Saturday, 28 June 2014


A trip to Barcelona, good friends who volunteered to watch the Peaceable so we could get away, some more good friends who stepped in when the first ones were suddenly called away.
Sunflowers coming on. Watermelon for dessert, watermelon that does not raise hives on the inside of my mouth! Thunderheads building up all day on the horizon, and lightning at night -- but no lightning bugs here, alas!
But here are birds that sing their hearts out, at 3 a.m.
Dogs. Affectionate dogs, smiling dogs, disobedient rotten ill-mannered dogs that run away and do not come back when called. One of them (his name is Harry) ran off today and came home with his toes and ankles in tatters. Three stitches and a splint, 40 Euros later, his foot is taped to a ballerina en pointe. He will do it again if he gets a chance.
Paddy's hearing is not good. Paddy's had a cough for months now, and yesterday had a chest X-ray done to rule out really bad things. Paddy is 73 years old now, and getting older. It is hard to get my mind around that.
We talked today about things he did when we first moved here, things he cannot do now. No more ladder-climbing, no more scrambling down into the passages under the floors, no more wrangling roof beams and tiles. He gets breathless just lifting Harry into the car.
There is no shame in that, not when you are 73. I need to stop thinking of him as the same guy who walked 20 miles with me along the Maumee River on Sunday afternoons, back in Ohio when he was but a lad of 60 summers.
Paddy is still very much alive, still full of vinegar and toadspittle. But I mourn what is gone, what the years have taken away. I think he does, too.
I am depressed, I will not lie about that. I've dealt with depressions before, so I know the signs and symptoms. I am letting this one just do its thing. I am not fighting it. I try to stay busy, keep reading books, keep getting up and exercising each day.
But I am not out in the village so much, I am not engaged with the neighbourhood, and I am missing things. Someone is angry with us, apparently -- someone was very rude to Malin and David last week when they were walking our dogs out in the fields. I cannot figure out who it was. It makes me sad. I want to keep amistad with everyone, but I am not out there doing the maintenance work.
The head of the Diputacion was here in Moratinos this week, paying a sort of State Visit. I would love to ask him to have the Tourist Office erect a big sign near the bodegas, explaining to visitors what bodegas are and why they are special. I am not sure my Spanish would be equal to the job. I am not sure the head of the Diputacion would be interested in talking to a foreigner. But it is all academic. I did not even know he was coming until after he was gone.
My Spanish is slipping. It is always slipping.
There are so many things I would love to do here, but I do not have Spanish enough to do them.
Pilgrims come, sporadically. Antonio the homeless guy came this week, and a houseful of Germans and Americans. They overwhelm us. We cannot really handle more than three of them at a time any more.
There is a perfectly good albergue in town, and a hostel, too. Pilgrims do not need us to take them in nowadays. I wonder why we keep it up.
I trained a couple of hospitaleros this week, but I feel a bit hypocritcal doing that. I have not served in a Federation Albergue for months, and I have no plans to do so anytime soon.

And as you can see, I am not writing so much, nor so well.  
I live in a gentle fog. I do not feel like doing much. Leaving the house is an expedition. Using the computer is an ongoing ordeal. Feeling excited about life, or pilgrims, or wedding anniversaries, or... whatever? Seems like a lot of trouble.
It is sad, but it is the truth.
And it will pass.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Raucous Rising

