Via Tolosana Day 32: Unfinished Symphony

Auch to L’Isle de Noe (Chez Edna Moody) – 23 kms

I’m on my way,” said the  Proclaimers, “from misery to happiness today”. On my way perhaps, but it actually took me a long time to leave.

Waking at 6am, I wrote pages in the kitchen while a spectacle was unfolding outside.  I saw the sun rise. It was a little misty at first, but as the sun rose higher and higher, the fog moved in, appearing almost stage-managed, and within half an hour I could no longer see the river. Beautifully spectacular and spooky at the same time. Francois was the next up and I told him about the English saying ‘red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’. At 7:26am, the bells began peeling from the cathedral. Then after that announcement, the fog moved in and covered everything and you’d never know a sun even existed. Birds of a feather flocked together around the cathedral.

I finished my breakfast and packed up. I said goodbye to Francois, Cloudine and Yves, and in my haste, I neglected to replenish the little tin with my donation.

I left and got a pain au chocolate at the little boulangerie next door, then walked past the traders beginning to fill the square in front of the Cathedral with a marche (market), to get some money from a hole in the wall and wifi at the restaurant I was at the night before. A petite coffee – great!  I couldn’t work out why my blog wasn’t posted to Facebook – weird. I felt like I was delaying, the coffee, the wifi and all.

Leaving the cafe, I followed the pilgrim route out the side gate of the town – rue Espagne. On the way I snuck into Henry IVs house – wow!  The big wooden door was left ajar, unlike when I passed yesterday on my self-guided tour. Imagine having an apartment in his ex-house! The way out of the town felt similar to that of Salvetat – the only thing missing was a river. It was 9:00am before I was actually on my way.

The day’s weather felt mysterious, like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. I receive a “Bon courage” from a woman walking a little dog. There were nice signs to follow out of the town.

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All blue at Dubonne. Little rocks led along a driveway away from the road – not my way. I sighted La Pause – for my Philosophy class (an actual little ‘suburb’). As Cloudine thought it would, the sun did come out.  I walked up for quite a while, ascending out of the town. It was cool, but muggy and I was quickly sopping wet, the hill making the sweat pour. Around one corner, where I found the highest balisage sign so far, a man walked towards me on the road. It was funny, because it looked like I was taking a photo of him, but all I wanted was the high sign. He asked if I was doing the St Jacques route and we had a little conversation.  We got onto the topic of Paris, and I said I’d been about 6 times – he said “Vous êtes Parisienne”.  I laughed and said I hope so. Really sweet. Stopping for photos or to write something actually became just an excuse to take a break and catch my breath. It was becoming more warm and sunny as the sun rose.

A few more hundred metres and I found the most idyllic golf course ever for my brother-in-law Johno.  At the summit, I crossed a big road, D943, and got along next to the Bois d’Auch then the Forêt domaniale d’Ordon-Larroque, but not in the parks, just on the road through them.  A guy on a tractor, making the smell of freshly turned soil. Mushrooms along the road – pink ones.  Walnut trees – a whole avenue of them.

Cars pass you on roads, some calmly, others like a whirlwind. It reminded me of how people pass us in our life.  Little dead frog, like the one in the toilets. Champignons. Chain saws. Mostly road walking – exhausting.  My mind continued to wander to thoughts of plans for tomorrow and anxiety about bookings but I reminded myself I only needed to worry about today, or really, just take the next step. Make each step the best it can be.  I passed a little deer farm with a high fence to keep them in with the barking dogs. Around another corner, the sun fully up and I took a break.

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I brazenly did my ablutions by the side of the road and then rested and ate my peach. I contemplated an oak’s branches as I lay there in the shade. Each branch divides to make it’s own oak tree pattern. As walked away from my rest spot, the freshly-turned sods, shining in the sun, caught my eye. Further on there were paddock-sized Japanese gravel patterns in the field.

