Monday, 30 June 2008
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
So the mystery is solved! I didn't tell you blogsters where I was because my mother, a faithful blog reader, loves surprises. I wanted to give her a big one. (Thank you for your patience.)
Some would say I am on a simple midsummer trip to my homeland to visit friends and family. I prefer to see it as a Journey Into the American Myth, a Long Drive down the Lonesome Highway. I haven't been to America for more than a year. I am not sure that coming here was a good idea.
I spent the first few days at Libby's nice apartment in suburban Toledo; (Libby, 23, is my daughter. She works at a shelter for battered women.) I then drove two hours south to Columbus to see Philip for a couple of days. (Philip, 20, is my son. He's halfway through his university undergraduate degree, studying history... just like his mom.) I am now in the post-industrial rural countryside outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My family roots are here, and so are my mother and older sister.
Now it's high summer on the Great Plains and the hills and valleys of the Alleghenies. Trees and fields are lush, the sky perfectly blue in the mornings and stacking full of thunderheads in the afternoons, with fat robins singing throughout. Both my children inhabit rooms with the Ohio interstate highway system roaring and whining continually in the background. The neighbors mow and manicure deep-green lawns. The strip-malls are wide open and lit up like cruise ships, offering everything I could possibly want with Prices Slashed!!!!
Everyone smiles at me, shakes my hand, asks me how I'm doin', and actually listens when I answer them. Every damn person speaks English!
It's SO easy, all of it. I feel really really weird, like I've stepped out of the Teleporter Tube into an Alternate Universe. Even so, this all is completely familiar.
Sunday morning I went to church at St. Timothy Episcopal, where I was a very active member for eight years. About half the people I knew there moved away or left in a huff or gone on vacation in the five or six years since I moved away. Two of the finest are dead now. The service was the very same as ever, and I loved every single minute of it... like finding a book of bedtime stories your mom read to you over and over when you were five and six years old. The singing was the best. I had to stop singing halfway through the Doxology because I was choked up. The Anglican liturgy is pure poetry to me, and I think it always will be. I love our earthy Roman Catholic Mass, but I do so miss "my" Book of Common Prayer liturgy. And Wesley hymns, ah! They fit like an old shoe!
Libby and Philip are the best parts. They change too, but slowly. They are kind to me, and ease me into their evolutions. (They move with confidence, secure in the knowledge that I kept loving them when they were 14 years old and entirely un-loveable, so I'm not going to stop loving them now that they're reasonable humans.)
But the rest of it, the things I think I used to miss? Kind people are seeking out ways to get them to me. Sushi, old friends from the Toledo Blade, hot fudge sundaes, Dorito chips, barbecue-grilled hamburgers, baked beans, customer service, Levi's, cheddar cheese, chocolate-chip cookies, pizza, washcloths, good haircuts, manicures, porch furniture, pressure-treated lumber, enchiladas, zaatar spices, Metroparks nature trails, granola, Lucky Charms, HBO. Christ.
I've lost my taste for it. I don't want it, I don't even want to think about it.
The food I used to love is inedible now. I drive my lurid new rental car and can only worry that I have liability insurance to cover the cost if somebody runs into me. The fabulous green lawns and trees smell like chemical fertilizer. My friends are gone from here, off to work at newspapers in Chicago and DC and Charlotte. The newsroom at The Blade is like a tomb, with just a few lost souls drifting among the fresh Yale summer interns.
I'm telling myself it's an extended bout of jet-lag, or a severe case of Culture Shock. Maybe this trip is my spiritual goodbye to America, now that I have a real home in Spain.
Maybe I'm not American any more. It makes me feel adrift and homeless, a woman without a nation. I love America, or what I used to think America was. Even though I live in the heart of Old Castile, I am a long, long way from being Spanish.
