Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Guess Who´s Coming to Dinner

And if I may use another cliché, "Watch what you ask for. You might just get it."

According to the lovely linen letter that arrived today, Don Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Secretary of State for Spain, accepts my kind invitation to visit his namesake town. He can´t come for the fiesta in August, but he asks us to phone his office to set up a mutually agreeable date for him to come over for a roast lamb and a nice sit-down chat with the folks from hereabouts.

To which I reply, (with a flash back to my Pittsburgh roots):

Holy Frickin´ Shit. He said YES.

I don´t have china, I don´t even have a full set of plates or silverware. I don´t have a dining table, or chairs, or a kitchen. My dogs are rude. I don´t know how to roast a lamb the way they do here. I have never played hostess before to an international diplomat. (When I meet high-ranking politicians I instinctively begin lobbing impertinent questions at him/her.)

And I don´t have a thing to wear. (I have a nice apron, though.)

Still, I am most pleased. I´ll talk to Estebanito, the alcalde, about dates, and locations, and about keeping this very, very small, and as informal as possible. (He´s already said he wants to show off his family´s big bodega...and we already know that lambs roast wonderfully well in there!)

I have yet another good reason to pound those Spanish verbs, and get this house into some kind of shape! I will consult with everyone I know who´s shmoozed with these types before. He shouldn´t be too hard to handle, seeing as he IS a diplomat. I wonder if they´ll let us have some random pilgs in for the feast, too?

The Foreign Minister is coming over. Holy moley. I may speak Spanish like a dim child, but I must be able to WRITE it convincingly enough!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Sense and No Nonsense

The last few days have been a delight, to both the sensible and no-nonsense sides of me.

The sensible, sensitive, sensuous stuff: bright blue skies, soft breezes, temperatures way up into Springtime levels. Veg grilled over a wood fire, eaten out on the patio; fresh cheese, a really good new pasta recipe, perfect for feeding to pilgrims. Chickens wandering through the yard and house, singing their odd songs, getting underfoot, just generally wanting to be in on the action.

And the walk... on Sunday we discovered a delightful new place for long or short distance hikes... the Canal de Castilla. It´s a couple of hundred kilometers of 18th-century canal that snakes down from the Palentine mountains near Aguilar de Campoo (yep, that´s the place´s name) across the Camino at Fromista, and on down to Valladolid and Medina de Rioseco. It spans the treeless Tierra de Campos region with a ribbon of greenery, and the trails are pounded down on both sides by horses, sheep, and people. We drove south to hook up to it, to Becerril de Campos. We walked about 5 km. to Villaumbrales, where the main canal forks into two smaller ones. We and the dogs had a beautiful walk, and checked out two beautiful, neat, ancient towns, one at either end of the hike. We live in such a cool place, even if it really IS fly-over country!

My practical side was well sated on Saturday, when we worked/toiled/labored for about six hours straight, moving piles of scrap and crap from where they were to somewhere else. It was heavy, dirty work, but the place looks marginally better for our efforts, and now we know where to find some things that were scattered akimbo before.

I think, now that the house is coming along so well, our nesting instinct is kicking in! (Paddy is actually taking an active interest in choosing tile for the bathrooms and kitchen, and all the floors downstairs. It is amazing! And lovely too, because choosing so many things at once, with such a long time to regret it if you make the wrong choice, is too much for one person to have to do, methinks. Even if it IS girly girl stuff.) In any case, my Protestant Work Ethic got a nice fill-up. If I die today I will go straight to Calvinist heaven, where the sun always shines and the righteous work never ends.

And we are off again today to Palencia, to choose the tiles for all the floors downstairs. Seeing as we´ll be in the Big City, we will stop at the hipermarket where we can find Rooibus tea and taco shells! And if there´s time, we´ll stop again in Becerril and see their museum of religious art. (It is Monday, The Day Without Museums. But you just never know.)

Life is good, out on the perimeter. Especially when Springtime happens in January.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Fran the Puzzler

The latest challenge here (aside from intestinal flu) is Fran.

Here is an exerpt from an email I got recently from Mirjam, our very good Swiss pilgrim who was here in November. She describes what happened to an American pilgrim she met on the trail:

"After Teradillos de los Templarios and before Moratinos, A man in his 40/50s, who was not dressed as someone from the village, kept walking with her and saying stuff like: You're all alone. No one will hear you. He then showed her a knife that he held in the hand. The pilgrim (suffering from shin splints, so even more scared as she couldn't run) remained calm..."

That man was Fran, without a doubt.

