Monday, 25 April 2011

Auctioning Easter

Enough about me. Time to get back to Moratinos, and Sahagún, the nearest good-sized town, where a very wet Holy Week just wound up.

In America, where I come from, Easter is an odd sort of Spring festival, wherein some of us get chocolate  rabbits and colored eggs in baskets full of fake hay. Others of us dress up in new clothes and go to church (how dreadfully I look back over that Easter when I taught Sunday School at College Hill Presbyterian Church... I handled the fourth-graders, seven of them, dressed in fabulous finery and tripped-out on marshmallow chicks and chocolate to the point of nausea, vomiting, and uncontrolled screeching.)  Still other Americans do Passover instead. Or nothing special.

But here in Castilla y Leon, Easter is an entire week long -- two weeks, really. Sahagún, our market town 9 kilometers west, has a fine 500-year tradition of Holy Week worship, concerts, parades and pasos. So I decided to indulge.

Pasos are larger-than-life statues of Jesus, Mary, apostles, Roman soldiers, leering Jews, and other characters (and even animals) that are arrayed to portray scenes from the last day´s of Jesus´ earthly life. The Confraternity of Jesus the Nazarene, a sort of men´s prayer group - social club reaching back five centuries, keeps a collection of ten fine hand-carved antique pasos in a chapel-turned-paso-museum in Sahagún. These are mounted on heavy floats and carried by volunteers through the streets at particular moments of Holy Week, part of religious services that commemorate the Passion story.  Drum-and-brass bands follow along, playing flashy and dolorous tunes that sound, to me, like bullfight music.

Carrying a paso is supposed to be a sacrifice, a heavy penance for the year´s sins. Confraternity members vie for a turn under their favorite tableau. They dress in matching purple gowns, and sometimes hide their identities under spooky pointy hoods. (So spooky, indeed, that the Ku Klux Klan later adapted the look, for more evil purposes.) All this is well-known to Spain-watchers everywhere -- colorful confraternities and pasos and heavy music are standard Holy Week pageantry from Seville to Santiago.

But kicking off every year´s Easter events is an oddment that this year I caught. It may kinda sum-up a lot of Easter, in its way: the Subasta de Pasos: the float auction.  

Two Sundays before Easter, inside the confraternity chapel, with the pasos arrayed behind them and the sun streaking down through the incense smoke, Officials of the Confraternity (with Leandro the Plumber prominent among them) sat behind a purple-draped table. Before them was an iron handbell and a wide copper offering plate. And to each side stood a stout man in his best Sunday suit, grasping an antique staff topped with a tin Sacred Heart. The crowd filled the ten pews provided, and standing-room crowd spilled over the tiles and out into the plaza.

I had a camera and a notebook, and must still have that Working Press vibe. People stepped aside and handed me forward for a better look. The veterinarian who saved Murphy´s seventh life last summer took my elbow and led me to a front-row seat, right next to a woman with a hand-drawn score-sheet. She was official, but friendly. I settled in for the duration.

First up: Paso of the Trumpet.
Not a popular choice. Last year a group of schoolboys carried it, for only 15 Euro. The year before it went for 30. At first, nobody bid anything. The crowd grumbled.

The scowling Jefe rang the bell and called the place to order. And one of the stout men cleared his throat and sang out in cadenced, formal Castellano: "Is there a devout brother to give an offering to carry this holy image?" 

The devout brothers sang out: this year´s crop of local Army recruits won it after two bids. It went for 30. Slow start. Things did not improve with the Bombo or the Banderas, two other minor images. The jefes exchanged glances. The auction is a major fund-raiser for the confraternity. Times are hard in rural Spain. But the Devout Brothers were just warming up.  

Christina, the scorekeeper beside me, whispered explanations. A particular family or drinking club or prayer group or parish might have a particular devotion to one or another image, she said. They try to "win"  their paso at the auction, then gather up enough strong shoulders to carry it through its appearances in the next week´s pageant. It´s hard work, she said, but a big honor. It is expensive, but somehow it is worth it. After Easter they have to bring them back.  

