Saturday, 12 April 2008
Munching Down The Geezer Trail
First, the things happening, or not:
1. My absentee ballot arrived in the mail, and I voted in the Pennsylvania USA primary election. I sent it back the same day. I love to vote, even if absentee ballots don´t count for much.
2. That same day I sent a monster tax payment and a vast pile of paperwork to the American Treasury Department. That was not nearly so much fun as voting, but I´m glad I got it over with.
3. We had our first real guest of the year, a pilgrim named Mary. She´s from Oregon via Ireland, and she was delightful. We ate a lovely duck on my birthday.
4. Our house is all painted inside and out, and the wooden floors upstairs are now being sanded and stained. Or at least I thought they´d be stained... right now it looks more like shellac. The shiny mirror-finish kind, the stuff my mom used to run a buffer machine on when I was small. That buffer was pink, and for some reason I was afraid of it. Perhaps some deeply repressed buffer-related childhood trauma lies at the root of all my fears. I deeply hope there is no buffer in my future.
5. We still have no kitchen. A lot of the other stuff is waiting on that, and the only answer I get when I ask is, "It´s being made in Asturias." "It has to come here from Asturias." Last time I checked, Asturias was only two or three hours away, with some pretty good highway connections. What´s up widdat?
6. We still have no canary bird. I was supposed to get a canary last year for my birthday. I was still supposed to get one last September, when our friends in St. Nicholas had some extras. We had a cage, and a perch, and little china water cups, and a bag of birdseed to feed it...at least until the mice discovered it. The September attempt ran aground on the gender issue: all the canaries turned out to be girls, and only the boys are singers.
So this year, for my birthday again, Paddy decided to get the canary finally. Paddy remembers my birthdays, but he is, by his own admission, much too self-absorbed to be any good at choosing gifts or springing pleasant surprises. So, sad to say, I often end up buying my own frickin´ holiday gifts. When I bother at all.
He did try. He bought ANOTHER bird cage, because he thinks the one I got last year is way too small for a bird to be happy in. Then we drove over to San Nicolas to Esperanza´s house, where they raise canaries.
And boy are they raising them these days! Raquel has nine cages of them stacked up out in the patio, each of them home to a boy-girl pair. She told us more than we ever wanted to know about canary care, feeding, and breeding, including how much canaries are like people when it comes to any two of them getting along together.
Upshot is, there won´t be any singing canaries before mid-summer unless I can find one in a pet shop. God, what a boring story. Sorry. I should´ve been born in July, I guess.
7. Alan Joyce, a friend from Virginia and the American expert on the northern Camino routes, rolled up this week on a train from Santiago, having just finished the Camino Primitivo... the oldest and most mountainous and probably the toughest of all the caminos, according to his experience. He´s a quiet, flexible, un-demanding guest, maybe the best kind. He helped us clean up inside the bodega. And boy, does he like rabbit stew!
8. Michael, an American guy from Cleveland who lives in Iceland, came through a couple of days ago during a roaring downpour. He had a look at the Alamo, but is really into the idea of opening a new little albergue in a special spot Galicia. Pilgrims love Galicia. It is such an appealing part of Spain, with its deep green valleys and mysterious mountains and witches and ghosts and legends.
What the pilgrims don´t see is the massive bureaucracy, property development regulations, taxes, and high cost of living there. Just installing a new window in your house means several months of paperwork, architect drawings, and approvals. Jeez. Gimme a home
on the range.
Out here in depopulated Palencia we don´t need no stinkin´ architects!
(Maybe that is why everything is falling down?)
9. Yesterday was a big day in Moratinos. At 10:30 a.m. a giant and packed tour bus pulled up at the plaza mayor and we got on, with Modesto and Raquel, Milagros and Esteban, and Pilar and Stasi. We were the last ones on, and sat in the very back where the bad kids always sit. It was the Colegio del Campos Field Trip, and codgers from the best-hidden villages of west-central Palencia were there for a day´s fun and culture. So of course we headed for Villada.
Villada is a severe and sad town just south of us, once glorious but now rather down-at-the-heels. What drew us all there was La Fabrica Facundo: home of the Facundo Pipa!
Even though Spain has its share of junk food snacks, the pipa, or sunflower seed, is still king of the crunchies. Anywhere that youthful Spaniards go, the floors, streets, seats, and surfaces are crunchy with spent pipa shells. And Facundo pipas are to Spain what Frito-Lay is to middle America. They are everywhere.
We toured their fully-mechanized roasting, toasting, salting, packaging, boxing, stamping, and shipping operation, watched over by strange little Peter Lorre-type men in lab coats.
Out back on the loading dock a truck was delivering tons of Extra Huge raw sunflower seeds. They were not the produce of Spain´s great waving golden fields of girasols, the man said... those are used for cooking oil. These babies were shipped in from the big Agway terminal in Kansas, USA.
In the next building we saw tons of Chaskis, Papa Pajas, Agujitas, Frikis, and Pakis (aka CheeZos, Freetos, Doritos, crisps and chips) being put in their respective lurid bags and boxes, bound for bars and kioskos and sticky little hands all over Iberia. We were each given a sample bag of all different kinds as we left, as well as a ballcap with the intriguingly weird company logo: a cartoon Spanish bull is down on his knees, dying in the bullring, with a thought-cloud over his head. His final rumination? A sunflower seed.
In a little square in Villada is a unique memorial, set up on a plinth and lit up at night, standing outside one of its several stone churches. It´s a giant concrete sunflower seed. The plaque beneath praises the Facundo pipa factory for "raising Villada to a place of international relevance." (there was no mention of Kansas.)
We were then bused to San Nicholas, where the tourist throng, clutching their bags of cheez kurls, visited the fine old church and pottered through the streets til lunch was served at Casa Barrunta. We crammed all 50 people inside, and young Raul was running his legs off trying to keep up. We had arroz la banda, a lovely kind of giant paella. I got the scrapings from the bottom of the pan, the burned edges, which are my favorite part! That and some sheep´s milk cheese, and a glass of claret, and I was set.
Pad and I didn´t wait around... we zipped up the camino and back to Moratinos before the rest of the crowd had finished, because they were heading our way next. Back at Moratinos Paddy comforted Oliva, who was gathering chicory out back and feeling very sad she wasn´t taking part in the day´s excitement. She hadn´t been invited, she said. (Nobody was invited. We all just WENT, for heaven´s sake!) I ran down and opened up our bodega and lit it up with a dozen candles, as the tourists were just dying to see inside Moratinos´ bodegas. I helped Estebanito put platters of goodies inside theirs, and I lit some candles inside the church, too.
I didn´t spend a lot more time with the tourists, as most of them felt a little shy around me, I think -- me being so exotic and all. After they looked through the bodegas, and Segundino´s carpentry shop, and the church, they crowded into the ayuntamiento to play Mus for a while.
And then I noticed a little group of strangers was milling around outside the Alamo. A Spanish guy who works in Frankfurt, and his German girlfriend, a Spanish architect, and a hippie. They are scouting a place for a Casa Rural, a plush small inn usually in a characteristic setting. They were copying down the phone numbers from the "For Sale" sign. I showed them through the place, in a dizzying array of fragments of languages. I am amazed at the amount of interest generated by the Alamo, and very interested in seeing how it all turns out.
We didn´t need any dinner. Paddy wanted to get back to Sahagun, to watch a football match. By the day´s end I was whacked.
All of yesterday´s chores were pushed into today. I need to quit blogging and get crackin´.