Via Tolosana Day 37: Detour to deep peace

Morlaas to Lourdes – a immeasurable journey to another world

I woke at 6:00am. No pages this morning, just a quick pack and breakfast, then out for the bus. Francois and Cloudine were up early too. They’ll walk to Pau and then take a BlaBlaCar tomorrow to Toulouse and fly home.  What a lovely thing it is to meet them again.  They had been my companions in the evenings for 8 out of 10 nights. I tell them it has been a great way to walk at our own pace but sharing meal times in the evening. But the dissolution of the posse is complete, or so I believe. We all go back to our other lives, our other ways.

There was a slight anxiety about getting out to the bus-stop on time for the bus, as I really wanted to be in Pau early to give me the maximum options for trains to Lourdes. And even though there is a bus stop out front of the pool, the bus does an interesting route around the town, and I had to make sure I waited on the right side of the road. Everything was fine, I was out waiting just after 7:00am I got on it at 7:15am, right on time and I was off and away.

After walking for so long, there is a kind of relief that comes from sitting in a bus, knowing the huge number of steps you are covering so swiftly. My knees feel better already! But the leaving seems too quick somehow. We speedily ascend a small hill out of Morlaas and turn right into a road that directs our gaze to the Pyrenees … again! The site still impresses and captivates me – more so the closer I get. To my left the sun is half peeking over the horizon, bathing the little valley with a subdued orange haze. As soon as I see it we have left Morlaas behind.

I arrive in Pau half an hour later, but am worried about which stop to get off at.  In the end I stay on the bus right to the train station.  I am immediately impressed by this city, and am glad I came here on the way to Lourdes. I get off the bus to get my train ticket at the gare, right across the road from another river – be like water, be near water.

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I have a bit of time before the train at 13:14pm. It sounds like a strange departure time, but it will depart on the dot. French trains are fantastically prompt I’ve found, as are the regional buses.

My next surprise for the day is a funicular. I love them. In fact, I love anything on tracks.  How perfect.  I have been on a couple before. There is a great one in Hong Kong that takes you up to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, and there is the steepest one in the world in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia that takes your through lush forest undergrowth. Pau’s is petite, tres mignon – short and sweet, and a bit of a thrill, because if you look over the edge, the drop is sheer. I take the little tramcar to the top of the cliff on which much of the town sits, and find a cafe for 2nd breakfast with a course of wifi. There are a series of touristy cafes that look across a balustraded cliff-top straight towards the many peaks of the Pyrenees. The haze surprises me, but it is so very beautiful. What a great place to sit for a while.

It looks like I’ll be lugging around my pack, but I reckon that’s OK because I’m not walking very far today. It is a relief already.   Perhaps I will catch up on my blog. In the cafe, they’re playing Air, Sexy Boy. What a blast from my 1990s past that is. I love that album, Moon Safari. It too is on my playlist.

After hanging out on wifi for a while in the cafe, I decided to don my pack, and take a little look around.  I walked out, away from the mountains and found a large square.  After a little more walking I found, quite by accident, the L’église Saint-Jacques and took a photo of the stained glass.  Patricia was on duty at the time, wandering around the church, and she asked me if I wanted a tampon in my credential.  We had a nice chat. She is retired and planning to walk. I asked what her work was, and she said she was a professor of theology at university.  I told her about my detour to Lourdes, and she suggested we could pray for each other. I agreed, after all, she’d given me a tampon!

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Back out in the hazy day, the church says goodbye with it’s bells.

I took a quick loop back around to the west, past the Chateau but without time to go into it, and was fascinated by a network of streets underneath the level of the town I was on. I wondered how I’d get there because they didn’t seem to show on the map.  A secret city! Back around to the Boulevard des Pyrénées for more sunny vistas of those mountains, then down the funiculaire to the station.  I got a saucisson and pickle baguette, but my stomach didn’t agree I should’ve eaten it.

I’m sitting in the hall waiting, and three pilgrims walk in – I can’t quite understand what they’re doing, but we chat for a little bit.

A child starts playing the public piano labelled ‘A Vous De Jouer’, (It’s your turn – I presume, to play) over in the other corner of the hall and not long after, who should I see? Sophie and Virginie! Jamais deux sans trois! Things always happen in threes. This goodbye has now stretched for several days.  They greeted me with the same teases as always, then we sat together on the train. They were going through Lourdes all the way to Toulouse.

The mountains meet you first. Then as you approach in the train, you travel down a valley, and get an amazing view of the Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception in the valley. Sophie spotted it first.  It is beautiful.  I have always loved travelling through mountains on the train – maybe it was growing up on the Belair line where the train line cut through hills for the later half of the trip from Adelaide to Blackwood. I remember travelling from Paris, south to Florence through the mountains and being captivated. I tried to put off the thoughts that it was now only a week before I would walk into them to the end of my journey. My knees don’t want to go there, and my heart doesn’t want to leave the way.  I was getting nervous about my stop, and Virginie was telling me ‘Don’t worry, be happy’!  We said goodbye, this time for the last time, and promised to stay in touch. As the train drew away, we waved and carried on – an exuberant end to a wonderful 10 days with these two fantastic women.