As the larger and heavier pasos came up for bid, el paso del Cruz Grande went for 600, 650, 811, then 1,150 Euro. Leandro smiled. In 2010, it fetched only 400. In 2009, a measly 275. The Santo Christo de los Entierros saw similar success, and the Virgin of Solitude went for 1,650 Euros to a lady in Prada.

"This being the third call of 1,650 Euro, for La Virgen de la Soledad..." the second stout man sang out. His voice was going hoarse now.  No more bidders. He banged his staff on the floor. "Buen aprovechadla!" he called out. "Enjoy it in good health!"

Ten pasos, ten nice bids. The auction ended with several groups of young men easing the lighter and (perhaps) less-valued pasos carefully  through the low door of the shuttered San Lorenzo church next door  -- the Mudejar landmark is falling down, and there´s no money to do more than shore it up.

Once the saints made daylight, the mozos cantered off with them on their shoulders to their club headquarters or hideouts. "They will practice with them, how to walk with them on their shoulders, how to make them bow, how to set them down gently," a bystander shouted to me. (We foreigners always understand better when Spanish is delivered at 80 or more decibels.) "It´s how they learn. It´s how I learned. And this year I´m helping with three pasos!" 

I would love to carry a paso down the street during Holy Week in Spain.

If I had a big group of Devout Brothers, I might pony up 30 Euros, myself. Maybe get together an international immigrant group and bid for the right to carry Las Banderas. It might be shocking or unacceptable to some people, but we are sinners, too -- some of us might even be Christian! It could be done. If we could learn the steps, and rustle up some matching robes, and figure out when to be where... (Fiesta times and places are never posted. Somehow Spaniards know when to show up. We are always an hour early.)

And throughout this Holy Week, that is what was done. As it´s been done here for generations. Very Spanish, if not very Catholic. It made me think about Holy Week, and sacrifice, and Easter, and the entire Judeo-Christian economy of redemption and salvation and ongoing access to God.

Maybe some of the College Hill Presbyterians would say the Confraternity of Jesus the Nazarene is populated with Pharisees and money-changers, the kind of people an enraged Jesus kicked out of the temple in Jerusalem. They might find an annual devotion to a particular wooden image to be idolotrous -- relying on a carved bit of wood to endow the carrier with good luck or better access to the Almighty.  (Jesus is supposed to be the sole conduit for that, you know.)

But maybe it is just culture. They auction-off pasos, and carry them around for a week, because they always have done. Because it is fun, because they want to, because it binds them together as a community. Because they have a perfect right to do it, strange as it might seem to outsiders.  

As strange as bunnies and chocolate crosses, plastic grass, and not a single day off work for Easter. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

All About Me?

The air is full of springtime and thunder and yeah, some excitement. Holy week is here, and the shutters of several long-shut houses are rolled up, and smiling, familiar faces have reappeared, if only for a few days. We now have a bar in town, so the men (Paddy included) have been over there two nights this week, watching the big Madrid-Barcelona football matches on the TV. Out on the Camino with the dogs yesterday we saw a huge rainbow, spanning the sky from Rioseco to Escobar, moments before a downpour drenched us all. The garden is going wonderfully well, or parts of it are -- the potatoes and lettuces are practically jumping out of the ground!

This week Nieves walked through, a pilgrim I walked with on the Camino San Salvador two years ago. (We met over at Bruno´s for coffee.) Several other old friends and associates expect to stop in during coming days, including a group of 10 students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a week later 13 students from the University of Michigan School of Architecture...(we´re going to play in the mud, and call it "cobbing" and "adobe forming.")  Maybe most of all I look forward to next week, to seeing my sisters. Beth and Mart are coming all the way from Arkansas and Pennsylvania to see me, and The Peaceable, and whatever little bit of Spain we can cram into just over a week. I occupy myself with planning our sightseeing odyssey, with cleaning up messes left way too long, with dreaming of big new projects. Even though there are plenty of big old projects still pending, or half-started.

