Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Inevitable

Milagros says a town needs two things to stay alive: a bar and a Mass.

Moratinos was limping along at half speed when we arrived here. There hadn´t been a bar in town for a good 30 years, but Don Santiago showed up every Sunday morning and said a quick Mass. He´s been doing that for as long as we´ve lived here.

San Isidro in the fields
Weekly Mass is a rare privilege for a town of 20 people, but Don Santiago volunteered to take us on, along with four other tiny villages strung out along the N120 two-lane. There aren´t enough priests to go around in Palencia Diocese, and the men who take the job work long hours, usually over long distances. Once Don Santiago hit retirement age he didn´t have to say Mass any more. But he was still healthy and fit and wasn´t ready to quit. He is a local boy, from down near Cisneros. I´m not sure why he took on the churches of San Nicolas del Real Camino, Moratinos, Terradillos, Ledigos, and Poblacion -- maybe because we all are Camino towns, maybe because he likes us, because we invite him to all our parties. Maybe the bishop told him to. 

Moratinos knows it´s lucky. And every Sunday, just about everybody turns up for Mass. Even José, who says he doesn´t believe any of it. Or Manolo or Justi or Paddy or any of the dozen or so men who never take communion, and only go up to the altar to kiss the baby Jesus doll at Christmas, or carry a statue round the town on their shoulders, or a coffin up to the cemetery.

They come to church because they are part of a community. And church is one place where no one is excluded, not even the people you´d never let into your house. We didn´t care that Don Santiago often put his alb on inside-out, that his collar was askew -- he was always in a hurry, on his way to two or three more Masses. He sang parts of the service, and we sang the responses. (We are terrible singers.) He blessed our houses at Corpus Christi and our crops at San Isidro Day and our dead at All Saints, and we all turned out to meet him when he came to town.

Don Santiago was a farm boy, raised in a big farming family. He worked at a garden center part-time, to help make ends meet. One Sunday during planting season he ate the whole big wafer himself, and told the communicants to pick out their own disc of bread from the dish -- his fingers were too dirty, he didn´t want to touch the holy hosts. 

As time went on he did not kneel so deeply. His voice was scratchy, he didn´t stay so late at the fiesta. But it seemed Don Santiago would go on forever, baptizing our babies, marrying our children, burying us when our time came. 

We all knew it would happen sometime. Don Gaspar, the archpriest, came on Sunday to do the Mass. He told us Don Santiago suffered an aneurysm last week. He is in hospital in Palencia, and no one can say when he´s coming out, and home. Or if he will say Mass again. Or when we will hear Mass again at Sto. Tomas.

If we want to hear Mass we must drive to Villada or Sahagún, like the villagers in tiny, dying towns all around us.

Mass has gone on here for a thousand years. And now it is finished. We´re not so special now. Milagros was right.

We have three bars in town now, and two places to sleep, but we´ve taken a big step backward.
We have no place to pray together, no one to lead us in the ancient rites. No one to come on Sunday to make us sing so awfully together, to make our joyful noise unto the Lord.
Corpus Christi in the plaza
Saints, please pray for Don Santiago, and for us.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dead Hens and Chestnuts

No, it´s not all gloom and doom.
Yes, it has been gray and wet around here. We´ve had to light the fire and chop wood, and yes the boys had to shut down the wonderful cavey Restaurane El Castillo on weekdays.
We got sick, (we got better) and Paddy´s hurt his back (but not too bad). Most of the albergues are closed, and the pilgrims just walk right past Moratinos without stopping. When Paddy went out to water and feed this morning, one of the hens was dead.
But are we sad?
No, we are not sad. Not too sad, anyway.  
Once the morning fog burned off, the sky turned a spectacular cloudless blue. All the tractors are out planting seeds that will soon turn the ground green, right through til spring. The farmers wave as they rattle and roar past us.
One of them is a new farmer, one of Manolo´s many nephews. He doesn´t usually live here, but times are tough in the city for young men, and Manolo is past retirement age. He could use some help, and the fields he tends belong to his entire, vast family. It´s only right the young ones step up. And this young one smiles as he swings himself into the tractor-cab and fires up the engine.
Maybe he will stay.  
I told you how the line of great cypresses behind the Beehive House were chainsawed down. I still don´t know why they did that, but there´s no help for it now. Unless. Unless I go and get just as many young trees, and plant them around the town to make up for the loss.
Today I planted a chestnut sapling in the Plaza Mayor. I don´t know if it will survive, as the hole I planted it in is still choked with the remains of the tree that stood there before. If the root goes straight down, It will do just fine. I dug out all the dirt I could, and following time-honored superstition, I spat into the bottom of the hole. I put the body of the expired hen down there, too. And then I put the root-ball down, and water, and dirt from here and sand from there and new dirt from the flower bed alongside, and some rocks to weigh it down when the wind starts to blow. 
Someday maybe this skinny tree will tower over the plaza, offering shade in the summer and nuts in the fall. Its branches will touch the branches of the olive tree we planted last year -- the wind bent it over last winter, but it´s thriving now.
I love to plant trees. I have more trees to plant here, one of them is pretty special.
It´s a tree for Philip Wren. Wren was a Methodist minister from Liverpool, and a kindly character -- he stayed at Peaceable at least once that I remember, and explained to me how an insulin pump works to treat Type 1 diabetes. The disease had forced him into early retirement, which he intended to spend, much as he could, out hiking round the caminos of Spain. Phil made some good friends out there. And in early May this year, in the pilgrim albergue in Logroño, the diabetes quietly put an end to him.

