Thursday, 28 January 2010

Heading Out and Crashing Down

Glory be, we made it the whole way down the tunnel called January, and we´re coming out the other side in London, England!

We are not bringing along a computer, (or Ipod or IPad or whatever) so I don´t know when or how I will update posts here. We have a few fun things planned...mostly having to do with cheap ethnic food. We don´t get exotic eats like Rogan Jhosh or spinach pizza or steak & kidney pie out here in Castilla, so we get a little crazy when we hit the Big City.

London in February isn´t exactly a top choice for people smitten by Winter´s damp darkness. But that is where Paddy´s grandkids are, and the Tate Modern is, and most of Paddy´s wild and woolly friends... and Highgate Cemetery. And the Museum of Brands & Trademarks, and the big Van Gogh show at the Royal Academy, and Soane´s House, maybe. We will read The Guardian, in English. And attend the big annual meeting of the Confraternity of St. James, a gathering somewhat akin, at times, to a convention of Monty Python characters. We´ll leave the city to visit Bournemouth and Paddy´s family-man/heavy-metal head-banger son Dan. And hopefully we will do some simple hanging-out in the tranquil confines of Ealing – Paddy´s old neighborhood. Or “neighbourhood,” maybe?

Kim is here to watch the place, and David, of David and Malin fame. Couldn´t ask for better hospitaleros. Bruno and Daniel the Italians (aka “Mario Brothers”) are gone back for a week or so to Barcelona, having left a portable office in an inconvenient part of Calle Ontanon without telling anybody first.

David and Kim will have their hands full, mostly with dogs. The greyhounds are now, officially, ours. Their names are Nabi (or Nobby) and Lulu. They are madly in love with Patrick. They´ve had their first worming and innoculations, they are filling out a bit now and getting frisky and pushy, but Una keeps them under control. (Tim is still a bit miffed about the whole idea. Murph puffs and spits at the very sight of the Galgo Girls through the windows, so we´ve not yet introduced them formally.)

I am amazed at the number of strays that find their way here. And I´m even more amazed that three out of four of them are beautiful, purebred hunters. In a way they remind me of the pilgrims who turn up here: some of them scruffy and worn-out and smelly, some of them ill-mannered or lowdown. But almost all of them clean up pretty well. A few are champions. (Notice I left off mentioning worms when talking about humans. Even though sometimes I gotta wonder.)

Still, four dogs. Woah. A bit much. The last two are still living in the barn, because they still smell really, really nasty.

The rough winter weather is doing a number on the adobe hereabouts. The exotic wall out front of the Alamo has great clots of mud peeling off its face. The always-listing house right at the entrance to town took another swing southward this week. Somebody put ribbons up around the front, so when it does finally let go maybe nobody will be flattened. We shall see. It is a shame.

It´s a litany in Moratinos: “That used to be the finest house in town.”

“A shame. What a shame.”

“Families who can´t agree. Look what happens.”

(This is what happens when inheritance law splits up a property among multiple adult children who are scattered across continents. Three or four of them want to sell, another wants to fix up the place for summer use, and another just wants to wait and see. And so they wait. And so, in time, the place falls down. Everyone thinks it´s terrible. But nobody does anything to change the law.)

A similar story stands a few meters out of town along the N120, where another section of the old Fabrica de Luz collapsed last week. I think I heard when it happened. I thought perhaps a truck had rolled out on the Autopista, but no. Just a building falling down.

I´ve asked the Camino to send us an architect, and/or a garden designer. Our buildings can´t just stand here. They´ve gotta do something nice.

I´ll be back.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Breaded and Fried

I am feeling low these days. Very January.

I wondered if it was the Black Dog of Depression skulking near. I wondered if it was me being Of a Certain Age. I wondered, dear God, if I ought to just knuckle under and let depression happen, let it pass in its own time. I pondered medicine, and wondered how available seratonin uptake inhibitors are here in Socialized Medicine Land.

I still can see the rolling beauty of the fields in the morning, and I can touch the head of Lulu, one of the galgo girls, and feel her heart opening toward me. I can watch the same beautiful dog lope up the trail ahead of me in her comical but oh-so-efficient high-strung stride, and I can marvel at her engineering.

I can. But I don´t really. It´s all at a remove, as if I am experiencing all these delightful things with a thick coat of insulation between my senses and the world. In slang Spanish, a slow-witted person is empanada. Breaded. Coated in crumbs. And that´s how I feel these days: deep-fried, but lacking in crunch. No tooth, no flavor. Bland.

