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.


strangerthanfiction said...

Hey, what boots did you get?

Ingrid said...

Lovely rant Reb... you got this off your chest... let the guys fix what they messed up.. you go and hang out in Santiago... hugs, in case you are in need of some. Ingrid

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