I'm telling myself it doesn't matter what country I was born or raised in, that nationality is just a conceit, a divisive stupidity. But it's bred in my bones. Must be all those years I lived on military bases, at home and abroad. Maybe I'm just lonesome, or bored, or disappointed. Or homesick. Homesick for the boring ol' Peaceable.
Monday, 23 June 2008
Meantime, everyone ought to know what today is...
Wish I was there. I swear to God one of these years I'm borrowing a horse that night, just for mischief's sake. Even a donkey would do!
But for now I'm hitting the road myself, heading out across the wide-open spaces in search of my lost Self. Or something.
Friday, 20 June 2008
A big prize to the person who can guess where I am! (No fair guessing if you already know.)
Cryptic can be really annoying, but very soon it will all become clear to you, dear readers. (I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten to blog. And remote as this place may be from the Real World, they DO have internet access.)
I sometimes have a scary feeling that there is no "home" for me in this world, that I don't belong anywhere. But then I read things like this, gleaned from "Wandering Woman's" profound blog:
José Gasset y Ortega, from "Revolt of the Masses":
And this is the simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who
accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground.
Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which
to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a
questioning of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of
his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All
the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost
is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes
up against his own reality.
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
This is when the Spanish light sets in, right now when Summer comes. It is white, but transparent at the same time, and it must sit somewhere near the yellow part of the spectrum because it makes all the primary colors go deep and golden somehow. The shiny green ivy leaves and the ochre walls, lacquered pinewood doors inside the patio, and the shocking white walls out along the streets...and the indigo blue of the sky, with clouds right out of The Simpsons. Suddenly the pilgrim raptures sound true. We do live in a little paradise.
At least until late afternoon.
Just when you start to see heat shimmer down the asphalt, you hear the distant grumble of Paco´s tractor. It´s pitched low, pulling something heavy. And the first little breeze that blows tells everyone in town what he´s doing today.
He´s spreading manure. A black liquid plume follows behind the tank behind his John Deere, and a wave of black odor rolls away and down over the fallow field and into every nook and cranny and nose of Moratinos. Last year it was the rich stale brown smell of cow manure, brought over from the dairy farm in Terradillos. But this year is different. This year it´s the unique perfume of pig shit.
It´s hard to tell if it´s the beautiful flowers or the pungent poo, but something is bringing tears to my eyes.
I think I might get on the 2 o´clock train today and see what´s happening in Madrid.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
The weather is perfect.
Sahagun has been in full fiesta mode for days, but we´ve pretty much stayed away from the crowds and the racket. Una can hear the fireworks all the way from there, 9 km. away, and they still freak her out! Poor dog. Someone must´ve shot her with a BB gun when she was a pup, as any kind of shot or explosion sends her right out of her skin. The other two dogs just ignore it. (Tim, being a hunter, is actually attracted to gunshots!)
Dogs are very much in the picture around here lately. We have been hosting Che, a little Jack Russell Terrier pilgrim dog, owned by Sarah and Joop from Belgium. Jack Russells are composed almost entirely of energy, but it looks like the Camino has been a bit too much even for her. Her little footpads are swollen, and she´s just wiped out... and sleeping in a tent isn´t really agreeing with her either. She woke up a couple of nights ago and started eating strange things. We´re not talking frog legs here, we´re talking half a towel, the edge of a t-shirt, and a shoelace.
So Che is not a happy pooch. She arrived here yesterday afternoon in one of the most clever constructions I´ve seen on the Camino. She was slung in a cargo net from a stick, which Joop and Sara carried her 8 kilos between them. What a deluxe ride! I can´t see most dogs tolerating this sort of thing, but Che just happily rode along, rockin´in rhythm, not having to walk any more.
Late in the evening an Australian couple arrived, too, and a very timely thing it was... she (another Sarah) is a veterinary nurse, and he (Andrew) is an architect. They are doing-over a dairy barn in rural Queensland, and he´s very into bodega caves, so we all had much to discuss and see and do!
