Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cosmic Welcome-Wave Phase Generator online, cap´n

Something weird is going on. No one can tell me it´s only coincidence.

For weeks we had some kind of company here. We like company. Having guests and family and friends and helpers stay with us is a major reason we are here, so I´m not complaining. I´m just sayin.´

We returned from France, some three weeks ago now, all tuckered-out from the long drive and late nights. Kim left to go walk on the Camino. And Paddy and I decided to just chill out for a while, alone.

We read books and magazines. We cooked simple dinners for one another. We got some more chickens. We did not go out, except to look at the neighbors´churches. We wanted to be alone, and we were. Even though the trail is populated with pilgrims, not a single one sought us out.

We are a "casa de acogida," a "house of welcome" on the Camino de Santiago. We are the place in Moratinos where travelers can come for a cold drink or a rest in the shade. We don´t advertise ourselves, except for a single typewritten sheet on the notice board outside the church, and brief "emergency stop" listings in the UK Pilgrim Guide and the German Paderborn Confraternity guide. Most people don´t stop because they don´t need to, or they don´t know we are here. Others are too focused on walking, and coming to our house requires them to deviate about 300 yards off their course.

It´s OK by us. We don´t have room or energy or money or desire to host big crowds of pilgrims. But we like the one or two that trickle in. They know us from the blog, or the santiago websites, or by word-of-mouth from hospitalero friends back the trail a ways. Or if they´re in need, they ask a neighbor where to go for help, and they send them here. There´s a Casa de Acogida in every town in Spain. They are just not official. You just have to ask the right person, in the right way, and you´re in. (One woman calls these "stealth albergues.")

It was unusual, not seeing a single pilgrim at the gate in so long, especially in high season. But we didn´t really want to see them, so it was OK. It´s like we switched on our pilgrim-repellant force-field. We were invisible to incoming traffic.

And after a few days of R&R, without really saying anything to one another, we got back into the scene again. Paddy went out with the dogs in the morning, and came back with a couple of pilgs. We gave them coffee and little cakes and a sello, and off they went. Evidently the deflector shields were down again, Scotty.

And in the afternoon, some more came. Paddy went off to visit his son in Malaga, and two people were waiting at the gate when I got back from dropping him at the train station. Somehow we´d tripped the invisible Welcome Wave Phase Generator, and the Pilgrim craft were zeroed in.

Over the weekend, I hosted a beautiful French boy and a package designer from Bilbao. On Saturday a musicologist from North Carolina showed up, and Kim phoned from Fromista for us to come collect her. She shimmered back to the Peaceable just in time. I needed her housekeeping and hosting talents to handle the onslaught that flowed in after her: Two old hospitalero friends we met on our very first hospitalero gig in Rabanal del Camino came rolling up in their camper, on their way back to Rabanal for another go-round. Ian, a bluff old barkeep from King´s Lynn, walked in the door. Paddy came back from the south, tanned and un-rested. And then came Marianne the Swiss, too, also walking the camino.

In the spaces between we cut up peaches and cherries for the freezer, and made peach cobbler and way too much Bolognese sauce. So when the big crowd showed up, it´s almost as if we knew they were coming. We had a feast all good to go!
We stayed up late and feasted and visited.

This morning all of them headed out.

How does this work? For weeks we saw no one. And then, only when we were ready, several days of one or two or six or seven. The traffic here flows almost exclusively east-to-west, so it´s not like the people leaving are telling the incoming people we are open for business. Still, somehow they know.

It continues this way for about a week, and then drop off again for a little while, just long enough for us to recharge.

It´s enough to make you believe in cosmic vibes, or energy vacuums, or the attractive scent of merry company.
Whichever it might be, the wind is blowing it from the west. A footfall breaks the Peaceable quiet, and the dogs lift their heads lift from the patio pavement. A hand touches the front gate-latch, and Una and Tim leap up and rush the door, barking and baying and sometimes sending the visitors scuttling down the drive.

The shower is going. Tonight it´s a Chilean guy and his new Swedish sweetie. (They´re crazy about each other.) Tomorrow Kim will recommence her camino, and we expect an Israeli couch-surfer who wants to start her hike from here.

And the evening and the morning are another sunny summer day at The Peaceable -- a place of weird rhythms and sweet surprises and tons of providence. And cosmic wave phase generators, maybe.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Now that I´ve shown you all the lofty art stuff, let´s get back to reality here.

