Saturday, 31 May 2008

Last Chance: the Dark Side of Democracy

First the plug: This is the last day to vote for Moratinos Life in The Best of Blogs travel and leisure category. I am chuffed to have so much support out there, but somehow we are still well behind another blog from another American expat: this one in Saudi Arabia!

So maybe she IS a bit more relevant to today´s news, and maybe she does look fetching in her abayya. But I´m the better writer. So there.

Quality writing doesn´t always mean a lot in the wide-open frontier Internet world, not to mention good taste. That´s why dung blogs like Perez Hilton and Drudge Report are famous, and writers like us -- the people whose blogs are nominated in this little contest -- toil in relative obscurity. I am not sure why the administrators put the final decision into the hands of the mob, but hey... that´s democracy.

So tap on the Best of Blogs icon on the upper right of your screen, and then scroll down to Travel & Leisure, and check off the dot next to "Moratinoslife." Then good things will happen to you. Eventually.

Good things are happening here. We are cleaning like lunatics, moving things around, moving them again, losing them for a while, and then finding them under our pillows. We have an injured Aussie lady on her way here today, and I do have a nice room for her to sleep in, and the floor isn´t even crunchy! We need to hang pictures one of these days. Poco a poco.

We bought a mess of liver for dinner, lamb liver, much more edible than the calf kind. I never liked liver before I came here and discovered this stuff. The Spaniards prefer the calf kind, and so sell the lamb liver for about 40 cents a kilo! What a deal! And they throw in all the rest of the little creature´s organs, too, so we stew them up for dog treats. It makes for a disgusting bundle from the butcher shop, a real anatomy education.

We are rediscovering the furniture left behind when the former owners left. The green bedroom in the photo has the antique bed with wood inlays, and the living room/kitchen are home to two very fine tables. The one Paddy is waxing is an old workbench that weighs a half ton. Getting it in through the window was a pantomime worthy of Tin Pan Alley. The other is a small side table. It looks like the outcome of two amateur woodworkers, each pursuing his own vision. It spent the last few decades in the barn hosting spider families, but now it´s promoted to stereo duty.

Thomas is staying through the weekend, putting up a new gate out back. So here we have your hosts, an American and an Englishman, the pilgrim guest from Perth Australia, and the working man from Maastricht, all gathering ´round a table laden with Spanish lamb guts and Vichysoisse. Gotta love it!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Dark Before Dawn

Massively small things have been going on, with plumbers, carpenters, pilgrims, neighbors, and dogs traipsing in and out for days. Massive money has been traipsing, too... all of it out, I am afraid. (Except for one extra happy German lady we gave coffee to this dripping-wet morning. We dried her out a little, I spoke execrable German to her, and she gave me a four-Euro donativo!)

While I sift and shift food and cutlery and pots and pans between the summer kitchen to the new Real Kitchen, I am also trying to integrate the kitchen things from the piso in Sahagun, and the things shipped over last February from America... got to get the turntable from Pittsburgh into the cabinet before I install atop it the 10,000 little pots of spices we´ve accumulated from all points of the compass. We have two types of Garam Masala and an assortment of piquant leaves, nuts, and peppers for making tamales, but we still have no vanilla extract. I am sure there is some in one of these boxes. And I actually am opening all of These Boxes now, and re-discovering things I didn´t know we had! It´s like Christmas around here, but the piny smell is from sawdust.
The carpenter is STILL hanging the doors, which came (finally) from Asturias without any hardware attached. The carpenter´s had to create doorsills, then hang the doors on them, and now he´s hollowing-out the edges for the handles and locks. Seems a little front-to-back to me, but then HE is the carpenter, and I am happy to see these doors are solid, heavy wood.

The work leaves wood shavings all over the place, so it´s no use cleaning up yet. And we don´t want to put down rugs or move big furniture until we´ve cleaned. So here we are, still parked in the summer kitchen... so close!

We have light fixtures up all over, a lovely woodstove installed, hot and cold running water, and toilets that flush, too! A new mattress was delivered, and a lovely brown leather sofa, and painters then came to touch-up all the damage left by the delivery guys. (We had to scramble to find an old sheet to cover the sofa with!) The internet went down. (that´s why I disappeared for a couple of days.) We moved the fridge into the new kitchen, and had to shift the door front-to-back so it opens from the left instead of the right. It´s harder than you´d think!

Ttoday the antenna man came to hook up the TV, and said we´ll only get two rather snowy channels unless we take down the array atop the mast and replace it with another, more space-age model -- a mere 700 Euros worth. Having just paid an electrician bill that was a good €1,000 over what I´d planned, I kinda snapped. I told him to saw off the entire mast just above the internet receiver.