Dael, a Scotsman who made a pilgrimage through here a couple of years ago, will arrive just after my sisters leave -- he plans to stay around through most of May, helping out. He calls himself a "dogsbody," which sounds nasty and funny at the same time. We shall roof, we shall paint, we shall, hopefully, discuss the practicality of the big new possible projects. We like Scotsmen around here, generally. They talk sense.

In summer especially we welcome willing dogsbodies. People who stay and work with us, in exchange for room and board and fellowship, and sometimes tobacco and whiskey.

All  this good stuff in the offing, and still I feel rather low.
Maybe it´s the stormy sky, the bright sun cut apart by clouds and rain -- it is finally acting like April!
Maybe it´s just the big shifts and changes going on here. Maybe it is my ongoing inability to write anything more demanding than a trail guide or a diary entry.
Maybe it´s Paddy. We are getting up one another´s nose lately, together all the time.
Perhaps it is depression, still sniffing around the door.
I find myself very much missing the people and creatures who are no longer here.
I miss my grandfather, and my Dad -- people who have been dead for decades. And Juli, who still really ought to be here.

And then Kim sends me a video. And I think, Jeez, Reb!

And when the rain slows down I take Lulu out for a run in the dark wet streets of Moratinos. I see the lights on in the houses that are usually empty. And I know this is just a feeling. Like Holy Week, like the bloody tearful suffering statues parading through the streets of Sahagun, it will pass. It´s not real. I am spending way too much time stuck in my own thoughts.
And it´s not All About Me.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Big News for Moratinos!

Albergue Hospital San Bruno is OPEN today! 
 There is no lawn yet, and there are a few details that need to be sawed-off or tucked away. But more than anything else, there are PILGRIMS in there this afternoon, writing assiduously in their diaries, drinking beer, and basking in the sunny little patio.

The smile on Bruno´s face stretches from ear to ear. He´s undergone every kind of nightmare, expense, and bureaucratic shakedown getting this job done. He is probably a saint by now.

So if you find yourself in Moratinos, stop by the big house on Calle Ontanon and give him a big pat on the back. And then pull up a bench and buy yourself a nice gin and tonic, or a big plate of authentic Italian pasta. You might even book in for a clean, fresh bunk. Custom-built by Segundino, the carpenter next door.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Crowding Into Quiet

Fred & Co.   Pictures by Rachel
Above us, beyond the chatter of birds, the pine tree lows. Little brown seeds rain down. Look close. They are tiny pine cones.

Today the dogs are happy. Lulu finally emerged from the barn, and is lying in the sun by the well. Harry is flung alongside. Paddy reads in his sunbeam, and dozes off his lunch.

Friday afternoon at The Peaceable. Just us, after a week of people.
This is becoming thematic, I know. When the weather breaks and the days are long, the Pilgrim Vibe goes out from among us, and gathers in the wanderers. They stay and play and work and enrich us, and they go. Then we feel happy to be alone again. For a while.

First, on Saturday, was Rachel, a pretty, tiny Czech girl who wanted to stay a while and work. She has no money. I said OK. There´s plenty around here that needs doing. (I had asked the camino to send us a big strapping hardworking guy, but I have a soft spot for real mendicants.)

In her wake came Jean, from Paris, via Philadelphia. His family is very very Catholic, he said. He was “looking for a new way to be.” He was clearly smitten by Rachel.

She worked like a yeoman, sweeping and mopping, scrubbing and lifting and shifting. He dithered and stood by, like his hands were too big. It was hard finding jobs for him to do – he is small and thin, with the big nose and wide forehead of a hermit or a revolutionary..We potted plants and hoed the garden. He helped Paddy and Rachel empty out the studio in the old kitchen  They washed down the floorsand shelves, then put everything back in, in better order. A monumental job I wanted nothing to do with.)

Jean left after a couple of days, having written a three-page letter to young Rachel, telling her she´d shown him A Better Way.

