Thursday, 28 February 2008

One Wonders

We finally saw inside the little Teacher House today, over in San Nicolas. We found it´s not really a little house at all!

I mentioned the place before. It´s for long-term rent, to people who live either here in Moratinos, or over in St. Nicolas, the next village west. It´s been empty since winter started, and its availability has been posted publicly since December. We asked Estebanito, the mayor, to give us a viewing. We were the only people to express an interest, he said.

We thought we´d take a look at it. We´d peeked in the windows, chatted about all the "what-ifs." As far as Paddy´s concerned, it´s a clear "as if!" As if we didn´t have our plates really full right now with a lifetime´s worth of remodeling projects, right here at our own Peaceable Kingdom. (He´s not the DIY kind of guy, as you may have gathered before. He is not enthusiastic. But he likes me to be happy. And occupied.)

I know enough former pilgrims and hospitaleros who say they´d love to spend weeks or months living low to the ground in a Camino village, but there´s really no kind of facility out there for that kind of thing. Well... unless I am mistaken, this could be that kind of thing. We could pay the yearly rent, do some painting and fixing-up, move some of our redundant furnishings over there, and then let my creative friends Kathy and Edie loose on it for the really fine decorating and gardening stuff.

Then, if there was sufficient interest, we could sublet it to fellow Camino-heads or Hispanophiles or whomever. In the winter Paddy could use it for a painting studio, or winter pilgs or especially hardy hermit souls could hole up there if they wanted to. (the heating is somewhat, er... rustic.) There are two bar/restaurants in town, and all the rest of the mod cons about 6 km. away in Sahagún. ( I ask myself Where was this place two years ago, when I was looking for it??)

Anyway... what we saw was pretty scruffy, but lovely too. It´s a whole lot bigger inside than we thought... three or four bedrooms, and a really big, sunny common room, ceilings three meters high, yellow tile floors, a tiny bathroom, a useable kitchen (it´s still got a wood-burning stove under the counter!) and a nice little walled garden with a well. It is in dire need of paint. Obviously sometime in the past someone let the local youth paint "murals" in there.

But the plot´s thickened a bit in the past couple of weeks I think someone saw us peeking in the windows, and told the guys at the bar about it, and they got to thinking, too... And now our buds at Casa Barrunta are going to have a look, too. They have lots of relatives in for weekends and holidays, and their little house gets too crowded, and they know all about doing up old houses already.

And somebody else, a San Nicolas native who lives in San Sebastian, said he wants to see it too. He wants a bigger place in the summer, when he brings the family back home. I kinda hope they look at it and think, well... naah. Too much work for just occasional use. Too much money.

But if they look at it and say "yeah! This is for me!" I would not be heartbroken, either. Paddy is right about us having way too much work already, and if I´m going to write that "Eternity in Moratinos" book I´ve gotta leave myself some time to do it in. (...but this might make a good chapter, too. St. Nicolas is a much more lively, divided, and conflict-driven place than Moratinos. Conflict is what makes books really work. Not that I´m going looking for it!)

So I will put the word out here, and see what you International Types think of the idea. (This is a thinly veiled appeal for feedback comments, OK?)

I will leave the future of the Teacher House to Fate for now, as I´ve gotta be on the bus to Salamanca tomorrow morning. And everything here moves very, very slowly.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

That Wonderful Glazed Look!

Something really significant happened today at The Peaceable. You feel it before you can see it... the workers are laughing and kinda punchy, singing along to the pop tunes on the radio.  
A man came today in a big truck from the ´carpenteria de alumino´ shop, and tucked into work. And now, among all the trash and wreckage and scaffolding and tubes...
We have WINDOWS! With GLASS in them!  
I am not so sure why this feels like such a magnificent achievement, but it surely does.  I look at the front of the big house, and it looks back at me now. Where once was an empty shell, sunlight now shines. Amazing. 
It feels more snug inside, and maybe that´s the biggest difference. If we really needed to, we could now sleep inside the house. It would be cold at night, and we´d have to run across the patio to use to bathroom, but that pretty much describes how we lived here last winter! 

