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.
Thursday, 26 March 2015
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.
Monday, 23 March 2015
They are dark figures, staring out of black-and-white pictures in black robes and collars, owlish spectacles, jowls, bushy hermit beards, adolescent peach-fuzz. They're men from another world, another time, far away from here.
They could be ghosts.
They are from towns I know, many of them quite near: Carrion de los Condes, Terradillos de los Templarios, Villada, Grajal de Campos, Fromista, Becerril. Others are from Camino towns: Banos de Montemayor, Villadangos del Paramo, Puente la Reina, Puebla de Sanabria, Zamora.
They are priests and monks and friars: Jesuits, Augustinians, Capuchin Franciscans, Carmelites, Dominicans, Hospitalers of St. John of God. Their names are Juan, Manuel, Alejo, Froilan, Miguel, Claudio, Tino, Victor, Damaso.
They are teachers and preachers, students, philosophers, healers and most likely sinners, too. Boys from here, some of them grown up, some of them very young indeed.
All of them are dead.
All of them are martyrs, killed for being clerics.
They were killed for being part of the Spanish Catholic church, a monolithic institution deeply loathed by many underclass, under-educated, underprivileged Spaniards back in the 1930's. Their soutanes and birettas set them apart, and when civil war broke down the old order, their uniforms marked these men for death.
Now, 80 years later, their pictures hang in honored places in the churches where they were baptized, back when they were baby boys, before they grew up to take vows. They are honored for their sacrifice, if not their holy lives -- there is no living memory of any of these men. It's assumed they all were beyond reproach.
They are "Beatos" now, blessed, by papal decree in 2013. They are not saints yet, but violent death made them special. Death by firing squad, neglect, long imprisonment. Torn apart by mobs, thrown from moving vehicles, left to starve in a cold room. Many of them died together, and were buried in the same ditch, in places with names like Paracuellos de Jarama, Villecas, Algodor, Escalante Crossing.
They may not have died for the Gospel of Christ, but they died for their religion.
Martyrs, murdered for their faith, their souls gather under the altar in heaven and cry out "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord," or at least that's what St. John heard them saying, when he visited there.
And here we work and live and walk, surrounded by this cloud of witnesses. Here as Holy Week comes at us, contemplating the martyrdom of Jesus himself, and all the martyrs in the news -- Christians, Muslims, Martin Luther King, Jr., freedom riders, Meredith, Malcolm X... politics, religion, oppression, and vengeance, stupidity and violence so common they've become banal.
I wonder if Claudio and Victor and Alejo cried to God for mercy when the knock came on their door.
Even Jesus cried.
Not even God's son got a pass when the time came to die.
Thursday, 12 March 2015
|Monasterio de San Anton, image taken from a website I will credit asap|
The fading sun shone through a weird ruined rose window, made up of letters T. Taus.The symbol of St. Anthony. The moon rose quickly as we walked in what once was a church.
The Monasterio de San Anton is two kilometers out of Castrojeriz, and almost too Hollywood to be for real. It's a shattered church, roofless, with a monumental arch that every pilgrim must pass through on the way into town. The monks used to leave food out there for the passers-by who arrived after the gates had closed.
But the monastery went out of business 200 years ago. It was turned into a farm, its once-cohesive layout is now subdivided, fenced-off, sliced and diced into odd corners and bricked-up doorways. Somehow, ten years ago, a local foundation got hold of the part that once was the church. They installed a six sets of bunk beds in the sheep barn that once was a sacristy, and a camp stove and dining table alongside. They opened a bare-bones pilgrim albergue in the ruins.
There's no electricity and no hot water. There's precious little running water at all -- the spring the monastery used 400 years ago is still the only water supply, and it needs a good digging-out. No one's much disposed to that, because nobody really owns the place.
It's pretty much what most pilgrim albergues were like, 20-some years ago, before the Camino de Santiago became a money-making proposition.
Nowadays, hotels and albergues and hostels offer pilgrims heat, laundry, swimming pools, privacy, full menus and safety lighting... for a price most happily pay.
This old place operates on donations. It's open all day. Pilgrims who stay there have to put up with what they get -- cold water, candle light, a scruffy yard full of weeds and rubble, a dinner of salad and pasta and canned fruit, and probably a job washing-up afterward.
But a bed among the ruins... how romantic! (No matter if the mattress has too many miles on it.)
And after the sun goes down, there's a spectacular show of stars above the broken pillars.
There's an energy to San Anton. You can feel it humming by the gate, where the bees have a hive under the jasmine.
The Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago, as one of its initiatives, is going to staff the place. We (I am on the board of directors) can't criticize how built-up and commodified the camino has become if we are not willing to set an example ourselves. And so we will.