Fran lives here in Moratinos. He was born and raised here, he´s Julia and Pin´s brother and Paquito´s brother in law. Everyone knows Fran, and everyone knows he lives in his own world. "He is harmless," Julia says. "He´s like a little child." I have no good idea what is wrong with Fran, but it´s some kind of mood disorder combined with retardation. He can talk in clear sentences, and sometimes can be very funny: he once told me I have a nice head! He does many kinds of simple chores -- Paquito would be hard-pressed to keep the farm going without Fran there to open and close the gates, haul water from the spring, and chop wood for the gloria.

Fran is usually nattily dressed, compared to the rest of us. He carries wads of string in his pockets, which he knots and unknots and wraps around his hand, over and over. He uses it to measure all the windowsills in the plaza, each of the bricks on the church wall, and the width and depth of the pilgrim benches. He carries a pocket knife, like all the men do. He is at Mass every Sunday, reciting all the creeds and prayers and responses perfectly and at breakneck speed, sometimes a couple of beats ahead of everyone else. And he sings.

Fran has a full repertoire of songs he learned as a child: themes from Franco-era TV sitcoms, folk tunes, old radio hits about lonesome cowboys and broken hearts, and Christmas carols galore. He will sing the same song, over and over, for weeks at a time, sometimes at full volume. (Modesto says he can hear Fran coming. Last summer he put his stereo on volume 10 and routed it through a set of old PA speakers mounted in his garden. So for an afternoon we had Fran going full-throttle on "Noelia Noelia Noelia," and Julie Andrews´ belting "Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens" -- all of it echoing down the empty streets of our dusty little town. These things make me understand the Spanish roots of Surrealism.)

Then there´s The Other Side of Fran, the sullen, quiet, brooding man. This must be the Fran the peregrina encountered out on the camino. This Fran is attracted to pilgrims, and will stride up to unsuspecting hikers and chatter incomprehensibly -- usually to the women. He´ll follow them along, measuring their backpacks with his string. He might sing to them. He might smile menacingly into their faces. He´s not a big man, but he is wiry and strong and fast. He can be very scary. I know this, because Fran "likes" me very much. I am careful to treat him with respect, but happy that when I am with him I am almost always outdoors and almost always accompanied by the dogs, who keep themselves positioned between us. (Fran does not like dogs. Dogs know that.)

So... what can we do? Thousands of new pilgrims are on their way to and through Moratinos, and I´d like to let them know Fran is here, this is his home, and he´s never hurt anyone -- that yeah, he´s creepy sometimes, but they shouldn´t be afraid of him, and they especially shouldn´t be mean to him. But is there a graceful way of doing this, that will not offend his family or rob him of his dignity, or bring some social service agency crashing into the situation? What would you do, Gentle Reader?

Evidently there already is some awareness of these things among the neighbors. Things turned out OK for our American pilgrim, as Mirjam told it:

" A tractor appeared. The farmer seemed to have noticed her fear. Other tractors kept circling as if the farmers were keeping an eye on her, escorting her until the guy left. The pilgrim lady said something wisely: The men are the problem. But they are also the solution to the problem."

So maybe I should just relax and let St. James sort it out. After all, he was a man, too.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A Hard Day´s "Community Building"

The last post carried on into this one like clockwork. We indeed trimmed trees, and stacked up switches, and bound them into bundles custom-shaped to pitch neatly into a glory-hole under-floor furnace. We grabbed three bundles before they vanished... it was a firewood free-for-all there for a little while! Hard work, best shared among many. I figure we all dance under these trees in August, so it´s only fair we all help trim them back and maintain them in January. (In America we´d call it a "community-building exercise" and apply for a grant. The crafts vendors would follow quickly.)

In the wintertime you can really see how tortured are the plane trees of Spain´s plazas. They have to chop down all the year´s new branches so the trees will somehow grow "flat and together and leafy." I think they´d be a lot more leafy if they left them alone, but what do I know from plane trees?

I do know how to snip roses back, though, and luckily I brought along our nice secateurs. You´re only supposed to trim roses on Three Kings day, I was told, but somehow the little garden in the Plaza was overlooked. (Like the rose bushes in our patio. I gotta trim them too!)So I did do something useful. The rest of the event was a hair-raising display of ´boys and their toys,´ featuring five ladders, two front-end loaders, a huge bale of straw, two kinds of chainsaws, three hacksaws, four hatchets and an ax. No blood was shed, but Estebanito got a poke in the eye from a falling branch, and Pin went away mad after a shouting match over which chainsaw is the most dangerous. (I am glad it did not get beyond the shouting stage, what with all those sharp instruments around. Spaniards are very loud, but they´re not, generally speaking, violent.)

