Sunday, 27 October 2013

Home Sick Wet Dark

We both are very sick. Outside it rains and rains.

The electricity kept going out, so we called Tino the Electrician. He says it´s the fancy induction cooktop doing it, it is broken. So we stopped using it, and ordered another one, a different brand this time.

Meantime, the lights went out again. Out in the back yard I saw water coming up from under a little junction box where the wiring for Paddy´s studio is hidden in the ground. Obviously that is what´s grounding out the power, that is why the lights go out when it rains hard. I shut off the circuit at the main, so now there´s no light in the studio and no power for the chainsaw. I opened up the junction box and sucked out the water with a turkey baster, and contemplated the delightful cautionary tale:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.
-- Hillaire Belloc

OK, I will leave the electricity to the electrician! Still...
Maybe, if this is the problem, this means we don´t need a new cooktop.
Maybe our back yard is an electrocution hazard.
Maybe someday it will stop raining, and the electrician will come back to install the new stove, and he will find out the bozo who installed that junction box did it all wrong and the problem will be solved and neither we nor our hens will electrocute ourselves, and we will not have to pay a month´s wages for the shiny new stovetop.
(I wonder, if a chicken electrocutes itself, is the resulting meat tender or tough, or even edible?)
I know this all will work out at some point. It always does.

Meantime, we will skip Mass for today, for our good and the good of all the holy Church. We will close the gates and curl up in our (seperate) beds and contemplate the group of pilgs who dined with us on Wednesday, and left us with these gifts: a brutal dose of germs, and two little bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon to medicate ourselves with.   

Pity the pilgrim who travels with this germ. Imagine being far from home in damp clothes, your head on fire, joints aching and eyes crying, in a reeking dormitory room of people you are probably infecting.  Poor old pilgs. Pray for them, will you?

And pray for us, too. I am not happy to be ill, but I am very thankful to be home.  

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Where I've Gone

Pilgrims, and guests, and pilgrims with bedbugs.
Spanish language lessons that combine subjunctive mood with preterite perfect that I cannot fathom. (the rest of the class is skipping right along just fine... I think that is the worst part!)
Rain and mud.
Kim being here, which is lovely and very helpful, (she is building a Peaceable website) and Kim having to go back to Florida, which is very dreary indeed. She just got here!
And the headaches. Behind my left eye. I wake up in the night with them. The doctor just says "take a paracetamol." They go on and on.
I am slimming down for Philip's wedding. We are following a vegan diet throughout the day, and let ourselves have regular food after 6 p.m. It improves our overall intake. Jury is out on the weight loss advantages.
Momo keeps jumping up on the kitchen counter.
We still have six dogs. The little one is growing fast and digging holes in the flower beds. No solution on the horizon on how to get her to Sweden. Everyone loves this little Ruby, but no one wants her. It is very sad-making.
I cleared out the garden beds, turned over the earth, worked in some fresh manure. Tons of vegetables to do something with.
The grape harvest is in. I made eight jars of jelly that are more like syrup. Really good grape syrup. I ordered some pectin, so I can try making jelly that gels (I still have tons of grapes, and now I have a ton of figs as well.) The pectin arrived, but then a gang of pilgrims arrived too. No time for it all.
Oh, and I am writing a book. I am writing well enough to not want to do anything else at all.
Not even blogs. Sorry.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Lucky lucky me

The otter was the high point. A fat sleek otter, not 100 yards away, hunched on the rocks in the rapids eating a crayfish. We stood on the path on the bank overhead, he didn´t see or hear us. We watched him finish and turn and flow over the rocks like he was water, too, into and out of the deep little pools, until he hit the main stream and slipped inside and floated south underwater. Beautiful.

I never saw an otter in the wild before. We were only about 20 miles outside the big city of Leon, but here was serious wildlife, in a river clean and clear enough to support fish and crabs and big riverine  mammals! Yet another reason to love the Camino San Salvador, the ancient name of the path we walked this week.

Not Ready for Formalwear
"We" being me and Kathy from California, my longtime walking friend. Kathy only could come for a week, and she wanted to walk in the wild. So we did the front end of the Camino San Salvador, from Leon city up and over the mountains to Puente de Fueros in Asturias. Four days, walking easy through the woods and along the babbling Rio Bernesga and up into the Cordillera Leonese of the Picos de Europa. We slept in pristine little pilgrim albergues, carried most of our food with us, met only one other pilgrim -- An athletic Spanish soldier who caught up to us in a mountain village called Buiza, at the old school-turned-albergue. He walked in a day what we´d done in two. His name was Julio. ("We and Julio, down by the schoolyard," Kathy sang out).

When Kathy arrived she had two little spots of poison oak on her left arm. By the end of the first day of walking it had blistered and spread. It was OK, she said, she´d had poison oak before. We put gauze pads on it, wrapped it up. We kept walking, the weather was spectacular, the mountains were harder than I remembered. We chatted, said prayers, sang songs. We walked from dawn right up to dusk, we cut it too close a couple of times, but each day we made it.

I realized how much I needed that walk, that talking with Kathy. How good it all was, how lucky I am to have her, to have caminos within easy reach, to see otters, to still be fit enough to take on this kind of challenge and then just jump on a train and come home. Lucky, lucky me.

But unlucky Kathy. Her arm went from bad to worse. The spots spread to her hip and her collarbone, and the itching kept her up at night. She hung on, though, through Friday, to today. She´d promised to help me face down a phobia, and she delivered.

This morning we drove to Palencia and met Lucía there, my Spanish tutor from Carrión de los Condes. The two of them took me in hand. My son Philip is getting married in December, and I needed to buy an elegant dress for the occasion. They took me shopping.

