hound. "

Words to live by. Long as you´re not associated with the ASPCA or PETA.

Speaking of things that suck: No word from the builders. But we did get some good encouragement late this evening.

I think I wrote before about the house next door getting a new coat of paint. One of the sons-in-law who are applying it lives in Terradillos, the next town over to the east. They´re having some roof issues, and called in a builder from Terradillos to have a look. (I didn´t know they had an albanil (builder) over there. I thought we´d exhausted all the local possibilities, albanil-wise, last winter, when we couldn´t find anyone willing to take on our "gran obra.")

Anyway, the neighbor guy brought José, his albanil, over here this evening for a look at the place. I used my polished-up Spanish on him, and showed them both through the place. "Oh, my," he said. "Oh my goodness." They asked how long it had been, how much more we needed to have done before we consider it habitable. José said the job that´s done so far is a good one. And then he offered his take on the situation.

We have a roof, he said. They´ve made a good start on the under-floor heat system, with most of the excavating done. Which means the place can be worked-on when the weather is less-than lovely. Which means Mario & Co. are keeping this job on the back burner til they finish up the other roofing and exterior jobs they´ve probably been putting off till summer. They´ve most likely NOT walked off, he said. They´ll be back -- they´ve left plenty of equipment and materials behind here, too much to abandon. Just don´t give them any money til the plumbing and wiring are finished, and the floors are well on their way. If then. (Note all the time-elements: things finished, things in progress, things to be continued into the future. They were delivered in fast Castellano Spanish, and were a marvellous workout for my rediscovered verb phrases! Yippee! Now if I could learn to use them myself...)

So I let myself be reassured. I am good at that. Paddy and I are starting our weekend. We plan to finish up the chicken-house roof, and take a big long walk with the dawgs, make some Asturian white bean fabada stew, and work on my pile of homework. But for now we´re sitting, listening to an old Eagles CD, having gin-and-tonics, watching the dogs behave. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Imponderables. Or simply WAAAAH!

This one will be short and somewhat dreary.

I am working hard this week, trying to comprehend things that make no sense to me. Things like:

Spanish verb phrases that set an action in time. "It had been since Tuesday he had left off smoking," and "unlike the year before, she commenced to stop progressing toward the end.¨ Jeezis.

How the Spanish consumer fraud claims business works, and whether to sit and wait for the Bozos to show up, or start filing charges and ensure they (and our money) never, ever will be seen again.

And when to begin all over with the endless search for a plumber, an electrician, and a mason.

Why our house is still uninhabitable, and why the contractor will not answer his phone. And why simply informing us of what is going on is so impossible.

Why Tim the dog always seems to have something stuck in his throat. And why he makes such awful smells. And how we can go about getting him licensed and microchipped and vaccinated.

How to get rid of ants without poisoning the other critters.

How the American stock market can keep zooming while the dollar keeps sagging.

How to keep Patrick out of the Slough of Despond.

How to keep myself optimistic when it looks like we´ve been robbed of many thousands of Euros, and we may need to find another place to live (with two dogs and five chickens) while we figure out how to recover and regroup.

The Big Dream Finca is looking more like a half-built shotgun shack these days, with little prospect of improvement. I am ashamed to have anyone in here. We are stuck. We are not enjoying this.

We are talking with some nice people from Andalucia who supposedly know how to file consumer complaints and writs and such, but that is little comfort, really. I don´t want to sue anyone. I just want a place to live!

Today we nailed two doors together and closed up the portal on the outside wall that the Bozos left gaping open. At least the world can´t walk right into our house from the highway anymore. (Unless they push on it really hard.) Una had figured out how to escape that way, and was wandering Moratinos in the wee hours.