Not good when you´re staying up til 3 a.m. writing a book about it all. That, too, has lost its savor. The threads are not jumping into the weft these days, the deliciousness isn´t happening for me. I am finding all kinds of things to distract myself from writing -- the wonderful little wave of donativos is one.

A couple of weeks ago, peeved at the parvenue pilgrims, I sat in church and stewed while Don Santiago preached on the Wedding Feast of Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine. I told God he (she) ought to do something like that for us. 

"Show me your providence," I think I said.

Well: that same afternoon a nascent confraternity of English pilgrims offered to ally themselves with the Peaceable. The blog happened, then the PayPal button, both of which gained most gratifying responses. The Italians came, and will (at some point) pay us an actual rent for their use of the Salon and kitchen. Most touching of all was what I found inside the front gate when we returned from Mass yesterday: a note, written on a page torn out of a pilgrim guide. "Thank you for what you do for pilgrims. Sorry we missed you," it said. There were 30 Euros folded inside. No name.

God doesn´t sign her name too often. She´s very Tao that way. She does the job, and walks away and lets the results do the talking. She blows me away when she does stuff like this.

I am spoiled rotten, really. The days go by quickly, perhaps because the sun doesn´t rise until about 9, and most of the town stays in bed, too. Kim keeps the place beautiful. Paddy chops wood and fries lamb chops and plays with dogs. Me? I don´t have to do much at all. I´m supposed to be writing a book.

Instead I dream of buying yet another little place and fixing it up for a writing den, like Mark Twain had. I check the news, the stock markets, the latest on Angelina Jolie and Golden Globe Fashion Disasters. I waste time, and I feel ashamed of myself. Editors ask me to write articles for their publications -- something I used to have to hustle for. I think at first, "how cool!". And then the thought of researching it, and writing it up? Naah.

I don´t want to bake zucchini bread. I don´t want to plan the garden. I don´t want to read a novel in Spanish, or a newspaper in English, even. I just want to sleep. A definite danger signal, that.

Still. Patrick and I went to Sahagun this evening and bought feed for chickens, dogs, and cats, and take-your-chances 1.20-Euro green wine overruns fresh from the vineyards of La Rioja. We stopped at La Barrunta on the way home for a gin and tonic. We held hands. Raul the Waiter was playing a horrible shoot-em-up live-action video game on the big-screen TV. It was obscene -- a carnage scenerio in a third-world setting. So many people actually LIVE in that world, and we the comfortable middle class co-opt their daily horro for our lightweight entertainment. That kind of indignant feeling was a very good sign indeed. I am still alive, I thought. At least my self-righteousness is still kicking around!

I thought some more.

Of course I feel emapanada. The Italians are here. We introduced them to almost the entire village after Mass on Sunday, and they are over there even now, beavering away with measurements and notebooks. They are building a pilgrim albergue for 50 people, with a dining room and bar. Moratinos, in all its thousand-plus years of history, has never seen the like.

We are speaking Spanish a good part of the day now -- we even speak in Spanish to one another. We are on our way to England at the end of the week, where we will shift around some resources and learn what kind of new things are coming our way on that front. I was voted into the Archiconfradia del Apostol Santiago in Santiago de Compostela just before Christmas, an alliance that may bring new and very Spanish opportunities our way... or at least an opportunity for me to dress up in a cloak and sash and parade around like a grandee.

I think much about citizenship. I love the United States of America, my home country, but in recent years it´s followed a long, slippery slope away from all the lovely things that made it unique and beautiful. It now has thrown away its grand chance at making a sweeping, historical change toward treating all its citizens as equals, deserving of basic health care. It´s not my America any more. I may have to become a Spaniard soon, even though I am a long, long way from being Spanish. My home is gone, sold off to the multinational corporations by corrupt politicos. My heart hurts.   

In other words, back here in the Tiny Pueblo: The times are changing. We´re in for a big sweeping year of transition. The little normalcy we´ve known may well be in the past now, and who knows what the future holds? We are right here on the blunt end of it. No wonder I feel like I´m living at arm´s length. My spirit is developing a protective layer, maybe. It knows, from three years of experience, this may be a rough ride.

Life here is never, ever routine.Whatever rhythm we may develop over a week or two of nothing happening is soon upset by someone or something new. We love chaos, or at least we developed a taste for it back in our newspaper days. We have lots of that now, and lots more on its way.