The best part came hours later, after our backs got a chance to realize what we had been asking of them. It was 8 or so PM, and the fog came back with the dark. We took the car over to the plaza, to better make our getaway. (I was feeling poorly.) Lights were blazing, but no one was in the house on the corner, the one where all the gatherings happen. We heard noises, though, and followed them into the dark.

And there in the soft night shone a fuzzy oblong of orange light -- a half-open bodega door, with a laughing Edu silhouetted within. This merienda was a classic Castillian bodega bash, a soft spot of warm light in the foggy dark.

The Milagros have one of the finest bodegas in town, dug deep and high and wide into the hill with a big fireplace, a long trestle table, and vats of wine all around. The three electric bulbs are powered via a precarious system involving jumper cables and the house next door. On the fire were racks of lamb chops and red peppers, roasting. On the table were plates of prawns and big green salads. Carlos, Leandra´s husband, was cutting up sausage and cheese. And oh what a party we had, with merry souls and tired muscles and warm hearts. (my feet, however, were frozen!) The lamb was delicious, what I had of it. I didn´t try this year´s vintage. My poor stomach.

Paddy, however, helped Esteban take on a 10-year-old brandy. Everyone else had liquor made with hazelnuts, which I think would be lovely over vanilla ice cream. I was informed that the thick fogs are normal for this time of year, but only for a few more days. They will stop on January 25, Edu says. Everyone else nodded. So it´s gotta be true.

And so it went, and so we went home. Nice. None of the photos turned out, so I am glad I didn´t take too many. Some events are better kept on the internal hard drive.

And today, I feel much better. But now Paddy has the stomach lurgy. I am taking him back to Sahagun and putting him to bed.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Schemes & Plots

There´s lots to look forward to here. It´s not very Zen to look forward to things, but I can´t help it. It´s January. Not a whole lot of "here and now" is here right now!

Tomorrow is the big Moratinos Cleanup in the plaza. We are very behind on this particular item... it´s usually done just after Christmas, but the weather´s been bad, and Pin, the guy with the chainsaw, has been on holiday, and Leandra, the lady who makes the best tortilla, asked them to wait til next week... Anyway, the notice went up two days ago, a handwritten and officially-stamped declaration that the plane trees and flower garden remains will be duly trimmed and hauled away "Lunes tarde." Which means anytime after noon on Monday, just listen for the church bell. The traditional "merienda" will follow. (A merienda is a snack, but last year this consisted of a roast lamb, paella, tortilla, garlic soup, and a big cake.) After eating everyone will be given their bills for 2007: water, sewage, and use of the municipal drive-over crop-weighing truck scale.

We don´t use the scale, so Estebanito told us 40 Euros oughtta cover us. (The city water comes from a big Artesian well by the Plaza Mayor. The sewage is a relatively new system of pipes they put in seven years ago, when they finally paved the streets. Everyone´s sewage goes into a malodorous common ditch just outside town, toward St. Martin...both our dogs have taken swims in it! I don´t know what happens to the sewage after that, but I think it makes its languid way to the Rio Templarios eventually.)

No word on just when all this commences, or where to bring the food. We are making the tortilla today... a two-inch thick omelette of sliced potatoes, onions, roasted red peppers, and eggs. Paddy´s got it mastered! We will bring that, and a bottle of good brandy. The men are bringing samples of this year´s home-brew, and we have nothing like that to share. (And this way, we know there´s a non-poisonous option available, should we want to partake.)

So. Tuesday or Wednesday we meet Jefe José Castro down in Palencia. We are picking out the tiles for the bathrooms, and maybe meeting his wife... she´s from Texas, USA. I think he´d like to use her translation ability to make sure we all are on the same page. I know I´d like to! And I would like to have another woman along for tile-choosing. I know this seems very girly-girl of me, but hey. We have to live with these tiles for a very long time, and if I left it to Paddy he might just point at the first thing he saw and say ´that´s fine.´ Evidence of that kind of decision-making lives on in lime-green loos the world over.

And farther out into the future (August) I am plotting something most fun: a custom-built guitar for in our house, and a very good guitarist to play it for an Open House party. Both of them are flamencos, and both are from Madison, Wisconsin!
It is all very up in the air, so I won´t go into details. But it is very fun to think forward thoughts.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Death Comes for the Weasel

Today is death and life and forgiveness. First, death.

While out in the wilds of the Promised Land this morning, the dogs flushed out a Least Weasel. They did a perfect double-team job on the little guy, and killed him dead.

