Monday 26 November 2012

St. James´Rooster Chapter 2 continues...

Felix, unfortunately, wasn’t in any mood to commiserate.
Laura had stopped in at the market to pick up some tulips to brighten up
her mood. They stood, relentlessly proud in their jam jar on the oak table
in the late afternoon sunshine. No-one, however, was in any mood to
comment on them. In fact, given the animosity in the room it as a wonder
they didn’t droop.
“They promised me Proficiency! Ha! All afternoon I’ve been teaching
kindergarten English. I hate this, Laura. The little brats are dropped off at
four o’clock and their mothers don’t pick them up till five thirty. During
that time I have to keep them from tearing the posters off the wall. As
if that wasn’t enough, they don’t want to learn English. They don’t want
to learn anything. One of them even peed on the floor! Señora Whatsit
didn’t even seem to care. ‘Just keep them happy, all the time’. That’s what
she told me. Can you even believe it? It’s all about making money and
that’s it. If I could I’d quit right now.”
“Then quit,” said Laura who was fighting the tears from her own eyes.
“Yeah? Then how are we going to pay this exorbitant rent?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Leave me alone,” she said and fled to the
bathroom locking the door.
What the hell is going on? thought Felix as he threw his raincoat around
his shoulders.
* * *
The Parque Santa Susana was almost deserted. Felix ignored the children
and the old men as he walked along the pathways. He ignored the views
of the cathedral. He ignored the sunset.
Something is not right, he thought.
But what? And why?
* * *
Laura’s tutorial was cancelled. There was no explanation. Just the yellow
post-it note which said: “Sorry. Something has come up”. She spent the
afternoon distractedly doing research in the library, but couldn’t help but
feeling that there was something else calling her attention. But she couldn’t
think what that might be.
As the light was fading she stopped into the Hostal Suso for some
chiperrones and pimientos de Padron. She made them last, watching the
tourists and the pilgrims pass by, some of them with maps in their hands
from the nearby tourist office. One or two came in the door of the hostal.
Life used to be simple, she thought. Was it really less than a year since she
and Felix had made love here for the first time at the end of their Camino,
knowing that next door Kieran and Miranda were doing the same?
Rather than go straight home, which was only a few metres away, she
stopped into Encontros Bookshop. But the vast majority of the books
were in Castellano and once more she felt totally overwhelmed at the
task before her. Everything she needed for her research was in a language
which seemed so alien to her that she wondered how on earth she was
going to learn to read it, let alone come up with an original thesis. Modern
Santiago loved its unapologetic bishop even if his contemporaries had not,
and she was an interloper, and a foreign one at that.
“Who am I to take on one of Spain’s great Churchmen?” she thought, or
did she say it out loud to the weighty copy of the Spanish biography in her
hands. Question unanswered, she left just as the doors were being closed.
Buenas noches,” she said.
Laura was still reluctant to go home. Instead she propped herself up on
a pillar beside the tourist office and closed her eyes. What’s happening to
me? She thought. This had been her dream and the scholarship had made
it a reality: go to Santiago, study at the university there, produce some
brilliant mind opening work. Finding Dr. Callaghan here was just the
icing on the cake. Now all she could do was to try to keep the tears from
her eyes.
It was just after 9:15 according to the cathedral bells. There was no-one
about. There was a certain peace to the city after all had locked up and
gone home, and Laura despite her internal confusion allowed herself to
feel those ancient streets wash over her. The spring night was still cooler
and as she walked towards her apartment door besides the closed gift shop
it became colder still. Then, as though a switch had been somewhere
thrown, the peace vanished, vacuumed into the drains below. Laura had
to stop herself from giving in to an impulse to ward off the chill, brush off
the clammy feeling which was growing like mould on her skin. She fought
off a sudden loss of breath as though having exhaled she was unable to
inhale again, putting her hand, fingers stretched wide open, in front of her
to ward off unseen danger. The other she clasped to her chest.
And then she heard a voice. An insistent voice. A strident voice. One she
could not ignore.
It said: “Run! Run before it’s too late!”
* * *
Felix was unable to open the door. There was a weight against it on the
inside, propping it closed. A heavy shove and the weight gave way falling
against the handrail of the stairs.
“Laura, sweetheart! Whatever is the matter? Laura talk to me, for God’s
sake: you OK?
“They’re trying to kill him! I saw him run.”
“What? Who? Laura. Talk sense.”
 “The bishop.”
“What? Which bishop? Do you mean the Archbishop of the Diocese . . .
of Santiago?”
“No! Diego Gelmirez!”

Saturday 3 November 2012

Chapter 2 St James´Rooster

“Feudal Galicia, hmm . . . What do you know about

Diego Gelmirez?”

Peter Callaghan was sitting upon the desk, not behind it, and that at least gave Laura some measure of confidence. But the question invited a huge discursion. So many things. Where to start?

They were in the old university beside the Market. The building alone intimidated Laura but she knew she had to get over it. Here for a year or more was to be her home, despite her paucity of Spanish, and even though she was taking classes in Gallego, she knew that she was very much the
outsider here. Peter, despite his Irish background, spoke both fluently, and
Portuguese too. Laura had not even passed the point where she could tell
where Portuguese ended and Gallego began, excepting that the latter had
a softer sound. Not that that matters when you can’t really understand
either very well.

