Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Bed Beneath the Griffins

I turned the key in the great iron gates and looked up into the stone arches. Griffins looked back at me, and ladies' faces, and leaves, delicately carved.
A ruined 15th century monastery in the heart of Old Castile. Overgrown, ruined, Gothic as hell.
And I have the keys!
I spent the whole day at the little albergue at Monasterio de San Anton, cleaning windows and pulling weeds and planting flowers and herbs. I brought along a borrowed generator and an industrial vacuum cleaner. Everything worked, but I am not sure I made a noticeable difference.
It's a jungle in there. A ruin. It took a couple of hundred years to get into this state. What do I think I'm going to achieve in a few hours?
The little pilgrim shelter, built against the far wall of the former church, opens on the first of May, staffed with volunteer hosts who stepped up when I put out the call. I'm doing this under the aegis of FICS, the International Federation of the Camino de Santiago -- I wrote about them in December, when we announced our Manifesto to the world. Taking on this scruffy, no-hot-water, no-electricity place is one of our fundamentals. We want to keep the trail simple and stripped-down, running on faith and charity and lentils, and this place is iconic, it embodies so much of the history of the Camino. It was a Christian monastic center, a place where people came for shelter and counsel and most of all, healing.
And not every modern pilgrim longs for a swimming pool and a four-course meal at the end of the day's march. Some of them want starlight and a fire, salad, a little music maybe... only 12 pilgrim beds. And griffins in the arches overhead.
Today the beds are what grabbed my attention, more than the spider webs or God-knows what brown things were left last Fall to molder through the winter in the trash bins. I fired-up the little generator and switched on the vacuum and swept each mattress, both sides. The mattresses are at least 15 years old -- One was dated 1999. They are bowed, stained, drawn- and bled- and dripped-on, torn all along the edges and worn on the corners.
We like to think the pilgrims who stay at San Anton don't care about these details, but I know I care. I just spent several days walking on the Camino de Madrid. I slept in a couple of places similar to San Anton, and the mattresses were shot. Even after 27 kilometers and three glasses of tinto, sleep was achy, itchy, and awful.
San Anton needs a lot of things -- a good water source, maybe a solar panel or two, and a landscape designer  (a talented gardener could make San Anton into a paradise). All would do a world of good without impinging on the fundamental scruffiness that makes the place unique.
But what San Anton needs right here, right now, is 15 new mattresses.
Good mattresses, 80 x 120 cm., heavy duty ones, run about 130 euro apiece, delivered.
So you, kind reader, can finance a mattress, so San Anton this year can offer a good sleep along with a good rest. If we move fast, we can get them installed before the big pilgrim waves arrive in late May.
The dollar and the pound are strong, you know. You can probably afford it.    
I will put the names of each donor in the little window-slot inside the arch where the camino passes through, where monks once left food for late arrivals, and where pilgrims now leave prayer requests and notes of thanksgiving.
A nice lady in South Africa already sent me the money for the first one.
You can donate by using the PayPal button on the right. It's not tax-deductible, but your reward will be the blessings of hundreds of sweetly sweeping pilgrims. And your name will lie beneath the stony smiles of  ladies, leaves, and griffins, with the camino itself a couple of steps away.
So romantic. And practical, too.
not San Anton, but much like it. Even the sky is the same!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Rough Patch

It's been a hard few weeks at the Peaceable. It's not been very peaceful.
Harry put his face in a fox hole.
Bella dog attacked Lulu the greyhound, and Paddy intervened. Lulu and Paddy had to be stitched-up.
My son Philip the lawyer is still looking for work. He is feeling low, and there is nothing I can do to help him. He's got to walk that lonesome valley by himself.
Barbara, my favorite cousin back in USA, is losing ground against cancer.
Bella attacked Lulu again and tore out all her stitches.
The animal control officer put Bella under a 14-day quarantine. She has to be separated from the other dogs, which made little Ruby very sad. Moving around the house and planting the garden are logistical challenges with dogs attempting to sneak past and reunite.
Bruno came back from Italy on April 1, and opened up the albergue for the season. He then went down with diverticulosis. Emergency surgery, recovery time..  and back in Moratinos, an inexperienced, shy young hospitalero was left to keep the place going. I played backup. The pilgrims were patient. After a couple of days we had hot water, and got the stove working!
We had pilgrims here at Peaceable, one of whom was profoundly strange.
Bella got loose and attacked Lulu yet again. Paddy intervened. I intervened, this time with a big stick. Lulu's neck was torn open in a new place. Paddy has several new punctures and tears to add to his total.
Bella has an appointment to die on Saturday morning, soon as the quarantine is through.
A guy was working a backhoe on Calle Ontanon yesterday, and he obligingly dug a Mastiff-size grave out back.
Paddy's hands are wrapped in white-and-blue bandages, and his heart is busted in a million pieces.
I am numb, keeping things going. The house is cluttered, I cannot keep up with everything, and Paddy cannot help with a lot of things. I feel like my hair is turning gray.
Bruno is back from the hospital. His son his here to help him now.  
I am almost finished with the big book-editing project.
There are only two more openings on the San Anton hospitaleros list... volunteers are finding me now. It's coming together.
It all will be better after Saturday. Life will get easier. It always does.