I have lived in rural Spain for many years now, but I will always be a foreigner. Some days I am reminded what a stranger I am, in a very strange land indeed.
We walk our many dogs in the morning. This muddy time of year we go up or down the Camino de Santiago. The Way into town passes a little graveyard. Periodically the farmers take a backhoe and level the land around the cemetery walls. I am not sure why they do this, because now the dirt around there is scattered with bones.
Not just doggy kinds of bones. Human bones. Little ones mostly, nothing reconizably belonging to anyone. They are old and scattered, and whomever they belonged to is probably long forgotten. This is what happens when families own only enough space in the graveyard for one or two relations, or people die too close together -- whatever´s not gone back to Earth from inside the tomb is quietly pitched out back.
One part of me says it is healthy, that dead is dead, that these bones are just part of the earth now. Another part of me silently screeches omigod omigod omigod that thing was somebody´s clavicle!
The dogs leave them alone, and for that I am thankful.
It was a sunny morning, the shadows stretched long, and the patio, out of the wind, was a perfect sun-trap. Paddy sat out there with his day-old newspapers and a glass of beer and let himself be poked and prodded by dog-noses. Today he put one of the stereo speakers out there, too, so he could listen to Maria Callas singing Verdi opera arias, which Paddy likes to play LOUD. I stepped out there for something, and heard something strange going on beyond the usual "è strano...e fors a lui..."
Something high and scrapey, with an off-key vibrato. Coming from next door, or down the street.
I couldn´t get a fix on it. Was Justi sharpening knives? Cutting sheet metal with an angle-grinder? Surely no one else in Moratinos was listening to opera divas on a Thursday morning! I could see nothing moving down the driveway, so I just headed back to repairing the chicken coop.
Out in the front patio the dogs went ballistic, just when Caro Nome hit its peak. It was the post. A box from California that was due last Monday finally arrived, patched-together with tape and letters from Spanish Customs. It is perfectly legal, apparently, for my friends to send highly explosive jalapeño tortillas through the postal system. But artisanal cow´s milk cheese will be summarily confiscated at the border. For Our Common Safety and Security.
(I made the chicken coop look a little better. It still will not contain chickens, however. Time to call in the experts.)
Crestfallen, we shut down the Italian warbling and headed to Pili´s Casa de Comidas for a Menu del Dia. On the way out of town, in the yard behind Segundino´s carpentry workshop, I spotted the source of the not-quite operatic aria. Two hogs hung nose-down from the tines of the tractor-bucket, their bellies split, their great bodies opened up like red books. The noise I´d heard alongside Callas was a hog howling his last.
For lunch I had a big plate of fried eggs and morcilla, blood sausage fresh from a similar massacre. It´s that time of year.
Back at home, Momo caught a mouse in the closet beneath the stairs. He brought it into the kitchen to show me -- it was a big fat grey one, still very much alive. I told Mo "good job," and told him to take the mouse outside, as is our custom. He jumped up to the window behind the sofa, put the mouse down, and slipped outside.
He put the live mouse down inside the living room. Behind the sofa, where I sit now, writing. It is still in here someplace. Tim and Rosie, who will happily excavate a half-acre field to unearth a single terrified mole, are napping.
I am not overly afraid of mice, but I have too many fur-bearing critters living with me already. I do not like this.
There is so much life and death here, so many reminders of how fragile we all are. Where I come from, we don´t do bones and blood. When we die our bodies are are shot full of chemicals, sealed hermetically inside boxes, and buried deep. Animals are butchered, but far from the sight and sound of consumers -- our meat does not come from screaming pigs, it comes from shiny packets in the supermarket.
And decent people never have to deal with rodents. Those just don´t happen.
Your friend sends you cheese, nobody takes it away. You get your damn cheese. You say "thank you."
But I laugh, too, remembering uppity American subdivisions that forbid backyard clotheslines and flagpoles as "unsightly." I wish they could enjoy an afternoon of what´s hanging in my neighbors´ yard.
Spain is a first-world country. I don´t have to live out here in the wild part. I freely choose the backwater life -- the Spain of morcilla made from pigs grown out back, eggs spotted with dirt and feathers. Mud and blood and rough new wine. España Profunda.
It is weird, it is sometimes grotesque. But it is honest. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.