Paddy hadn´t seen a Least Weasel before, and until the last moment assumed the dogs were hunting a rat. The three of them (the dogs and Paddy, sans weasel) came back to The Peaceable all tired out and rather solemn. Paddy said it´s a good thing I didn´t go along. (I was cleaning up the chicken house and coddling the hens, if not the eggs.)

Somehow, having the dogs kill a rat is okay, but a small, fierce, seldom-seen, ferret-like creature? No. We both felt pretty bad about it. We were lucky enough in the past to keep Sid Vicious and Cootie, two fine pet ferrets, so we have lots of respect for them and their near kin.

Even as we discussed these things, Paddy was cleaning and chopping up several fat fresh chipirones -- squids -- for our lunch. How is killing a Least Weasel any different from killing chipirones? I was saying. And just then he sliced one longwise, and inside he found... a little fish. How positively Lao Tsu!

We are talking more about profundities these days, perhaps because we are reading Camino documents. Paddy´s going through the latest John Brierly guide to the Camino de Santiago,lots of pilgrims are recommending it. There are lots of great maps and pictures, but Paddy says it gets a bit ´poncy´ with statements like "El Bierzo: taste of the fruit of its vineyards, bask in the effulgent rays of its sun..." that sort of tourist-office dreck that kept food on my table for a while, and which Patrick greets with a Bronx cheer. But he reads on, until tempted away by the decidedly non-ponce but deeply profound Brothers Karamazov.

I have managed to get, online from the University of Toronto, a copy of a 1919 art history treatise on the Camino, written by a North American professor who was full of wonderful opinions and observations. It´s in English, but with passages in French and Spanish and Latin. Lucky me, now that I´m reading Spanish all the time I can pretty much make out the other two! Yay! I´ll post links when I figure out how.

And so to Forgiveness. Jose Antonio Castro, our building jefe, gave us an estimate of how much work the Bozos did for us, so we can have a Euro figure to pursue them with legally. All that demolition, then the steel, concrete, masonry, and heavy labor? A house this size? Eighty, he said. Eighty thousand Euro!

So, if Castro is right, (and if we clearly understood what he told us) the Bozos did a good 14,000 Euros´ worth MORE work than we ever paid them for! They vanished because they´d way oversold what they could do, and they were losing money every day they showed up and worked... and we´d stopped paying them until they "caught up!"

So. We need to get this in writing first, then call off the attorney. And me, personally, I need to consider the magnitude and enormity of my presumption, overreaction, and rage. I assumed the Bozos lied, cheated, ripped us off, and walked away laughing at our stupidity, and I was ready to hunt down that weasel Mario to get back what I though I was owed. I was wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The actual work they did was pretty good, we are told. We still have a good case for the consumer advocacy process, seeing as they did lie like rugs, break their contract, trash our place, damage our barn roof, and create some lasting harm thereby. So we´ll let that process roll... if it is indeed rolling. (Spanish bureaucracy moves at glacial speed.)

I am very glad, really, to let this one go. Being that peeved takes an awful lot of energy. We must accept that this house is simply costing a whole lot more time and money than we ever guessed... and hopefully we have enough of both to not worry too much, now that progress is continuing apace. We are a mere year behind the schedule we so blithely set for ourselves!

And now I have to forgive myself for behaving so foolishly, mistaking a rat for a weasel.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Moonshine in the Morning

It´s always all or nothing around here... or sol y sombra if you prefer. Today is one of those days when, after weeks of not a whole lot happening, all the stars align and everything and everyone descends at once.

First I met an Aussie pilgrim outside the Sahagun refuge this morning, a real ray of sunshine. I told him ´buen camino,´ and he said, ¨thanks, g´day to you!¨ He was alone all night in the huge hangar of a refuge, but he slept just fine, he said...he had spent his evening watching football in the Irish pub, drinking Guinness. He called it "Irish lullabye."

Here at the Peaceable, the Josés showed up and broke through the back wall to the yard, and discovered what we thought was going to be a step out onto the porch floor opens into earth, right about chest level. Our house is dug that deep into the ground! So our double doors to the back yard will now be a big window instead, still giving some light to the room while offering our chickens a panoramic view of our salon and kitchen. The men thought it was kinda funny, except they put so much work into it already. But no one could tell, really, where the ground was. This is what happens in a house built piece by piece over many years. It may turn out to be rather weird, the fruit of poor communication skills, mixed signals, and sheer bull-headedness. But it will be home. And it will have lots of sunlight!

