Somehow time is slipping by really really fast!
When the year ends and All is Merry and Bright, I look with some anxiety forward into the next year, wondering if things will be better, or worse... and ponder how long January and February will take. I don´t always do well in the depths of winter, and the long gray days and black nights of Ohio and Pennsylvania just about did me in a few times.
Palencia, the county where we live, is in Castilla-Leon, up on the flat high-altitude tableland called "La Meseta." It´s known for its harsh, long winters, and when people learn we chose to live here instead of the sunny coastal areas they marvel at our folly. But we lived through one winter here already, in an unheated house. And I´m here to tell ya, brethren and sistern, the Meseta is downright tropical compared to winter ´back home´ on Lake Erie and in the Allegheny mountains. No comparison.
It´s cheaper here, too. And the food and wine are better. Anyway, stuff is happening here that spurs me to look forward to cooler, better things in the future. First is the arrival this morning of a big truck from Construcciones Castro, our new builder, at our back gate at Moratinos. Two gents unloaded a big pile of scaffolding and an enormous concrete mixer, much to the chickens´consternation. The men took off right after, not saying when they might return or what kind of work might be done. Still, I consider this a Very Good Sign Indeed.
Another look forward involves the Federacion de los Amigos del Camino de Santiago, and their need for volunteer hospitaleros in the coming pilgrim season.
All the pilgrims who walk this pathway gotta stay somewhere, so former pilgrims who live in particular areas band together as "Amigos del Camino" or "Confraternities" and often sponsor a pilgrim hostel, a simple overnight accommodation. The pilgrims pay less than 10€ to stay there, and often make great communal dinners in the bare-bones kitchens. The place is usually looked-after and cleaned-up by volunteer ¨hospitaleros," mostly Amigos members or other former pilgrims who like hanging ´round the Camino or feel they should "give something back." (you still with me?)
Patrick and I did our first volunteer hospitalero gig in 2004, with a confraternity based in London that sponsors an albergue up in the mountains at Rabanal del Camino. We later were trained and volunteered at an assortment of albergues at places all over the Caminos, part of the "Federation," a loosely organized umbrella organization for Spanish Amigos groups. I still do some volunteer hospitalero-ing for the Federation. In 2007 I did a week in Eunate, a really mystically weird Templar place near Pamplona, and at the Madres Benedictinas convent in Sahagún. (see the blog entry from late August.) You never know just where you might end up as a hospitalera, especially one who does last-minute stopgap gigs.
Sometimes the location is wonderful and fulfilling and fun. And sometimes it is nasty, lonely, or downright unhealthy. You gotta choose carefully.
So this year I decided to be better organized, and let the HQ know in advance where I might like to serve next year.
Having done this before, I have an idea of what my requirements are: One two-week stint at the start of the season, maybe April; and another at the end, probably October, someplace else.
I would rather not cook for the buggers, but I will if I must. I´d like to stay somewhat near home, seeing as we will (hopefully) have construction going on and-or pilgrims coming and going at our own house in Moratinos this year. I´d like to avoid the few places that seem to attract wackos and/or cheapskate freeloading tourists. And I´d like to have at least one other hospitalero serving with me, as I like company and don´t like having to do all the work on my own... especially the bookkeeping. When you serve alone, you often don´t get to escape the place for very long on any given day. An extra person often has a grasp of at least one more language I don´t do.
And so I asked for consideration at a selection of places I know of that meet one or other of the above criteria. Some are right nearby: Bercianos del Real Camino, Villalcazar de Sirga, Mansilla de las Mulas or Hornillos. I´d also like to try Navarette and the spankin´ new place in Salamanca. Lots to choose from! Kind of exciting, from this far away... Vamos a ver.
But the Next Big Thing happens December 22... it´s El Gordo Day in Spain, the day of the biggest lottery draw in the world. El Gordo (´the fat one´) Tickets go on sale in August, and it seems like every newspaper kiosk and bar and beauty parlor has a selection. Supposedly you have a one-in-ten chance of winning SOMETHING if you buy a ticket... or a tenth of a ticket, or a tenth of a tenth of one! Big groups of people band together to buy blocks of tickets, and every year some gang of folks in some remote village or inner-city neighborhood is suddenly plunged into incredible wealth.
I don´t know anyone who does not have some share in the El Gordo madness. Our building supply company, as a holiday gift, sent us a tenth of a tenth of a ticket. And of course each of us has a number of his own. And I have a share in a lottery pool run by my friend Jer at www.multimadrid.com , a group that´s run an El Gordo pool for several years now.
It gives everyone a nice ´frisson´of ´what-if´ just before Christmas hits. December 22 sees TV sets all over the land tuned to the big number draws. A children´s choir sings out each digit as it´s drawn, dozens of digits, for hundreds of prizes. The whole affair takes a good part of the day, so it´s not wonder so little work gets done in the last couple of weeks of the year, and the first week of the new. Because the second-biggest lottery draw is right on the heels of the first. It´s called El Niño, ¨the child.¨
I will be sure to let you know when I win, and how much. I will use some of it to fix up a few albergues I could mention!