Aside from that, the tubing is finally threaded through all the insulation boards on the downstairs floors, and I´m pretty sure the whole boiling will be buried beneath a big cement pour within the next couple of days. (God knows what we´ll do with the dogs then... I have visions of them wading joyfully across the kitchen floor, knee-deep in concrete. The stuff is absolutely irresistible to Una.) 

There´s lots more going on. We discovered a great walk just south of here, along a country road that´s dotted every 100 meters or so with a tall concrete cross. They lead to a beautiful old hermitage church, out in the middle of a field. And beyond that is Pozos de Urma, a tiny, dying adobe village of about 30 people. Ruffino, the 80-something mayor, introduced himself out on the road and chatted with us on the way in to town: about "that Negro boy running for president," about life the way it used to be in Pozos, the bodegas, the civil war, pilgrims (Pozos is on a little-used alternative pathway).  He was amazed to learn we live in Moratinos year-round... He´d never met an American before. It´s still fun, being exotic without even trying!
And on the tractor path back we found a stone marking the spot a 1936 execution.  So much to see, on 10 km. of farm tracks.  We live in a very cool place.   

I´ve been busy this month, blog-wise... I am not sure March will compare, as I am off on the train on Friday to Salamanca to do my two-week bit at the pilgrim hostel. I´ll try to post from there, as I know some of you readers are interested in the Daily Life of a Hospitalera.  I don´t expect too many pilgrims or too much hard work. I am bringing along my new Spanish Drivers License Exam study manual, and The Brothers Karamazov, and The Ultimate Spanish Grammar Practice & Review book. Fascinating, ain´t it? That oughtta keep me off the streets, if not out of the most wonderful Plaza Mayor in Spain! 

(I think the best part may be coming back and seeing the progress made over those two weeks. I LOVE surprises, so long as they don´t involve paint.)
Hasta pronto

Saturday, 23 February 2008

A Bar for Every Body

Okay, people. I don´t ordinarily hang around in bars, but in Spain bars are different. 

There are several different kinds of bars, sometimes all on the same plaza in the same tiny town. 

One will be the quiet bar, where the ladies meet on Wednesday evenings to play cards and drink chocolate milk, or the men gather for vermouths after Mass on Sunday afternoon. These places often have decent quality booze, even a few imported exotics like Campari or Bourbon or gin. There´s usually a TV up in the corner, but it´s turned down, and tuned to a Formula 1 race or the Tour de France... something involving people and machines going around and around or up and down a track or field of some kind.  The tapas -- free bar snacks you get with every drink -- are usually generous and fresh and very nice. In Sahagún Bar Luis is one of these ´classy´places. Josefina, our ghastly Middle Class landlady is often seen there. 

There´s the lowdown working-class Manly Men kind of bar. Bar Europa, in the same building where we live in Sahagún, fits into this class. When we leave early each morning for Moratinos there are usually several contractors´trucks and vans parked out there. The grill makes the block redolent of bacon and eggs. Inside the well-lit flourescent interior a line of men sit hunched over the bar, sipping their morning brandies or cafe con leches, smoking, scanning the newspapers, or shouting at one another about whatever Spanish builders shout about. Aside from the barmaid I have never seen a woman in there. 

One door down, however, is the Temple Irish Pub, another world entirely. This is, for the most part, a Family Bar. It´s here, later in the day, we down a pint of Guinness or Murphy´s and watch a pay-per-view football match on a big screen. There are almost always several small children chasing each other from table to table, whining, or running toy cars up the barstools and across the patron´s backsides. No one seems to mind, and the children do not seem to suffer unduly. Their parents buy them juice or chips.  Patrick and I were in there on Fat Tuesday, when all the kiddies dress up in costumes -- a sort of Spanish trick-or-treat night. We sipped our lagers while Superman and Skeletor tickled one another senseless over at the end of the bar, under the big neon sign that says "Guinness Is Good For You." 

(I don´t think that is unhealthy, except for the fact that there are no trash bins in Spanish bars. The patrons throw their cigarette butts, napkins, and toothpicks on the floor, and the barkeep sweeps them against the bar rail through the day... by sundown you don´t wanna be wearing sandals in there.) 