The plumber arrived. His name? José Franco. We´re calling him just Franco. Jefe José Antonio asked us where we´d put the bath fittings: the showers, bathtubs, toilets, etc. We don´t have any yet. Get em here by tomorrow, he said. So this afternoon we´re off to the builders´ supplies places, measurements in hand, to see who can deliver the stuff promptly tomorrow morning at a do-able price. It´s all so on-the-fly, it makes me very nervous! We didn´t know. How could we have known? So I likely will not get the cool bathroom sink that looks like a deviled egg. Oh well.And we won´t have exposed beams in the kitchen area, because all the bathroom pipes from upstairs will have to be hidden in the ceiling.

Meantime, Just Franco´s getting down to work with a big pile of pipes, joining up the plumbing for the kitchen and upstairs bathroom, generally doing whatever it is plumbers do.

The hero of the day is José de Moratinos, our Milagro Boy, who wove himself quietly around the morning´s events, argued a little with José Antonio about where to put the gasoil tank, advised on water pressure and pipe circumferences (he´s the local water warden) and generally inspected the works and ran interference with all this fast-demand decision-making. (Jefe José suggested we call him ´Joselito,´or ´Little Joe.´ But our José told him, ¨Soy DON José.¨ ¨Call me SIR Joseph!")

(I hope that makes sense.)

He then took us over to the family compound on the other end of town to show us the project he and his dad have going, out in the garage: they´re making moonshine.

They have it all over there, inside one of the barns behind the combine: copper kettles, a butane gas ring, rubber gaskets, hoses for cold water and drainage, coffee filters, a specific-gravity meter, and big 5-liter demijons of last year´s red wine and this year´s rotgut. I won´t take you through the whole process, as it takes five hours or so, and about 25 kilos of grapes slogged out of a barrel. But now I know how to make aguardiente! (aka "fire water").

This stuff is the base for orujo de hierbas, another local specialty that´s colored golden yellow with saffron and is sweet enough to suck the fillings out of your teeth.

What a day! And it´s only 2:30 p.m.!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Pictures of a January Day

Mornings are very foggy and misty, sometimes straight through the day. We take Tim and Una out along the Caminos first thing -- otherwise their heads would explode. The ever-changing weather is forever providing new vistas on our same old hikes. We give each route a romantic-sounding name: the Promised Land (which you´ve heard of), St. Martin´s Triangle. Shepherd´s Creek, The Mushroom Walk, or the Sunflower Road. There´s also the Dovecotes, the Old Camino, or Way Back of Beyond.

Most of the walks have beautiful views. Tuscany and Provence have nothin´ on us, out here on the Meseta, even in winter. What boggles my mind is how many people skip over this part of Spain, rabid for mountains and beaches and cathedrals. I don´t worry too much though. It leaves more for me. And the dogs.

Tim, a Brittany Spaniel, is a bird dog. But Una, of uncertain parentage, is a terrier to her bones. She loves to excavate critters that dwell underground, and she´s initiating Tim into her obsession. And just over halfway to San Nicolas is a waste place full of rills and erosion, untillable and honeycombed with rabbit holes and critter tracks. This is Una´s favorite place in the world. We call it The Hare Field.

And here is one of my favorite pictures of Una, in the place she loves, doing what she does best. (she is the dirty white spot in the middle.)

I look at these wee images and despair of ever capturing the beauty and depth of the vista, fog notwithstanding. I guess that´s one of the many reasons people keep coming on down the camino: they can see it for themselves, and hopefully their knees don´t pain them so much they don´t notice the visual feast spread before them.

Then there´s the personal favorites: the progress pics! Here are some little ones, showing the downstairs of the house from outside and inside: the old salon with its new windows, and the progress on opening up a new doorway onto the back yard. It looks like archaeology, and it´s heavy going, even with a jackhammer!

Last but not least is the road back, a fond glimpse of Moratinos in the fog. The hump in the middle is the bodega hill. Our place is over to the left, beyond the trees, lost in the mists of morning. (sigh.)

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

No Unexamined Hog Shall Be Subject to Home-based Pig-Sticking

Behold, the old has passed away, and all things are made new.

...well, SOME things are. Like our windows. They´re almost all installed now. All they need to really be windows is glass. I wonder if we have to pay extra for such frippery.

But I´ll get to the boring building stuff later. In the bigger picture, there´s a couple of new edictos posted on the public board on the plaza. The first one forbids the butchering of pigs at home without having a state vet check them first for worms. Oh, damn! So much for my weekend plans!

Also fresh from the Junta de Castilla y Leon is the plan to plant new trees all along our stretch of the Camino, seemingly from Villaoreja all the way to San Nicolas.

