Leguevin to L’Isle-Jourdain – 19 kms along the Chemin Historique and 6kms of walking historic roads.
“The trick, it seems, is to be able to hold both things very close – the gratitude and the misery – and then with a semblance of faith, to let them fly” Elizabeth Aquino
Note: If you don’t like reading about creepy, inappropriate (and illegal) sexual behaviour enacted by the males of our species, perhaps this post is not for you.
I have heard it said a few times, and perhaps I agree, that time is not linear, but circular. Almost like we travel in this big spiral, always progressing ‘forward’, however continually doubling over old territory. It is perhaps this phenomena that is behind people saying history is repeating. Writing about it now, I’m reminded of that fantastic Shirley Bassey song. I am also fond of subscribing to the view that everything that happens ‘to’ us is a learning opportunity, and if we put the two ideas together, when we get to that same point on the spiral and history repeats, it gives an opportunity to realise how far we have come, and to deal with things differently.
My alarm would have gone off at 6:00am if I’d let it. Instead I stopped it and got up, conscious of the other 5 pilgrims still sleeping. I wrote my pages in the kitchen grappling with the fragments of a dream. You know when the dream feeling lingers, but all you can sense is scraps of picture, a feeling, a familiar place. It is on the tip of your consciousness, like a word on the tip of your tongue. You feel it, but you can’t remember. Although you were there only minutes before you can’t quite grasp it. You’re so close. I got it! I was playing with a cello colleague from Adelaide in an orchestra concert, but my cello had it’s bridge and tail piece cut off and the strings were really badly wound on the pegs. It was a total mess.
The words were coming today. “Let your body speak for itself. If it wants to go faster, go faster. If it is saying go slower, go slower”. I’ve suspected this for a while, but an inertia keeps me going slowly. Perdue (lost) was the new word for the day yesterday. P is also for pizza, not really such a great idea – I’m always disappointed by the after effects of eating pizza. J-P is really touchy and stands really close.
The other pilgrims got up around 7am and joined me in the kitchen and we ate breakfast together. It is a nice place, the kitchen is small though, so with six of us in it, it was a little cramped. I didn’t hurry this morning and ended up leaving at about 8:15am, just after Jacqueline.
Ou est la GR balisages? I found some huge figs on the way out of town, took off my backpack and stuffed them in for later. I ate more blackberries for second breakfast. Sunflowers appeared again and a farmer was already busy ploughing his field. I joined Jacqueline before the edge of town and walked with her talking about her life. She is newly retired and has a son and daughter and five grandchildren. She used to be an accountant and also works as a judge in a court, although I didn’t quite understand exactly what the equivalent might be in Australia, if there is one. She gardens, dances and of course looks after her grandchildren.
We left the road for a chemin de terre (dirt road) that led in the same direction, and we followed this track for a short while as it made its way into the woods – Foret domaine de Bouconne. After about 400 metres, the track came to a ‘T’ junction and to the right there was an arrow for the Chemin St Jacques. To the left it continued roughly in the same line we had been walking. Jacqueline wanted to follow the marker, but I was feeling that the right way was to continue in the same direction as we’d been going, according to my map. I decided I needed to pee before making the decision, so I hid in the undergrowth briefly, then emerged again. Following rule one of the road “Go your own way, any other way is straying”, I agreed with her that we should go our own separate ways. I never met up with her again. Maybe this was a road I would need to take alone.
After parting, it was a pretty short walk to the large road, and I met a couple of joggers, people walking their dogs, a few women out walking and I asked one man whether I was in the place I thought I was, and he helped me orientate myself. I continued walking and came to a fork where I could either follow the yellow Chemin Historique de St Jacques signs, or the newer GR path further through the forest. The way was easy to find. I would forego the GR balisage for just a little longer, my pretty!!
Again, there were lots of flies in the forest again, a flotilla of small ones. I saw squirrels climbing trees, their fluffy tails softly waving behind them, and then I heard the sound of a woodpecker. The only other one I have heard before was in a forest in Lithuania and that time I remember the woodiness of the sound surprised me so much. Sure, a piece of dry wood makes a woody sound when you knock it, but a tree is damp. I still don’t understand it. Today the markers were clear, and even a man doing whipper-snippering was in the yellow and blue uniform. I walked past houses and one dog would bark and it would set the whole neighbourhood off. I wasn’t going quietly on this historic route. We’re at an impasse. The art of picking blackberries. I am always a little shy of them in the wild because in Australia they are so often sprayed. Here I doubt it is the case. In my observation and taste-testing, the perfect blackberry is found to have uneven little bulbous bits. They look like they are about to burst open.
