Thursday, 18 December 2014

Manifesto of the Camino Dreamers

Everybody loves a good Manifesto. Manifestos make you think of burning barricades, tragic youths facing down The Man, overthrows and uproar with a righteous tinge.

I helped to write a Manifesto last weekend, at a meeting of camino people in Villafranca de Bierzo. There were precious few barricades to be seen, burning or otherwise. There was a lot of really good local Mencia wine, though, and a lot of back-slapping and old-friends hugging, a lot of opinions.

These were not young firebrands out to change the world. These were old hands of the trail: Tomas the Templar of Manjarin, Jesus Jato from Ave Fenix (looking very frail). The original old bearded dude who walks the trail dressed in a brown robe. The little saint who runs the bare-bones albergue in Tosantos. Don Blas, the high-energy priest of Fuenterroble who brought the Via de la Plata to the fore. Jose Antonio de la Reira, a bagpipe-blowing Gallego who helped paint the first yellow arrows, and Luis, the TV reporter who broadcast the renewal to the rest of Spain. 

They are heavy hitters, these guys. I have a lot of respect for most of them. 

When they asked me to step up and be the token North American on the board of the Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago," their new “camino action group,” I said “sure!” I was honored, even.

Even though I've kinda had it with camino groups. Even though it’s hard for me to keep up with them, language-wise. Even though I don’t always make myself clear. I am dedicated to the same principals they are, and I have some things to offer. They listen carefully when I talk, and they don’t interrupt and overrun my efforts with their own ideas. I am treated with respect in this group… I do not find that in some other gatherings I have attended.

We did most of the work in a splendid old theater in the Villafranca town hall, where a hundred important people from eight or nine countries bashed and hashed out a list of proposals for later clarification and action. Lots of people brought their favorite hobbyhorses and axes to grind, but everyone was reasonably polite and orderly.

Here is the document, translated to English by Yours Truly. (click on the second one.) 

There were reporters at the Villafranca gathering, but the ship didn’t hit the sand til mid-week, when the word spread out across the camino Ways. Board members appeared on TV and radio shows, explaining that yes, there are some problems on the magic path, that yes, there are some rip-offs going on, that yes, the public administrations charged with overseeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site are asleep at the switch.

Yes, the Caminos are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. And we the people who love the caminos need to band together and do something, before complete Disneyfication sets in, and the old values of hospitality, simplicity, and kindness are drowned in a wave of Euro notes, souvenir stands, and Ye Olde 4-star Albergues.

Yeah, we live in a Capitalist society. Yeah, the camino is a tourism product now, like it or not. We can’t put that genie back inside the bottle. Or maybe it’s a hydra. It has several heads.

It’s no surprise the developers and builders and people selling things impinge on the old road. It’s an old road. It follows the geographical line of least resistance, it’s got highway access, it’s got lots of potential customers passing by every day. And “the authorities” are a notoriously corrupt and lazy bunch of rascals. Nobody’s held their feet to the fire. Yet.    

No one’s really defined what kind of protections are afforded places along a “Heritage of Mankind” highway, so it’s kinda hard to defend the sagging old monastery from benign neglect, or the little Roman bridge from the bulldozer. In Fromista, right here in my neighborhood, the Romanesque church of San Martin, a national treasure, has an apartment block going up a few yards from the back door. It’s perfectly legal, according to local zoning laws. The fact that it’s a crime against good taste doesn’t enter into it.  We want to change this.

Other things have changed all on their own, out of control – on the ground, where the old “poor pilgrim on a holy journey to the sacred shrine” has morphed into “well-heeled cultural tourist on a hard-but-really cool hike to an awesome church where you get a Latin certificate at the end that says you don’t have to go to Purgatory! Ha!”  

The certificate is called a Compostela. It is issued by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to anyone who can prove he’s walked the last 100 kilometers into town (or biked or rode a horse the last 200.) These certificates have a long history. They used to certify (and they still do, in writing) the bearer came to Santiago on a journey of Christian faith, with a prayerful purpose – that he was, in truth, a pilgrim.   

