Outside in the sky an astronomical phenomenon is going on: a partial eclipse of a Blue Moon on the last night of a decade. I think I won´t see this again in my lifetime. I wonder why I think something so exceptional ought to be more flashy? I would take a photo, but it wouldn´t look like anything, even with those ragged romantic clouds scudding past. Some things aren´t meant to be photographed. Eclipses are like that -- they are memorable in a negative way. An eclipse "takes away" a piece of the moon. You can´t take a picture of something that is not.
2009 has been that kind of year. At first glance back it looks rough: asthma, tendonitis, root canals, e coli, robbery, busted cats, dismembered dogs, the differing sagas of Brian, Gareth, Leo, and the ongoing Alamo saga, two less-than-successful stints at hospitalero-ing, friends and friendships lost. Like much of humankind, I find hard times much easier to recall. This is universal. Even Shakespeare knew that: "The evil men do lives after them, while the good is oft interred with their bones," said Marc Anthony, in "Julius Caesar." (So much for my stab at literary erudition).
So goes the quick gloss of hard times. Hardest, I think, happened just after halfway, on July 2. That´s when a veterinarian in Leon told us my dog Una had terminal cancer, that she (the dog, not the vet!) would die within four months or so. Negative as hell. But here, half a year on, Una lies stretched out at my feet in front of the stove, minus one leg and very much alive. (which launches me into the future, seeing as I promised to walk the camino in 2010 if Una made a good recovery...)
Nearby snoozes Murphy Cat. He vanished for ten days in October, and somehow made it home with two legs shattered and another paw flattened. Matteo, the same veterinary surgeon/professor/miracle-worker at the University of Leon School of Veterinary Medicine who did the Big Chop on Una, pinned Murph back together. Murph is still not himself, but he is back to shouting for his dinner.
Tim managed to keep all his limbs this year, but he got fat. In the course of his hospitalero career he has laid his chin on dozens of knees this year. His dear emtpy head was stroked by hundreds of hands. He was whispered-to and wooed in at least ten languages. On the chicken front we lost our highly-regarded intellectual chicken Blodwyn, as well as her erstwhile-troublemaker companion Gladys. But we added six exotic new black Zaragonzana girls to the flock, which the Old Guard of Castilian brown hens continues to keep in line. And we now have Max, the fine, beautiful and cowardly rooster who brings such joy to Paddy´s black heart.
Enough crowing. On the human front we did very well too. We saw Thomas again, our hardworking handyman, who did lots of repairs and painting, and imparted lots of advice and wisdom and tall tales. Kim shimmered into our lives, and became something like the daughter we never had.
Brian, the Italian guy from Pittsburgh, also rolled in, and stayed a long time. Through him we came to a new roof on the hermitage, a completely ochre outside edifice, a splendid chimney on the bodega, and a the Steelers t-shirt I wear when traveling.
Leo, the Cuban, swept through on a wave of hope, which eventually dashed against the decaying adobes of The Alamo. He, like Brian, still has a backpack full of God-knows-what floating around here. He´ll be back. They will be back. And we´ll have a place for them.
We saw tons of pilgrims: Luciano, Yacine, Jack, Ragnhild, Orlando, Domingo, David, Marlene, Sabrina, Mick, Adrian, Karl, Sky, Derek, Brian, Kyewon, Tili, Jozefien, Chuck and Sher, Ginn, Pablo, Keith, Judith, Magdalena, Gordon, Margi, Lillian, Annette, Jan, Remi, Kerry, Iñaki, Colin and Margaret, Bridget, Shey, Miguel, Fred, Marion and Daniela, Finn, Jacopo and Maurizio, Heidi, Denis, Georg, Jussi, Gareth, Chris, Stephen, Johnnie, Alf Alex, Megan, Dori, Leena, Kim, Leona, Ron and Rita, Madarsno, Zavasnik, Anne and Adriaan, Nuala, Rivka and Benyamin, Benita, Jackie, Rui, Hideo, Austin, Jacinto, Thomas, Angelo, Marina, Sevgi, Christian, Adam, Vince, Will, Teresa, Marta, Denis, Atila, James, Shevaun, Cherina, Johanna, Rachel, Ariel, Jo, Marcio, Sean, and Martin. (those are the ones who signed the book legibly, anyway. There are some languages in there we cannot divine.)
I am sure there are at least two angels on this list, and at least one Bodhissatva. And a couple of sociopaths. But I won´t to into that, but it has also been an exceptional year for sociopaths and neurotics.
We trained nine new hospitaleros to serve at other places along the caminos. We ate very well, discovered how to make delicacies like Ukrainian borscht, Dutch mustard rabbit, and real Pad Thai. Because I can´t find ingredients here, I learned to make enchiladas from scratch... Wow! We tasted wonderful wine, like Val de los Frailes from Cigales (not rosé!); Miramonte Toro, Ibor Tempranillo from las Tierras del Leon, and Vino Virtud, my Inspirational Sip for when I am writing.
I wrote an online hospitalero course that hasn´t gone anywhere yet. I edited two books, did the international press releases for a big litter cleanup for the South African Confraternity of St. James, shot photos of said litter for "Peregrina" magazine, edited a guide to the Camino Portuguese for the UK Confraternity, co-wrote a guide to the Camino San Salvador, and started work on a book of my own. I made very little money, but I kept myself sharp enough. I wrote blog entries about once a week, and readership increased by 34 percent.
I walked the Camino Salvador, the mountainous path between Leon and Oviedo, two times. It´s wonderful. I walked parts of it alone, and other parts with some really lovely friends. I made two very good new friends this year.
We had a house full of beautiful music in 2009, much if it provided by guitarists, much of it played on the beautiful, hand-built Paracho del Norte guitar brought here last year by Federico Sheppard. Adam Levin was here no less than three times, and recorded an album here in October with violinist Will Knuth. We expect to see even more such beauty in 2010, when Fred brings a gang of musicians down the Camino to celebrate the holy year of St. James!
We had a good vegetable garden, and a patio full of flowers. I made some very good investments when the stock market tanked in March. We dodged a couple of real-estate bullets: we did not win the auction for the Teacher House in San Nicolas (we had enough to do around here without developing another property), we did not buy out a relative´s derelict apartment in Torremolinos. Which is good, because now we need that money to repair a great expanse of roofs here at The Peaceable.
The future is upon us, folks! If there´s an architect or garden designer planning to hike the Camino in 2010, stop by here and fulfill your destiny -- if we are going to roof the barn and old kitchen and bathroom, we need to know what we´re going to do with this space later on. Any ideas? (hint: we don´t want an albergue. More than five extra people here and we go all squirrelly.)
The future is so friable. This week we met the Brescian Italians who plan to open a 50-person pilgrim albergue on Calle Ontanon in April. Two of them, Bruno and Daniel, want to rent rooms here at the Peaceable from Jan. 15 until there´s a place for them to stay at their new digs. So, after five years of attempts by French, Irish-English, German-Palencian, and Cuban dreamers, the Italians may actually put an albergue in this little town.
And so the face of Moratinos shall change... we hope for the better. Watch this space for further developments. We hope a few pilgrims will continue to filter past the glossy allure of the new albergue to keep us company here in our hermitage. In the Holy Year 2010, when I shall walk the Camino again, and we shall visit London, and the people of the world will learn to live together in Peace, Love, and Understanding.
Happy 2010, world. May God have mercy on us all.