Monday, 20 August 2012

Lo mejor de todos

Paco and Edu and an out-of-town guy

Here it is, just after midnight Fiesta Sunday, and we´ve just wound up the Big Feed. It is dozens of people, most of them related to one another, scattered over and around the Plaza Mayor, wolfing down fire-roasted pancetta (pork belly, sorta like unsmoked bacon) and chorizo sausages, melon slices, chunks of fresh bread, Santiago tart, pizza from Bruno´s oven, and raw new wine, served up under the plane trees, under the stars. It was crispy and hot and delicious, the best Big Feed of all the Big Feeds I´ve eaten since I started coming to Moratinos Fiestas back in August 2006.

Panceta experts work in the dark!

There was much to set this fiesta apart from the rest. This time we had two nights of music, and Friday things kicked off with a live rock band. Sure, it was a local garage band, the ten musicians shared six instruments among themselves. It was fine! They were nice boys! And after them came the mobile disco, which blasted Top-40 dance music til 3 a.m. We have a streak of Basque in our population, so the temporary bar on the church porch served xizpazos and kalimoxos as well as shandy and beer and Cuba Libres. We partied down. That was the warmup.

On Saturday at 11:15 the church bells rang to summon everyone to the Patronal Mass. ALL the bells rang -- bells we have not heard for years, as the stairs in the church tower had become too wood-wormy to safely climb, and only one bell has a rope that reaches the ground. This was a cause for consternation, as funerals cannot be properly announced  without someone risking the climb up to the belfry -- you need at least two different bells to ring out the age and gender of the deceased. It was only a matter of time before somebody missed his final send-off. 

We had a community meeting about what could be done, how to do it, and how to pay for it. I told about prefab steel spiral stairs with reinforced steel grid floors (worm-proof) at the top, to stabilize both the tower and the stairway. We´d seen similar  in re-done church towers in Zamora and Medina de Rioseco. I was told that could not work, it would be too heavy and bulky. (what the hell would I know about these things?) Anyway, early this summer the money was found, and in June the diocese sent in a crew to re-do the bell tower, and voila! We have bells again! Atop a prefab spiral stair, with a grid floor.

Anyway, beneath the clanging bells a wooden Santo Tomas Apostal, the patron of Moratinos, stood on his palanquin surrounded by flowers. A fresh-faced priest from the Passionist order, a relation of our neighbor Pilar, was in town for the fiesta and offered to take over the Mass duties.

I love our parish priest, I deeply appreciate him coming to a village this size each week so we can worship. But this guy was a breath of summer air. He walked among us, and spoke the familiar phrases without looking at any books or notes. He was a little over-the-top, but he meant every word he said. We sang the songs out loud, José and Feliciano unfurled the Moratinos banner, the bells pealed and we marched Santo Tomas around the block. (A  pair of French tourists chose that moment to set up their picnic table right in front of the church. We flowed around them, singing. They stood up and doffed their hats as the apostle passed.)

The Mass was standing-room only, and it was glorious. The town has much to be thankful for this year: the bells restored, the new restaurant, a good harvest, a crop of lovely grandbabies, a baptism and a wedding and no funerals. The world outside may be in crisis, but we were there together, big families of some of us, giving thanks on a sunny afternoon in August. We celebrated  the little wonder that we are. 
This is how we roll

To think I almost skipped the Mass, as we had not started work on our costumes yet! The big Saturday-night dance this year revived a custom dropped some 20 years ago -- a costume contest. We had an enormous cardboard box to work with, and lots of paint to hand. So we made ourselves into a pair of dice. Apparently this is unique here in Moratinos, and when we made our appearance at the 11 p.m. dance, several people busted a gut with jollity (and maybe kalimoxo.)
Campesinas Maria Angeles and Flor

Competition was stiff. We were up against a butterfly, a fairy, a dalmation dog, two each of Red Riding Hoods, hippies, and High Plains Drifters, some remarkably ugly drag queens and clowns, a cave-man wearing nothing under his leopard-skin, Che Guevara, Marie Antoinette, Carmen Miranda, Lord Nelson, and an artistic grouping of campesinos in local ethnic garb. 
dancing babes