This discussion luckily was in English, thank God.
“Well, I know that he was not born into the aristocracy, that his father
was Gelmirio, which is where he gets his patronymic, and that Gelmirio
was the administrator of the castle of Torres del Rio, just south of Padron
where the legends state that St. James was brought ashore.”
Laura looked at her advisor for encouragement but found none. Callaghan’s
work was one of the main reasons she had made this decision: to come
back to Santiago and add a Ph.D. to a list of already impressive credentials.
Some of her advisors were impressed with her knowledge. But clearly Dr.
Callaghan was not amongst them. She had read some of his books: Feudal
Galicia was his best known. She realised that what she had said, in hope
of some sort of encouragement, was not enough. Obviously more was
expected. The silence was too long.
“Um . . . I know that he was educated at the school near the cathedral,
or . . . was it a just a church then?”
A non-committal nod prompted her to go on.
“I believe he then went on to finish his education at the court of the king
in Leon . . . Alfonso VI?”
“And then he returned to Santiago. The king’s son-in-law, Raymond chose
him to be his secretary in, I think, about 1093 or so.”
Laura looked around the office. There was a window overlooking the
valley of the River Sar in the distance
she could see the Seminario Mayor on the other side of the valley: now a
pilgrims’ hospice. The group had stayed there last year for a while. Felix
had proposed to Laura on the front steps late one chilly autumn evening,
and she had accepted without giving it a second thought. It had seemed as
though their meeting on the Camino was meant to be.
“Who was Raymond?” He brought her back to the discussion at hand.
“He was related to Constance of Burgundy who became Alfonso’s queen.
Alfonso rewarded him with a sort of “dukeship” of Galicia. Anyway he
was very powerful in the north west of Alfonso’s kingdom and somehow
Diego Gelmirez seemed the right man for the job, first as secretary then
as bishop of Compostela.
“Diego Gelmirez,” mused her tutor. “Now this is the man we have to talk
about, I think.” The Irish brogue came out. But not the Irish smile she
had hoped for.
Laura was losing her nerve. Diego Gelmirez. What she was saying sounded
so basic. Her tutor had seemed very approachable around her dinner table
last night and now she just felt a bit of a fool. She wished he would give
her some sort of feedback. Instead he said:
“Go on.”
“Well, Alfonso knew of Bishop Diego Peláez, of course, because the bishop
was consecrated by his brother, Sancho. But Alfonso overthrew Sancho
because he wanted to become lord of Galicia as well as Castilla and Leon.
He, Diego, that is . . .”
“Which Diego?”
You know bloody well which Diego, she thought, but added:
“Diego Peláez was the bishop of Compostela from about 1075 through to
1088. He began the cathedral. Lots of people think it was Diego Gelmirez
who built it . . .” She caught Callaghan’s eye for interruption, but it didn’t
come, “but it wasn’t. He only picked up where Diego Peláez left off, and
many years after. The first Diego was accused of treason and thrown into
prison. The Historia Compostelana doesn’t say much about him, but they
do hint that there may have been some sort of plot along with Count
Diego Ovéquiez to hand Galicia over to the Normans.”
“Anyone in particular?”
Laura was feeling faint. It was said that Diego Peláez wanted to treat with
the Normans. She knew that the evidence of Diego Peláez so-called treason
was slim, but she also knew that she only had the Historia Compostelana
to draw upon and she said as much.
“Why would a Spanish bishop want to treat with the Normans?”
She knew she was on shaky ground. There was even a story that a daughter
of William the Conqueror may have once been betrothed to the Spanish
king Alfonso the Sixth; even that she may have had some sort of prior
understanding with his brother Sancho, or even Garcia the youngest
who was once King of Galicia, but later Garcia had fled his country and
taken refuge in Sevilla which was under Moorish occupation. When he
tried to make peace with his brother Alfonso, the latter had him arrested
and he spent the rest of his days locked up in one of Alfonso’s castles.
Sancho was murdered probably on the king’s orders. It all made no sense,
especially as the daughter had died en route to her marriage with Alfonso
the brother . . . what was her name? How could this have affected the fate
of Galicia? She didn’t know and the only thing to do was admit as much.
“I don’t know,” she said meekly.
“No-one knows,” said Peter Callaghan, “but it’s a grand story don’t you
Somehow Laura didn’t know if she had triumphed or failed.

Laura looked around at the office and its cedar panelling. It was clearly
of the 18th century and lined with books. But how many belonged to
her tutor? She thought probably not many but that didn’t decrease the
intimidation factor.

“The problem is Lara . . .”
“The problem, Laura, is that we have a lot of information about Diego
Gelmirez but it’s all from the Historia Compostelana which was his “spin”
if you like. He commissioned it. There are three possible authors. But
when it comes right down to it, they wrote it to glorify Diego Gelmirez
and the things he did, which were not insubstantial by any means. Laura,
the man was a monster, but he was a genial monster with a shrine to
protect and a city to build, and in that he was bloody good at his job.
Once you start to research him further, you may have the same grudging
respect for him as I do.
“We have an appointment tomorrow afternoon, am I right?”
“Yes,” said Laura wondering what time was the first flight back to Bristol
from Lavacolla, Santiago’s airport.