"You will have no TV signal," he told me, his jaw twitching a little. "I know," I told him. "I worked too long with TV people. (I actually said this right, using the preterite.) I very much dislike TV, except for football games sometimes.¨ The man nodded. He put on a good poker face, but I could see his mind working behind his eyes. "This woman is entirely unhinged. I´d better watch myself," he was thinking.
"What does your husband think about TV?" he delicately inquired.

Paddy was out walking the dogs just then, so I phoned him up and handed the receiver to the man. Paddy told him to go ahead and saw the thing down. And so, having consulted with the authorities and confirmed for himself that All Foreigners Are Mad, he did the deed. And after the antennae came down, the internet switched itself back on. Electronic wonders abound. Here I am! Now all I need is a wifi wizard to appear and make the computer work all over the Peaceable. (Part of the original plan was to provide wifi for whoever shows up. We we shall see.)

It´s all winding up now. The place is zooming together all of a sudden, just like Father Dick prophesied way back last summer. We have beds, we have chairs, we have heat. I am almost afraid to cut loose and rejoice, for fear of being premature. We still don´t have the final bill! But I can feel the joy bubbling up down inside.

I think it´s held in abeyance by Paddy, who is not dealing well with all this at all. He is quiet and withdrawn when he´s not whining, complaining, or asking What It All Means. Add to all this a holiday (Blessed Sacrament Sunday, a pretty summertime procession marred by an inter-family squabble), and a funeral: our friend Resti, the chef at Casa Barrunta over in San Nicolas, died on Monday from a fast-moving brain tumor. He was 57. We attended the funeral yesterday, a very sad affair replete with tolling church bells, a cortege through the town, roses and handfuls of dirt thrown down into the grave by each person. (In America the graveside service is much more if we can´t really acknowledge that the body in the box is going into this hole in the ground!) I think the hardest for me was seeing Raul, the ever-merry young waiter at Barrunta, shoveling fresh concrete onto the tomb as the tears streamed down his face.

Una, like Paddy, is off by herself these days, skulking. I think the chilly, cold weather and all the change and hubbub may be too much all at once for these two sensitive souls. I try to give them extra scratches behind the ears. I hope they get better, because I want to really enjoy this little Between period. Between finishing the house, and telling everyone We Are Open for Business.

Just what "business" means is still up in the air, a subject for another post perhaps. But we have a pilgrim from Italy coming on Monday, and some Belgians are leaving their car with us in a couple of weeks while they walk the Camino with their dog. A string of friends is coming in July, August, and September. September will be especially fun, with loved-ones expected from California and Wisconsin, Wyoming and London, Rotterdam, Sedona, and Ghent!

...And meantime, I MUST get my driver´s license.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Self-Absorbed

The best thing about living here, aside from the Moratinos natives, is the pilgrims. 

I know I am whining a good bit these days about bad pilgrims. So is everyone else. The Camino Frances (the "main" camino where we live) is seeing great waves of travelers this year, and the bigger the crowd, the bigger the proportion of losers, jerks, and psychos... and the easier it is to spot someone or something worth bellyaching about. My experience tells me about one in every ten pilgrims is somehow Less Than Nice. 

So. Of the 114,026 pilgrims who claimed to walk, bike, or horse-ride at least 100 kms. of Camino in 2007, a little over 11,000 of them were people, for one reason or another,  you don´t want to be around. 

I looked up the pilgrim statistics kept by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the people who certify pilgrims and give them their Pass from Perdition. The latest month I could find was March 2008. During that month the Oficina de Peregrinaciones received 5.327 peregrinos. The previous March they saw 1.680. Wow.  That´s a serious jump in pilgrim numbers, especially when you consider that 530 of these people were nasty, as compared to a mere 168 last March.  

(DISCLAIMER: This is my Almighty Opinion. It is not Science, nor Gospel, and it surely is not Statistics as I loathe and fear mathematics of all sorts. But it is true.) 

Count out the 10 percent that´s maladjusted, and that leaves about 80% of  pilgrims who are decent people with a nominal degree of self-control. Most of these are just regular folks. They might drink too much wine at dinner and then snore all through the night. They may use the last of the toilet paper... or steal it for later. They might help themselves to "just a taste" of the cherries or asparagus or grapes growing in the fields or orchards along the path. They might stay at a place that accepts donations in lieu of a set fee, and interpret that as  meaning "free" and leave no payment at all. Their sins are minor ones, their impact is minimal. Some of them find great love, meaning, and inspiration on the Camino.  Others have an enjoyable, cheap, unique backpacking or bicycling holiday. And some find it all too difficult, dull, or painful  and head for the beach after a week or two.  