Che´s paws got a good going-over, and we all took an architectural tour of the Alamo and the bodegas (Esteban came out and opened up his monumental bodega and passed around samples of this year´s vintage, which was declared "spunky, young, and hair-raising.") We came back to the house and feasted on roast chicken and huge salads and Belgian chocolates. Gotta love them Belgians!
Joop and Sarah are very taken with Mimi Dog. They may come back after their Camino and take her home with them to Brussels. I think it´s a great idea, but it makes Paddy sad. She would have to learn to speak Flemish.
The pilgrims hit the road again this morning, and I´ve been doing laundry all afternoon. Tonight we´re going into Sahagun to watch a bullfight on TV. We don´t usually like bullfights, but they are strangely fascinating... much like passing an accident scene along the highway. You can´t look away. Anyway, there´s a new bullfighter on the scene right now who is spoken-of in phenomenal terms, supposedly the best and finest and most humane killer of bulls seen in Spain in the last 30 years. His name is Jose Thomas. (I wonder when he´ll appear on Celebrity Look Who´s Dancing. Then he´ll be a LEGIT celebrity!)
... A few hours later: We got into Sahagun just in time for the final encierro of the fiesta. Just after we found a parking place they shut the steel gates they´ve been erecting for weeks, and the brass bands started marching up the streets to the bullring. The "novillos," or "little bulls" (aka ´calves with horns´) were supposed to be set loose at 7:30 p.m., but about 7:15 the sky cut loose with a downpour. The scurrying was monumental, the bars filled up, and general merriment ensued.
I found Paca sitting outside Bar La Rueda. She´d staked-out a table with a full view of the plaza mayor, and was holding court with her friends. I´ve written before about Paca, an 80-something Sahagun native ball-o-fire who runs with her family a little book shop in town. She was in full blossom today, with all kinds of fresh gossip and news of this year´s successful fiesta.
Paddy scurried off to Bar Deportivo to see the Corrida, and Paca sent me after him, saying she´d still be at the plaza when I got back. And what followed was about two hours of hiking up and down Calle Constitucion from one packed-out bar to the next and to the bullring, trying to find Paddy somewhere among the exhausted drunks and the raging bulls. It was a lesson in how many people I´ve never seen before already knowing who we are. Everyone in the city evidently had seen Paddy about three minutes before I got there, and found it highly amusing that I couldn´t catch up to him. He, of course, had left his mobile telephone at home.
I love this man, however, and was really kinda enjoying myself. Kike bought me a beer at Bar Robles, and Leandro the Plumber invited us to dine with his Peña -- one of the big confraternal clubs that run around in odd uniforms throughout the fiesta.
I finally gave up and rejoined Paca and Nieves and Piedad and the ladies out on the arcade at the plaza. I asked them about peñas, and heard the lowdown on the local priest; a local tragedy that´s left a lady bedfast for 12 years, aware but unable to speak; a warning about the gypsy folk who are in town running the carnival rides ("they sing beautifully, and some of them dance. It´s wonderful. And when they do that, hang onto your purse!")
The rain came pouring down again, and the wind picked up. I noticed something pink waving and bouncing in the breeze from the front of a vendors´ stall... It was one of the prizes for a shooting-gallery game. There among the giant plush pythons and cuddly monkeys waved a pair of flesh-tone inflatable sex dolls, their lipstick mouths making O´s into the rain. Ah, Spain!
The bulls ran anyway. (they don´t kill them at encierras. They just tease them a lot.) The bands played, the crowds shifted around the town, and I finally found Paddy again, back at the Deportivo. The weather was trying to clear when we left, and as we turned eastward the sunset broke through behind us. And up front, stretched out from one side of the sky to the other, was the most spectacular rainbow that either of us has ever seen.
It couldn´t be captured by camera, but I tried anyway.
Vichysiosse for dinner. And a long sleep with rain pattering against the windows.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
In Greek, "mono" means "one." In American Junior High Schools "mono" means "mononeucleosis," a strange disease that makes you feel really tired and keeps you out of school for months at a time.
