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.
After all the chatter is finished and the dishes are put away and the pilgrims go to bed, I write about the ruined monastery at San Anton. Then I throw it away.
I am tired of thinking about San Anton. I am tired of the Camino de Santiago, and pilgrimage, and pilgrims, too. Instead I read a chapter in “The Barn at the End of the World,” a spiritual book written by Quaker sheep-shearer. I realize I am tired of homespun mystics, too. And jealous. I am jealous of her clarity. I am jealous that her book is better than mine. Her book is clear, and wise. And it is published.
It’s January. This happens in January. This is why the days are so short. So we can go to bed when it’s dark, and sleep long hours, and survive.
When it’s 11 p.m. at Peaceable, it’s 5 p.m. in Boston. Sometimes, late at night, my mobile phone and my computer will make a tiny, simultaneous lowing. it’s Philip, my son. He’s in his car, on his way home from one of Massachusetts´ many courthouses. He’s calling me on his hands-free phone.
He is calling me on the telephone, but the program he uses does not trigger a ringing on my end. Once in a while, late at night, I’ll see a weird pulsing glow from my purse, on a chair across the darkened room. It’s my telephone. I step over to grab it before the caller hangs up, and from the bottom of my handbag I can hear a tiny voice. It’s Philip’s voice: “Hello? Mum? Can you hear me?”
I’m always smiling by the time I answer him. Not just because I like him a lot. Because I imagine him shrunk down and tiny down there in the leathery dark, among the crumpled shopping lists and pennies and mints, calling out to me.
Philip is a lawyer. He incorporated Peaceable Projects Inc. in the state of Massachusetts. He has the keys to our post-office box, and the passwords to all our accounts, because he’s the one who set them all up. He’s shepherding our 501c3 application through the Internal Revenue Service approvals maze. He’s a good boy.
He’s a good man.
He gets that ennui in January, too. He works himself into the ground five days a week, working in the slave-galleys of the American legal profession. He´s looking now for some kind of volunteer gig to do on weekends, something charitable, something interesting to someone with an affection for history and stories, but perhaps something outdoors… he’s inside all the time. Pale. He needs some fresh air, he says.
He gets tired of law and lawyering, even though it’s what he aimed his life at for the past six or seven years. He stayed up late last night, preparing a cross-examination. The witness didn’t show up today to testify. He will not say this, but I can hear it. He is tired of endlessly smiling, glad-handing, watching for the phone call, hoping for the interview, waiting for his turn at Motions court. Casting, casting, casting his bread upon the water.
He calls his mum on his way home, and he talks about medieval Italy, and podcasting. He thinks I should do a podcast on local legends and lore. Iconography. Tall tales. The crazy things pilgrims say. Use those old reporter skills, get the geezers talking. Put it up here on the website. People love that stuff!
I don’t tell him why it won’t work, that my Spanish is not up to it, that geezers here don’t usually tell their tales to strange women, that I don’t know how to use an MP3 recorder, that I don’t have the drive to do all that research. Not on top of everything else I have going.
And he doesn’t tell me many of his “why nots,” either. He stopped a while back telling me about job interviews and offers, when too many rugs were pulled from under his feet, too many wells ran dry. He is waiting til something comes good, til it’s a sure thing. Then I will be the first to know.
We are coping. We’re working hard and doing our best, hoping somehow it will pay off someday, the good job will happen, the grants will be awarded, the dreams turn real.
At the end of the working day, we can call out from the bottom of the handbag, from the dashboard of the car on the road north of Boston: I hear you. I’m here for you. I’ll love you even if we never win.
It’s January, which usually is, historically, the lowest point in the year around here.
It’s gray and misty and cold. The fields are just barely green, the animals are shut in the barn, the bar is closed, and the people of Moratinos only come out for church or for plowing. Few pilgrims straggle through, hunched under their ponchos.
But this year is different. This year, all the albergues in Moratinos closed, and all the pilgrims who usually fetch up at Bruno’s or the Hostal are fetching up here at Peaceable. Happily for us, our perennial hospitalero helper Ollie fetched up here too, in mid-December, and is hanging around long as the pilgrim traffic stays steady.