We visited today, me and Juan Carlos, FICS vice president and head of everything Camino in Astorga. We looked it all over, we asked all the important questions, we took notes. And we marveled a little, too. It is a magical place.
We're putting the documents together, and he'll take it all to the board after next week. It looks like a go. We need to raise about 15,000 Euro to bring it up to code, and it's a demanding post for hospitaleros. But it's the real deal. Total camino. Really exciting.
March came in with a bright, warm, dry, fake spring. Things are beginning. After that long wait in the darkness, after the lonely cold, even when I really don't trust the light, things start to happen. The seeds planted in the dead black ground start germinating.
I am not sure how much I am supposed to say. I don't want to expose the tender shoots to too much light too soon. Things grow very slowly in this latitude. The papers are not signed yet.
But I have waited and waited, and worked, too.
|priests round here have their work cut out|
Because we are starting things.
This summer we will -- God willing -- have at least one priest here in the house, serving Mass every day in Terradillos or Moratinos, in English or in Spanish. We have the blessing of the bishop and the support of the de facto pastor in charge of camino ministry for Castilla y Leon. It's an outgrowth of Camino Chaplaincy, a program pioneered by my friends John and Stephen in Santiago de Compostela. For the past two summers, volunteer priests have offered Masses and confessions in English at a dedicated chapel in the great cathedral, the goal of the Santiago pilgrim. This year, the program is expanding out onto the path itself... and because we have a spare room in the house, and a rather empty lineup of altars in our part of the Way, we decided to give it a shot.
Our first priest, an Irishman with experience in missions, arrives this week for a look around the place. We will feed him on suckling lamb and Ribero del Duero wine, and hope he likes the look of our scruffy little neighborhood. (Paddy has promised to be nice, and to keep off the Wittgenstein.)
Oh, and we are deep in negotiations with Jose Antonio, our friendly builder. We want to turn the old kitchen and storage room and toilet into its own little apartment, but my vision, alas, outstrips available funds. I must compromise, or pick a winning lottery number, or find another builder.
And so grow the green shoots in Moratinos.
If you want to serve at San Anton, and you are serious about making the trip and living pretty rough for a couple of weeks, let me know in a week or two. I will start putting something together.
Thank you all for standing by while I sit in the dark.
I am a depressive old thing. But I find some pretty important things in there, if I shut up and just be still. Because eventually, things change. The light comes on.
Just look at what blooms.
Sunday, 22 February 2015
The Month of the Pilgrim continues. It is extraordinary. It is exhausting.
Every night this month but one we've had at least two people, sometimes the full-capacity six or even seven, but almost always somebody. They walk 31 kilometers to get here. It's another nine kilometers to the next stopping-place. We cannot in good conscience leave people to sleep outdoors.
We chose to live here because there's a relatively steady stream of pilgrims flowing past. We like the pilgrims, we've been pilgrims ourselves -- they keep life interesting in a town that would otherwise be stiflingly isolated and insular.
We've been at this for nine years. We have never, in all that time, had such a steady flow of pilgrims stay with us, day after day after day.
They are nice people, sometimes funny, always cooperative. I've had only one ask for a hair dryer, and I've only had to tell one person "This is my home, it is not a hotel."
They clean up after themselves (mostly), they often phone ahead to tell us they're coming. Some of them are really interesting characters -- we've had a Dane who runs a Ribero del Duero winery, and a Swiss woman who rehabilitates injured wild animals up in the Alps, and the editor of the Korean Airlines in-flight magazine.
A Korean man left a message on our shopping-list blackboard: "I love here," it says.
On Ash Wednesday there was no Mass in Moratinos, so we had a rite of our own. We anointed one another, told one another "from ashes you come, and to ashes you shall return." Even the unbeliever, the "rationalist." He's the one who put the cross on my forehead. He's the one who, the following morning, on his way out the door, assured me that yes, he will pray for me out there on the road. "Yes, I can do that," he said.
It's moments like that that keep me going.
Because keeping going is getting tough now, three weeks into this extraordinary February onslaught.
I like the pilgrims, but I very much miss the quiet, the long evenings of no one but us. Simple dinners, or no dinners at all -- a sandwich, some fruit. A good book, or a writing or editing project. Able to go out for the evening, able to make evening plans. Long stretches of my own company.
I am spoiled rotten this way, or I was, up til Bruno left.
Two weeks is the standard limit for volunteer hospitaleros. After that, they go all squirrelly. Two weeks is more than enough for a lot of volunteers. Most don't come back again.