Queen Anne’s lace skirted the road. More haricot vert appeared by the forest.  I left the road and along a little cut through between pine trees, then turned right onto a logging track. I walked in full forest for a while, but then on my right side, haricot vert beans again. Bois (woodland)  and a little dead bird. Small apples covered the path. At the bottom of the hill, I crossed a little creek that reminded me of the one in the backyard of my childhood in Hawthorndene. With the neighbour’s boys, we played for hours, sometimes following the creek line up or down through several other neighbour’s backyards. I emerged from this area into a new landscape. Sunflowers greeted me again. The soil was dry and ploughing at Ribere was causing a huge cloud of dust – thankfully not blowing in my direction.

Sometimes it’s not until you get really close to a turn, that you realise which way you need to go.  I left behind chainsaws and tractor noise for an eventual descent into the next town, Barran. I skirted along some pretty major road works (I was later to find out it was gas works), but the afternoon’s route didn’t seem quite right to me. The directions of the balisages didn’t seem to be same as Miam Miam Dodo. This confusion continued when I walked into town approaching from the opposite direction to what I should have on my map.  Just before Barran though, after a particularly long descent, in full sun with really sore knees, I sat on a small concrete bridge wall and ate my lunch. I demolished a saucisson baguette and another peach, the colour of the morning’s sunrise – I was in summer heaven.

Barran is a beautiful, small, flat town entered through an old stone gate to the north.  The church has a spire in an unusual spiral/helio pattern, a bell tower that I didn’t see and a lovely old halle.  Another claim to fame were little “Lous Limaques de Barran” – special gums that prevented people from coughing – well I never! The little tourist information boards are often fascinating when I have the time and inclination to look at them.

My backpack started squeaking again as I passed beautiful horses and old houses – really old houses.

I left the town toward the south, the smell of chicken sheds filling my nostrils. I left the main road descending onto a small grassy path that turned right and opened into fields of panted crops, then up a steep hill. A big water bird played above the small lake to my right as I climbed toward the ridge, and came upon tractors parked at the summit.  Walking along the top of the ridge, the clouds started to gather – it was a relief actually because the sun was hot. I spotted those beautiful mountains again. I walked with effort between sorghum (I assume) and sunflowers.  More pink mushrooms appeared,  reminding me of macaroons.  More haricot vert. In the last two days bullet casings have again joined the path. Through the forest and then an even more stunning view of the Pyrenees!! Spectacular. Pyrenees and sunflowers. Beautiful.

I was sauntering by the end, coming close to L’Isle de Noe.  It had been a long day of 24kms.  A cute bridge and church were not far from a mill pond at the end of the town that greeted me. It was certainly a picturesque little place nestled in the valley. On the main street I asked a woman for directions to Chez Edna and she indicated my destination was not far along the narrow road which divided houses with their doorsteps just a metre from the passing traffic.

The house is a little strange, from the outside looking like a mix of Robin Hood downstairs and Shakespeare on the top. It looks really old, but I was assured later that it wasn’t.  The inside is similarly unusual and quite dark, but this impression was more than balanced by the amazing hospitality of it’s owner, Edna.  I could tell from the name in my guide book that this wasn’t going to be a night of struggling in French, however I wasn’t quite prepared for how much of a haven of Little Britain this was going to be.  The door is always open, literally OPEN – ajar in other words.  I walked in after knocking and calling out hellos so as not to seem presumptive that I was going to be welcomed, but I needn’t have worried.  Edna greeted me like a long-lost relative. Downstairs is one big hall with a dining table and several places to sit, including big sofas in front of the TV.  At the back is the kitchen/bar which had a slight feel of an English pub, and then the back opens onto a small terrace containing a small, empty swimming pool.

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The gite is very homey, but not in a French way.  Edna didn’t seem in any hurry to have me take my boots off, or wash my filthy body, she just offered me a drink, a couch and a TV, which I obligingly shared and urged me to put my feet up – literally! My beverage of choice was beer.  I’m not inclined to drink beer very often, but it just seemed appropriate today.

