Via Tolosana Day 20: His yoke is easy, his burthen is light: Choosing easy world.

Dourgne to Revel: 17.2kms

What a majestic and tranquil place this En Calcat is.  I was a little slower out of bed this morning, but was well into my pages by 7.24am. All the ennui of the past day makes sense: I’ve got my period.

I wrote about my night’s experiences. Sometimes it can’t go into my journal and I have to process it through my pages.  When I first went into the cathedral, tears streamed from my eyes. I was so moved by the Vesper bells at night, the beautiful sung psalms by male voices. It was quite simply, divine.  I had felt lost – emotionally and mentally drained yesterday. Even though it was an easy walk, I found it difficult -surprisingly so. I was certainly ripe for an epiphany. Maybe it is just that I’m in week 3 of my walk.  There is a quote that I found before I started walking: it goes something like this – the first week is for your body, the second is for your mind and the third is for your spirit.  I’m certainly getting that!

I wrote about how it would be nice to meet someone to talk to in the communal gite tonight. I considered the experiences that the way brings to you, the different hurdles, the rocky paths, the steep ascents and descents. As I found yesterday, the flat, hard paths provide their own issues, if you make it so.  I wrote about a new acceptance about anything that comes my way.

I also wrote about going along with things. I have always prided myself in my ability to ‘get along’, ‘go along with’ and ‘fit in’ with other people.  I don’t want to fit in any more.  I want to have a life which is my own. When I think about it, I have never ‘fit in’. I’ve always had whacky ideas about things, and interesting takes on things that others take for granted or never question. I have always had my opinions on things, and haven’t been backward in giving them, but as for walking the way I want to walk, that hasn’t happened.  I have always felt the pressure to make others feel more comfortable, or to do things their way. Fitting in and conforming is how society wants it. It is not necessarily a natural way. It makes it convenient for society, and maybe more comfortable for other people to relate to, but it doesn’t necessarily suit me.

After finishing my pages, I find I don’t want to exchange this stillness for the wet, overcast day. How could I take the stillness with me? I was physically OK: I was kitted out with Kathmandu, head to toe, well nearly, courtesy of my stylist and technical consultant, Bettina. I delayed putting my boots on.  My washing had dried overnight, no problem, thanks to the numerous heating pipes in the laundry.    I finished packing and said goodbye to my lovely room. It was true, it was overcast, but it seemed to be dry outside.  I went upstairs to fill my water bottle at a deep sink, and was ready to go.

The woman who had talked all through the ‘silent’ dinner was passing to go to chapel and struck up a conversation with me – as much as a conversation can be with me in French.  She lived near Nimes, and I told her that I had departed from Arles.  I think I understood that her retreat will finish today at midday, then she’ll drive the 5 hours home. Anyway she wished me bon route and I wished her a bon retreat.

Out I walked. I doubled back to go and take a photo of l’eglise – it is unusually well kept, but I suppose that comes from hosting numerous pilgrims and retreaters. It is just as Sonja said, absolutely beautiful and tranquil.  It was definitely a good choice.

I set off intent to walk with the same calm: gentle on myself and gently on the earth. With humility. I think it made my day better.  I was curious about Saint Scholastique, so I walked into their carpark and smelt the freshly cut grass around the fruit trees that were laden with summer fruits. Another place to stay next time. Mr Mister’s Take these broken wings playing in my head. Take these broken wings, And learn to fly again learn to live so free, When we hear the voices sing, The book of love will open up and let us in.  My mind is a bottomless pit of 80s pop.

There were so many ideas coming to me today after the pause in that tranquil place.

Writing is like performing. Discuss.

I need a muse. To amuse. To a muse.

I walked into Dourgne, visited the public WC again – it still had toilet paper. I tried my luck at the Artisan Boulangerie, but then remembered, Lundi – ferme (Monday closed). The Artisan Boulanger Day of rest – after all there is no art to being open every day! I clocked up another beagle sighting, the Dourgne beagle for Anita and with utmost faith in the weather, I put away my hat and jacket and left. On the way out of town, I spotted not one, not two, but 6 La Poste vans at the post office and buoyed, I walked on to find the GR markers again.