In Sahagún we also have the Bar Deportivo, a wonderful old-fashioned "Old Man" bar.  It´s presided-over by Javier, a jolly fat man, who has not changed the décor since about 1968... mirrored walls, beige Naugahyde upholstery on silver-tone Space Age chairs (with only a few spots of duct tape now and then, where someone´s cigarette got out of hand.) This is THE place to go to watch Barcelona football matches, or bullfights broadcast live from Seville or Madrid. They make their own vermouth there,  and Javi´s wife makes excellent tapas. Twice a week there´s a fresh floral arrangement on the bar -- Javi´s daughter owns the flower shop down the street. (I have reason to believe Javi is also a bookie, but I´m not saying for sure.) Paddy and I like the Deportivo, but it tends to get very smoky, and sometimes I think they frown on women in there, especially when a game is going badly and the men really want to cut loose and swear. 

(The Deportivo is around the corner from the big church of St. Lawrence, headquarters of the big Semana Santa Confraternity of the Precious Blood. Last Easter Sunday we stepped inside and found the place full of black hooded figures, sipping vermouth before the big procession started. Surreal. Then I recognized Leandro, our plumber, and Esther, one of our neighbors, among the penitentes. Now I think it might be kinda cool to be a penitente. I shall put that on my list of things to do.)  

Alcohol is not limited to bars in Spain. You can also get a drink at any given cafeteria, club, restaurant, truck stop, snack bar, roadside vending machine, or hotel lobby. It´s just part of the scene around here. No big deal. (I am still trying to divine the differences between Cafes, Cafeterias, Bars, Restaurants, and Ventas. Some have dining rooms, some serve breakfast, some sandwiches or tapas only, others just a limited daily menu... some just have drinks, and never bothered taking down the old sign that says "Food." Someday I will understand it all.)

...I don´t know what the stats say about alcoholism in Spain, but at least in my experience, visible drunkenness is quite rare.  You get the occasional happy shouting joker in the street at 2 a.m., and the red-faced dancin´fool at the disco bar or the fiesta, but never have I seen anyone passed-out on a sidewalk or taking a swing at his buddies. It just ain´t done. 

The two daytime ubiquities in this part of Spain are the Caña, a small glass of draft beer, and the Tinto, a glass of local wine.  They´re the standard, cheap fare in every bar every place, dispensed from unlabeled bottles or taps dripping with condensation. Both are usually very good, refreshing, and cheaper than water.  They´re Good For You.  Drink up.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Jesus Works a Wonder

Jesus isn´t just The Sweetest Name I Know, he is also our friendly tile-setting guy. And today he pulled off a miracle I´d pretty much given up on. He took the big Lebanese mosaic I rather impulsively bought online last summer (and paid out the wazoo in customs duty for!) and he stuck it right up on the wall, just where I´d envisioned it from the very start.

He made it look easy: Zim, zam, voila! (They say Jesus always works in threes. Maybe they´re right!)

My friend Dick from Holland says the reform work will go on and on forever, until one day.... Wham! It all comes together and you suddenly achieve House!

I think the mosaic is a big step toward that. We´re getting there. Poco a poco.

I was going to write about doing up international expatriate tax forms, but why? There is misery enough in this world already. (I wish there was someone around here who knew how to do this. Who spoke English. And wasn´t a greed-head.)

It´s still kinda jarring for an old Calvinist like me to hang out with people with names like Jesus and Immaculate and Restitution. It reminds me of an old one-liner from seminary:

"If Jesus is Jewish, why´s he got a Mexican name?"

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nothing to do with spinach

My mind is full of things beside Spinach. It is good that so many of you enjoy food, but I will curb my enthusiasm before I launch into a panagyric on Cerrato cheese. (It´s my latest food discovery, and it could be the answer to many of mankind´s deeper questions.)

There are so many other pressing things to consider. Is Muhammad Al Fayed right: did Prince Philip really have Diana assassinated? Where is Britney Spears these days? How well will Raul Castro fill the jackboots of his brother Fidel? And will a new Ben and Jerry´s ice cream flavor spur the sugar-addicted American electorate to vote for Obama? Should I declare myself legally expatriate for US tax purposes? The intellect reels with it all.

Time for a walk out along the camino.

It finally started to rain last night, but not much. There are a lot more pilgrims in evidence -- This morning two pilgrim ladies were walking west together, under umbrellas, a Swede and a Korean. A Valencian man was walking the wrong way on the camino. He´d made it to Santiago a couple of weeks ago, then turned around and headed eastward, homeward. He had an umbrella, too. Nice. The fields are liking the rain. They´re going lime-green.

