I’ve ratcheted up my eavesdropping (surreptitious listening) on Spaniards in cafés and restaurants. Traveling alone I have to speak Spanish all day every day,. So to up my understanding, eavesdropping really helps with my Spanish comprehension, considering that Spaniards speak very quickly and I am usually a sentence or two behind. But on the Camino my methods have evolved.
Sure, I still do the Café eavesdropping, but I’ve added listening to the village bread delivery transactions or meat delivery, on a semi-regular basis. The honking of the horn, the population pouring out of their homes, pleasantries exchanged. Finally, a bit of gossip before the driver moves down the road, honking again in the distance. And as of today I am incorporating group village tractor maintenance to my repertoire.
It’s always good to listen in on topics or social situations of which you are familiar. And today just such a situation arose in a very small village before Astorga. And there was a convenient bench near by to sit, upon which to slowly enjoy a protein bar and a tangerine, while following along with the goings on. The traffic in this village was pure tractor. From vintage contraption circa the 1950’s to present day. The tractor I was observing would be of the early 1970’s variety. A Massey Ferguson still humming along, but the plow implement was bent. And a couple of the blades were needing a replacement. The farmer sat his dog in the cab, then brought out many tools, pieces of metal, a grinder (Jeff, you’d have been in heaven) and other implements of destruction. He hammered, ground and levered things. All as I sat enraptured.
I watched as other tractors pulled up. They spanned the entire spectrum when measuring the tree rings of a tractor’s age. Farmers got out of their cabs, coming over to the one working on his plow, all of them in work boots, overalls, and stocking caps on this icy cold morning. I watched this scene and it brought me back to my childhood.
My grandfather was a sheep farmer. I loved going to their farm in Lacomb, Oregon. Feeding baby lambs. And listening to my Dad and Grandpa talking farm things while I hid in the barn.
As I got older my Dad was always needing something for a project. He would take me with him if I promised to be quiet. That was hard for me but I would do it so I could go. We would end up in barns or workshops all over northern Oregon or southwest Washington. And while my Dad talked to whoever he was purchasing some hoozy whatsit from, I would explore. And listen. So in this village, 7000 miles from where I grew up, I knew what these guys were discussing. And it goes something like this, as the first one walked up.
Pedro sighs, as the dog on the seat of the tractor peeks his head up to see what’s going on.
‘Buenos Dias, Pedro. Que tal? What’s the problem?’
‘A bent blade. And this one’ he kicks it with his boot, ‘needs replacing.’
They both scratch their heads in unison. Metal is hard to come by right now. Patching will have to do. Then Pedro starts wailing on the bent plow blade with a dead blow hammer. Two more tractors pull up, as others go by, craning necks to see what the fuss is about. This will make some good conversation over lunch at home later. The two new arrivals join their friends. Hands in pockets of warm, worn coveralls, they exchange more ‘Buenos Dias’ and again, inquire as to the problem. The first arrival explains for Pedro as he gets out his grinder. And the new arrivals throw in their two cents.
‘You know. I think you need a 3/8 inch hoozy whatsit. (yes, it should be in metric but I don’t know the conversion to metric for hoozy whatsits)
Pedro searches his ancient metal tool box as the farmer goes on.
‘I remember back in 59’ when there was a shortage of hoozy whatsits. The whole village shared just one. We couldn’t have dreamed of different sizes, like they have now. 3/8, 5/16th. These were for rich people in Madrid. I remember the first time I got my own hoozy whatsit, my wife made a cake and we invited our friends over to to look at it. That was a proud day for her, I can tell you.’
The other farmers have heard this story over coffee or a cerveza so many times they could recite it in their sleep. But they have their stories too, and standing around repairing a tractor is the time for telling them. If by agreement, they chuckle at the right spots in the retelling. One by one, as Pedro bangs, grinds and welds, they each take their turn, while sometimes holding a tool or offering useful advice.
Soon the plow is repaired, my snack is eaten and my presence detected. Time for me to move down the Camino. But its a good reminder that people are the same everywhere. And tractor eavesdropping is now my favorite sport in Spain.