Monday, 7 April 2008

Alamo Magic 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a post I started on March 30.

By the time mid-August came around we were fed-up with pilgrims. Our two weeks of forest fires and pilgrim-tourists in Ourense had us putting the ´hostile´ into ´hostel.´ We needed a break.

So back we went to Moratinos. There still were no James or Marianne, and still no new baby...they all were still in Santiago. The yurt was swept-out and made-up as neatly as a yurt can be left. The Fridge was still humming away inside the house, and the 100-or-so Euro coins we´d left were still there, with another 100 or so added to the milk jug. Good people, those German hurdy-gurdy-ers. Lots of good people around.

We sacked out in the yurt yet again, and became a bit of an attraction to the summer people who´d not yet seen the morning Pilgrim Coffee Service out on Calle Real. It was during that stay I realized this place was probably It.

I woke up before dawn one early morning, and stepped outside the tent to have a pee. The moon was setting, but I still could see everything in the half-light. It was so silent out there I wondered if the whole world could hear what I was doing. And then I looked up.

That sky, oh my! It was the biggest sky I´ve ever seen, soft and black and breathtakingly spangled with every star ever known by Mankind. I was gobsmacked by the sheer size of that sky. And it even sent down a little meteorite, just so I could be sure. This was it. I was home.

The fiesta was a good one. Check back in this blog to mid-August to find the play-by-play of the annual three-day party...but this one we experienced as newbies, guests. It was all so fresh and full of fun and novelty, and everyone went out of their way to make us welcome. On Saturday evening we had dinner at the Julia house. We had roast rabbits, raised out back. (Everyone wanted one of the halves of the heads. Everyone but us.) That´s where little Juli, the only English-speaker in the village, told us about Raimunda´s house.

It was on the edge of town, not right on the Camino path. It had an orchard out back, and an inner patio, and a barn, but no heat. The main house had no plumbing or electricity. It was old, adobe, and had been a summer/weekend place for the last 17 years or so. It was neglected, maybe. But you could live there.

And it was for sale. We could see it if we wanted, tomorrow before Mass. That is how we learned about The Peaceable. And two months later, it was ours.

But this is supposed to be an Alamo story.
We still did not meet James and Marianne for more than a week after the Fiesta. Little Finn finally showed up, and they made it back to town just before I had to leave for Pittsburgh. James was a jolly old elf, and Marianne was tired out from her many labors. The children were utterly enchanting -- we hadn´t seen small people for months! We brought some vino, and James rustled up a gas ring from somewhere inside the Alamo, and a frying pan, and made a tasty pan of prawns and red peppers and balsamic vinegar, which we ate out on the Calle, perched on shipping pallets. Darkness fell, the inky blackness of the Meseta. Our only light came from the gas ring and James´ hand-rolled cigarettes. We were made welcome.

We learned how they´d found their place, where the yurt came from, how they´d run afoul of the man who runs the pilgrim albergue in San Nicolas, the next town down the Camino... the guy wanted all the pilgrim custom for himself, and constantly filed legal complaints against them and their project. So not everyone here was nice.

We moved into our place in early October, and began a long and stressful search for builders to take on our huge renovation job. Over at the Alamo, James had hired Santiago, a local builder, to do some heavy masonry work.

It was not a happy relationship. James is a purist, an idealist. He´d read "The Good House Book" and "Earth Structures" and "Build Your Own Cob Home" books, and wanted a green, natural, old-fashioned, earth-friendly house, clad in adobe inside and out. Santiago listened closely, concluded the English boy was completely nuts, and went ahead and started rebuilding the place the way he knew how.

A few weeks later, Santiago dropped everything and walked off the job. By then the Alamo had a new second floor, roof, and windows. The donkey barn out back was roofed, too. James determined to save a ton of money by finishing the place himself.

He didn´t have building skills, but that didn´t stop him. He learned to use power tools as he went along. He pulled pilgrims off the camino, anyone with some know-how or a strong back who was willing to help out. He put them in the yurt for as long as they´d stay, fed them, drank beer and tequila with them, and smiled while they showed off their latest guitar ballads. When winter set in, the temporary help came to our place, to stay in one of the spare bedrooms.