My reality, for the next couple of days anyway, is in the grubby far corner of the yard, where lives our flock of hens. We have, or had, five fine brown hens. We like them very well. They eat, peck, squawk, and poo, and three of them lay eggs. They are quite tame, and don´t mind being picked up and cuddled. Each has a name, even though that´s considered outré in these parts. They are: Gladys, Rosie, Muriel, Snowy, and our favorite, Blodwyn.

On Tuesday we visited the Hen Boutique in Sahagún, and brought home a crate tightly packed with six young hens: The New Girls. (It´s hard not calling them The Black Girls, because they are black chickens. But some people are overly sensitive. Even though the chickens don´t give a shit.)

The New Girls are compact and sleek and have long, graceful necks. Their combs and wattles are tiny and rose-red. Two of them have scatterings of brown feathers on their fronts, as if they´d been racing on a muddy track. They shipped in from the East, from faraway Zaragoza. They are exotic.

Integrating two groups of chickens into one flock requires plenty of picking up and handling, stroking and cooing on my part, and lots of squawking and pooing on the hens´. Like any established community, the Resident Hens look with suspicion at the Immigrants. Integrating a neighborhood is never easy.

These New Girls are wild birds, unused to humans and handling, apt to shriek and flap and fly when approached.

Shrieking, flapping, flying chickens are almost irresistible to bird dogs. Like Tim. Who, years ago now, efficiently slew one of our original hens within moments of his arrival at The Peaceable. (It is a difficult memory for us all. We don´t bring it up very often, as Tim is a Reformed Dog.)

The dogs, and Murph Cat too, are accustomed to visiting the Hen Pen whenever we do. There are mice in there sometimes, and Una is passionate about those. And both dogs live in fear that we may give the hens some food scrap that is Rightfully Theirs. So bread crusts and potato eyes the dogs would never dream of tasting take on a new glamour when they hit the hardpan of the chicken yard. (Murphy keeps watch from the woodpile.)

But now that the new hens are enclosed inside the Hen House, and the old girls are isolated outside, Una and Tim must stay outside the chicken run completely. With all The Girls feeling a bit raw about things, I figure they don´t need two dogs sniffing around. And I see how the dogs are eyeing those new girls. I can feel their pupils dilating when I pick up one of the New Girls and she howls and flaps. I have to shout at Una to stop clawing at the gate, and the shouting is no good when I´m trying to teach the little black pullet in my hands that I am a sweet and peaceful creature who means her no harm. (And the gate is always on the verge of falling over or to pieces, anyway. The Chicken Hut is the most Appalachian part of our establishment, and it never seems to get better.)

They seem tough, these new girls, streetwise even. I don´t connect to them as easily as I did the soft brown ones. They don´t seem like girls at all. They´re hardened veterans, in black uniforms. Like nuns. Tough old Dominican nuns, maybe. The kind who used to smack kids´hands with rulers.

So maybe, once I get to know them better, and learn how to tell one from the others, I will give them nun names, like Teresa and Inmaculada and Anuncia. Or maybe I´ll give them truck-stop waitress names: Gloria and Vita and Madge.

But I´m waiting to see if perhaps they really are fine young ladies in Little Black Dresses who are just scared out of their wits. They could turn out to be Heathers and Ashleys. Alexandras, even. Time will tell.

This evening, after everyone should have gone to roost, I heard a hullabaloo from the hens. I went out to see.

Up on the old, drawer-less dresser where they roost and lay eggs, the original five cowered in a row against the wall, howling and screeching their lungs out, as if a fox was eating his way up their legs.

On the ground below three of the New Girls strutted and pecked their way around the Brown Girls´ food dispenser, deaf to the racket in the gallery above. Una barked. One of them stopped, flapped her wings, and stretched her neck up tall.

She clucked like a chicken. But what I heard her say was, "You wanna piece a dis? Step right up, pal."

Friday, 19 June 2009

Jewel Boxes, Now Open for Inspection

I zapped the last blog/rant. When I read it the next morning it seemed mean-spirited, and that is not my purpose here.

As for Moratinos Life: The day we came home from France, Mayor Esteban called a powwow of all eight households in Moratinos, and gave us a proposition. The Junta de Castilla y Leon, our state government, promised a grant to every little town for upkeep on its church... IF. If the people in the town can manage to keep the church doors open and the place attended for six hours every day, so visitors can see inside. Starting Saturday, and continuing every day through mid-September. Everyone signed on. Each house sends someone over to the church every eighth day. (We also contributed a rubber-stamp Moratinos "sello" for pilgrim credentials, and we´re working out a way to get some Gregorian background music going...)