In Spanish "mono" means a whole lot of things, but today I´m focusing on the bright blue canvas kind that forms the background of working-class Spain. Monos are overalls, one-piece "boiler suits." Electricians, farmers, plumbers, tile-setters, ditch-diggers and bricklayers all arrive at their worksites dressed in their usual polo shirts and khaki pants. They find a likely-looking place (often within plain sight of whomever may pass by) and strip off their shoes and pants. They then step into their mono, zip it up over their tummies, put on their boots, and get to work. (No, I´m kidding. They really take a break for a cigarette.)
At 2 p.m. they step out of their monos, put on their regular clothes, and have lunch. And at 4 or 5 they step back in for a couple of hours. Monos are a great idea. They keep polyurethane foam, paint, tile adhesive, mortar, solder, and sheep manure from staining your clothes. They keep you warm when it´s chilly.
And they´re stylin.´
One thing we were obliged to do when we started hiring people to work for us was to supply them with monos. Last fall when Patrick the Czech was here he wore a mono left behind by the Bozos, but we knew we didn´t want to keep that thing around. Blazoned on the back was an ad for Reformas Gonzalez, and it was difficult not to lob bricks at it.
When Paddy and I started working in concrete and plaster and polyfoam ourselves, and our clothes began to unaccountably stick to other clothes in the hampers, we decided to invest in some monos for ourselves, too. We paid 15€ apiece for two nice monos at the hardware store. One has bright yellow racing stripes. The other is plain blue, but has a "special cut," the man told us. Estebanito told us later we shouldn´t have paid more than 10 for them, and the guy just sold us the extra fancy ones... that we could´ve had some nice green ones with "FertiBeria" printed on the back for a mere 8€. (the Milagros own a FertiBeria franchise. But green monos are the exclusive fashion statement of moonshiners and agricultural workers, and I personally hesitate to label myself as a Fertility Symbol.)
Anselmo from Valencia, ever the fashion icon, refused to wear monos. (Do-rags, yeah. Monos, no. Go figure.) So our flashy blue-and-yellow Speed Racer mono saw its first service with Thomas the Dutchman. He was a bit too tall for it, but it served its purpose. It has some paint smears on it, and some polyfoam (which you cannot use without getting all over yourself forever), but that only added to its rugged charm.
And now that Paddy and I are doing some concrete finishing, we are ourselves joining the Ranks of the Mono... Patrick in the Speed Racer model, and myself in the Special Cut. We are liking them, because they are warm, and because they are THERE. They´re available. They fit over anything, they´re comfy, tough, and you can get them as dirty as you want without worrying about ruining them.
I will never wear my mono outside our walls. The women of Moratinos would be scandalized, I´m sure... they all still wear skirts and sensible shoes everywhere, every day. Monos are Menswear, right down to the double-zipper in the front to make peeing more possible. This is where my mono fails me. I learned very quickly to visit the toilet the very moment I felt the urge, and to limit my intake of liquids when wearing one. Because even a quick widdle means climbing the whole way out.
And I can´t say mine fits beautifully, as it is made for a man´s body. It´s baggy in the bottom and the crotch, so I hike it up and put a belt around the waist, and ... et voila! A perfect boob!
Paddy´s suit fits him snugly. He complains that it accents the roundness of his paunch, but I think anyone with a gut would feel the same way. Here in rural Spain, every day is Easter, with multicolored egg-men tottering atop tractors and repairing walls and highways, their monos quiet declarations of their class, status, and ongoing employment. To wear a mono means you are gainfully employed and hard at work. Unless of course you have a cigarette that wants smoking just now. Or you need to pee.
Oh... Mono in Spanish means "monkey," too. It also means "cute."