These same people will shout a friendly "hola!" to a lonely farmer out in his tractor. They´ll share their vitamins and bandages, chocolate and life stories with fellow travelers. Some get lucky, and forge lifelong international friendships. Many snap wonderful photographs, or paint or draw lovely pictures of the wonders that surround them. They meditate in the hayfields, and pray Rosaries, sing psalms and football chants as they stride down The Way, set free from worries about tune and pitch and appearances. They are fine people, having the experience of a lifetime, growing, learning, getting to know themselves. Their Caminos are intensely personal experiences. 
I´ve learned that there´s no one in the world more self-absorbed than a pilgrim halfway through his Camino (except perhaps  someone who is 14 years old).
We live halfway down the Camino Frances. We have learned to make allowances. 

Just when I started feeling cranky about all this today I looked over our little Guest Book, and was inspired by the names written in there to tell about another proportion of the pilgrim throng -- the Good Ones. Any old journalist will tell you, Goodness does not sell papers... or blogs. Good people aren´t nearly as fun to talk or write or read about as bad ones. But here goes.

Good Pilgrims are out there, and I see just as many of them as Bad.  These are the ones who give up their hard-won bottom bunk-bed to an elderly hiker who can´t make another climb at the end of a long day. Like a pilgrim named Horst did last Wednesday in Hontanas. 

Some give up their places in the albergue altogether when the place is filled to capacity and an exhausted mother and child arrive late.  This happened on Thursday, somewhere near Carrion de los Condes.  Hyo Jeong Kim and Kim Yun Hee were the Good Pilgrims that time.  They had sleeping mats, they said, and they slept just fine on the floor of the medical clinic. They´re used to sleeping on hard surfaces. No problem. 

A good pilgrim takes her lame fellow to the doctor, or stays behind for a day to nurse a comrade felled by stomach flu or tendinitis. Sometimes this puts her behind schedule or even snarls-up her entire agenda. The Good Pilgrim adjusts. She abandons her expectations early in the trip, and fills up the empty space with whatever experiences come her way. She knows this enterprise isn´t all about arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It´s about going there.  And getting other people there, too, if she feels she must.  

Good pilgrims help the volunteer at the albergue peel potatoes for the community dinner. They clear the table afterward. In the morning they sometimes stick around after everyone has left to help clean up.  They leave a donation, even when it´s not required. They say "thank you," and "please." They offer prayers, songs, company, or encouragement, even to not-nice people. 

 When the selfish pilgrim shoves aside others´ laundry on the clothesline to make room for his own, the Good Pilgrim picks the washing up off the ground and pins it back up, even if it does not belong to her. (That Good Pilgrim was at Calzadilla de la Cueza Saturday. Her name was Hanneke.)   

And not all Good Pilgrim behavior takes place on the Camino. Federico is a pilgrim from 2001 who is putting his guitar-building skills to work now to create beautiful, tough instruments for use in non-profit pilgrim hostels. He can build one per year. He donates them to carefully chosen places, and word is spreading through the guitarist-pilgrim community as to where these concert-quality instruments can be found. (And no, I´m not telling!) 

Some Good Pilgrims don´t make it to Santiago. Some of them are already there, without having taken a step down the trail. Some live along the Way, and offer fruit and cold water and smiles to the passing parade. And some Good Pilgrims are packed into tour buses that zoom down the modern pilgrim road, constrained by time, money, health, or employers to a motorized visit to St. James´tomb. Gore-Tex clad "real" pilgrims call them "tourigrinos," with all the venom every tourist feels for his fellow tourists.  (I believe everyone who walks or bikes or rides the Camino Frances these days is a tourist, no matter what label he puts on himself.)

Inside each bus crouch a couple of nasty people and a lot of enthusiastic day-trippers and sincere Christians. And scattered among them are a few great old souls who can only dream of walking the trail. They´re on their way to see St. James, however... you sometimes see them waving and smiling at the hiking pilgrims as they pass by.

Now this isn´t science, nor Gospel, nor statistical, but in my Almighty Opinion St. James, and Jesus, too, honor these pilgrims´ intentions just as highly as that of the long-haul hiker, biker, or rider. Pilgrimage takes place on the inside of the pilgrim, in his spirit. The whole idea of divine grace says it´s approaching the presence of something Holy that makes you holy. Hiking 500 miles might make you feel really good about yourself, but it won´t turn you into something you weren´t already. That´s why the Good Pilgrim probably started out as a good person, and the neutral pilgrim, as he walks, often works his way through to the Good Person living inside him. 

The other ten percent? God only knows. But for every 530 bad-asses who walked the Camino in March, there were at least as many Good Ones, too.
I would wonder if they canceled-out one another, but that would be way too mathematical.   

Friday, 23 May 2008

I Wanna Be Elected!

As if you haven´t had enough of candidates and elections lately, look what´s landed in my Comments box:

Blogger Charlie Blockhead said...