Easy like a Sunday morning.

We call diseases aggressive. The disease is not aggressive, we are.  Yield.  I concentrated on yielding to my left shoulder/neck injury. Yield it, yield it! Ease …

The way seemed easier with the different approach. I had decided not to fight the road or oppose it, or judge it for being hard, but yield to it, soften myself. It is not the road that is hard, but me that is hard. I could address the hardness in myself to find an easy way.  Reminds me of a book – Choosing Easy World.  And the sun came out!

Today there was a lot of chemin de terre (dirt road) and the way follows the mountain range, the Black Mountains.   My shoes quickly started to get wet again, so I hoped my blister was not growing inside my sock.

A man driving a La poste van passed by and said Bon Courage – it made me smile.

I decided that whatever made the way easier, was OK, so where I had previously resisted playing music, today I had Alison McGillvray playing Geminiani Cello Sonatas for several kilometres, then Angela Hewitt playing Bach. During my studies I had the privilege of playing Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri. There is something particularly gorgeous about his music and you can see how he influenced J.S. Bach who walked 400 kilometres to spend time learning from him.  It made me think, now that would be an interesting walk – Arnstadt to Lübeck. Another walk idea – Bach to Buxtehude!

La poste back again. We again smiled at each other – you again!  A woman and her dog pass – Bon Chemin!  Merci beaucoup! His yoke is easy, burthen is light! comes to mind for some reason.

A bird above the road caught my eye, combining the aerodynamics of its being with the prevailing wind and managing to suspend itself, as if frozen. Poetry in motion. My view wandered back to the black mountains.  The mountains on this trip are not for the faint-hearted or is that feigned hearted?  Lucky for me, I would neatly skirt this range.

Then Bruce Cockburn helped me out for a while. Vagabondagetout jour en route!  That’s right, every day on the road. Lord of the Starfields (or the cornfields) were all relevant to me as I walked.  A jogger passed me – random.

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A woman can’t live by blackberries alone, but she’ll give it a good try.

Blackberries were all along the route again today, as was the presence of the post. The third time my lovely La Poste driver approached, he gave me warning, I saw him coming down the little road a minute before he arrived and I had time to take my phone out to snap him . We were so amused to see each other, it nearly felt like we should do coffee.

Later I saw another la poste van turn into a very long driveway, then out again the other way. It stopped to make another delivery but was gone before I got there – never a 4th time. A woman was driving so I had crossed into the postal region of a different town.

I traversed several little hamlets again to reach Soreze by midi (midday). Monday is obviously washing day – I saw a bit of it out today. I hadn’t set out until 9.15am, so I was running a little late.

Soreze is a beautiful town, I could tell when I saw it had a medieval part on a sign some kilometres away. I climbed the church steps, over the rose petals from yesterday’s weddings, entered, paused and rested in the l’eglise for a few minutes with my eyes shut.  A mother brought her daughter in to look around, and I decided to check the town map across the road outside.  I noticed a Protestant eglise and several notable ancient sites: an abbey l’ecole looking like an interesting one. I’ve not really been reading up on the Protestant history as I’ve been walking. I think that would be another walk again.

My phone konked out just as I wanted to take a photo of a cute letterbox with two turtles on it – perfect to sum up my preferred route pace. So I wandered a little more before finding that the Office of Tourisme is co-located with Public WC – in a very tasteful inside/outside arrangement … with an accessible powerpoint. So I charged my phone for a while.  After about 15 minutes of reading their literature – stored in the area in boxes, I decided I needed to eat lunch.  The office would open at 2pm, and I saw that the l’ecole musee housed a collection of tapestries … just say the word tapestries, and I’m there.  Add in that they were designed by a monk who lived at En Calcat where I’d just stayed the night, and you couldn’t keep me away.  So out I went to find a supermarche/epicerie that was open to get some lunch.  An Irish woman directed me to the exit end of town where I’d later walk towards Revel. The supermarket was fantastic.  I got german bread with my favourite canned tuna and mayo, 2 abricot and a decadent pain au chocolat. When in France …

