Monday, 26 January 2009

An Abyss Of Our Own

Our despensa is a cave-like little storage room right by the front gate. We used to sleep in there, back before the Peaceable was liveable, back when Chickens Roamed the House.

The meter-thick despensa wall was crumbling down. That is not an unthinkable, seeing as sometime in the last 100 years or so there was a door there, a door into the barn. But this crumbliness was different. I brushed at it with my hands one day, to uncover what kind of structure was beneath the adobe... an upright, vertical stronger than the mud that covered it. I rubbed at it, til I hit a flat stony hardness. I clawed it with my nails.

And underneath? Mosaic. White tiles. Roman? I had to see! Nine kilometers from here are the remains of a sprawling Roman villa, noted mostly for the fantastic mosaics that make up the floors. I called for Paddy, called for him to bring a scrub brush or a broom, to come and see this!

...And that´s when he woke me up. It was the most vivid dream I´ve had since we moved here. I don´t think you have to be a Freudian analyst to figure out what it signifies. Dreams aren´t supposed to be taken literally, but I later laid a mosaic dolphin design into the concrete step outside the despensa door, to remind me of that word of encouragement from the Unconscious.


So today, for real, a chasm opened up in the earth beneath our back yard, right next to the chicken coop.
I noticed a small depression there last week, before I left for Madrid. And this afternoon it was a manhole-sized, irregular black spot on the surface. I went out there and looked.

It´s a gaping maw. A yawning chasm. A big old honkin´hole. It goes straight down a good two meters and then turns right. It keeps going at least for a little way, toward the woodshed, but you can´t see anything beyond the bend. It´s not wet at the bottom, just damp.

Is it a sinkhole, like the ones in Florida? Are we looking at underground subsidence that´s going to swallow our woodpile, chicken girls, and apple trees? Is there an underground river undermining our house, or an abandoned mine? Will it cost thousands to shore up the yard? Who do we call? How do we find out? Is this common around here? What IS this hole? It looks manmade, and the debris that´s fallen in -- mostly broken roof tiles -- was definitely placed there with a purpose. This place has been occupied by humans for longer than any one can remember. Parts of the house are made from bricks of Arab manufacture... So can the hole be some kind of Arab aljibe water cistern? Or maybe it´s a medieval well? Should we be standing so close to the edge?

I´ll admit it, romantic that I am, that thoughts of buried treasure danced through my mind. Hoards of Roman or Visigothic coins do sometimes come to light in situations just like this one. (The Roman villa was discovered when the farmer bought a new tractor that plowed the land deeper than his mules ever could...and up came a mosaic of Neptune. So much for that year´s crop!) I spent some hours last week at the national archaeological museum, where hoards from long-ago cultures were displayed in glorious profusion. I wonder what became of the farmers and hunters and hikers who made these discoveries. Did they ever get to keep anything? How often do people find things in holes in the yard, and cover them up again, knowing the government may well show up and seize the whole place once word gets out... or thieves come creeping in at night.

We discussed all this over lunch. It was a blast, considering.

The only thing we could think to do was have Estebanito, the mayor, have a look. If we need an engineer or archaeologist or a load of concrete, he´ll know where to find them. We went downtown to tell the tale of the Hole. ("Sinkhole" does not appear in our Spanish-English dictionary.) No Esteban. But José, his brother, was bopping around in his fine green mono. He seemed happy to have such an exciting diversion added to his day. He came right over.

He pushed at the edge with his toe. He poked a fence-pole down inside, and saw it almost disappear into the depths. Yes, it is manmade, he said. Yes, it´s old. And no, he doesn´t know what it is, but it´s not a well. Not that high up in the yard.

