Via Tolosana Day 12: A Pilgrim’s Progress

Rest Day – Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare

I slept well so when Jacques got up, I was ready to get up too. The parade of departing long walkers was akin to the last movement of the Haydn Farewell Symphony, only I hope everyone took their lights with them.  I hung around in the kitchen and said goodbye to them.

First Jacques I. He wished me happiness for my chemin. I can see why.  I’d been a blubbering mess at the end of each day’s walk, the embodiment of Sturm und Drang, so I suppose he must have thought that happiness was somewhat out of my reach.  I realised that while walking with him it was.

Then Sonia, who was so very helpful and just as much an angel as when she’d walked into my chemin the day before. I had told her the night before about my Carcassone and Lourdes plans. She said the guy we’d seen at Mecle was making up his route from different GRs to get to Carcassone and Lourdes. It’s a pity there is not much information about the other routes in the gites along this one.  I knew I wanted to visit these places, but it wasn’t clear to me which paths would take me there. In the end it was easier to get close, and catch a train. I didn’t think I had the extra days to walk, and I didn’t want to veer from my course. If I had been alone, I would have stayed in Mecle for the night. I would’ve met another interesting pilgrim. Sonia reassured me I would get my confidence back, then light as a feather, she departed.

I said a grateful goodbye to Jacques II. What a kind and trusting soul. He was gracious and gave me two lovely kisses on the cheek, as the French do.

I had a lovely chat to Claudine and Isabelle who had been so kind to me the day before. They saw I was wrecked and Claudine had brought me a cup of tea in bed the previous afternoon when I was so exhausted and Jacques was trying to work out how he could get his money back from me. We joked about making a film of my adventure. They are happy to star in it and thought it could be called Extreme Pilgrimage. They were also really pleased for me that I had made such a strong decision. It was a surprisingly happy morning of goodbyes.  I remained, feeling like the keeper of the keys.  I had the gite to myself.

I’d sorted two piles: post and carry. I continued to ruminate about whether to keep my SLR camera. It took up lots of room, but I had a dry run, and found that now it fit inside my backpack. Previously I’d been carrying it separately over a shoulder, and then for the last couple of days hung over the back of the pack, both options weren’t ideal. Sonia had suggested I might like to keep it to take photos of Carcassone. That was a good idea.

It was a Sunday, the day of rest, and it felt luxuriant to take my time to wash my clothes and the opportunity to wash many as they would all dry in the heat. I was washing the whole experience out, leaving only the threads of my original intentions for this walk. As the dirt and dust flowed out, I let the new reality sink in.  I was alone again. I was hopeful. I was excited. I was free.

Gite municipal Le Chalet

Gite municipal Le Chalet

I sat out in the warm air at one of the picnic tables and wrote my morning pages for the first time in over a week.  I felt better already.   I was listening to the birds in the tree above, some choral music from a window a little further away, and in the far distance, a band playing what sounded like a really long warm up to Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end …

Yesterday when we arrived, there was a stage being set up and a band doing sound checks. It was the annual St Gervais sur Mare Fête (it literally means festival – the symbol over the ‘e’ replaces an ‘s’ following, so the word would have originally looked a lot like its English equivalent – Feste). These fêtes are lovely summer features of many French towns and consist of free entertainment over three days.  It is amazing, considering this little town only has just over 800 people. They go to a lot of trouble to celebrate.

I thought what I could hear was the day time entertainment on that stage. It was only after writing for some time, that I realised that the sound was getting louder, maybe they were sound checking? Finally I twigged, the band were mobile, getting closer, and they had turned off the main street into the little cul-de-sac where the gite was … and soon enough, like Goldilocks discovering baby bear, there they were! I was excited and couldn’t stop smiling as they rounded the corner next to some other communal accommodation units. They all had yellow t-shirts on, and the band were accompanied by several dancers, two of whom danced toward me, a guy giving out roses and a woman offering bon bons (boiled lollies) from a basket. I donated a euro. If this was ‘going my own way’, BRING IT ON!

Town band and singers

Those were the days my friend

Roses and lolly rapper on picnic table

Days of wine and roses

Music. Happiness.  The leitmotif of all pilgrims, the cigale, started singing in the tree above. It was going to be a warm day. Perfect for getting washing dry. Perfect for not walking! I finished my pages and my journal. I suppose you’re wondering how I can still tell this tale. Thankfully, despite no reliable wi-fi connection, I have, with great discipline, kept writing my daily journal.

I walked to the Office de Tourisme to sort out the money and to use Wi-fi. I met the same young man who told me he is studying history at university and was on his summer holidays. I asked him whether he would help me out by booking my next night’s accommodation at Fagairolles. He said this was fine and that his friend’s mother was the woman who looked after the communal gite there. It was a reassuring connection.  The Office de Tourisme has a quaint display of the features of the area, and I leafed through a small plastic folder about the stèles discoïdales (I had seen previously) and asked him about them. Some are from medieval times, 1000 AD, although those specimens are usually housed in museums these days.