The hardest part is the writing. It demands that I resurrect and relive times past, some of them very unpleasant, some of them glorious. All of it is recent and fresh and bright, easily written-about. But it´s also gone. It´s behind us. Maybe my practice of Living in the Present Moment is backfiring on me now, because these memories and stories are so completely tiresome now... I understand that readers might find all those adventures a really gripping read. I have the ability to do this. I may even have connections enough to get a book published.

Like my old, wise sweetheart Ed used to tell me: I just need to get over myself and get on with it. It´s not about how Me and My Feelings. It´s about getting the job done.

So, sign off the big, bloviating blog and stop blowing off, Reb. Get to work!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Two Stinky Pilgrims (and a way to help)

Wow! Money really IS the hot-button issue! I have never had a blog entry with more response. Maybe I should shift my focus. Forget about dogs and foggy mornings and fiestas, and keep on about the decline and fall of the donativo?

But no. I love my foggy mornings way too much. And fundamentally, money is boring.

Speaking of Hot Buttons, look at the column to the right of these words. After much consideration I have now installed a PayPal button, for your consideration. You can help us feed pilgrims and other strays if you like, using the currency or credit card of your choice. Please note we are NOT a registered charity, we have not met any official standard of honesty or accounting excellence, and you cannot write off your donations on your tax form. (not that you can´t try.) Your contribution may be used to buy anything ranging from lentils, wine, manure, truck tires, a roof, or a new leg for a busted cat. Just so you know.

Since I wrote the last blog Patrick and Kim and I have had a very thoughtful week. We read every bit of posted advice carefully, and discussions are ongoing. A beautiful (and BIG) Donativo box was done-up and duly installed in a prominent spot in the kitchen, "salted" from the outset with a 50-Euro note. We´ve had a few pilgrims since, and we´ve told them up front this is not a free house, that they´re expected to put money in the box or contribute some labor or other commodity. And so they´ve done. We won´t get rich this way, but we won´t feel completely exploited, either. And those who don´t have money have donated some other interesting things:  a kilo of lentils is my favorite, exchanged for a cup of coffee and a muffin. (No, he did not put the lentils in the donativo box.)
"This is your food," I told the guy. "You could eat this for a week!"
"It weighs a kilo," he replied. "Got to lighten my pack."

Can´t argue with that. And we like lentils. These are super fine ones, too, from Pardiña. Divine Providence.

The most interesting pilgrims we´ve hosted this week are two starving runaways Una found this morning in a drainage ditch. We took them home and set them up in the kitchen, where they don´t mind sleeping on the floor. They curl in on themselves, their bones all angled out like a game of Pick-Up Stix. They stink worse than any pilgrim I ever smelled before, but I am not ready to send them to the shower yet. They´re just too scared and cold.

They are a pair of galgos, brindle greyhound dogs, probably lost last week from a hare-hunting party. They´ve been drifting ´round the villages and along the highway for days, looking more and more skinny each time they´re seen. Today, on our morning walk, Una rousted them out of their hiding place, and the littlest one let herself be caught and collared. The big one followed along when we walked home.
These are beautiful, elegant dogs. But we already have two of those.
Paddy is smitten. This evening he hand-fed them rice and bread and boiled eggs, which they promptly puked back up. When I go to bed, I am directed to wake him up, so he can sleep downstairs and keep an eye on them.  Una and Tim aren´t sure about all this. They are keeping a distance. Murphy is shut in the barn. (I understand that Greyhounds love cats. For lunch.)
Stray dogs have washed up before on our shore, so we know what to do. The Guardia Civil officer came this afternoon, and said he´ll send a special wildlife agent round tomorrow to see if The Girls have ID microchips. If no owner can be found, we can keep them. Or hand them over to Esteban the Mayor for "disposal." Yikes.

All this and three Italian guys moving in on Friday,  so work can begin on the new albergue. Two hospitalero trainees are also set up for Saturday, when I will try out all the new Federation hospitalero materials on them. I need a haircut. I need to put  my office in order. The writing project is coming right along -- I do it late at night, because it won´t let me sleep any more. (That is a good sign. Long as I get my afternoon nap.)

Thank you all for your kind support and advice. Next time you come and visit, you will see the outcomes.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

We Can´t Go On Like This

Nice new look here, eh? I owe it all to Kim, whose graphic designs and photographs make even drippy gray January look bright and burnished.