But when the pilgrimage started picking up steam again a couple of decades ago, the cathedral came up with a plan meant to filter out the bus-tours and shameless cheaters. They created the 100 kilometer rule. Instead of an identifying letter each pilgrim once carried from their priest or bishop, the cathedral issued its own “credential,” a fold-out booklet issued at the start of the trip to each pilgrim. Each day, the pilgrim’s host rubber-stamps the credential, creating a colorful collector’s item and blessed assurance the pilgrim get his Compostela at the end of the road.

The cathedral and a lot of other people soon woke up to the money-making potential of these documents. Nowadays, boxloads of credentials are sold to tour companies and tourist offices, to be sold at inflated prices to whomever wants one. Pilgrims enjoy picking and choosing which stamps to have in their “passports” according to which is most pretty, which fits best, or which are “weirdest.” (One pilgrim burst into tears when I accidentally put our stamp on her credential upside-down.)

And the Compostela, oh my. The idolatry that goes on at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela just boggles the mind at times – the long lines, the drama, the tears, the vapors… all for a piece of paper that certifies the bearer is something he would probably never admit to being – a repentant sinner, saved by God's grace. 

But I preach.  The 100 kilometer requirement for the Compostela, combined with the ruthless logic of Unintended Outcomes, has created 100 kilometers of overdevelopment, overcrowding, litter, price-gouging, and disillusion, from the little boom town of Sarria right to Santiago itself. One out of every three hikers applying for a Compostela has walked the minimum mileage possible. People who make the whole long-distance voyage step out of a relatively quiet countryside into a clatter that carries them all the way to the end.
We would like to deal with that.

We want to give the camino back to the people on a spiritual journey to a holy place.  We want the pilgrim to know he is a holy person, on a sacred mission. We want to see him treated with respect and dignity, and we want him to behave with respect and dignity.

This part of the manifesto has drawn all kinds of indignant denial from just about everyone with a monetary interest in the camino. I was told, personally, that I am naïve, “thinking like a little child.” “That it’s all very nice that you care so much, but who will enforce this?” “Who will push it through, who can change anything that’s already in progress?”

We can. If we want to enough, we can.

It will take a long time, and not everything we propose will work. All we can do is try.

We have time. We are on the side of the angels. The Camino’s been here for a thousand years, through wars and plagues and reformations, it’s been pimped and sold and betrayed a thousand times, probably in worse ways than these. We could sit back and just let it go, let the “market forces” take over and drive this camino into the ground, too. But we don’t have to.

We love this place. It is our home.  It’s a holy path.
And homes, ideals, holy things -- they are worth fighting for, no? 


  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Foxes, Boxes, Caches and Ditches

The great green valley of San Martin opened up before us. The dogs flowed over the ridge and down into doggie heaven. Something moved in the far distance, a fox.
Definitely a fox, a gray one. He saw us coming. He took off running.
Lulu saw. Lulu the huntress, the greyhound. A fox is pretty large prey, and it had a good head start. But Lulu lives for chasing things that run away.
Mist rolled down the valley. The fox ran hard. The greyhound stretched out her legs. The other dogs followed her. It was a medieval tapestry, a hunt scene in faded black and grey.
I lost them in the fog, but I knew where they were. They fox had gone to ground.
A mile later I stepped across the frozen field to collar the yapping, baying curs. From deep in a brambly ditch came the skunky stink of musk and an extraordinary noise, a low mechanical burr with a coloratura yowl. Teeth, claws, rabies. Varmint panic.
I really wanted to see the critter, but I really did not want to get too close.
Everyone but Lulu came away with me. Everyone but Lu knows you don't get too near anything that makes a noise like that.

Lulu ended up bloodied, but not badly hurt. She caught up to us later. I do not know what became of the fox. I wasn't about to go looking for it.  