There already are lineups of these saplings here, along the N120 bike trail/alternative camino path. They´ve been around for years along the camino just west of here, shading the path from Calzada del Coto to El Burgo Raneiro. Some of those are real trees now. But many, many of them struggle to stay alive. A whole crew of guys spends their summers trying to irrigate their roots, but I´d say just over half of the trees survive their first couple of years. So we´ll soon see a whole new crop of them, along the "real" camino. I am not sure how I feel about the idea, me being a lover of wide-open spaces. But no one asked me.

The next bit strikes me as a potential blues lyric. I wrote it originally as prose, but now I´ve broken it up for you musical and poetic/doggerel types.

Hiking along there this morning
in the fog with the dogs
I also saw
the latest crop of crap.
It´s them pilgrims again.
Even the winter ones, the hard core, the deeply dedicated
Can´t carry their trash to the bin in town.
They have to throw it on the ground.
Jesus wouldn´t do that.
Pilgrim sonsabitches.
I hope you get a vision.

New to the Peaceable Kingdom:
We have lots of new aluminum framing for drywall now stacked in the old salon. And scary as it is, the electricista came today. I like the guy, he´s got a good face. The scary part was having to tell him where we want the lights, all over the house... what KIND of lights, how many, and where. And where we want outlets, too. The whole time Jose Castro, the general contractor, was following us along telling us NO, you don´t want that, you want THIS. All in 55 mph Spanish.

Jose Castro is the general contractor. Jose Luis is his second in command, Jose Luis´s son is hanging drywall and generally is being kicked around by his dad. His name is Jose, too. Demasiado with the Josés, guys! Maybe that´s why I liked the electricista so well. His name is Juan.

Hardest of all was the kitchen. I know we´ve had MONTHS to mull over what goes where, but suddenly I had to say it: sink here. Stove and oven here. Fridge there. Lights right there, and there, and there. I know it´s not exactly public policy, but these are decisions I´ll have to live with for years to come. It still feels like I haven´t thought it through well enough! I kinda wish they´d just come in and do it all FOR me. Then if I don´t like it, I won´t have to blame myself.

So progress is being made, at long last! When these jamokes are finished we still will have to install the floor tiles all over the place, finish the wooden floors upstairs, and paint and/or plaster almost all the walls. I think we can handle that. Or find someone who can. By then it will be fully pilgrim season, and perhaps we´ll pull some willing workers from that constant stream.

Having workers working has lightened Paddy´s mood considerably. It makes it so we have to be here at The Peaceable by 9 a.m. each day to let people in, and it means we can´t really come and go as we please because the dogs may escape through the doors and gates left open by the workers. Tradeoffs.

So we´ll wait til a better time to go and buy a little TV set. Our lack of TV is a marvel to our neighbors and friends. We are told by experts it may help me overcome my mental block with Español. Paddy´s eyes don´t do reading so well in the evenings, so it will maybe keep him occupied.

And so goes the progress.

An unrelated thing: I read other blogs sometimes, and there are lively exchanged of comments at the bottoms of the posts. In this blog there are no comments posted, almost never. Why is that? Is it something I said? Please feel free. No junk email will arrive, no Death Squad will call. I kinda want to know who you all are, OK?

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Elect(ion) & the Damned

Nothing doing here ´cept a grey drizzly day and dogs scratching scratching scratching at the door to be let in. I don´t blame them, as the fire is very nice and there´s Brahms playing on the box. But the dogs are making it hard for me to breathe, and somehow I managed to leave all my breathing inhaler thingies at the other house.

...And they ARE dogs, after all. Let em be cast into the outer darkness for a while.

We didn´t win the big El Niño lottery, even though we bought a ticket! I wonder if my bud in Salamanca won. (the author at www.wandering_woman. She said she could feel it in her bones. But she must have the same kind of bones I do.

But speaking of trying your luck: I am encouraged by what´s going on in the caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Today I downloaded the forms to apply for USA absentee voting ballots, as this is one election I don´t want to miss! (I´m a legal resident in Spain, but for the next 9 years, at least, I´m still a USA citizen.)

I know they don´t count the absentee votes til WAY after the decision is made, but what the hey. I´ve always gotten a real kick out of voting. And after the mayhem and monkey business that have plagued elections all over the world in recent years, it´s all the more important for people of good will to cast a ballot. Otherwise, the terrorists really do win. One way or another.

¨The sleep of reason brings forth monsters,¨ indeed.

