Wednesday, 24 June 2015

We are rich

Fr. Gerard preaches in Spanish in Moratinos Sunday morning

Life is rich, we are rich. The sky is full of sun, the fields full of grain, larks, lizards. Our house is full of pilgrims, builders, wanderers, dust, dogs.
It is busy here, busy all over town, busy up and down the camino.
The new mattresses finally arrived at Monasterio San Anton. Lots of you blog readers contributed to that, and I thank you. We bought some new cookware, and fly screens, too. The people who've stayed at San Anton are generous as well -- with the donations left there in the month of May, Ovidio bought a small propane-powered refrigerator, so the hospitaleros can keep milk and cheese and meat for longer than a few hours. Things are going well there. I am very pleased.
Here at Peaceable, the latest Big Thing is the Camino Chaplaincy, a Catholic outreach that aims to open up understaffed churches and offer pilgrim Masses in English. Father Gerard Postlethwaite, an English priest with missionary credentials, has been here for a week, staying in our guest room. He opens our church early every morning and meets and greets the pilgrims. He hears confessions, songs, stories until noon. He is a great listener. He loves these people.
At about 4 p.m., even in the blistering afternoon heat, he walks 3 km. east to Terradillos de Templarios, a village with two good-sized pilgrim albergues and an accommodating church. He visits each of the albergues to invite the pilgrims to come, and then he sets the table for Mass.
Meantime, I round up pilgrims here in Moratinos, and bring them in the car.
Pilgrims at Terradillos, waiting for the Mass to begin

We sit them all down up 'round the altar, and at 5:30 we do a Mass. In English, mostly, depending on how many townspeople turn up.
Gerard is priest. I'm the reader and "eucharistic minister," which means he gives the communion bread, and I serve the wine. (This is a rare sight in rural Spain for several reasons, but it is perfectly legal, church-wise.)
It's the same service every day, but every day is markedly different from the others. The ever-changing mix of nationalities, languages, weather, exhaustion and energy levels, spirituality, and comfort zones makes it all fascinating.
And every day I have to study up on another set of scripture passages, another Psalm. I get to declaim them, read them out, fill up the church space with that ages-old poetry. I love it. And when you love what you do, people notice. You sometimes can touch their hearts.
We are doing well. Our numbers are very good.
In the great cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, 50 to 80 people crowd into similar English-language Masses every morning. Out here in a tiny town on the plains, we draw 16 or 20 each evening. Not bad.
Ollie
Construction continues in the front end of our house. The place is still cluttered with items waiting for new homes in the new storage room. The dogs are displaced into the back yard, where they've wcked the vegetable garden. Ollie is here, helping with whatever pilgrims arrive, helping Bruno build a wall, cutting brush, mopping floors, biding time til he goes back to San Anton.
Frederic, aka "Popeye the Sailor Man," is back on the scene, too -- we have him shifting tons of scrap lumber and cutting them into firewood. This is his third time working here. He works long and hard and well. I think he may be an angel of some sort. He is a scruffy hobo, really, but there is something innocent and child-like about him. He finishes a 10-hour day with chainsaw and hatchet in 90-degree heat, and at the end he thanks me.
Soon everyone will finish up and go home. The plaster will dry, we'll put everything back where it belongs, we can have our dinner out on the patio again. I will be very glad to get things back to something like normal, because all the hubbub gets tiresome.
I will look back on this and say, "wow."
I will sigh, and relax, and kinda miss it all.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

I Am Honored

About 300 of us schmoozed in a moldy grey cloister, sipping white wine. I tittered with George from William and Mary, and Mary from Vancouver. It all was international ooh-la-la. 


We were in Santiago de Compostela at an international convention of people in charge of pilgrim organizations. (I am not in charge of much of anything, but they let me go anyway, because I know a lot of them. This happens if you stick around a few years.)

An important lady from South Africa stood near, and Mary introduced us.  “You are Rebekah?” she said, incredulous. “Rebekah Scott?”
“The very one,” I said. The lady took my hand. She looked into my face.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” she said quietly. “An honor.”

She reads the blog, she said. She reads my comments on www.caminodesantiago.me. She said thank-you for writing what I write and saying what I say, that I am wise and inspirational. Maybe it was just the wind in her eyes, but it seemed like she started to cry.

I looked at George, and he only shrugged.

“Just another Rebekah fan. It’s the biggest fan club around,” George said. “I used to be president, but the membership was just too big for me to keep track.”