I think of Bruno and Lourdes and Jato and Tomas the Last Templar and Edu in Boadilla, people who do this all the time, every day, for years. People who have to do this to earn enough money to pay their bills. People who do this because they just love pilgrims. And I see why Bruno takes two months off every year, and why Lourdes only opens her doors in wintertime, and why Jato and Tomas and Edu have gangs of people helping them out. And I remember some of the "sensei" hospitaleros of years past -- Anna of Ages, who helped us get settled in here. The couple who ran the albergue in Eunate for years, and Cirauqui before that. The couple who opened the albergue in Villares del Orbigo, or the Brazilian guy who ran the place in Vega de Valcarce...
They are gone now. Sold-up, moved on, retired. There's a lifespan for full-time hospitaleros, and it does not seem to be a long one. There's now enough pilgrim albergues on the market to support at least one specialist estate agent.
Paddy is unhappy. He still turns out beautiful omelettes and couscous and stodge every day, and I heard him laughing out loud this afternoon with three semi-hysterical Korean ladies... but he glowers at me from behind his computer, even as the merry pilgrims chatter and laugh all around him.
There's hope. February is almost over. And last year, the albergue in Terradillos opened up again in March.
Please, God. I am happy to be a hospitalera now and then, but I am a hermit in my heart. I am not cut out for full-on sainthood. Not even for the shortest month of the year.
In other news, I do not have breast cancer.
I got the test results. They did not get a clean biopsy sample, even after sinking the needle three times. But none of the tissue they did get showed any sign of malignancy. Something is still in there, but so far it's okay. I am okay. I just have to keep going back every six months to be sure.
Glory be. And thanks to everyone who supported me in this little adventure, with good thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement.
I love you guys.
Please pray for us, whether or not you believe anyone is listening.
Friday, 13 February 2015
|Rosalia de Castro, resting between mouse-slayings|
But it suits us right down to the ground, at least the way we play it. There's plenty here to occupy our minds.
We bought a big box of everything Chopin ever wrote, played by tip-top musicians. We got the stereo to play out of four speakers instead of just two, and put one speaker out on the patio, so the whole Peaceable can be All Polonaise, All the Time. Superb!
Two weeks ago, I had a large-needle mammary biopsy of a half-a-lentil-size something in my right breast, without any anesthesia. Yow! Anything but boring, that.
While in Paris, while consuming a sea-salt caramel, a 30-year-old filling came loose from an even-more-venerable tooth. (Lots of other stuff happened there, but that would be a digression.) I had the filling repaired in Sahagun, also without anesthesia. It appears that news of my September over-reaction to dental anesthesia has made the rounds of the Spanish healthcare system. So now, minor surgical interventions are a practice in Being Present With Pain. Zen discipline is my new way of life, whether I like it or not!
So far, I find authentic pain not much worse than the eeeugh of being shot-up with local anesthesia. And none of it compares to the horror of being strapped into the Magnetic Resonance Imaging device. So go ahead, doc, poke me with needles! Anything but that clattering bondage chamber!
...But I shall not be one of those old ladies nattering on about her latest "procedure."
Suffice to say I will, hopefully, learn on Monday whether or not I have breast cancer.
And that is my excuse for not writing a whole lot these days.
That, and it's winter, and I am depressed. And I have a great big toothsome editing project to work on, and a speech to give (in English) at the university in Palencia, and a radio interview after that (in Spanish.)
And we're putting out to bid a big renovation on the little kitchen/despensa/bathroom by the front gate, to make it its own nice little weatherproof solar-powered apartment. The dollar is strong. The time is right. We might need someone to come here sometime and help us out, and they will want their own space. I thought long and hard about buying one of the two fincas for sale here in town, but decided we might as well make the most of what we have already. I cannot save the whole adobe world on my own. At least not until I hit the lottery.
Since Bruno left we have lots and lots of pilgrims, relatively speaking. Most of them are South Koreans, and some of them speak a few words of a language we can handle. They are decent company, they keep the days rolling along, they keep things interesting. Kindly people from far away send us donations to help pay their way, because most of these pilgrims leave only a fiver in the box. It all comes up even in the end, I think.
I try not to think too too much. It is almost tax time, when I have to tally up all the numbers and tell all to two countries, in two languages.
But money is almost as boring as medical procedures.
Like I said, I went to Paris for a quick visit. I ate oysters, and had my spirits lifted. I went last week to Santiago de Compostela, for a "more of the same" hospitalero get-together and some Quality Time with my buds John and Stephen... and Laurie, up on the mountain on the way home in O Cebreiro. Spirits again lifted. It is good to get out, to see how others like me are coping with the grey skies and manuscripts and daily demands.
