Burgos and the Museum of Evolution
The cathedral in Burgos is just one of the architectural displays on hand. A local bank, the city hall, and many less famous buildings are done in beautiful style. If I had had the benefit of a liberal arts education, I would even tell you what style. The Arlanzón river is framed by wide banks and wetlands and, above them, small, white columnar banisters on both sides. On the old-town side of the river, there is a wide promenade bounded by statues and trees and tall shrubbery cut in all sorts of geometric shapes. National hero El Cid was born here.
There was a time when Burgos was the commercial center of central Spain, ally and favorite of Isabella, who, with Ferdinand el Catolico, would start the Inquisition and later send Columbus to find the Americas for the Spanish. Burgos was the capital of the Castillan kingdom for half a millennium. Napoleon occupied the city for three years, and Franco made it his base of occupations in the Spanish Civil War.
In this country that once burned Jews alive in autos da fe (literally, distressingly, “acts of faith”) that were founded on overly literal readings of the New Testament, it’s a delicious poetry that Burgos now hosts an enormous Museum of Human Evolution. It has been projected to become one of the top 10 visited museums in Spain. It’s in Burgos because Atapuerca, site of the discovery of the most ancient hominids remains in Europe, is close by. Atapuerca has been a major archeological site since the mandible of a predecessor to Homo Sapiens was discovered in 1976. Atapuerca proved the astonishing fact that hominids reached Europe from Africa at least 1.3 million years ago, and the site has been continuously occupied by hominids since then.
We parted ways with Julio and Marie Anne today. Julio has business to do in Madrid; something to do with managing certain details of property left to him and his sister by his parents (in a previous post, I related how he was determined to join us on this Camino, in part, because he’d lost both of his own parents to cancer). Mom announced last night that we’d buy them dinner. “Sanksgiving?” Marie Anne had asked. “That’s right,” Mom said. “Thanksgiving.” Next thing I know, she’s telling Carrie we’ll pay for her dinner too. In this way Mom is just like my Oma, her mother.
We went to a restaurant called Casa Babylon, which promised “Tambores del Mundo”, or “Flavors of the World,” and it didn’t disappoint us. Julio examined the wine list.
“Inge,” he said to Mom, “if I can ask you one favor, please let me pay for the—“
“Okay,” I said.
Marie Anne laughed until she turned as red as her hair. Referring to her experience in the theater, she had explained through Julio that this was an example of good timing. Of course it was. There was a chance of him changing his mind before the end of the sentence.
I like to toy with Marie Anne, who is both a good sport and as expressive as a child. Her English is only slightly better than my Spanish, which is itself an abomination. For example, in the cathedral, I saw the word “fachada” and guessed it referred to “façade”. Marie Anne, who is aware that I speak as much French as a French poodle, or perhaps the onion soup, showed surprise. “You know zees word?”
“Sure,” I said. “It’s English.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, like the language teacher she is. “It’s French.”
“It’s also English. We liked it, so we use it.”
“Wis ze F A and ze C wis ze” – and here she drew with her finger in the air the little hammer and sickle that hangs from the c in façade.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s our word, exactly. Wis ze” and I drew the same thing in the air. “Massage and chauffer are also American. Also French fries and carabiner. Also le weekend.”
“Zey are French,” she said. “Except French fry and weekend.”
“Americain,” I said. “We took zem. Zey are ours now.”
In such exchanges, she would often turn to Julio. “Como se dice?” What’s he saying?
Consummate gentleman that Julio is (I have seen him drop to a knee to apologize for an infant’s running into him, addressing the boy as “patron”), usually (I have also heard him shout to a pilgrim, who had walked into a darkened dormitory after ten and left the door open so that the light flooded in, “Shut the fucking door!”), he faithfully translates whatever is put to him, even if it’s an unflattering joke I have made at his expense, or, more often, Marie Anne’s side of an argument with him.
“Ju are right!” he often says. “Once again.” Or, to all of the women, at various times, “Ju are a very clever woman!” Or, for little reason at all, “Ju are the best!”
Marie Anne teaches Spanish and French for a living, but her English is rudimentary. We spent a happy few minutes last night trying to get her to hear (forget speaking) the difference between “sheet” and “shit”.
“I don’t heargh zees,” she kept saying.
She acts in local theater, so it’s no surprise that she tries to explain concepts in the manner of someone playing charades. When she was making fun of my French diction in Pamplona, she made a Hitler mustache with her fingers and grunted exorbitantly. She also does this to convey the idea of a turnip, an intersection, and something to do with Don Quixote.
Marie Anne labors to protect me from Julio’s Spanish lessons, both advertent and inadvertent. A few days ago, in what I thought was imitation of his habit of calling male strangers patron, but as a result of a miscommunication, I was happily calling old men on the trail cabrons.
“Hello, cuckolds!” I’d say, in Spanish, waving merrily.
Julio also taught me two invaluable words involving the use of the word cojones. One is descojonado – meaning exhausted, or perhaps knackered, as in after a long walk. The other is cojonudo, which employs the same root word for testicles to mean, basically, really great. Marie Anne was scandalized. “No, no, no!” she said, shaking both head and finger. “You cannot say zese sings.” She shook her head at Julio, and chastized him in Spanish.
“He is deciding to be his own man,” Julio said, shrugging. “Ju say what you like,” he said to me.
We Americans decided to go to the Museo de la Evolucion Humana before we left for Leon, so we said goodbye to Julio and Marie Anne at the bus station. Julio tried to shake my hand, but I wasn’t having any of it. “Cheesus Crise!” I said, imitating one of his favorite expressions. “Come here.” I gave him a big hug. He’s shorter than me, but pretty sturdy.
I turned to see Mom and Marie Anne embraced in a long goodbye. “I’m going to miss you,” Mom said. “Thank you for everything.” When she stepped back, they were both crying, which got Carrie going, and I was going to be next.
“Let’s vamoose,” I said.
“That’s why I don’t do goodbyes,” Mom said. “I always just drop ‘em off at the airport.”
And so, with the heartfelt talk of next times that takes over departures – New York, Colorado, the Dolomites next year – we walked out of the bus station and the tone and color of our journey would never be the same.