Friday, July 14, 2017

Idiot Son

Vasily Polenov, 1881
Idiot son of Shurikoi, what have you done?
You have plowed the field faithfully all your life,
Now at the roadside your body lies broken.
Poor lost son of Shurikoi, how did you deserve this fate?
You blocked the path of evil men. Your throat they slit,
And the Permyaks they went to slaughter.

Precious son of Shurikoi, from where have you come?
Our lost daughter came home at last from afar,
With guests from Permia by chance a-passing:
Helpless folk whose world was lost in the deluge,
Then the abandoned girl they found and took as their own;
The little one, from infancy they suckled.

Sweet daughter of Shurikoi, how glad the reunion!
Into her old mother's embrace she dove,
Four lines of tears like rivers a-flowing.
Our chief's icy heart became as meltwater,
So moved, that he allotted the wanderers a place to live.
And in the following winter, a baby son she bore.

Beloved son of Shurikoi, how well you grew!
You never uttered a word, yet grew as strong as oxen,
And to the plow and harness they consigned you.
How we have insulted you, belittled you; yet you stood strong,
In your only lucid moment of life, life itself you sacrificed.
O Sainted Son of Shurikoi, hear our thanks in Paradise!

The Demon of Krasnoyarsk

The more experienced traders, among those who transported goods from the Barentines to Taimiria and back, remember that the great avenue used to have its terminus at the city of Ustana Shehir, the first among the great cities of the present time. Presently the road did not end any longer at Ustana, the place being nonexistent, but took a more direct route to the Portage Lines in the interior west, where the rivers flow conveniently west-to-east. The new route also transverses the estuary of the Yenisei where it empties northwards into the Little Ocean. And such a splendid sight it is, from this vantage point along the path, the entire estuary is visible, an expanse of distributaries, eddies and sandbanks, and the querulous murmurings of seagulls and boobies in the distance.

On one of these sandbanks perched the remains of an ostrog, a palace, painted with colors now fading, a tower now crumbling, and windows dead and empty. Half of the house had been appropriated by the neighboring village for building a new hall, and now a lone huntsman ponders the side wing, in case it could be used as his shelter for the night.

THE WATCH TOWER STILL STANDS, THE EAST WING ALL INTACT, a shrill voice cried out from the forest, the source hidden in the long shadows. MY SON, DO YOU KNOW THAT THIS BUILDING IS THE PINNACLE OF CIVILISATION? Hear! The Demon of Krasnoyarsk has dragged the first house of the Permyaks three hundred miles, and has left every single wall and timber unscathed! Hearing this, the huntsman startled and fled, thinking that he had heard a wailing spirit.

The Architect emerged from the forest. He had not noticed the huntsman, nor was he preaching to anyone in particular. Ermak Bayantimur, remember this name! Ustana, once brimming with splendour, is now bare ground. The work of all other builders have been dragged into the sea... And though the castle has been uprooted and carried on the waves, the house itself the Demon has not touched! Let this house speak of your greatness, Ermak Bayantimur!

Some time later, the appointed Bishop of the North Coast reached the estuary, accompanied by a humanist layman from Archangel. The Bishop had never been east of the Yenisei prior to his appointment. On the other hand, his companion had been called often to Taimiria to cure medical aliments, repair equipment and other duties as befitting of an engineer (an old term, meaning warlock or wizard) for the Taimirians. The Bishop had believed such acts of charity as prerogative of the Church, and begrudged the layman often for driving the good Taimirian people from relying on the Almighty.

The wicked kings of Ustana Shehir has brought such misfortune upon themselves, mused the Bishop. He knew that the Permyaks were under the thrall of the dualist religion and had ramped up persecution of the Christians in Taimiria. The previous year's floods which the Demon of Sayano-Shushenskaya had instigated were known to have wiped out the most important members of the Permyak house alongside the innocents. The Bishop muttered a prayer for the dead, then another "for the mercy of the Permyaks", wherever their souls may be. Lastly there followed third prayer, now focused on the ostrog on the sandspit, exorcising it of the fiend Krasnoyarsk.