"Maybe it was a sort of bodega, for keeping things cool. Maybe it was a grain silo -- there are some of those around still," he said. "You ought to look deeper. Maybe it´s from the wars. Maybe they hid their guns down there? Or maybe... other things!" His eyebrows shot up. I could see ghastly visions of skulls and bones dancing there in his head. (Unfortunately, there are probably twice as many unmarked graves around here as there are Roman mosaics.) José shrugged and headed on out to Sahagún. "It´s no danger. Just don´t let the dogs fall in there," he said.

I love these Milagro Boys. They may not always be right, but they always have good, sensible answers.

So Paddy put an old door over the cavern. Tomorrow, if it doesn´t rain and we can find a flashlight, we will figure out a safe way to explore further our Mine of Mysteries. If there is pirate treasure in there, or we break through to a fabulous cavern full of glittering stalagmites, or we learn the hard way where the sewage runoff from Terradillos collects, you all will be the first to know.


Oh, Madrid was marvelous. I spent a long weekend there with my best girlfriend Jeanne, looking at museums and shopping the January sales and eating tapas. I would tell you all about it, but it´s not polite to brag.

I guess we´ve been out here a while, when the biggest news I have for you is a long discourse on a hole.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

How Fragile We Are

The fog´s suddenly turned to mist. You can see the droplets circling like gnats in the gray air. They pepper my face, so I know it will become rain very soon.

We walk on. A cold breeze is blowing. There´s a hood on my coat, but it won´t stay on my head. And when it´s pulled all the way on, it flops down over my eyes. (It´s a great-looking coat. It may even still be fashionable.)

It´s after 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and we´re all out walking, me and Paddy and Una and Tim. It´s been a while. We used to always go, all together, for miles. But hardly ever since November, not since Paddy hurt his foot. One barefoot dash down the trail after the runaway donkey, one bad step, and for months things are skewed out of shape.

Paddy´s improving. He walks farther lately, but with a stick to help. I like to feel like we are tough people, but I know so well how fragile is our life out here.

I try to treasure up these ordinary days, the long discussions of what to make for lunch, chats about books and the news, how we always smile at each other from far down the length of the clean sheets as we fold laundry, and twiddle our fingers together when we get it folded closer in, to where we can touch. And when we´re out walking together, somewhere in a part of the trail where no one can see, we always have a little kiss. Even when the rain is coursing down my bangs and off the end of my nose. (Paddy will hate that I am writing this. There´s a reason why we don´t do this smoochy stuff in public. He is English, you see.)

One of these days something will happen to change this. Life won´t be this way any more. But I will have these notes I´ve taken, the memorized scent of rainy kisses and the feel of my husband´s whiskers scratching my cheek, and the curious, impatient look Tim always gives Patrick when we carry on so.

Someday me or Pad or one or the other of the dogs will be missing from the picture. And then the thought of these dull winter doldrum days will be the very thing that sweetness is made on. A walking stick tapping into the mud. A wet-dog smell. Cold snakes up over my glove-tops and into my sleeves.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Driving Down January

Rain is pouring down outside. I am extremely sleepy, but still I feel very good in my heart. Great things are happening here.

The online hospitalero course is moving along. I think it is three-fourths finished, at least the writing part. Other (Canadian) people will have to chip in a bit to get it done. My part would´ve finished-up last week but for those pesky pilgrims who kept showing up. And then on Friday night...

We made two new friends. I picked them up at the train station in Burgos. (Good thing I gave myself LOTS of time to do that. Train stations are usually city landmarks, you know. Places you can always rely on to not move. Well, the train station in Burgos is still there where it always was, but the trains don´t stop there any more. A sign scribbled on the door showed a crude map and the news that the New Train Station opened a few days ago. It´s 6 km. north, out on the edge of the city in a new suburb. Of course no one´s gotten around to changing what few signs point the way to the station...the old ones are still up all over the city. (apparently no one´s told MapQuest or the Tourist Office people, either. Taxi drivers are still queued-up outside the abandoned station downtown to take the befuddled out to the shiny new place. ¡Que Español! ¡Que barbaridad! Anyway, with the help of a wild-eyed young man on crutches who was standing outside the old station clutching a train ticket, I managed to find the place. (yeah, I took him with me. I had a car. And he kinda knows Burgos. And we could team up asking where to go: I would pull up halfway onto the sidewalk, and he´d shout out to passers-by for directions.)
He made his train. The Madrid express I was meeting was late, which was the silver lining on the cloud. Turns out I was just in time. )

