Sunday, 6 December 2015

Things Left Behind

In the middle of the action you notice. You see the one who drops back and clears up the little crumbs, the one who takes the least-desired center seat in the back, the one who waits until everyone else takes a pastry. He takes the last one.  
I think it’s because I am a woman, for several days the only woman (the woman in charge) on the camino cleanup project, I notice which of the men in the group acts the most like I was taught to act. The one who waits til everyone else is OK before he takes care of himself. The one most ladylike.
But that would be an insult, wouldn’t it? Likening the best man to a woman?  
Because we’ve spent many days in focused labor -- driving distances, refilling supplies, reading maps, soothing ruffled feathers – it is easy to lose the individuals in the group, easy to just see us as a unit. But once the work is done and the racket dies down, the pre-dawn runs to the railway station are done, once the beds are stripped and the sheets laundered and the dogs settled back into their comfortable rhythms… once I have had a couple of naps! Once all that is done, then I can look back over the week-long project and see it for what it was.
It’s really a feather in the wind, cleaning up a hiking trail. We’ll have to go back and do it all over again. It’s really more of a low-cost feel-good social-service holiday for a few of us who live near airports where low-cost airlines operate, a little “fix” for the fit, forty- or fifty-something Camino addicts with not a lot to do in early winter.
Jacques and me, doing what's gotta be done
It’s surprisingly physical work. It leaves us groaning in the evenings, as couch-bound as a gang of pot-smokers. In the mornings we wince as our joints warm. But after that first half-mile of ducking and diving, digging and tossing up and over, scanning and shouting “stop the car!” and sliding open the doors and leaping out into the frosty fog – after that we can jump about all day, laughing as we go.
Not many groups get along so well, but this one is short-lived, well-fed, and sharply focused. This year we were an energetic French Swiss called Jacques, and Bas, a wily Englishman of Tinker stock. We were big, sweet James from Sheffield, UK, who’d fit right in as a Pittsburgh boy if he wanted to; and Keith, my standby guy from up-Yorkshire-but-Scotland-born. Kathy came in last, Kathy my best friend from San Francisco, who livened up the mix with her pizza dough, multivitamin Packs and off-the-wall observations. 
And me driving. And Paddy at home, playing backup. (Paddy was an original Ditch-Pig trash-picker, but he stopped when the volume of trash started making him hate pilgrims. And when all the ducking and climbing made him dizzy.)
The company are all gone now, back to their lives. About 140 kilometers of camino are many tons lighter, relieved of years of plastic, paper, aluminum, glass, rubber, steel, and styrofoam.
Here at the Peaceable, we think now of the people who moved all that trash. When they left the Peaceable, they left some things behind.
We have here a charging cord for an IPad, in a cool shade of turquoise. Very California.
We have duty-free shopping bags under the sink. In them are an unopened bottle of Glenrothes, scotch whisky of distinction. Alongside is a somewhat battle-weary bottle of Jameson’s Irish. Paddy and I are not big whiskey drinkers, and the Bible says “a worker is worthy of his wages,” and “never muzzle the ox that tramples out the grain.” Go for it, guys.  
And so the grain it is, with this group. And the grape. We started last weekend with a case of Ribera del Duero, and the lads on Tuesday bought a 22-euro, 15-liter bag-in-box of Rioja Crianza at the feed store in Carrion de los Condes. It’s surprisingly good, and not surprisingly rather depleted.
They did not eat the pate I laid on, nor did they touch the heavy cow-milk cheese brought in from Point Reyes in California. But we now need lentils, rice, beans, bacon, bread, and milk.
Keith brought 200 teabags with him – strong Yorkshire tea. (One of the summertime vicars said “a mouse can run over the surface of this stuff,” but I sure like it.) James brewed great pots of it, and seeing as so many of our group was English, the tea got drunk down. We did in a quantity of coffee, too.    
They left behind a much-needed plumber’s snake. Keith brought that from England, by special request, so we have another option next time the drains back up, before we have to phone Fontanero Hugo.
Atop the fridge are boxes of assorted chocolates and rawhide dog chewies, survivors of the ravages of a week. Inside the freezer are bars of Organic Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, as well as UK and US brands of allergy medicine. Down in the bottom of the fridge are wedges of cheddar cheese, stacks of real Mexican tortillas, two bottles of Worcestershire sauce and a quantity of Marmite. In the cupboard under the stairs is a ten-kilo bag of basmati rice. The volunteers brought them here, and left them for us.
Ditch Pigs, with Franco the Italian pilgrim we kinda picked up in Itero
These are good people, generous men, givers. These are not just “hostess gifts.” These are the little frills that make a hard day sweet for immigrants living in a foreign land. These guys did not just buy their own plane and train tickets, give up their holidays and family time. They did some truly filthy work, over long, cold days, for no pay at all. And they brought presents!  
They saw some corners of Spain no tourist will ever go to. We peeked inside a long-shuttered Carmelite convent in Grajal, and a melting-down ghost town called Villacreces. We ate blood sausage and fish with heads and tails on, as well as suckling lamb and sheep’s-milk pudding and tripes. We hobnobbed with the after-Mass grandees in a pastry shop in Medina de Rioseco, after we’d loaded junk of doubtful legality in their many Dumpsters. (We figure it’s their trash, after all. We just shifted its location.)  
We passed through forgotten pueblos down to their last few residents, on paths seldom trod. We had coffees in low-down bars where the old men huddled around an upright coal stove and the bright sun through the glass lit up the dust like flakes of gold. The ceilings were low and black, but outside were castles, Romanesque churches, Italianate palaces.
Near Carrion de los Condes we saw a coal-black weasel dancing in the road.
No one got hurt, (except for a hot-tea burn, the first day). No one got mad, at least not that I learned of. I am not sure how I got so tired, but here I am. Grateful to all those lads, and to my dear bestie Kathy. My fridge is full, my heart is replete, our beloved camino is spotless.
And so to bed with me.


Martea Cashion said...

You and your friends are an inspiration! Reading your blog always makes me feel like I'm suddenly you and living your life! A blessed life you live! I love you and miss you!

Stacey Wittig said...

Thanks for the words and visions they cast for me

Stacey Wittig said...

Thanks for the words and visions they cast for me

slippery joines said...

I am so looking forward into my future Caminos when I can finally visit with you and stay with you, if all permits and blend with the countryside I love already...always grateful to find such kind people...Kath

Amanda Schaffer said...

Rebekah, thank you and all the ditch pigs for the work you do! Those of us who can't be there to help appreciate the effort of keeping the path clean!

CaroleH said...

Ahhh Reb ... you make my eyes weep and my heart dance.