Plans are moving forward. Schemes are being schemed. Soon I will reveal details of a cool new FICS hospitalero opportunity which I hope will not consume me until I get the latest book edited. Paddy is headed down to Malaga, to visit family and soak up some rays and escape the pilgrim onslaught for a few days. Nothing at all is happening with the Asociacion Cultural, but I can't afford to worry about that just now.
People ask me how I can stand the silence and boredom of this isolated, underpopulated place. And sometimes I say the winter sky here is startlingly clear when the wind blow
s, especially at night. At night I go out and look up at Venus and Mars and the rings of Saturn and the belt of Orion, and I know how small I am, here on our little ball two rocks from the sun.
I know none of us means much at all.
And I will be all right.
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Bruno’s burned-out, gone back to Italy until April. He left us with a big pan of tiramisu and a set of keys to his albergue. And every pilgrim who comes down the pike.
Winter’s usually pretty dead on the Camino de Santiago. We don’t mind being the only place open to pilgrims in 20 kilometers, because almost no one walks this part of the path this time of year. In February and early March, if you’re walking westward, the wind tends to blow freezing rain right into your face. Even in June, the tourist-pilgrims complain and skip past this bit because “there’s nothing to look at out here.” There’s even less to look at in February.When you can see past the ice on your eyelashes.
I exaggerate. Only every other day is that bad. We see plenty of blue sky, too. But you don’t see a lot of sky when you’re watching for ice underfoot. It’s winter on the prairie. Most people have good sense enough to stay home by the fire.
Except pilgrims. This winter there are still tons of the buggers out there. Most of the restaurants and pilgrim shelters are closed for the season. The ones that are open are often unheated. That means the walk between stops is much longer than in summer, even as the daylight hours are shorter. There are very few fellow pilgrims to keep you company. Winter pilgrims are a serious lot, a tough breed. They used to be few and far between.
But that's changing. In January, 1,217 people were awarded “Compostela” certificates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a new record for the month. Today, eleven pilgrims got theirs. Eleven. We used to get that many pilgrims in a winter month!
We get pilgrims every day now. Partly because we’re the only open place between Calzadilla de la Cueza and Sahagun. Partly because the winter pilgrimage is getting better organized. Lourdes Lluch, a hero of the modern-day camino, is responsible.
Lourdes is the Ur-Hospitalera, the pioneer. She opened the first pilgrim albergue on the modern Camino Frances, in Hornillos del Camino, back in 1983. She helped to organize the Federation of Amigos del Camino de Santiago, a national non-profit group dedicated to the pilgrimage. She helped create a hospitality network based on donations and voluntary service -- all in the most humble, quiet way. On a camino bristling with experts, "coaches," academics, and documentary filmmakers, almost nobody knows how important she is.
Lourdes is still around. In Fromista for the past few years, Lourdes and her husband open their apartment in wintertime, when all of Fromista’s for-profit albergues close down. Following the same path Lourdes laid down 30 years ago, they give the pilgrims food and a bed, and ask only for a donation in return. They do it because it’s the right thing to do, because they believe in the pilgrimage. They almost break even.
This year, Lourdes decided to put her camino contacts to work. Starting in December, she made up a list of every open albergue on the Camino Frances – with telephone numbers and email addresses. She updates it frequently, as places open and close almost at random in winter. We’re on the list.
We get a lot more telephone calls lately, people making sure we are for real. We see fewer pilgrims sleeping rough on church porches. We get more pilgrims in here, sometimes too many. We’re eating more lentils and beans and spaghetti. Cheap carbs, easily multiplied. “Pilgrim stodge.”
We’re meeting some cool people, hearing some hair-raising tales of derring-do, and testimonies, too, of faith found and kindness shared. Everyone’s too tired to cause trouble. Nobody has much money. Many of them walk alone, but everyone’s pretty much met everyone else who’s walking out there. The care for one another.
After they settle in and shower the pilgrims text each other, to learn where everyone ended up. They text with translation software, because many of them have no common language. They cannot talk to one another on the phone, but they want to be sure that Soo-Rin or Lindsey or Manuel’s found a place to spend the night.
They are tough and quiet and decent, winter pilgrims. They don’t ask for blow dryers, or the best room. They eat all their stodge, and wait til everyone’s done before they ask for seconds. They do the washing-up. Sometimes they talk, sometimes for hours, sometimes in languages I barely understand.
I used to feel bad about not being needed anymore by pilgrims, now that Moratinos has other accommodation options. But now I look at Lourdes, and I see she’s got it figured out. She is a hospitalera to her bones, but she’s found a way to do her service in winter, when the weather weeds-out the party animals and the lightweights, the drama queens and spiritual consumers.
Winter pilgrims are the real deal. I’m glad Lourdes sends them our way.
Bruno leaves the best for us.