The wind is up, the mornings are downright nippy. At dusk we took a walk eastward, down the camino. The sky was like a watercolor wash, purple and mauve, pink and blue and black, luminous like a Maxfield Parrish nightscape. The days are so clear and bright you can see the snow and ridges and valleys on the the mountains, 35 km. away to the north. A pilgrim left a little poem taped to a downspout in the Plaza Mayor. It´s in French, so Paddy translated it for the collected neighbors on the corner. The fields, the plains, the roses in the plaza garden, the cool shade on the church porch and the sweet spring water from the fountain: The pilgrim said "thank-you, Moratinos." We´ve got to remember to be grateful, if not hopeful.

It has been since afternoon that I stopped hoping. (a wonderfully Spanish sentence, that!) It feels very empty and plain, vast and severe. It is in NOT hoping or yearning or longing or striving that you find peace, at least according to a few thousands of years´worth of Buddhist wisdom.

I don´t want peace so much as I want my Peaceable Kingdom. I want it to be finished, with bedrooms painted apple green and sky blue and golden yellow. I want it to be relatively easy, because we have paid money to make it so, and that is how it is supposed to work.
And I want it NOW! Waaaaaah!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Conjugations, colts, and a homesick lad

Now that I´m commuting to the Big City every day, life takes on a wider scope.

On Monday I started my "Español Intensivo: Extranjeros" class at the University of León, a three-week marathon of subjunctivo y gerundios, para vs. por, and durante y desde. It is very hard. The placement test I took yesterday left me very morose. I was sure I´d be put at the rock-bottom beginners´level. I felt very down on myself. I´ve been here in Spain for a year now, and you would think I´d gotten a bit more of a grip on the language by now. Learning new stuff is supposed to always be EASY, dammit.

It is a good thing that feeling sorry for myself is such a crashing bore. Otherwise I´d spend a whole lot more time doing it. I let myself sulk through the afternoon, but decided to cut it out by evening. Too much other stuff was going on for me to keep up the pouting.

Dinner was interesting. Last week I bought a Leon newspaper. The front-page piece featured an adorable pair of horses, a mother and cute baby horse, (a ´potro´) being led into a truck. The story was about the threefold increase this year in the regional production of horse meat. It´s got twice the protein and half the fat of beef and pork, y´know, and it costs about the same. With financial help from the EU and Castilla-Leon, 18 farmers have turned to horsemeat for their livelihood. And we´re not talking about putting Old Paint out his misery at the dog food factory...The fat foal in the photo was heading for the abbatoir, and from there to the supermarket. Colt: the new red meat.

Anyway, in my blue post-exam funk I stopped at the giant hyper-market in Leon on my way home. (when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping). The ´potro´marketing guys were there in the parking lot with a barbecue setup, giving out free samples. What the hay (sorry), they eat this stuff all over Europe... I tried some. It was really quite tasty! So I bought four foal-burgers to take home for Paddy to try. I fried them up for dinner.

Mine weren´t as good as the barbecue guys,´and Patrick said little about the meal. I asked him what he thought. I told him what the meat was. He made sure I wasn´t joking. Then he put down his sandwich and turned away. ¨No more,¨he said.

And so followed a most interesting convo about horse meat, anthropomorphism, vegetarians, vegans, and why it´s OK to eat cows and pigs and fish and chickens and eggs (some of whom we know personally), but not horses. We gave the second half of the burgers to the dogs, and decided to not eat horse if we have a choice. (Him out of some atavistic aesthetic sensibility, me because I found the meat rather flavorless.) Strange. I am the one who´s had relationships with horses and horse people on and off throughout my life. I am terribly allergic to the beasts, but I love them. They seem to groove on me, too. But I´ll eat them, sure. (They´d eat me, too, if I was all that was available. They´re sensible animals.)

Paddy, on the other hand, has never been closer than the homestretch rail to a real equine. Horses have won and lost a lot of his money over the years, and his recent stint of online horseracing has gained us a few Euros, but has caused a noticeable shift in his dedication to the morning dish-washing routine. Still, he can´t. So we won´t.

