Saturday, 26 March 2011

Que Será

All still is somewhat in ordnung, except for a profound disquiet way down at the base of everything. Maybe something like was felt in Tokyo, while the earth shifted hugely only a hundred or so miles north. Maybe the great city felt the earth moving, literally. Or maybe it was the great lifting upward of so many souls, so suddenly lifted together out of their ordinary lives and daily bodies. Tokyo had to feel something.

A disturbance in the Force, perhaps. A stirring in the Wine-Dark Sea, as Homer would have put it.

Here, all is quiet. I can almost hear the bulbs and peas and seeds in the earth, pushing softly up at the dung and dark to where warm and light are. The past week was quiet at its base, but the surface was whipped by the whirlwind that is Fred, Federico, the guitarrero. He swept in on Monday, bearing suitcases overpacked with Extra-Crunchy peanut butter, über-sharp cheddar cheese, and (glory be!) the makings for authentic Mexican tamales. He slept, then swept out again, northward to France.

I love me a good tamale. When in Madrid I try my best to find them, usually sating the urge at Mas Que Café, a Peruvian lunch counter at Mercado Anton Martin. (This is one of our favorite restaurants in that great city -- lovely staff, great food at great prices, and unbeatable atmosphere. It is formica among the hand-trucks and lettuces and fish-heads of the market stalls. But there´s all the whip-slender inmates of the Flamenco-dance school upstairs, and the smiling knife-grinder from the stall next door, and the Bearded Intellectual horndogs from the revolutionary bookstore... all of them mixing it up and knocking it back, smoking and laughing and oh so alive, here and now.)

Here at The Peaceable it rains. Tim has tossed himself into his dog bed like a furry salad. Patrick is online, peering hard at the Daily Racing Form statistics for the Dubai World Cup.

Me, I am making a half-size feast of tamales. It is an elaborate rite, filled with sidesteps and substitutions. The foodies say you must have lard for the cornmeal-and-lime dough, but the local lard is too intensely piggy for my taste. I use instead a part of my precious, hoarded Crisco vegetable shortening, a chemical concoction my caring American family sends to ensure my continuing arterial decay, and half "cuisine et pâtisserie," a posh block of pretty much the same stuff, supplied by my remaining friend in Paris. (This contributor is Miguel Angel, who is himself a native Mexican tamale-eater. So it is fitting.) (Fear not, I do still have a couple of friends in France...they just are not in the capitol. Thank God.) (And yes, it is true. I do not care for Paris, any more than Paris cares for me.)

Which makes me think, guiltily, I let my Parisian godson´s birthday go by without sending him an illustrated book of Greek myths, as I intended. Ingre DÁulaire, read as a child, gave me all the base in Classics I ever got, or ever needed: Greek, Roman, and Norse. DÁulaire, (with a generous salting of native bullshit) proved sufficient for my academic progress, even as a major in European history, even as a Master´s candidate in church history, even as a professional writer and journo in religion and art and culture. The Greek Myths are the tales that stand behind our fairy stories, our movie and novel and narrative plots. We keep repeating them, over and over. The Greek myths, and the Bible, and maybe Bach and Beethoven and Billie Holliday and David Bowie ... I made sure my children had these to hand, too. And so I will try to do with my godson, who I have not seen for a couple of years now, but who I still feel responsibility for.

Heavens, I am discursive today. It is Lent, so I am not even under any outside influence!

Maybe it is Demeter, or Persephone -- the mother-daugher spring-and-summer pair, who oversee this blog post. Maybe it is because the earth is coming alive, but nothing else is really happening yet. Yet. The expectation is so... there! Or maybe it is a warning to you, blogueros, that I am off, yet again, to the Camino de Invierno. This time in company.  A team of Dutch guide-writers is walking that way, doing a deluxe tourist-oriented guide, taking their time, taking a good GPS reading, taking notes... I asked if I could tag along, over the mountains from O Barco de Valdeorras to Monforte de Lemos, the part that sickness and weariness made me miss out on last year. And they said "sure!"

And so I go. Maybe I will write.
Like the peas, and the Dubai Cup, the urge to write rises in the spring, toward the light.
Let´s not expect anything. Let us just be thankful for what is. Bulbs, peas, seeds. Que será, será.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Alles in Ordnung (kinda)

The sun is glorious.

I cannot seem to write anything comprehensively, so I default to sorting out things.

Patrick and I have an important commonality: Even though we live in a rambling and spread-out place that requires lots of upkeep, what we maintain is a great resistence to orderliness. This translates into many things. We can happily live with plenty of racket around us – over-loud music, yapping dogs, people shuffling in and out, the bread-man blasting his horn, tractors and occasional dirt-bikes revving outside the walls. I think it comes from working in newsrooms for years. Deadline pressure teaches one to focus on the task at hand, even when the archbishop is lap-dancing at the next desk.

Disorder is another commonality. Even though we stripped down our possessions to a minimum before moving here five years ago, and even though we continue to discuss minimalism and simplicity, we still manage a degree of environmental clutter. On the patio, even when things have been tucked away for winter, are scrub-brushes, dog-combs, rags, shutters, loose tiles, window-boxes, and dead jasmine. These things happen while you´re carrying out a bigger job. You set down that jug of glue, that water-glass, that turnip-seed packet or umbrella or dog-coat or bit of broken-off walking stick, just for a minute. The minute turns to a month.

Inside the house it´s pens, papers, magazines, paperbacks, maps, recipes, business cards, notebooks, salt-shakers, dog treats, and cables for cameras, computers, and mobile phones. I am not sure where all this stuff comes from. I certainly do not know where it all goes. We shift it all around now and then. We put the clutter into nice colorful boxes, and stow them on shelves. Things look nice for a little while, til a new layer of the same kind of stuff builds up again, or someone needs a camera cable or a compass or caraway seeds or muscle liniment. By then they have vanished, never to be seen again.

Right around the full moon of March 15 or 20, it hits critical mass. The sun reappears, and one morning a bright beam slices through the windows just so. I realize... This Place Is Out of Hand.

And this is why now the patio is home to a clematis plant, climbing up a new arbor, fertilized with homemade clematis food. The herb garden is weeded, seeded with cilantro and basil, with the parsley, oregano, rosemary, mint, and lavender looking bushy and bright – and three kinds of thyme tucked into their own little section. (Kim and Frank built the bed for me last year, when I was out camino-ing. It is one of the best gifts anyone´s given me.)

I told you last time about the random bottle from the bodega that turned into something lovely? So I went over to the bodega this week with a corkscrew and a flashlight and a glass and a big jug of water and had a good look. And taste.

I found we have some nice wine ready for this year or next. We have a few things that want a couple of more years. But most of all we had empty racks!

Now is a good time to buy some kinds of wine, so that is what we did: we went and spent 182 Euros on Rioja and Ribera del Duero crianzas and a few cosechas.. Sixty bottles or so. Cheap ones. Wine that is OK now, but likely only wants a couple of years in the dark to turn into drinkable perfume. (Or so we hope.) I racked them according to region and age: Toro, Ribero del Duero, Rioja, Navarra, Ribera Sacra, varietals, odd French things, 2007, 8, 10. (I don´t do “vintage.” Still too highbrow.) I will need to shop for white wine after a few weeks, when the new white wine comes out – the Rueda, Albariño, Bierzo... If Patrick goes to France for his holidays I hope he will bring back some of that beautiful green Gascon rosé, because my sisters are coming to visit, and they will never otherwise taste that wonderful taste.

It is an investment, wine, even though I never spend more than about 4 Euros for a bottle. The pilgrims surely do help us burn through the stuff. (The really good ones I keep aside for friends and family and supporters. Just so you know. Unless we have exceptional pilgrims!)

I very much enjoyed myself sorting out the vino, even though I don´t do well in caves generally. I thought about the earthquake that hit here on Monday, and I looked at the bits of earth that have fallen lately from the bodega ceiling. And then I stopped thinking.

Out in our back yard, otherwise known as “la huerta,” the garden beds are ready to roll. I´ve planted peas, butter lettuce, purple lettuce, endive, cabbages, carrots, turnips, spinach, and a few potatoes – in beds I can quickly cover up with plastic if and when the frost arrives.

I put in an Eden rose, a fragrant climber, on a trellis that lately was a barrier fence at Bruno´s albergue. It will make the back yard much more welcoming and pretty, I hope. The back yard still has a long way to go before it is civilized. But I rather like having a bit of Savage Nature around. Like T.S. Eliot (or was it ee cummings?) said, when you live on a farm you never can be bored – there is always something to do, some bit of wildness to bring back under the whip, always something to put off til next week.

But I digress.

In other orderliness I did up our taxes (well as I know how). We put the bread-baking cupboard back together after it collapsed. We finished up the woodpile, we hauled some old timbers into the huerta to make a new potato patch, I moved manure and sand and dirt by the barrow-load. We even hosted a goodly number of pilgrims in the middle of it all, and treated them well I think. They are bombing through here now, pilgrims. 

Paddy turned 70 years old. Which means maybe I should not be working him so hard. 

Today, in the bright sun, Patrick and I pulled out the patio table and chairs. We rubbed them down with teak oil, readying them for another year of merriment.

One note from outside our gates: Dear Bruno finally got all the pipes joined up and the permits stamped. The Hospital San Bruno pilgrim albergue is good to go, at long last, at vast expense... On Sunday he and his longsuffering and mostly invisible wife will host a great pasta feast at the New Italian Albergue, for all the townspeople of Moratinos.

And next week, everyone assumes, the albergue will open its doors. For the first time in history, Moratinos will offer pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela an official place to stop and stay. I sincerely wish them all the best. Moratinos was the last village on the camino with nothing to offer pilgrims. This had to happen.

But The Peaceable. What will become of us?
Maybe this is the question that is casting me down these days. Maybe we are now obsolete. Maybe now no one will find his way here, past a hostal, past an albergue... maybe now we will only get the homeless wanderers, the poor bodies who cannot or will not cough up the six Euros for a pilgrim bed at Bruno´s place.

We may have outlived our usefulness, Camino-wise.
What will we be now? What will we become?

Vamos a ver. We shall see.
Time will tell.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Treasures of the Deep

Rosie heading home, the Italian albergue in the background
I sat in my chair on the patio and ruminated.

March is a cruel month. It gets my hopes up, makes me think that yes, Spring really is here, I can plant the garden and pull out the patio furniture... and then it sends down a snowstorm to remind me, No. Not for a while yet, kiddo!

Even though we have good pilgrims, and we are healthy, and I have lots of interesting plans to look forward to, I still feel frighteningly depressed some days. In years past I´ve suffered from clinical depression -- a mental condition with physical causes linked to brain chemistry and heredity. I don´t need a reason to become depressed. Life can be dandy, but if my brain is not manufacturing enough seratonin, I feel as if I am living underwater. Everything, even activities and ideas and disciplines I usually love, becomes colorless, dull, boring... and ultimately, meaningless.

Depressed is a very self-absorbed, numb, and sad way to be. When the symptoms start showing up, I get scared. I know there is little I can do to forestall a depression. I can´t prevent it, any more than I can wash it off once it´s oozed over me. So this time I am letting it happen.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher who I love, says to welcome it like any other guest. "Hello, depression. Come on in and take a seat. Have a cup of tea. Where have you been, all these years?"

This way, it keeps its distance. It is not me, it is not "my depression." It is just someone who is in the house today, and probably tomorrow. He will wear out his welcome, but he´ll eventually move on. 