Marta and Adam are young American musicians now living in Madrid. She is an operatic soprano who teaches kids English. He is a classical guitarist, studying on a Fulbright grant. They are FOFs...Friends of Federico. And they are delightful. Over the weekend we:
saw the sights,
washed the dogs,
talked like we´d known one another for years,
filled the Peaceable with some amazing music,
hosted a small village get-together,
and met with the mayors of Moratinos and Sahagun to hear more guitar tunes and talk about bringing more talent like Adam to play guitars in the neighborhood during the next couple of summers.

(and in between I joined the ladies of Moratinos in de-Christmasing the church, which was blog-worthy in itself as the products of everyone´s home-based pig-stickings were compared and contrasted and declared deliciosa.)

I stayed up into the wee hours this morning, having found a live radio feed of the AFC Championship American Football game online. I had to imagine all the pictures, but it was a blast hearing my Steelers win another game, and another chance at the Superbowl! Woohoo! Now to find someplace where Paddy and I can see the big game live. We have two weeks. We may have to travel far, but this is worth it.

One more cause for celebration is tomorrow´s Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. I´ve supported Barack Obama since I first heard him speak four years ago. Unlike some folks I do not expect this man to walk on water -- he IS, after all, a politician from Chicago -- but anything has to be better than the treason and pillage the Constitution has suffered the past eight years.

So let us go forward now, and run with courage the race that is set before us. Let´s keep our eyes on the prize, and shed all those burdens that will hold us back and weigh us down or keep us from attaining all we can be, while maintaining all the precious things our parents worked to give us.

And while I sit here bloviating, the sun comes out. Life is fine, people. We may even survive January.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A Few of my Favorite Things (including the Steelers)

The sky is white, the ground is white with three inches of crunchy snow, even the air is white. All the neighbors are out shoving it around with brooms and shovels. They all are smiling, which is good to see - we never get such snow here! they say. But it is foggy too, so their smiles are lost in the blur of motion: theirs, and the fog´s, and mine as I walk by. The dogs run. They slide and twist and fall when the ice beneath the snow snatches away the friction we all so take for granted. They jump right back up onto their feet. I meant to do that! they seem to say.

Una limps even worse. She keeps going. Dogs are masters of Getting On With It. Today I love my dogs. Dogs are better than people, except for the lifespan issue. Dogs always break your heart after a few years.

But then people do, too. But people kinda smell better.

Today is full of softly fun things. When we came home I took a call from KDKA Pittsburgh, the big morning radio station in my home city in America. We talked for five minutes on the air, about how I can still be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and live way the hell out here. The DJ called it "the middle of nowhere." I corrected him: This is the middle of Everywhere, man. I love Pittsburgh, and I always will. But this is better. Moratinos is better. Moratinos is my home.

It is the first live media I´ve done in more than two years, and I enjoyed it. I know the only reason they had me go on is I used to work with a KDKA-TV news crew when I was with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It´s who you know, and who knows you. (and I think they can trust me not to just scream "WOOOOOO!" This is the default setting for football fans when an open microphone is in the vicinity.) Not that I had anything startling to tell them... I have a Steelers t-shirt (I wore it today, for the interview!) and we fly a little Steelers flag in our front window. But I really cannot be a true Steelers fan here because I can´t watch the games. Not without a television and a satellite dish and an expensive season subscription. I have to watch highlights after the fact, on our stuttery, low-bandwidth internet connection.