Not all roads lead to sore feet and achy legs. Sealed roads are the hardest followed by white metal. Then there is a difference also between a farm track and a forest one – maybe there’s also an olfactory impact as well as a kinaesthetic one.
My way would be through several little hamlets and it was quite cloudy as I walked towards Pujaudran. I was reminded that I was still not that far from the Toulouse airport, as I watched while a fairly large plane, engines slowing, passed overhead. I saw La Poste for the first time, and ended up seeing it five times today, I walked along roadways near many houses, past blackberries and then up a hill, and down a small chemin de terre between paddocks to Pujaudran. Zebras can be spotted here in this town. I paused for a brief moment in their elevated town park after managing to find a toilet avec toilet paper. I called the Office de Tourisme at 9:01 to make a reservation for the night at the gite at L’Isle-Jourdain. It seemed that with potentially six of us arriving later tonight at a place which had nine places, there may not be any options left if I didn’t phone ahead.
I wanted to get a stamp from Pujaudran, but the Tabac was closed. I didn’t think of going to the Mairie like J-P told me he did later. I couldn’t work out quite what was historic about the route except one little memorial to a building that was there in the 1300s. Patrick and Patrick on motorcycles made a funny site followed by a driving school car. P is for Patrick. After going the wrong way at first and taking a different road out of the town, I walked back to go the right way, down a smaller sealed road that was quite steep to walk down. I asked myself why am I holding myself back when I could go with the speed and let my body support it. It brought a new rhythm and surprisingly didn’t hurt my knees (so I thought). Reaching the bottom and crossing a small creek, I started climbing again and a gendarmerie car drove past.
There were high hedges of blackberries and beyond them fields. I waved to another farmer cutting grass and ploughing fields. “I’m looking at the big sky” with Kate Bush on the iPhone on loud, no earplugs. Figs and walnuts. Fig jam figs – the best kind. Cloud Busting, the next song proved to be a great tempo for walking. I was walking strongly, confidently, straight towards a man standing next to his white van on the other side of the road. “Bon jour” I said. He was talking to me in French, but I didn’t want to look too closely, as it kind of looked like he was taking a piss and I had a funny feeling about the situation. Of course my funny feeling was right and he wasn’t taking a piss, was he. I knew he was up to something else. I walked past, but he continued to talk to me in French. I turned back to see his penis out of his pants. He was holding it. He continued to talk to me. I couldn’t understand a word, and I looked away and walked faster. I wasn’t scared, just wanted to get out of there. Then I thought what an arsehole, and was getting angry. How dare he interrupt my beautiful walk with his pathetic depravity. I turned again and gave him the finger.
I don’t know what made me do it, because there was probably a risk involved but a hundred metres down the road, I got out my phone, stopped, turned around and took a photo. I felt good. I wasn’t really scared, and felt quite happy to tell him to piss off. I felt confident and alive – yes the adrenalin was working to get me away quickly. Nothing was going to spoil my mood, not even a dirty old man. I saw a woman at a property nearby and stopped and tried to explain to her what had happened. With my limited French, she didn’t really understand and wasn’t particularly helpful. I took a couple more photos of the area and the signposts and continued walking into town. There must have been less than four kilometres to go until I got to the town.
Funnily, I passed the National Gendarmerie station, but it looked all shut up and I thought they must have been closed for lunch, so I didn’t stop. I thought I’d try to find the Office de Tourisme and where I’d be staying for the night, then go to the Mairie to work out where I could go and report what had happened. So I walked into town. I was again tired after the walk, but nowhere near as tired as I’d felt on other days. Maybe the adrenalin was keeping me going.
Eventually, circuitously, I found the Office de Tourisme over a little river and amazingly built bridge out the other side of town. It was closed for lunch. J-P had already arrived and he let me into the gite next door and I left my bag there, even though I think the woman had booked me elsewhere. I had a drink of water and told J-P what had happened. I explained I wanted to go to make a report to the police, but there was plenty of time, so I went with him to the eglise first. He explained he always went to the churches in each town. Clearly he took being a pilgrim seriously. It was dark and cool, and there were paintings on all the walls/ceilings up high that illustrated Charitas, Modesta, Prudentia, Temperentia, Labor, Veritas, Justitia, Sapienta. What great values. St Roch was there with his dog as always. It had a beautiful ceiling. And there was quiet choral music playing. I appreciated the distraction, and having things to occupy my mind with someone else who was familiar to me was helpful.
We then made our way to the central plaza and sat at a bar. I ate the quiche I had bought yesterday and had a Diablo Menthe. Always a refreshing drink. Across the way was a bell museum, but I decided I didn’t want to part with the money to go inside. It was something like ten euros. It was a little strange, after lunch and the drink I set off to make a report. I thought that J-P might accompany me to make my report, but he didn’t offer and I didn’t ask him to.