Christmas and New Year’s and Epiphany meant most of the other pilgrim shelters around here closed, too. Things got a little wild a couple of times, but finally the traffic is down to one or two pilgrims per night. It’s manageable. They’re paying their way. And they´re decent pilgrims, most of them.
With this website now up and operating, and our dear friend Kim floating on air as she sees the dream of several years begin to come true, spirits are a lot brighter than usual this January.
I am writing grant applications, for the archaeological dig and the hospitalero hut at San Anton de Castrojeriz. I am rounding-up budget numbers, recommendation letters, translating them, sending text messages in what is apparently incomprehensible Spanish. This week I drove over to the ruin and met the architect, collected the keys and snapped pictures and drew up some things that needed drawing. It’s all a little overwhelming.
I am praying that St. James sends me an accountant, or at least a bookkeeper.
I am just praying. I am praying a lot. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling well.
I feel better this January than I have for a very long time. I am almost afraid to admit this, for fear this break in the clouds is just a “sucker hole,” a moment of sunshine before the sky goes grey again. But my vision and thoughts and spirits are much clearer now than they were a month ago. Something’s broken loose.
Something good is happening. I believe in what I am doing.
Which is good.
If you want to be a volunteer hospitalero for two weeks at Albergue Villa de Grado in Asturias, get hold of me soon. We have six slots left to fill for the coming season, in March and May, September and October. (I do this staffing as part of FICS, the Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago. It’s not a Peaceable Project, per se.) You need to have some Spanish skills, and be healthy and flexible!
Likewise, if you want to volunteer at any of a long list of donativo albergues on trails all over Spain, don’t wait! Anai Bereda, the volunteer coordinator for the Spanish Federation of Amigos groups, is right this minute doling out assignments for 2018! Contact her at email@example.com.
I hope to post volunteer opportunities, building projects, upcoming events, etc. here as they develop. Watch this blog to keep up with Camino news … not all of which is cheerful.
This, for example. A mega strip mine is being proposed on the site of an old copper operation between Santa Irene and O Pino, right outside Santiago de Compostela, within a mile of the Camino de Santiago trail.
All the local towns are opposed… except O Pino. The mayor there has a long, Trump-like adoration for big business, and apparent disregard for silly things like ground water, air quality, noise and erosion. FICS is all over this, I will do my best to keep you up-to-date.
Ollie, Paddy, David, Kim, and me. Very different people from all different places, brought together in one place with a common purpose. We did Christmas together, and almost New Year´s Eve (midnight is too late for most of us, and David had to go to Astorga to fix an engine.)
We had some big jobs to do, at a season when Peaceable is often overwhelmed with pilgrim traffic. We called in our old standby friends, and they did not disappoint.
Kim holed-up by the pellet stove in the Little Kitchen and designed web pages, and plotted her next big move. She shimmered in between, and made salads at dinnertime.
Ollie buzzed around the house with mops and sheets and spoons, cleaning up and feeding and coddling the steady flow of holiday pilgrims.
David made the electric bike work. He fixed the solar light on the patio steps, and made my IPad play jazz radio from Bordeaux on our little stereo, indoors and out. He tuned the guitar, put on a new E string, and sang “Over the Rainbow.”
I can´t say just what I did. I cooked a few meals, did some laundry, wrote some copy and some emails, paid some bills. I bossed people around, I washed the cat.
Somehow, over the 12 days between the Winter Solstice and the end of the Mercury Retrograde and today, we got it all together at Peaceable and made it happen. We hosted 28 overnight pilgrims, three holiday dinners, and seven drop-in guests. Judy dog had emergency surgery. Jim, the newest Peaceable stalwart, brought a carload of supplies from the restaurant supply warehouse in Madrid, and buried Kim´s little kitchen under tons of pasta, Cheerios, tomato sauce, and toilet paper. He left with Goldie, a feral kitten we´d been trying to tame. We opened the church and rang the bell for a series of Masses, handed Christmas candy bars around the village, and received homemade delicacies in return: This year´s favorite is a half-kilo block of homemade quince paste wrapped in psychedelic cellophane.