Friday, 6 June 2008
The melted-down light switch is now grounded. (Grounding power switches is, evidently, an "opcion" around here, and Paddy told the electrician we opt for YES.) I got the internet to work, even though the wifi looks like it will require a professional. The toilets flush. The oven and the stovetop get hot when we turn the knobs the right way. We have chairs and sofas and beds of various types and comfort levels to sit or lie down upon. And we have a good, steady stream of pilgrim traffic washing up here and there, and some of them are great cooks!
They are washing away, too. After keeping very good company and helping the Peaceable progress in leaps and bounds, Patricia the lame pilgrim limped on westward yesterday, Thomas pedaled his way east, and two fresh-faced young couch-surfers slipped away by Dawn´s Early Light. We are now alone... alone as we can be with three dogs, a canary, and three hens.
Alone is good. Don´t get me wrong: I love my pilgs! But we have never ever inhabited this house together before. It´s like having a new baby... you work hard and wait long for it to arrive, and when it finally emerges you are glad to have smiling faces around you. But you also want to keep the little treasure to yourself for a few hours, to really let it soak in that it is really here, it´s yours, it´s what you´ve been dreaming of and planning for all these months.
...And to try not to let the enormity overwhelm you!
It´s a big transition for the dogs, who have lived cheek-by-jowel with us in the litte kitchen for what seems like forever. Now Mimi and Tim, who don´t seem to understand that the inside of the house is no longer a part of the Great Outdoors, must stay on the Out side of the main house. Una gets to come inside, but only to the kitchen and living room. (she very much wants to sleep on the beds, but no.)
Una loves to swan around in the kitchen, begging for scratches and scraps, casting a pitying gaze at the Outer Darkness where Tim and Mimi cower. They understand exactly where the threshold is, and they press themselves right up to it...and sometimes accidentally slip a paw or a a muzzle over the door sill...hoping, hoping we will soon come to our senses. (they still have free rein in the barn and little kitchen, so don´t believe any of the sob stories they´re telling.)
Today the sun came out. I went to my Drivers Ed school and had a total-immersion combination Castellano-Normas de Trafico session of about two hours. After that I went down the street to the Church of San Juan de Sahagun, where the local confraternity is having a Novena prayer session to warm up for the big Saints Day Fiesta this week. What perfect preparation for a Driving Test in a Second Language, than a long session of study, song and prayer? I bet you didn´t know there´s a particular psalm written just for San Juan de Sahagun, our local saint. (Bonus Points in Heaven for anyone who can sing all the words.) I got the chainsaw sharpened and the daily bread bought.
This evening we´re loading the dogs in the car and heading out for a long walk. It seems like ages since we did that, and every time I open the car door the dogs remind me how badly they want an Expedition. And so it is time to get back to Life As Usual around here, but with a generous addition of pilgrims and other visitors to the mix!
Thursday, 5 June 2008
Our internet server is down, and we´re currently trying to figure out how to get online again at our house. Meantime, the electrician who chopped down the antennae, the internet provider, and the Mac people are doing their very best to blame each other for the outage. Or outrage, maybe.
I am coming face-to-face with my internet dependency. And I hope to be back soon, mainlining as much Web as I can squeeze through my teeny tiny bandwidth.
We´ve had lots of pilgrims in the past couple of days, and mostly enjoyed it!
Be back at you soon, with gruesome details.
Monday, 2 June 2008
We are now hosting our first full-on pilgrim guest person, a woman named Patricia. She is lame in the right foot, and will stay til Wednesday. She is from Hackney, London, via North Carolina, Switzerland, Tasmania, and all points in between. She speaks all kinds of languages and can do all kinds of things, including sailing yachts and diagnosing the injuries of race horses using a pendulum. And she´s a fine cook! We went into Sahagun this morning to shop, and her fresh take on the morning´s events refreshed my own view of the grubby old town. Buying broccoli really IS an adventure here if you´ve never done it. And the busload of Japanese tourists who descended on the shops just as we did gave me a fresh appreciation for the patience of the local storekeepers.
