The weather is cooling, but things are warming up at Peaceable Kingdom in Spain.
The pellet stoves are being installed next week at Monasterio Santa Cruz in Sahagun. Your on-the-spot generosity has the Marist Fathers' project a full six months ahead of schedule, and will endow the Benedictine monastery with a notable infrastructure upgrade.
Up next: Portugal! I am traveling to Albergheria a Velha next weekend to give a talk about Camino Hospitality, and while there I hope to sell the Portuguese on Ditch-Pig style cleanup operations! The Camino Portguese is experiencing a great boom just now, and the people "on the ground" are a bit overwhelmed by it all... no one has ever done a comprehensive cleanup on this camino.
So on Nov. 25, Ditch Pig volunteers will gather in Oporto and set off on the trash trail, armed with shovels and bags and a map of the "black spots" between that city and the Spanish border. We'll clear up the worst of it, and if time allows we'll double back and sweep south to clean up the space between. I hope to have some local volunteers join us!
Meanwhile, just outside Astorga, PPI has installed two new memorial stones at the Pilgrim Memorial Grove. We're shifting all but the Denise Theim stone to a vertical placement along a wall in the park, so maintenance workers can better care for the trees. (our concrete placements were damaging their roots!) Sometime in late August or September, another stone appeared in the park, memorializing a Greek-American pilgrim who cleared up trash along The Way. We do not know who put the stone there, and we don't know if the pilgrim died on the Camino, but we're mounting the stone on the wall alongside the others. We obviously need to mark the site and better explain how it functions... a project for 2019?
Thanks to all of you, it's working!
The Benedictine Monastery in Sahagun has been sheltering Santiago pilgrims for a thousand years. In 2017, Marist Fathers stepped in to take on the hosting duties, offering a traditional communal dinner, pilgrim Mass, and low-cost shelter for any pilgrim in need.
But centuries-old convents are not noted for coziness. In winter, even indoors, you often can see your breath hanging in the air. Not a lot of pilgrims pass by this way in the dead of winter, and the ones who do are usually chilled to the bone on arrival. The welcome is very warm, the food is hot, the pilgrim blessings rich and fine. But the ceilings are high, the walls are stony. It’s cold in there.
The three missionary priests took over this place last March, and switched on the old gas boiler soon as they moved in. The heating bill for two weeks came to 1,000 Euro!
And now, with another Castilian winter bearing down, the fathers are getting ready. They’re installing insulation and heavy doors on one small corner of the convent, reducing down the sleeping space to 13 beds, a dining area, and a small chapel for the evening Mass and blessing. They’ve shopped around and consulted with the experts, and plan to install two pellet-burning stoves to warm the novitiate wing through the cold, lonesome days of winter as it comes in and goes out. (they return to the motherhouse mid-December to March.) Or as Fr. Daniel puts it himself:
“We have thought to keep 14 beds available for pilgrims, in 3 rooms… The municipal albergue is open the whole year, but last March pilgrims complaint that there was no heating... The amount money saved would be huge: the man of the heating said that we would spend in 6 months (with the heating 15 hours/day on) 800€, and we spent in half month last March 1000€. So, we could save up to 4000€ next winter (thinking that we'll be open until end of November or mid December and from beginning of March onwards), which it will be a similar quantity to the intial investment.”
Father Daniel Fernandez, the priest who heads up this initiative, is an old friend of Peaceable. He served in Carrion de los Condes and Terradillos as part of the Camino Chaplaincy program, and has walked the Camino de Santiago himself. Sahagun has for years been a less-than spiritual stopping place for pilgrims, and when Daniel saw the opening, the Marists joined with the Madres Benedictinas in Sahagun to fill the gap. We support their efforts, and always recommend Albergue Santa Cruz to pilgrims who plan to stop in Sahagun.
Peaceable Projects helps to fund just this kind of pilgrim-centered non-profit infrastructure improvement… and Peaceable Projects is YOU.
The fathers need 2,000 euro to buy the stoves, and at least that much more for the chimneys, installation, and enough pellets to last November through March. Peaceable has already committed 1,000 euro to this project, and we’d like to at least pay for the stoves… So if you are looking for a way to support the pilgrim path, to “give back” via a certified non-profit, make your donation now via Peaceable Projects Inc. Your donation is tax-deductible in some parts of the world.