The Engineer had a different view of the flood. Asbagpasho, he intoned. Your Excellency, the Fiend that you spoke of can be explained by naturalistic means alone. The Demon of Krasnoyarsk is simply a walled lake built by the Soviets in antiquity, when they sought to tame the wild river Yenisei. Now that the Soviets have been snuffed out of history and people no longer populated the South, it was only a matter of time that all the walls they built would crumble and fail. Alas, it was not the waking of the demon, but its death, and the greater Demon, the Yenisei of old, claiming its own! And they headed to the North Coast, where many of the survivors had fled.

Some time later, a man in pauper's clothing was seen to approach the ostrog. He did not respond to any warning calls to stay away. Instead he circled it, stopping occasionally to caress the timbers and the weathered patterns on the door arches. Once or twice he entered the fort, as if attempting to search for a familiar face among the ruins. Then, not having found any living soul in the house, he fell in the sand and wept bitterly until nightfall.

The Krasnoyarsk Hydroelectric Dam [source: Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Martin of the Field of Pines

I arrived in Europe again once too often, this time for an academic workshop and then a short road trip around the Iberian peninsula. This is a very hasty overview of our story. We were at Cantabria, Portugal and then Sierra de Gredos and were very happy, collecting many memories and stories. I record them here so that we can have a look at them on gloomy days.

The trip was long and varied and is best organised into three parts, each one dedicated to an appearance made by our Heaven-Mom at the three different corners of Spain and Portugal where we went to. Each part has its own share of short and sweet stories which do not necessarily weave into a huge overarching narrative, and I keep them as such.

I. Garabandal
Madrid, Santander, Zurita, Las Presillas, and San Sebastián de Garabandal

The Adventures of Mom at Garabandal: It is said that Our Lady of Carmen appeared to four young girls at Garabandal several times from 1961 to 1965. The girls were so excited to see her that they spent their time with their necks constantly craned to the heavens, even while walking around, running up and down the hill behind the village, etc. The villagers passed to them things which needed Mom's blessing, and were happy. A certain Father Luis Marie Andreu also had a glimpse of Our Lady of Carmen, then died of happiness during the night. Today, the story has been kept alive by her devotees, especially the media-savvy religious siblings of Hogar de la Madre who made us go to Garabandal after we visited them.

San Sebastian de Garabandal from the hilltop

The story of Michael the Brazilian: Michael the Brazilian took a lift in our car to reach Garabandal. He had been walking uphill from Cosío, roughly 3 kilometers away. He came to the village once upon a time and then decided to stay there for 5 years. He could not understand my Portuguese.

The story of Zurita: Hogar de la Madre, or Home of the Mother, was started by a mystic they call Mamie and a priest called Fr. Felix, if my memory serves me well. Publishing and painting became the forte of these people. A cluster of printing presses were donated to them, and they have used it to print magazines for subscribers everywhere, as far as I can tell.

Mass happened here
We learned that an icon is not so much painted out by the artist, but prayed out.

The sisters keep two dogs as rat predators. The sprightly one they call Andalo, in honour of Andalusia a.k.a. the Real Spain. The name of the lazy one I could not remember, but the name meant "Rug". The brothers kept a cat.

How to reach Garabandal by car: The best way to reach Garabandal by car from Santander is to turn into the Río Nansa valley road from A-8 at Pesués. This was the route pointed out to us by the sisters at Hogar de la Madre. The route suggested by the navigation system, on the other hand, took us through a very annoying journey with mountain roads. 