First on the tele was ‘Flog it‘, an antique-roadshow-esque series which instead of giving polite advice about the provenance and values of one’s possessions, proceeded to take said prized possessions to a real-life auction to ascertain their value. Some of the items were well in need of ‘flogging’ and not at all to my taste. I eventually prised myself away from the television and Edna showed me upstairs to my room. It seemed I was the only one in that night.  My room was at the top of the stairs, at the head of a long passageway with rooms on either side. It had two single beds, a bed-side table, a desk and a shower in it.  The shower was quite agricultural. I had to shimmy in and out as it was quite a small little tube of a thing, and the door didn’t quite close properly. Later I washed my clothes in a basin near the toilet and hung them downstairs on a clothes rack out under the sky that was looking more overcast and like it would rain.

I don’t know whether it was Edna’s calm presence, or because I was revelling in being able to speak ‘real’ English without the fears of being misunderstood, but I just talked and talked. I got the impression that she would have just let me be, but I had a torrent of things pent up from my walking for the past 32 days, and it all spilled out. Everything from the job I’d just left, to the people I’d met, my deep love of France and my hopes and romantic dreams of finding that special person to share my life with. It was like the flood-gates had just been opened, and there was not closing them. She did get a few words in too. She told me about the wonderful people she’d hosted, and caught me up with a few of the friends that I’d made who had walked ahead. I think it was she who told me of the poor girl who’d been enthusiastically eating mushrooms on the way, only to find herself in hospital severely poisoned.

After cleaning up, on Edna’s recommendation, I went for a wander around the corner to see the Chateau. On the way I snuck into the boulangerie and had an eclair, as one does, with not much need for an excuse. There was a huge expanse of lawn in front of the gravel drive way and for a chateau it was quite modest. For a house it was gigantic. It had a gallery with an interesting exhibition about it’s history.  The woman who owned it had decided to give it back to the community. What a nice gesture, although I’m sure the Mairie could do without the upkeep bills.

Returning to my little pocket of England, I again sat in front of the TV, and we ate dinner from the large coffee table. It was a big meal. Salad, scrambled egg and asparagus for entree. Fish and potato pie, cheese, carrots and haricot verts accompanied by wine for mains.  And afters, crumble and cup of tea WITH milk!  How long have I been waiting for that!  Edna helped me plan my next 4 days. She suggested a bit of a change in plan, instead of La Barraque, Monlezun. It made the distances each day a little more even and gave me an extra day. She did her best impression of a wise fortune-teller, and predicted that I would be in a relationship by next year. She mention my hosts from a few days back and that they had met walking the Camino, and had ended up running a gite.  Little did I know that I would be teased with an extremely lovely single French man within 48 hours. Maybe she would be right.

The TV watching continued with the last part of Miss Congeniality and then Knocked Up.  The irony was not lost on me and my long soak in the English-speaking bath was complete. I didn’t go to bed until after 12pm, leaving Edna asleep on the lounge. What a crazy and wonderful night!!

Via Tolosana Day 31: Je Marche Seul … or not?

Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) to Auch – 22kms

Up at just after 6am for pages. I was up before anyone, and wrote my pages in the Moroccan alcove.  I am enjoying the profile of this part of the walk, the rolling hills and farming countryside: completely pastoral. The morning light creeps in the windows as I write. A fly buzzes around – isn’t it too early for that?  All is well.

I thought it was a late start after breakfast, but actually not so. We left at 7:45am.  I departed with Virginie and Sophie and walked with them all day after they took a lovely photo of me and Martine.