It´s not about football at all. It´s all pure, mindless tribalism. I´m on the frontier of The Steeler Nation. That gives me some kind of home identity, a built-in belonging, a brotherhood no matter where I roam. And if the team keeps winning these playoff games, roam is what we will do. We´ve found an Irish pub that broadcasts the Steelers live. It´s in Puerto del Sol, in the heart of Madrid. And yeah, we´ll go there to watch, if we gotta. Even if it´s on at midnight. You´d do the same, if you were from "Da Burgh." And that´s what I told The Radio Audience, except for the tribalism part. (People tuned into news radio at 6:30 a.m. are not looking for amateur sociology, I think.)

I think what I like best about fandom is hearing about my nephews, my sister´s two little boys who live in similar exile in rural Arkansas. They are Steelers maniacs. Mart sends pictures, and vivid descriptions of their wild cheers and livingroom replays during dramatic games... I love how much they love this game. And I love that they have a Home Team, the same one as mine!

Another great thing about this day is the food. I found a recipe from years ago, from the newsroom at The Toledo Blade, from a news assistant named Lillian Covarrubias, for Enchiladas. It is an amazingly simple recipe, and I just happened to have on hand everything it called-for -- thanks to gifts brought from New Mexico by our Sahagun newcomers Elyn and Gary. Real ancho chili. Manny´s green tomatillo sauce. Good tortillas, bought this week in Leon. I had no cheddar, but I think I did even better with some local sheep´s cheese... Dear readers, it was Heaven. This, I think, is my favorite food of all time.
God bless you, Lillian, wherever you are.

Then the sun came out. I opened a bottle of Prado Rey Cuvée 2006, from Ribero del Duero (I write this for Ryan´s sake.) It is delicious and rich and it is ALL MINE, because in January Patrick always goes On The Wagon. Which is nice, because I´ve laid in some very nice wine, and on my own I can make a single bottle last for two or three days.

Lest you think this is a day of utter self-indulgence, I interject the latest news on the hospitalero training front. Ivar the Norwegian IT god said if I get all the materials into shape, he will do the actual programming. Two other kindly blog readers stepped up and volunteered their services as IT demigods and experienced Moodle users, who will Beta-test this thing once it goes up. And so I am happily writing, rewriting, editing, and just generally keeping myself occupied for hours at a time! How much I love a worthwhile project, especially when it´s cold and snowy outside, and boredom snuffles outside the door like a three-legged cur.
For a little while there existed the possiblity I´d go to South Africa in the Spring and teach a gang of people there to be hospitaleros. But word came this morning that the Rand is way down against the euro, and there just isn´t the money... Oh well. We will, however, have a goodly gang of South Africans here in May, and some want to be trained Live during their visit. Someday, though, I plan to see giraffes and zebras, lions, elephants and dikdiks walking free in their native lands. Like on "Wild Kingdom." Except real, without the Mutual of Omaha ads.

Oh, the veterinarian stopped by, the one who gave Lola the Ill-Starred Donkey her first shots back in November. (they do housecalls here!) He came to collect the needle and vaccine, he said -- the one he told me to put in the fridge.

... The one I threw away weeks ago, figuring I no longer had a donkey so I no longer needed donkey vaccination materials. Turns out it wasn´t a disposable setup, but a real, hardcore, re-useable intravenous syringe. Forty Euros worth. Yikes.

But while he was here, and included in the price of admission, he had a look at Una´s limpety leg. (She hurt it two months ago, when she and Tim made a clumsy leap out of the car and Tim landed on her. We took her to the vet back then, and he´d said she´d get better on her own. She has not.) Una´s leg is dislocated at the hip, he said. He can´t fix it. It probably doesn´t hurt her. Just let her limp, he said. "This is why a dog has four legs. He only needs three. He´s got a spare," he said. "That´s why you see so many three-legged dogs around. They get along just fine."