I said I would plant a tree here in his memory, and his many friends are coming out of the woodwork, waving 20-pound notes. I´ve commissioned a stonecutter to make a little memorial plaque to put at the base of his tree. I am now scouting out just where to plant the thing, where passing pilgrims can spot it, but a combine won´t clip it off and its roots won´t be in miry clay or sinking sand or private property. It keeps me busy, it makes me happy to do something harmless and good.

Wren is gone, the hen is gone, the great cypresses are gone, and summer is over.  But I don´t have to be too sad.  Endings are as natural and beginnings, they say.

I am still here. I do not always handle sadness as well as I could, but I suffer from clinical depression -- It´s been a part of my life since I was a child. It is not pleasant, but it is natural, it is cyclical. Like a chicken, it comes and scratches around for a while, it usually lays a few eggs, and eventually it goes away. Sometimes it leaves behind some good fertilizer for some new living thing to use.
Anyone who plants trees believes there´s a future.
Especially if you throw in a chicken. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

What´s In the Oven

I need a good editor, a professional.

I am writing, but it is a tough slog. I cannot find the thread that joins together all these random tales. I keep writing, though... I feel like I am knitting, knitting, knitting. I start a new row every day and just continue going, and at the end I will have a woollen Thing that is huge and well-wrought and snuggly, but pointless. Good for nothing.

I am feeling a lot better physically, but I am low. People still write to me out of the blue, asking for advice usually. I always answer them eventually. But lately my responses are evidently, well... less than upbeat. A kindly lady who wants to find a comprehensive solution to the massive litter problem on the camino says I am "just telling (her) all the reasons why this WON´T work, so (she) just wants to give up and walk away from the whole project." And she is right. I keep cleaning up the same trash, year after year, and I get no kind of support from the Powers That Be. (Indeed, one camino brahmin says camino clean-uppers are "neurotic German hygiene enforcers!"  

So I will leave the ambitious comprehensive projects to those who feel called to solve problems in a comprehensive, systemic way. I love to be part of solutions, but I have only ten fingers -- not enough to keep in all the pies that are baking.

Here is what´s in the oven now:

The book.

Buying and planting a tree on the camino in memory of Rev. Philip Wren, an English pilgrim who died this spring out on the trail.

Planting a strapping big chestnut tree in the plaza mayor, to make up for the several magnificent plane trees chopped down here in Moratinos in recent days. (I still don´t understand why.)

Finding a home for little Ruby, who is growing less little every day. Seems nobody who´s going to Sweden wants to get involved in transporting dogs.

After Thursday, taking whatever pilgrims show up looking to stay at Bruno´s place, seeing as Bruno is going on holiday and closing up shop for a week or so. 

Holding a big powwow at Peaceable the first week of December. It combines a Hospitalero Training session with three or four days of trail cleanup and a re-dig and reset of the much-neglected labyrinth.

A trip to the United States at the tail-end of the year. My son Philip is getting married in Ohio, and I need to be there. (I bought a great dress for that. And today the Hat arrived, a hat I ordered from England. A
black wool pillbox hat with a bow on the back and a little net veil in front... it is splendid! Now to figure out how to stick it onto my big head!)

Winter is long around here. I book it up. There´s a shopping trip to London at the end of January, for the Wedding Part II that´s planned for May. Philip is marrying into a huge Pakistani-American family, and the big blowout three-day celebration calls for some ethnic outfitting... an opportunity to shop the princess-worthy boutiques of London with my friend Leena. And piggy-backing onto that, a walking retreat on the Camino Ingles, a week of spirituality -- just what you need the first week of February.

Mix into all this the daily Dog Wrangle (we still have six); and the always-possible lottery jackpot win, and the ongoing battle of Conditional subjunctives, which I have pretty well given up on...

And that is what makes up a life.