I walked back the short distance to the office steps and ate my banquet there.  When you’re eating on the steps of the tourist office everyone wishes you bon appetit as they pass! It makes me smile. A man on a scooter comes back to ask what I’m doing and wishes me Bon Courage when I tell him.  After 2pm I went inside and asked about the communal gite in Revel.  They don’t accept reservations, but the kind assistant offered to phone for me.  I thought if I went to see the museum exhibit, I might not make it in time to get a bed. (Little did I know I would be the only one staying there that night!).  She also helped me with Les Casses – and booked me there.  The way is made much easier with the assistance of the Office of Tourisme. Fantastic service.  Next I went to see Dom Robert’s work.

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A wall at the Abbaye ecole de Soreze

The Musée Dom Robert is co-housed with the Abbaye-école de Sorèze, and I had a brief wander around the abbey-school, but wanted to cut straight to the interesting bit: the tapestries.  The Dom Robert museum is beautifully housed in a brand new renovation of an ancient building. You start out taking the old wooden staircase, then a metal flight has been added to bring you to the museum entrance .  The museum looks at tapestries throughout the ages – antique, medieval, renaissance, modern and contemporary and weaves together the great themes of nature, spirituality and metaphor through the exhibition of Dom Robert’s work and one renaissance tapestry.

Like the Lady and the Unicorn, and other superb mille fleur (thousand flowers) designs, Dom Robert’s works display a great awe of nature. Some designs also use a similar ovoid shape as a mat for the main action, so his works truly rest on those that were done so long ago.  I couldn’t take photos, so I have to go by memory and the notes I took.

One tapestry, The Garden Party, after a line from a la Fontaine fable, the man with a hundred eyes, contained an Irish wolfhound in it and peacocks with the hundred eyes. His inspiration, Persian miniatures and 16th Century Tapestries are plainly obvious. The colours were so vivid, and the vibrancy of his oeuvre reminded me very much of Kaffe Facet’s fabrics, and the stylised shapes of plants were reminiscent of Matisse’s cutouts. Oak leaves of the Oak Man, borage flowers in Les Oiseaux rares. Children of the Light and the Magnificat – the visitation.  Dom Robert spent time in Buckfast Abbey in England and there is a lovely drawing of monks playing cricket there.  He was friends with Jacques Maritain & Jean Cocteau, Maxime Jacob.

Dom Robert was a watchful observer of the everyday life around him.The representation of trees, flowers and animals spoke so strongly of a homage to nature: everything I had been seeing and experiencing on my journey.  It was so breathtaking, I nearly cried.  His work so idiomatic of the beautifully pastoral French countryside.  Maybe the love he showed through his creations was connecting with my love for this country.  He lived to 90 years old, a good innings by anyone’s assessment.    I was sad I couldn’t buy a book about him and his lovely designs, as my legs wouldn’t stand it, and Post Offices are never open in the afternoon for me to be able to post it the same day. I did find a DVD about him and there is a great website about Dom Robert also.

I swear I walked faster and more confidently to Revel because I saw this.  Beauty does something physical to me, makes my cylinders fire differently or something. I reflect on all the surprises I have been met with each day.  So many things I could not have anticipated, so many of them bringing joy and reassurance.   What started out as a dreary day, ended up with a multitude of colour.

It was sunny in the afternoon as I set out from Soreze, but not uncomfortable, and I didn’t build up the sweat I would usually.  The forebodingly named Chemin des Moulin du Purgatory made me think I was in for something. I so wanted to spend some time in purgatory,  but all I saw was an airbrushed naked woman and a pterodactyl on a cement-carrying semi at the cement works.  Hell-fire and brimstone indeed. I passed more corn, irrigated this time, and zig-zagged my way towards Revel. I saw roof-tilers out working, they don’t take Mondays off. A little further along, and after days of teasing fig aromas, I found my first edible figs near La Garrigole. Tre magnifique!  Oozing sap like pine sap from the little stem, they make your lips stick together if you eat them whole. I debated the fig eating technique. Do you eat the skin, or not? Yes!