Now, George Greenia is a man with his own fan base. He’s a medieval scholar, published worldwide, head of his department in a highly respectable college, a pioneer of pilgrimage studies and camino history, and a beloved and gifted teacher. A couple of years ago he was named a Commander of the Order of Queen Isabel, one of Spain’s highest civilian honors. George is, in short, The Bomb.
And despite the flattery, George loves me, maybe as much as I love him. We go way back. We are kindred spirits. We are very good for one another. It still amazes me that someone I respect so much really likes me.   
And here this South African lady really likes me, too, or so it would seem.

I was embarrassed, and flattered, and rendered somewhat speechless. This is only ME, I thought – look at the way she’s created this lofty image! I cannot be all these things. I am only myself. And myself is really nothing remarkable.  

Today someone sent me a photo they took, right about that same moment. 
We are privileged white people, standing in a fabulous place, in one of the world’s unique shrine cities. We are sipping superb wine, nibbling on delicacies, dressed in nice clothes. We have good haircuts, we’re smiling, laughing. We are educated, witty, tasteful, successful people from successful, powerful places. We have leisure enough to come to this faraway place and hobnob together for a few days, to meet more people like us from other faraway places.
We’re do-gooders, all of us, in one way or another. Mary trains Canadians to be volunteer hospitaleros – hosts in pilgrim shelters.  She travels all over her vast country, and brings a cheerful energy to the job. She doesn’t get paid for it. 

Me? I live here, in the dusty part of the camino. I put people together with other people they need to meet. I ask people to come and be hospitaleros in inhospitable places, and they say “yes.”  I let people sleep in our spare rooms, and share food with them sometimes. I write stories, I clean house, I tell dogs “No.” I let priests stay in our spare rooms, and I ask the locals if we can open the churches and offer Masses in English. And they say “yes.”
I asked people to help pay for new mattresses at San Anton, the ratty little albergue in a ruined monastery. They said “yes.”  I pick up trash along the trail and in the street, because I don’t like seeing it there and nobody else will pick it up. I ask other people to help me, and some of them  do. Some of them fly all the way from England each December to help pick up trash. (Other people keep throwing trash on the ground anyway.) 
All I really do is ask people for things, and then I put them – people and things -- to work. Because I rather enjoy work. I do lots of work, most of it unpaid. But I do not think the work I do is particularly angelic or saintly or even remarkable – maybe because I enjoy it, because I choose to do it, on my own terms.  
Still, like George says, nobody else does what I do. I am the only one who does this particular mix of things.
So that is unique. It is special, because my setting is special: I live among the cloisters and pilgrim trails and ruined monasteries. They give my hard work an air of mystery and sacrifice it wouldn’t have if I was just running a non-profit do-gooder agency in Iowa.  
And I have really impressive friends who love me. Not because I do things. They love me because I am me, and I inspire them to do good things.
I need to learn to love myself the same way they do. I need to learn to accept praise without feeling I somehow don’t really deserve it.   
As a very wise woman called Macrina Weiderkehr wrote:

“I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.” 


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Blackbird Fly

This is how things work here.
Oliver´s been at our house for a week or so, helping out with pilgrims and housework, as well as helping out  at Bruno´s  albergue. Ollie´s a camino hospitalero of long experience. The dogs love him, he´s tried and true. I was finishing a manuscript, he was free, and we have a room where he can sleep.Everyone is happy.
Work started on our remodeling/rebuilding project. Dust everywhere, but pilgrims coming out of the woodwork. Ollie and Paddy dealt with pilgs, I finished the book.
We went to San Anton de Castrojeriz to check on things. Ollie is going to be host there in the months to come. Fred came along. He donated many bucketloads of donkey doo for the garden, from his projects in Carrion de los Condes. He brings along Tess, a California pilgrim who makes beautiful portraits from trash washed up on beaches. I commission a portrait of me, a Queen of Camino Trash, out of pure vanity, because I really cannot afford portraits these days...
My friend Marta in Madrid wants to help furnish the new apartamento at the Peaceable. She has a huge and wonderful historic house in the middle of Madrid, full of beautiful things. Me and Oliver drove dwn on Thursday. Tess the artists needs to get home to California, so she comes along. We stay at Marta´s house.
I realize I have left my handbag, ID, telephone, and cash at Peaceable. (what an idiot!)
I use Tess´s telephone to call Paddy and Fred. Fred goes to Peaceable, gets the handbag, drives to Madrid (where he was going on Friday anyway)Leaves messages with Marta that he´s arrived, very late...