Hounds howl in the shaggy dark barn a meter of adobe away from my pillow. Daylight through the blinds. Time to get up. Paddy hears my footfalls, and sets the coffee machine to gurgling. Suddenly Artie Shaw Begins the Beguine, and drowns out the yowling from the barn.
Bob the canary digs jazz. He tunes up his day-long concert repertoire.
Down in the kitchen Rosie and Tim haul their weary carcasses off their beds to stagger over and wag "good morning."
Paddy does not wag. Paddy's been up for a couple of hours, but his rising does not count for much.
I feel significant, getting up. When I arrive, the day really starts, at least for a few creatures.
I round-up pickings from last night's dinner. I change into shoes. I take the scraps out back to the chickens. Tim comes along to make sure the hens don't get anything he deems edible. I call to them as I stride across the yard, "Chicka chickalee, chickatee!"
They love that. They come running, chattering, fluttering, speaking their hen tongue, hungry. I pet the ones who like to be petted. I collect their eggs -- misshapen or thin-shelled eggs become treats for Tim.
Three scoops of chicken feed, two flung along the ground, one in the tin cylinder. I carry the basin over to the studio to change their water, I throw yesterday's over the garlic patch. I will soon have a harvest there, our garlic is so mild and tender.
On the way back inside I start a load of laundry.
Back in the kitchen I down a coffee. Paddy dons his boots and hat. He fills his pockets with dog biscuits. Rosie and Tim are moaning by then, so ready to go.
Their deliverance draws nigh. We head out to the front gate, where they are fitted with leads and sent out into the driveway to wait just a little longer.
I stand by the big barn door. Paddy sings out "Open the cage! Start the music!" and I swing the door wide. The big dogs pour forth in great bounds of joy, leaping and yipping across the tiles, through the flower bed, down the terrace to Paddy at the gate.
We grab little Ruby first -- snap on a lead and put her outside with Rosie, to save her from big Bella's rambunction. I take up the double-ended lead and collar the greyhounds. These two know the drill, but they're so full of beans it is hard for them to keep still. Their long tails draw great circles in the air. Harry yodels and grumbles and groans. Lulu grins at me with all her great white teeth, shifting from one foot to the other, side to side, while I try to snap things onto her collar.
Paddy has the biggest challenge. Bella the Mastiff bellows and leaps at the door. She knows how to strike the lever with a paw, and when she's lucky the gate bounces open for her. Paddy and I used to wrestle her into a "No Pull Harness," but she's figured that out as well. We cut our losses, get a simple lead onto her collar, and follow the flow of wagging, panting, honking hounds down the front steps and onto the street, pulling the gate shut behind us. We each steer our fleet of three critters, each of them determined to go his own way, braiding their leads round our legs.
Somewhere among all this mayhem we determine which walk to take -- Paco's Vineyard, the Tumberon, the Labyrinth, Grand Canyon, or Promised Land? We weigh up the factors: Do we need to be anywhere this morning? Has it rained recently? Are there lots of pilgrims around?
This morning we took the Promised Land option, and within the first ten minutes we had a day's worth of action!
The Promised Land is a great, wide swath of fields, ditches, and tractor paths spread out for miles on the other side of the big A-251 four-lane. A convenient bridge carries us there, and keeps the critters safely away from the traffic. Once over the bridge we usually let all the dogs run free for the first quarter-mile or so. They are busy sniffing, whizzing, and chasing one another in circles, rejoicing in their freedom -- the Promised Land is Dog Heaven. And this morning, within five minutes of starting down the road, Bella flushed from a ditch a full-grown roe deer!
The whole boiling of dogs took off after it, yipping in delight. But the fields are still waving with standing grain, and the critter got a head start and it knows its way around. Our lot came straggling back within a moment or two, panting and waving their tails, bounding through the grain like dolphins through waves. Big fun, so early on! And we still had at least another hour to go!
We topped the little hill just before the Swimming Hole, a stand of whispery trees beside a deep irrigation channel.
Lo and behold, there was a car down there, parked. And a little tent.
And as luck would have it, a little black dog. A barking dog, running up the road toward our pack of six unleashed, wound-up, slavering beasts. And behind it came running a woman, shouting.
A woman in black tights and a fashionable striped blouse. A beautiful woman, calling to the dog. In French.
Maybe our dogs were too whacked from chasing the deer. Maybe they were overwhelmed by the glossy little black dog's grand courage, or the glossy woman's beauty. Or just the bizarre sight of two young women camping out in the Promised Land -- miles from anywhere. How did they find this place? Where were they going?
Women who spoke no Spanish, no English. Women from France! 
The greatest marvel was that we had no trouble, no snarling nor biting. Everyone behaved beautifully. We walked right past the tent, the car, the other lady. The little dog jumped inside, and all was well. We topped the hill, went right round to the vineyards. We wondered what could be next -- Flying monkeys?
But we saw only a Least Weasel, a fast black streak across the dusty road. No more creatures, unless you count the larks, the goldfinches, the swallows, the dozens of sparrows dust-bathing on the path.
The sun climbed up the sky. We shed our sweaters, tied them round our waists.  
Home by 10:30, time enough to get things done -- feed dogs, hang out the damp laundry, hang Bob's cage out under the gazebo, answer emails, write up a shopping list. Harry, Lulu, and Bella stretch out on the warm patio tiles, tanning their elegant hides. Tim curls up in his beloved bed, in the cool salon.
This is what morning looks like at Peaceable.
We are not changing the world. We produce no masterpieces, we heal no diseases, we make no real difference, doing what we do.
Still, this is what happiness is made of.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

