Saturday, 29 June 2013

On Being Nice

The recycling truck came to town yesterday and wreaked more than its usual degree of havoc.

Somehow it caught itself in the thick braid of electrical cable that swags from post to post down the camino. A great concrete post sheared itself in half and smashed to the ground. A streetlight went down in a shower of glass, and the cables and guttering on the front of Marina´s house clattered to the pavement alongside. Moratinos was plunged into darkness.

Well, semi-darkness. It was a bright and sunny day, and thankfully nobody was passing nearby and Marina hasn´t arrived yet for her summer stay. No one had lights, and because the water system runs on electricity, no one had water, either. The businesses closed their doors. The street filled up with big noisy trucks from the electric company, the street light guys, the giant concrete pole supplier. They cordoned-off the camino. The job took several hours. It all happened at the busiest intersection in town, so everyone gathered in the shade of the plaza to watch the show and re-direct the pilgrims to the safe alternative along the two-lane road.

It was only a little inconvenient. Everyone made lunch from what they had on the counter already, or they hiked over to San Nicolas for a menu del dia. They talked about what Moratinos was like 50 years ago, before electricity arrived, before the streets were paved, when everyone used paraffin lamps and candles, and cooked over wood- or coal-fired stoves. They were almost all kids then, but they remember. (Manolo and Angel still slow-roast their winter lunches in a stoneware pot on the hearth.)

In the afternoon I walked with Julia over to the spring to fill water jugs. The spring is hidden away under massive ash trees, nestled between the N120 two-lane and the big new autopista beyond. Julia treated it as a revelation, she thought I had not been there before, she loves showing me new things. It is a beautiful, quiet little spot, the water that flows from the stone is shockingly cold and sweet. 

The lights came back on just as the sun went down. A pilgrim arrived, a young man called Alisdair, from Cambridge. He was here last summer, he said. I had brought him home from the church and repaired his bad feet. And it´s true, I did that. 

He told me how meaningful that foot-repair was to him, how that act of kindness grabbed his attention. It slowed him down and utterly changed how he walked his camino afterward.

I was flattered, of course. We asked him to stay over. His face lit up. He dropped his bag in the salon and headed out the door. He went all the way back to the labyrinth, where he knew another pilgrim was sleeping rough, and brought him back to our house. Paddy fed them on three-egg omelets and fried rice. They are young men, smart and educated and unemployed. They don´t have many prospects, but they still are full of hope, even joy.

Late this morning I sent them out the door and on their way. At the same moment a man rolled up on a bicycle. His name was Jesus. I knew him right away. Jesus Buzarra. Jesus Buzarra was one of the very first pilgrims ever to stay at the Peaceable. He slept on the floor of the little kitchen then, and he would do it again, he said, if that´s all we had. 

He stopped to say hello, to see how we were, to say thanks. Thanks again, seven years later, for a space on the floor. He is biking his way from a hospitalero assignment in Navarette to another one in Samos, giving up a month of his vacation, giving something back to the camino.

And this evening, on the patio out back, I sat and thought. 

I thought about how the accident knocked out our lights and brought our town out to talk with one another. I thought about Alisdair and his bad feet last year were the same feet that brought him back to us  this year. And how he then blithely added another kilometer to his day´s total to ensure another pilgrim had a bed. And I thought about Jesus, too, riding from one hospitalero assignment to another,.

I thought about how overwhelmed everyone is by the injustice in the world, how protesters shout for change and voters vote for new policies and programs, and we all wonder if our leaders can discover some new "ism" to save us all from ourselves.

And I wonder if the answers are not right here under our noses, in our houses, on our streets. We can  come out of the house and talk to the neighbors. If someone is in pain, patch him up. Stop in and check on somebody, see how they´re doing. Show someone where fresh water comes out of the rock. Say thanks again for some kindness done in the past. It costs nothing. And if everyone did such things just once a day or so, the benefits would be incalculable.

A policy won´t pick up the candy wrapper on the sidewalk. But we can.  

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Moratinos Makes the Scene!

Moratinos made the local news a couple of weeks ago.  They did a short piece for the evening newscast, and this for the hardcore, late-night audiences, and maybe for you who are studying Spanish.