Meantime, Ollie and Tess spend a long afternoon in Madrid, seeing the sights. I have no money to go to the big Van der Weyden show at the Prado, so I fall asleep and snooze for hours. Marta deals with realtors, corporate coachees, and emails.. I dunno. I was asleep!
I wake up and chat with two very flash ladies who want to put Marta´s wonderful house in a magazine of Euro Executive Listings. I am reminded of how lucky I am to know Marta!
And then two ladies and a little boy from the neighborhood, here to visit Monty the Dog. We give them beer, wine, Sunny Deelite or dog biscuits, depending on specie. Finally they go, and me and Marta open the Rueda.
Tess arrives. Then Oliver, with a Madrilena peregrina he met a month or so ago... she showed him over the city all afternoon! We all sit on the terrace, and dear Marta feeds everyone on pinchos of hummus, crackers, apricots, corn chips, salsa, sliced turkey breast, tapanade... way beyond the call of duty.  She makes up beds for all of us strangers, she fields phone calls.
Fred calls. He´s in town, he has my bag, he´s a couple of blocks away in a bar. It´s late.
Me and Marta clear off a bed for Tess, put on sheets and eiderdown, hope it´s enough. The wind is up.
Me and Ollie walk up to Las Portazgos en Nino Jesus, to meet Fred and Carmen. (Carmen lives right across the street.) Fred´s got my bag, God bless him... he´s saved the weekend! We have a vino on the terraza, he shows me the latest guitar, made for a maestro in Holland. The shallac is not quite set, but the instument glows from within as I touch the grain, smell the wood... and from the next table rises a young man.
A student of classical guitar, from Caceres, in Extremadura. He asks if he might. He sits down and touches the guitar. He tunes it. He clutches and strokes and caresses... Por favor?
I tell him, after my long day of foolishness and Lambrusco: I do not want to hear this guitar. I want to hear you, Carlos. I want to hear your heart in this guitar.
And that is what happens there, in the patio on Nino Jesus. He puts his heart in there, and people go quiet, and he sings, and the guitar... it is only a baby, but it more than sings.
It is beautiful, and it is midnight. And after a bit of Falla and a bit of Montoya, he sings a song that´s been speaking to me since the birds of passage returned to Moratinos this year, since I started going into my own back yard after midnight to look up into the stars, hearing birds sing in the dark...

Blackbird singing in the dead of night 
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting
 for this moment to arrive. 

Anodyne, yes. But beautiful. At least 50 people stopped to hear and enjoy.
Real life is made of this.
People find these things on the camino, and marvel at them. But they are here all round the bigger, greater world, too.
We just have to open our hearts, and our homes, and our minds.
Even in days that start out so stressful..

We are only waiting for these moments to arrive.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Someone Important



No one will be offended if I say that Barbara was my favorite cousin.
She wasn’t just a cousin to me. She was a role model. Having known Barbara when I was growing up is a major reason I became a successful adult.
When I was very small, she was the cool teen-ager with big blonde hair. She took me for thrilling horse rides, hanging on behind her on her big Arab horses.
When I was an awkward, horse-crazy, lonely adolescent, Barbara lived in the little house up on Gravel Bar hill, where our grandparents once lived. She had horses, chickens, ducks, a mule, and fabulous Afghan dogs. Animals loved her, they trusted her as one of their own kind. Barbara made me welcome at her house. She showed me how to handle and groom and ride the horses, feed the chickens, scythe down the high grass. She showed me how to butcher a duck, how to weld metal, how to pour a beer into a glass, how to shift a Jeep into 4-wheel drive, and how hold down a goat who didn’t want to ride in the back of a Jeep.
Hers is the only bathroom I ever visited that had an injured swan living in the bathtub.  
Barbara knew how to do everything. She didn’t wait for help to arrive. She didn’t worry about her hair or fingernails. She showed me the best way to get something done is to do it yourself.
She didn’t stay at home. She went out into the woods and had adventures. She dug for hidden treasures in Cook Forest. She helped Bobby Dale relocate his rattlesnake collection. She took apart engines. She dug out springs and shifted boulders and strung electric fences uphill and down, through dense woods. She put roofs on houses. She knew how to drive a steamroller! 
Barb had more than her share of suffering and bad choices, but she somehow made the most of it, she kept a positive attitude. She took care of her mother, her daughter, her family, with an endless generosity. She worked hard. She earned every damn thing she ever had.   
She wasn’t too proud to dig in and get dirty and get the job done. And she taught me that. It’s because of Barbara’s example that I am the person I am now.
My cousin Barbara was my hero. She still is. I know she’s not gone very far away, and I will see her again sometime soon. She told me so, the last time I saw her, when I held her hands in mine and told her goodbye. Her lovely, strong hands, a little calloused.
Hands a lot like mine.  