This is a fabulous idea on several levels. As a tourist keen on old church buildings and local history, I join thousands of pilgrims in bitching about Spain´s locked-up churches. Spain had a church-building and religious-art frenzy going on for a good 400 years, and a lot of that glory is still inside the (often crumbling) churches that dominate the skyline of even the tiniest village. It´s in there, but it is locked up tight and rarely seen by anyone from outside the parish. All kinds of good reasons are cited, but it´s still a damned shame.

But this initiative opens the doors through the heaviest tourist season. It gets the residents out of the house and mixing with visitors from who-knows-where, and it gives them a stake in their church´s survival. And they get to show off, too.

Paddy and I did our first volunteer stint on Wednesday. We had 13 visitors, all of them pilgrims. And we also had the neighbors drop by to see how we were getting on. It occurred to me, sitting there, that in all the towns all ´round us there were other neighbors taking their turns at their long-closed churches. And this, my friend, is an Opportunity!

And so the following day I set out for the quarterly Camino Cleanup out beyond Calzadilla de la Cueza. On the way home I stopped at churches in two dusty, non-Camino villages I´d never stopped at before. And I discovered two gems!

The bright-white and lemon-yellow church at Cervatos de la Cueza was built by the Republic of Argentina, in Argentine Colonial style! Turns out that this little pueblo is the origin of General Jose de San Martín, liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru in what appears to be the 1810´s. (No mention of what he liberated them from, but they were grateful enough to come to this backwater a century later and build a church!) So there´s a little taste of South America about 20 km. from here.

And the next town from there is Quintanilla de la Cueza, best known around here for having the remains of a Roman villa out in a field beyond the dovecotes. Judging by the enthusiastic reception we get whenever we go there, I think very few people actually visit the villa, even though they brag about it.) Still, I think the church up on the hill is just as much a treasure. Because evidently it wasn´t always a church. It started out as a mosque.

It´s got mudejar wooden ceilings, a unique vault over the apse, wide-open and airy like no other church I´ve seen ´round here. The retablo (main alterpiece up front) is a 16th-century wedding-cake of Flemish paintings and homemade baroque woodwork. And there´s a 13th century Madonna and baby that are heartbreakingly beautiful. It´s all proudly showed-off by Maricarmen, a lady with eight kids. Her household of ten comprises half the population of Quintanilla, she said, but the place really fills up in August, when all the locals come "home" to the pueblo from their jobs in Bilbao and Asturias.

I loved it. It made my day. And this morning (after we patched-up a pilgrim from New York), Paddy came with me, and we visited Maricarmen again in Quintanilla, and moved on to see inside the churches in Calzadilla de la Cueza (the oxen on their San Isidro statue have tiny fly-whisks over their eyes, expertly tatted by some local lady lacemaker) and Ledigos, where they have a Santiago statue with a nose like Michael Jackson´s!

We got to meet more of our extended neighbors, and we got to marvel at their treasures. (when we said we were from Moratinos, one lady assured us "our church is nicer than yours!")

Riches, riches. All in forgotten towns in a nowhere province, reminders of better, more powerful and populated and faithful times. Seeing the neighbors´treasures made us realize how stripped-down is our little Parrochia de San Tomás. There´s nothing baroque or rococo in there. There are a couple of 16th century statues, but everything worth stealing or carting off to antiques dealers was taken away ages ago... by crooked curates, the neighbors say. That´s what happened to the 12th century Virgin they used to have over in St. Nicholas, a treasure still cited in guide books. According to Modesto, a few Philistines on the church board quietly sold her a few years ago, to pay for building repairs they didn´t want to pay out of their own pockets. When they couldn´t find a buyer for some bundles of old documents, they threw the church archives in the dumpster.

So now, if other towns have taken seriously this directive, we have a shipload of treasure-chests open for our inspection: Castilla y Leon is the biggest province in the country of Spain, and every little town has a church at its heart... and churches, because they were built of better materials, are what have lasted the centuries in this world made of mud brick.

We start the Summer Solstice with an architectural pilgrimage that can continue through the season.
Are we not the luckiest people in the world?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Alone Together

While we were away it rained, but too late to save this year´s oats. They´re stubby, Estebanito said. The stalks should´ve grown knee-high and stayed green right into July, but the weather went hot and dry.