Rachel shrugged. 
She went with me to the bodega on Monday to put up a new layer of whitewash. We ended up stripping the concrete off, back to the bricks. I had a temper tantrum. She shrugged. “Big job,” she said. “You have water coming in from behind the bricks. You need to repair the roof, or you will need to do this job over and over.”

(I know about that roof. I bought the materials needed for the repairs back in the Fall. Esteban already said he´ll kindly bring a tractor-load of dirt over to finish it, once I get the asphalt rolled out and pegged down... But Patrick and I cannot do this kind of heavy job ourselves. This is why I asked The Camino for a strong young guy.) I did not tell Rachel all this.

“It is damp. Let´s let it dry out a while,” I said. “Fred is coming. He will advise.” We spread the busted concrete down the tractor-tracks outside the bodegas, to keep it driveable when it rains. We went home, and prepared for the next day. Another pilgrim was on her way, in addition to Fred.

And so they came – Fred fluttered in from France, bearing big, beautiful Malbec wine from Cahors, indistinguishable (to my amateur palate) from nice Bordeaux. Annie walked here from St. Jean Pied de Port, ready to be trained as a volunteer hospitalera.

So the following day I spent with the ladies round the sunny patio table, discussing the practicalities of radical hospitality. I.E., how to:
*start a wave of peace, love, and harmony that lasts from 1 p.m. to 8 a.m.;
*clear out a clogged sump drain;
*make a public prayer on the spur of the moment;
*register credentials and assign bunks to large groups of exhausted, cranky people;
*properly react to bedbug infestations, forest fires, and demanding tourists.

All that fun stuff you gotta do when you´re running a pilgrim albergue. We did the course fast and efficiently. I stripped my voice.

In the evening we all walked out to the Promised Land. We had a big, merry dinner round the kitchen table, with Fred demonstrating the workings of the new copper moonshine still he´d bought that afternoon at the ferreteria. We listened to guitars. We looked up at the stars, and the half-moon. Paddy and I smiled at one another in the dark.

It took another day for everyone to go.
We were happy to have them. We are happy to not have them, too.

We love pilgrims. And we love our privacy. That is why everyone who buys the new 2011 edition of the usually-excellent John Brierly Guide to the Camino Frances ought to note the following corrections to the Moratinos entry:
Moratinos (pop 20) Hostal Moratinos new hostal at entrance (under construction). Continue down main street calzada Francesa. The main street of Moratinos is Calle Ontanon, as is easily seen from the signs along the buildings. There has never been a Calle Francesa in Moratinos. This "Francesa" error dates back to the Gitlitz and Davidson guide of 1992, and has been repeated by every guidebook writer ever since
Albergue The peaceable Kingdom recently opened in sensitively restored private house in the main street (summer only)
Albergue Hospital San Bruno, a private albergue created by the Confraternity of San Bruno in Brescia, Italy, is opening on Holy Week (hopefully) in a sensitively restored private house on the main street. It will stay open all year. (Peaceable Kingdom is a private "casa de acogida" that has offered emergency backup help to pilgrims since 2006. It is very much NOT an albergue). Parish church dedicated to St. Thomas with large shaded porch and (F). Continue out onto gravel track all the way into San Nicolas del Real Camino etc. etc.

(I told John Brierly I was not happy. He said he is sorry, that this won´t happen again.)

So it was a busy and somewhat stressful week.
Everyone left this morning, everyone but me and Paddy.

Lulu came out of the barn at last.
Harry stopped barking.
We pottered around the patio, we went to Villada,for a fabulous Friday fish menu del dia.
We are back now, in our quiet home with the lowing tree, the twittering canary, and the dogs, groaning and twitching in their sleep.

The concrete will wait for tomorrow. Maybe then the strapping young pilgrims will arrive, fresh and ready for work.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Pretty Rough

Last summer in the Promised Land. By Kim.
Got a great running start yesterday on the Camino Invierno Trail Guide update. Three and a half hours of work covered a good 100 kilometers of trail. It is delicious and nutritious, this kind of writing. It is easy, once I have all my facts in notebooks and binders alongside. I just sit here and reminisce, really... long as I plug in the mileage and the hostel phone numbers now and then. Such a treat.