Anyway, off I went this morning to León for the first real day of class, and found I wasn´t in with the rank amateurs after all. I am one step up, in the lower end of intermediate! I can live with that. And already it´s zipping right up to the edge of my comfort zone. I am going to give this all I´ve got, and really study and cram and learn all this I possibly can. Because it´s stupid not to. I am tired of talking like a 5-year-old child.

Speaking of which: I am in a class of 25 college students from all over the world. They are cramming Spanish so they can start taking regular university classes when the Fall semester begins in October. I weaseled my way in as a ´diversity´student. Which means I am the only 45-year-old person in a roomful of 20-something year-olds. It´s kinda fun, really. I don´t mind... especially since my self-image has me pegged at about 25. Still, during a break in the class one earnest young man brought me up short. He´s from Green Bay, Wisconsin. His name is Chase. I think he´s a little homesick.

"I knew you were American right away, just by looking at you," he told me. I asked him why, seeing as I wasn´t wearing sneakers and my teeth are not bleached a shocking neon white.

"Because you look and dress just like my mom," he said. I looked steadily at him for a second. "I hope that is a good thing," I told him.

"It´s the haircut, and the good shoes. The clothes. You´re wearing that vest, and the jeans and long-sleeve t-shirt. The whole LL Bean thing. So East Coast. You all wear that, and you all look just the same!"

I think he meant it in a nice way. He´s only been in Spain a week, and he probably really misses his mom. And it´s true, my son is just his age. I could be his mom. And if he was my kid I´d smack him upside the head.

As for smacking people, Mario is on the list. The plumbers are due tomorrow, and the Bozo Crew never showed up to dig the ditches for the pipes. I´ve informed Mario (via text message, seeing as he never answers his telephone) I´m filing a ´hoja de reclamacion´against him, a sort of judicial consumer complaint. Down in Andalucia they´re a weapon of choice. Up here, who knows if they´ve even heard of them. Or if Mario knows how to read text messages. Or if Mario knows how to read...

(My friend Tino, always looking for the light, says Mario is a ´picaro,´ a neér do well straight out of 17th century Spanish literature, a clever street-wise gypsy figure who lives off kind and gullible people. I should write him into a story, he says, an updated picaresque. Yes. Great idea. After I get my restitution!)

So who knows what tomorrow will bring? The bell-ridden convent of the Madres Benedictinas seems like forever ago, and miles away. I shall have to drop off some more eggs there soon, and maybe file a couple more prayer requests. Then the judicial writ. Then my homework.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

...something completely different

This is one of the reasons I want to learn to play the guitar... they make it look so FUN!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Blog O Dogs

Enough good works! I am now back at The Peaceable Kingdom, and not a moment too soon.

I think the big cosmic logjam broke on Thursday. The superstitious part of me says it´s the nuns´doing.

Wednesday morning I asked the Madres Benedictinas to pray for the house situation, seeing as we haven´t seen the Bozos for about three weeks now and Paddy was getting very low. The sisters were delighted. "People are always asking us to pray for them, but they almost never tell us what FOR," Sor Consuela told me. "It is good to have something you can get your teeth into."

They aimed for St. Joseph, the carpenter, and dedicated the Vespers service to the intention. And Thursday morning, out of the blue, Chief Bozo Mario phoned up Paddy and said he was "collecting the plumbers." Hmmm.

And yesterday morning at 10 a.m., there they were: Mario and Fran and TWO plumbers. They measured and asked Paddy lots of questions. They will dig up the yard and parts of the house early next week, and install the majority of the pipes mid-week. They say. (One tends to be a bit cynical about these things anymore.) But I gotta have faith. At least someone is TALKING about working here! Thanks, St. Joe! (and Frank, about paving the patio with bricks... Might this be the moment?)

And on a more mystic note... Paddy has been talking about getting another pooch to keep Una company when we go places. I am not so enthusiastic, as the more animals we have, the less flexible we can be with our spare time... And I am allergic to most dogs. So we´ve just waited, in the vague belief that another dog will probably wash up on this shore at some point.