Here in Moratinos we are talking about how we might offer pilgrims something more than a park bench and a water fountain, and maybe punch up the village finances a bit into the bargain. Moratinos is unique among Camino towns in its total focus on farming. Pilgrims are part of the scene, but only the background. No one here has a bar or albergue or even a vending machine, so no one depends on pilgrims for income. We have no splendid churches or public buildings that might attract tourists... just the bodegas, which pilgrims first take pictures of, then use for outdoor toilets. The question is, how do we accommodate these passing strangers without creating a big workload for someone, or a big public expense?

And as if we did not have enough to do around here, Paddy and I are considering a lease on the school-teacher´s house in St. Nicholas de Real Camino. St. Nicholas is 2 km. west of us, and is governmentally yoked to Moratinos -- we have the same mayor. It´s got two bars and a pilgrim hostel and a really nice old church going for it -- it´s a lot more pilgrim-savvy, and better populated, too. The little brick house faces the threshing floor, and it´s dead on the camino. It´s owned by the local council, and it´s standing empty. Anyone who´s resident here, including us, can rent the place for a pittance. The availability has been posted in both villages since December, and so far no one is interested. Probably because it needs a lot of ´doing-up,´ and has no heating system. And it is small.

It would make a nice painting studio for Paddy, or a hideout for me when I´m deeply into writing something. Or we could fix it up nicely and rent it out by the month or week to Camino Heads who want to take a retreat, or taste daily life on the Meseta. (I know and love a couple of these characters, but I´m not sure they alone are enough to pay the freight.) It is important for me to always have some kind of project to work on. This one could be lots of fun, and would afford a nice opportunity to get to know the people of St. Nicholas. Even if it came to nothing it would not cost us a fortune.

We will go and see inside the place soon as someone finds the key.

Meantime, the workers are working here at The Peaceable, putting down the insulating boards in the salon, laying out long snakes of hosepipe in the old salon for the under-floor hot-water heat system. I pulled out the big mosaic intended for above the utility room sink. I showed it to Jesus the tile guy. I expected him to say no, as mosaics are not easy to install. Instead he got all excited about it, took measurements, drew it up on the wall, and truly cottoned-onto the idea of making it visible from the patio out front. Yay!

The electrician boys put in a lot of wiring yesterday, and we also have a wrought-iron handrail on the stairs, which we did not expect. We also got a monster-size aluminum door, intended for an upstairs room. I feel this door is magnificently ugly, but the Spaniards think it splendid. Maybe one of them can put it in his house. (Paddy is at this moment telling all this to Jefe José Castro, the boss. He seems to be taking it well.)

And now I am off to Villada, to pick up a package. And maybe some more spinach. Satay chicken for lunch!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A Spinach Revelation

Cooking here is a very slipshod, imprecise, use-what´s-here kind of thing. Nothing tastes the same way twice. (And sometimes that is a good thing!) Paddy does most of our daily cooking. Once we have a functional kitchen I intend to get back into baking on a regular basis.

To make a Spinach Salad the way we do, you take a big fistful of spinach leaves per person, wash them well and pinch off the stems. (Save them for the chickens.) You can also use a big bag of the already-picked and washed spinach leaves available in the market, but be sure to wash them really well, too. No matter what the package says, you don´t know where they´ve been, do you? Dry them off, and arrange them prettily on each plate.

Take a handful of cherry tomatoes per person, wash them, and cut them each in half. Put them on the spinach. Beauty! Then take a hard-boiled egg per person (preferably this morning´s contributions from your very own Chicken Girls). Cut them up and sprinkle them on the salads.

Give each salad a sprinkle of coarse salt. This is important. If you have some basil leaves, put a few of them on now, too. And a quarter of a a sliced onion.

Then lay on the strips of roasted red pepper. We are fortunate that in Spain they make roasted red peppers in all kinds of shapes and sizes, including tiny easy-open tins with a single pepper squished down inside! (I know these are Foodie Heresy, but I never was a purist.) You can make your own roasted peppers quite easily in the oven, either by broiling them black and turning them now and then (which burns your fingers!) or baking them for a half-hour at 225ºC or 425º F. or until their skins blacken. Or you can do them outside, over a grill, which also burns your fingers. When they´re really dark and blistered and fragrant, take them off the fire and put them in a brown paper bag. Seal it shut till the peppers cool down -- this supposedly sends the flavor right into the heart of the veg., but I think it also can make a not-quite-ripe pepper go mushy inside.