How the landscape in Spain changes during long drives, Part 1: Cantabria, also known as Green Spain, is very green and very picturesquely slopey. A tunnel or viaduct is encountered here every few minutes or so. As you go south, the mountains taper off gradually and then one is confronted with a vast arid plain in the provinces of Palencia and Valladolid which stretches all the way up to Salamanca. After Salamanca, as one approaches the Portuguese border at the town of Fuentes de Oñoro, it becomes (if I remember correctly) a rolling terrain where trees (cork? holm oak?) are planted in neat ranks and files. By the time one has driven into Portugal, behold: There comes again a pleasant green rolling itself across the land again, like a milder, less menacing Cantabria.

Water prices: were higher in Madrid and Toledo than they were in the wetter parts of the country, as is expected. Wine is often cheaper. Food is expensive but is usually worth it. Usually.

II. Fátima
Salamanca, Fátima, Aljustrel, and Lisboa

The Adventures of Mom at Fátima: The story of Mom at Fátima is long and illustrious and readily available at more reputable sources than this one. Tom Hoopes of Aleteia wraps it up succintly, saying that 13 July 1917, the day of her apparitions, "was the day Our Lady scared the daylights out of three shepherd children by showing them hell and sternly warning them about a second global war and a new age of martyrdom." As it happened, WWII came and passed, the Soviet Union came and passed, and St. Pope John Paul II was shot at and almost killed (by a hairsbreadth) by a Turanist lunatic in 1981, all in fulfillment of her prophecies. The fanfare surrounding the town of Fátima this year is due to it being 2017, a neat hundred years after the first apparitions. Posters welcoming the Pope during his previous visit are still plastered around town, but the lull of pilgrims in late June is something to be appreciated.

The scaffold put up at Cova de Iria, with the Basilica belltower
The Rosary: I was used to a simple night rosary session with around 7 friends in a Google Hangouts chat. I mistakenly assumed that the same would happen at Fátima, a place which receives around 5 million pilgrims every day and is also responsible for a permanent new addition to the Rosary itself. It turned out to be a huge fanfare, five decades led in two languages each, followed by a procession where a statue was dragged out to circle the sanctuary complex with four bajillion people with crowd control, then concluded by the Salve Regina (I wasn't sure when it was going to end).

I usually didn't think it decorous to take pictures of Rosary sessions, but here you go. I took a picture. Here be candles galore.

The Knee Walk: Esther from the summer school had heard of Fátima. "They are crazy," she said. "They do that thing where they walk on their knees down a path." The knee walk here is something pilgrims do out of sorrow and penance for sin. I can now verify that it is very crazy indeed. The abrasions that I earned from the walk took days to heal. However, at least one very resourceful pilgrim has been spotted doing the walk with kneepads. This is something that potential pilgrims should take note.

A Day Mass Where We Spotted A Priest Who Resembled Fr. Ben Holdren of Nebraska So Much That I Just Can't believe how we keep on winding up in the same country. As I had mentioned in this blog here and here, Fr. Ben Holdren gave me doughnuts and heard my confessions during a very low point of my life. I still have not gotten over it. I must testify also to the healing power of doughnuts.

The girl got some candles after mass. They smell very nice. She lit them, placed them very carefully into the candle holders where they offer the candles, and offered a prayer for each one. At that time the fires were licking at the stands and melting the candles so that they bent over and rested on the next tier of candle holders, as if taking a seat. They burned so fiercely that I wondered if one should just throw the candles into there and run away as fast as they could.

I prayed also for the Sisters and Brothers of Hogar de la Madre, as promised.

The Adventures of Cow In The Oven: Clara and Sérgio Patrício run a good restaurant near the place we stayed. The name of the restaurant is Santa Rita, and they serve Portuguese food from the Azores. The food, especially the one named Vitela (or Cow In The Oven in the English menu), brings a tear to me eye.

