Saturday, 26 May 2007
For years when we lived together in America Paddy and I took long, up-to-20-mile hikes on Saturday or Sunday. We decided today to do one of those, just to get out and "get the stink blown off." It was an excellent idea, good for body and soul and relationship, too.
We put Una The Wander Dog in the fergoneta and drove about 12K to Calzada del Coto, a crummy little one-sheep camino town west of Sahagun. From there we hiked to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, an even more crummy and isolated town. It's about 6 kilometers each way, and follows the Via Trajana, a Roman Road. It's now an alternate path for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, but few pilgrims use it because there's so much space between villages, it's lonely, and there's not a lot out there.
Unless, of course, your eyes are open. The recent rains have made the landscape positively lush; the wheat is fully formed, the oaks are dusty green, the ditches are flooded with caramel-colored water and little singing frogs. I am not a flower person, (unless you feel like sending me some! hint hint) but the display of wildflowers out there is staggering. But for the fabulous poppies I can't name them, but I can list the colors: bright blue, dark blue, purple, red, yellow, white, and orange. And if you look very closely, some tiny bright pink ones, right against the ground. No landscaper could achieve this if he tried, and here it is, just springing up along the roadside, acres of color! The cuckoos sing background.
And when we walk, we talk. Somehow, even though we live together all the time, we have to get out into the wide open to get a fresh perspective on one another and what we are doing together. Delicious and healthy, that. When we got to Calzadilla we sat down on the patio of a nice little pilgrim stop and had bread and cheese and a beer. The sky started darkening as we snacked. The dog was restless, ready to keep going. "Tormentas!" the barmaid warned. We skeedaddled back.
Going back is always so much quicker, and with the huge, wide horizon filled up with steel-gray thunderheads we hoofed it pretty quick. (Una took the time to kill a mouse, however. For every kilometer we walk, she runs 2 or 3, digging up critters in between.) It started looking like we were going to be drenched soon, as we could see one huge, hard cloud open up its belly to the southwest and pour water down onto the earth.
...and on the leading edge of the cloud a long, grey finger uncurled and dropped down, very slowly, toward the ground.
Another, smaller little pointy bit pointed down farther along. They're not supposed to have tornados in Spain!
I did some growing up in Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Colorado, and as a reporter I covered plenty of tornados. I have heard a tornado (from the safe place underneath my parents' bed), but I never saw one...I always kinda wanted to, though. Even though they terrify me! We were standing out on the plain, a good hour and a half from the nearest shelter. The wind wasn't even blowing where we stood, the storm was still a good way off. I was amazed, but not scared. Part of me still couldn't believe what I was seeing... I thought I left this behind!
A merry group of three Spanish pilgrims came our way, commenting on the weird cloud. They snapped its picture. They weren't scared at all, and they patted me on the back and asked me if I was from Kansas. Meantime, the cloud-finger curled up, then went groundward again, and then just sort of dissolved into the mass of oncoming rain. It never made it to the ground, so I suppose it was, technically, just a funnel cloud.
It was one of the most amazing natural wonders I've seen, ever! I wish I'd brought my camera, for wildflower pictures. And for that wild sky, just to prove I'm not making this up!
(the picture above is from earlier this year, another strange sky day on the camino outside our village. The skies around here are huge and forever changing... I have never seen so many rainbows as I've seen in the past year.)
Wednesday, 23 May 2007
I hope the last posting wasn't too wet.
It still is raining here, but I will not go into that. The sky is dark, the nights are stormy, the days are dark. The inside of the house is unspeakable. Best news for today is the chickens gave us FOUR eggs! Not bad for six chicks who are new at this egg business. They don't care if it rains, long as the food keeps showing up!
This morning the work crew rolled up at 10 and stood in the back yard and smoked for a while, waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't, so they went away. Rather than sit in the kitchen and snipe at each other, we decided to have an Expedition. We looked through our guide books and histories and realized that Ryan's been here for almost two months, and still hasn't been to a Roman Villa!
I don't know how you feel about Roman Villas, but if they're your cuppa tea, we got 'em... two very fine ones, some of Europe's best, within a half-hour drive of our very own villa. Because there's so much other art and architecture around, it's easy to kinda forget about them...maybe because they're out in the middle of wheat fields. Or maybe because they're not really buildings anymore. Or perhaps they're just so OLD.
