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.


Elizabeth said...

Fran once informed me, "You have to go buy some pantyhose!" When I looked at him with my best confused/friendly face, he explained, "You'll find them out there, on the Camino."
I did find many things on the Camino, but tights just don't make the list. Oh, what merry times in Moratinos!

The Solitary Walker said...

Have just discovered your fascinating blog, Rebekah. Perhaps I'll run into you on my next Camino!

The Solitary Walker

macsta said...

Fran is autistic I'd say. Usually they are harmless but they are very odd and can be scary and unsettling. Just occasionally autistic people can be violent but it is most unusual. Fran shows the obsessiveness and social awkwardness of autism, and like many autistic people he needs company but cannot relate successfully. How painful it must be to be attracted to women but have no idea how to be attractive to them in turn!