If you live in Europe and would like to make a Euro donation direct to the Marist Fathers, please send a note and I will forward bank deposit information.
"I am a pioneer. I like to explore things up front and see if they can work. I like waymarking new trails, and getting lost, and getting found again, and telling people “Hey! Check this out!”
I like busting the sod and building the first cabin in town, but I´m not a settler. Once things get up and running, I tend to lose interest. I find some able hands to keep it going, then I move on to something new.
Or I find some way to renew the old thing. The Ditch Pigs Camino Cleanup, for instance.
This year, if I can raise enough volunteers, I hope to take the Pig Wagon on the road, to clean up a rather considerable mess over west of here. I´m talking a guy named Ze, founder of the Portuguese camino association, (a pioneer), about identifying the worst of the “black spots” along the newly booming Camino Portuguese Interior, rounding up some Portuguese volunteers, and getting Peaceable´s crack team of litter-pickers over there for our usual five days of labor in late November. I am told there´s some hair-raising trash to be cleared! Yippee!
Meantime, in October, I´m invited to speak to the Portuguese Amigos national convention. I am not sure what I will say yet. I don´t know that much about pilgrimage in Portugal. I am about to learn.
In other Peaceable news, we installed two more memorial plaques in the Pilgrim Memorial Grove in Ecce Homo Park, Valdeiglesias. Lion Spijkers, a Dutch pilgrim who died last year in Ribadiso de Baixo, and Charles Merrifield, a Californian who died in 2008 in Villafranca Montes de Oca, now have their memories carved in stone along the Way. We are slowly shifting the memorial stones to a vertical position, as the parks department in Astorga has changed its mind about planting and maintaining our trees! The Denise Theim memorial, however will remain as-is, with its trademark red maple in a central position.
Work is in progress to replace the last of the lumpy mattresses at Albergue Monasterio Santa Cruz in Sahagun. The Marist Brothers who took over running the place this year are fighting hard to get the word out about their unique offerings – they missed the deadlines last year and were not listed in pilgrim guides, and this year´s big dip in pilgrim numbers on the Camino Frances didn´t help much. Still, their project is in The Big Hands.
Like Kim´s new enterprise! Longtime Peaceable supporter Kim Narenkevicius has opened the doors at last at The Stone Boat, a snug and soulful new bed and breakfast in Rabanal del Camino! She is all over the web, and we are working the networks to let everyone know… including you!
I have been a bit distracted this summer with finishing two book projects, and dealing with a family crisis down in Malaga province, an 8-hour drive south of here. But the ancient rhythm rolls on here on the Meseta. Summer went fat and green, then burst open, then turned brown. The rye and barley are cut, the straw baled and stacked into great architectural wonders in the fields, casting black geometric shadows afore and behind as the bright day moves on.
The Semana Cultural and town fiesta were big successes this year, big crowds and plenty to do, no fireworks, and no fights that I´ve heard about. Marivalle, the newest Moratinos resident, stepped up into the leadership role in the Cultural Association and did us all proud. I was a founder of the group, lo those four years ago, and I am Vice President now. I get to throw up lots of ideas, and everyone else can execute them. Or not!
Do let me know if you´d like to be a Portuguese Pig. Or if you´d like to fund one!
Fly into Santiago de Compostela and meet up with some jolly, fit former pilgrims in the final days of November.
Head out onto the trail to Pedrouzo, walking backward up the camino, picking up litter all the way. Meet another cleanup team coming the other way.
Everybody jump into a van loaded with trash bags, picker-upper arms, shovels, rakes, and snacks, and head east along the Way to the next good-size town. Repeat.
Stay overnight at whichever albergue is open when everyone feels tired.
Eat, drink, be merry. Go to sleep.
Then next day, do it all again. Hit the first two or three kilometres west of each large town, places where litter happens most. Do this for five days max. The whole Frances will get a real facelift.
… Or perhaps do the same, but southward, down the Camino Portuguese?
Trail demographics are shifting this year. Fewer pilgrims are traveling the classic Camino Frances, and relatively more are taking the Camino del Norte and the Portuguese path from Oporto. Ditch Pig volunteers have been picking up trash in Palencia for TEN YEARS now, so it´s time we looked farther afield for more target-rich pickings, places where a litter team may not have fearlessly tread! We will do our usual maintenance on wayside memorials.