YOU ARE A BEST OF BLOG FINALIST!!! Congrats on making it to the final round and remember to tell everyone you know to head on over to to vote for your site...Winners will be announced June 2nd so gather up your faithful followers and tell them you want to be one of this year's Best Of Blogs!

I am up for a "Best of Travel and Leisure Blogs" award." (It IS a legitimate honor to win one; these guys are not a marketing scheme.) I think the prize is a plaque. And an ego boost, and links that bring a ton more readers to the site. I could use an ego boost, having been told this very day by our contractor that I am getting FAT.

I´ll try to embed a link, so you can just CLICK HERE to VOTE.
Scroll down to the Travel and Leisure section, and my blog is "moratinos life." You can vote every day if you want.

Seriously, I am doing a good bit of writing these days, most of it trying to get my thoughts in order for a series of Podcasts. I will link those to this blog, if and when they are produced. I think they will be fun... for me, and for youse. It´s two expats, one from Norway, one from USA, chatting about their lives along the Camino in Spain. It will be rather Camino-oriented at first, but me and Ivar always find lots of fun things to talk about and crack wise over when we get together. He´s a computer whiz, (he runs so we thought we´d invite you to the table, too.

Miracles continue to occur at The Peaceable, and most of them involve concrete in some way. Suffice it to say a Dutchman is making rainwater flow off the chicken-house roof and out of our back yard, using only corrugated iron, recycled roof tiles and several bags of concrete. He was halfway through the job before I remembered Dutch people are the world´s best at moving water around. He´s a natural, this Thomas guy! He is half Croatian, but he looks like someone in a Van Gogh painting.

I have taken to staying up very late these days. I think somehow the Camino Ingles trip re-set my internal clock. I have a lot more energy, and just don´t seem to need so much rest. Amazing! Now if I could only stay focused on one thing until I got it finished! We have half-finished projects scattered all over the place, I think just because there are SO MANY things that need to be done. Many of them are onerous, like matching up the mountain of orphan socks on top the dresser, or shopping for a mattress, or studying the Drivers Ed. manual. It´s easiest of all to just sit down with a New Yorker magazine and not do anything at all.

PS: Paddy came up with the best vote-getter yet. This is stolen direct from his blog:



Monday, 19 May 2008

American Idiot

Strange but true: There´s lots of great spinach around, but no one here eats it as salad. We had a nice spinach salad two nights ago, and Thomas the Dutch Handy Guy who is staying here now dutifully ate his up, saying he "never have such a ting tasted." 

He spent the last couple of days feeling very ill in his "tripes." Gotta be the spinach, he thinks. But I ate it too, and my tripes are feeling just fine. Maybe it´s an acquired resistance? Must´ve been all the Popeye cartoons I watched as a child, which apparently didn´t make the trip to Europe.

Things are limping along here, with Castro the Wonder Contractor beginning to behave a bit like the old Bozo Mario -- not showing up when he says he will, delaying and delaying. We still can´t use the shiny new kitchen, as the plumbing isn´t finished. We´re using the downstairs bathroom, but the upstairs, no. And the spigot out in the back yard works, but it puts out HOT water! Just what we need, eh? 

Still, the carpenter showed up today, and is now hanging some lovely Castilian wooden doors in the house. Yay! No more dogs on my bed! No more wondering who that is coming down the hallway, toward the wide-open bathroom, where I may be occupying a less-than ladylike position. Woohoo!  

Not a lot of great interest to report from Moratinos -- just a record-breaking number of pilgrims bombing through, a carbolic flea-dip for all three dogs,  the ongoing chore of studying the Spanish Rules of the Road Driving Manual, and a thousand shades of green in the fields. Along the roads the wildflowers are putting on a show of red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, and white. No wonder everyone in the world wants to walk the Camino in May! 

Oh, and the Ugly American. I met a particularly nasty character today in Sahagún, holding forth at the Bar Deportivo before an audience of four or five other pilgrims, apparently English-speakers. This guy speaks no other language, he said: "and why should I have to?" He griped about the French, Germans, Spaniards, and other "foreigners" he´s encountering on his hike, and wondered why they don´t just pave the entire camino trail. And then he started into politics...

It was ugly, racist stuff, and he spoke in terms of "We Real Americans" and the need for "someone to eliminate this Obama-Osama fellow and all them people, a plague on America and Europe, too."  Extraordinary... even in America you don´t hear this kind of thing bandied about in public except on wacko AM radio shows.  

Long story short, we got into a shouting match. He called me a Communist (the only right thing he said the whole time!) and blamed "soft-headed idiots" like me for all of America´s problems. 

I asked his pilgrim buddies to please not judge all Americans by this ranting old bore... some of us are decent and sensible people. And I told the man to please keep walking, as obviously the Camino has not had much effect on him.  

