Saturday, 31 December 2011

A New Year Blessing

Zamora province, Camino Levante. August 2011

For Those Who Have Far to Travel
An Epiphany Blessing
If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step.
There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.
There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.
Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.
Jan L. Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook

This from my friend Claire, who posted it from elsewhere. May 2012 bring us all blessings and revelations. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Holy Innocents

Paddy, Miguel, Martina, and Petra, hospitaleros all
Christmas came with two roasted chickens, three otherwise-lonesome hospitaleros, (2 Germans and an Italian) two rosy pilgrims, (a Brazilian and a Dutch lady), a warm house and big appetites. We got through a pint of pickles and peppers, a kilo of stuffing, 2 pounds of Copper Penny carrots, a bowl of home-grown parsnips, a loaf of bread, tiramisu, half a stöllen, eight brownies and a half-liter of caramel ice cream. And a bottle of champagne. And five bottles of wine.
Holy Innocents on Calle Ontanon

We even got a Christmas tree put up, at the very last minute. It is outdoors, in Murphy´s window, all decked with jolly lights. We let the hens run loose in the yard, and split up a big ol´ cheap sausage among the dogs. A good time was had by all, and seeing as hospitaleros were part of the scene, everything was cleaned-up and put away before sundown. 

I picked up Philip the next day, at the airport in Madrid. I will not burden you with the hair-raising ordeal of finding him there. All is well now. He is here with us at The Peaceable, a bigger, broader version of himself. He is my son, whom I have not seen in almost two years! He is a first-year student at Franklin Pierce/University of New Hampshire School of Law. He loves to talk. I am adjusting my sensors from "prevailing silence" to "chatterbox." I love him very much.

Paddy is prevailing silent. Jo, his first wife and mom to his three boys, is hospitalized down in Malaga, gravely ill with blood poisoning. His son Matt is there with her. Paddy is not sure what to do. He is not much good at sick-bed duty, or even keeping his other two sons apprised of events. He cooks us lovely spaghettis and omelettes, and cracks wise, and swears at horse races on the computer. I love him too. I just hope I never get very sick.

The other exciting news on this Day of Holy Innocents is I finally met Alicia! She is the first grandchild born to Julia and Paco, two of our good neighbors. She is a month old, very tiny and pink and doll-like, with very good lungs. Her mother is simply besotted with her, as you might expect. I look at them, and I look at Philip, who was about that size himself only 24 years ago. I marvel at what time does to people. And I rejoice in my heart, knowing Julia has a grandchild, and knowing I never have to face raising another infant of my own!   

In the evening Raquel came by, bearing gifts: beautiful yellow apples from their huerta, two jars of jam, and a great quivering block of membrillo -- quince jelly. Milagros gave us a great block of membrillo last week, the same day Angel gave us a spectacular cabbage. We still are discussing what should be done with it. What shall we make with it all? Can it all be eaten?

So here we are with an abundance of food and wine, with friends enough to share our Christmas feast, with family come from far away to spend some time in silence. Here we are with generations of a town: Raquel and Modesto the patriarchs, little Alicia the future. And here we are with worries for one of our own, someone fragile and far, whom we could easily lose. 

It is quiet and sunny, chilly and sleepy. The last couple of months have been tough, but 2011 was a very good and busy year for us, taken all together. I can´t ask for any more than that, can I?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Short Days. Long hours.

We have been very ill for the past week. Even after a round of anti-biotics I am still unwell. This is getting very tiresome.
Paddy is gone to London to attend a friend´s funeral. I am here, but I am not alone.
Fred wafts in and out, bringing groceries, repairing the front gates and spoiling the dogs. With Paddy gone, the dogs are particularly needy. I take them for long walks in the mornings, probably over-long -- I am worn-out by 11 a.m. They stay near me, they run hard but do not let me out of their sight. I think they might be taking care of me.
This morning, over at the Grand Canyon near San Nicolas, I saw two beautiful foxes slipping over the broken ground and up the camino. Lulu and Harry saw them too, but they didn´t chase them. Maybe they, too, were awed by their fluid beauty.
Christmas is coming to Moratinos. The little plastic Bethlehem is all set up in the church entryway, with real moss and dried flowers for trees. It is silly and beautiful. Each Sunday the Magi are a little farther along the sandy pathway to the manger in the upper corner.
I do not know why, but there are two Baby Jesuses.
Over at the bodegas José and Esteban toil away in the concrete bunker that will sometime soon be a bar and restaurant. Fred stored some box-wine in our bodega, but this weekend discovered mice had chewed through the cardboard, eating the glue all along the edges. They pierced the foil bags inside, of course... and so we have a mess in the cave, and some rodents full of holiday cheer! Tasteful mice. They only chewed the boxes from France. 
At Hostal Moratinos, Martina spends her mornings waiting for the scarce pilgrims to pass. She offers them German herbal teas, gingerbread, pumpkin soup. If no one shows up to take a room, she lowers the blinds at sundown and tucks herself away.
The nights are very dark and cold. The stars are hard and sharp in the sky, and Orion spins across the firmament as the hours pass.
At the Hospital San Bruno, the pilgrim albergue, Bruno and Miguel have an electric star in the front window. The place will be closed between Christmas and New Year´s Eve, when it seems everyone will be back in town. We will take up the slack, here at the Peaceable, in the days after Christmas, the very last days of the year.
Pilgrims are already running into trouble: daylight is so short, the distance between open albergues very long. A German man showed up last night just after midnight, banging on the back door, the emergency exit we rarely use. He was lost, exhausted, and very sorry. And lucky -- he chose the right house! I put him in the green bedroom. He ate a banana and three pears, then slept for 13 hours. 
I am led to meditate these days. Perhaps because of the long nights, perhaps because there is so little else to do that is interesting. (Reading makes my head swim, and we don´t have a TV.) Meditation makes my senses sharper, makes me slow down and think and appreciate more. Music sounds better, I hear the crows and hawks shouting at one another in the fields. Twenty minutes a day makes a world of difference. It also is an agony for little Rosie, who must leave me alone the entire time!
She watches me, even when she is asleep. She follows me, wherever I go.
I am alone here, but I cannot be lonely.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Signed, Sealed...

