Thursday, 1 November 2007

A Day for the Dead

So here I sit before the butane heater, Nov. 1, 9:50 a.m., in our kitchen in Moratinos. Two dogs and Patrick the Czech stare at me quietly as I type. I think they are waiting for marching orders. Or maybe I am just fascinating.

We are waiting for José Luis, the latest contractor wannabe. He was supposed to be here an hour ago. Paddy just phoned him. He´s on his way, he says, with the barroom laughter booming in the background. Paddy´s fretting. It´s 10 now, and the Mass for All Saints starts at 11, and he really wants to go. He even brought some go-to-meeting clothes for the occasion. I have never seen an agnostic so caught up in a Holy Day of Obligation.

I´m not going, and I am the token Christian around here. I spent last night dealing with asthma, and now I have the inevitable medicine hangover, and really need to try to sleep. Strangely enough, The Peaceable Kingdom isn´t a good place for rest.

Unless, of course, you are among the 40 or so people in Moratinos who are dead.

Like almost all tiny Spanish villages, Moratinos has a walled cemetery out in the fields on the edge of town. Each family has a couple of plots therein, where generations of their ancestors are interred in their turns. As new bodies arrive, what remains of the old are taken out and hauled off to God-knows-where. It´s end-user recycling at its finest, and it´s been going on since the Middle Ages at least. (Big cemeteries are a waste of valuable crop land.)

Here in Moratinos you can see three layers of monumental markers on some family plots. Up against the cement-block walls are beautiful wrought iron crosses, their enamel RIP identifying plaques long gone. Who they once honored is forgotten, but everyone knows which is supposed to stand where while it rusts away. Taking one out to decorate the house would be unthinkable.

In front of some of these are standard Franco-era white concrete crosses, with the names and dates still legible. And smack up against their faces are the flashy new polished marble tombs of the most modern and well-to-do departed, with resin plaques portraying the Holy Family or Last Supper or Ascension.

Today being All Saints Day, the big iron gate is open and the villagers are buzzing in and out, tidying up and laying new bouquets of flowers. I was there this morning, and young Christy joined me, the film-star pretty daughter of the Juli family. She pointed to the simple grave of a man who died at age 49 in 1990. “That´s Nino. He used to live in your house,” she told me. “He was single. A shepherd. He lived there alone, just with the sheep and dogs and cats. It´s not such a good thing to live by yourself.”

I asked how he´d died so young – most of the people lying here lived well into their 80s and 90s.

“Over at Edu´s garden, just across the pasture from your house, we found him in the well. He drowned. So nobody lived in your house, really, since 1990. Just his sister, you know, and just on weekends in the summer. And that´s why we are glad you live there now. It was a lonely place for so long.”

After the Mass today, Don Santiago will lead a procession up to the cemetery and bless the graves with Holy Water. Everyone will say a decade of the Rosary. And then they´ll all go home and have a big dinner with the family. It is good to remember the past and honor the dead. Some of the people in today´s parade must know their bodies, too, will be lying under that patch of ground soon enough, and every November 1 their families will surely show up with flowers.

It´s 10:30, and the half-hour-til-Mass bells are ringing. The builder is here, and one of the chickens is loose in the patio, and I don´t know the current location of Tim the hen-slayer. Gotta go. Gotta live while I´m still above ground.

2 comments:

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

Every day above ground is a good one.