Saturday, 10 January 2009

A Default Jump Upside the Head

One of the things I dislike most about being me is running into concepts that are beyond my understanding. The crushing impact occurs, usually, after I´ve promised loads of good people that "sure, I can do this, it´s a good idea, innit? Just give me a couple of weeks!"

Such is the Online Hospitalero Training Program. I waded into this deep water in the fall, when (via I learned a couple of dozen South Africans and another scattering of Aussies and Kiwis and Alaskans want to be trained, but have no access to "live" Spanish hospitalero trainers. Hmmm, I thought... I have the time, the technology, and the will. And in a few months´ time I wheedled the needed permissions, and got certified (via Canada) to train former Santiago pilgrims how to be volunteer hosts at pilgrim hostels, using the time-honored "live" methods.

From there I could start innovating. Ivar, a tech-savvy Norwegian in Santiago, volunteered bandwidth and some advice for the new effort. Last week I sat down with every manual and teaching material I could find and tucked in to master the supposedly easy-peasy world-beater teaching software package. From there I could just load up the program with the hospitalero-making material, and mount it all on the server.

Except I can´t.

Hours I have spent, midnight hours, toiling over this, and I cannot make it work. I cannot clearly divvy up the source material into useable chunks. I don´t understand the programming instructions. I cannot figure out how to set up a quiz, make enough space for an essay answer, or create an open forum where two or more students may gather and talk. I am faced, at the end of the day, with instructions like this:

"...The default jump in an "End of Branch" page is the preceding branch table page as an absolute jump. After a classic branch has been created, the teacher will see 3 new relative jump options: "Unseen question within a branch", "Random question within a branch" and "Random branch page". The classic branch with its "end of branch" navigation page is similar to a cluster."

Random branch page. Relative jump options...JFC. I went to bed in a blue funk, utterly frustrated and very down on myself. Here is something I can´t do. "Can´t" is not a word I say too often. I do not handle failure well. The snow tumbled down.

But in the morning I rose up refreshed, knowing there were two real, live pilgrims in the house who might want eggs for their breakfasts. That is something real, immediate, and do-able. These are the things I am sticking with today. Easy stuff.

Feeding chickens. Frying eggs. Putting soil into old ice trays, and putting little lavender seeds into the soil, and sticking them inside my spankin´ new and truly ugly mini-greenhouse. (Never mind that the websites say you just DON´T start lavender bushes from seed unless you are God.)

Editing the new CSJ guide to the Portuguese camino. Yeah. That I can do.

And bringing tea and toast upstairs to the Norwegian who´s spending her day in bed, after having spent her night in the bathroom talking to the big ear. Did I tell you the flu is epidemic in the regions east and north of us? Stasi and Pilar next door have it too. Influenza and snow. And for the pilgrims, exhaustion. Ragnhild´s been sleeping now for 15 hours.

I will cast about for help with the big project, but I wonder if maybe the Spanish nay-sayers were right. Their reasons for not liking the idea were different, but the outcome may be the same: Imposible. Conmigo imposible. You South Africans: Just HOW badly do you want to spend your holidays in Spain looking after pilgrims? Wouldn´t you prefer a nice one-on-one session with a live teacher? Stop over when you´re around, we´ll fix you right up!

Even the wise heads at Moodle tell me "it is best to add advanced features after the basic question and branch tables pages have been created. Checking the Lesson's behavior in a student role is another best practice with highly adaptive lesson formats."

In other words: "το s με οποιοδήποτε προηγμένο χαρακτηριστικό γνώρισμα, αυτό είναι καλύτερο να το προσθέσει αφότου έχουν δημιουργηθεί οι βασικές επιτραπέζιες σελίδες ερώτησης και κλάδων. Έλεγχος του Lesson' η συμπεριφορά του s σε έναν ρόλο σπουδαστών είναι μια άλλη καλύτερη πρακτική με τα ιδιαίτερα προσαρμοστικά σχήματα μαθήματος."

