Monday, 27 February 2012

The Center´s Shifted

I get caught up in things here inside the walls of the Peaceable. I finished the novel, and am now considering my options, wondering where I can get a book-cover design that doesn´t make the story look like a lurid murder tale or soft-core pornography or do-it-yourself project. I need to negotiate with the publisher of another book, and get the spiders off the ceiling beams without meeting them personally or gassing myself. All that kind of stuff.

And then the bell rings at the front gate, and somebody brings me back to earth. Some bodies.

My office looks over the patio and a slice of street. I can see when someone is coming.
These days, with the Italian albergue closed for a while and the weather clear and warm, we see plenty of pilgrims – more than our average numbers. They come at the end of the afternoon, windblown, windburned, and smiling, mostly young, all of them very hungry.

Paddy and I came here to retire, not to write books. We wanted to help out pilgrims now and then. The pilgrims we see these days are reminders of the blessing the camino continues to be, and the direction, perhaps, we are heading into. We have had 14 pilgrims stay here with us since the turn of the year. They are what´s real about here. They keep me from drifting into full-blown hermit-hood.

Spanish men who do not leave their names. Koreans whose names we cannot decipher from the record book, as they are written in elegant script. Miguel, who claims his tendinitis was healed here, overnight. A worldly, handsome Dane, three apple-cheeked Italians from Bologne with a smart dog called “Porky,” and Camilo, a French boy from Brest walking backwards from Sevilla, on his way to Lourdes. They brought richness to our house, and sweetness and light and sometimes hassle, and all was swept away with them the following day.

Three of the 14 were hospitaleros, other hosts at other pilgrim hostels. Some were honored guests: a hospitalero trainer from British Columbia came for the weekend, and hiked with me up into the peaks of the Camino San Salvador, where we checked the snow conditions for some pilgrims on their way up there. We ate and drank and shmoozed, in English!

Others were more like boarders: a silent German girl, parting from a hospitalera gig of several months, unhappy and insular and traumatized, facing a winter on the road. She kept to herself. We left her alone. It was not a happy time for any of us. But I know she will be back. She lives on the camino, lives for it. We don´t do that. Not any more. We love our camino and our pilgrims, but we are not centered there. Our lives are rich and varied and rooted not on The Way, but in this extraordinary little town.

I have not been out and about much, Moratinos-wise, in the last weeks, I lost touch with the local gossip, the English lessons curtailed by work schedules and family feuds. I curled up inside our walls and just worked on books, traveled a bit to visit friends. 

At church this Sunday Milagros handed me a three-page flyer called “El Veladero,” a monthly newsletter from the Escuelas Campesinas program that she and Modesto and Raquel are part of – I have written about their meetings in blogs past. This month´s edition is a special one: it is all about Moratinos. Moratinos in the past six years, and how it is exceptional in the district, because it is so wide-open, progressive, and growing. Not just because of we foreigners coming in and starting things, but because the Milagros Boys are building a restaurant in the bodegas, and because Don Santiago and several local families have resurrected the Corpus Christi celebrations, November retirement dinners, the after-Mass vermut gathering. Because so many of the people here get along, and work together, set aside their differences and actually enjoy living in what might otherwise be a “nowhere” place.

It all is true, and now it is not just me and this blog saying so. It´s official!

And now I must get up and go outside these walls and ask Julia why she sent us over a bottle of cider this morning, and see if maybe she wants to take a paseo, hear what song Fran is singing today.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


I went to Galicia, to the Costa da Morte, to a spit of land sticking out into the Atlantic, with waves smashing against rocks and gulls wheeling in the stiff wind. A church stood there on the point looking west, with waves splashing its face.

I went to a lighthouse on another spit of land, beyond the new lambs grazing in mazes of ancient dry-stone walls. The wind tried to knock me down, tried to tear my coat off my back. It whooped and whistled in my earrings. It blew all the clouds right out of the sky.

