The moon is still a few days from full, but the Camino Characters are rolling in.
Paddy is looking at art in Barcelona for a few days. I am on my own out here on the perimeter. I am listening to old CDs and gardening, and seeing what pilgrims filter through.
The camino heaves with pilgrims. The Moratinos albergue and hostel are full. Peaceable is listed now as a Place of Christian Welcome, so I was not surprised today when two young nuns arrived, sisters from an obscure order someplace in France, or maybe French Canada. Something immaculate.
Now over the woodstove their immaculate linen hangs, scrubbed free of all human stain in the big sink out back.
We did not communicate well, but the sisters were done-in and dehydrated. I offered water and gazpacho and cheese, bread and fruit and eggs. I bandaged and massaged and insisted on a bit of watered wine, for anaesthesia. They were wise and did not resist. No meat at dinner, in case it's a fast day. One of them, Therese, knew all the words to Elvis Costello's "Allison," she sang along. That song means a lot to her, she said, that and ''Every Day I Write the Book.''
It's been years since Therese heard that music. Therese has a beautiful voice, she sang with tears in her voice (Maria Alacoque was doing their laundry.) The camino does that to you, out here on the plains, it brings back things.
Therese kissed me twice good night. God keep her.
The nuns were asleep by 9 p.m. They will sneak out at sun-up. I will not see them again.
Religious are wonderful that way, utterly flexible and sensible and sleepy after 31 km of sun and exertion -- adjusting themselves to my convenience. I love nuns and monks. They love me back. We all will meet someday in heaven.
Nuns often sing before they sleep. These ones sang a blessing over their dinner, and blessed Murphy and Moe and Rosie and Tim, and even laid-on their four hands and sang over me. I dig this in a deep sort of way. It is worth far more than rubies. Or even Euros.
I am happy the sisters are here, even though they are asleep.
Because at 9:15 came Luis Manuel, an International Man of Mystery. (If I did not have women sleeping here already, I would have fed him, but turned him away for a bed. The neighbours will talk, you know.)
Luis Manuel says he is a pilgrim, but he looks much too fine for the role. He arrived at sunset, well after any pilgrim ought to. His pack is small. His shoes are high-end Nike trainers, his Adidas sweatpants are pressed and clean, free of any trace of sweat or dirt. He smells not just OK, but good. I suspect an Audi lurks someplace down Calle Ontanon.
Luis Manuel did not want any dinner. He waved away the water pitcher. Matter of fact, he brought drink. He brought a bottle of Vega Siciliana Reserva. Very, very good wine.
He said this bottle is a gift. He carried it for us all the way down the camino from Logrono, La Rioja, from my good friend Miguel Angel from the PSOE.
The PSOE is the Socialist party, now out of power. I was gracious, but puzzled. I am not allied with any politicos. I corresponded briefly with Miguel Angel Moratinos, the PSOE foreign minister two elections back, when the Socialists were in power in Spain. I invited him over for dinner and he said he'd love to...
But these days, the only socialist Miguel Angel I know is from Mexico. He lives in Paris, poor as a church-mouse, well out of range of the PSOE and Vega Siciliana. When I go to Paris, me and Miguel Angel treat ourselves to oysters and Mosel wine, but... my Miguel Angel is a classical Freudian psychiatric analyst. He is not a politician.
And Vega Sicilina wine is not from La Rioja. It is from Ribera del Duero, almost local, from south of here. Luis Manuel's story does not quite add up.
But like many suspects, Luis Miguel was happy enough to share a glass or two with me. I decided that Paul Simon music would go well with my home-made whole-wheat bread and the ewe-milk cheese from Melgar de Arriba... and apples from this morning's market in Carrion de los Condes. I knew the wine was going to be memorable. I set it up perfectly, if I say so myself. This was an opportunity. I wished Paddy was here to enjoy it too.
Luis Manuel speaks Spanish beautifully, without any regional accent I can hear. He only corrected my most egregious mistakes. Tim Dog liked him, so he cannot be too bad. (but dogs are notoriously bad judges or character, I find... Sausages are given much too much moral weight.)
When the fine, fine wine was gone, I asked Luis Manuel if he minded moving on to Rioja wine. He answered with an inclination of his head and a subtle tip of his wine glass, not letting on that I had let-on to his wine's origin. I told him our Rioja is rough, common stuff, with my husband away I have not been today to the bodega. Nothing like the nectar he'd provided. He said he could not distinguish any difference between wines, he was not "cultivated."
I assured him he would notice, and right away.
And so I took the decanter down to the little kitchen by the front door and filled it up with Faustino Garcia Marquez. Cosecha.
And at the first pour, Luis Manuel was blown away. He sniffed and rolled it round his glass, he wrote down its name on his electronic notepad, he knocked down three glasses to my one. I did not tell him I'd decanted it from a plastic bag inside a cardboard box. Faustino Garcia Marquez is on special offer at the feed-store. It is extraordinarily good, yes. And you can buy 6 liters of the stuff for 11 Euro.
Luis Manuel then offered a pointed analysis of Spanish socio-economic policy. He sniffed and expanded on the benefits of immigration and the effects of foreign investment on the arts in Spain. He even extolled the influence of French nuns on his life in years past.
By 11 p.m. he took himself off to bed after a moving (but subdued, for the sake of the Good Sisters) version of "Mother and Child Reunion."
I sat up late with the mystery. Who is the Miguel Angel is who sent the fine wine? Whoever it is, I am deeply grateful to him. I would never have otherwise tasted Vega Siciliana. And never in my own home, the finest place in the world to taste good wine.
Who is this Luis Manuel Peregrino, snoring now in the blue bedroom? What is he about?
I will likely never know. He brought me a gift, and helped me enjoy it. I will leave it at that.
It is lovely here. The clothesline loaded with the linen of French nuns, and Tim twitching in his sleep by the wood-stove, which is still going halfway through May.