Friday, 28 November 2008
One of America´s better ideas is Thanksgiving, the holiday that happened Thursday. The entire country takes a day off, roasts a turkey, eats pie and other traditional delicacies, drinks nasty liquor with distant relatives, then falls asleep in front of a televised football game. (You´re really supposed to spend this day thanking God for all the nice things and people that surround you, but you don´t always get to that.)
Here in Moratinos, Thursday 29 November was a day like any other, except it was a bit colder than average. We didn´t plan on any big fowl feast...we decided to turn back the clock to when I lived as a single mom in Toledo, Ohio. Back then I was in a labor union, and those who worked on Thanksgiving day were paid double the normal rate for their day´s work! Therefore, the kids (Libby and Philip) went to their Dad´s house for the usual feast early in the day, while I worked the early shift at the newspaper and raked in the big bucks. When I finished I´d gather up the other single people in the newsroom, pick up Libby and Philip, and we´d all drive up through the snow to Great Lake Dim Sum in Ann Arbor, where we feasted fit to burst on some top quality Cantonese. (Most other restaurants were closed on the big day, but the Chinese were always open.)
We did that every Thanksgiving for at least five years. It grew to include a good 15 or 20 people at some point. And in the years since I always kinda crave steamed wontons on Thanksgiving, when everyone else is inhaling pumpkin pie.
And so this year we decided to revisit the Ann Arbor tradition, except this time do it in Leon.
As per usual, Paddy took the dogs out for their morning run up the camino. Because the weather´s gone bad, we see very few pilgrims passing through lately, and none have stopped at our place in at least two weeks. I begin to miss them when they´re not here. They keep us from falling into ruts and rhythms of unbroken sameness, where we do the same things at the same times every day and week, with the same cast of characters. We lose track of time, space, dimension. We drift into netherworlds of long Thackeray novels or aimless web searches or elaborate eggplant recipes. We catch the flu, and spend entire days passed-out in bed, lolling in indolence.
(Some may look at the above and say "hey, sounds great to me, except for the flu part" And true, retirement DOES have its good and bad sides.)
But what I´m trying to say is, yesterday morning Paddy brought home a Thanksgiving treat. Can you guess what it was?
Another dog? No.
A donkey? No, thank God... I am still having nightmares about that huge friendly donkey-head staring in the living-room window, overshadowing all we did.
A pilgrim? Getting warm!
From out there on the windy trail Pad and Una and Tim brought back nine Koreans. They followed him through the gate, and just kept coming, and coming, and coming, like clowns piling out of a tiny circus car. Large and small, girls and boys, teens and tinies, each had his or her own backpack, staff, and big, broad smile. They shed their gear in the entryway, stacking it with practiced ease. We brought them inside, crammed them into the kitchen/sitting room, gave them coffee and cocoa, and listened to a three-person account of their travels. (they approach English the way Paddy and I do Spanish: One person listens and understands, then conveys it to the next person, who formulates and delivers a spoken response.)
The dad of the group, or maybe the entire group, is named Sunny. Sunny J-sik Han. They´re a dad and mom and six children, with a nephew along for the ride as well. They live in Seoul, South Korea, and run a nursery school with an accent on artwork -- they were enough taken with a portrait Libby did of me when she was 2 they took a photo of it! They´re walking the camino in winter because they can´t take the summer heat. They´re on a 2-year tour of all kinds of places: Russia, Jordan, Israel, France, Spain, and after this they´re off to Somalia to help out at an orphanage run by a Korean charity.
The dogs rolled around on the carpet with the little girls. The boys hunkered over the computer. They all were very calm and polite and measured, a pleasure to have in the house.
They started the Camino two weeks ago, Sunny said, and we are the first people to invite them in. I was amazed... a family, with children? Spaniards love children! How could this be?
Could be because it´s winter, and so much of the Camino has hung out the "Closed for the Season" sign?
Could be the stony Castilian character we hear a lot about? -- but we have not really seen that for ourselves. Castilians seem perfectly friendly to us, and I´ve seen them go out of their way to make a pilgrim child smile.
I wonder how much of it is their Korean-ness. I´ve noticed here in Spain that anyone with Oriental features is assumed (by many) to be a "Chino," and is treated with a clumsy, smiling scorn usually reserved for unattractive children. It´s not out-and-out discrimination, but it´s a definite prejudice, the kind you see in jokey fingers-on-eye-corners and buck-tooth smiles babbling "chinchangchow." I´ve seen this in high-ranking clergy, driving instructors, teenagers, hospitaleros, and TV ads. It is repugnant.
I am glad Paddy asked the Sunnys home. They took photos, and gave us little gifts, and signed the book and had us stamp a sello in each of their credentials. When they finished their cocoa each child washed his own cup and saucer in the sink. Then they strapped their mountain of packs and bedrolls back onto their backs and headed out down the trail. The mom turned ´round in the driveway and bobbed a little bow, and told us, "you make people happy."
"They renew my faith in humanity," Paddy said simply.
That done, we headed out ourselves -- to Leon, to a Thanksgiving feast at Casa Rong, our favorite Spanish Chinese restaurant. It´s nothing near as good as Great Lake, but I´ll take Peking Duck over roast turkey, given a choice. Outside the windows the snow began to fall, just like in Ann Arbor.
It made me miss the football, just a little.