Monday, 5 January 2009

Baltazar Does Sahagún: or The Best Holiday Ever (So Far)

Buckle up those safety belts, kiddos... it´s Kiddie Night in Sahagún, and the Three Kings are rollin´ into town.

Spain´s very long holiday season peaks right now with a holiday called Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day. It´s celebrated all over Spain the way Christmas is marked in other places, with children opening packages under a Christmas tree, parades, candy, family gatherings and lots of goodies. That´s not to say the Spaniards don´t also celebrate Christmas, but that is still more a religious holiday. New Year´s Eve is, well, an all-night adult revel that only gets started at about 1 a.m. The Three Kings -- a holiday known otherwise as Epiphany -- is when the gift-giving happens, and the kiddies really cash in.

The classic Spanish Three Kings Celebration features local men dressed up as Gaspar, Baltazar, and Melchior, the three "wise men" who brought gifts for the baby Jesus soon after his birth. On the evening before Epiphany they ride into town on fine horses, tossing candy and small toys to the cheering crowds of children -- it´s a parade known as a "Cabalgata," the same word as "Cavalcade." Elyn, our American friend who lived in Sahagún 25 years ago, said she remembers just such a celebration back then, with the three costumed characters riding out of a misty night into the lit-up Plaza Mayor. The following morning the children awoke to find what treasures "the three kings" brought them during the night.

But times change, and so has the Cabalgata. Apparently, sometime in the past quarter-century, the Wise Men joined the Sahagún Chamber of Commerce. And tonight the celebration wasn´t just a kiddie delight. It was a display of what makes Sahagún unique.

Sahagún´s a stop on the main trans-national railroad line, and its railway station is its pride and joy. (Just try catching a bus around here.) Sahagun´s got several tractor dealers. It´s got theater groups for the youth that are well-endowed with colorful costumes and theatrical sets and special effects. All the kids in the youth theater groups have dads and moms and sisters and brothers anxious to take part. And Sahagún is, apparently, not burdened with killjoy safety rules.

And so, at 7:15 p.m. The Three Kings Express pulled up on Track One at the fine train station, and dozens of sugar-charged children dashed to the edge of the platform to meet it. The center-car doors shushed open, and out stepped Baltazar, Gaspar, and Melchior, along with several "attendants" in full dress uniform. Which is to say they all sparkled in curly long wigs and beards, robes of faintly Egyptian or Oriental cut, and blackface.

Yes, blackface. Somehow, no authentic black man could be found to portray Baltazar, the Wise Man from Africa. (There are black men around. Every Saturday market brings African immigrants to town to sell "Chanel" and "YSL"sunglasses and purses, but it´s assumed they are all Muslims, and thus not interested in enacting proto-Christian myths. Or maybe nobody thought to ask them.) So the guy from the feed store, well... You know what he did. And what most of his "attendants" did, too. They did an Al Jolson, and they enjoyed it. And they´ll do it again next year, too, innocent of any whiff of political correctness.

The Big Three waded through the gangs of shrieking children and picture-taking parents ´round to the train station parking lot, where they joined a throng of costumed kiddies: tiny Tuts, Cleopatras, Centurions, lambs, shepherds, and assorted local ethnic dresses too. The crowd divided itself slowly as each king mounted a gleaming plywood float with his monogram atop, seated himself on a throne, and was joined there in the transformed farm-wagon by adorable children decked in matching attire and clutching bags of candy and confetti.

Finally, after Mary and Joseph and The Babe fought their way onto the first float, the Heavenly Host were assembled alongside and the Roman Guard (several pre-pubescent cherubs with long, flowing hair and real, flaming torches) took their places up front of the parade. And at some invisible signal, the gentlemen started their engines. Four powerful John Deere tractors slid into first gear, and the Cabalgata started the long, slow march down Calle Constitucion to the Plaza.