Wise people say depression usually has something to teach you, if you stop whining long enough to listen to it. Me, I think depression is like nausea. If you fight it, it just lasts longer and makes you more miserable. Best to just puke and get it over with.

Or maybe it is more like plunging into the deep end of the swimming pool, without grabbing a lungful of breath first. Sound and light and your voice are all shut down and silenced. You feel a desperation inside, a struggle to re-surface, but the water only slows your efforts to move upward again, toward the living world.

But if you let the momentum of your dive carry you downward first, you eventually feel yourself touch the tiles of the pool-bottom. And once you hit bottom, well. You can fold your arms alongside your body, hunker down, and then blast yourself like a torpedo upward and out again into the light! No struggling needed. Just momentum. Just flowing, downward, bottomward... At the bottom, there is something to push against.

I thought all these thoughts out on my patio, with my feet up on the edge of the well. The sun shone, the pavement was littered with dog bodies of several sizes, worn-out from a long morning´s mouse-hunt out in the fields. Paddy opened a bottle of wine, brought up at random from the depths of the bodega earlier that day. I recognized the label: Bodegas de Abalos makes red Tempranillo wine in La Rioja, Spain´s popular wine region. The label said "Crianza 2005," which means it was aged a couple of years before I bought it, and was already judged table-ready at that time. It was nothing to write home about, but it wasn´t bad... and it was remarkably cheap: 2 Euros a bottle. I bought three cases.

I put them in the bodega. I forgot they were there.

I took my glass, had a sniff, then a taste... After three years in the cool darkness, that average table wine has ripened into the full-bodied, wide-open, crisp and delicious Reserva that made Rioja famous. Wow!

Playing on the little outdoor boom-box Bebo y Cigala, a wizened Cuban pianist and a Spanish flemenco singer, howling through a bossa-nova heartbreak. From his cage little Bob sang along. And in the hand not holding the wine glass I had a paperback book called "How to Live: A Life of Montaigne" -- an excellent, fascinating book (even if it is a little highbrow).

Books, birdsong, bossa-nova, good dogs, and an agreeable mate bearing Rioja Reserva. What more could I want?

If depression must hang out here he can stay for tea. But he´s not getting any of the wine.


Friday, 4 March 2011

Jesterday: A Lesson

It was only 10:30 a.m., but out of the snow came three pilgrims. They were hungry, as all the pilgrim-feeding  places in the last 14 kilometers are closed.

Still, after 13 kilometers they were smiling, happy, full of life.  Ruben, a Basque from Barakaldo, was a big man, 40-ish, a chef at a summer resort up on the coast -- the kind of pilgrim who drinks lots of red wine and laughs loud and then  snores like a sawmill all night. The other two were slim and fashionable and in love: Alan from Argentina, a young Sinatra in a black fedora, and Sylvia, a pierced and tattooed nymph from Portugal.

We sat them down in the kitchen. I made some bread last night, and they tucked into that while Paddy made them each a two-egg omelette. We talked about Hugo Chavez and George Bush and the California maharishi that Alan and Sylvia hope to meet up with later this year in India. I had trouble understanding Alan´s Argentine accent, I admitted.  So everyone then shifted into perfectly OK English. Accented, but fine -- probably about equal to my Spanish. 

After the last of the egg was mopped-up with the last of the bread, Alan spotted the guitar... "Ah! I long to touch the guitar!" he said. "May I please?"

So Fred´s guitar was put to its intended use, and the gray morning round the kitchen table turned to a skilled bossa nova, then a tango. Ruben has a monster baritone voice, which he applied with fulsome emotion to the Beatles: "Jesterday," he sang. Me and Alan harmonized (more or less) on "Wish You Were Here," and then Ruben then made a blockbuster attempt at "What a Wonderful World."Alan suddenly decided the guitar needed a tuning. (sing that song with a Spanish accent. Just try it. It is an absolute scream.) Bob the canary loved every minute, and sang along at maximum volume. Tim and Rosie and Murph did not budge from their usual 10-to-noon posture, best described as "carelessly flung across the furniture."