This morning, though, was so incredibly blue-sky beautiful I let myself nest before I sat down to write. Paddy took the dogs out to the Promised Land on his own. I started laundry, I washed the floors (which exerts on dogs almost as strong a pull as wet cement). I pulled some lamb out of the freezer for dinner. I don´t know what kind of lamb it is. Time will tell.

I pulled weeds in the garden. I gave antibiotics to the ailing brown hen. I watered. I went to the little potting shed/bathroom off the patio to find some plant food, and was reminded the place is a shambles. And so I started on that.

I pulled out everything in there: 80-liter bags of potting soil, sacks of river rocks, unidentifiable roots and bulbs, broom handles, haircut-clippers, shampoo, crinkled old band-aids, hairbrushes. This was our bathroom for a year. This was all we had, from October 2006 to about May of 2008. We showered in this tiny tub, with its tiles ready to pop off, its fussy hot-water supply, its stylish curtain – I loved the way the colors combined on that discount-store shower curtain, bought somewhere outside Pittsburgh, emigrated to Spain.

This now-spider-infested curtain is why our towels are turquoise-blue and lime green and pink and pale yellow, and even violet now and then. The curtain showed me how these colors harmonize in such a cheerful way, even when the rest of the world was gray. That shower curtain helped me get by.

It is time, today, to throw it away. We no longer use it, or the shower. Instead I washed it.

It hangs now on the clothesline, alongside the second generation of towels it set in motion: olive green, robin´s-egg blue, navy. They move in the breeze,flags for an afternoon. They are dry now, but too pretty to take down.

This little bathroom was slapped-on and furnished sometime in the 1960´s, or maybe the Austin Powers 1970´s, with groovy chrome towel-bars and delta-wing mirrors and a NASA-inspired medicine cupboard. In the winter the pipes freeze inside the walls, and in spring they leak. The roof is failing. We have no real use for this bathroom any more. We have two new ones inside the house.

We maybe ought to tear it out, and just expand the patio a little, extend the existing plumbing to carry water in and out of the barn on the other side of the meter-thick wall of adobes.

Later. After my prayers are answered, and an architect or garden designer or Someone With A Vision shows up and tells me some startling, affordable, and wonderful thing to do with it. We are in need of architectural vision here. And maybe some spiritual vision, too. Our roles are changing. We ought to change our house to accommodate what is coming next. But we don´t know what that is.

Meantime, the little bathroom needed a serious spring cleaning. So I took an allergy pill and started moving out things.

First went the spiders. Then the dust. (Paddy swept, ceiling to floor, and did the initial hosing-out.)
We moved out the Far-Out Bathroom Furnishings Collection, the sacks of soil and stones, a hundred little plastic pots and saucers, fertilizer, insecticide, bleach, and toilet paper. I scrubbed down the walls with a brush, hosed them again, and swept gallons of soapy, dirty water out the door and down to the sewer drain. Eventually I put most of the stuff back in there, rearranged and humanized. A huge black bag of junk went to the dumper.

It still looks pretty rough in there.

It does not make for memorable blog copy, I know. What sticks in my mind about the whole operation is what I found inside the old chrome medicine cabinet.

In there, behind the clippers we once used to cut the hair of Paddy and Anselmo, (they said it was a fine job, but they both looked pretty rough), behind those dried-up bandages and dessicated deodorant sticks, were two bottles of perfume and a lipstick.

Byzance and Cool Water, each in its own blue glass vial. Real perfume, from back in the days when I wore  real scent, to a real job in a real life, dressed in real clothing. It was too expensive to throw away, so I brought it with me to our new home in Spain. Once here, I evidently forgot all about it. When your days are taken up with hoeing and hiking and just hanging out, no one cares much about your scent, unless you get downright stinky. 