I am an American, so my idea of old is oh, about 150 years or so...the civil war. Back from there you start getting Colonial. And before that, you have to go to Europe to really get your teeth into anything. Around here 150 years ago is almost a living memory. The church in town is probably at least 800 years old. Parts of my house are made of the same style and type of brick I see over in Sahagun -- bricks laid about 500 years ago. Our town, Moratinos, dates back on historical records to the 10th century, and its name means "little town of the Moors..." Moors, aka African Muslims, showed up in these parts in the 8th century. That means 1,200 years ago. There are all kinds of cool little stories hanging around the place, involving martyrs, Templar knights and evil monks and leper asylums. Some of the stories are themselves at least 600 years old, and they're passed out in an offhand way by everyday people.
The N120 road that passes by my back gate was the Via Lancia, a Roman highway. Now it's the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim path once traveled by St. Francis Assisi and a Borgia pope or two, and now by hundreds of pilgrims every day. Very, very old, and truly, deeply cool. I love old things!
So we drove in the rain up to Saldana to Villa Olmeda, where the very best and most famous of the Roman Villas is, with the finest mosaic polychromes anywhere (or so says the brochure!). Paddy and I went last summer to see it, but it was closed. They told us then they were putting a new roof over the place, to come back in the Spring.
So it's spring, we came back. And it's still closed. Next fall, maybe, the man said. It's a government job. Who really knows?
No Romans. So we went on northward, to check out some Romanesque. After a long slog over some really bad roads we came to a stony little town called Moarves de Ojeda, where the front of the 12th century church is carved with an outstanding and wonderful Christ and Apostles. A nice guy lived across the way (in a stone house with a coat of arms carved outside, dated 1601!) and had the keys to the church. I was having a good Spanish day, so I chatted along happily with him. The inside is damp and dark and ancient and dead simple, which is why I so love Romanesque! (in an ironic way it appeals to my Calvinist Inner Child.) Paddy and Ryan grooved. It rained, but it that was OK.
The best part is, this is one of dozens of these things scattered around the district. Palencia is packed with the stuff.
We stopped at an ancient Cistercian monastery hidden away nearby. We went into the enclosure but the Romanesque cloister was closed while the brothers took their afternoon naps. Another cool place, unchanged for centuries. Everyone oughta have a cartuja in their neighborhood.
We kept driving, had an outstanding "menu del dia" in Herrera de Pisuerga, in a restaurant full of utility workers and road construction guys. Stuffed peppers and rabbit stew, and a baked apple for dessert! Yum!
It stopped raining after that. We stopped after that at Quintana de la Cueza, our "local" Roman Villa. It's about 9 miles away from Moratinos, and almost nobody ever goes there so the attendant is overjoyed to have someone there to show around. It's a sweet, peaceful place, about a half-acre of mosaics and floors and under-floor heating systems (which we still use around here); all under a big pole building out in the middle of a wheat field. Ryan gave it his "four thumbs way up" rating.
If this thing was in America it would be overrun, a national treasure with t-shirts and campgrounds and a miniseries. Here it's pretty well forgotten, even by us history buffs who live within walking distance!
So, if you come to visit us, don't let us forget to take you to at least one Roman Villa. It's so old, it makes even Paddy feel young! (you can meet the fun mosaic man in the picture).
The sun will come out, tomorrow. Maybe.
Monday, 21 May 2007
The roof came off, and the timer started ticking. For a week, then a week and a half, the sky every morning was bright blue and full of songbirds and fluffy white clouds. The workers swarmed around on the second floor, measuring things, knocking down the soffit and fascia and downspouts (along with about 15 tons of dust), discovering all kinds of interesting doodads pressed into service through the years to hold up the house.
The builder decided to put a few courses of bricks up on top the adobe walls, to better hold up the heavy new roof and ceilings and skylights. Safe in our deck chairs at the patio table we watched the work, and wondered: All the sky-level entertainment aside, when were they going to put the roof back on? Sometimes it rains here, and this house is, after all, made of mud. Add enough water, and the walls will happily liquefy.
"No te preocupes!" Mario said. Have faith!
"If it rains, we'll clean it up!" Fran said. "The whole place is gonna be replaced anyway!"