Today again I walked the dogs in fog -- it's normal this time of year. (It disappears again in January, when winter sits down hard.) We walked on the camino, watching the ditches for litter. In a bush I saw a plastic box. I reached inside the branches and pulled it out.

The label on the lid was ruined, but I knew straightaway what it was: a Geocache.

Inside were some flyers explaining what a Geocache is. There was a very nice leatherbound notebook, a rubber stamp, pencils, and some lanyards. Judging from the promotional nature of all the above, the geocache was a project of the Tourist Office of Castilla y Leon, who in their wisdom decided to spice up the lives of tourists and pilgrims with a high-tech "camino treasure hunt."

Geocachers are given a scorecard and an initial set of map coordinates, and use GPS units, compasses, and maps to locate these little boxes of goodies. They use the rubber stamp to mark their card, and they leave their name and a comment in the notebook. They can take a Castilla y Leon lanyard, but they'll leave some other little item behind for the next guy -- a candy bar, keychain, or similar swag.
The next set of coordinates is printed on the lid of the box. Or it was, once, before the rain got it.

I wrote in the notebook. I was the first and only person to have done so. I put it all back the way I found it, but more out of sight. (There are millions of geocaches hidden all over the world; this is the third one I have found by accident.) I wondered how long it has been there.

It made me think about geocaches, and geocachers.
They are the people who love maps, obviously. People who love knowing just where they are, just what time it is, They benefit from our passion for measurement and quantifying. We've assigned a numbers for every corner of the world, brought it under control, tamed it, made it ours.
Savage tribes are settled on reservations. Venomous spiders and highway robbers are all gassed and passed away into history. Exploring the world is a breeze, especially when you have all the coordinates in your hand-held worldwide GPS unit -- you can travel all over a foreign country, but you can't even get lost!

And with geocaching, all that safety hasn't drained all the wild blood out of orienteering. Play your coordinates right, and you can track plastic boxes full of Maple Leaf key fobs, cigarette rolling papers, granola bars... and the numbers to follow to find the next one. It's hunter-gatherer behavior, Hiawatha the Scout, without the bushwacking and chilblains and food poisoning.  

It's harmless fun for people with leisure time and expendable income. Obviously the Junta de Castilla y Leon spent a nice chunk of money on plastic boxes and flyers, notebooks, pencils and satellite bandwidth. Which evidently nobody has bothered to find.

It's hard not to think of a few better uses for public funds. Most pilgrims are too busy shlepping themselves to the next albergue to involve themselves in treasure hunts.

Geocachers have their own community websites, and they set up their own caches -- I don't think they go looking for tourist-office inventions. Geocaching is already here, without any government involvement. Two summers ago I helped a Canadian volunteer hide three plastic caches in the neighborhood, saw her upload the coordinates to a satellite somewhere overhead. An international community of geocachers occasionally ply their hobbies in Moratinos, but somehow they missed the cache that I found, almost in plain sight, looking an awful lot like trash.

Which is kinda nice, really. We should let some things stay mysteries. We should just walk sometimes, without a map or a guide. We should know the delight of finding the box in the bushes, without a map or machine to send us there.

Sometimes the ditch gives up a box. And sometimes it's a fox.
We only think we are safe, poking around in the bushes.


Friday, 5 December 2014

Ditch Pigs On the Go!

Ditch Pigs of 2014: Bas, Reb, Kathy, and Bruno

In keeping with my daft ideals, each year I hold the Palencia Camino Cleanup. I raise some funds and round up volunteers and gas up the car and we walk all 80+ kilometers of Camino de Santiago in Palencia province, picking up the litter along the way. The air is clear and fresh and cold, the weeds have died back in the ditches. We all get a great, gentle workout while we Do the Right Thing.

This year there were four of us. Bas is from a fishing village on the coast of England -- he's from a tinker family, and tells some interesting tales. Kathy is my best bud from San Francisco. It took her two long days of broken airplanes to finally get here, but now we're making hemp muscle-rub and wreaths of rosemary, cruising the Roman villas. And Bruno, our Italian neighbor and hospitalero at Albergue San Bruno, did a big share on the long stretches -- he and I are the only ones who can drive the car, so when he's along, I only need to walk half the distance,
And he brings KitKat bars.