I wrote a review on Google for them, as promised. This is how it goes:

The Adventures of the Lu (路) Family in Fátima: The Lus run the Restaurante Si Hai next to the Patrícios' restaurant, and keep it open way into the night. Mr and Mrs Lu had decided to travel to Fátima from Shandong to open a Chinese restaurant out of a acute sensitivity to business opportunities. They receive the many hungry pilgrims who come to Fátima from Malaysia and Indonesia on huge tour buses every day. A lady from Singapore arrives regularly to help with the cleaning-up, and other regular visitors come to lodge with them during high seasons. The couple are not believers, but a small icon of Mary watches the place day and night.

Their two children attend school in the town and are taught things in Portuguese. English language schools, much preferred by Chinese expats, are available in the capital, but it was not thought worth it to send them there.

The Adventure of the Tart Run: Tart run happened one day after the girl heard of the famous Pastéis de Belém and wanted to try their tarts. So off we went to Lisbon. Lisbon drivers were the worst. We walked to the famous Pastéis de Belém past the statue of a pompous dude stuck on a tall column surrounded by four marble wenches bathing in public view. A huge clamouring queue of people from all over the world can be seen at the entrance of the bakery (custard tartery?), but the purchase was over in 10 minutes or so. The custard tarts were nice and it was a happy day.

Gas prices: are much higher in Portugal than in Spain. I never figured out why this is the case.

III. Chilla
Candeleda, Mombeltrán, Navalsauz, Ávila, Oropesa, and Toledo

The Adventures of Mom at Chilla: It is said that the Virgin of Chilla appeared to a certain goatherd Finardo, who lived at Candeleda during the seventh century, and revived his dead goat. In gratitude, the Candeledans built a chapel where she appeared, and made her their patron ever since. Her icon can be seen plastered in every shop in Candeleda. The Candeledanos used to remember more about the Virgin of Chilla, but the written records had been thrown in a well during the war with France and were gone for good. Despite this setback, the devotion has continued unabated.

Why we ended up in Candeleda, and an explanation for the title of this entry: We had intended to lodge at the Sierra in the village of San Martín del Pimpollar before our stay, but I changed the booking because the villagers wanted to have some fun playing music to the wee hours in the morning for the two straight nights we were due to be staying there. The manager of the guesthouse of San Martín del Pimpollar, Juan Francisco Redondo Sánchez, was a good person and had tipped us off about it in advance.

The name Pimpollar translates literally to a place of pimpollos -- "pine-chickens", or saplings of pine. During one of our day trips, we managed to descend upon the hapless Pimpollarese (who were expecting anything but tourists on that quiet day) by visiting their parish church at Navalsauz, a sweet old edifice with a bell.

Ricardo and Toñi's Fabulous Guesthouse: Having been scared off the north slope of the Gredos, we took refuge on the south, at a place I chose because the website said it had air-conditioning. This is Casa Rural la Josa, a guesthouse of 6-ish rooms outside Candeleda along a one-lane dirt path up the mountain which is really fun to drive up in.

Ricardo de la Vega, a spunky septuagenarian, and Antonia "Toñi" Velasco Serrano, his wife, live here together and run the guesthouse and spoil their guests rotten with food and company. They share their space also with a family of five cats (3 of which are smol kittenz), and their children and grandchildren came to visit them on Saturday afternoon.

Smol kittenz were too smol to be seen
Dinners happened on a terrace where one could see the plains to the south, as far away as the Montes de Toledo. There was one evening when a column of smoke in the plains, and Ricardo called the fire department; he just so happens to be so uniquely situated that he could regularly spot and report fires raging in the neighbouring province. Toñi emerged from the house twice, once to say hi and once to say bye. She introduced herself in German for some reason.

One sees right into the Castilla-La Mancha bit of Spain, up to the Montes de Toledo
Afterwards, while driving along the Río Tiétar, I noticed scorched earth on the side of the road. Random fires seemed common in Castilla-La Mancha in the summer. We were lucky not to have run directly into one.