So... No worries. Long as the sky stayed blue.
So it had to happen. On Saturday afternoon the sky turned black on one side and the wind picked up.
The clouds stacked up for a couple of hours. Then at dusk, with a flourish of lightning and thunder they dumped a fast couple of centimeters of water straight into the wide-open second floor. It didn't seem to do too much damage, really. On Sunday morning there were just a few dark spots on the ceilings of the first-floor rooms. Uh-oh, I thought. Outside I heard a distant thunder.
I grabbed Paddy, who grabbed a bunch of plastic shopping bags, and we stuffed the family photo albums inside and stashed those in the despensa-cave. We put a big tarpaulin over top the giant china cupboard/bookshelf in the salon, which is still loaded to the gills with books and papers and assorted doodads of lesser degrees of personal attachment.
Then, like good Christians, we went to Mass. And while we were there, just as dear old Don Santiago was saying how welcome it is in a farming town when rain arrives, it did just that. A roar filled the church as the skies opened, and the fountains of the deep were broken up, and it frickin' rained for the next 24 hours solid. (during his prayers Don Santiago did mention "those without roofs." Thanks, man.)
It was a dark day indeed. Within an hour we learned the downside of that upstairs hallway that tilts drunkenly westward -- the water bounced off the walls upstairs, rolled across the floors and downhill to the bedroom walls. From there it's a short trip south through the ceiling and into the salon...the only truly finished room in the house.
The water roared like thunder through ceiling all during the afternoon and night, and filled up every tub and bucket we have. I got up twice in the night to empty the overflow; the electricity shorted out; I began to wonder how safe Ryan is, sleeping in the next room. (He is as completely un-fazed by the house flowing past as any 20-something backpacker can ever be, zuzzing away in there as mud streaks down the walls and a veritable brook babbles around his bed and out his door. God bless him.) (It may be youth. Or it could be his share of those ice cream bars, or the three bottles of wine we somehow got through yesterday, medicating our troubled hearts, blending our whines into three-part harmony.)
The rain finally slacked off early this morning, but the paper says to expect more. The salon is still dripping. What furniture remained in there -- a dining table, the lurid Art Deco bar, and the big shelf unit -- will likely have water damage round their bottoms, where they're standing in a half-inch of water. The floor is shiny white tile, and surprisingly watertight down there at the deep end.
Now that the sun is threatening to shine we can be more philosophical. The salon is now a lovely environment for ducks, or perhaps a "Water Feature." All the May magazines of "Casas de Campo" and "El Mueble" (Spanish decor magazines, known hereabouts as 'builder porn') are touting "outdoor living trends," so it looks like we're right here on the cutting edge, even in backward ol' Moratinos! When the builders do decide to take out the ceilings they won't have a dust problem. And we can now boast about having indoor running water without the bother and expense of plumbing.
Paddy's out walking the dog. Ryan made sweet-corn and black-bean salsa, and we bought some super-fresh liver for dinner, and the chickens gave us THREE eggs today, a record! Paddy loves those chickens; they are certainly the most philosophical creatures in the place. They have a roof over their little Chick N Shak, but it leaks. And you don't hear them complaining.
The builders didn't show up this morning. Paddy phoned Mario to ask where he was.
"Did it rain there?" Mario asked. "Yeah. Lots," Paddy told him.
"Did it come in the house?"
"In the house, and through the house. It's a disaster."
"No te preocupes," Mario said. "The walls are mud. But they're fat mud. Two feet thick of mud! You got no worries, man!"
"Come over here then and bring some plastic before the ceiling comes down," Paddy said.
No can do, Mario told him. "It's too wet today to work."
Thursday, 17 May 2007
It's been a hazy, somewhat nauseating couple of days, but I am pushing on through and getting lots done and I am enjoying the colors, too.
First I'll tell you about Ryan. Ryan is 23 years old; he's from Ohio, my daughter Libby's best friend from high school. Ryan graduated in December from Kent State and he's joined the Peace Corps. He'll be off to Senegal in September, but till then he's at loose ends...and he's loosing them all over Europe, using our shack on the plains of Spain as his home base. He's a sweet spirit and a strapping lad, extremely helpful in the kitchen and with lifting and moving heavy things. And he speaks good French, which is sometimes very handy around here.