Lourdes – I was excited.  Walking out of the station, I had no idea where my hotel would be, so I just walked in the direction of the huge basilica I’d seen from the train. Virginie had said that there was the gare, then the town, then the basilique, then the grotto. She was right.  I was quite surprised by just how many hotels there were, confirming what I already knew of the millions of pilgrims who visit here each year. Reading later, Lourdes’ number of beds is only second to Paris.  A dog and cat were on an awning on one hotel.  Gorgeous painted on windows of a trompe-l’œil.  Next, as I walked even closer to the epicentre, I was just stunned by how many shops there were selling religious paraphernalia. The Cathars would have a field day!

La poste was a harbinger of useful information because I stopped to take a photo of a phamacy with a van and the Virgin, and across the road I happened across a shop-front for Centre D’information Jacquaire.  I, of course went in.  They had lots of books about the various routes of the way, St Roch, St Jacques and information about hébergement (accommodation).  There actually turned out to be two pilgrim places in Lourdes, and if I wasn’t such a conscientious person, I could just have not shown at the hotel, and gone to one of them. It certainly would have saved some money.  The shopfront had only been open a matter of weeks, hence there was no information about them along the Arles route, but I’m sure they’ll get that organised soon enough.  Sylvia assisted me with finding my hotel, which was recommended by Bernadette and Patrick in Revel.

I walked down the tiny street, which looked tinier draped with so many crosses and icons, and found my street, which descended past Bernadette’s birthplace in the mill, and found my hotel. I installed myself there.  There was wifi, but I worked out it didn’t extend to my 4th floor room.  I left my pack, and decided not to shower because I’d just need another one after walking around all afternoon.

It was hot in the sun, and although there were many people about visiting the holy sanctuary, the basilica and grotte, it was strangely peaceful and calm.  I could feel it as soon as I got off the train.  We don’t yet have a measure for the energy that millions of people over a hundred and fifty years might bring to a place through their prayerful meditations, but you don’t have to be a sensitive soul to feel it in this place.

Deep Peace or more Deep peace

The commercial exploitation assaulting my senses like resounding gongs and clanging cymbals, wasn’t successful in lessening the impact of this sacred place.  I’m not Catholic, and I’m not particularly religious, but when you can feel the spirit of peace in a place and offer up your own prayers and thoughtful contemplations, it is an experience to be treasured.  Lourdes is a haven and sanctuary for pilgrims of all types.  Religious, sick (I saw one pilgrim on a hospital bed and many more in wheelchairs) or just devoted, many flock here seeking grace. It was a very moving experience and when you can bodily feel the calmness, it is hard to deny it’s potential for healing.

At any time, in this vast complex, there are probably several masses going on in the mass of venues, but I went inside downstairs first, Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire. It has gorgeous mosaics outside at the gateways and over the doors, and then also on the inside. Despite being subterranean, there is a muted lightness about it.  There was a mass being held, conducted by a priest in a purple hat – from Ireland from the sounds of it.  Behind him was the most beautiful mosaic of a woman who reminded me of a cross between Cate Blanchett and a friend’s little niece, who by all accounts could be another incarnation of St Bernadette herself. He was delivering the homily, and it was an interesting account of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, which takes me back to Soreze and Dom Robert’s amazing tapestry of the Annunciation. Everything is connected, isn’t it.

I stayed for the offering, in which a whole band of singers and musicians played a very Celtic-feeling group of songs accompanying my sniffling tears, and prayers of the faithful. I left before communion.  I said prayers for Yvonne, Patricia and my Parker family who have recently lost a cousin/nephew in a farming accident.

I ventured out into the sunlight and down the path to go behind to the grotto. I joined the line, as it didn’t look too long. For a few minutes the kids behind me were prattling on, however after a while the ‘silence in the grotto’ signs were heeded and we all patiently and silently stood in line.  It was just like the film, Lourdes.  People snake around under the overhanging walls, running their hands along them. So many hands, it has become smooth and is wet in parts where the moisture comes to the surface. I was hoping to catch a drip to the head, but alas it wasn’t to be. The spring itself is covered by a perspex cover, but as you walk around there are also drips from the ceiling, a continuous birth of water into the sunlight.  It is a very reverential and prayerful route and all respect the silence.  I was reminded of the Oriah Mountain Dreamer talk I listened to the day before on my walk – that there is the greatest intimacy in shared silence. That’s certainly how it felt, and that’s certainly a very good observation.

How often I just speak for the sake of filling in the space, with nothing really important to say.  It is worth pondering more.  After you have been along that wall, you emerge at the other end of it, and if you continue to walk away from the town, you pass through what is like a sideshow of burning candles.  Once past this, there are baths that you can go through as well. I was nearly going to, but it didn’t seem like the right time to go for me.  Instead I walked to get some ‘holy water’.

After this, I ascended the very long left (it was partly in shade), arm that reaches out to get to the top basilique, Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception. I was coming closer and closer to the huge gold crown that stops the dome of the first basilica I went in below. It isn’t as beautiful as the one below, but it was interesting because it was the original one. It was dark and ancient. I don’t know what that says about immaculate conception. The whole complex has grown like topsy, because more and more people come every year and this one tiny chapel wasn’t enough (by tiny, I mean it only seats 500 people).

