Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Wheelie-Bag of Mysteries

It's not always a good idea, being ordinary.
Our black suitcase is so very common, so average, on Thursday afternoon it faded right into invisibility.
From the Large Luggage rack on Coach Number 2 of the Madrid-Ponferrada Regional Express train, our black wheelie-bag joined the realm of mystery.
Paddy had the bag with him on that train. He was on his way home from a quietly extraordinary two-day getaway in the big city. There we stayed in a ridiculous hotel designed for robots, feasted on Brazilian Swords O Meat, saw a retrospective of Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbo, and most importantly, we consulted with one of Spain's top retina specialists.
The eye doc said the treatment Pad's getting now at Palencia's public health hospital is top-class. And she gave him one thing the locals have not: a prescription for new glasses. Glasses she says will improve his distance vision "markedly, 30 percent," and his up-close vision "noticeably, maybe 10 percent."
Which, when you're expecting to be told you'll be blind in a couple of years, is worth celebrating.
We spent the rest of that day sitting at a cafe table along a busy sidewalk, watching the people go by, laughing and relaxing. We have an appointment in Palencia on Monday. We can have the optician there make up the glasses, handy dandy!
The following morning I headed off to Santiago de Compostela on a 28 Euro airplane flight. At that price, you do not check any bags. I put my Compostela gear in my little backpack, and put my Madrid clothes with Paddy's, in the black four-wheel-drive suitcase. He took it home with him on the fast afternoon train.
The train stops in Segovia, and again in Valladolid. The next stop is Palencia, where Paddy got off. But when Paddy went to get his suitcase, it wasn't on the rack.
There was an average black bag there, but it had a ribbon around the handle, and two wheels. It was not our bag. But it was near enough to be mistaken for it.
Our black suitcase had vanished.
The train was ready to leave. Paddy jumped off, and like a sensible citizen went directly to the station manager. In the 40 minutes he had before his connecting train headed for Sahagun, he filled in the papers, told three different people he thought it was just a mistake, that some poor boob in Segovia was at home now, saying bad words, rifling our dirty laundry.
He might be pleased to find our new IPad. I'd put the new computer in there, seeing as we couldn't figure out how to make it recognize a wifi signal. My new jeans were in there, too, and my favorite old black silk kimono jacket. And my first and only hand-made shoes I bought in Italy. (I don't have a lot of clothes, and I detest shopping. This was a blow.)
But Paddy was shockingly sanguine.
"It's a suitcase. Clothes. Stuff," he said on the telephone. "It will turn up. I'm not going to get all upset about it."
"It's the prescription," I said. "The whole reason we went to Madrid!"
"If the bag doesn't show up, we'll call up the doctor and have her re-send it," he said, blithely.
No one from the railroad phoned that night, nor the day after.
Kim arrived at Peaceable, expecting to find me there. (People never arrive when I am home. When I want wonderful visitors at my house, all I have to do is leave.) Kim heard the sad tale of lost luggage. Kim is a Mac expert. She sent a "ping" to the IPad inside our suitcase, to see where it was in the world. If it had been stolen, she could frustrate the thief with a remote-control "kill switch" that would render the little machine useless forever.
But I'd shut the IPad down before I packed it away. Somewhere out there it slumbered on, unmolested, un-pinged.
I came home this afternoon on the train from Santiago. We phoned up the railway for news.
Our ordinary black suitcase was found, an ornery man said, in Ponferrada, not Valladolid, nor Segovia. It was way over 150 kilometers west of here, at the end of the train's trajectory. Yes, they had not bothered to tell us. And no, they would not put it on the next train east, so we could pick it up in Sahagun. If we wanted the suitcase, we'd have to shlep to Ponferrada and get it.
We wondered. How the heck did our suitcase get to Ponferrada? Was that our bag, or the lookalike with the ribbon and two wheels? The stationmaster wouldn't say. Should we go all the way over there for what might be someone else's bagful of laundry?  
And it's Saturday. Would the station still be open by the time we got there? Everything closes on Sunday. And on Monday we have to be in Palencia! Ay yi yi!
And up stepped Kim.
"I have a license. I had a full night's sleep. I love driving. Give me Paddy's ID and his train ticket and I'll go over in the car."
I should've gone with her, but I'd just spent six hours on a train. (A train that had stopped in Ponferrada!)
Maybe Paddy should've gone with her, but why?
And so she went. I wrote a sort of permission slip, claiming Kim was our daughter, telling the railway to let her have our bag. I handed her some gas money and the keys, and she drove off into the sunset. A couple of hours later she sent me the photo above, taken on the platform in Ponfi.
Aside from being a Mac Pro, Kim's a photographer, and a filmmaker.
And a Soulful Mystic Pilgrim.
She's our Hero of the Day.
She's the best friend you could ever ask for.
She is extraordinary, even in the most ordinary ways.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Fits and Starts

The vegetable garden's been wiped-out twice now -- once by Hens from Hell, once by a very late frost. This does not make me happy. Tomorrow I shall try yet again with the green beans and red peppers, tomatoes and chard and spinach. I enjoy planting seeds and seedlings and seeing them emerge and grow, but this is getting tiresome.