I went to a castro, the leavings of a tiny town built thousands of years ago out of stones on a hill. Circles made of stones, hardly houses, once with pointy raffia roofs, once with fire and water and iron tools, (seeing as it was the Iron Age), circles standing in a circle inside a tall wall, once full of some kind of people, lives lived, histories, stories, love and birth and fear and death, and now completely silent. But for the road passing by below, and the lowing eucalyptus woods, and the water in the stream, all is silent, all dead and gone and forgotten. Time has all but wiped them all away.

I saw a Dolmen, a megalith, a big half-buried booth of stone slabs that made a tomb about 3,700 BC. Somebody barely human painted the walls inside with what we´d term "grafitti," red and black and white. And over time the earth grew up around it, made it look like it erupted to us from somewhere lower down. There are dozens of dolmens and standing stones in this region, but this one is the biggest. So this one´s been dug out and charted, scrubbed, landscaped, roofed-over and Disneyfied. It´s got a turnstile and a security guard and charts and graphs. It ought to be humming with ghosts, but now it is truly dead. It needs the sky and wind to make it breathe again.

I saw a medieval church hunkered into a hillside, its door-jambs carved with crude Last Suppers, the edges worn fuzzy green and gray. A white rabbit stood and watched. It is very green there, daffodils bloom, farmers fill ox-carts with fragrant grass, fields are full of fuzzy donkeys and foals. It is beautiful, damp, and ancient.

I did not bring a camera. I have gone off cameras, they get in the way of seeing and being. But this place, these places, are all around Muxia. You can, I hope, go there yourself someday, take a long walk, see them yourself, hear the funeral bells ringing from way up the valley, smell violets underfoot, scratch the donkey´s gray face, walk among the tombs in the little graveyards, peek into the salon of the old rectory, a room now full of blackberry canes, its roof and floorboards long collapsed, its last occupant buried years ago under the stones there in the churchyard.    

Ghosts are everywhere in Galicia, quiet and benign. You´d expect that in a place called "the Coast of Death," but it´s not just the great amount of historic shipwrecks. I think it´s the sheer number of humans who´ve spent their lives on that land, for many thousands of years. Solitary as the big sky and crashing waves and abandoned beaches might feel, the map is peppered with villages and towns. Every other field has an old woman in it, swinging a hoe or examining some object on the ground. Every open barn or garage door has its man inside, pitching hay or shooting the breeze or mixing concrete. Every bit of land is planted, or harrowed, or built-on or grazed or forested. It is a lonely place, but it is not lonesome.

It is intensely human there.
I am glad I saw it, and felt it.
I am glad now to be home, too. It is not so historic here. Man has not left so many fascinating tracks out on the Meseta.
There are no stones. Our monuments are made of mud and sticks, they fade away with the rain. 
So our space is wider. Our ghosts have names, and their stories will die when we die.
We are not so civilized.   

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Lazarus Dog

An update on the last post:
Today is a lovely resurrection-type day. Patrick walked our dogs this morning past the Milagros house, and up jumped Roldan AND Toby, yapping and barking their fool heads off, chasing Tim along the fence. (Tim hates Roldan.) I recall now that Jeffrey, a beloved dog from my past, was rolled under a car in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, and survived with just a bit of his fur scraped off. So this is not a miracle.
It´s just damn lucky.
I am thanking God anyway. And St. Francis, and whomever else keeps an eye on dogs, and heard my prayers yesterday. And maybe some of yours?

Paddy is in a great mood. I don´t feel so bad myself.
Thank you, whosoever you be.
From now on, Toby will be known to us as "Lazarus."

Friday, 10 February 2012

Struck Down

I´m driving up the dirt road from Fuente de San Martin, going into Moratinos the back way cause sometimes I see cool wildlife out there -- migratory geese, avutarda, hawks, and stupid quail that run up the road in front of me for a while before they realize flying might be a good idea.