After this I thought I’d wander back to say hello again to Sylvia, but got lured by the singing I could hear coming from the subterranean chapel, built to increase the congregational capacity yet again.  Reminiscent of concrete brutalism the Basilique Saint Pius X juxtaposes hung pictures of many saints around the edges of the space. It is enormous, and the giant angular struts supporting the ceiling make you feel like you’re walking around underneath a giant spider. Big change indicated here, well potentially anyway. It suits the purpose – seating vast amounts of people for mass masses.  Around the outside there is a ramp which descends to the mid-point of the oval shape were the chapel is at it’s narrowest. Then the ramp ascends again toward either end of the oval. If you look across the auditorium as you are walking you see there are even more posters in the central arena of the space, so no matter where you are, you will be in eye-shot of at least a couple of saints, apostles or martyrs. As I got towards the bottom, I don’t think my eyes failed me, but there across the cavern was our own Australian, Mary Mackillop.  I can’t remember whether she is a saint or just called Blessed.  That’s terrible, having worked at a Catholic university for a decade. I shouldn’t be admitting my total ignorance.  I kept walking and was more interested in Hildegard of Bingen, St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena , Theresa of Avila and St Dominic, avowed converter of Cathars.

After finishing with the apostles, saints and matyrs I was outside again and it seemed that even the Air Force pay respect to St Bernadette. The crack of a super-fast jet doesn’t seem to dent the vibe though. I walked back up the little street to the St Jacques information shop to ask Sylvia whether she knew of any restaurants selling crepes sarrasin. She didn’t know, but I found the restaurant next door, a funny little place, had sel (salty – savoury) crepes on its menu, and so I ordered a salmon, creme fruit and basil one with frites.  The decor was intriguing – red walls, and statues of Mary next to Dali’s Tarot universal.  A bet each way perhaps?  It was a good enough meal with a little kir. A bit of a splurge in Lourdes.

I left with a full stomach and dropped in to Mary’s pharmacy for some Baume St Bernard – which Francois had encouraged me to use the night before.  It is basically like deep heat, and helps with any aches from the walk.  I found it did sooth to a certain extent, so I’ve added it to my armoury of lotions and oils.  I have Aveda Foot Relief – pepperminty goodness for my feet, Weleda Arnica Massage oil for my muscles and now St Bernard. Oh, and Aveda Blue Oil Balancing Concentrate for my nostrils.  My feet, knees and mind are well cared for.

I ascend in the small lift back up to my room, which has a window into a tiny atrium, but no view. The carpet is so buckled in the corridor, that this route has to go down in my book as rivalling the chemin. I wonder how many drunk and disoreintated tourists have tripped on it. Attention a la marche!

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I had a shower and washed my clothes, which I wring in the towels that are supplied. If you lay down wet clothes into a spread towel, then roll it up, then wring the little sausage, your clothes turn out nearly dry.  I have only a postage-stamp sized towel that I use to dry myself with, so it is not enough to do this to my clothes each night, but Francois and Cloudine had those great synthetic towels that they did a little washing-wringing ritual each night. This goes on the list for next time –  a proper towel. The reception were affronted by my question about whether they had a laundry, but maybe it was just my bad French.  I utilised all the hangers in the wardrobe and the curtain rod to hang my clothes overnight in the open window.  I did some writing, then decided to go downstairs to use the wifi. I successfully posted Day 6.  Yay!

Addendum: Centre D’information Jacquaire – Lourdes

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When I have asked at some pilgrim gites on the way, whether there are St Jacques pilgrim gites in Lourdes, people haven’t known.  I assumed that everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – to see the place where humble youngster, Bernadette saw her vision, and to taste and bathe in the waters of the natural spring there.  So when I arrived in Lourdes, and was wandering the streets looking for my hotel, I was surprised to see a shopfront titled Centre D’Information Jacquaire and the blue and yellow symbol of my way.

They had only been open for one month and they provide accueil (reception/welcome) for St Jacques pilgrims on the many routes through Lourdes.  What this means is that they can refer pilgrims to hébergement  in Lourdes and along the routes. The major ones that go through Lourdes are the Voie du Piemont GR78 and the GR101 which I crossed just outside of Maubourguet.  But it means also that pilgrims like me who have a credential, and are doing a way, but make a side trip, can also find accommodation that is cheaper than in the many hostels and religious hotels.

I spoke to Sylvia, a volunteer who had walked the Camino Frances in two parts in previous years.  She showed me the contacts for two places that take St Jacques pilgrims.  The office is well equipped with maps of Lourdes and many books about the various ways, and about Lourdes.  I was really impressed.  And they also stamp your credential.

Gite La Ruche – 21 rue de Pau (open 1st April – 30th October) with 9 places at 15 Euros per night.

Centre Assomption – 21 avenue Antone Beguere. I’m unsure the cost of this one.  Minimum stay of two nights, but that is sometimes common, and means that a pilgrim can rest in Lourdes without having to worry about the usual need to move on every day.

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