Thomas the Dutch handyman is STILL here, still struggling with the roof over our back gate, still cleaning up as he goes. He is driven. His idea of a cleanup is not only all the roofing and concrete mess he made over the past two weeks, but also all the scrap lumber and timbers left behind in the yard after Anselmo cut most of it into firewood last month. Anselmo, at age 30-something, said he couldn´t move the big timbers alone. But here is Thomas, at age 60, somehow getting the entire pile up the yard and stacked under the shiny new tin roof he installed last week. What a guy! And tomorrow, he says, he´s off over the Pyrenees to find work in France. On his bicycle.
His moving-on will make room for Danny, a Couch Surfer/pilgrim from Annapolis USA, who is walking the Camino with someone named Jess. Couch Surfing is a wonderful idea whose time has come, a way for travelers to share their lodgings, hometowns, and company with one another all over the planet. You can find more info here.)
Danny is also a computer engineer, and I´m hoping he can take a single look at the spaghetti of computer wires and tell me exactly how to set up a wifi network at The Peaceable...or at least return my present rambling wreck to reliability. Like Patricia, Danny and Friend can expect a warm welcome, great food, and a real bed to sleep in, but they´re expected to contribute something, too. And they do, gladly. So far.
We also are, sometime this week, expecting another pilgrim... an Italian lady. She´s not said just when. And there´s always the chance a random soul will wash up here, someone we told long ago to "stop in whenever." All these people and the mix of beds had me wondering if Jess is a male or female, and if he/she could share a room and bed with Danny, or if we´d have to split up a happy couple because the double bed was already occupied. I guess hoteliers have to think of these things. I have never thought of myself as a hotelier.
As such, the big question just now is beds. We now are proud purveyors of a single bed in the blue room, and a rather snug sort of double bed in the green room, a single bed in the rather Spartan despensa (although it does have its own bathroom and kitchen now, with two dogs thrown in for good measure.) And now a snug double mattress on the floor in the salon. And a nice leather sofa. (The spankin´ new big double bed Paddy and I now use is not included in these equasions. Some things I will not share, even with the best pilgrim!)
So... If Thomas leaves tomorrow, the bed in the despensa will be open. Patricia has moved herself to the mattress in the salon, so that leaves the green and blue and despensa beds open. Which means all three of the travelers can show up tomorrow and still all have a place to lay their weary heads, although one of them may feel kind-of put-out if he sees the other parts of the house before repairing to his chilly, pitch-dark, windowless despensa room. (But then one of them may be a mendicant hermit. Which means the despensa will be right up his street.)
Tim and Mimi dogs are not allowed inside the new house. Una is allowed into the kitchen, but she can´t get up onto the furniture. It´s been a fascinating learning process, seeing how well they know the boundaries, and how they push the limits... like Tim "sleeping" in the doorway, with a single paw poking over the sill. He lives in hope.
I say all the above to say this: The Peaceable Kingdom seems like it is Open for Business. The dream is coming true! (now if I could only find a graceful, trouble-free way to make it pay...)
Once in a while I catch Patrick´s eye, and we share a kind of strain. We are hermits. We really love our down time, our long walks along the canals with just the dogs, long afternoons just sitting in the sun reading. Our great house-building project is, for all practical purposes, finished, but we have yet to spend a day alone together inside it. (And it is wonderful! Following wise advice from an early visitor, we focused on making the kitchen-sitting room a clean, comfortable space first, so we´d have a refuge from the chaos in the rest of the house. It´s a delight, even without any art on the walls yet.)
We know we will have many, many days alone together here -- or at least we hope we will. We know that being hosts to the International Lame and Halt was a primary purpose for coming here, and we do enjoy the company now coming to our new lovely place.
But in an odd way we also miss one another, the little kitchen, the rumpus of three dogs and a couple of pilgs coming in from the rain. Just for a coffee and a sello. Just for now.