It is SO July around here, perfectly July. The green fields in the picture above have turned gold, and most have been cut, threshed, and baled. A dun brown landscape will remain right through September, bringing us the least-green season of the entire year. I think that´s why for so long pilgrims thought the Meseta was a desert. They were traveling on their school breaks, and they were hallucinating in the summer heat, or maybe they just were not bright enough to distinguish between a stubble field and a sand dune.
Oh, well. Pilgrims are a romantic lot. A trek through the desert makes a more exciting story than a 10-day walk across some harvested agriculture. Both are brown, and dusty, and damn boring after a couple of days. Both are known to induce visions, too.
There is a bright spot among the brownness, however -- thousands of them, matter of fact. The sunflowers are bursting into bloom! I don´t know what induces a farmer to sow acres of sunflowers, but they are in popular rotation around here. A field-full of sunflowers is like a sold-out stadium with a thousand fans cheering in bright yellow and green uniforms.
For the past three years the sunflowers have stood up and cheered at exactly this week of summer, in different fields and along different roads, but the same cheery blooms at the exact same time. I know, because I think they come out to applaud our wedding anniversary. This year they´re yelling SEVEN YEARS! HOW´D YA DO THAT?
It is indeed a great mystery.
So tomorrow,13 July, Paddy and I are taking the train down to Avila to celebrate for a couple of days, to visit the hometown of Spain´s Other Patron Saint (that´s Teresa of Avila to all you heathens) and contemplate the mysteries of Luv. And probably to eat tostón, aka roast suckling pig.
We are staying in a little hotel that once was the town´s synagogue. Apparently there were once multiple Jews in Avila, but they were thrown out or forced to convert to Catholic Christianity hundreds of years ago. One of those "conversos" apparently was Saint Teresa´s grandfather, but that fact is not widely advertised. Spain has mixed feelings about Jews, even after all these years. They don´t mind boasting that the 500-year-old building you´re staying at was once a place of worship. Remodeled mikvahs and Jewish Quarters and synagogues (and Christian monasteries, too) are all over the place, turned into lucrative historic sites, restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. There´s a restaurant near here called "Three Cultures," built in what once was a mosque, saluting Spain´s "Golden Age" when Jews, Muslims, and Christians managed to live happily together. The specialty is roast suckling pig, and jamon.
Jews are cool, and Arabs, too -- long as you don´t have too many in your family. And long as they don´t want their old synagogues or mosques back.
I am wading into deep water here, so I will shut up.
Lots of writing being done these days. I decided not to go to Santiago de Compostela to be invested into the Archiconfradia of the divine Apostle. I am already a member, for one thing -- the ceremony is just a ritual. And the other is the colorful descriptions I am reading lately of the crowds expected there for the Biggest Day of the Big Holy Year, which may re-invent the word "massive." My inner Hermit whispers in my ear: RUN, Reb. RUN AWAY.
And I never argue with a hermit.
So instead of going west to join the heaving throng in Santiago de Compostela, I will go south, with just one man, for a couple of days of quiet tourist-ing among the convents and palaces and tostónes of Avila... all the way passing fields, of silently cheering sunflowers. That´s my kind of mob, holy day, and feast.