Now that the manual work is done, I need to get down to the written test.

Which is another way of saying "Christmas cards." I try to keep track of all the friends and family and just random kind people who touch us in special ways each year, and at the end send them each a nice hand-written holiday card. This should not be difficult, seeing as we no longer clog our Decembers with evergreen trees, holly, or extravaganzas of cookie-baking, partying, or gift-giving. I string a line of Christmas lights around the living room or over one of the larger house plants. I bake stöllen or lebkuchen or something merry, and if we expect a crowd I will roast a fowl or some kind or other. This year I grew parsnips and brussels sprouts in the garden, just for the holidays, because Paddy likes them. (we shall see how they turn out!)  But compared to the month-long lunacy so many people undergo, things are pretty simple and easy around here at Christmas. I like to think if a star appeared in the east, or a baby was born out in our barn one of these nights, we might not be too busy to notice.

Anyway, we looked over our diary and thought back over the nice things we enjoyed this year, and we made up a list of people to send cards to. I bought ten nice ones from the UNICEF display at the post office. Ten cards. It tends to focus things a bit. Who is on the list?

>Kathy, who sends us divine Mexican tortillas from California, at vast and foolish expense. Who flies to Spain to walk with me on unexplored trails. A great friend. A card for her, surely.
>And one for Tracy, who drove me and Kathy up to the mountains, and let me stay at her villa in Marbella, and is soon to open a pilgrim welcome place in Galicia.
>Denis, the French Scotsman who rescued Kathy and me from the hot griddle that was the last three kilometers of the Camino Vadiniense in late July. Sent by angels. A card is the least I can do.
>Miguel Angel, my Mexican-French psychoanalyst friend. I did not see him this year, but on a particulary tough day in the spring a courier delivered an elegantly wrapped tin. Inside were waxed papers, embossed with the name of a French pàtisserie: Pastries. Cookies. Sweetness. He was just thinking of us, he wrote on the little slip inside.
>Filipe, my Portuguese DNA scientist and bosom friend who whisks me off to the beach. 
>Dael, the dour Scotsman who helped me move 16 tons of dirt onto the bodega roof in May. The man deserves much more than a card. He needs a medal of honour, that one.
>George, from Virginia. An academic, a gentleman, a scholar, a mystic. He introduced me to movie stars in February in Washington D.C. We go way back. I love him.
>Ivar, who lives in Santiago and always welcomes me to town with a big lunch and all the latest camino news.
>John and Stephen, more Scotsmen. They walked and talked with me across the baking plains of Valladolid and Zamora provinces, and who now are innovating a pilgrim welcome center in Santiago. Visionaries. 
>Marion, and the other very English people in the Confraternity of St. James office in London, who edit and publish the guides I write. Infinite patience. Hard work. No pay. Except maybe a card now and then. Worker bees.
>Colin and Margaret, from Wales. They drive their camper van from home all the way to Rabanal in the summer, to volunteer at the monastery there. They stop here on the way, and have done ever since we lived in the summer kitchen. They bring us Marmite, cheddar cheese, Branston Pickle, and week-old copies of The Times and The Guardian, and great good cheer.
There are others. You get the idea.

What do all these fine people have in common, except acquaintance with me and The Peaceable?

I cannot find postal addresses for any of them.