It is useful and fun, even. Just when you start feeling bored with walking along the road, you find someone's underpants.  

It's been stressful old year, 2014, and I will be glad to bid it goodbye. I left behind a bad tooth, a beloved cat, and two canaries. Or maybe they left me.

I climbed some mountains with a good friend and walked across a big plain on my own, until the sun stopped me cold. Not all stress is bad: I celebrated my son's marriage, his law school graduation, his swearing-in to the New Hampshire bar; I got a fine new daughter in law called Raheela. I got to know my son in law Dave a bit better in September, when he and Libby joined me for a holiday in the French Pyrenees. Libby landed a very competitive scholarship, paid-for by her employer, to earn her Masters in Public Administration at George Mason University.
My children made me mighty proud this year.  

I am still working on the book, still dreaming big dreams, talking big daft ideas, still a big bleeding-heart liberal. Still doin' the Christian thing with a Buddhist zing.  

Paddy and I are getting older. Parts are beginning to fall off here and there. He is dealing with his end-of-year annual sciatica, but it didn't keep him from going to London this week to visit the Dear Aulds. I learned the doctors wielding the terrifying tests detailed in the last blog succeeded in finding exactly nothing wrong. They say they want to stick needles in me for a biopsy anyway, but nobody's scheduled that yet.

I'd put some big things on "hold" until I learned if I was OK. I think it's time to get on with life now. Or let life get on with me.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Soul in the Machine

Pinned face-down in a tiny tunnel, hands bound, lower body covered in a heavy blanket, immobilized. I could feel drugs move hot across my back, up my neck. My face flushed red, my nose itched, but breathing deeply just made me more aware of the weight pressing on my back.

I have nightmares like this, but this was real. This was for my own good. People do this every day, and they don’t break down. They don’t freak out. Just breathe softly, I told myself. Close your eyes.

If I wanted to keep breathing, I had to be perfectly still. If I wanted this to end, I could not move.
The noise started, ticks and thumps, then a steady beat.

Holy holy holy Lord God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest

It was set to go on for 20 minutes. I didn’t know if I would last that long.  I had to.

Early today I had a Magnetic Resonance Image experience at Hospital Rio Carrion in Palencia. I had an MRI before, but it was just my face, my sinuses. This was the whole chest, the whole body-inside business. 

I was not prepared for the panic. I was not ready to be overwhelmed by irrational fear.  I thought I’d outgrown claustrophobia. But now I see I’ve just developed ways to avoid small, tight spots. I use coping strategies to handle booths and crowded elevators, and crowds in general. They are excuses, dodges.

The MRI dropped me face-down and head-first into the horror I keep deep down. 
Starting out was the worst. Settling into the bonds. Feeling just how deep a breath I could take without bumping against the arc above my shoulder blades. Feeling things shift in my sinuses, hoping nothing moved in there to block my breathing.

These people are professionals, I told myself. They know what to do if you can’t breathe. Stop. Noble thoughts. Prayers. 

Padre nuestro que estas en el cielo
Sanctificada sea tu nombre

Soon time stopped meaning anything. I had to stop thinking about when it would end, because it might just be starting. If I was going to get through this, I had to stop thinking.

I relived the drive down to Palencia, the dawn breaking red and orange over a hillside studded with windmills. There was a pilgrim out there already, hunched in the cold, dark on the path, moving fast. Just at Calzadilla I saw a dog running alongside the road, down on the camino – it leaped and twisted like something joyful. I slowed, hoping it didn’t dart into the road. I looked down and into its face. It was not a dog. It was a fox, with a mouse in its mouth. Its fox-tail was thick and lush, its eyes looked through their white mask and right into mine.

