Monday, 15 October 2007

The plot thickens. So does the concrete.

It´s Monday, a lovely new week has begun. The little birds are forming flocks for flying south. They sprinkle themselves across the sky like pepper on an omelet.

We´ve decided to stop whining now and get on with it. Mario the contractor is not coming back, and if he did I might just cold-cock the guy. Bring on the lawyers! And the cement mixers and tape-measures and power tools! We are going to try to do some things ourselves.

On Thursday, when we were out flinging concrete in the orchard, three big Rumanians showed up out of the blue. They said they know that &%$ lowlife Mario, he stiffed them on their wages, that Mario´s abandoned the project and they will finish the job. The whole thing was WAY suspicious. We told them no.

First things first: Libby walked in the door on Friday, and she was darned lucky to catch us home. We were coming back from a morning dog-walk to San Nicolas, and were set to help Segundino and his family with the grape harvest. Their particular grape-patch has featured in dozens of pilgrim snapshots in the past few weeks, since it´s right along the camino, and Segundino (the village carpenter) stood three or four very creative and effective scarecrows out among the crop - real local color irresistible to passing photographers. It looks like all the birds stayed away, and mice, too. I never saw so many grapes in my life!

About 20 of us went among the staked-up vines with scissors, knives, and secateurs, dropping clusters of purple and green grapes into big black buckets. When those were full, we tipped them into a remolque wagon to be hauled off to the bodega. It was heavy work in the bright sun, lots of kneeling and up and down, but we made good progress.

Segundino´s extended family lives in the corner of the Plaza Mayor, but they tend to keep to themselves. When the Milagros are out there in their lawn chairs, playing Mus into the gloaming, the Segundinos don´t usually mix in with the rest. They are friendly enough, though. They have a talking parrot named Berta who sits out on the square sometimes and whistles at pilgrims. They keep an assortment of farm animals inside their little compound, including pigs! They´re one of the few families that still uses their bodega for making and storing homemade wine.

I made friends this summer with Mary Angeles and Flor, the sisters, who worked like yeomen mixing cement while the men worked up on the roof. All working together, they put a new second floor and roof on what had been the empty shell of their grandfather´s house. They work all together in the vineyard in October, and when February comes they all help with the pig-sticking, too. So Friday being the Fiesta of Our Lady of the Pillar, the traditional grape-picking day in Spain, we told them we´d come and help. We lasted about 45 minutes. But I think we did good.

Libby showed up right then, and was a great refreshment. She skipped a couple of days walking when her ankle went bad, and she´s been contending with the Pilgrim Stomach Virus everyone has. In two weeks she´s lost 15 pounds, and she looks very good. It took her a little time to get going, but now she´s on her way to Santiago again!

But I ramble. James the Neighbor is over at his place laying flagstones on the hard-packed back yard, making a porch. In many ways our experience reflects theirs...they went through the Big Dreams phase, and the Lowdown Contractor phase, and are now in the Live in One Town and Work in Another With Only One Driver phase. He´s now moved into Do It Yourself mode. He thinks the heaviest work is already done on our house, and the remaining finish work (floors, walls, windows, etc.) are within the ability of hardy DIY people to master. "Just lookit me!" he says, his clothes covered in mud and concrete. "If I can, so can you!"

James could sell snow to eskimos. But I will take what inspiration I can from the environment around me. And so was hatched The Despensa Plan, an idea dear to Paddy´s heart.

The idea is to make the despensa (aka ´the cave´) into a truly habitable room, using concrete, plaster, insulation board, and leftover floorboards from our stalled house project. It will keep us busy, if nothing else. But before we can start working, we need to empty out all the stuff we have stored in there.

Which means we have to put it somewhere. Which means we have to organize the great jumble of belongings in the barn. Everything´s a shambles here, and it seems we spend most of our time shifting junk from one place to another. But we can´t get overwhelmed. No.

We can just do. Get on widdit. Take it day by day.

And now I need to go take an allergy pill and help move things ´round the barn. Someday, people, this is going to be a great house.

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