Taking the Pigs on the road will require more planning, and probably more money, too – we shall have to raise more funds, drive farther, sleep somewhere, and eat our dinners away from home. We all know how to travel light and cook pilgrim meals, but we´ll still have to buy ingredients.
So, if you are a veteran Ditch Pig, or a wannabe, share your opinions and reserve your place. Unless we rent a bigger van, space is at a premium! And if you´d like to support this effort, you know what to do – hit one of the “donate” buttons and you´re on your way!
Do you want to be a volunteer hospitalero?
I need someone with Spanish and English skills, and experience, for the first two weeks at Albergue Villa de Grado.
Do you want to pick up trash, clear ditches, and remove grafitti from the Way to Santiago? Do you have logistical skills?
Get in touch. We´re going to need your help soon!
Do you dream of opening your own place in a charming Camino village, hosting pilgrims, cooking great meals, becoming a part of the scene? How about helping out someone who's making that happen right now, for real? Do you have carpentry, electrical, or scrubbing-down skills you can share, or would you consider a GoFundMe donation to help take this project over the final startup hurdle?
If you answered Yes to any of the above, get in touch!
See, there are projects simmering away on the back burners. Everything here in March is in its “hurry up and wait” phase, while we wait on the US Internal Revenue Service to approve our national non-profit status, while we finish up the remodelling in the new B&B up on the mountain, while we line up plane tickets and people to keep an eye on Peaceable while one or the other of us is away. While other well-placed, good-hearted people start other important enterprises and projects from places all over Spain and UK, Holland and the world…
Meantime, I intend to go right off the grid for ten days. I plan to hole-up and meditate in total silence, down in the mountains of Avila. That oughtta put me right, for when all this waiting turns into real activity.
I will be in touch!
Quiet things are happening, under the ground and behind the scenes. Angels are being born.
Important people are meeting up and hatching plans. Accountants and lawyers and concrete-mixers are being consulted. Prayers are being prayed, and decisions are being made.
I don't think any of us likes to wait, but that's where we are right now, here in the bowels of February. I do things besides the Peaceable Projects Inc., in the long, quiet spaces between the mad rushes.
Today, Alma Hospitalera, the little team of volunteers that keeps things running at Albergue Villa de Grado, gathered together and drove down over the mountain to visit Peaceable Kingdom. We discussed business, we argued the wisdom of dispensing souvenirs, we went to St. Nicolas and ate a huge paella. A good time was had by all.
I am supposedly in charge of this gang, but they truly do just about everything up there without any kind of oversight from me. (All I do is recruit volunteers to keep it open, March through October, and tell the FICS board what they´re up to.) Anyway, these guys live and work in Asturias, three hours from here. Milio, Elidio, and Helena are longtime, hard-core volunteer hospitaleros, known all over Spain and Portugal. One, Elena, is kinda new, but she has already more than earned her stripes in the past year, stepping in when the needs are great. (She´s a pharmacist, experienced at organizing. She´s going to rationalize our daily bookkeeping, hallelujah!)
These people don't just fill in when they´re needed. They count the money and deposit it in the bank. They liaise with the Guardia Civil, the town council, the guy repairing the tiles in the bathroom. They are called-in to cope when the drunken pilgrim falls down the stairs, or the toilet won't flush, or somebody´s wallet goes missing. They make sure the volunteer hospitaleros know how to use the de-humidifier, the color-coded cleaning rags, how to make sure the bossy sheep don´t get all the vegetable scraps before the lambs arrive.
November through February, when the albergue is closed, they get a municipal crew in to do repairs. They fill the downstairs with boxes and barrels of donations for a charity in sub-Saharan Africa. They team up to visit the old peoples' home down the street, and take the grandparents on a “virtual camino” with credentials, videos, songs, and snacks.
They go together to visit other Primitivo albergues, places like Bodenaya, Tineo, Grandas de Salime, to see the hospitaleros there, to have cakes and chupitos, to keep the lines open and wheels greased.
Alma Hospitalera is not a Peaceable Project. It's not even a formal non-profit, or community association. But it is the kind of group PPI was created to love to support. They are just one of many little nests of goodwill and positive energy that sparkle and shine along the Caminos de Santiago, even when there aren´t any pilgrims around.