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I collected the figs from the trees I’d staked out the day before. It was a cooler morning. Cows, goats and walnuts accompanied views of the Pyrenees.  All the dogs in L’Isle Arne barked for us. On the outskirts we passed an old farm with some pretty special architecture. Apparently, the more layers of tiles on the roof, the more wealthy the inhabitants. You could see the number of layers near the eaves.
Stones in stoby poles appeared again, just to remind us we were still pilgrims.  We had some great undercover tracks at first today.
There was a lovely church at Lussan where we stopped for a pee.  The man who had stayed at Martine’s the night before with his grandson had caught us up. Five pilgrims at once! A little further on, after Virginie was trying to convince me that the rolling hills reminded her of the TV series, Little House on the Prairie. I wasn’t convinced – I’d only read the book, and imagined a prairie as being quite flat and desolate.  She even sang the theme song to it, but I’d never seen the visuals so I couldn’t be convinced. (Virginie sent me the YouTube when she got home, and I had to concede, our walk on this day matched it perfectly). Nothing proves US imperialism more so than an French person saying their country reminds them of a prairie!
Our conversations and songs were wide-ranging walking through the farm paddocks. I got another French song reference which I’ve had to wait until now to listen to – Jean-Jacques Goldman’s Je March Seul.  Interesting his name is Jacques. There’s something about French pop hey! How would I know the lyrics would be so pertinent:
Je Marche Seul – Jean-Jacques Goldman

1
Comme un bateau drive
Sans but et sans mobile
Je marche dans la ville
Tout seul et anonyme
La ville et ses piges
Ce sont mes privilges
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’ach
te pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Dans les rues qui se donnent
Et la nuit me pardonne,
Je marche seul
En oubliant les he
ures,
Je marche seul
Sans tmoin, sans personne
Que mes pas qui rsonnent,
Je marche seul
Acteur et voyeur
2
Se rencontrer, sduire
Quand la nuit fait des siennes
Promettre sans le dire
Juste des yeux qui tranent
Oh, quand la vie s’obstine
En
ces heures assassines
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’achte pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Quand ma vie draisonne
Quan
d l’envie m’abandonne
Je marche seul
Pour me noyer d’ailleurs
Je marche seul…

I walk alone

Like a boat adrift
Without purpose and without reason
I walk though the city
All alone and anonymous
The city and its traps
Are my privileges
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
Through the streets giving themselves
And the night forgives me, I walk alone
Forgetting the hours
I walk alone
Without witness, without anyone
Only my steps ringing out, I walk alone
Actor and viewer
To meet, to charm
When the night is up to its tricks
To promise something without saying it
Just staring looks
Oh, when life is stubborn
At those murderous hours
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
When my life is nonsense
When desire abandons me
I walk alone
To drown with elsewhere
I walk alone…
Well that just about sums up my life!
I had a lovely conversation with Sophie about the way we say in English that we ‘spend time’ doing things.  She said in France time is definitely money but they don’t spend time, they pass time.  It is interesting to think about the difference.  Spending time sounds finite to me, but passing time feels like you’re sitting there watching time go past.  It bears a lot more thinking about.
I asked what the little bean bushes are that I have been seeing for a number of days and which today stretched across paddocks as far as the eye could see. They are haricots vert green beans known as flageolet (not to be confused with a woodwind instrument). They are picked very early, before they are fully ripe.   At the edge of a field, and right near a huge stack of hay, we ate morning tea. The girls shared their butter biscuits – yum.
I saw one La Poste vehicle today. More figs. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain and I found it today picking blackberries.  We later climbed a single person path up a long hill next to a field and then took a high path studded with many baby oak trees (petite chene) and sauterelle (crickets). This had me singing the song I’d sung so much in choirs in the past – El Grillo by Josquin des Prez … again!
We would follow this path marked by broken tiles in the full and hot sun, right along the ridge and then down into Montegut – a cute town with amazing chateau behind tall gates.  But before we reached there, we stopped at a lookout spot where we could lunch in part-shade with the chateau turrets in view. Champignons kept us company for lunch and I ate my luke-warm cassoulet.  It wasn’t that nice – it would have been better warmed in a microwave as it was designed to be.
After a break, we descended past what looked like a local version of calvary – three reminder crosses.  We ambled into the little town, trying to work out whether we were going in the right direction. I was pretty keen on finding a toilet. We found a public one – a very public one. You know those horrid dreams, probably easily classed as nightmares, where you have to go to the toilet and there is no door. Well, once you’ve done this for real, I suppose you don’t have the nightmares any more.  The town was deserted, and there was really no risk, but it is an interesting experience. Leaving out of the other side of town, making our way around the little road below the chateau, we saw a pigeonnaire which was quite spectacular.
It was really hot now, and we made a big bitumen descent away from this little hill town. Ouch, my knees. We made our way toward a major road, and crossed a railway line.  We could see Auch cathedral for miles – hours before we got there, but it was quite a slog walking the last 4 or so kilometres. We started to get nice big signs although the map in my Miam Miam Dodo seemed really wrong!
It was nice to have company today! Although by the time we had about an hour to walk, I was getting grumpy and just wanted to be there.  This is the time I feel like I’m not great to walk with, but I suppose that is natural.  We had a small stop in the Parc du Couloume where we also refilled our water bottles. From here it was a direct walk along a busy river path towards the city.  Getting close, I decided I would make a beeline for the Office of Tourisme, whereas Sophie and Virginie said they’d go another way.  We parted.
All day we’d experienced patches of gorgeous architecture juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the land. Reaching Auch was the pinnacle of the built landscape. This beautiful town, the centrepiece of which is the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch, is a renaissance dreamscape. The Office de Tourisme is magnificent – a C15th marvel. I visited to seek information about the presbytere that welcomes pilgrims, to book the next town (L’Isle de Noe) and get wifi. I tried unsuccessfully to get wifi to work, so made my way to the accommodation.
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Office de Tourisme