So when he's around we make good use of him -- he was hauling heavy things from barn to garage the other day, carrying my over-full grocery bags around Sahagun, replacing the propane tanks when they go empty, and installing our shiny new wifi router, too!
He gives excellent advice as well. Yesterday i woke up with a deep, heavy, painful cough in my chest. We went into town to do the shopping, and Ryan said I had to get some cough medicine. So I did. And when I got home and took some, it made me incredibly high, slow, and stupid - even beyond my usual! So Ryan said "no more cough syrup for you, ya junkie!" and warned me about climbing up on a chair to do whitewashing.
I ignored him, of course. The whitewashing went just fine, and another great swath of the patio is now blindingly white, and I didn't go crashing to earth (although I did crush another rosebush.) The sky was incredibly blue, the songbird we call "Placido" did an exceptional number from atop the old TV aerial, and I took a dreamy nap in the Hermit Cave/despensa.
I don't remember much else about the afternoon.
I didn't feel well so I didn't have dinner with the lads. Ryan said I shouldn't do strong medicine on an empty stomach, so I ate some ham-and-cheez flavored potato chips before my bedtime double dose of cough syrup. (I was, after all, duly following the advice of my friendly pharmacist. Who'd also told me the medicine wouldn't interfere with my ability to drive or operate heavy machinery!)
Anyway, I woke up in the night sicker than a dog, which is not so nice when you sleep in a cave and you have to go scuttling outdoors across a debris-littered patio to make it to the bathroom in time. I did, barely.
Turns out the cough stuff is loaded with codiene. Which has always just killed my stomach.
When they do drugs here, they don't mess around, man.
From now on I'm sticking with brandy.
This morning I had a free pass to stay in bed, but Ryan and I instead at 9 a.m. were in the Kangoo car (our 'furgoneta,' a sort of cross between a minivan and a farm wagon) and on our way north to the mountains. We were headed for Oviedo, the big city of Asturias... home to a fabulous collection of Romanesque churches, medieval saints' relics, nouvelle seafood cuisine... and an IKEA store.
We need to buy a kitchen for the new place. I already had something in mind, having scanned the catalogs. I figured I could get in there and get out, quick, because I deeply dislike shopping. Shopping for anything for longer than about 20 minutes sends me into a strange Zen sort of catatonia. Somehow I detach from the experience, and can sort-of see myself in the store, walking the aisles, choosing stuff, putting it in the cart... but I am not there.
Extended shopping times, especially in crowded stores or sunless shopping malls, gives me a lasting excruciation I can only liken to ennui. It's shatteringly boring. I would almost rather watch an Arnold Schwartzeneggar movie than spend an hour shopping. Even when I really need something.
Patrick, my husband, is even worse. I can be completely focused, following a precise shopping list and successfully filling the cart with much-needed items, but after about 15 minutes he will stop dead in the aisle, turn to me, and say "I've had about enough of this caper."
Five more minutes on, and his face goes red and his breathing becomes ragged. "Re-eb!" he'll whine. "I'm going to throw myself on the floor in a minute and start drumming my heels and holding my breath!"
About then I usually tell him to get the &^%$ out of here and let me @#@! finish what I'm doing. Because by then I've passed into my Zen state of non-attachment, and none of his behavior can touch my buddha consciousness.
Anyway, I digress. I took Ryan along because he loves shopping and he especially loves Ikea. And we both needed some time away from the chaos and night that are our home these days. Paddy happily chose our hellish home over the mall.
The drive was beautiful: mountain peaks straight out of Walt Disney movies, baby foals grazing with their moms on steep, green hillsides, flowers abloom, the sky full of circling hawks and diving storks, the two-lane twisting 17-degree grades populated by men in BMWs in a blazing rush to pass me when there's an obvious lineup of tanker trucks laboring up just ahead. (Driving in Spain is a real-life adventure. I deeply believe than anyone who can drive here can drive anywhere in the world. Except maybe London, Baja, and Paramus, N.J.)
We got there. I got Zen. We got a kitchen design completed, and bought a load of other doodads we needed.
We wandered into the adjacent shopping mall -- it was huge even by American standards, with wide shiny corridors that require street names to keep you oriented. We ate pizza and drank Cokes. We bought a wireless router, so everyone can roach our signal who's inside our walls. (...now to make it work with my Mac...grrr.)