Other things are happening, and not happening, and not quite happening. My friend Marta has spent the last three months moving from her splendid house in in downtown Madrid (yes, a HOUSE) into a sunny bright apartment in uptown Madrid. She had 40 years' worth of antique furniture to downsize. I took some chairs in December, some blankets and pillows for the albergues, a couple of vases. I don't need any of these things. Valuable, fragile, antique things don't live long here in the Animal Kingdom. But three weeks ago I drove home from her house with walnut headboards, a 200-year-old framed mirror, paintings and prints and elegant lamps. Marta could not throw them away, or give them to the predatory antique dealers for 25 euros. So she gave them to me.

(Making space for these acquisitions has begun a huge domino-effect rooting-out of things we haven't used, don't use, and never will use. April's been cathartic, furniture and closet-wise. Lots of hard work, but very little visible outcome. Sorta like gardening...)

Marta hired a guy with a truck to bring us even more beautiful things, stuff that would not fit in my van. A dresser to match the headboards, a really nice desk that, yes, I really can use. The furniture man was due last Thursday or Friday. We waited around, but he did not come. He rescheduled.

We got on with our lives. I took lamps and woolen blankets with me up to O Cebreiro, where my other friend Laurie has a sewing machine. She can repair the raveled edges of those lovely thick blankets, and pass them on to Refugio Gaucelmo, the original English pilgrim refuge. (Laurie helped to found that place, 25 years ago.) She has a big stone house where Marta's big old elegant lamps have room to glow. She has a herb garden that's sheltered from late frost, so I dug up all the mint, fennel, oregano, and melissa I could ever want and took it back with me.      

Paddy stayed home to oversee the furniture delivery. It didn't come again.

On the way back home yesterday morning I stopped in Trabadelo (I love that word: Trabadelo!) and visited Casa Susi, a new albergue started last year by an extrovert Australian lady named Susi. It's very simple and beautiful. Susi has much to be proud of.

I got to Astorga by noon, and there I met up with one of the more courageous people in this world. Her name is Shirley, and she is Australian, too. Last year she was hiking the Camino de Santiago with her husband Ron. During an overnight stop in Leon, Ron died in his sleep. After a couple of harrowing days, Shirley walked on. She finished their camino! And last Fall, she got in touch with me about putting up a little memorial to her husband at the little park outside Astorga. (I wrote about this last year -- the city planted trees for fallen pilgrims, anticipating events like this.)

So Ron's memorial is the first one of what I hope will become a "memorial garden." On Saturday I did a little service, blessing the memorial stone. Shirley was there, walking the camino again, this time with her sister-in-law. Inez, an Australian hospitalera, came along as well. The mayor came, and reps from the Astorga pilgrim amigos group, and people from the hotel in Leon where Ron died. Malin, my friend from Sweden, sang a sad song. We spread Ron's ashes at the base of the tree.

Then we all went over to Castrillo de Polvozares and had a feast.
After that, Inez came with me back to Peaceable.
San Anton, looking up from the road below
And this morning, a dark and stormy day, we loaded a mirror and some other blankets and table covers into the car and hit the road again. We moved eastward this time, to Castrojeriz. It's the last day of April. The Albergue Monasterio de San Anton opens on 1 May, and we had to get the place into shape to start welcoming pilgrims.

Four of us ladies worked for three hours, sweeping and scrubbing, putting things onto shelves, pulling weeds and making up lists.We stamped credentials for several very wet pilgrims, and retired to Castrojeriz for another feast.

Tomorrow, Inez heads back to Australia. David is coming to do some painting, he'll watch the house and critters for a couple of days while Paddy and I go to Madrid to have Paddy's eyes examined by a specialist down there. On Thursday Paddy will get the train home, and I will catch an airplane to Santiago de Compostela! (it costs only 28 Euros! Takes only an hour and a half!) The FICS board is meeting there, we're plotting new schemes and deciding what's next... Being a do-gooder requires a large carbon footprint sometimes.

I'll take the train home from there, a long, leisurely haul through spectacular scenery.
I'll stay home for a couple of weeks. We have some cool pilgrims coming our way.
And maybe someday the furniture will arrive.
And Springtime.
And vegetables.