What I Reckon

Today is June 7.
June means lush early summer, seeing which of the seeds planted out back might actually live. It means clear blue skies, and on the 9th, my big sister Beth's birthday. (My sisters’ birthdays are the only birthdays I know for sure. Not even my own childrens’ are so memorable (I was busy those days, dammit!). Birthdays are reckoned numerically, you know. And me and numbers? Well… no. This mind does not reckon numerically.)
Today is the day of the Belmont Stakes, a mile-and-a-half series of Grade-One Thoroughbred horse races broadcast around the world from rural New York, USA. The main race is “the final jewel of the Triple Crown,” but most American horses never run so far. American horses usually race for less than a mile, fast and furious. This race is old-fashioned, downright European. It sorts the speed-demons from the capital-TH Thoroughbred Horses. The Belmont is why so many shiny USA ponies win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but finally are sorted-out in the long run.
Maybe that is where we get “in the long run.” From Belmont. The real test.
Patrick and I spent a couple of hours early today looking at racing forms and videos of old races, having fun, enjoying one another. Since I was a little girl I had a feel for horses – like lots of little girls. I learned to ride, I learned to compete, and I learned about aesthetics and athletics on the hairy back of a horse. I was not a talented rider, but I learned to look at horses, learned to see at a glance which  type and breed it was, and which animal was in tip-top condition and who is not-quite fit. Paddy, a horse-race handicapper from way back, taught Puritan old Me to read the Daily Racing Form, a publication he re-designed when he moved from England to America, a while back now. From the DRF, (and from the stock market) I learned I am not so terrible at numbers when it comes to spotting trends. I learned to make that pay.
Anyway, it is June. June 7. According to the great FaceBook Oracle, this is the birthday of Sandra Svoboda of Detroit, a journo and friend I worked with back in Toledo, Ohio. Sandi is talented, outgoing, articulate, good-looking, well-traveled, and well-connected. Her FaceBook feed has more than 100 “happy birthday” messages today. This made me think. It sent me on a scan of the people on my own FaceBook Friends list.  
I was shocked to see I have more than 400 FB friends. I did not know that I knew 400 people in this world, much less 400 people with internet access and (I assume) desire to have contact with me.  
So I started reckoning. Here are my mother and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins in rural America, my step-sons and in-laws (some I have never met) in metropolitan England. Here are second-cousins in Maryland who are US Marshals in search of international criminals, a beloved brother-in-law who is a sheriff’s deputy in El Dorado, Arkansas, my nephews and step-grandchildren in two countries whose parents have (maybe wisely) blocked their access to my thoughtless language and lefty political and religious opinions.
Here are the people who sat at other tables in the lunchroom at Apollo Ridge High School, the stoners and cheerleaders and drum-majors, people who kinda liked me anyway, outsider that I was back in 1978. Here’s my college roommate, a public defender married to an Indian-American called Amit, who advised  me on how to behave when my son married into a Pakistani family. Here’s the guy who taught me how to draw and shoot rotoscope animation cells in 1980, now working for Steven Spielberg. Here’s a wonderfully funny editor from my long-ago stint at the Beaver County Times. Here’s a Hare Krishna, a Mormon, Benedictine nuns and holy rollers, a genuine whirling dervish, Anglican deacons and priests of several stripes, a Vegan Jew and some crystal-packing New Age feminists. Here’s a Czech pilgrim who stopped here in 2007 and showed me how a drop of dish soap makes cement creamy-smooth but sticky enough to make walls from. Here are professors, lawyers, musicians, painters, scientists of DNA, dreamers, priests, prophets, editors, carpenters, weavers, moonshiners, movie stars, models, analysts Freudian and Jungian, cowpokes, bronco-busters, bull-shitters, politicians, and poets. Even a couple of international criminals, the people my second-cousin the US Marshal tracks down for a living.
Oh, and pilgrims. Pilgrims, pilgrims.  
I think they all are, somehow, pilgrims. People on a holy path, on their way to some sacred place.
Not all my FB friends are educated, articulate or even respectable. Some feel I am rather scruffy and common and American. I am cool with that. I have no great desire to join them at the villa in Provence or the shmooze at the gallery. I would only be bored, and probably would be boring. 

And so, on 7 June I encourage every one of you to have a look at your FaceBook Friends file, or your email address book. Reckon all the memories, the mugs and old lovers and geniuses and idiots in there. And consider what they’ve given you along all the many miles of your journey – the seeds they sowed, the robberies they witnessed or committed, and the joy and tenderness they may have brought you, too.  
FaceBook, they say, isn’t so cool any more. But it is warm, if you let it be. It is what we’ve got, far away as we are from one another.