Another interesting thing about watching the elections from the opposite side of the planet is the news coverage thereof. The USA political process is quite heavily and comprehensively covered here in the national press... sometimes even better than the job done in American papers! People in the café will sometimes ask me about the voters in my home district, and when my primary is, and which parties hold the majority there, etc. Intelligent questions. I have to think really hard to remember the answers! But I wonder how many citizens from anywhere can answer simple questions about local political matters that ought to be more important to us. (not to mention the challenges of answering them in Spanish! Another vino tinto here, please!) I think it´s easier just to adopt a cynical attitude, to not bother, or stop caring. Not caring translates to too many people not voting, or too many not voting responsibly. Which gets us into the kind of mess we´re now living through.

It´s not as if America is at the center of Spanish media, though. They cover elections in England and France and Germany and Russia and Turkey very thoroughly too. The papers here are just a lot more international than even the "America´s Great Newspapers" I used to work for.

All that said, I gotta tell ya: One of the most wonderful things about this election is I DON´T HAVE TO COVER IT!!! (God how I grew to DESPISE covering elections!)

All that makes me feel a lot better about life and drizzle and breathing. Maybe now I will let the dogs come inside, and put an end to this weeping, wailing, and teeth-gnashing.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Sol y Sombra

It´s a very strange sort of day, very Spanish in its "Sol y Sombra" aspects. (That´s "sun and shadow" to you English speakers. Meaning things are extreme, black and white.)

The sun was gorgeous this morning, and yesterday´s rain has made the fields positively glow with newly germinating rye. But on the way back a Mystic Fog came down from the north, where the mountains stand about 20 miles off. You can see it moving, like that gruesome mist that slays all the Egyptian firstborn in "The Ten Commandments." Except this is gray mist, not green, and it doesn´t lay on the rises up over your head in whifty drifts. And no one´s dead yet that I know of. It blocks out the sun instantly,and takes visibility down to about 30 feet. It made my mood go all kablooey too. I think this is where the term "wet blanket" comes from.

But when I got back to The Peaceable, a truck was in the drive out back. It was a crew of subcontractors from Becerril de Campos, here to start installing the windows! Wow!

The sun came back out. The mail lady arrived, bearing a big, heavy box with USPS tape all over it. It was Christmas, from my mom and sister, a box full of staple items from The Land of the Fee, full of unfindable American things like powdered sugar, shortening, peanut butter, and the ever-lovin´ Kraft Mac & Cheez! Shipping them over here cost three times what the food was worth, but like they say: it´s the thought that counts. And OMG, am I ready to make a QUICHE. We have fresh eggs out the wazoo, and now maybe I can make a decent pie crust! Hallelujah!

When I went to write fulsome Thank You emails to them both, I found the email server is down today "for obras." So if any other of you was expecting email from me, please know that, technically, being "cerrado por obras" means "closed for maintenance work." It really is code language for "closed for however long we feel like taking off and not working." Sombitch!

I went back to Sahagún and cleaned the apartment and did all manner of errands, one of which yielded up the happy discovery of Paddy´s birthday present, which is always a major wintertime challenge. In the Plaza Mayor, accompanied by loud recordings of kiddie Christmas tunes, were three city council members in fake beards and silk doublets posing as the Mailmen for the Three Kings. The innocents of Sahagún will give their lists of demands to these City Fathers, who will supposedly pass them along to the Reyes Magos, who arrive tomorrow evening on the 7:15 train from Chamartín in Madrid, bearing lots of toys and goodies for all the good girls and boys. (Most towns have the kings clattering into the plaza on fine horses, but Sahagún is inordinately proud of still being a stop on two main railway lines.)

It felt nice, being out and about on a sunny day in January where everyone is cheery and the shops are full. Tomorrow´s the big holiday, so today was rather like Christmas Eve is at home...a last-minute scramble for gifts and cakes and cash. I stopped and chatted with Rigoberto, the Cuban guy who runs the big pilgrim hostel. He finds my Spanish almost as incomprehensible as I find his English. I also saw Anunciata, the superior from the Benedictinas, out buying fresh sardines for lunch. She´s always smiling, that one. It makes me wonder what she´s up to.

I came back here to Moratinos. The window guys were gone, having put in a solid five hour day. And having installed floor jacks in the salon, apparently to hold up a portion of the (brand new) second floor they apparently don´t trust. (they asked Paddy if he knew how far the new joists sink into the wall. He told them he didn´t know. They didn´t tell him why that was a concern, and he didn´t ask. Men.)