Sometimes this worked, and sometimes it didn´t. We learned the hard way sometimes about one anothers´ tolerances for alcohol, bad weather, dirty laundry and Honesty. In keeping with my mother´s dictum of "If you can´t say something nice, shut up," I won´t go into gruesome detail. (This flies in the face of everything I believe in, journalistically. But seeing as this isn´t a news exposé, and the subjects are still out there walking around and reading blogs, I will pull the curtain on some stuff. Nothing murderous, OK? Just friction felt among people living in close quarters.)

About mid-year of 2007 the Alamo seemed to stall out. The village found this utterly baffling. (One thing Los James were was fodder for the gossips!) For days and even weeks, no one would see anything moving at the Alamo, and then for a week or two a flurry of work would break out. A fanciful Moorish arch and wall went up out in the garden, well before the plumbing went in...they were working backward, everyone said, and James wouldn´t listen to their advice about project planning. He had a vision of his own.

And meantime, in the spring, Los James did kind things. In the morning they put coffee and juice boxes out on the wellhead at Villa Oreja, and signs calling it "The Secret Garden." It was all on a donation basis, very sweet, and the pilgrims loved it.

A month or so later "someone" filed a complaint with the health department, and the Guardia Civil shut down the Secret Garden. Somehow, with that, something changed. They tried throwing deluxe pilgrim dinners in a tent out on the trail. Much fun was had, but in the end the expense and trouble were more than the the meager pilgrim donations could cover.

Late summer and Fall were another great rush of work at the Alamo. An electrician put in wiring, rudimentary lights downstairs and some spectacular halogen lines up in the big loft room on top. A sewer and water line were finally installed, and the walls downstairs set in their places. A proper wooden staircase replaced the aluminum ladder. James laid flagstones down the hallway and out over the back patio. The place may not be quite habitable, but it looks extremely charming! They took down the yurt and stowed it in the donkey barn, unplugged the Space Fridge, and asked us to water some of the plants. They were off to Ireland until the next pilgrim season, they said... they couldn´t take another winter here.

We were down in Malaga when they left. We didn´t get to say goodbye, but I still had an Alamo key on my ring. I kept an eye on the place, and took in the indoor plants. (The Julias have the keys to their apartment in Melgar, about 20 km. away.) I heard from Los James via infrequent updates on Facebook.

That´s how I learned James had left Marianne, the children, and Ireland. James was single. James went to Thailand. James tried life in a monastery, and found it "lacking in boom-boom." Marianne sent a text message, saying yes, it is true. She´ll come back to town "soon." And they will likely try to sell the Alamo.

It took me a few days to digest that.

The following Sunday I told the Julias what was going on, seeing as they were holding the key to the other house and are great supporters of Los James. When Mayor Estebanito came over to ask about some timbers that needed to be moved over at the Alamo, I told him the news, too. I didn´t know when they´d be back, I said. Consider the Alamo up for sale.

News spread fast. Estebanito said he and José could use the land for a tractor parking area. They´re not interested in the house or buildings. They´d probably knock them down, or just let them fall down over time.

A guitar builder, looking for a location for a camino workshop, expressed an interest.

And last weekend a man named Pablo came to town from Santander, looking for a places to put a little private albergue. I showed him the Alamo, and he was charmed. I gave him Marianne´s contact information, but he speaks no English and her Spanish is sketchy.

Yesterday Marianne finally phoned me. She and James are on speaking terms, she said. They love the Alamo, but they are in debt, and cannot put any more money into the place.

At this point the price is the best offer over 80,000 Euro. So here it is, folks. If you´re interested, get in touch... albergue settings don´t get much better than this. You too could become a part of the Moratinos Scene, and help launch my budding career in real estate wheeling and dealing.

But unless you are charming and jolly and have two blonde, smiling toddlers, you´ll have a hard act to follow.

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