I kept a handle on myself, and turned my back and left, smiling at the others. Two of the pilgrims left with me, the French Canadian to assure me he doesn´t dislike Yanks, and a Dutch girl thanking me for an excuse to get the heck outta there. Apparently this guy is known to them. He snores all night, then rises early and walks fast to the next albergue, grabs a bed soon as the place opens, and then heads for the nearest cheap bar. "From there it´s Instant Asshole," the Canadian guy said. "Just add beer."

My sympathies, therefore, to everyone out there who has to walk the camino with this blowhard. He´s an example of the downside of a free society. He´s entitled to express himself, and obviously feels everyone else is entitled to his opinion, too. 

Thankfully, most intelligent people know that one American idiot does not speak for all of us Americans. Only some of us are idiots. It´s your call which ones.   

Javi and the Deportivo guys apparently enjoyed the show. Spanish bars host shouting matches all the time, but I imagine not a whole lot of them happen in other languages.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Journey´s End

So much can happen in a week if you just go away.

I went from The Peaceable a week ago and had a very memorable and physical series of adventures along the Camino Ingles. These involved:
  • meeting Alexandre the Ultimate Horrible Tourist Pilgrim on the train to Ferrol,
  • buying a 3€ umbrella that immediately paid for itself,
  • walking for many many miles over mountains and valleys, meadows and highways,
  • seeing lots of baby animals and exotic birds,
  • cursing the people who supposedly mark the path with yellow arrows for falling down on their job,
  • cursing myself for trying to do this rather byzantine path without bringing a guidebook or real map,
  • meeting a really nice Pakistani guy who runs a Turkish restaurant in a lovely Galician fishing village,
  • discovering a surreal 1880´s theme park in another Galician town,
  • and walking 30 kilometers each day for 5 days in a row, and as a result discovering a perfect pilgrim painkiller appropriately labeled "Johnny Walker."

This Camino isn´t as tough as the Aragonese, the mountain path I followed last June. But it was really hard, especially the last 5 km. of every day.

This is a picture postcard from a very good website. I didn´t bring my camera. I find a camera sometimes comes between me and the place where I am, and there are already plenty of photos out there of The Camino Ingles.

I can recommend this path for anyone who wants just a taste of the Camino experience, has a decent-enough grasp of Spanish to understand Gallego, (the local language, a sort of Portuguese-flavored dialect) and who doesn´t mind traveling solo for long periods.

Once I made it to Santiago I met with Ivar, a Norwegian expat whom I hope to start podcasting with sometime soon. And just after that, in a raging downpour, the 3€ umbrella morphed into a flesh-eating maw of razor-sharp ribs. I escaped with lacerations and a pierced fingernail. Tough town, Santiago. (Arriving at the cathedral square still moves me to tears, though. Even before the assault umbrella.)

Another happy thing about the trip was losing Alexandre. When I met him he was dropping out of the Camino del Norte, because it was so poorly waymarked, he said. (and populated by Spaniards who did not meet with his concept of Pilgrimage. Which is to say they did not offer him everything for free.) I begged off his offer of dinner and someone to hike with, but resigned myself to re-encountering him during my pilgrimage.

The next morning, after struggling to find a single marker to point the way out of Ferrol city, I realized Alexandre was no longer a threat, as he was never going to find his way. I will not see him again, thank God. And I didn´t see another pilgrim for the following three days!

I got my Free Pass from Perdition at the cathedral, and took a long train ride home from Santiago to Sahagun, and from there hiked the 9 km. to The Peaceable, which was anything but.

Anselmo had gone, leaving behind a beautifully stacked store of firewood and a big, clear spot out back. He had been replaced by Tomas from Holland, the pilgrim who brought Mimi to us. Having biked to Santiago, he had reappeared here in search of work. It was San Isidro Day, the parish holiday that takes a statue of said saint out of the church and into the fields so Don Santiago can bless the crops. The event comes with skyrockets and petards, which petrify Una. She´d run away, and no one could find her. Doggone. Paddy was beside himself. And we´d run out of wine. And other company was expected.

So I leapt into the breach, and the Kangoo, drove to San Nicolas and bought some vino from Casa Barrunta, stopping all along the way to shout for the dog. On the way back I had a flash of inspiration, wondering where I would hide in Moratinos if I was a small creature and a loud noise was driving me insane.

I was right. I parked the furgoneta in the plaza and walked the path around the bodegas, shouting her name. And from deep in one of the collapsed and abandoned caved emerged a dusty little dog, yipping and shouting with joy to see me! So now her favorite person is back, and I know where her best hidey-hole is.