Recent days have been packed full of rapid-fire Spanish, and a resulting three-day slog translating and sending on new material that must be added to English-speaking hospitalero-training courses. Sadly, not all changes make people feel all bright and burnished. Bruised and beaten, some might say. The bosses in Spain say we need to take a tougher approach with the pilgs, let them take more responsibility for their own well-being, sanity, and possessions... the Mother Hen has flown the coop.

At least that is what we are to teach. Doesn´t mean everyone´s going to listen, though. Pilgrims will still get their fair share of coddling, especially when they fetch up with Canadian caretakers. Lucky old pilgs.

They are a big topic around here lately, and not always a pleasant one. The Peaceable is faced with many of the issues the Federation wants hospitaleros to contemplate: a real Other Side of the Camino de Santiago. It´s all got to do with helping out. Money.

Two French pilgrims and two Korean pilgrims stayed here on Sunday. All four wore high-tech winter sportswear and good haircuts.We stamped their pilgrim credentials, fed them a nice dinner, poured plenty of wine, advised them on the trail ahead and the weather report, and sent them off to their own individual beds  by 11 p.m. They slept very well, they said. In the morning they had coffee and eggs and bread and honey and lots of butter. The Korean guys left first. The French stayed behind so one of them could write down a recipe for Risotto de Frutti de Mar. Paddy and the dogs walked with them to San Nicolas.

This is the usual treatment offered here. We do it because we want to, and because we (so far) can afford to. We follow a pilgrim-hosting tradition hundreds of years old known as "Donativo." We are not a business, so we don´t charge any set price for our services. Pilgrims who are poor and can´t afford to pay don´t have to. Those with more resources put a "donativo," a donation, in the box by the front door. Those who can pay supposedly cover the costs of those who cannot.

Unless they don´t.

The Koreans left 14 Euros in the box, along with an interesting Korean coin.
The French guys left not a sou. Nothing but a recipe.

These people are killing the Camino as we know it. They´re busting the Peaceable, too. We can´t go on like this.

The Camino de Santiago is drowning in its own success, in dozens of ways. And it looks like the donativo idea will soon be another victim of the great avalanche of greed on one hand, and cheapness on the other. Word´s gone out all over the world that this is THE place to go for an adventure-cultural holiday that also offers all kinds of freebies to anybody. And so, mixed in with the ascetics and hermits and true believers and church youth groups on the trail, are a number of people who are on a cheap holiday, taking advantage.

The folks who stayed here Sunday found us because all the privately-owned hostels for the past 20 kilometers were closed for the holidays. The nearest donativo pilgrim albergue is another 9 kilometers on, a two-hour walk in the wet dark. They were eight pilgrims walking together.

They phoned us from the closed-up pilgrim hostel in Terradillos de los Templarios, where a pilgrim pays 10 Euro for his bed, 8 Euro for his dinner, and 3 Euro for breakfast. They´d have all stayed there if the place was open. They toiled on for another half hour to our house, where we greeted them with turron and coffee, and later drove half of them on to the donativo albergue in Sahagún. (we only have room for four just now.) One of them gave me 2 Euros for gas. A cab would have cost them 20.

The four who stayed behind at our house got an even better deal: Bed, dinner, and breakfast (at homemade quality) for whatever they wanted to pay. None of them left anything like the 21 Euro they´d have paid in Terradillos. In this case, even the most generous of them left less than half that.

And so you see our conundrum. If we don´t tell them at the outset how much we expect, they can´t know for sure, can they? Maybe they figure we´d be offended if they offered us money. But we tell them we are donativo. There is a clearly visible donativo box right by the front door. We signed up for this, so maybe we can´t complain about it.

We haven´t the wherewithal nor the patience to open up as a business. We want to be kind to travelers, we want to offer a nice place to people who don´t often see a nice place.

But we´re being punked here, suckered, taken for a ride, robbed, screwed, blewed, tattooed by people who obviously can afford to pay their way, but simply choose not to.

We are not the only ones. The Federation, the group of albergue and hostel-keepers whom I do trainings for, is dedicated to the donativo practice. And the number of donativo albergues -- pilgrim shelters run by municipalities and religious groups as charitable institutions -- is shrinking fast. Too many people who should donate are staying for free... sometimes zipping into town on the bus and grabbing up the donativo beds well before the lame and poor pilgrims ever roll in. They have ready excuses for their actions: This place gets public funds. This place has an endowment. This place is where my friends are staying, and if I get a room at a commercial hostel I might miss out on "the Camino spirit." If this place can afford to subsidize poor people, it can subsidize me, too, seeing as I am spending "real" money in the local bars and restaurants that charge premium prices.