We only got a little bit lost going home. It took about an hour too long, and as we unloaded the car I marveled at the things we'd bought. It was like I'd never seen some of this stuff before, especially a particularly atrocious throw-pillow. And a latex dog toy shaped like a grinning yellow carrot. What the ^%$.
So, people, when you come to visit you must remember why it is that two people who are reasonably well-off enough to quit their jobs and move overseas cannot seem to rustle up silverware or rugs or furniture that matches or even somehow coordinates. (sometimes it doesn't even hold up under the weight of said visitors..)
It's not that we lack funding, or taste, or a desire to live well. We simply cannot shop.
By the way, Patrick's blog address is www.elcaminounreal.blogspot.com . It is quite acerbic and literary.
Ryan's is www.rreichert-europe.blogspot.com .He will tell you what is REALLY happening around here.
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
The explosions started at about 11 p.m. last night. It's the Feast Day of St. Isidro, you know. And everyone around here in the farm towns of Castilla-Leon celebrates community events with exploding skyrockets, set off at random moments. (I think Una The Dog, her nerves shattered, is still shivering in the hay barn.)
At 9 a.m. the gypsies came to clear out our garage. We've been piling junk in there since October, when we moved in. The gypsy is part of our municipal service. He comes and hauls everything away for no charge.
And so he came, with his wife. She must have been a beauty once, but now she's missing several teeth. She looked hard at me where I stood in the patio, watering our dust-and-debris dotted flowers. She looked hard at the house, then followed her man out to the back garden and the packed garage. They worked hard and fast and did a great job, took out two truckloads of rebar, bent nails, seatless chairs, and a hair-raising red Naugahyde living room suite. We'd been warned to watch, to make sure they only took what we wanted them to.
We were glad they were gone in time for us to make it the Big Event.
At 11 a.m., a half-hour after the church bell rang we headed up Calle Ontanon, dressed up in our Sunday best. Outside the church the entire village gathered -- at least everyone over age 40 -- we all totaled about 20 souls. (that leaves about four youngsters at home, sleeping off last night's party or playing video games.) A few pilgrims, on their way through Moratinos to Santiago de Compostela, saw the open church and stepped in, too. They knew something was up... you almost never see an open church along the Camino, especially on a Tuesday morning.
Tourist guidebooks say St. Thomas church in Moratinos is "of little of architectural interest." But today was a cultural treat, offering the curious a ritual that dates back to pagan days. St. Isidro is patron of laborers and farmers. And this morning we set off on the annual procession to bless the crops and fields. How cool is that?
After a quick hymn four healthy farmers shouldered a little platform beneath the resident statue of St. Isidro, whose feet were piled high with flowers and fragrant herbs. We all followed him out, singing "Santo, Santo, Santo es el Senor." Outside in the street Isidore met our friend Jose, who was struggling to control the parish flag. A snappy breeze was blowing, and the banner is heavy brocade, a good century old and flapping on a mast a good 20-feet tall. The flag led the way up Calle Real and east out of town toward the cemetery, up the Camino.
The oncoming pilgrims saw the parade heading their way, and each one stopped dead, produced a camera, and started snapping away furiously, delighted to stumble into this splash of Local Color. We must've made a good picture, flags and vestments flapping, psalms and smiles, and Isidro's armload of fresh barley and alfalfa stalks bouncing in time to the four farmers' strides, all against the background of Moratinos' signature "hobbit-house" wine cellars in the hillside.
Jose was carrying the banner, so maybe that's why we stopped adjacent to his field of fine, ripe barley. Don Santiago read a blessing, shook a little wand of holy water on the barley, St. Isidro, and on us. Segundino blasted off another skyrocket, and we all marched singing back into Moratinos, our numbers doubled now by the pilgrim throng.
We marched around the Plaza Mayor and back into the church for Mass, with St. Isidro standing in a place of honor up front. Afterward we all gathered around sawhorses and planks for chips and olives, pickles and cookies, vermouth and lemonade and a couple of samples from Celestino's latest vintage. The pilgrims stayed a little while and chatted -- travelers from Valencia, Asturias, Andorra, and Australia, all happy for a moment's rest and hospitality.