Way too soon, the fields shifted from green to gold. Now the farmers must harvest what they can. The khaki dust of August and September will probably coat a good percent of July this year as well. Disaster.

But there´s joy in Moratinos anyhow. Pin is back at work at the trucking company. Mad Fran is back, too, meeting hapless pilgrims at the edge of town and nonsensically singing them through the plaza.

And they come, come, come, the pilgrims -- hand in hand, or alone, or gathered together in bands. They stop out by the cemetery and snap photos of the bodega hill. They explore the bodega doorways, rattle the doors, make more photos. Some relieve themselves in the tall grass, or deep in the cool dark of the abandoned and collapsed caves. Their shit is everywhere these days, along with folded squares of toilet paper they so carefully use to cleanse themselves.

We have not seen so many pilgrims at The Peaceable in the last few days. Since we made it home on Tuesday we have holed-up at home, ignoring all the blandishments of Sahagún in full fiesta mode, and the faithful of Carrion de los Condes laying down great carpets of flower petals in the streets for Corpus Christi. Missed it, missed it all.

We left only to take Una to veterinarian, and Kim to the train station to say goodbye. We bought some vegetables. We came home and closed the gate behind us. Just me and Paddy and the animals.

We have not been alone together in our house since mid-March.

We must do all our own housework now. This morning I swept the floors for the first time in far too long. The clutter is already setting in. Kim´s shimmering butler skills have spoiled us in a grand way, and now we must return to our usual level of grubby mayhem.

Today I cooked. I baked and roasted, braised and boiled.
Paddy sat out in the yard with the hens. He basked. They scratched and plucked and cackled and chirred. (Blodwyn, having lived for a week on a cocktail of antibiotics and garlicky grain, is now returned to health. Hallelujah!)

We pulled up chairs beneath the patio umbrella and split up between us a backlog of New Yorker magazines. We spent the afternoon luxuriating in American prose style.

And that is all we have done. It is all we are doing.

It is not quiet, though.

From Sahagun comes the boom of rockets and fireworks -- 9 kilometers distant, but still enough to send Una hobbling into the darkest corner she can find. The neighbors next door have invited guests for the weekend, so we share their flamenco-pop music, their motorbike roars, and the mouthwatering aroma of meat on their charcoal grill.

And high in the big cedar tree in the patio, the late-night bird chorus sends up a terrific racket. (If I was a better techie I´d capture it with this wizzo computer and post a .wav file. But I don´t know how, alas!)

A week ago right now we were at an art opening in the south of France, hobnobbing with the Beautiful and Best. It seems so long ago, and very far away.

Today we are happy, alone together in our scruffy little kingdom of peace. It´s better this way.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Old Hacks Relax: A Provence Play

We drove zillions of miles to the French Riviera. We stayed four days. It was unforgettable, in an oddly dramatic way.
It was much like being in a play. A very English play, in a country house, with a cast of colorful characters.

The setting: a multimillionaire vacation home set on 13 manicured acres above St. Tropez, in southern Provence. Terraces, swimming pool, main house and guest quarters, tennis courts, tree house (fully habitable), vineyards and olive groves, staff. English owners in residence one month per year; for June it is lent to friends of friends.

Long, sunny weekend in early June. Evening. Cicadas roar, the automatic sprinklers mutter, ice tinkles against glass and a woman´s laughter is heard.

Cast of Characters:

Mike, former managing editor of a leading London tabloid newspaper, now a successful novelist and painter of growing renown. In Provence to attend a gallery opening featuring his latest collection of oil paintings. His friends and family are gathered to help him celebrate the event, he is entertaining them at the borrowed house with his

Wife, Sandy. A kindly, petite figure, she is recovering from cancer treatment, making a good show of enjoying herself but feeling the strain of so much entertaining.

Two of their Daughters are on hand as well, helping to serve the guests:
Kate, a career girl of 30-some years, and
Jane, a fashionista who enjoys yoga and alternative therapies. Both are pretty and bright and at ease in the setting.
Jane´s boyfriend Johnny, a strapping blond fellow from Yorkshire who enjoys sailing and cigars -- witty and very helpful with the pool and wine-serving duties.

Guests include:
Other Mike, Mike´s art dealer, a large, red-faced Dutchman who made his fortune in advertising, and now purveys art and taste to the expatriate English and German retirees throughout southern France. Does decorating, drives at top speed in his top-of-the-line Audi, and makes sure to be seated near the best wine. Very generous with his opinions.