How the landscape in Spain changes during long drives, Part 2: Sierra de Gredos is a tolerable alpine climate this summer, meaning that it does not reach the temperatures of a blast furnace, as what has happened in lower-altitude cities in New Castille such as Madrid and Toledo. By driving down to Toledo one approaches the region of La Mancha, which is a strange and unforgiving habitat where green things have all but given up being alive. Not having ventured very far into that area, we failed to spot any windmills or Don Quixote, but nothing has indicated to us that such things might not be lurking somewhere just out of sight. Gas stations are harder to find here.

Cities and Towns around Candeleda: We drove up the mountain pass to Ávila. Along the way there were Mombeltrán and Puerto del Pico, at 1300 m. Mombeltrán had a castle which we could not go into, and Puerto del Pico had cowpats scattered across the cool alpine field. A memorial to the Fallen of Spain have been set up here. This spot seems to be a start point of a route that hikers take to Pico Almanzor, the highest point of the Sierra.

The Fallen of Spain (some letters missing)
The (same?) cows were spotted crossing the street in the afternoon as we approached Arenas de San Pedro, but we were not sure why they did so. They were escorted by some fine cowboys.

Ávila has a neat old wall. This is the first thing one learns of Ávila. The second thing that one learns of Ávila is that St. Theresa of Ávila came from Ávila. Her headquarters here has been very blinged-up, and it even came with a souvenir store managed by grumpy storekeepers.

Lunch was at a very well-reviewed Portuguese restaurant. They had cod also, but it wasn't Spiritual.

Walls are an ever-looming presence in this town, and so we pay a visit.

The first thing one learns of Toledo is that the ground here is paved with murder weapons.

The second thing one learns about Toledo is that the old Mozarabic rite masses are still performed here, a relic reminding us of how Christians here used to do things when the Umayyad Caliphs were in charge of the Iberian peninsula. Masses in Mozarabic rite happens only on Sunday mornings at the Cathedral.

The third thing that one learns about Toledo is that it is epic. It came with its own soundtrack which is played in a loop at Plaza del Salvador, and people who lived there had to listen to it all day. Cloth draped over the pedestrian streets kept it cool, and flashmob dancing happened left and right made sure that we were reminded and thoroughly convinced of the city's epicness.

Oropesa lies along the way to Toledo. They have there a nice view of the Sierra. The walls here are painted with intricate storylines by the local schoolchildren. The locals liked to visit the castle.

Candeleda is a place populated by the elderly, one of which told us that we were a cute couple. A river flows through the town. It is presently dried up in the absence of meltwater, but a trickle still passes by the round polished boulders. When one bends over one of the lagoons, they would be able to see fish lurking in them. What carefree creatures these must be! And at that moment the sun shone on us and kept us just the right degree of warm.

And my story ends here
this is as much as I am able to put to keyboard now
There is much more to say, if I recall them, but you might have to find me in person
for me to get started on the yarn. It's just in the nature of stories.
I'm tired. I have to go now.

Appendix I. Events
17-18 June: One extremely hot and stressful day in Madrid
18-24 June: IEEE Summer School 2017, Santander
25 June: Visit to the Sisters/Brothers of Hogar de la Madre at Zurita and Las Presillas, impromptu trip to San Sebastián de Garabandal for a rosary
26 June: Long car trip to Fátima via Salamanca
27 June: Epic Night Rosary at the Sanctuary complex
28 June: Tart Run (short crazy car ride into the capital)
29 June: Medium-length car trip to Casa Rural La Josa, a guesthouse outside of city boundaries of Candeleda, at the south slope of the Sierra below Pico Almanzor
30 June: Day trip to Ávila, passing by Mombeltrán, Puerto del Pico, and Navalsauz
1 July: Walking trip to Candeleda
2 July: Day trip to Oropesa and Toledo
3 July: Departure from Spain

Appendix II. Mass locations
Sunday 18 June: Almudena Cathedral
Sunday 25 June: Hogar de la Madre, Zurita
Wednesday 28 June: Sanctuary of Fátima
Sunday 2 July: Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo