Sunday, 23 October 2011

Dustbowl

An important week in a quiet sort of way.
For an entire week I have very slowly wrestled with the climactic scene in the novel I am writing. I have written this story three times now, and this part was most important and very challenging. I took it slowly. I was painstaking.

I was unusually busy besides. On Monday a phone call came from a tiny town on the Camino de Madrid. Anita, an American pilgrim, wasn´t going to make it to Sahagún as planned. Something had happened. Could we come and get her?

We did. She was waiting at the pilgrim albergue at Santervás del Campos, a medieval adobe town right out of a spaghetti western. Her face was a mess – one eye swollen shut, her lip split and cheeks bloody, one arm was crooked across her chest, like she just did three rounds with Bruno Sammartino. But she smiled. “Can you take me home with you?” she drawled.

She is a cargo pilot from Tennessee. She´d walked the whole way north from Segovia without incident. Tuesday was supposed to be the last day of this particular trail, but she was walking heads-up, surveying the roofs and cornices and soffit and fascia as she strode down the main street of Fontehoyuelo. Downhill from the fuente, the concrete heaves up a little, enough for both feet to catch. She crashed face-first, with 8 kilos of backpack pushing from behind.

Tuesday she spent with me in the health center in Villada and the hospital in Palencia. She was examined by a family doctor and an emergency doctor and a trauma osteopathic doctor, X-rayed twice and then plastered from wrist to shoulder – the crooked arm was broken at the elbow. The evil Socialist doctors did not give us a bill.

Anita cannot carry her backpack now, and she has noplace to go. So she is here.
Yesterday a Scottish hospitalero stopped here on the way to Castrojeriz, a town east of here, where she is helping to close the pilgrim hostel for the winter. She took Anita away with her, for what looks like the weekend. It is good to have a break after a few days, even from nice people.

Moratinos is a dustbowl. It has not rained for months and the dust is getting unbearable.

Austin, a pilgrim from Canada, started walking the Camino Vadiniense on Sunday, and phoned or emailed his progress as he “beta-tested” the new guide I wrote a month or so ago. On Wednesday we three drove up to meet him in Cistierna. He had not seen another pilgrim or spoken English for a week. He talked and talked, and we looked at his maps and pictures and ate sea bass and drank vermouth. He is liking the trail, but it is apparently kicking his butt, as it kicked mine in July.

It was beautiful in the mountains. The night sky was spangled with stars. I started thinking of other stories I want to write, when Zaida´s tale is told.

On Thursday Florian, a handsome German pilgrim, arrived with Einstein, his equally handsome dog. We let them both stay inside the house, and Harry was very jealous – Harry isn´t allowed inside, as he is a hound dog. (Einstein was a Münster, a smart sort of spaniel.) Florian and Anita are both pilots. They talked and talked about helicopters and airplanes, while Patrick made good things for dinner.

Before he left Friday morning Florian helped us move the big houseplants inside. The nights are getting frosty. Now the sitting room is full of greenery again. Soon we will start up the woodstove!

Today, Saturday, was best of all.

A big shipment of wine arrived, mostly Ribero del Duero. Delicious. The English lesson went well. Today they learned to say “No way!”

Still no rain.

The new two-star Hostal Moratinos, the Spanish/German enterprise on the edge of town, is now open for business. We went there in the evening. I had a Warsteiner Dunkel, a delicious dark German beer in a huge tall glass. Paddy showed the proprietors how to make a gin-and-tonic. It is a clean, sharp, well-lighted place in a really prime location for catching pilgrim traffic. I wish them well.

And on the way from there, in the dusk, José and Estevinas showed us how things are progressing at the new bodega-cave bar-restaurant. It should be elegant, I said. Slow but sure. Like learning verbs.

“No way,” José told me, grinning.

“No way José,” Patrick quipped. (I am not sure they got it.)

And further up Calle Ontanon we met Edu, coming home from his garden with a bucketload of freshly-pulled onions. They are gorgeous and fragrant, bristling with green tops. He gave me three. They weigh at least a kilo.

Back at home the dogs gave us their usual hysterical welcome, their tails tracing figure-eights in the half light. We settled in. Paddy watched a horse race from Keeneland. We picked the first- and second-place finishers.

At 9:30 p.m. I finished writing the book.

At midnight the lights flickered off, then came on again. The dogs looked up from their dozing. I lost internet access, so I shut down the computer for a while and picked up the daily diary. I heard voices outside. A man talking. The neighbors, I thought, staying up late.

But then the voice changed, and someone started singing. A folk song, a “niña bonita.” It was, I realized, the boom-box, the portable CD player out in the patio. The power surge had triggered it to “play,” and the flemenquista Carmen Linares was doing a midnight concert for the entire Barrio Arriba de Moratinos.

I stepped outside to restore peace. I did not turn on the lights.

I looked up to my friends the stars – the Big Dipper dumping upside-down over the barn, the W of Cassiopea atop the chimney, the Earth warm and powdery underfoot. The night was like velvet, and the singer´s voice rich as toffee. The patio was an adobe bowl, filling up. Eduardo´s onions on the table, the last of the basil leafing-out on the well-head, and the birds fluttering in the spruce overhead. I switched off the music, but my heart kept singing.

The patio was full of darkness and joy.

6 comments:

Rein said...

When I read this, I wish we were there in Moratinos at this moment, as in 08, when we visited the Peaceable and met Patrick...

CarolineMathieson said...

Thanks for the link Rebecca.

It always astonishes me how colourful a picture you paint of every scene in your life. That's a gift you there all right!

Will buy the book when its published.

ksam said...

Wonderful account...and if the book is even a bit this good (and no doubt it will be!) I'm in!
Would that I could send you some of the rain we've had. The mat by the back door is starting to grow moss!

Laura said...

Cannot wait to buy your book. Your writing never fails to take me far away from wherever I am, and it always leaves me richer.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I hope Anita is doing OK. Her whole incident rang some bells for me- as I had a similar kind of fall just as I entered Zubiri, but miraculously, I escaped uninjured. (I thank the blessing from the Bishop of Le Puy- quite seriously!) And I know from my experience last year with a broken arm, that for an adult it is not as simple as for a child who runs wild the very next day with their arm in plaster. So I hope she is managing OK- it seemed like a long 6 weeks to me to be in plaster and I imagine she is already thinking the same!

Tracy Saunders. said...

"The night was like velvet, and the singer´s voice rich as toffee. The patio was an adobe bowl, filling up."
Nice one Reb. And to think there is a book's worth out there. Do send for proofing if you still want to. X T