The office was really busy, with several groups coming in and out while I was there still madly blogging.  I saw a couple I’d seen at the Office de Tourisme in Lodeve – witnesses of my sturm und drang.  The were also walking a GR, but it was a different one.  I got talking to them. They were staying at le camping – the same place as the other pilgrim, the Mecle man. They walked relatively slowly, and carried a tent, so it was interesting to hear about their experience – well as much as I could understand in my baby French. At 12pm when nominally the office should have closed for the young student to go on his lunch break, I left. Better to be part of his lunch break solution than problem.  No-one else seemed to get the idea that he needed lunch, so I left a hive of activity. I would come back later.

Statue of Mary high in wall alcove

Mary watches everything

Cemetery plaque for Manuel Gonzalez died 1944


I wandered along the Rue de Villeneuve to the lower cemetery in the warm noon time sun, juggling the cheese Danish from the boulangerie while taking photos. The town band were somewhere up ahead, but the music disappeared after a while. I kept running into Mary and it reminded me of the Luka Bloom song, Mary Watches Everything. She’s everywhere.  Again I saw the Mecle man. He was hippyish and, it seemed, everywhere I was. I walked up to the upper cemetery (did I tell you I like cemeteries) via the ramparts of the old town and looked across the valley to the old ruin we’d walked past yesterday. Down again by paved steps I came to the l’Eglise St Gervais su Mare which was really dark and dank.  The organ is apparently a really good one from the workshop of Theodore Puget signed in 1840. Doing a bit of Googling I find out it is still a popular drawcard, attracting half of the townsfolk to concerts that are held. I didn’t notice it though, it was so dark. But I did see the Mecle man.

Another statue of Mary high in an alcove

Mary’s everywhere

View over town rooftops to ancient ruin and mountains

Rooftop view to Castrum de Neyran (11th – 14th century)

Family vaults and crypts

Real estate for the other world

I walked back to the gite past the pub and noticed a young ginger-haired man eating lunch, his backpack beside him next to the table. Walkers have a certain look about them which is hard to mistake. An older Italian man, Luigi was sitting outside on the picnic table when I returned to the gite. We couldn’t communicate very well, as my Italian is virtually non-existent, although I managed to describe to him where to go to the Office de Tourisme to pay his money. I ate my lunch and highlighted my journal with the things I wanted to include in the blog. I thought I should use my time wisely while I actually had wi-fi, not be trying to work out what I wanted to write when I should just be uploading.

Old door with coloured stonework

Knock and the door will opened unto you

Back to my bureau at 3pm and once again I met the town band and had another listen to those were the days, and the other three songs they recycled for the whole day.  All the roses and bonbons were long gone. The ginger-haired man, Florian, walked up to me and asked about the tourist office. I explained he’d found it and he, Luigi and I walked in. I went straight to the table to sit and use wi-fi and the guys asked about a place for the night. I don’t know what happened, but somehow Luigi was redirected to another gite or chambre d’hotes so I didn’t see him again (although did hear about him through the pilgrim grapevine), but Florian ended up at the same place as me.

I managed to post one more blog. Writing blogs as I go is like cooking a recipe where you have a couple of separate steps then mix the two results together at the end to cook. The only trouble is you have to walk another 15kms to get to the oven.  I upload the photos via iPhone, then type what is in my journal onto the WordPress site on the iPad. However it has taken me a while to realise that I can type the text onto the iPad anytime, then copy that all over to the blog. The iPad is a lovely ‘vintage’ item that Bettina loaned me (she’s my IT go-to girl). It is great but a little sticky. With patchy wi-fi it is also a little unreliable. I have lost whole versions more than once. This makes blogging painstaking. I have written the last Arles blog, and can now start the Via Tolosana proper – only twelve days behind. Sigh.

Cinema Paradiso - old cinema building

Cinema Paradiso

St Gervais sur Mare town square

Town square without people

I returned to the gite and had some dinner at about 6pm. Florian returned. He has walked from Arles also and will go as far as Castres. He is a teacher from Nantes who works in Paris, but has a dream to move to Brittany. We had a great discussion as he spoke English well, and I muddled through with a bit of French.  At 8pm we decided to go out to see what was going on in the town square. Nothing was due to happen until 10pm and despite to having not ‘done’ anything all day, I was getting tired. He ate dinner, an ‘American’, a hot dog with chips in it – like a chip butty. I helped him with a couple of chips and had a ‘quiet one’ (as a colleague, Mal at ABS was fond of saying). A muscat. Lovely.  I was in a good mood. Calm and smiling.

Stage lighting at night

fête night

Pink stage lighting

fête night

At 10.30pm, after watching half a set of the band, we walked back leaving the growing crowd of locals behind us to boogie.  We had a room and a half each!

I felt relieved and relaxed. I’d had a chilled out day where I’d really slowly and aimlessly explored the parts of the town I was interested in. It was nice to meet several other pilgrims and to chat to a new person. I felt good about my decision to rest.  I am over half way to Toulouse now.  I walk and I write to heal and to discover what waits for me.

This pilgrim is making progress.