I opened the door, and introduced myself to the older woman who was there with the stamp for my credential and some helpful tourist information.  Cloudine and Francois arrived at the same time, and we were shown up together.  Up four flights of a very large staircase we entered through a small door with a class window covered by a curtain. There was a small room just off the entrance passage so I took it as it had one bed.  C & F found another room which was pretty self contained closer to the bathroom and kitchen. This left quite a big room with a number of beds between us. On the wall was the donativo (donation) tin. There was a balcony of kinds off the large room, and reached through the kitchen. When you walked out onto it, and looked back towards the kitchen, there was the cathedral. The view to river was similarly spectacular.I washed myself and my clothes as usual, then went out to see the town.
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In the cathedral I bumped into Virginie and Sophie – they had found their hotel.  Cloudine and Francois came in a little later too.  The 113 carved wooden choir stalls need to be seen to be believed, and to see them all you could stay for hours looking at the 1500 carvings. Every character has been lovingly carved and their faces are highly unique – a feat apparently achievable because the wood was submerged for many decades in the Gers river rendering the wood carvable in great detail. I think it would be difficult to concentrate as a choir member.  And at the end of a very long walk, it was almost overwhelming to me.
This cathedral also holds a famous St Jacques window so I had to souvenir this.
I had got a map of a trail around the town, so I went off to do it, starting at the back of the cathedral at the top of the Escalier monumental (Great staircase) down to the river that half-way down was the home to the bronzed d’Artagnan. Around the side of the town, I walked past Henry IV’s house where he had reportedly stayed with Catherine de Medicis. Up toward the centre of town again, past the library and Jacobin museum, I decide to get food for tomorrow, and then went back to eat some dinner at the presbytere.
I tried unsuccessfully to send a Skype recorded message to my sister at a nice restaurant/bar where I sat for a long time using wifi and another cafe gourmand.  I’m feeling sad it is the end of an era with Sophie, Virginie, Yves, Francois and Cloudine. Yves leaves tomorrow to go back to Nantes. The others will be walking different distances to me tomorrow so I’ll be alone again. I walked back to my accommodation and went to bed.