Grandparents cheered. The kiddies on the floats threw candy and streamers. The tractors roared, the cameras flashed, the torches flamed, and everyone along the sidewalks -- moms, dads, teens, toddlers, gnarled bachelor farmers -- ducked and dived and grabbed for the sweets that clattered and bounced down from above.

It was a jolly event alright, and I wonder how we managed to miss it our first two years here. We followed the floats as far as the Codorniz, then doubled back to Elyn and Gary´s place over by the cheese factory, taking it easy for the sake of Paddy´s foot. There the Four Foreigners feasted on Roscon de Reyes, a monster fluffy cake full of cream and tiny hidden toys, and talked of Christmas Past and Present.

Sure, in America we´ve got eight tiny reindeer and Jolly Old St. Nicolas and Frosty the Snowman... sometimes we even slip a little Baby Jesus in there. But Spain´s imported as much of that stuff as it wants. After we do Christmas and New Year´s Eve we go back to work... and the Spaniards keep right on celebrating for another week. And this holiday´s got so much: Multicolored guys in crowns on the 7:15 from Grajal, tractor rides, wild costumes, a parade, candy, cream cakes, flaming torches right down the main street, and a present at the end for every kid in town.

Forget what I said at first about safety belts -- it´s Tres Reyes! There´s no early bedtime tonight, and another day off work tomorrow!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Where We Will Be, What We Will Do, & When

Since we came here, every day we´ve written a little something of our day in our Dietario, a cool sort of Art-Moderne ledger. Someday, posterity may look at these ragged books and know what the weather was like here on May 2, 2007, or how much gasoil was still in our deposito Thanksgiving Day, or what we served for dinner July 2 (and to whom), and how much we paid for the kitchen tiles. Maybe someday we´ll make a "stranger in a strange land" kind of best-seller book out of it, and thus secure our old age.

Meantime, I have to make up a new Dietario every January 1. It is a healthy Review of what happened in the previous year, as I comb through the entries and glean things like birthdays, anniversaries, feast days, processions, and fiestas, and enter them into the new book again.

Not that I will remember to send anybody a birthday card, or actually feel like shlepping out to Pozos de Urama to celebrate the Santa Cruz come September 5! Noting things down does not create any kind of commitment. It only means I know I oughtta. It´s the guilt that counts.

This blog serves in many ways as a diary of our Peaceable evolution. I almost never look back over it, unless I need a photo. This time around, from here in the depths of my mid-winter indolence, I am looking forward, writing forward, thinking ahead into what might just happen this year. I am trying not to think it will all be a lot of hassle (this is an effect of the indolence) and trying not to schedule six months´ worth of Big Events on the exact same weekend in June, as I am wont to do.

Writing here in public about what is to come is risky, I know. It´s tempting Fate to overturn all my plans. But I love taking chances.

The new Dietario has penciled-in Visits from a Dutchman who´s writing a Camino Guide that tourism promoters dislike very much. (he tells which restaurants have rude waiters, or dirty bathrooms. He tells which pilgrim hostel had bedbug problems last year.)

My dietario has scheduled visits from a young guitarist from Chicago, and my old Pyrenees-cruising, crystal-gazing girlfriend Kathy, and a gang of merry South African litter-patrolling pilgrims who I´ve promised a barbecue. We may see George and Tom from William & Mary, and Tom from Ontario, and Federico the Guitar Guy, and the French guidebook writer with the wonderful name: Christian Champion!

It´s got my trips in there, too. In a couple of weeks Jeanne and I will meet in Madrid. In February I´m flying to Belgium to visit Filipe. In April I´m off to Miraz, a tiny village in deepest Galicia, to be hospitalera over Holy Week and my birthday, too. And in summer, if it can be afforded and arranged, I´d like to go to America and see my sisters and cousins and mom, and maybe even my children.