The company who arrived was The Rev. Clare Edwards, Canon Pastor of Canterbury Cathedral in England, now converted to Santiago pilgrim. In exchange for a nice meal and chat and a bed for the night she blessed us all and our new house, which I thought very nice indeed. (I think Tomas found it all pretty odd, but you meet all kinds out here on the perimeter.)

Clare is a middle daughter like me, and a good down-to-earth Anglican priest. Just having her around reminded me how much I miss my old church and its splendid spoken prayers, blessings, and liturgy. In English. It´s poetry.

This morning Clare was off, and soon her place was taken by the Kitchen Man, who finished his installation right up to, but not including, hooking up the plumbing in the sink. It is a thing of beauty, that kitchen. Someday soon we will use it!

Tomas is a handy man, and he´ll stay around for a week or so, re-doing the chicken house roof, plastering the zaguan (the entryway), and helping us stucco the inner walls of the garden out back with cement. So there´s more heavy-duty fun on the horizon hereabouts, and several more interesting pilgrims say they´re on their way as well.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

American Turkeys, Arab Bricks, & The English Way. And the Generalissimo.

We now live at The Peaceable full-time, so of course that means I am off to someplace else.

Tomorrow morning I´m getting on the train north to Oviedo, and from there another train west, to Ferrol, which was Generalissimo Franco´s home town. (No, I really am not obsessed with Mr. Franco. He just keeps coming up somehow.) Ferrol is right up on the upper left-hand side of Spain, a port town stuffed with military types. I won´t stay around too long, however. I´m starting a long walk right away, a five- or six-day pilgrimage southward called the Camino Ingles. (A map is here: .Click on "hybrid" and it looks really cool! Ferrol is just across the water to the north of the big A Coruña.)

Like most of the Caminos around Spain, this one also winds up in Santiago de Compostela, and it´s been traveled by zillions of pilgrims for hundreds of years. This one´s only a bit over 100 kilometers long, and it was used in years past by pilgrims coming over from England and Ireland, whose boats crossed the Atlantic and dropped them off at Ferrol or nearby Coruña. They walked from there. Thus: The English Way. (It has nothing to do with The UK Ministry of Silly Walks, BTW. Compare these photos. You may note the subtle differences between John Cleese and the average Camino Ingles pilgrim.)

The Camino Ingles a darn sight shorter than the insanely popular Camino Frances, which we live on... so named because it comes from France. It´s also a darn sight less popular, which is one reason I´m taking it this week. I´m told I may not see another pilgrim the whole time!

The path passes through a semi-remote part of of Galicia, a green and rainy part of Spain with a wild and weird beauty sometimes reminiscent of Scandinavia. It´s a tough camino, with lots of hill-climbing and not too many places to stop. I am hoping it´s not so hard as the Camino Aragonese was last year. I look back on that with a smile, but I´m not doing it again anytime soon! (Talk about knackered. ) And this time, at the end, I get a Compostela: the certificate that says (in Latin, here´s a picture of one) I completed the pilgrimage and so get a free pass from Purgatory. Or something. Woohoo! (I can´t help wondering if that means when I die I´ll just go straight to hell?)

This blog is supposed to be about Moratinos Life, however, and Moratinos is a long way from Ferrol, so I will get back to biz.

Yesterday, our first real full day here, we took our usual dog-walk in the morning, and returned to find the place all a-buzz with workmen. They did a good bit of plumbing and assembling of things, they put in the massive wooden frame for the front door, which meant hacking out great chunks of concrete and adobe to make it fit snugly. And down about knee-level they ran into bricks -- The same flat, dense, red brick so evident inside our barn. It´s Arab brick, Jesus told us, and it won´t budge. So we will leave it there, visible. The place is a lot older than we first thought!

I received an email from my sister Beth, who lives in rural Western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in the USA. Her son Joey shot his first wild turkey this week, and she sent a lovely photo to commemorate the big event, and the even-bigger turkey: 14 pounds, dressed-out! I printed out the photo and showed it to Jesus, the tile guy, who showed it then to the plumber and the plumber´s assistant, and to the guy installing gutters. It was a sensational bit of cultural disconnect. I wrote to her about it:

"....Lots of questions, all about turkeys, and how wild are they really, and how can a wild turkey be intelligent if the tame ones are so intensely stupid, and what does the meat taste like, do you really eat these animals? And what do you do with all those feathers? Is there down you can use for quilts? Are the feet any good for soup? (some really rural people here evidently use chicken feet for stock.) And then there were the questions about guns: Is that a special small child-size rifle Joey used? Is it a shotgun, did he use birdshot, or is it a real rifle, with sights? What´s a gun like that cost? Can you get one here? How could anyone sane let a small child handle a gun? Is that legal in America? Americans are all insane, it´s no wonder they´re all killing one another if 9-year-olds are out in the woods shooting turkeys, yadda yadda. And that man holding up the turkey -- why didn´t he smile for the picture?" I can´t say I had an abundance of answers for them, (except that the not-smiling guy is my brother-in-law) but two or three of them want copies of the unbelievable picture to show to the guys at the bar.

