Tuesday, 1 December 2009

That Homeless Summer

The easy stuff is done. I swept the floors, stoked the fire, fed myself and the animals, got a haircut, answered the emails, and sent Patrick off to Salamanca for a couple of weeks. It looks like the Alamo/Casa Tortuga sale went belly-up, so I don´t need to wonder when a gang of people – some of them welcome, some not – might pop in here. I locked the front gate. The December fog arrived.

Now comes the part I´ve been waiting for for weeks.

I settle down on the far corner of the sofa with a lap desk on my knees. I open a new notebook with a hard red cover and gridded paper. On the first page is a written outline. To my right leans a stack of mismatched raggedy spiral-bound diaries.

Each day since 15 June 2006, when we came to Spain to stay, Paddy and I have, with few exceptions, written at least a note about what happened and how we felt about it. I am now mining them for material, noting down where I will find this bit of color or dialog or description when I need to work it into a larger text.

These are details of days past, but they are not dull. We were not bored when we wrote them. We were on the adventure of our lives, and we lived it as brilliantly as money, time, and health allowed. We wrote pretty well, too. And we kept things.

Here is a boarding pass for that first flight – Pittsburgh to New York to London. Here´s a printout of an email I sent my sister, describing what life was like in a Mongolian yurt during a field-mouse plague.  
And a ticket to a bullfight, a “treat” provided by Don Blas, the charismatic priest at Fuenterroble de Salvatierra. We volunteered at their pilgrim albergue for three weeks that summer, and we thought hard about settling there. Fuenterroble is a tough, beautiful, brutal place, a pork-packing town on a pilgrim trail less traveled – like Dodge City, but with Roman roads. It was España Profunda… a bit too deep for me.

“Fuenterroble” is listed on The Checklist, a hand-drawn grid with 13 town names down one side, and our 13 requirements for liveability along the top. The squares in the middle are X´ed in three colors. It looks like a needlepoint pattern, but it kept us focused. All through The Homeless Summer it kept us on track. Miraz, a tiny village in Galicia on the Camino del Norte, earned only four check-marks , for its Community Feel, Dog Friendliness, Camino location, and Purpose. (We didn´t want to just live somewhere nice. We needed a reason to be there, a purpose. We wanted to contribute.) Fuenterroble didn´t suit much better than Miraz: its weather was nicer, it had a health center, children live there. But it still could not offer rental options, Spanish tutoring, internet or public transportation.

We spent that summer volunteering at pilgrim hostels all over the caminos, in places we knew we liked already. The places that met the most criteria were Hervás, a mountain resort town near Salamanca; Orense, a city in Galicia; and Vigo, a seaside town near Santiago. And Sahagún.

Grubby old Sahagún met 10 out of 13 requirements. And it was right next door to… Moratinos!  Moratinos only scored a seven. But we´d already fallen in love with the place when we added up the check-marks, so we split the difference.

All these check marks are boring to read about, so I will stop. I am just marveling over how systematic we were about all this. Two of the most intuitive, seat-of-the-pants people you´ll ever see actually produced this document. Amazing.

Looking backward is deadly if you do it for too long, (and judging from the last entry here I am indulging overmuch!) but 2006 was such a fun period, that first summer when everything was possible, when I still had a job in Pittsburgh to return to if things did not pan out. As the months went on we stayed very busy. We criss-crossed the country in a leased Peugeot, saw all kinds of scenery, museums, artwork and architecture, bashed away in our bad Spanish, and kept believing something would work its way out. And so it did.

In August, the last month of my leave, our little house in Pittsburgh sold for its asking price. (It had been on the market for a year. Two months after the sale, the U.S. housing market collapsed.)

That same August we found the little farm that became The Peaceable, for the same price we got for the Pittsburgh house. On September 2 we shook hands with the owners and agreed to buy this fallen-down mud-brick paradise in rural Castile.

I wrote a resignation letter and sent it to my publisher. I still have all four drafts. 
My mom and sisters wired us a massive congratulations bouquet. I still have the card, a water-stained relic spelled-out over the phone to a long-suffering Spanish florist. It says:

“Dearest Re Bekan an Paddy Gratulations On
You Nen Home May Yt He aunyeT Waen
you want it to be and TuLL oT Freyends wne you
 Yt Tobe Lowe Mom and Gene Bet Hand Famil Ymart  An Family.”

I will get around to heavy writing very soon, I promise. It ought to be fun, except perhaps reliving the horrors and frustrations of the year that followed…many of which were detailed right here as “Big Fun In a Tiny Pueblo.” 

But for now, I´m rolling in nostalgia, living in the past, savoring that Homeless Summer of 2006 – before reality set in, and the heavy work started, and the dream really did take shape. 


Anonymous said...

aw shucks...thrilled to have been part of the journey,

#3 on the guestbook

ps and hoping for more..you write pretty good, too,
you and that straight-faced spouse o'yours...

MermaidLilli said...

Would love to know what were the 13 criteria on your list. Might help us homeless-wannabes. UGH

rspenger said...

Hi Reb,

Bob checking in here. When I saw messages about the completion of the new guide, I was reminded that it had been a long time since I had checked out your blog and I had been wondering what had been happening to Una. I was delighted to learn that she is still hanging in there.

Love to you and Paddy and to all the rest of the denizens of the PK.


Susan said...

Great start on THE BOOK. I hope you find a publisher who will include the visuals.