You invited me in. I am a guest. A guest doesn´t have to pay. Thank you so much for your kind hospitality. You are so generous. You are a saint, an angel, they tell us as they walk past the Donativo box.

If I was a saint or an angel, I wouldn´t be writing this. I wouldn´t notice if anyone paid or not. The saint inside me says I ought to just trust that enough money will come in somehow, that we´ve been well provided-for up til now, and we still have plenty to share without complaining, without noticing. I am willing enough to be a saint. It´s the martyrdom part that stops me cold.

We are retirees. We´ve got no endowment, no public funding. We live on a pension, a fixed income. We love the donativo idea, but too many people think "donativo" means "take advantage." We can´t afford it any more, not with a new roof in the offing, and a kid still in university.

So we are taking steps. Kim is making us an elegant new, bigger Donativo box. Paddy´s figuring out a way to tell pilgrims who stay here they ought to put something in there to help us, maybe something like the price they´d have gladly paid for a lot less a few miles back. This is very difficult.

We thought about installing a PayPal donation button on this blog, but we decided against it. The pilgrims don´t read the blog, and the pilgrims are the ones who ought to be helping out.

This is, hopefully, a temporary issue. The Italians will be here soon, and their new albergue will take on the big flow of humanity, at 5 Euro per person per night. Everyone can afford that, right? 

The truly poor, and the hardcore skinflint sinners, will seek us out.
The pilgrims, in other words.

Friday, 8 January 2010


The pilgrims, pilgrims, pilgrims are here here here.

Not just the ones shut out by the holidays from refuges from Carrion de los Condes to Sahagun (like the French shepherd here in our salon). We now have returnees with us, Kim from Key West and Ariel and Jo from Australia, people who stayed with us before and came back to stay some more. They are nice people, helpful and chatty and mostly vegetarian.

They are engaging at a time of year when the weather can really get me down. They come along to the church to help clear away the holiday decorations. They take magnificent photographs of grubby old winter Moratinos, seeing the place with their fresh new eyes and forcing me to do the same. (these photos were taken by Ariel, btw.)  They write nice blog entries about us, even!

They bring a gloss and glisten to the house that is not there when all the dusting and vacuum chores are left to me and Paddy. They do the dishes, so I can sit and read a while, or wallow in the rottenness of a sinus headache. They care for the Catalans and French and Korean pilgrims who stop in for lunch or coffee or rest. They play with the dogs and cat, and today they even cleaned up the chicken coop!

This in turn has enabled me to take on something that might just be too big for me.

If you´ve read this blog for a while you know I keep myself occupied partially by helping to train new "hospitaleros," volunteer hosts for the many shelters for pilgrims on the Road to Santiago. I share a teaching method and materials with Tom and Mary, two teachers from Canada. Between us we´ve come up with a cookbook, checklists, a handbook, and an online course. The online course was picked up recently by the active Camino community in South Africa. They´re using it as a basis for their nascent hospitalero training program, which is all very flattering and fun.

The toughest part is getting the bosses at the Spanish federation to recognize the South African program and trainees as part of the big picture. They are happy enough to get new recruits to take on this thankless job... but first somebody´s got to sit down with them and show them, in Spanish, what is going on, what materials are being used, and how similar it all is to the original Spanish program.

Which all appears quite dull to those outside this arcane little Camino world. Until it becomes clear that the only person involved in this big push who is in Spain and familiar with the issues and who can meet with the bosses without requiring international airline travel is... Me.

I am not a teacher, but I can do okay in English. I still cannot get my head around preterite verb conjugations. I can chatter with a Spaniard for a good while, understanding about 80 percent of what he says. Talking, however -- explaining things? Woah. Challenge.

And these things that need explaining are important. People on three continents are counting on me. I know the material, and I like and trust the people I am meeting with on Saturday. But I feel just barely competent to navigate all the details and questions and concerns with my shatteringly bad grammar and less-than-precise understanding.

And I am ashamed of myself for not having gained much better language skills, especially after all this time.

Rather than beat myself up I focus on what is achieved already -- the hospitaleros who´ve learned their chops here already, the course I wrote last year that was so readily adopted in South Africa, and the international networking that made this all happen.  That, and the pilgrims.

The pilgrims who find this place hospitable and homey enough that they want to come back again, even when they´re done being pilgrims. People who can be hospitalera to the hospitalera, so she can help make more hospitaleros.

It´s grace, multiplied. With a light sprinkling of chicken poo.