The police system is slightly different in France, so I didn’t know what level of police I needed to talk to. I went to the Mairie. They have Municipal police, but the woman who came to help me (there was no-one in at the time) said that I’d need to go back to the Gendarmerie National. She rang ahead for me, and explained what had happened, so thankfully I didn’t have to do that. It was probably at least two kilometres back out the road I’d come in on, a half-hour walk and I was exasperated at having to go all that way, but I knew I must do it.
With all the back and forth (the gite was probably 500 metres out of town on a lake too), I probably reached 25kms today. The office was still shut up, but I pressed the buzzer on the gate outside and was let in. I sat and waited for another half hour to be seen. Meanwhile a gendarme brought in a older woman who was harmless, but mostly crazy. There had been some vandalism at her house or something. She was Spanish, and spoke very good English and so of course she wanted to talk to me in her crazy sort of ranting way. She amused me, and I entertained her intrusion into my resigned mood.
The male police officers walked back and forth and chatted with the woman, took her report, and wandered in and out. I waited patiently, trying to understand what was being said, but not really grasping the meaning. I was glad of the advanced phone call. I dreaded having to speak to a male officer about what had just happened. Most of all I didn’t want to be fobbed off. It was important to me that I made this report. My own historic route would have taken me straight to silence, and I was determined that this time, I was going to speak about what had happened. What had happened was not OK, and I needed to tell someone about it. After quite a long time waiting, a strikingly magnificent, tall, dark-haired woman in uniform walks out behind the counter and after a moment asks me to come with her. She looked strong, trust-worthy and efficient. Exactly the kind of person I wanted to tell. Thank you universe. She apologised that she couldn’t speak much English, however she spoke perfectly and she patiently listened and took my report and description of the man and his car. I showed her the vehicle and arranged to send her the photo when I got wifi next. She said there had been similar reports, and I was so glad I turned around and took the photo as it was probably the only ‘proof’ of the reports. I said to her things like this had happened when I was younger and I never told a soul. I said it was important to me that she listened, and I thanked her for it.
As I walked back into town, I realised that history does repeat itself. There are creepy men all over the world. They impose themselves on mostly girls and women, because they can and because usually other men don’t see them doing it. Consequently there are a majority of men, who could be forgiven (perhaps), for thinking that these things actually don’t happen to women, because they’ve never experienced or seen them. There has been much in the media lately about the kinds of unwanted sexual attention that women have to put up with on a daily basis. I have my own history, but today I truly realised, that I am not the only one. This is not just something that happens to me. It happens to far too many women. Through silence, society kids itself that these are isolated incidents, out of the ordinary. Well today I conquered my history of fear and walked a different route. I walked past thinking that the man really was an idiot who had such a low amount of respect for me, that he was enjoying trying to make me feel uncomfortable. I told him where to go in no uncertain terms and then I spoke up for myself – for all the historic me’s that never did: the scared child, the shy teenager, and the shy adult. I felt empowered having told someone what had happened, and validated to know that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this, that the reports were of a similar type, and it seemed like a common perpetrator. I also realised, these things might, because I’m a woman, keep happening to me, however I could either cower, or I could resist and speak up and yes, reflect back the disrespect shown to me. There is no respect required for a person who does not respect you.
I continued with adrenalin back to the centre of town, triumphantly but with a certain measure of humility. It humbles you to be believed. I was able to find some supplies for dinner and also for lunch tomorrow. I went back to the Office de Tourisme and I told the women there what had happened. I asked whether they could book me ahead for my next two nights. They were very helpful. The second night would be a demi-pension with meal and petit dejeuner. Luxury! I returned to the gite next door where I’d left my pack. The woman had kindly put me with the other pilgrims I’d been in Leguevin with. They arrived one by one in the afternoon, and I told them all what had happened, once again trying a new way. Previously, I wouldn’t have bothered anyone with this, knowing that previously when I have told people I have been met with everything from over-reaction to indifference. For some it is a disturbing topic. Now I realise I am worth the fuss, and while it is not always important to speak, there are some things that need to be told. I am thankful that history repeats and gives us a chance to re-write our script and to take new routes.
I showered, washed my clothes and put them out to dry.
We had a lovely shared meal with the addition of two new pilgrims – Virginie and Sophie. Once again it was a squeeze around the round table in the kitchen, but far from being full, there were still two spare spaces in the gite. It is miraculous the way a round table fits an almost limitless number around it when needs be.
All’s well that ends well.