Everyone had come as characters. We were the only ones to come as things. Paddy was afraid we might actually win the prize. Until out of the darkness came, on four legs, the most awesome costume of all: a Bale of Straw, complete with a (plastic) pigeon on top. It settled down near the Palentino harvesters, and from inside emerged Leticia and Igor, our sometimes next-door neighbors. Brilliant.

the winning bale

The DJ played awful music at full volume, and we danced into the night. Fran, who often sings old folk songs around town, had his annual star turn with the microphone, singing along to an old paso doble. The customers at the bodega augmented our usual numbers, and vice versa. We shed our cardboard carapaces and danced in circles and lines, with the children leading the way. Children who were toddlers a couple of fiestas ago are now snaking their hips like Shakira. The skinny pre-teens we tutored in English are tending the bar. 
Luis, Christie, and singin´ Fran

We grow up and out and get older, but the fiesta goes on. It´s an annual reunion of people intermarried and tangled together from time out of mind, with new additions here and there and a setting that´s changed little over the decades and centuries.

This is the best fiesta I have attended, the most joyful. Even though some of these people have lost much this year, some are facing ruin as the economy worsens, they are here this weekend, cutting loose with the cousins and in-laws.

I am told the pueblo is still the backbone of Spanish society, that these small-town fiestas draw generations from the cities every summer back to the village to sleep and eat crowded into musty rooms, to dance and feast and worship. Spain will stay strong long as the city-kids are smart enough to now and then  re-connect and recollect what´s old but not obsolete. Long as they don´t forget what is theirs, from centuries ago, that is still so very much alive.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Hot and Heavy

We order a load of firewood each spring, but this year our usual guy couldn´t or wouldn´t do the job -- we never could figure out what his problema was. So we phoned a number posted on the window of the fish shop in Sahagun. "Sure," the guy said, "I´ll be over on Tuesday with a remolque-load."

Miraculously, he arrived just when he said he would. And that remolque-load was beyond miraculous. It was Epic. 

A remolque-load of firewood as we´ve known it lasts us almost exactly one winter. A remolque is a farm trailer, it tows behind a tractor.  Manure, sand, straw bales, and firewood come by the remolque-load. I am not good at estimating volume or weight, but I can tell you a remolque-load of anything takes two people two long days of labor to move and stack (or spread).

But when this remolque rolled up to the back gate, it was towed by a tractor with an 18-wheeler engine. Its sides were twice as high and its bed was another meter longer than the usual remolque size, and it was stacked to the rafters with beautiful logs and sticks of aged, mossy oak.

The man tipped up the pneumatic truck-bed and the remolque-wheels sank into the soft dirt. The timber bonanza roared down the elevated truck-bed and chuckled over itself onto the sand. Logs rolled out onto the N-120, into the back yard, and up against the outer walls, forming eddies and sculptures.  I gazed at them out the double-wide gateway. They blocked out the sun.
twice as deep as it was wide
It cost a small fortune. It had to be moved from outside the walls to inside the orchard before the highway department fined us or a timber-thief decided to help himself. It had to be sorted and stacked five meters away, under the corrugated-steel roof of the wood-store. It  cost us five days of back-breaking labor, during the hottest spell of the summer.

No pilgrims showed up, offering to help out. No friends materialized. So Patrick and I did it ourselves.

We worked together in the early and late hours, when the sun was low. We used two wheelbarrows, and stacked the logs according to size in two sides of the wood-store. A system evolved, a sort of Zen state took over. We wove the logs into continuous sculptures, and slowly filled the little shelter from the floor up to the ceiling with fragrant fuel. It is not elegant, but it fills the space efficiently.

We sweated and swore, we swilled water and beer and lemonade, we ate little and slept deeply. I wore the fingertips out of my deerskin work gloves. We bruised ourselves, we ached. We got it done.

Paddy says he has never worked so hard in his life.

Now at night, when I sit out in the orchard and look up into the Milky Way, the firewood snaps and sighs nearby as it dries in the dark. It is practicing, I think, for winter, for the moment it´s chucked into our little woodstove and crackles into heat and light.

