Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Hell Is Other People
I have just survived two of the toughest weeks of my recent history.
I am back at the Peaceable after a Season in Hospitalera Hell: Two weeks I´d touted as "a break in the Valley of Silence," a hospitalera gig at Miraz, in deepest Lugo Province in Galicia -- a town I know pretty well, having hospitalera-ed there a couple of times before. April 1 to 15, in an English-run, 16-bed little place on the Camino del Norte. What could be nicer?
I went for the quiet. Miraz, despite the occasional dynamite blast from the granite quarry outside the town, is one of the most quiet places I´ve ever been. In early April I knew we would not be overwhelmed by pilgrims.
It is still very very quiet there, and very beautiful. Pilar the tough ol´barmaid still reigns supreme over the tiny crossroads town, from behind the bar in her unnamed establishment. An assortment of dogs still snoozes out on the steps, and the cows still lumber down the main street in the morning and back up in the evening. The fields are going green with spring. A million songbirds try to outdo one another, dawn to dusk. (especially at dusk.) Roosters crow. Cows moo.
The pilgrims come in twos and threes, mostly Germans, some Austrians, some Portuguese. When Holy Week starts up, we have a packed house, mostly Spaniards making the hike on their holiday week. Fine people. No trouble. Great language practice.
Rain falls, and falls, and falls. The humidity rises.
The temperature falls. The humidity condenses on the walls and ceilings.
Inside the hospitalero bedroom, a 2 a.m. temperature reading shows 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Those clouds hanging over the beds are not dreams, pilgrims. That´s your breath, turning to fog. Or maybe frost. There is no heat in the Hostal de Peregrinos Miraz but for an old-fashioned built-in iron stove in the kitchen. There´s firewood out back, but it´s in huge hunks. It´s soaking wet.
After a few days I got sick.
All these things I could have managed, and have done in days past. But what made this volunteer stint the most difficult of my career was not the tough environmental conditions. It was an x-factor, an unknown quantity you sign on for anytime you take the risk of hospitalero-ing.
It´s the Other Hospitalero.
I am not naming names here. I don´t want to blacken anyone´s reputation, as volunteers are hard enough to come by, and 97% of all hospitaleros are fine people. But if you volunteer enough times, some time you´re going to run across one of those 3-percenters. And so I did.
For the first six days she did not cease to talk, at a speed that would leave many others stammering. I learned about her amazing parents, nanny, children, and aunties, her ex, and the awe-inspiring walled-in basement lurking below the stupendous floor tiles in her fabulous holiday house, and how Fashionability runs in her family... all within an hour or so. The wonderfulness continued and multiplied with time.
Some incoming pilgrims received similar gifts, until they fled to Pilar´s bar for similarly colorful doses of cigar smoke and card-game shouting-matches in fluent Gallego. This went on until the Spaniard pilgrim wave petered out, and the Germans returned. Herself doesn´t relate as well to Germans, I suppose, as she pretty much left them to me, or to their own devices. Things quieted. A Pax Germanicus fell upon Miraz.
And quietly, then, came the Corrections. She did not approve of my floor-mopping, nor my laundering, nor my clothes-pinning skills. She followed along behind to fix my errors, and to point out how I could do better. I retreated into long hikes across the lovely countryside.
I collected pine cones for the fire one afternoon, so the following day she went to the woods and collected Proper pine cones. When I posited opinions during dinnertime conversations, the assembly was duly told how my statement was faulty, or wrong, or offensive. And from there, over time, matters descended into all-out interruptions of ongoing conversations, un-doing work already done, sending away pilgrims I was in the middle of greeting ("Go to the bar. We don´t open until TWO!") and on the final night, when I touched the CD player and the music stopped for a moment, she snapped. She shoved me aside and cursed me, right in front of three young pilgrims.
Bad hospitalera. Bad bad bad.
Minor things, really. Pettiness. Nothing criminal. But two weeks of it? In a small town with no internet, TV, or other outside input to widen out your horizon and keep you grounded in reality? The negativity was overwhelming. My stay at Miraz was ruined. Heaven knows what impression some of those pilgrims must have taken away from that place, with as much hostility as humidity hanging in the air.
So be warned, ye camino folk... not all things Camino are Peace, Love, and Understanding. There are a few people out there on the trail who maybe ought to be in Anger Management class instead.
And now I must forgive her, and let it go, and re-claim the peace I let her steal from me. And remember Miraz as the dear, quiet, peaceful Miraz of the cows and chickens and scruffy pups, and not That Dreary Place With the Bitch.
Here we are, blogsters, at Blog Post Number 250!! Wowee, it seems like just yesterday, no?