But by then, if other things in the Dietario go as planned, our vegetable garden will be overflowing with peas and beans and Brussels Sprouts. We´ll have a big freezer to put them in. Pilgrims will be bombing in and out, as The Peaceable is listed in this year´s UK Confraternity of St. James Pilgrim Guide. We will have a few fine guitarists playing concerts here in Moratinos, and in Sahagun, too... a taste of greater things to come in 2010.

We´ll train new hospitaleros, maybe online and maybe here at The Peaceable. We´ll get more chickens who are not brown. Paddy´s ankle will get better, and so will my Spanish. We will figure out a way to make it all pay.

Thus it is written. Thus it shall not necessarily be. But gimme those dice, I´m rollin´ em.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A New Year Weird

The final couple of days of 2008 seemed like a landslide, with two new neighbors arriving, Philip departing, a Madrid hammam and a lucky meeting with two merry Scotsmen, and a long, long train ride back home. I was more than ready for a day or two of peace and quiet and just-me-and-Paddy solitude, but there was still one big consideration: it was New Year´s Eve! What kind of loon spends his New Year´s Eve alone and quiet? In Spain?

Last year we had a lovely, noisy time with the Milagros and Segundino families, in the corner house of the Plaza Mayor (I wrote about it here on the blog, matter of fact.) But this year, with Victoriana gone, the corner house stands cold and empty. Milagros came over in the afternoon and handed over a great bag of winter vegetables and said the family was doing "Noche Vieja" in Sahagun this year.

But all was not lost... Elyn and Gary are now on the scene!

Elyn and Gary are from Santa Fe, New Mexico via Boulder, Colo. They are Pioneer Camino Heads, seeing as Elyn walked the Camino de Santiago in 1982, and spent a year living in Sahagun while working on her academic thesis. Ten years ago they lived in Sahagun again for several months, til family commitments called them back to America. And now they´re back again, with official Spanish Retirement Visas in hand. Within three days they´ve found a little apartment in Sahgun, right by the cheese factory. And so we have new neighbors, English-speaking neighbors! Woohoo! And people to invite over to our place to celebrate New Year´s Eve!

And so we did. I made a cheese soufflé and steamed some of those Milagros veg., and we opened up some of Jeanne and Jean-Marc´s French wine, and ate Galletas de Hierro Elyn brought over from Sahagun ("cookies of iron", a local sort of pizzelle). And as they don´t have a car, we decided to go over to Sahagun to see in the New Year... over there they have church bells and bars and parties, skyrockets and a plaza mayor where people for a thousand years have gathered in for Big Moments. We packed our bunches of grapes into a bag, and grabbed the camera, and headed into the darkness.

And drove headlong into the Culture Void.

The streets were shining with holiday lights, the "tree" in the plaza glowed, the bells in the belfry rang out three times, a 15-minute warning. Sounds of merriment came from a balcony or two.

But other than that, Sahagun was dead. Calle Constitucion, Calle Leña, Alhondigas, places usually alive with people, were deserted. We walked past shuttered bars, down brightly lit streets, on to San Facundo, where the bells at the old monastery ring the hours. We saw not a single soul stirring, not even a mouse. Every self-respecting soul of Sahagun was evidently at home, celebrating with his family.

"There´s something iconic about this," Elyn said. "Four Americans out on New Year´s Eve, looking for a party in a deserted town."

"Well, three Americans," Paddy put in.

We didn´t find a party. But we spanned the year at the foot of Sahagún´s fine archway, trying gamely to down the traditional 12 grapes -- one for each stroke of the clock. (the grapes had thick skins and seeds, egad!) We gave up and gave one another kisses and hugs instead. Then we went home, while a few of Sahagún´s many pyromaniacs crept outside to shoot off rockets and smoke-bombs.

Silent streets, on the stroke of a New Year. Weird. How un-American! Not a single open bar in town... how un-British! You´d think this was another country or something!

Anyway, next year we´ll know better. Meantime, Feliz Año Nuevo to all my dear readers.