  
My cousin Barbara Burns died last week at her home in rural Pennsylvania. 
This will be read on Saturday at her memorial service. 

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.
Always.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bloody Animals



Elegant, gentle Harry is really just a hound dog, a ruthless killer. When the fox took off almost under his nose, he just had to chase it. Pad and I watched from afar as Harry and Bella tracked the crafty creature across a wide field and into a tree-lined ditch, jinking and jiving, yipping with pure doggy joy. (Lulu was on the lead, and could only moan.)

We  saw the fox cut across an adjacent field. He gave 'em the slip, we thought.
We walked on, watching for Harry and Bella to catch us up.
Twenty minutes later came Bella, with flecks of blood on her legs and chest and muzzle. Oh my.
We climbed up onto the tumberon to see where Harry was. In the distance he was coming, head down, tired. Evidently the fox we saw run away was not the fox in question. Or some other fox had taken the fall for him. Because when Harry came round the corner, he looked like something from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
I do not like my dogs killing wildlife. Foxes have as much right to live as any other critter, but these dogs were born and bred for chasing them down. Lulu mixed it up before with these same foxes, not very long ago. Everyone came out of that encounter without any bloodshed, far as I know. But this time, Harry's face and paws, neck and muzzle were covered in fresh bright blood. It was not all fox blood. Harry's face was bleeding, his mouth was bleeding, his paws were, too. It looked like maybe the fox won this fight.

We got everyone home. We sponged down Harry, put some Betadine on the obvious injuries. I phoned the vet. He was out purging sheep. We'd have to wait til 4:30 p.m., bring him in then.
And we did.
By then, Harry's slender nose was swollen to a shnozz. Blood crusted his front end. He was sad, crying, limping a little. He knew he needed help. He jumped right into the back of the Kangoo.

Veterinary care is a great cultural disconnect between Spain and the United States. In America, when your dog is shredded by a fox, you drop him off at the vet's office and wait in anguish until they phone you up with the outcome and the bill. Here in Spain, the person who brings in the patient is the person who serves as surgical nurse, anesthetist, and handler.

Pet ownership here is not just cuddling and feeding and sweetness and light. It is pinning down the flailing, screaming creature who was your pet, watching him pant and twitch and fight as the second dose of tranquilizer takes effect. It's holding his head while his eyes roll and his tongue lolls and his blood and saliva dries on your hands and face and the walls of the exam room. It's looking someplace else while the doctor swabs the Betadine, runs next door for sutures that will dissolve inside a dog's mouth, while the doctor says "look, look how deep this bite is, the goddamn fox was going for his throat!" while he pumps a puncture full of black iodine with a plunger meant for printer cartridges.  

The Bar Deportivo is right across the street from the veterinarian's office. I wonder if the vet gets a percentage of all the pet-owners who head over there after their pets take on foxes, automobiles, rat poison, or the neighbor's bull. Or just the vet.  

Here in Old Castile, if you own a dog or cat, you assist the vet during "procedures." You give the follow-up injections to your animals -- intramuscular, or just under the skin -- donkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits. It's a given. You leave the vet with a little bagful of IV needles, the anti-inflammatory, the antibiotic, the vitamin, the one to make him sleepy. You learn quick how. Now I know how, too. I think this is a better way. Pet owners are so much more responsible this way... you see your pet suffer, you suffer yourself, you are hands-on part of the cure. You cannot just hand over the animal and a credit card, and pick him up when it's all over. It's your animal. You have to take care of it.

It took a full hour to stitch Harry's muzzle and gums and shoot him full of healing chemistry. He'll probably be OK, but he's going to hurt for a while. He's a mess. His stitched and shaven skin is sprayed with blue antiseptic and silver scar-forming stuff. He looks like a clown after a four-day bender. God knows what he feels like.

The vet carried him out to the car, laid him on a beach towel in the back. Once home, Paddy and I carried him, supine on the same towel, into the barn, onto the busted old sofa. The other dogs came to sniff him. His eyes rolled. They turned away and asked where their dinner might be.

I have to shoot up Harry Dog with two kinds of medicine for the next three days.
The vet didn't give us a bill. Not til Monday, he said. Not till we see how he's doing.

We will probably see that fox again, the vet told us. Tough as nails, foxes. His own terrier dog has its face carved up like this with some regularity. It's just awful, he says, but that's nature. That's life. That's dogs, foxes, pets, animals in Spain.

We signed up for this. It is how it ought to be. We stopped on the way home to buy him some soft, canned dog food. And for me, some Albarino, Galician white wine. Sustenance. Anesthesia.

Poor old Harry.
Poor old me.