Where can I go from your presence?
Where can I flee from your spirit?
If I go up to the heavens you are there, 
If I lie down in the depths, you are there
You have searched me and you know me
You are with me always, even unto the ends of the Earth

I thought of my sister Beth, who reassured me this week that this problem is common, she went through this before herself, it hurts but it’s not cancer.

Not cancer. Not cancer. That means a lot to ­­­­me, it’s why I am in this machine, so I can find out. So many of our family get cancer, and so many of us are dead now. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to be sick, even. I don’t want to hurt. I want to breathe.  I want to walk in big broad steps and wave my arms around and shout at bad dogs, and laugh out loud.

I thought of the low bright sun outside, and Paddy probably out on the campo with all the dogs at that very moment, throwing ridiculous long shadows down into the fields. The walk up to the tumberon, all that sky and air and space ahead and behind and above. The music in the house, the morning music, ridiculous witty Cole Porter music

While tearing off
A game of golf
I might make a play for the caddy
But if I do I don’t follow through
Cause my heart belongs to Paddy

The music started moving to the pulsing deep rhythm of the machine, and I saw myself dancing to that, like I danced many times in the past, arms and legs, hips and fingers, all in motion all at once, to that music. Techno. Deep house. In my head I boogied down, while my body stayed utterly, perfectly still, while the magnets whirled round my carcass and somehow shot dozens of photos of what’s inside.    

Here am I, sitting in a tin can
High above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

And then it stopped.
And I was freed.
And I went home.  
On Tuesday afternoon I will know what they saw.


Meantime, I will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will walk under the big sky and take great deep breaths.   

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Wednesday in November

The brown-eyed girl came first, a Navajo called Annalise. From New Mexico, a dental hygienist, a bad ankle, a chipper little talk talk talker. I was baking bread. She watched carefully.
I put her to work, helping trim the buds on some dried stalks. A big job for people who are sitting down. A great thing to do while someone talks, while The Eagles sing on the stereo, while a storm gathers up in the sky outside.
Autumn blew in overnight over the weekend. Now it's blustery and chilly, and the sky can't decide on sun or clouds or overcast, snow or cold or wind. I took the screens and the canvas roof off the little gazebo out on the patio, I pulled the orange tree and ficus and pony-tail palm inside, just in time. When the ugly storm broke, the patio was waiting for it, stripped half naked and ready for the worst.
Annalise said she'd left a note for her friend in the bar in Calzadilla, that the guy was sure to stop there for his 10 a.m. beer, sure to get the note, sure to get here before nightfall. He's a chef in a restaurant, she said -- he can cook our dinner when he arrives! Him and maybe a couple of other people. Maybe a couple or more people, she said. It depends.
And so yes, they showed up. Michael, the Belgian beer-lover, tattooed and pierced and carrying a flute and drum and juggling sticks in his 25-kilo pack -- a classic Camino character. (these are the kind of guys who built our house, matter of fact.)  
Then came Joseph, an older man whose face shone with the gentle severity of San Ignacio -- and yes, he was a Basque, a doctor just back from years of service in Gambia. His ankle was very bad, there was a hole torn in the heel. His Achilles tendon was about half-ruptured. I did some healing juju on it, even though he is a doctor. He closed his eyes and breathed as I did it, just they way you ought to. A real doctor, a real healer, knows how to be healed himself, just as well as he knows how to heal others. He learned that in Africa, he said.
With him was Will, a mild-mannered man from Charleston, S.C., who immediately fell in with the dogs and cat. With him was Santiago, a dark-eyed Murcian who works in Mexico, "moving merchandise." His hair was black and wild, he had prison tattoos, but a toothy smile full of sunshine. There were three more, but we had no room for them. They went to Bruno's place.
Oh, and there's Coco, a shiny black Podenco hound who we are babysitting while his master finishes the Camino. Tim and Rosie tolerate him. Momo Cat kinda likes him, I think. He follows me around like a puppy dog. He likes to eat everyone else's dog food.
All the pilgrims were inordinately happy to see one another, even though they'd seen each other only hours before, they exulted, hugged and kissed, even with packs still strapped on and walking poles in hand, with dogs barking and laundry going up onto the lines. A hunk of veal shoulder for four was sliced with carrots and potatoes into a ragout for seven. Potatoes peeled, buds put into jars and stowed away, writing projects despaired-of and abandoned, Someone produced wine, another pulled out some eggs, some lettuce, a tomato... which quickly combined with some other leftovers into a pan of fried rice and a salad with honey-mustard dressing. The sun went down suddenly.
In the middle of it all, after a wait of three weeks, Tino the Electrician arrived to fix the lights in the salon. The salon by then was stacked with pack-covers and gloves, draped with drying socks and dozing blokes. He pulled some wires out of the wall, climbed up on a chair.
All the lights in the house went out. Someone actually screamed a little scream, which made all the dogs bark madly. The lights came back on right away, and the dogs thought they'd done it.  
We set the table with plates of different colors, backup silverware, four bottles of less-than-wonderful vino. Tino fled. We pulled a lawn chair in from outside and everyone sat down to a lovely communal feast, conducted in English, Spanish, and German.
There was just enough of everything. Everyone helped to wash up dishes and wipe down the kitchen.
Everyone went to bed by 10:30. Every bed was full, and Will shared the mattress on the living room floor with Tim, Coco, Momo, and Rosie, who are not allowed to climb on beds.
I retreated to my office, which was very chilly.
I thought I might write.
I fell asleep instead.  