I like wearing nice clothing, but I detest shopping for it. This explains why I wear the same few items and outfits for (yes) years between shopping trips, why I am not often seen in dressy clothes. The fitting rooms, the glaring lights, the horrible music, price tags and colors and wondering what underclothes I must buy in order to wear this dress with those shoes and that little jacket... realizing that being fit does not equal being thin or lovely. That my blistered toes make trying on formal heels a painful, shameful proposition. That the beautiful, costly dress I buy in the shop will look just okay once I get it home. That no matter what clothes I wear, it will still be me inside them.

They did their best, they made it happen, they made it almost fun. They said they had fun. I bought the dress, the best one, a very Spanish number from Purificacion Garcia, a hot Spanish designer. A great load rolled off my mind. We had a nice lunch. Lucía headed home, and so did Kathy, a few days early. The arm is really bad. She´s been putting on a brave face, but she finally admitted she had to get back to her home and her doctor. She took the train to Madrid straight from Palencia station.

Kathy told Milagros she´d help harvest grapes tomorrow, but she will instead be on an airplane. I was sad for a while, driving home alone.

But I was grateful, too. Two good people helped me do something that would have been anguish on my own. I came away with something nice I would not have found otherwise.

I got to walk a spectacular stretch of trail, in the best of company. We made the best of the last of the fine weather. Kathy came halfway around the world to do that with me, and I am lucky lucky lucky.

And all dresses and shops and poison plants aside, I saw an otter.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Down the Tube

Ruby, a pup who needs a home

On Friday evening a bird descended our stovepipe, scratching and flapping. 
It was trapped.
For about five minutes the cats were rapt. They soon joined the dogs in not giving a damn.
We thought, “Stupid bird got in there, he can get himself out.”
We had people in and out all weekend, phone calls, the final guitar concert, the winding-up of our long summer. We ignored the bird, we hoped it would just go away. It didn´t.
By Monday I decided to do something. I climbed up a ladder outside, alongside the tall silver pipe. I took a length of heavy chain with bolts stuck on the end, and clipped it to a dog-leash, which I clipped to another dog leash. I removed the little hat that tops the chimney, then lowered the chain, bolts first, down the pipe. I intended to scare the bird into dropping down into the stove itself. From there I could open the little glass door, snatch him up and set him free outside.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The chain went down, down, down. The bird flapped and squawked for a second. Good. I pulled up on the dog leash to retrieve the chain. Up, up it came. And then it stopped.
It was stuck. About six feet down, in an elbow against the house, it snagged on something inside the pipe. I jiggled it, I twisted it, I said bad words, I said prayers. I pulled and jerked it hard as I could, but it was no good.
A bird was stuck in our flue, and now a chain was stuck down there, too.
At least I still had hold of one end of it. I tied it off and climbed down the ladder.
I gathered up a dozen fresh hen´s eggs and put them in a box. I headed over to the albergue and asked Bruno to please help me out.
And so he did.
He climbed the ladder and stood over the chimney-pot and grabbed hold of the dog-lead and gave several whole-body pulls on it. And out it came. I have to admit, sometimes that male upper-body strength thing is for real.
Bruno looked at the chain-and-leash contraption and said nothing, wise man that he is.
“I know, it was a crazy idea,” I said.
“Chains were good. The bolts, too long,” he said. “The bolt, it catches in the curve.”
I shrugged. I am in the midst of a long streak of hard luck where machines are concerned. 
“So that is problem number one solved,” Bruno said, encouragingly. 
“Now indoors, for the number two problem.”
Inside, we took apart the chimney-pipe that attaches the stove to the chimney outside. A brief shower of sandy black soot flowed out, past the walls painted white and yellow onto the floor below. We turned it and cradled it, wrapping both ends in old shirts to keep the stuff inside the pipe inside the pipe. Between us we walked out the front doors, down the patio, through the gate and up to the wilderness beyond the rosemary hedge. I opened one end, and out flowed a year´s worth of soot and the blackened body of the grackle bird.
I probably did him in. I brained him with that chain. Karma, I thought.
“Pobrecito,” Bruno said.
We vacuumed-out the innards of the stove and put it back together. Bruno packed up his neat kit of tools and headed back to his pilgrims. He wasn´t even dusty.
I sat down for a minute.
Our living room was trashed, the sofa pulled away from the wall, the jute rug folded back. All the dirt and dead spiders that hide behind and beneath were suddenly on display.
Paddy looked up from his computer. “Look at that,” Paddy said. “It´s a mess.”
Paddy is rarely disturbed by disorder. I am sure he could live happily in a bombed-out ruin and never notice unless the wifi didn´t work. For him to notice a mess means it´s nothing short of catastrophic.
“Help me out,” I said. And he did.
We vacuumed the rug on both sides, and the sandy floor beneath it, the dusty sofa, the cat-hairy cushions, the unspeakable dog beds. I found the big spiders I thought I´d imagined this summer were real. Their spiky carcasses disappeared into the vacuum.
Paddy mopped the floors, all of them. We put back the rug, re-arranged the furniture, wiped the last bits of soot off the walls. I washed the dogs, who were smelly. (The cats had vanished soon as the vacuum arrived on the scene.) 
Paddy and I each took a shower, because we were smelly by then, too.
Then we were tired. We had tea out in the patio, away from the dust and indignant dogs.
On the patio table was the chimney-cap. One last job to do.
Paddy took a roll of chicken wire from the barn, and we clipped off a length of it, folded it long-ways and twisted it around the chimney-cap, to keep the birds forever out.
I climbed up the ladder. Paddy handed the shiny silver chimney-top up to me. I shivvied it into place, clipped it securely down.
I came down again. We carried the ladder between us to the barn and put it away. We shut the gates and doors, fed the hungry dogs, and laid ourselves down for a nap.