When the peppers cool down take them out of the bag and slice off the stems, Strip off the skins (this isn´t hard at all) take out the seeds, and slice them into skinny strips. At this point you can put them on your salads, about six strips per salad.

You can gild the lily now and put on a couple of manzanilla olives if you have ém, or grate a bit of zuchinni squash over each plate. Play with the colors. Add texture with some sliced almonds or walnuts, but not too much.

.. Put the leftover pepper strips in a jar and cover them with olive oil, the Spanish answer to Cling Wrap. (You can put some garlic heads in to roast with the peppers, and squeeze the soft, hot, wonderful cloves into the olive oil jar too. And that, dear reader, is an excellent start to a pasta sauce.. what with some smashed-up anchovies? Hierbas de Provence? Olives? Roasted eggplant/courgette? Or sauteed zuchini? mmmmm!)

The dressing for the above-mentioned spinach salad is totally simple... Drizzle on some extra-virgin olive oil, then squeeze on some lemon juice. Some people add some sesame oil or balsamic or sherry vinegar, but I think that´s overpowering. Keep it simple. Let the vegetables and eggs speak their subtle languages.

(In America we serve spinach salads with hot bacon dressing, which is amazing and delicious, but very bad for you. It negates all the positive juju generated by the spinach. Eating American salads is a very yin/yang experience.)

I don´t think we have a photo of the spinach salad. The above photo shows some sauteed spinach and chard with hot pepper, sharing a pan with lamb chops...but the salad plates are picked clean already. This is what happens when you wait to get the camera out!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Spinach Mystery

In direct contrast to the last post, it is very, very quiet today at The Peaceable. Nary a breeze is blowing. We have the doors and windows open to let in the sunshine, and the only sounds I hear are the occasional hound dog bark, (and Una´s answering "uf,")a car passing on the highway, birdsong, and the clock ticking on the wall. Now and then someone sneezes, somewhere down the street.

Vewy, vewy quiet. There´s laundry on the clothesline. Tim is twitching in the kitchen, dreaming of quails.

On Monday we will get an estimate on the kitchen we want. On Friday Una came very near to killing herself. She was in hot pursuit of a rabbit and followed it under the supposedly animal-proof fence that seals off the big four-lane autopista from the Promised Land. She ignored us when we shouted for her. And yes, I stopped looking when I saw her loping happily along the right lane of the A-215, head-on with the 18-wheelers.

She changed her mind eventually and joined us back on the trail. Our hearts cannot take much more of her behavior. We will not take her back to the Promised Land anytime soon, which is a shame. We can´t trust the fence, or the dog. (Yeah, I know "there are no bad dogs, just bad owners." But I ain´t buying that.)

One interesting observation these days concerns fresh spinach.

We love spinach, and the spinach they grow around here is outstanding quality and very cheap and abundant. We make lots of meals with it, and often serve it as salad, too. And that´s where the oddness comes in: Twice in the last two months we´ve had visitors who weren´t sure what to do with spinach salads. One just kinda followed our lead, and ate it up. Another rather doubtfully tried his.

When Paddy asked him if there was something wrong, he said he´d never eaten spinach before in an uncooked form. He´d seen it sold that way, but never served that way! Holy moley. Here I thought all these international types would eat anything! And here we are, expecting them to.

Be warned, people. If and when you come here, you may be presented with a plateful of deep green leaves with roasted red peppers and chopped-up boiled egg and onion and olive oil and lemon juice on it. And you´ll probably be expected to eat it. It´s good for you. You might even like it.

Maybe you oughtta practice beforehand, at home.

Let me know if you´ve never eaten raw spinach. I will send you some spinach seeds. Life is too short to keep living that way.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Busy old Philistines

It´s wild out there this morning. Every dog in town is barking, howling, hooting, or yapping. The sun is shining down bright, and the news man says this is the only sunny place in Spain today -- and it will remain so right through to Friday.