On the outskirts, there were many rebels without a cause in Revel – I saw 5 different groups of young men with motorbikes or scooters somehow involved, burnouts, hanging near the school, walking a motorbike home (too bad), two trail bikes going off!  Then as I got closer to the centre, there were lots of kids in groups.  Anyone would think it was school holidays.  In fact I pointed out to the group at the school, that it was funny there was no school on, but they were still hanging close.  I think the humour was lost on them 1. because I’m the age of their mothers, 2. no-one laughs at a strangers jokes and 3.  I was speaking my brand of incomprehensible French.

I got to Revel at about 4.45, which is a late arrival time for me, but still absolutely within the bounds of acceptable. After the seemingly-long approach to the town along the lines of a well thought-out grid of streets, I found my second surprise for the day.  La Halle medievale.  The usual covered market place, however in this town, it is massive, and takes up the whole of the town-centre, and was built originally in the 1300s.  It was spectacular and quite a sight for this tired pilgrim.  I looked around the confined perimeter for the Office de Tourisme, only to realise when I walked underneath the giant wooden canopy, that there it was right in the centre.  The best location for the Office of Tourism. Ever.  The woman directed me back the way I came, premier rue dans la gauche, dixhuit (first street on the left, 18) to the communal gite.  I didn’t realise I had passed it, so I momentarily explored another street, before realising my error and returning the way I came.

I rang the doorbell and was greeted by Patrick.  He asked me to deposit my shoes downstairs, next to the mini washing machine and then took my pack upstairs and deposited it in a big plastic bucket which he put near my bed (one of six in the room – none of them looking occupied for the time being).  It was quite a large room with two windows facing out into a void, which at the bottom had gravel in it, and looked to be the place where I would hang my washing.

I unpacked a little, and went to the kitchen table for introductions to Bernadette (his wife).  We chatted and they made me a fresh coffee and served it with those delectable Breton butter cookies. Mmmm!  I explained my route, and they said they could help me with accommodation in Montferrand. I was most impressed by this fabulous welcome.  This is the characteristic of a couple of the gites along this route.  They are community run, and staffed by volunteers who choose to spend some of their holidays being hoteliers for pilgrims.  Often they have walked themselves, although not always.  Often they are also retired.  Bernadette and Patrick were staying for one week to mind the gite. What a wonderful thing to do.  It’s no luxury holiday though. They wash all of the linen, often provide a very personal welcome, and then sleep in bunks themselves, in a tiny room that they showed me later – only as long as the bed. Talk about matyrs.  It is one thing to put up with snoring and shared bedrooms when you think you might get some spiritual use from the experience, but to spend your holidays this way seems a big ask.  They do get to spend time looking around the area/town in the mornings, and talking to many pilgrims from all around the world when they arrive. Spreading kindness is its own kind of ‘worthwhile’.

After I’d showered, Bernadette helped me do the washing with the washing machine – (Wow! Again!). Luxury, my washing smells like soap. Even at home I use the eco-detergent, so it never smells ‘OMO-clean’.  I wouldn’t usually bother with a washing machine, but my t-shirts and undies are starting to get decidedly manky, so they can do with all the artificial perfume they can get.  This day has been so great!  Maybe I’ll even get my blog for Day 2 ready to upload!

Bernadette and Patrick continued their amazing hospitality by insisting I eat dinner with them. They made pasta, and I contributed a can of tuna.  We chatted for a long time, before I decided to go out and look around the town centre again and get some photos.  Jacques wrote to me again “Gite in Les Casses is very good 26E with good supper & breakfast. Wifi”.  I would be there in several days, as after reaching Toulouse, I would detour to Carcassonne for a couple of days.

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View from La Halle Medievale

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