Much was given. Much is given still. And today Kim´s little masterpiece was unveiled: this website, the work of weeks.
And as the emails and testimonials rolled in today, I realized how many people I need to be grateful for… old friends who´ve walked with me over miles or sat with me over glasses of Ribeiro, listening while I hashed-out this vision. Family members, professionals who offered good advice, cut me big breaks on the price, or just did the heavy lifting for nothing. Colegas who puzzled out what I was trying to say after a long day of Spanish left me babbling.
People who saw I needed some space, and left me alone. And people who saw I needed help, and stepped up. People who helped me forgive myself for being less than perfect. People who love me, or just like me an awful lot.
And people who see the website, and the vision, and open their wallets to support the cause. Some people who don´t have a lot of money, and a few who are pretty comfortable. People from Sweden and Ukraine and Washington, and Waterloo, Ontario. People I don´t even know. Generous souls.
People I´m going to keep hitting up for ideas and manpower, influence, letters of support, advice, or collaboration. Or money!
People I would owe so much to, if I didn´t live in this strange and wonderful economy of grace.
The more you give, the more comes back to you.
Just watch us. We´ll try to show you how it´s done.
Gotta write something! Gotta get that Peaceable Projects website out there, gotta fill in all the gaps in the fabulous design!
But it´s Christmas day, and the radio was playing Daft Punk, and the sun came out for a while, and the early-arrival pilg was shaking his booty around the kitchen as the turkey came out of the oven. So I danced a little, too. ´Cause I´m happy. (And nobody laughs too hard at the person wielding the carving knife.)
I had a load of things to do. Not only feeding three friends, two neighbors, a husband, and four pilgrims a full-on holiday feast, but opening up the church for the 1 p.m. Mass, ringing the bells at 12.30 and lighting all the stoves and candles. After that, back at home, vermouth and cava, nuts and boqueron fillets, jazz from French public radio. Clear out the aperitivos, wash the forks, and bring on the turkey, stuffing, beans, carrots, apple pie and English Christmas pudding, whipped out of the microwave at the last minute by another helpful elf.
And a second round of the same stuff when the last three pilgrims straggled in, accompanied by David on the guitar, singing hits from Prince, the Drifters, Beatles, Bing Crosby, Oasis. I thought about that website copy, thought about how this website is past due, how people are looking for it and not finding it, felt my old aversion to busted deadlines…
So I finally sat down to write this thing, but only after everyone finished singing and dancing and enjoying. Because keeping company with wonderful people is more important than just about anything. And because I was a little afraid.
Once I write this, and it´s plugged-in to the design and sent out onto the Interwebz, Peaceable Projects Inc. is Really Real, and I am Responsible.
This is scary. I don´t know anything about maintaining websites, or running a non-profit organization, keeping track of all this paperwork... I am not sure I do enough to keep a website interesting and fresh. Most of what´s done here, day to day, is dull as Ditch-Pigging.
But I´m throwing myself in.
It´s time to step out into this. Peaceable isn´t just a house along the Camino de Santiago any more. It´s grown into the home-base for several projects, almost all of them aimed squarely at the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrims who walk there. It´s developed a base of supporters, fans, and followers, people who are shockingly generous and surprisingly interested in every kind of local development.
I´m finding more needs and knotty problems among the non-profit Camino community, and I am getting good at matching them up with solutions, often from faraway lands.
We´ve developed a memorial grove, to remember pilgrims who die along the Way. We´re helping to fund an archaeological dig where a medieval pilgrim shelter once stood. I am bringing sustainable architectural design to re-invent a shelter at a rustic albergue within a ruined monastery. Cool stuff!
And day by day, Peaceable Kingdom in Moratinos remains open to pilgrims, travellers, hobos and CEOs, the people of the Way.
It´s about time we got organized. Have a look here on our new website, and get your head around what we´re doing, and how we hope to achieve it all. And if you like, join in the fun.
It´s dark out there. We´re working hard to keep a light burning on the Holy Way.
Help us out.