In the Information Age, I am without their data. It is here somewhere, maybe tucked into a computer file, or scrawled in a notebook. I have found addresses for Kathy and George, but I know those are out-dated. And Kim. Where is Kim these days? The sangha in Colorado, the Hindu chant-fest in Puerto Rico, or in Key West? I could send out an email appeal to all of them, but that would spoil the little frisson of receiving an honest-to-God, hold-in-your-hand greeting, wouldn´t it?

So here I sit with beautiful little cards and lots of good will, but noplace to send it all.

I wish everyone could be blessed with such a problem. Lucky old me!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Seamy Side of Santiago

Along a two-lane highway we walked, our coat-pockets stuffed with slippery green litter bags, our hands in gloves, our hearts in the right place. It was me and Keith from Halifax, Yorkshire, preparing the Way of the Lord.

Me and Keith, an out-of-work statistician who got on a plane in London early this week and flew to Valladolid and took a train to Sahagun and walked to our house to join me on out here on the seamy side of the camino. He brought along a handy litter-grabber device, which made the job do-able from his six-foot height. There were two of us, one little van, rakes and shovels, and two sizes of bags.

In four days we did every inch of the way, from San Nicolas to Itero. Almost 70 kilometers. All of Palencia. 

The Camino de Santiago is a UNESCO Cultural Itinerary, a Spanish national treasure, the Main Street of Europe, the Way of Stars and Stones. It is also a trash-dump for tourists, pilgrims, and local folk alike. In December, after the weeds die back, a year´s worth of litter lies exposed along the path. (With more than 150,000 pilgrims passing this year, that´s a lot of litter.)

And a lot of organizations want a piece of that action. They line up to plaster their logos on We Luv Camino signs all up and down the path, but none of them has arranged a comprensive trash-removal program. Municipalities and local clubs or confraternities supposedly keep an eye on the trail and pick up the clutter. But Spain now has no money. Cities and towns are too strapped to waste labor on outlying hiking trails, especially near county lines or municipal borders. It´s winter, and nobody wants to work outside. It´s "the holidays," when everyone is supposedly "spending time with family." The old folks are too stiff for all that bending and lifting. The young ones all live in the city.

Camino litter is a hot topic on some online pilgrim forums. Foreigners find it appalling. They shoot photos of the granola-bar wrappers, poop-and-toilet paper assemblages, and drifts of empty water bottles in the ditches. They post them on their blogs, they analyze what kinds and nationalities and age-groups of idiots would desecrate a holy path with sewage and garbage. Spanish school-groups and bicyclists come in for a kicking. Heads are shaken, "tut-tut" is said. There are cries of "someone ought to do something," and "It is not my mess and not my problem."

And after all the outrage, accusation, and bloviating, the hubcaps and toilet paper are still out there.

Advent started last week, the penitential season leading up to Christmas. A year ago I had a profound Advent. I wanted to continue with that. I wondered what kind of project I could do this year to mark the season. The Scripture verse at church gave me the answer: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. The valleys will be exalted, the mountains and hills made low, the crooked straight, the rough places plain... and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord."

And so it came to me: Pilgrims walk the Way of St. James to find God. So I oughtta pick up the trash on the path. Prepare the Way of the Lord for them, so if the Holy Ghost whispers their name they will not be distracted by the half-mile of wrappers that once were a KitKat 6-pak. I had found a way to make boring old waste management into a righteous pursuit!

I posted on the website with all the trash-complainers -- I am out to clean up the Way, maybe all the way from Burgos to here. Anyone want to help? (I did not expect much response, but I took a chance. It would be much simpler logistically if there were two or three of us.)

Keith put his hand up right away. The Confraternity of St. James of South Africa left dozens of plastic litter bags with us when they did a "Spring Clean the Camino" campaign two years ago, and a kindly blog-reader from America donated money enough to cover our lunches.

The work is harder than it appears at first. We followed along the camino far as we could with the furgoneta-car, and walked the rest of the way. On the stretches between Revenga and Fromista and Boadilla and Itero we drove slowly, eyeing the ditches alongside, stopping and jumping out to snatch Coke cans or plastic bags as they appeared. We tried all different ways. At the notorious picnic area outside Carrion we just stopped and shoveled. At Villacazar de Sirga I dropped off Keith with a bundle of bags, and drove myself to Carrion de los Condes, and we each walked toward the center-point along the two-lane, picking up the bottles, cans, cigarette packs, styrofoam  and hubcaps tossed away over the past months by pilgrims and bikers and drivers of the passing cars. The weather is perfect for this. We are still healthy and spry enough to do this work. We are tired when we finish, Paddy is feeding us very well, and we sleep very well these nights.   

It´s the sleep of the righteous. We are righteous trash-pickers, I am not afraid to say it. Sinners saved by grace, grubby and tired but full of life. I´ve decided to make trash-picking into a regular spiritual practice.  

I made a fine stöllen for St. Nicolas Day
...hosted by Daniel and Martina at the new Hostal Moratinos (she is German)