It occurs to me that we bought the wood to warm us. So this summer, without burning even a stick of wood, it´s already given us  our money´s worth.    

Sunday, 12 August 2012

August update

I am not writing, because writing requires a lot of focus, and I don´t have any of that to spare. I think of you blog readers, I make mental notes of cool things that happen and details I see and hear and smell, but I quickly forget them. 

If you look at the header of the blog, you will see what the landscape is like around here. The fields are golden, the grain is cut and baled, and the afternoon sun shines flat, white, hot, and still. Unless the wind blows. Then we get the dust.

Here in August and September, dust rules. It shimmies into the cracks, spreads itself in layers over every surface. There are no truly white sheets or blankets or dogs or cats, nor are there truly white-washed walls. If I look sun-tanned to you, just look close at the crow´s feet wrinkles around my eyes. The skin inside is very white. I, like everybody around here, am wearing a thin coat of golden-brown dust, 24 hours a day.

We have five dogs. With the addition of the gallumphing young mastiff Bella, we have officially moved into "eccentric" territory. Bella is intelligent and sweet-natured, and she has a passion for digging. She has systematically ruined three major efforts at growing greenery in the garden-patches of the new patio. I would not usually be overly upset by this, but for some reason that harsh, sun-blasted, dirt-spattered patio drives me to despair.

Moratinos is thriving. The grain harvest was good, the sunflowers are small but numerous. The Milagros Boys officially opened the Bodega Restaurant Castillo de Moratinos, and it´s attracting people from far and wide. It helps that so many folks are back in the area from Madrid and Burgos and Vittoria -- August is when the families traditionally reunite in their pueblos.

The boys are keeping things simple and local, catering to rural tastes, using local ingredients. So when I offered to translate the menu into English for the pilgrims, I got to know just what those steaming flame-roasted meat nuggets are. They are the thymus glands of suckling lambs, otherwise known as "sweetbreads." The stewed things are are calf-faces and pig snouts. The cold-cuts are very tasty, even if they are thinly sliced cow tongues and pork-bellies!  There are superb chorizo sausages, veal chops, ribs and skewers of chicken breast, all roasted over a wood fire. The Castillo is packin´ em in, and it brings a different feel to Moratinos in general.

Cars are parked all over the place, and strangers stroll the streets. Children have appeared, babies in strollers and long-legged girls on bicycles. The dogs bark at new noises well into the night. People smile and kiss one another´s cheeks, people who have not seen each other for months or years. And when we go into Sahagún, or down to Villada, people there tell us how smart we were to choose Moratinos. Moratinos is the only place around where things are growing, where businesses are opening and a few new jobs have been created. Milagros says it´s the novelty, and the local fiestas. Things will calm down when the weather changes. Farmers-turned-restaurateur have few illusions.   

I miss the Sunday afternoon Vermut in the ayuntamiento. There´s more litter now in the plaza, and grafitti out at the labyrinth. The bar at Bruno´s albergue is suddenly awful lonely, even though Michael has his beautiful girlfriend there with him now. 

We live at a remove from most of it. We live on the edge of town, in the "barrio arriba," the "upper end." Paddy goes downtown for gin-and-tonics and Olympic matches on TV, but I am keeping to myself. I am unsociable, sleeping many hours, neglecting my e-mails and "online marketing opportunities."

And we have been away. We spent a week down in Malaga province with Paddy´s family. Things are not good there -- people and houses are aging, money is tight, predators and leeches abound, and the support systems that once were there are no more. We are not directly related to the problems, so there are limits to what we can do. Paddy worries, but keeps his chin up. I pray a lot, and meditate, and tend the garden and chickens. I make zuchinni bread, and wheat bread, and gazpacho.

Verena, my Zen Master from Austria, showed up a couple of days ago. She says things are hard because things are changing. The whole world is shifting, she says, and I am not the only person feeling it in my bones and my spirit. It is best not to fight it. It is good to take it seriously. It´s a great big wave. I can relax and let it carry me forward, or I can struggle against it, and let it overwhelm me. The key is being still with it, sitting, breathing. Doing nothing.

Doing nothing. Imagine that. In the town where everything is going on!