The little brick church was very cold inside, as Spanish churches tend to be. And while Don Santiago sang out the Mass, the weak winter sun coming in the windows darkened down. The scanty lightbulbs above the altar shone more and more yellow. The candles brightened and shivered -- the wind roared down the bell tower.
Sometime between the Sanctus and the Padre Nuestro, winter swaggered back in from the west.
After church we scuttled across the plaza and into the little meeting room in the ayuntamiento and gathered close around the butane heater. Esteban slid open the lid on the bar cooler. Out came the grape juice and refrescos for the ladies, and the white wine, the red, and the eponymous Vermut for the men. Sunday, after noon, after Mass...Vermouth. It is what is done here.
It is what we did. Around the table we sat. José took a calendar down from the wall, and on it -- month by month, with remembrances called out from everyone present -- he scrawled everyone´s name, on everyone´s respective birthday. In January we celebrated Raquel´s birthday, and this month, Patrick´s. Today it was Milagro´s turn. In March there´s only one, in April, several. We´ll be in the depths of Lent, but what the hell. We´re gonna have a good old party then, when spring is here, when the rye in the fields is ankle-deep.
En Mayo hay pocos cumpleaños. En Junio? Ningunio.
The wind tossed rain like gravel against the windows. Inside we marched through the calendar, through the year, remembering birthdays and births. Which inevitably led us to aging, and funerals, and deaths -- a primary topic of Vermut conversation. Which of us was born on the day of whose funeral, whose Abuela lived to be 93, whose Tio is still is alive at 96, still sharp. A "mere youth" from Sahagun, aged 78, died last week when a wall collapsed and buried him under tons of roof tiles. In Terradillos, the town next door, another man is ailing unto death -- the brother of Eutichio (or some wonderful name like that -- here we have Agapitas, Hilarios, Heliodoros, even!)
But it wasn´t all death and dying. There´s news, too: Pepe, "the dueño of Terradillos," this week cut down the little forest out along the carretera and sold the timber to an outfit in Segovia. We´ll hear no cuckoos there this spring.
Paddy told about Harry, our sweet new galgo dog, adopted from the giant dog-pound in Medina del Campo -- part of a great wave of refugee hunting dogs dumped recently outside a shelter in Seville. (He howls with an elegant southern accent, I think. When the neighborhood dog chorus tunes up at 2 a.m. He yodels bulerias, saetas like a Flamenco star at a Holy Week procession.
The nascent character of Roque, a puppy sired by Esteban´s randy mutt Toby, out of Florín´s lapdog Amora and destined for Eduardo´s yard, was analyzed. Eduardo lives alone in a big house across from the church door. His last dog, also called Roque, (known by us as "Pants Dog,") was a vicious brute who attacked Tim one morning out in the plaza. Tim won, but Roque bit Eduardo in the melee. And when later on the dog bit Eduardo again, well... no more Roque. This new pup will be sweeter, calmer, and much smaller. So it was decreed.
The Vermut is becoming a Sunday routine, a healthy, friendly hour out of the week. Everyone is invited, but not everyone attends. Not everyone approves, I think -- but those absent are not discussed. Still, among the people gathered in the ayuntamiento, Moratinos life is recounted, celebrated, cemented.
The rain fell, the wind howled, the pilgrims stomped past outside, hunched inside their ponchos. Inside we were toasty-warm, from the stove, the merry company, and the Vermut.