Penrose: former news correspondent and ladies´ man at the tabloid; until recently married to a television game-show host. Guileless and merry, he is rehabbing a Georgian warehouse into a new art gallery in one of England´s more trendy towns. Other Mike is keenly interested.

Peter: himself a former TV actor and drama critic, he´s a good-looking yet tragic figure, having survived his wife´s sudden death and a long bout of depression. Things are looking up for him these days, as he´s got back to flying his own airplane, and has found a new sweetheart, whom he´s brought along with him for the holiday:

Jackie is a school teacher from the fashionable town where Peter lives, down-to-earth and intelligent. She sketches the scene and characters with a practiced hand. Lets on that Peter may be suffering from new health problems.

The other level of the guest quarters is inhabited by Felicity, a spunky, tiny 70-something former fashion editor who helped create the Carnaby Street English fashion scene in the 1960´s. She is frail these days, (often accompanied by Johnny), but couldn´t pass up the chance for a nice holiday in France. She is catered-to by her Lady Companion, JoAnn -- a woman whose plummy accent shows she´s probably better brought-up than most of the rest of the company. (She does not speak when Other Mike behaves unspeakably to her.)

Other guests arrive in the evenings, for cocktails and dinner:

DeLano was a foreign correspondent for many years, now lives in a villa nearby.

Graham, a well-known literary critic and writer, who lives in London, Bermuda, or Italy depending on the season. His wife is a former handball champion and real-estate dealer who handles only "heritage and prestige properties."

Deke lives up the hill, a still-active producer who´s had his suntanned hand in dozens of movies, TV shows, and live acts dating back to the 1970´s. He´s a charming raconteur. His wife is finishing a book, and spends most of her time on her mobile phone... but wives in this play are very much secondary characters. It´s the men who are the stars, and always have been.

Paddy, Mike´s lifelong friend and right-hand man through many years at the tabloid. He´s driven here from Spain in a lowdown furgoneta with Rebekah, an American hack and wife number four. They stay in a hotel in the town nearby, as there´s not enough room for them at the villa.

It is a nice holiday. No one gets too drunk or too insulted, but enough wild stories are told of past exploits to keep everyone laughing and on his toes: Peter was the lover of 60´s film star Julie Christie, but no one believed it at the time, until she gave unmistakable proof. Penrose once sparked a romance with a well-known staffer, and the amorous pair used Delano´s office as a trysting place, wrecking the furniture and knocking pictures off the walls. Paddy and Mike figure in a new book about the drunken excesses of Fleet Street in the 60s and 70s, and their fictionalized lives are hashed-over at length. Much good wine is taken. A great deal of swimming and sunning is done.

And such is life in a villa in Provence in June, inhabited by hacks. Waves of lavender bow in the breeze. A ship´s lights are visible far away off the cape, moving past St. Tropez and deeper into the Mediterranean.

It was just like being in a play. Or a game of Clue, even.

Except nobody was murdered.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Lamb-basted (Rated PG)

NOTE: This entry contains images some will consider nasty, tasteless, gruesome, and horrible. But no cuss words.

When dealing with generous, well-connected, can-do people like our neighbors Esteban and Milagros, you have to be very careful what you ask for. We asked for a lamb.

Lamb meat, specifically. The area where we live is home to thousands of sheep. Most are kept for their milk, which is used to make high-quality and tasty cheese. To keep the ewes lactating, shepherds must be sure their flocks keep producing lambs each year. Ewe lambs are kept for future cheese-production. Ram lambs, well... after about five weeks, they go to dinner.

(Last year, before our next-door neighbors sold off their flock, I was gamboling in their barn one morning with several of their tiny lambs. They nibbled at my sleeves with their little mouths. "Tan preciosa!" I said to Oliva. She smiled craftily. "Tan deliciosa," she said.)

Palencian black-face churra lamb is famous all over Spain. Not long ago we mentioned taking our friend Ted to a lamb place for a platter of chuletillas -- tiny, tender, melt-in-your-mouth ribs -- and our neighbor Esteban took note. When he learned we´d bought a big freezer, and we´d started buying cut-up, cut-price sides of lamb at the superstore butcher department, he decided to show us how the locals get things done.

"Next time I go to the matadero, you come along," he told Patrick. "You pick a good-looking lamb, and pay maybe 50, 60 Euros, and you get the whole thing for the freezer. The best lamb, best price. I´ll show you."