And Thursday, while Paddy was out with Una for their morning constitutional, they met two pilgs walking with a small setter dog. It wasn´t theirs, they said. It had walked with them 30 km., all the way from Carrión de los Condes. It was attacked by the resident curs of Calzadilla de la Cueza in the morning, and he wasn´t doing so well.

Well, Paddy is a compassionate man, at least where non-humans are concerned. The brown and white hunting dog
is now curled up at his feet, filled up with dog food and fresh water and affection. He is a very affectionate critter, who adores Paddy and Una, and is doing his best to ingratiate himself to me.

Strangely enough, yesterday was the day for the veterinarian to come to Moratinos for the annual Castilla y Leon rabies check-up clinic on the church porch. We took both dogs over, figuring to hand the poor bureaucrat a double whammy: Finding the hunting dog´s EU-mandated ID microchip (and thus finding his rightful owner), and finding Una´s American ID microchip, which a vet a couple of weeks ago in Sahagun could not locate with either of his high-tech chip-scanners. (No chip, no rabies vaccine. Which sounds sensible until someone doesn´t bother, or you have a dog with an unreadable chip. Which means you have un-vaccinated dogs running around because of The Rules.)

It was an event for the ages, and a good number of villagers of several descriptions turned up to watch, play, sniff, fight, and have their ears scratched. The dogs enjoyed it too.

The vet, who looked like she just graduated high school, couldn´t find a chip in either of our dogs, and made as if she couldn´t do anything for us without extra paperwork from Valladolid. Our mayor Estebanito was on hand, and I told him we may need his help dealing with the junta.

Estebanito gave the vet a look. He handed her our yellow "Dog Travel" folder. Inside it is all of Una´s dog-import paperwork, which cost us a fortune last September, and it´s done up in two languages, stamped and sealed enough to ease the heart of even the toughest Spanish pencil-pusher. Estebanito said a few quick words to the niña. She then went ahead and gave Una her annual vaccine, and did her up an official European Union Dog Passport.

Estebanito handed it over with a smile. "Now you ALL are offical Moratinos residents," he said. He sent Jose, his brother, over to the house for some home-brew orujo. The men must mark every official occasion, sure as the dogs must anoint every tree in the plaza, with liquids that look identical.

The stray dog will need to be reported to police, but since he´s got no microchip he´s probably ours to keep if we want him. The vet looked him over. He´s about a year old, and still a bit dehydrated. We will have to register him in Valladolid before he gets a passport and shots. IF we keep him. Tomorrow we will bundle him into the furgoneta and drive to Carrión de los Condes and see if anyone is missing a gun dog.

This guy is valuable. He´s a good-looking Brittany, popular with bird-hunters hereabouts, and it IS bird season. After great discussion the people of Moratinos decided he was taken out last week for his first try-out in the field, and didn´t make the cut. A gun-shy gun dog is useless for hunting, so they just left him out in the field to fend for himself. He took up with pilgrims, who are often generous with chorizo and bocadillos. And et voila! He found Patrick, a sucker for a wet nose, prominent ribs, and puppy-dog eyes.

The other mystic (and rather sad and tragic) thing is this: When Paddy brought him home and opened the gate, the dog ran inside and encountered two of the chickens in the patio. He chased them into the house, cornered one in what was the Salon, and killed her instantly. (thankfully it was a Gladys, not Blodwyn.)

Oowee, thought me (once I got over my initial bout of shock and dismay)... blood sacrifice on the hearthstone. If Benedictine prayers don´t light a fire under the Bozos, this surely will! Mario hasn´t got a prayer, the poor old devil.

We don´t have much hope of finding the dog´s owner. We shall have to do some severe training to break him of his chicken-slaying ways. And we will need to find a name. Suggestions are hereby solicited!