The earth sleeps.
The sun is eclipsed by its shadow.
January, which used to loom so large on the calendar, is in its final day. We´ve survived another one! Only 29 days til the end of February, and March is practically Spring. And so we move through winter.
Compared to planetary movements, my little busy-ness is squat. But I´ll tell you about it anyway. Winter here is not so bad. Fields are green, skies are blue. So different from Ohio and Pennsylvania, where fields are brown and skies are grey for months at a stretch, with ash-blackened snowbanks and 4 p.m. dusk thrown in for added despair. We´ve got nothing to complain about, here in northern Spain. God forbid I appear ungrateful!
We push on. A new memorial plaque has arrived for the Pilgrim Memorial Grove, this one for a man who was a friend and co-laborer in the Fields of God and the Camino Chaplaincy. The Rev. Gerard Postlethwaite, a missionary in South America and parish priest in his native England, died suddenly while leading a pilgimage along the Camino Portuguese last September. He was a jolly man with a tragic sense of life, a true pilgrim. I hope someday to see him again.
I´ll meet with Rennie Archibald, a stalwart volunteer expat who lives in Ponferrada, to set the stone, soon as the weather breaks. We have two more memorials on the line.
Kim, aka "soulful road," "Alma," and "Salt," is realizing the dream of many years: She´s bought a little bed-and-breakfast inn up in Rabanal del Camino! I will not steal her thunder here, but if you want a snug room, hot shower, vegetarian meal, and caring English-speaking spirits atop that mountain, Kim´s the woman to see! I will post more as the dream unfolds, and will make an occasional appearance there myself, as hospitalera.
Meantime, back in Moratinos, Daniel of Hostal Moratinos became a dad once again, and finds himself over-subscribed. He´s let his business to an ambitious young couple from Malaga, who hope to offer "something better than the best" to passing pilgs in Moratinos in the season to come. We wish them good fortune... because soon as someone else opens their doors in town, the pressure is off us here at Peaceable!
Oliver continues here with us, which opens new possibilities. I took a long weekend holiday and flew to Belgium, to visit Filipe and Kathy, to try on splendid fashions at the Jan Welvaert atelier, to eat weird Conceptual Cuisine and visit beautiful old Beguinages... in short, to spend entire days doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Camino de Santiago! How refreshing!
(I bought a fabulous antelope-skin handbag at Jan´s store. I shouldn´t have, but I love it. Life is good.)
My friend and longtime literary collaborator Mitch Weiss is fighting hard against throat cancer, spending every minute at his mom´s bedside as she fades away, inscribing her story of immigration, heartbreak, betrayal, and vindication. Mitch is an investigative reporter for the Associated Press. If you are American you´ve doubtless seen his work -- he won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago, when we worked together at the Toledo Blade. I´ve sinced helped him write four books and a screenplay, but his one´s a real cracker. Pray together with me that Mitch survives, and thrives, and makes this his masterpiece. It´s got all the makings of a Great American Tale.
January´s been taken up with writing up grant proposals for a couple of possible projects. I am happy to say both were sent-in on time, with all the t´s crossed and i´s duly dotted. I thought about relaxing for a little while, but then the lads from FICS got on their Whatssup app and started trying to hash out a date for our next board meeting... Jeeez! If you ever want to get something done, go look for the people who are already scheduled up to their eyes! I think I am busy... these people put me in the shade. Some of them play bagpipes, and run hostels, and are raising small children. Some of them hold down full-time jobs! Just imagine!
The architects sent me their drawings for the new hospitalero hut at San Anton, and we hashed out where to put the place, and now we just gotta wait and see if the money arrives. I trust that San Anton, and maybe James, and perhaps even my patrons Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Benedict, are all calling in a few favors with the Eternal Treasury, just to get PP off to a healthy start.
Or just to get the hospis at San Anton into better-than third-world sleeping quarters. They are saints, after all. Let´s see what they can come up with...
(Oh, and Jan Welvaert, the fashion designer from Ghent in Belgium, also happens to be a noted garden designer! ... We may see him soon at the memorial grove in Valdeviejas!)
The earth sleeps, sure. But we don´t gotta.