I´m listening to Cameron singing "Volando Voy," always a wonderful thing. The sun is high, the sky is blue, I got what we needed in Palencia, and I got something I wanted, too -- an early lunch, a guilty pleasure, a döner kebap at the Café Istambul. Up at the Milagros farm I see the gate sliding open, one of the boys has been plowing, he´s pulling the tractor up into the yard. Must be lunchtime. They´re all out there, Milagros and Esteban, Estevinas and José, all in their work duds. I wave and smile, all of them wave and smile back, I see Roldan the bad-tempered, terminally-ill German Shepherd making a lunge for the open gate, I see José stepping toward the gate to shut it before the dog gets there, I see Toby, the yappy lap dog make a break for the gap, and then the car flies past the scene and the wheels hit the proper smooth pavement and I´m on Calle Ontanon, in Moratinos proper.

And in the rear-view mirror something is not right, José is shouting, dust is rising, I see him bending over something in the middle of the road outside the gate, and I realize...

Toby made it through the gate, just as I passed. He went under the car. I ran him over.

I don´t want to believe this. I think I will just keep driving and pretend I don´t know.
Then I think that would be awful, because I do know, and what if the dog needs to get to the veterinarian right away?
I stop the music, stop the car. I get out.

I hear Milagros voice, "Is he dead?"

Esteban shouts, "Dead?" 

And José picks up the furry body and strides to the gate, saying, "I think, yes. I think he´s dead."

Horrible, horrible. The last person they want to see just then is me, the person who made their little dog dead. But there I am. My hands are curved over my mouth. I have no idea what to say or do. "Go on. Go on home," José shouts up the street, his voice choked. "It´s just an accident. A dog."

Edu comes out his gate to see what´s happening. Roque, one of Toby´s many offspring, yaps at me from the patio. I tell Edu I just ran over José´s dog. Edu shrugs. "What a shame," he says. "It´s that way with animals."

I go home. I unload groceries from the car. I tell Paddy what just happened. I start to cry.

Not so much for Toby, whose muzzle had gone grey from lounging around town, scrounging scraps from pilgrims, chasing after bitches, fathering most of the lapdogs in the district. He´s had a good run. And he apparently did not suffer long.

I cried for José, though, and the Estebans. And Milagros. I know they are there with that little dog body, crying. You don´t see these people cuddling their yard dogs, but they enjoy canine company. Toby liked to tag along with his people. He wandered loose in the streets and slept on the pavement in summer, followed the tractors to the grain-scales, and somehow lived for years without getting under their many wheels. He was not a very friendly dog, but in the past couple of years he´s let me scratch him between the ears a time or two.

It would not have been so hard, accidentally killing our neighbors´ dog, if the neighbors had not been our friends, too. And if the entire family had not been standing right there when it happened. I cried some more, at the horror they must have felt. And for the way I would feel if that was me, watching my dog run under a car.

And then our doorbell rings, and our (very alive) dogs go ballistic. And there is José, smiling. No sign of sentimentality. He sees I have been crying, and it´s kinda embarrassing. I should calm myself, he says.

Because Toby isn´t dead. Not yet. "He was out cold, but now he´s awake. He´s moving all his legs, wagging his tail. Maybe in some pain. We´ll watch him. If he doesn´t get up by this evening, we´ll take him to the veterinarian. But we want you to be calm. Tranquilo. It´s a dog, an animal."

"Please, take him to the veterinarian. You must. Just to be sure he´s alright," Paddy says. "We will pay the bills." We gave them some dog anti-inflammatory medicine, with all the dosages written-out, from when Rosie was fixed. Same size dog. In case they decide to pass on the vet.

"He is up. He´s walking. He´s swollen-up, but he´s not dead," José said. "It´s nothing."

And maybe it is nothing. Nothing but a dog.

Sometimes I know I am not tough enough for this hard country.

I am just too damn soft.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Pictures, not words

Kim´s here, being a hermit-ess in the little house in Carrion de los Condes, and spending time here as well. Kim is a graphical kind of person. Unlike me, a wordsmith, she does not so much write about Moratinos and the Peaceable with words. Kim is a visual person. And instead of reading a bunch of words about Winter Here, you can just sit back and look at it. Here.

A video is worth a zillion words. Not that I am feeling any shortage..!