And so by 11:15 the smiling trio put their coats and backpacks on again, and disappeared back into the winter. 

We made more coffee.
"Nice people," I said. "Fun, hearing live music in the place."
"They have a lot to answer for, the Beatles," Paddy said.

 * * * * * * * * *

I blogged about the eventful morning, a verson of what you see above. I posted it. After lunch the doorbell rang again. Out on the steps, in the rain, was Antonio. This is the third or fourth time the leathery little Portuguese has turned up here. He travels back and forth across the camino, fully credentialed but obviously not your usual pilgrim. Antonio is a traveling man, a homeless person. A hobo. "Hola, Rebekah!" he said, kissing my cheeks. "I am back!" We are on first-name terms, us and Antonio. 

Antonio is walking eastward, to Rome this time, he said. He needed wine to warm himself, maybe a raincoat for tomorrow, and especially a winter-weight sleeping bag. We didn´t have the last two, but he helped to empty out the bottle of Rueda left over from lunch. I told him I´d drive him over to Ledigos, to the next open pilgrim shelter. Paddy gave him 10 Euro for the night´s stay. (Paddy and I are finally communicating between ourselves, when one of us doesn´t really want to host a pilgrim that night.) I remembered an old LL Bean sleeping bag out in the barn, a dusty, overly-heavy model abandoned here a couple of years ago. Antonio was glad to have it.

Antonio never leaves here empty-handed, which nettles me somewhat. I feel like a sucker when he goes. But when I think about why, I have to respect the man. He is in need. He asks for what he wants, he never demands. And if I have extra, there is no good reason for me not to share it with him. We both understand that. That is why he keeps coming back here, and that is why I keep giving him things. (That, and my mothers´oft-stated suspicion that bums are often "angels in disguise.")

On the way over to Ledigos the snow turned to heavy rain. I remembered Kim had left a poncho in the back of the car, for whomever. I dug it out and gave it to Antonio, so he can walk tomorrow.  

At the bar in Ledigos sat Don Gaspar, one of our two parish priests, in whose capable hands I left our friend Antonio. I am not sure either was happy about the exchange, but both told me I am a nice person. Both thanked me, and wished me godspeed.

They blessed me in Castellano and in Portuguese, respectively. And during the drive home that made me think, too, about the blog above, and the fun I´d had, laughing at the Argentine and the Basque singing English tunes for us in our kitchen -- how funny it was, hearing "Yesterday" sounding so silly...

And I was struck by my own ingratitude, maybe even my cruelty. Sure, England and America provide the world with a fabulous musical repertoire. But English, the lyric language, is not my personal possession. Here were these tired, damp strangers, taking a chance in a second tongue, paying for their breakfast with songs and smiles. And there I was, mocking them behind their backs for their funny accents.

Me, the person who twists Spanish into bizarre shapes on a daily basis... a foreigner who, after five years in Moratinos, still cannot make some of her neighbors understand more than half the things she says. Hold up right here girly, I told myself. I took a look in the mirror.

We´ve had plenty of pilgrims in the days since I came home: a French Canadian, two Catalan ladies, as well as today´s arrivals. None of them left any money, but what they did bring, apparently, were lessons I need to learn.  (Just incidentally, this afternoon, even while I was driving Antonio east, a blog reader from Australia hit the donation button, and paid into our account enough to cover everybody´s expenses.)

* * * * * * * * * *

We live in a magnificent place, people. Not just us at The Peaceable in Moratinos.
You live here, too, wherever you are.  We all are parts of the same world, we all inhabit our own Peaceables. We create our own kingdoms. And we are charged, by Christ himself, to be peace, to bring justice and kindness to whomever shows up at our doorstep, or at our elbow, or at our desk.

Patrick and I are not called to be any more heroic than you are called to be.
After today, I hope you are kind to the needy people all around you. And I hope it does not take you so long as it does me, to see the lessons they have for you.

And the music.