The scent still is very strong and fine. I sprayed some Cool Water on my wrists, and have enjoyed a whiff now and then all day, ever since. I liked it then, I still like it. (Apparently little yellow butterflies like it too, as they are fluttering ever nearer to me as I write!)

And the lipstick. Chanel, in a long tube, a color with a French name: Rosier-des-something. I opened it up, twisted the screw, and it emerged intact, after all these winters and summers in the potting shed... Quality stuff. I put some on. I mashed my lips together and looked at my reflection in the chromium shimmer of the Austin Powers medicine cabinet. I expected, I guess, to see the same woman who last applied this lipstick to these lips.

She is gone. Lost somewhere out there on the trail to here.

My hair stood in tufts atop my head, the way the wind blowed it out in the fields, after my shower. My eyes were puffy, but gone are the dark circles that used to hang there. (I may have eye-bags, but they are not yet made of leather.) My cheeks are hollowed-out where they once were round. The crisply ironed button-down shirt is now a blue tee with the seams giving way.
I look pretty rough.
My red lips looked odd with the rest of my face, like I was eating cherries, or running a fever.

I smiled at myself.
I like me better this way.

I kept the scents, but threw away the lipstick. We have room for only one Rosie here, and she is a pesky adorable rat-dog.

Oh, the lamb, from the freezer. I looked at it, now that it´s thawed. It is a lamb´s head, skinless, his eyes still shiny. We´ve been eating the rest of this critter all winter, and now we have to look him in the eye. I do not think I have a recipe for this.

I think the dogs are in for a treat.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bees and Casimiro

It is wonderful to walk a camino again in springtime. It is even wonderfuller to be home again, and writing it all up into a guidebook other people can use to walk it themselves.
morning outside A Rúa
 (I apologize for the strange confab of photos. Blogger is jerking me around again.)

River Sil, road, railroad, road

Kitties of Raigada

Huge church in tiny Montefurado

As most of you know, I walked four days of the Camino de Invierno this week, in company with five intrepid hikers from the Netherlands. I covered only about 80 km. of the actual 220 km. camino – four tough days through slate-mining country that I missed-out on last year. The remote stretch from O Barco de Valdeorras to Monforte de Lemos, to be exact.

It is a beautiful, difficult, and very Galician camino. It is not for beginners or skinflints or people with weak knees. It is a lovely walk in spring or summer, but its name means "Winter Camino."  A misnomer. This would be a miserable, muddy slog in wintertime. This should be "The Vineyard Way," or the "Honey In the Rocks" Camino, or maybe "Path of the Roman Mines." Something should be done, but I fear it is too late.

So, why did I go back up there, seeing as I did chunks of the Invierno two times last year? 

After finishing The Way last year, I wrote an English-language Invierno Guide for the Confraternity of St. James of London. I relied on other pilgrims to provide the on-the-ground information for those miles I missed. They are reliable people. They did their best. I still was not happy with it.

My name is on the front of that book, and I felt I had left a big hole in the middle of it, not having written it all from first-foot experience. And that is why, the first chance I got, I went back. This time with company. Company who spoke some English. and carried a top-of-the-line Global Positioning Satellite navigation unit! And this time I had a proper guidebook, one much more comprehensive than the one I wrote. It is written in Spanish, by José Rúa Pérez, a guy who lives along the Invierno path. It is full of glossy photos and mileage charts and even some maps! It is rather heavy to carry along in a backpack, and it is rather pricy: 26 Euros. And like every trail guide in the world, it has a few wrong things in it.

But it was a boon to us all, nevertheless. The Dutch used that guide, together with mine, to travel successfully from Ponferrada to O Barco in the two days before I joined the party. They are opinionated people, and had plenty to say about both guides. They will draw all kinds of information from both, no doubt, for their upcoming production. Their book will launch hundreds of pilgrims along this difficult and comparatively costly camino... pilgrims from the Netherlands and Belgium or maybe South Africa. People who read and speak Dutch or Flemish or Afrikaans.