It´s wild in here, too. There´s a truck out back dumping a load of sand, and a truck out front loaded with drywall and boxes of insulation. Extra men have been called in to unload things and stack them around the yard. The dogs are underfoot... or in Tim´s case, lovestruck and constantly moaning and mooning and running down to the plaza to visit Segundino´s German Shepherd, who is in heat. Which probably explains why all the other dogs are wacko too.

And in the middle of it all walks in a pilgrim: Dael, a bearded old soul from deepest Scotland. Coffee is made. A tour of the works is conducted. Paddy takes the dogs out for a quick spin.
(the picture is Jesus the tile guy and Franco the plumber, doing up the kitchen walls.)
We need to go to Villada at 11, to see about putting me on state medical benefits. Paddy gets free medical care here, seeing as he is English, and England is part of the European Union. I am American, but seeing as I´m married to him, I´m supposedly entitled to free medical care, too. So we shall see. Socialism is not so bad. (I don´t know what the American paranoia is about socialized medicine. The state-run medical care here is right out on the forefront of European medicine. The hospitals are more hygienic than those in USA! Even so, I now have private medical insurance. It costs about $1,200 a year. Amazing.)

In the afternoon is a rather important Town Meeting, wherein people from St. Nicolas and Moratinos will supposedly discuss re-doing the Moratinos town hall to provide us with a community meeting/dinner/reception/card-playing space. No one´s sure where the put the doctor´s consultancy room (he comes by every Friday.) We´ll go and see what happens.

Dael the Scot is stopping at Sahagun. He´s coming over for dinner tonight, so we have to get things here straightened up here and there both... I´ve gotta get the lasagna out of the Sahagun freezer and over to Moratinos to thaw in the microwave. We´ve gotta keep the dogs out of the house, as they´re pouring very expensive self-leveling concrete in there, irresistible to Una.

Being busy is good, especially when it´s sunny. Here are some pictures of the progress in the backside of the house, the part that faces the weather. Up top is January, all that bare adobe takes all the harsh wind and rain. It was in sorry shape.

The men have since removed the tin roof, built a whole new brick wall in front of the really wavy adobe one. Above the tile roof they attached chicken wire to the really eroded adobe, and laid on successive layers of concrete render, to seal it from the weather. (the other side is drywalled, but with sufficient space inside to ´breathe.´ Adobe´s gotta breathe, man! It´s a living organism!)

I´m part of an internet user group of expats who are doing over old Spanish houses... a pursuit considered terribly middle class in UK. My use of drywall and contractors and other ´shortcuts´ a couple of weeks ago earned me the title "Philistine!" (I rather enjoy that... when I covered religion I proudly wore the label "Unwitting Tool of Satan" for a while!)

Sometimes I do agree. We bought a funky old mud house, and now all this drywall and concrete and straight lines are going to rob our place of all its rustic charm. And then I think of what it´s like living in a house with dirt walls exposed to day-to-day friction and moisture. The spiders, the mice, the bits of straw in my dinner...

Bring on the drywall, boys! And if you want, use a nail gun to stick it up there!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Two Very Good Days

We are just finishing up two very good days at the Peaceable, and I will tell you what made them so good.

First, the weather. It might as well be spring around here, except for the frost around the windowsills in the morning. By 2 p.m. the temperatures are well into the 50s in Fahrenheit, and about 16º C, with nary a cloud in the sky. What wonderful weekend weather!

Second was the company. Thursday evening we were sitting down to a plate of black sausage in the Taberna Miguel in Sahagun, celebrating Paddy´s birthday. And who should walk in the door, but the long-unheard-of Dominique, the builder/chef from Paris who helped make Thanksgiving work! He´d sent messages and phoned, but our magnificent Vodafone mobiles are very moody about delivering messages these days... sometimes I receive them a WEEK after they were sent. Anyway, he and Eliane, his sweety from Toulouse, had rolled into town and checked into a hostel and were just looking for a place for dinner, when...ta-daa! Who´s sitting in there at the second table, stuffing her face?

We had Toro wine and lechazo and a good time. Paddy ended up having ´Happy Birthday´ sung to him THREE times that day: Once by me in the morning, another time by the three of us in the evening, and a third time by a group of noisy young things at the bar, who were themselves celebrating the birthday of a mate. They gave Paddy his rendition in English, though.