You can see the local news is kinda slow-moving, but hey -- we all can´t be X-Men. (Except maybe Modesto.) Me and Paddy appear at about 3.55, but Julia and her brother Pin are really worth seeing. And Bruno, toward the end, with his "Templar Pizza..."

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

What Happens When You´re Gone

MoMo, before I left. The patio in order, more or less

I was gone for two weeks. It was an odd holiday, set out in five parts:
+ a big shmooze in Santiago de Compostela,
+ a long walk down the beach and across the water to Portugal,
+ Lisbon and Sintra with three wild women,
+ the beach down south with Filipe and Dick, and
+ two days in Madrid with Patrick.

I traveled the first four with Kathy, my perrenial hiking pal from San Francisco.

Kathy and me, in Praia Altura, Portugal

Parts of the trip were beautiful and limpid. Parts were manky and cranky. I met Julio Llamazares, an author I admire. I sat in an ancient monastic church where the old Gallego ladies chanted the rosary, passing the prayer across the aisle in their oil-and-vinegar voices while the waves crashed against the sea-wall outside the open door. Farther south we poked through another empty monastery, this one a tiny cluster of cells cut into rocks and lined with cork-wood. I bought a handbag made of cork-wood. I slipped inside the hollowed-out heart of a big old cork oak tree, and it felt like an embrace.

I ate many, many fishes, caught fresh and roasted whole, and many shellfish, too. And squids, and cuttles, and octopi. The sea gave up its bounty to me, and I made sure her creatures did not die in vain.

Meantime, here at The Peaceable, the rain fell and the sun shone. Paddy oversaw the rebuilding of the plumbing connections under the patio, and replacement of the tiles. He fed the chickens and walked the dogs and watered the plants. All was well. The crops ripened in the fields, and out back, the grass grew.

Monday afternoon we came home.

Everyone was glad to see me. Tim, who has been dieting for a month, is noticeably slimmer and more energetic. There was no mail to speak of. No word from the tax lawyer, no news from England or America. Aside from a few half-mopped spills and some black vegetables under the sink, the place looked pretty well cared-for. I needn´t have worried. Paddy got along just fine without me.

And then I went out back to visit the hens.
I could not see the hens. The trees are in full leaf now, and the grass is thigh-high, swirled by the wind into whorls, hiding the chicken pen from sight. The garlic is budding, the onions will soon sprout afros. And the flowers, Oh my, the little orange and yellow calendula flowers that want to take over the flower bed... well. They´ve done it. They are bursting over the curbstones and spreading into the raised beds, colonizing the yard. They bloomed in a spectacular way sometime last week, and are this week gone spectacularly to seed, their dead heads smile with a thousand teeth each.

The vegetables? I am not sure. I have not looked. I think the potatoes have taken over their corner of the garden. There were French bean plants where there were none two weeks ago, but when I loosed the hens into the great green jungle, they made a beeline for the beans. They stripped the seeds off  the weeds, they leapt into the air to snatch moths in flight, they dusted themselves in the onion bed. They delighted and desported themselves out there, and I enjoyed the music as I began the slow work of dead-heading the vast banks of calendula flowers.

The sky is stormy. I worked with thunder grumbling to the south, I worked til the rain drove me indoors. I am not even half finished with that job. Tomorrow I must tie them up, and weed-whack round the raised beds. I must go to town and buy dog food and spray cleaner, and have the sickle sharpened. I must answer emails, just a few -- my email box had 400 unread messages in it, but only about 20 were worth reading. Tomorrow I will strip out the dross, unsubscribe to all those "quotes of the day" and decorator porn and Holiday Bargain sites.

I will chop out the weeds, clear up the things neglected while was away, doing maintenance on my self.   
Hens in the mayhem of what was the garlic patch

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Cliff Full of Swallows

This week I walked a "throw some things into a bag and go" kind of walk. With a friend and a dog.

The friend is Malin, a Swedish woman of 36 who lives in a camper up in the mountains above Astorga. Her dog is Bjork, a splendid  Border Collie that is smarter than most people.

A week ago Malin and Bjork and their man David rolled up in Dusty, their big green VW van. We'd only expected David. He is our standby fix-it man, and he'd just finished up a gig setting up trapezes for a troupe of acrobats. (For real!) And so he was primed to do some maintenance on our house.

