Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Why People Stay Home

The bag is packed, the tickets printed out, money and pills and notebooks all in order.
Train to Madrid, plane to Paris. I will see two good old friends, and a lesser-known but very rich museum I’ve been wanting to visit. I will buy India ink and stinky cheese. I will eat oysters and drink wine and (if it’s clear at night) show my godson Nicolas how to use his new telescope to see the seas of the moon.
The city of lights. People I love. I planned the trip a month ago, to escape the long, long stretch that is January on the meseta. That "slog through the fog." 

I don’t want to go to Paris.

This year, something is different about the long, long stretch.
I am no less depressed than I ever am, in the mid-winter. The weather is rough – gray and bitterly cold in the mornings, dangerously icy. Last week I fell. I still feel it in my back. Walking the dogs is dicey business.
Yesterday morning the greyhounds ran away after a fox, out beyond the tumberon. I saw them go, far away across the fields, stretched out full-length like figures on a tapestry.
Snow spat down, and a piercing wind picked up. Paddy turned for home with the less-ambitious dogs. I headed out into the fields after the runaways. An inch of fresh snow squeaked underfoot. The fields are sown with winter rye, the turned soil barely frozen. I tracked the dogs an hour down and up a sunken lane. More than one fox lives out there. Deer had passed by, and maybe pigs, definitely a weasel. I did not see or hear them, but I saw their tracks. I did not see or hear Lulu or Harry. I walked on tractor paths, across fallow fields, alongside the wild arroyos. The hills rose and fell. Nothing moved but snow.  
On some flat places you can hear the roar of trains blowing through Sahagun. The lonesome whistles blow, miles and miles from town. The wind carries the sound. Sometimes, some places you hear the autopista, the howl and roar of truck tires, air horns, jake brakes. But not very often. Not so far out.
I lost the dogs’ trail in a rough-plowed field. The black sky moved eastward, toward me.
I strode back toward the tumberon. It faded away fast in the snowfall. I listened hard, wondering if that little noise down the valley was dogs barking, if maybe they’d got the fox to ground. I stopped. I slowed my breathing, listened.
Maybe a dog bark. Maybe a crow, down in those black trees. The moaning sound was the wind in my earrings. Loops. The wind catches in them, it whispers and moans right into my ear. I heard the rasp of my fingertips inside my gloves, inside my pockets. I felt warm, I felt healthy and well. My eyes looked hard down the valley, into the wind. I could see only an out-of-focus eyelash, and a skeleton tree.
The rest was silence, milky white. Utter silence. I let it stretch out for minutes, til the black cloud rolled over my hill and the wind struck hard as iron.
I felt embarrassed, having spent the last hour shouting after dogs. I realized how noisy I am, just walking, my feet crunching down, my nose snorting, my prayers chattering words into the empty air. Into this wide place, so silent almost always, silence heavy and almost holy. A place nobody knows. Nobody sees, but maybe a weasel or a wild pig, and now and then a tractor.
This sanctuary stands within a mile of my house. I can go there whenever I wish.  

True, Madrid is a couple of hours away. I can be in Paris a couple of hours after that. But why? Why would anyone want go to rackety old Paris?    

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Slog through the Fog

If you know me, you know I get a little crazy in January. And here we are, nine whole days in.
It has to do with the fog. Most days here are bright sunny and frosty, just lovely. But lumbering slowly over the plain like great grey mastiffs are fogs. Miles and hours of fog, thick and dark and damp. Youcan see them coming, like a squall on Lake Erie, and once these guys roll into town, they stay around. Day turns to semi-night, sounds are oddly muffled, and nights are very, very long.
After a day or so of fog, I start feeling like I'm under water.
I wrote a blog a few days ago, based on a very good poem I found. It was very apt to my present spiritual state, so I got down and all lyrical with it.
I posted it. I found a typo, so I went in the fix it.
And somehow I blew away the entire thing.
I blew all the color off the blog page, too. God knows how. The fog rolled onto it, too.
I let it go. It probably was not very coherent anyway, knowing what month it is.
Hardly anything moves outside but crows, hawks, and sometimes owls.
The animals stay near the fire, or inside their barn. The hens are not laying many eggs. I am not writing any books. Or blogs, either.
I am trying to register the association with the tax authorities, but I need copies of ID documents for the secretary, treasurer, and vice president. The one person who lives in Santander sent hers right away. The two who live within a mile have not moved. I have not seen them around.
Maria de la Valle lives in the Canary Islands. She spent her holidays here in Moratinos. She is an educated woman, open and bright; her husband Joaquin is a psychologist, they like us, we hung out a bit in the last few weeks. They help me with association business. They have ideas, they have family here, they can communicate things I cannot.
photo:"Memorias de un Labrador Castellano," by Modesto
We came up with a couple of good ideas. One is for a cachapera, little hut made of straw or grapevines, modeled after a photo I found of a local history book.  Back when there were vineyards all around here, farmers built these pointy-topped temporary huts and hired an old man to stay there while the grapes ripened, to keep away grape-thieves.
This summer, during the fiesta, when all the children are in town, we could engage young and old in building one of these ages-past structures. We could put it up in the rarely-used playground, and the kids could use it for a playhouse while they're in town -- we could have a camp-out, and get out the telescope and show them the stars! Long as it held up, adventurous pilgrims could use it, too.
We still have vineyards enough to provide vines to build one of these little huts. God knows we have enough straw, or switches from the chopo trees in the plaza. We'd have to track down someone who knows how to build one, or work it out for ourselves... or contact Antonio, my friend down in Badajoz -- he is building a chozo right now, a stone version of the cachapera. (the swineherds and shepherds down there use them in summer). Antonio says he'd love to come up and help us out. He owes me a favor.
stone chozo, a la Antonio
The kids would have fun. It wouldn't cost much. We'd put it on community land, out of the way. What's not to like?
My pet project is a simple sign. A sign made of metal, with a little roof over it, at the foot of the drive 'round the bodegas. The bodegas are the first thing pilgrims see when they come into town -- a series of little doors dug into a tall hillside, one for each household. They are wine caves, but visitors have no way of knowing that. They think they are Hobbit Houses, or fallout shelters, or some kind of mine. We need to put up a sign and tell them what they are. Bodegas are interesting, and they are what makes Moratinos unique along this route. And because pilgs are lways asking! (If we had enough money and interest we could explain the dovecotes, too.)
Maria de la Valle threw up the ideas at a recent gathering of her family, and no one thought much of them at all.
A sign. Like this.
They don't remember cachaperas, or they don't know how to make one, or they'd rather use the grapevines for barbecue fuel.
As for signs on the bodega -- everyone in the Association knows what the bodegas are for! Why spend good money on people who are only here for five minutes?
They'd rather go on excursions, really. But to interesting places. On a daywhen the nurse isn't coming  to check blood pressures and when no one has an appointment in Palencia, or when there's plowing to be done. And what about the grants? Haven't we applied yet?
"They do not see it the way we do," Maria told me. "You have your work cut out for you." She kissed me on both cheeks, and flew away back to her island paradise.
And left me here in the fog. In my yellow house. My yellow submarine.
I am trolling the junta and provincial websites. I continue plotting and planning, hoping I find a foundation or a bequest or a program...
Something will work itself out. This all is to be expected. Just gotta keep moving forward.
Forward, toward February, and back out the other end to March. The fog breaks up and the sun comes out again.

Note: Please excuse the errors in spacing and just general typos. I cannot make Blogger give me "insert" spaces!