And during all this, another knock came on the door: Anselmo, the Valencian pilgrim/hospitalero is back! He agreed to stay til Wednesday, to help cut up the mountain of scrap wood out back, work out our Spanish, and drive the car when needed while I am gone. He is strong and low-maintenance and very hardworking, a real Camino gem. I think he makes Paddy less introspective... Pad´s now blogging a bit, and painting pictures, even!

I am potting plants, and re-potting the unknown trees and vines, and trying to get some flowers to germinate in the patio and out in the wasteland along the highway. It´s not raining enough. Yet another good reason to go for a backpacking hike -- that will surely open up the heavens and bring down the showers!

The Camino Frances is very very crowded just now. It seems half the world decided to start their hike on May 1, and great waves of humanity are now washing down the path and crowding into the albergues, bars, and restaurants. We are not seeing much of it at our place, as we still don´t have doors or kitchen counters or faucets, and thus we are not yet "open for business." Having just Anselmo around is fine, for now. He is happy to sleep in the windowless despensa... it really IS much nicer than a lot of pilgrim hostels I´ve seen.

I enjoy most pilgrims, but I still am enjoying our long, quiet afternoons. Nothing like a sparrow chorus in the patio. The chainsaw is howling away in the huerta out back, singing a song of progress: a cleared-up back yard, and tons of firewood cut and stacked for next winter, and a young man fed and housed and gainfully employed for a few days.

The workers didn´t come back today. No reason given. Tomorrow I´ll go away and stop thinking about it for a while. If you don´t hear from me, you know where I am!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


I´m exhausted. Paddy would call it "knackered." Knackered is what you do with dead horses. Those colorful English people! (Or is it "colourful?" The "k" is silent, for all you non-native speakers.)

We have moved everything from Sahagun to Moratinos, where we still have no doors or faucets at the Peaceable, but hope springs eternal. I knackered myself this morning by taking the three dogs on a very long walk in the hot sunshine. I am exploring a network of medieval roads near here, now used only by sheep herds and shepherds and tractors. They connect Moratinos to half-abandoned villages like Poblacion del Arroyo and Ledigos and Villabilla. The lanes are completely isolated -- all you see out there, horizon to horizon, is lush fields of grain, hedgerows, and the occasional distant church tower. It´s the things you hear that make it most remarkable: cuckoos, the breeze whispering over the silvery grain-tops, the buzz of a partridge breaking cover and Tim and Mimi yipping with joy. (Una sticks near me, and is very quiet these days.) These farm roads are sunk a good meter and a half below the level of the fields. There´s a truly medieval vibe out there. I wish I could show it to you.

We found our way back via Terradillos de Templarios, and chatted our way into town with some German pilgrims who wanted to take adorable, friendly little Mimi away, but did not in the end. Damn.

Another reason I am knackered is we spent our first night in the "new" house last night, and I didn´t sleep very well. Different room, different bed, and Paddy right there next to me. In Sahagun we slept in two singles, bumped up against one another: a Franco-era holdover also familiar to viewers of "I Love Lucy" re-runs. (Yes, we quietly assume married people sleep together... but NOT in the very same bed! OMG!) Anyway, the months of semi-togetherness showed me the that Lucy and the Generalissimo might have been on to something. We could still hold hands, and I could still yell and poke at Paddy when he snored, but we slept better, in general, without any cold-feet issues or blanket-hogging.

Enough intimacy! This is supposed to be about knackering! So I didn´t sleep well. My hands kept going numb, and at about 3 a.m. Una let herself into the house, looking for company. We´d tacked a blanket over the bedroom door, so she was fooled. She curled up on the bed in the next room, which means I have to wash that &%%$ mattress cover again! Aaargh!

And after I got medieval hiking the dogs, I went back to Sahagun to shop a bit and to clean up the apartment. Hard work, and all I could get on the radio was La Cuarenta Principales: the Top 40. Plus Pop Favorites From Years Past. In Spain this means LOTS of Rod Stewart and lots of songs you only otherwise hear in gay bars. (In the past year I have heard "It´s Raining Men" and "Somebody To Love" more times than I have in all my many years before. Not that I hang out much in gay bars, but somehow I know this. And yes, I do love gay bars. The ones they will let me go into. Everybody dances!)

I found a virtual biological bomb in the bottom of the fridge, when I was finished with all the rest of the place. I left it there to clean up tomorrow, when we have to return to collect the Turkish rug and take out the trash and drop off the keys with Josefina, the landlady we affectionately call The Trout. I am glad to be out of there. That stairway was about to finish me off.