Malin had an idea for us. Malin wanted to walk home from The Peaceable, with Bjork the dog, along the Camino de Santiago. She asked me if I would walk with her, at least as far as Leon, maybe all the way to the little mountain village where she and David and Bjork live.

I thought hard about it. This would be a good exercise, I thought. A way to let go of my need to oversee the repair works. I put them into David's hands, seeing as he knows how to juggle. Michael the Italian, his volunteer helper, is also a capable worker. I had nothing to worry about, I told myself. And so on Monday we set out.

It was walking weather, bright and cool. Bjork wore a little red backpack with her dog chow inside, and behaved like a perfect lady. We had to adjust ourselves and our budget to find shelter where a dog could go, too, but Malin and Bjork spent only one night in the little tent we carried along. (They froze, but they slept anyway). We did two almost-30 km. days, and three shorter ones.

Me and Malin walk at about the same speed. We both know how to travel light, we both are fit. The only hitch happened when my new boots rubbed troublesome blisters onto two of my toes. Like pilgrims do, me and Malin talked about everything. We sang sad songs and drank rank wine, ate strange food. I had pig knuckles in Mansilla de las Mulas, gave the bones to Bjork, and hours later stepped on the masticated remains in the dark floor of the albergue in Puente Vilarente.

We saw a fox. We met two know-it-all Spanish men who, once they learned we are foreigners who live in villages in the region, set about to instruct us on everything we already know about where we live, from dog breeds to building materials. They were sweet and sincere, and convinced that we are utter morons.

A lumpen German told me Bjork is "subnormal" because each of her eyes is a different color. (Malin was inside the supermarket then, which is a lucky thing for the man). The same guy that night put on a stupendous snoring extravaganza, the most spectacular of all my years of albergue use. I took up my bed and repaired to the lounge, where I kinda slept on the sofa.

We met a pretty blonde Zimbabwean woman who writes travel stories for GQ magazine. (The know-alls told her she can't be from Zimbabwe, because she is not black!) We met a fastidious Canadian whose primary passion is folding paper into origami sculptures. We met many hippies of several varieties, an ageing Austrian surfer dude with a snowy pony-tail and perfect shiny teeth, and an American "Shamanic Crone" who had so much to say she could not stop. Not even when we pointed out a cliff face peppered and salted with swallow-nests, alive with tiny birds bee-bee-beeing to their babies, she had to talk, talk, talk.

We only walked five days, across the plains and into the foothills where the soil turns red and rocky. My heart wanted to keep going west into the mountains, but my toes said No.

Yesterday I scratched Bjork goodbye (and hugged Malin) and boarded the 2:20 train to Sahagun, and from there to home.

To the lumberyard in Cea, the paint store, hardware, feed store, fruiterer, the call to the plumber when the sewer line started bubbling smelly water out onto the driveway, to greet the young Buddhist who knelt in the living room for hours, sorting our CDs into topical and alphabetical order. He arrived here with Patrick the Czech, who stepped into the traces when Michael the Italian went back for the weekend to Valladolid. Patrick and David are mixing concrete by the ton, to fill in cracks in the walls, the holes dug by dogs in the barn, to re-render the bodega's rugged face.

The plumber left the gate open, and Lulu and Bella escaped into the afternoon. Paddy turned white and swore a blue streak. There is no word from the tax lawyer. The plumber pulled out a pneumatic hammer and smashed holes in the newly-tiled patio floor. The upstairs bathroom suddenly smells like a swamp.

Me and Kathy are due in Santiago de Compostela Monday evening, for the start of a tightly scheduled two-week holiday. She is supposed to fly tonight from San Francisco, but her plane is overbooked. She is on standby. Maybe Barcelona, she says.

Stress leans on the door, waiting for a crack big enough to slip through. I can't leave here. Not with a literal shit-storm piling up under the patio.

I know I will likely go. The trip will not go as planned, it rarely does. And awful things may well happen while I am gone, because that seems to be the nature of things. (Awful things happen when I am here, too.)

I am making this into a big drama. I gotta let this go.

I gotta think of that little slip of a grey fox way up the road. That cliff full of swallow-babies, the "bee bee bee" of their parents bringing them bugs to eat. It was only yesterday I heard that, and already I let the daily noise rob me of it.

This yappy American woman's just gotta shut up for a minute and hear the music.