Patrick´s not going to London now, as broken cats cost so much to fix. Nowadays, everything´s measured against the cost of cat surgery. (“A dinner for 140 Euros per person? Christ! We could put a new leg on the cat for that!”)
Instead of the expense of London in December, Paddy´s taking a less costly and more benevolent path. He´s volunteered to run the little pilgrim hostel in Salamanca through the first two weeks of the month. All he´s got to do is get there and back, and feed himself while he´s there, which costs almost nothing. In December just about nobody walks any camino, especially the Via de la Plata. Paddy need not fear pilgrim throngs.
Salamanca is the best hospitalero gig ever. There´s a cleaning lady there, so there´s no dirt to worry about. The cathedral and plaza mayor and university bookstores and libraries and shops and marketplace and Greek and Galician restaurants are all an easy walk away. There´s a splendid clifftop garden right outside the door. The view down the Rio Tormes from the hospitalero´s bedroom window is worthy of any five-star parador.
Yeah, you sleep in a bunk, but you have your own room. And yeah, it´s chilly there. But it´s chilly here, too. (Our bedroom was 58 F/14 C this morning!). In December in Salamanca a hospitalero is practically free to do his own thing in one of the greatest little cities in the world. And to us, “free” means no Christmas shopping or package-wrapping.
Murphy´s surgery wiped out our Christmas budget. Friends and family won´t feel too much of a pinch, we hope – we´ve been doing Christmas very minimally for a while now (And friends and family know us well enough to realize we are selfish SOBs anyway.) This way we each can enjoy a couple of weeks of solitude and quiet, away from everyone but beloved critters. That´s a gift that keeps on giving.
Victor, the Salamanca albergue boss, says it´s fine if Paddy takes Tim along – seeing as Paddy won´t go without him. Tim knows how to behave, and he´ll keep Paddy in line. So everyone is happy.
Paddy´s the star of the show these days.
He´s got Chopin Etudes on the CD player, with live accompaniment by Bob Canary. The kitchen is fragrant with the chili tofu salad he made for lunch. The fire he laid in the grate is warming the room. Tim is asleep at Paddy´s feet. Una is curled up in her bed, next to the cat – she keeps a close eye on Murph these days. Murphy is as close as he can get to the fire, his body stretched out full-length, his costly cartoon paws akimbo. (he has post-surgery edema, which the vet says is normal, but which give him a Mickey Mouse aspect. And all cats should have something “akimbo” at all times.) Murphy´s bright blue eyes are wide open, watching the chickens outside the window.
The chickens peck at the glass in the window. They do that for hours. They have a bird´s-eye view of the living room, and we believe they enjoy watching us. We are their version of television, an excruciatingly dull reality show. I think they are pecking the glass in a vain attempt to change the channel. Animal Planet, maybe. Or reruns of “Green Acres.” Or “Cow and Chicken.”
Una gnaws a dog-chewy she stole from Tim. She is full of beans, back to being the old pain-in-the-neck dog we know and love. She is very well, so I am starting to plan my pilgrimage of thanksgiving for next spring. I have promises to keep.
Next year is a Holy Year on the Camino, when good Catholic hikers get extra divine credit for doing the walk. The high season promises to be a monster mosh-pit crowd scene, so when I go I plan to carry an ultralight one-person tent, at least for the first half of the trip. (For those who care: I want to follow the Camino Frances from the French frontier to Leon, take a break in Moratinos, and then take the Camino del Salvador to Oviedo and the Camino Primitivo on to Santiago.) I also have volunteered to be a “sapo” hospitalera for the Federation in 2010, filling-in all along the caminos when staffing emergencies strike. It should be interesting!
But all that is far in the future. For now we are recovering, economizing, and winter-izing.
All us loved-ones are gathered ´round the family hearth, well-fed, churched, a little grubby from the morning´s run through the fields. The vermouth is as sweet as Maurizio Pollini´s piano-playing. The latest editing job is finished and sent. (Hikers check the Confraternity of St. James UK site soon for a free .pdf download of the newest Camino del Salvador guide, a three-person opus.)
Clouds move in. The hens crowd into the windowsill and peck, peck, peck at the glass.
Bloody chickens got no rhythm.