The rest of you English-speaking lot, for now, will have to make due with mine. The updated CSJ guide. The one I am sinking my teeth into writing right now.

Much as I love the walking, the writing afterward is even better. It is here I boil off all the dreary, impatient, frustrating, grubby, prickly parts, and distill the remainder to rosy Prose. Here I can remember the rainbow-colored bee-boxes, slate roofs glittering through the morning haze, a gnarled tree heavy with blossoms, buzzing with bees. Abandoned bread ovens crouching in broken buildings, their mouths smeared black Os. And long, deep, green valleys with roads, rails, and river all tracing the same letter S, S, S.

Plum jam. Plummy Mencia-Godello tinto from Valdeorras. The wide, placid water of the Rio Sil, a shady, cold footbath in the little Rio Lar, and a babbling brook called Saa.

And Casimiro, an 85-year-old farmer who lives in a crook of the river and railroad, who grows his own food and makes his own wine and cheese, baskets and barrels -- And homemade liquor. He gave us all a shot, even though it was only 11 a.m., even though we still had a long way to walk that day. He filled the empty spaces of my backpack with walnuts from the tree overhead, and he talked... He lives in the house where he was born, where his grandfather and father were born, where his own son was born... (The son lives now in Madrid. He does not visit often.) Casimiro and the wife are happy here. They hoe the garden, they plow between the vines in the vineyards up top, following behind the white donkey. They watch the trains pass by, heading east, heading west.

“We will be on the train east on Sunday afternoon,” Mariann from Rotterdam told him. “We will wave to you when we go by!” Casimiro laughed. “My son used to wave at the people on the trains, when he was little. Anyone who did not wave back he said they were crazy,” he said. “It is important to notice people. Even the ones you don´t know.”

Not many people pass by his house. When he was a boy, farmers from all around came to have their grain ground at his family´s gristmill. The battered cart-track we had followed down the mountain to his door was once the main highway through these parts, he said. And before that it was the Roman road. It carried the minerals mined in these mountains down along the river and on to Lugo, the regional capitol.
Now it brings only the odd hiker or biker, or a forestry crew. A gang of friendly foreigners must have been a nice break for him. I hope it was.

Casimiro was a high point of this camino. Casimiro and the bees.
The Camino Invierno is populated with bees, and beehives – honey and wax are the glue of the local economy, along with wine and stone and minerals. Hollow trees are full of bees. On hillsides all along the way are stone circles built centuries ago, with beehives set up inside, where the wild boars could not enter and overturn them.

I don´t know any bees personally, but I admire them greatly. If I was not allergic to bee venom maybe I would try to keep a community of them myself. There is something upright and righteous about these creatures – they pollinate flowers and crops, they care for one another, they work hard to make useful things. If you mess them around they will kick your ass, but they want most to just mind their own business. They sing so beautifully together.

Out on the Invierno trail are many many hillsides – farmers keep bees on crags where nothing else can grow. When the breeze is blowing right, you can hear the hum of bees, even when their homes are hidden from sight.

But back to the path: I am very happy to say the waymarking along this formerly-mystifying stretch of camino is brand-new and not at all bad. Anyone who wants to make a run at the Invierno should go for it, without undue fear of losing himself on top a mountain. But he should take a guidebook with him. A guide written in his native language.

He should be careful of his footing and careful of his knees. He should stop at Casimiro´s house. He should try to continue on and finish the Invierno at Santiago de Compostela, where all the Caminos de Santiago end up.

And he should remember when he is on his way back east at the end to watch carefully when the train goes past Montefurado, past the bend in the river, where the arroyo empties in and El Molino stands against the mountain. Out in the driveway on Sunday afternoon you may see, like me and Marianne saw, the old man and old lady, standing in the driveway, waving at the strangers on the train.

Marianne whooped with joy. We flew past at 100 kilometers per hour, but we waved out that window like a couple of maniacs. We´d have been crazy not to.