Anyway, yesterday the pair of them spent the morning and afternoon here in Moratinos, inpecting the ongoing work, (the tiles are going up in the upstairs bath!) hiking to San Nicholas and back, and cooking up a marvelous meal which we had out on the patio, with the workers pounding away in the background and Jean Sablon singing Frog Music on the box. We grilled lamb chops and made spinach greens and a tomato salad, and had Manchego cheese for dessert! Wow!

Today dawned just as bright so we took the dogs on a long hike, from the Camino village of Fromista to the Camino village of Boadilla de Camino. This particular stretch of hike follows about 4 miles/7 km. of the Canal de Castilla, the same limpid line of water we walked a couple of weeks ago, but a lot farther north. Anyone who´s walked the Camino remembers that singular day spent with the waterway along their right, and a million-mile view across the campos on the left.

One interesting moment came when we encountered a field full of donkeys. Tim never saw a donkey before, and wasn´t sure what to make of them. They must look pretty scary! Una zipped right up to them, and so did I... I love donkeys. Donkeys don´t always love dogs, though, and Tim was rather concerned for my well-being. He stood well away and moaned and grumbled while I gave the big brown one a scratch between his magnificent ears.

We also found this very interesting machine parked in the street in Boadilla. It´s a roto-tiller/rotavator, tipped up with the tines removed and harnessed to a cart. My dad would get such a kick out of this vehicle!

We were starved by the time we got back to Fromista. The fabulous landmark Romanesque church of St. Martin (11th century!) was closed, of course, but we found a farm-hands´ lunchroom open right off the plaza, where a lady serves three-course meals in her living room for 9 Euros a pop.

Excellent food, nice company, a beautiful day, happy dogs. Two days in a row.
Life is good.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Stranger Wakes

The stranger finally woke up, stretched, and belched. The dogs did the same, (except for the belch). He sat down at the table, and the dogs laid their faces on his knees. They had found a soul brother.

His name was Tomas, I think. That´s about all we learned, as he spoke none of the languages we do, and we spoke none of his. He looked Slavic to me, grey-eyed; Russian, Ukrainian, or Slovak, but his language was definitely Germanic. So maybe he´s from way up north, where the Russians meet the Scandinavians. Finland, Lapland, or maybe Norway or Sweden. What is strange is most Nordic people have good English, or at least some German, and he had neither. He was carrying the Confraternity of St. James (UK) Camino guidebook, which is how he knew to seek us out. He pointed to our page.

How he can understand an English guide without speaking English is a mystery... but then, I read Spanish much better than I can speak it.

He ate everything we put in front of him: black beans and rice, bread, paté, vegetable soup, a pork cutlet. (We were clearing out the fridge.) He drank two glasses of milk and two glasses of wine. He then had an apple, which he peeled with a knife in one long, continuous strip. He didn´t smile or laugh or commune much with us, but he enjoyed Una and Tim and his lunch.

He put on his jacket and put three Euro coins beside the salt shaker. Paddy helped him put on his backpack, and gave him a strip of duct tape to repair a tear in his pants. As he headed out the gate he turned and made the sign of the cross. He put his hand on his heart, and bowed.

We had to hold back the dogs. They were ready to follow this guy all the way to Santiago. When the gate snapped shut they barked and barked, which signaled every other dog in Moratinos to bark him farewell all the way out of town.

I thought about "angels unawares," and the old statue in our church of St. Roch: a worn-out pilgrim with a dog alongside. And I thought of a piece of a Celtic blessing I know from somewhere:

"I saw a stranger yestere´en.
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.

And in the sacred name of the Triune God
he blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones.

And as he moved on
the lark said in her song:
Often, Often, Often,
goes the Christ in a stranger's guise.
Often, often, often
goes the Christ in a stranger´s guise."

If that is so, Jesus was last seen heading west on the Camino, wearing a red and white waterproof jacket. He needed a shave. And he´s probably got several dozen dogs trailing him along by now.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Stranger on the Floor


There is a stranger asleep in our kitchen, sacked out on the floor in front of the butane heater. There´s a dog sacked out on either side of him, front and back.