And so we headed home, changed from our church clothes, and started whitewashing the courtyard walls. Laborers from Bulgaria and Ukraine are working on our roof. We have an American pilgrim staying with us this week, and we are, ourselves, American and English. A whole world of people, laboring at our many jobs. It made me think about the nobililty of work, how we've come to honor one another not for our workmanship or industry, but for the amount of money we make.
And I thought of the gypsies, how they do essential labor and are paid nothing for it; how they are looked-down upon because they operate so often outside the cash economy. Their hard looks, their hard lives, make us suspicious, wondering what these hungry people might take from us if we don't keep an eye on them.
St. Isidro, it's said, was so devoted to daily Mass that he left his yoke of oxen out in the field when the church bell summoned him to worship. And when he lingered inside, his fellow farmers saw someone else manning Isidro's plow. It was an angel.
Doing essential work, for no cash payment. What kind of nut does that?
Monday, 14 May 2007
It's a windy, stormy, sunny Sunday in Castilla-Leon, and we have no roof on our house.
I awoke at 8 a.m. with the wind lowing in the rafters overhead and a steel-colored sky outside the door slats. We are sleeping in the pantry these days, due to the roofless condition of the main house. The pantry, or "dispensa" as the locals call it, is a windowless, whitewashed adobe room, a very cavelike space with a lumpy concrete floor and wavy walls and no ceiling -- a view right up to the roof beams. It was populated with beetles until we decided to move in last week. We bug=bombed and patched the worst of the cracks, then had the construction guys move our bedroom furniture into there.
It really is not too bad. It is cool and stoney, like a tomb. Or a hermit's cave, or a monk's cell. I bet there are tourists paying zillions to stay in rooms just like this in exotic places, calling it "adventure accommodation" or some such marketing tripe. I can see the appeal, kind of. At least until the beetles come back.
I sleep in there with Paddy, or Patrick, my husband of three plus years. In October 2006 we bought the dispensa and kitchen and patio and Big House and the corral out back from a family that's owned it "since forever." It's all surrounded by a big wall and made of adobe bricks (aka "mud,"), and was originally designed as a home for mules and sheep. Human habitation was an afterthought. The whole place really deeply wants to fall down and turn back to Earth as quickly as possible.
When I saw the heavy sky I could only imagine what rain might do to the exposed mud bricks inside the 2-foot-thick walls. But I did not panic. I pulled the plastic lawn chairs in under the covered entryway, secured the lid on the big whitewash barrel, made sure the tools were all safe inside the hay barn. The hens out back were unfazed. Nothing you can do about the weather, anyway. Gotta just let it happen.
I ought to know that by now. We've lived through a Castilian winter. We slept in an unheated, un-plumbed, barely-wired main house, which meant a chilly dash outdoors in the wee hours when nature called... or adoption of the chamber pot. We have lots of chamber pots. They came with the house, one under each bed, which also came with the place, along with all kinds of castoff furniture and many decades of accumulated junk. Some of it is crap. Some of it is fabulous, like the antique wood-and-flint threshing sleds and dozens of hand-forged spikes and tools, and a baby doll dressed in full Franco-era military uniform. And some is incomprehensible: like the taxidermied guinea pig.
Until last week we had ceilings designed for 19th-century Spanish farmers, who are no taller than 5-foot-6 or so.
But all that is gone now. Now, we have no roof. We look across the courtyard and see the sky through the second-floor windows. We've looked very forward to this, but still it is traumatic.
After six months we finally found Mario, a contractor willing to take on this massive infrastructure job, and he's starting with the roof. He expects to pretty much gut the house, level the floors, install two bathrooms, a kitchen, a pantry and dining room, a back porch and a new bedroom upstairs, as well as rewire it all and connect it all to the water and sewer system. Oh yeah, and heat it, too, hopefully using some sort of green energy source. All within two months.
Vamos a ver! We shall see.
But finally progress is being made. The man came on Friday and installed a zippy internet connection, which inspired my friend Tino from Vigo to urge me to Blog about Life on the Campo.
It didn't rain much, all day long. It got quite nippy and windy, so we stayed in the kitchen most of the day, cleaning and cooking and visiting. All day the wind opened and shut the the window shutters up in the empty second-floor windows, like eyelids on its big yellow-brown face.