"Sure," Paddy said. And we thought little of it after that. How often does Esteban drive all the way down to the nearest slaughterhouse? How often does his family of four need a whole honkin´ 20-kilo lamb to eat?

We envisioned a happy Guy´s Day Out in Palencia with dear, wise, wily Esteban showing Paddy around the local abattoir, maybe throwing in a trip to the bullring or the farmers´supply store, and perhaps a swing round the lowdown bars in the neighborhood. Valuable things to know if you´re going to live here.

The Lamb Star rose this morning. Paddy and I drove to Leon to buy things, and the trip included a stop at the giant market and three huge packages of lamb -- neatly chopped into cutlets and roasts, laid on styrofoam platters and wrapped in plastic. (They had split sheep´s heads there too. Interesting to examine, but hard to imagine cooking one. Expensive, too, at 3€ each.)

And when we finally got home and put everything away, Esteban called. He´d bought the lambs, he said, local ones, from Villamol. Paddy needed to come to Sahagun and pick up his.

I missed this part, as I was napping at the time. Kim went along instead, and got what seems to be the shock of her life.

In the enclosed patio of Esteban´s Sahagun house two white lambs lay on the concrete. Their feet were bound. One was newly dead, his throat cleanly cut, blood still running into the drain. The other lay there baa-ing, awaiting his fate. Over them, with a knife in his hand, stood our friend Esteban.

He must´ve seen the looks on their faces. He sent them home, told Paddy to come back at 9. He´d be done by then, he said.

And so back we went. I did some growing up in a Muslim country and witnessed lamb and goat butchering during the annual Eid celebration. I kinda knew what to expect. Without his wool and little hooves and ears, a lamb just looks like gruesome anatomy study. You see similar sights in butcher shops all over Spain -- pig, lamb, calf, and bird carcasses hanging upside-down, their bodies opened up like great pink books.

Esteban and Milagros were buzzing around the patio, gathering up the fresh delicacies. We stepped into the cool, clean, semi-light of their summer cellar to meet Our Lamb. It hung from hooks run through its hamstrings. It dripped into a basin below. Along the walls were flat benches and tree stumps, all wearing marks of many years of knives and hatchets. On a shelf above a print of a doe-eyed Virgin Mary watched benevolently over the carnage.

Milagros showed us the white tripe, the stomach-lining so highly prized for stewing and chewing at tapas bars. She spooned coaglulated blood into a Tupperware container, to be served immediately with a salad, for dinner, with paprika and onions. (She also threw in some homemade chicken croquetas, because she "made too many.") And the wobbly rope of gullet, thymus, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver was examined and explained. Esteban stretched it between his hands like a string of holiday lights.

I think we were supposed to take our prize home then. We were supposed to hang it up in the cool despensa all night, and in the morning fling it onto a wooden bench and then expertly hack it open along the spine, quarter it, and slowly disassemble it into chops, cutlets, roasts, and chuletillas. The head we´d cleave into halves for roasting. The fat and tail and bones left over could go to the dogs.

Of course. Any fool knows that´s what you do. I looked at Paddy. "The chainsaw is still in the shop," he murmured. "What the f-- are we gonna do with this thing, Reb?"

My mind raced: Do we have a sharp knife anywhere in our house? Where will Kim would go during this operation? Is there maybe a lamb-carving video on YouTube? Could we take it to Julio or Teri or one of the meat markets in Sahagun and pay them to carve it up? I remembered the charts that hang on the walls at butcher shops, with all those dotted lines... Surgery, I thought. I pictured this leggy sticky object on our kitchen table, its legs akimbo, and me hacking at it with our pathetic collection of kitchen cutlery.

It wasn´t a far step from there to slasher films. For Patrick and me to cut up this lamb would be a terrible waste of top-quality meat, if not an assault with a deadly weapon.

I am not adequate for this job. Paddy, rendered almost speechless by his first lamb encounter of the evening, could offer no advice. Esteban, I think, is feeling like he´s got himself into a load of extra work AGAIN because of these poor city-bred idiots.

And so tomorrow at 11 I will return to their house again. With Milagros as my guide, I will learn how to quarter an entire lamb carcass, then carve it into edible portions. I will take careful notes, and lots of horrifying photos. Meantime, I am putting out an emergency call to Filipe, my friend the Portuguese chef... what DOES a gourmet do with a beautiful, snowy-white blanket of fresh lamb´s tripe, and a jiggly brown pudding of blood, and great long ropes of vital organs?