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Gettin' Down in Party Town

Dear God in Heaven, these people know how to celebrate.
Paddy y yo
Today in Moratinos me and Paddy attended the “Golden Wedding” of Celestino and Esther. Celestino is a son of Moratinos, the brother of Milagros, the man who opens his bodega in the summer to passing pilgs, the man whose bum knee a couple of years ago was miraculously cured by San Antonio. He is the man who gave us advice on how to repair the bodega roof. The man who told us the tale of the mysterious pilgrim at the bodegas, back in the 1930s. He’s only here in the summer, but hundreds of pilgrims remember Celes as the local who showed them inside a Castilian wine cave, who gave him a taste of the rough local vino and a slice of divine sheeps’ milk cheese.  Celestino is the original Moratinos spokesman.
Today, all the family came back to town to celebrate Celestino and his Basque bride Esther, with a Mass and the Coro de Sahagun singing, a huge dinner at the bodega restaurant, a dance in the plaza, and God knows what else after, with everyone dressed up to the nines, the Autumn sun shining, with all the bells ringing, rockets booming, open bar and chorizo and lomo laid on.  We were invited to all of it, even though we weren’t totally sure how much. We dressed up for the 1 p.m. Mass, maybe because we are fond of Celestino, maybe because the whole town was awake and stirring.
Esther y Celestino, back in the day
Celes was one of dozens of local boys who left Palencia to seek work elsewhere during the 1950s and 60s. He found work in a cardboard-box factory in Bilbao, where he met Esther, who grew up on a Masia in Basque country, and who spoke not a word of Castilian Spanish. But love conquers all – four years later, in 1964, the two were wed.   
Everyone and his sister came to the Mass, even the neighbors who don’t usually attend these things. It did not disappoint. People came who have not been seen here for decades. Tears were shed, the Gospel was read, and impossible notes were reached-for by amateur sopranos.  The couple re-exchanged vows, their daughters and grandchildren read readings no one could hear over the yowling descendents, and then we all said Amen and headed out into the sunshine, out to the bodegas, to taste the vintage, to taste the real wine, brought down from Esther’s native Basque Country.  
Celes and Esther, today
We had a copa, we ate the embutidos, we said “enhorabuena,” we made to head home. But Celestino headed us off at the door – “No no no! You are family now! You’ve been invited since a month! It’s all paid-for!” he said. “I will be crushed if you go now!” So what could we do?
So we sat, and so we ate: grilled shrimp, crabs, razor clams, mussels, salad, grilled cuttlefish – all served with a dry white Albarino. Jose and Esteban outdid themselves for their uncle. Then came the meat: lamb chops, chips, dark red Tempranillo. Mas y mas. Paddy dropped out before the wine changed. I stuck with white, but did not last much longer.  
a crab who did not die in vain, with Carlos
I found my way to the terrace, where little Isabel, “the daughter of Moratinos,” was making an appearance along with the day’s dose of pilgrims. Down in the plaza the dancing started. I shared some vino blanco with two lucky French pilgrims. (I must pay for it on Tuesday.)
And then I realized that yes, it was time to head home. I’d lost the feel of my pointy-toe shoes, and another trip to the bathroom in my complicated underpinnings might prove too much for my architectural education.
Here at the Peaceable I trust Paddy has fed the dogs – they are quiet. If there are pilgrims, they are equally invisible.
And so, after great swills of water and a full milligram of Tylenol, I shall retire to my bed, to sleep the sleep of the righteous, well-fed and watered, como la familia de Celestino. 

Como una Palentina de pura cepa – like a purebred daughter of Palencia.   


long may they wave

Thursday, 16 October 2014

There Oughtta be Ghosts

It's creepy out there, violent wind and darkness. Big poplars roar above our bedroom roof, and down in the patio the gazebo curtains bow and flutter in sideways rain. The little yellow lamps strung out over the picnic table send a pathetic glow across the patio.

In summertime they're jolly, but the weather's changed. Now they are weak and sad. They're no proof against the noisy dark.

There ought to be ghosts here. Here in little Moratinos, a paleolithic warrior lies in "the tumberon," an unexcavated hill tomb thousands of years old. Two of the neighbors use centuries-old stone sarcophagi for animal troughs, heisted many years ago from the ruins of a long-gone monastery. The farmers spare no thought for the abbots who once moldered inside. The St. Nicolas cemetery stands on the site of a medieval leprosarium, where poor souls with infectious skin diseases lived and died for centuries.  

Human bones lie scattered in the field outside cemetery walls, turned out to make room for the next generation in the two-person family tombs. Arable land is too valuable to waste on dead people. Cemetery space is tight. This is the final word in recycling.

Violent death, the kind that supposedly makes ghosts happen, is no stranger here. Out on the two-lane beyond the back gate, pilgrims and pets are struck down and killed. Cars careen off the curves and into the culverts and cottonwood trees. Eighty years ago now, a transport truck carrying explosives blew up over where the Villada Road meets the N-120. The driver died, and a mule. A mile west, five years ago now, a French lady died in a highway accident. Two years later, atop the same hill, a bicycle pilgrim was struck and killed.  

In the fields, along the tractor-paths where nobody goes, lie buried the bones of those who disappeared in the civil war and the terror that followed. A 16-year-old boy from Grajal, shot in the gut and left to die, bled to death along a road between here and St. Nicolas. He ought to be a ghost, if anyone is.

Everybody used to know where the bodies were buried, but now all of them are gone. And before that, the soldiers of Napoleon, the soldiers of England and Spain, even Templar Knights, they marched through town, or stayed around. Some of them were killed, or died along this stretch. Not to mention epidemics, accidents, crimes of passion, slow poisonings, lonely suicides -- endings endemic to any place where humans live close together.

I have never heard a ghost story here. For whatever reason, the people who pass on from this neighborhood all stay dead. Like the pilgrims who slumber so deep in their beds, the dead of Moratinos rest in peace.  

Even if they wanted to wander the highways or huertas, ghosts round here could not compete with the weather. These creepy nights the wind moans and screams louder than a banshee. It hammers on the doors. It throws buckets and brooms around like a poltergeist, it overturns the garbage bins and bangs open barn doors.

And when the wind goes still, the owls shriek. Bats flutter and chatter under the streetlights, sending wild shadows dancing down Calle Ontanon. Voices carry from far off across the fields. Snatches of music. A radio, maybe.

Or maybe it's the neighbors, The ones no one can see.