I strolled through the house, an activity that sometimes is very encouraging to me. I saw the windows shimmed into place, and the three-feet-deep sills behind them, with the adobe exposed and rough... and the complete shambles of a backyard visible beyond that. We stick windows in holes, but the outer walls are losing their tiles, and the arch over the back gate is falling down. I´ll trade in my Three Kings for a handyman angel. One that speaks Spanish, and doesn´t mind the mud and cold and isolation.

My allergy pill is failing, and the dogs that don´t usually bother me are starting to. The sun is now clouded over good and solid. I´ve started snapping at the dogs, and Paddy can´t be far behind. The internet went down altogether. I hope you get this.

It is time for some rooibus tea. Or hormones, maybe. Or Bourbon.
I may have to settle for mac & cheez, and a snort on the asthma inhaler.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Open flames, fire water, and warm wishes

Hola, faithful readers! Feliz Año Nuevo to us all. (Another one like 2007 might just do us in, but it´s still not as bad as 2001. Euugh.)

We spent New Year´s Eve over at the Milagro House, on the corner of the Plaza Mayor. It started out pretty small and quiet, with just the eponymous Mom Milagros, Pop Esteban, and Estebanito and José, the Milagro Boys.. and another neighbor, Edu´s Brother Who Lives in Segovia, whose name I don´t know. It was as civilized a convo as you can have, having eaten a mess of seafood lasagna for dinner and then tucked into tons of cookies and turrones.

These guys seem to take great delight in smacking down bottles of home-brewed likker in front of Paddy, wheeling out a collection of frosted shot glasses, and fillin´em up and knockin´em down from there. Dear ol´ Pad does his best to meet their expectations, but me? As an Official Girl, I can go easy. I had to drive, y´know. I´ve noticed how they look askance at women who do just about anything to excess. So I stuck to the aguardiente-soaked cherries, which are delightful, long as there are no open flames about!

The Open Flames showed up at about quarter till midnight, when all the men and women, boys and girls of the Segundino Family next door rolled into the big gathering room. Milagros put more coal in the stove, and corks popped and everyone got big glasses of fresh, hard Asturian cider to toast the midnight hour -- and more chocolates.

And oh yes, GRAPES! All over Spain, according to tradition, Spaniards mark each stroke of the midnight clock by stuffing a grape into their gobs. Yes, twelve grapes in about a quarter-minute´s time. You try it. And don´t use the seedless kind!

Then swallow a shot of hard cider straight after. Then kiss your sweetie, and cheek-kiss everybody in the room, and do ching-ching with your glasses, and go outside into the sleet and set off some explosives! Ain´t New Year´s Eve grand? (especially when one of the skyrockets smashes right into the church bell! What a lovely racket that was... scared every dog in town right out of his wits.

Seeing as we are usually tucked into our beds by 11 p.m., we didn´t last long after the big moment. I am not sure how much longer the party went on after that, but everyone there looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at Mass the next morning. Another tradition was observed there: after Communion Don Santiago, the smilin´ cura, holds up a tinsel-trimmed basket with a plastic baby Jesus in it, and all 20-odd faithful in the place must troop up to the front and kiss its upturned, pink knee.

This flies in the face of all my Calvinist upbringing, which included a heavy dose of the Exodus and Deuteronomy Old Testament Jehovah so fond of raining fire and salt down on people who "bow down before idols." Kissing baby dolls? No thanks. Paddy and I stayed in our pew, but when everyone else was finished Don Santiago looked at us and smiled and said, "This gift is for all of us. All our friends are welcome."

Even Jehovah Himself couldn´t say no to that kind of peer pressure. If I go to hell someday I´ll be basted right along with the Baal and Astarte Thor devotees, I´m sure.
...Better company than some religious people I can think of.

Anyway, in the days since we´ve kept quite quiet here. The weather has been misty and sharp, so we´ve kept near the fire in the kitchen. Our woodpile is shrinking away, alas! So much work, and it´s only January! I hope we have enough for the winter. Yesterday I wrote a letter in both languages to the Spanish Foreign Secretary, whose name is Miguel Angel Moratinos. I pointed out he has not visited the village that shares his name, and we´d like to have him visit for the big Fiesta in August. Who knows? He might just. It´s a great photo op, and we live right in the middle of Partido Popular territory... the opposition!

Friday winds up the holiday season´s Three Kings Day, aka Epiphany, the day the kiddies all get to open presents. The adults get another big lottery drawing to blow 20 Euros on. And it´s the start of yet another long weekend!

I hope very much this means the constructors will show up and pitch in to working on Monday, but I won´t be surprised if they don´t. It may be a new year, but it´s the same old Spain!