31 December 2010
Following the yellow arrows out of Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Grañon, I found a white chicken feather on the path; like pilgrims of old, I took it as a sign of Santo Domingo, and I even thought of a story for my current fiction project, Champú with a character named Domingo. Becky had spent New Year’s Eve in Grañon four years before and had experienced a reunion of pilgrims from all over–well over 50 were in attendance! But this year, we arrived to find a much smaller group staying there. Mostly, it was pilgrims we had encountered before–the Italians, Luigi and Matteo, who were in Nájera and in Santo Domingo, the Japanese women who had walked past us, and the hospitalero, Giovanni, also Italian.We arrived in time for a lunch of soup and great bread. This albergue de San Juan Bautista is by donation, that is the pilgrim offers a donativo. Because we get three meals–lunch and dinner and breakfast the next day–we give 10 Euros each. Giovanni hand drew the stamp on the credencial–no two alike!
After showering, we sit in front of the fireplace, listening to classical music on Radio España and chat with the others. Johann, the Belgian and Kim, the young Korean man, are walking past Grañon but will be back for dinner tonight. I am cold up in the loft where we will sleep tonight; I like it in front of the fireplace, the only warm spot I can find! It is indeed winter.
I noticed that the fields are fallow now, in midwinter, some are newly tilled, being readied for spring planting. I am sure it will be much nicer in spring. The lone cottage in the mist tugs at my heart.
Giovanni rings a bell calling us to lunch. He ends his 15 days as hospitalero tonight; Luigi will take his place. We eat caldo de campo, a hearty soup with lots of veggies–lentils, garbanzo, potato; it is rich and tasty. There seems to be some meat and chicken in it, too. Bread and wine, of course! Giovanni cooks all meals, he jokes about his culinary skills and we all laugh and share stories. We are 10 at the table: Bo-Ram, the Korean woman and Rie the Japanese woman who is walking with Stefano who is from Tuscany, Alberto who is Basque and whose friends come to retrieve him. Bad news: his wife was going to come pick him up, but his 8-month old baby girl got pneumonia and was hospitalized. She’s okay and is home now, but his wife couldn’t come pick him up. Instead, his friends, a charming couple drove 1.5 hours from Bilbao to give him a ride. They will go to their hometown to celebrate Noche vieja, as they call New Year’s Eve. Matteo, Luigi, Becky and I.
After lunch, Rie, BoRam and Stefano left to find an internet cafe; Becky taped her memories oh a pocket recorder, and I listened to opera on the radio and felt so very grateful to be in Grañon at that particular time, a year ago! on New Year’s Eve. All I remember is how extraordinary everything seemd…and how cold I was!
This cabin in the mountains with a fireplace and classical music makes me feel privileged. The albergue has everything, but heat. Listening to the Italian conversations I am surprised that I catch phrases, pick up words, and I try to follow but get lost when I try to think too hard about what I am hearing.
The priest in charge of the albergue came by–he had been in Ecuador for 10 years and he told us stories of that. The men went out to buy provisions for our New Year’s Eve dinner. Johann made a traditional Belglium dish, Asparagus a la flamande-not sure of the spelling–with white asparagus, eggs, and a creamy sauce. It was delicious!
We also had angulas. Yes, eels! all ready for eating; I prepared a salad, with all the greens and tomatoes that they brought.
In the fireplace they grilled lamb and beef! It was quite a meal! Of course, there was plenty of red wine and country bread. After dinner, Becky washed dishes. Then Giovanni took us all on a tour of the church. we entered from a door in the albergue. It was magical. The baptismal font dates from the 7th century! How did this Roman style font find its way here? It is one of many mysteries that St. John the Baptist church holds.Giovanni gave us a full art history lesson from the Roman to the Renaissance and beyond; all illustrated with the treasures in the church.
Kim, the Korean young man was solemn; Stefano took out a guitar and sang old 60s folk songs. I recognized the songs, but of course, not the lyrics. We did sing a couple of songs in English; all of us with off key and laughing. Dylan sounded right in Italian!
We waited for midnight and about a quarter till, Giovanni dared us to try something. We hesitated, I because it was so cold; Rie because she was not sure she understood. He proposed that we go on the belfry and ring the bells at midnight! AT five minutes till midnight, 12 grapes in hand, that is exactly what we did. It was a daring and wonderful thing to do, the ringing of the bells exactly at midnight, we all were hugging, and kissing, and wishing each other Feliz Año Nuevo as we tried to step carefully so as not to get too dirty with pigeon poop! My slippers were such a mess I discarded them the next morning. We ate turrón de Alicante for sweet dreams! Giovanni is an artist and he has sketched most of the pilgrims who have come through during his stint. I ate a tangerine and went to sleep to dream sweet dreams.
New Year’s Eve 2010, memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. This year’s it was also memorable but for a different reason. Having been sick, I was not going to celebrate in any special way, but I was persuaded to go to my friend Laura Rendon’s to toast the new year and eat some tamales. It was a welcome outing since I had not been out all week due to my illness. I guess all of my 64 new year’s eves have been special in some way or another. I wonder what next year will bring. I would love to go back to Grañon some day, perhaps in the spring or in the fall.
But I am not sure I want to sleep on a thin mattress on the attic floor again! As we said goodbye to the albergue, I realized that I may never see any of these pilgrims again, and I was sad, but I was also grateful and glad that I had shared that special night with them.