Sunday, 30 May 2010

Hanging by a Fred

Our share of pilgrims has come and gone through this beautiful week of May – an expert water-dowser from Boulder, a fresh-faced filmmaker from LA via Pittsburgh, a small herd of polite Germans and their bossy Aussie wrangler. Kim came back too, which means everything runs sweet and neat.

Out on the trail the poppies and daisies and lupines are blooming madly. The sky is perfectly blue. I am just tucking into a tasty new book called “In Pursuit of Silence” when Fred and the Guitarristas roll up outside the gate.

So much for Silence. You may know Fred, a somewhat un-strung guitar-builder, NFL chiropractor, pilgrim, and sporadic Peaceable visitor. He loves the Camino, loves the pilgs, loves classical guitar music. He also loves a challenge. So he decided, for the 2010 Holy Year, to organize a top-class concert series for the pilgrims.

Truth be told, I am not the greatest aficionada of guitar music. I can take it or leave it. But Fred´s a friend, and Fred´s a fan. And so I have been hearing about this Concert Series for years: Master musicians take turns living in rented digs in a town along the trail, and offer free music to the pilgrims and the locals at some of the emblematic historic churches. Sounds nice, really, until you consider the logistics: Visas, short-term insurance and rental contracts, transportation, food, and language barriers, fees and honoraria and favors asked. Not to mention the prima donna factor: musicians are moody characters, sometimes veering into Vegan territory. Local parish priests, pilgrims, bureaucrats, and church councils are often no less manic, each with territorial issues to be skirted and exquisite ego to be massaged.

In short, it´s an insane idea. The kind Fred likes best.

After months of wangling introductions and Fred arrived on Tuesday and got the apartment all fixed up. He thumbed a ride to the little village where the professor lived, to pick up the car. And once there he learned the car he´d agreed-to was “no longer available.” There was another car, however, but the prof wanted Fred to fix it up and have it inspected first. Then the rental price went up. Then the rental contract morphed into a Bill of Sale. Fred said “wait a minute.” The prof exploded in a dramatic show of passion, threw Fred´s money in his face, drove him to a bus stop along a deserted road, and left him out there.

“He went all Spanish on me,” Fred said. “¡Increïble! And he canceled. He was supposed to play for the third week in June, and now I gotta find somebody else. And the bastard made me miss the big corrida (bullfight) on TV!”

Fred´s crazy, but he clearly has his priorities in order.

The first two musicians arrived in Palencia the next day, René from Cuba and Elina from Belarus. Happily, René still has relatives in Spain, and an uncle lent him a car. On Thursday the trio presented themselves at the Bishop´s Palace, ready to prepare for the night´s gala concert and kick-off reception.

There they learned that aside from the apartment arrangements, no one had done anything they´d promised. No concert was planned for that evening. No bishop, no cocktails, no meetings with the priests of Carrion, Fromista, and Villalcazar, at least not til June 2, when the priest who´d made all the promises came home from his annual holiday.
Did Fred come unglued? No. He poured them all a glass of tinto, and emailed The Peaceable.
“These guys want to play. Can you get the auditorium in Sahagun to open up? What about the hermita at Virgen de la Puente? What about Moratinos?” he said. I could read the desperation between the lines.

He wrote the note at noon. I read it ten hours later – too late for Thursday. Friday the auditorium had a high school graduation going on. Saturday was all we had. And Sahagun said No.

Fred doesn´t know what that word means.
So on Friday evening Elina and René played a pickup guitar concert at our little church in Moratinos. On Saturday we invited all the pilgrims, neighbors, and friends to hear a better-organized set of pieces at the bigger, more ornate church at St. Nicholas del Real Camino, the next village down the camino from Moratinos. (There´s a pilgrim refuge there, and the concerts are supposed to include some pilgrims.) So two world-class guitarists traveled halfway ´round the world to play for an audience 25 farmers, bartenders, geezers, goobers, and pilgs.
It was beautiful. The music, the sunlight splashing the retablos, the cava and jamon serrano after at Restaurante La Barrunta, the paella Paddy made for our dinner, the soft evening on the patio, and the music that poured over our walls til past midnight and drew the neighbors out into the alley for their final cigarettes.
The St. Nicholas concert was only the start of the series. Elina and René will go ahead and play Wednesday in Carrion de los Condes, as planned. They´re off to Barcelona to play a “real” orchestral concert next weekend. They seem happy enough with the way things are playing out, God bless ém. They´re happy to be in “Esapaña Profunda,” to see inside village churches and meet people and eat food and drink drinks no tourist tripper will ever encounter. They are lucky, and they know it.

I wonder if we the people in those pews yesterday have any idea how lucky we are. We had these two here for free. In Barcelona this weekend, someone´s paying them 3,000 Euros do do the same thing.

...And now to find a car for Fred.

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