I don´t know who this person is, but I´m assuming he´s a pilgrim. There´s a backpack outside the door. He´s wearing a fleece and waterproof shell and hood and a three-day beard. He didn´t take off his boots. It looks like he showed up and found the gate open and the men at work inside the house, and the dogs shut in the kitchen. (we´ve been out at the lumberyard all morning.)

This is a first. I realize this guy might be a psycho killer or a hobo, but I don´t feel too afraid, as there are so many other people around. There´s very little of value in here anyone would want to steal. Una and Tim evidently made him feel right at home. There´s coffee made in the pot, and the milk is out. Thank goodness I vacuumed the floor yesterday, or the dust would stop his breathing. If the stinky dogs don´t suffocate him, nothing will.

We´re stepping over and around the big snoozing pile.
We´ll wake him up in time for lunch and find out who he is.
But for now, he obviously badly needs to sleep.

This is what the Camino in February will do to a guy.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Winter, The Who, and Whatever.

We had a week of spring, and this morning Winter decided to come roaring back down from Cantabria, driving cold rain horizontally before it and into our squinting little faces. The church was so cold this morning Don Santiago skipped the sermon altogether, and told us instead about winning a prize for rural workers.

Seems he and a childhood friend have worked together at the garden center for 30 years, and a regular customer nominated them for a prize for hardworking country folk. (A prize sponsored by the regional Communist Party. Imagine... a country where you can be a public Commie, and not be considered a wacko! To me, that is what Freedom looks like. )

Anyway, Santiago And Friend qualified on several counts, he said: they were sons of the soil, born and raised on the meseta. They help their neighbors with advice and provision of the newest seedlings and crop varieties. They both help run family farms on the side. And they are (the crowning glory) ministers of the church, traveling to a long line of rural parishes each Sunday, sowing the seeds of the Gospel. (here´s a pic of Don Santiago, in his white Regular Time robes, taken last spring when we all marched out to bless the crops.)

Anyway... They won the prize! Which is, they learned: a roast lamb! Not enough to share with all the people who made it all possible. And those who WERE invited to the feast will expect tortilla and salad and cakes and wine, all the trimmings, they said... So it looked like the "prize" was more of an expensive curse than a blessing. Until they went ahead and threw the party a couple of weeks ago, at the nominating guy´s bodega down in Cisneros.

But it didn´t turn out disastrously. Everyone who came brought a dish, he said... fruit salads, ice cream, potatoes, green beans, fancy pastries, even TWO extra lambs to roast, in case they ran short! The family is still working its way through the food, he said.

Jesus did this, he said, with the loaves and the fishes. All it takes is one person of faith, handing over one provision, and divine providence kicks in -- "the Holy Spirit at work on the hearts of selfish men can make a feast happen, a party of abundance and generosity." Miracles come in every shape and flavor. (Here is one I plan to try soon as I get some maple or vanilla flavoring, and figure out how to use the local yeast: .)

So now we are holed-up in the little kitchen with a nice scrap-wood fire roaring and the smelly dogs sacked out in front of it, listening to The Who singing "Happy Jack" on the little Bose box. It´s dirty here, and gray, and the dishes want washing. Still, I think these are some of the days I will look back on, happily, in the future.

¨No, They couldn´t stop Jack, or the waters´ lapping.
And they couldn´t stop Jack from being happy."

We expected Chris, a Scottish pilg, all through this week, but we´ve not seen him. And we expect Dominique, the French chef/builder who helped me with Thanksgiving in Paris, to show up here any time, but there´s no sign of him. He is coming to advise on the building campaign, I think. He is staying for a week. I have some misgivings, but flexibility is the Number One requisite for living here. Dominique may turn out to be a godsend. I shall have him help me design the kitchen, I think, him being a chef. Maybe we´ll go over the mountains to the Ikea in Oviedo. I hope there are some funds left over to furnish our house, once all the construction is done... that will be a blast! I shall have to find a volunteer to stay at the Peaceable for a few days, to walk the dogs and feed the chickens, while Paddy and I go shopping in The Big City, or maybe walk the week-long Camino Ingles up in Galicia.

Let me know if you want to take a turn out here on the Camino this spring or summer. We´ll probably need a break by then. And walking is good. Here´s a quote I stole from someone this week:

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.