I came home to three dogs sacked out asleep on the patio pavement, Patrick painting a big new picture on a piece of plywood, swallows diving and dipping after bugs (they´re nesting in the barn!) and a jolly mix of colored sheets flapping on the clothesline. I had a huge glass of water and climbed the stairs and had a delicious nap.

The evening was devoted to The Future. I planted more plants. I started translating my Drivers Ed manual into English. I talked to a Norwegian bud about doing Podcasts every couple of weeks about Expatriate Life on the Camino. And Paddy and I decided I oughtta go ahead and walk the Camino Ingles, or "The English Way" starting at the end of this week. I feel a bit irresponsible, seeing as things are still going on here, but I think we need a break from one another, and I´m the only one willing to leave the house. (Pad´s becoming the consummate homebody, even in the face of great travel offers: 7 nights in a 4-star in Havana, round-trip airfare from Madrid, 780€!!) Maybe we will go together this year to Venice, something we´ve wanted to do for a long time... if we can find a good person to watch the dogs and chickens.

If we get faucets, and countertops, and doors. And furniture. And the laundry done. And a good night´s dog-free sleep.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Someday Soons

We have been living for two years now in a sort of semi-homeless state, which is -- we are told -- about to shift into something more stable and permanent.

I am not making light of the truly homeless. We do own a house, and we have a little rental apartment, too, at least until Wednesday. There´s a semi-warm place to lay our heads each night. What I´m sayin´is, even though it STILL has no doors or faucets, hot water or countertops, we will officially move into the main house at The Peaceable this week. The long era of "Year-Round Summer Camp Life" will draw to a close. Soon.

We shall have to find a new rhythm of living. With the house business behind us (I know, it never completely is...) we can turn our attentions to the waiting lists. The dozens of things we´ve shoved aside, procrastinated, put on hold until we had the space/time/leisure/energy to get to. The house has been a fabulous excuse for a good long time.

But Someday Very Soon I will:

  • Turn back to the medieval camino adventure novel I started writing ten years ago. I will either completely rewrite it, or I will abandon it altogether, in order to...
  • Gather up all the diaries, lists, memo books, and blogs we´ve produced in the past two years, and start writing a new book with it, and
  • Start being nicer to the people I know who are literary agents, or who have agents. (Mine has apparently disappeared from the face of the planet.)
  • Find a home for Mimi the little dog.
  • Nail the Spanish drivers license exams, and then nail Spanish grammar. Then really start integrating into this here community. I want to work in some capacity at the new Pilgrimage Studies Center at the Iglesia de la Peregrina in Sahagun when it opens next year, because I think I´d be really good for them, and I know somebody who knows the boss. But if I work there, I think they might want me to speak Spanish sometimes.
  • Figure out how to bake again, using Spanish ingredients and equipment and measures. In our fabulous new kitchen! Find people willing to sample the experiments.
  • Learn what I´d have to do to buy and sell real estate around here. I think I´d be good at that.
  • Figure out how to host pilgrims at our house, without bringing The Law down on our heads, or subsidizing the Middle Class European Skinflint Hiker Locust Cloud. (A Swiss hospitalera friend just spent the last day with us. OMG, the horror stories she told us of pilgrims cleaning out the larder and leaving 50-cent donations.)
  • We have a barn, so we oughtta get a donkey, and/or a horse for inside it. I´ve wanted a horse since I was a little girl, Even though I am terribly allergic to them. Hay is cheaper than diesel fuel these days, and just think of all that free fertilizer!
  • Get a sheep and/or goat, and learn how to make cheese.
  • Get some pasture for all the above, as well as the pilgrim donkeys and horses.
  • Find passing pilgrims who are experts in garden design, interior decoration, exotic cuisines, wildflowers, wifi, yoga, and Shiatsu massage. And who will share their expertise in exchange for a bed and a nice meal.
  • Learn to play the guitar. Find a concert guitarist pilgrim from the Wisconsin area willing to bring our new guitar over here and play a inaugural recital on it for all of Moratinos, St. Nicolas, and Terradillos, in exchange for a free bed and a nice meal. And an airline ticket, maybe. We can then let traveling pilgrim guitarists play pick-up concerts on this super-fine custom guitar when they stay at our place. (Thanks, Federico!)

Other expats have warned us we might feel a bit un-moored for a while after we move in, having spent so much time and energy and money in the past few months just getting a place to live. I can´t say I´ve worried too much about that. There´s always a ton of things to do around here. First and primary among them, however, is what I shall do now:

Pull up a chair out on the sunny patio and scratch a dog-head. Hear Bob Canary and the doves sing along to the Cole Porter album on the box.
Let´s face the music
and dance.