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.

Via Tolosana Day 27: Planes, trains and automobiles

Toulouse to Leguevin – 16kms

Even though my alarm went off at 6am, I didn’t start until about 6:15am.  I wrote a little in my room, then went downstairs for breakfast. There was nice yoghurt, orange juice, coffee, bread/jam/butter from the little cafeteria – all you could eat.  I saw Sebastien at breakfast time and gave him my details in case he ever visited Australia. I completed my blog and even managed to post.  Day 4 done.  It is slow going, but I’m getting there. I wrote  that it was strange that I missed the regimented days while in Carcassonne. I was in a position to do my own thing, but it was harder somehow.  I was grateful for the patient conversations I’d had with young people the night before. I am slowly finding my French voice. The speaking took me outside of myself, past the restrictions of the walk. It left me feeling lighter. I suppose talking with others sometimes does that.  In the interests of self-care, I decided today I would stop every two hours and for lunch – I didn’t get anything to carry with me last night after all, but I’d see what I find walking today.

The guy (a different one had stayed overnight – seemingly in a recliner chair in a darkened pool/vending machine/general purpose room) said goodbye to me and asked me to leave the key with a woman who was cleaning.  I left feeling really ready to move and get on the road again. It was exciting even!  Philippe had warned me that the balisages are different now, and they hide on the walls with the street names so they don’t face you, you have to look out carefully for them. I did.  They are the blue plaques – quite effective looking.

I suppose there’s a difference between doing something habitually and doing something because you feel drawn to it.  Or does developing a habit enable you to feel drawn to something when you’re not doing it?  The chemin has become a habit, but also a way of living, and it wasn’t until I detoured that I realised the longing I had developed for the road and everything it held for me. I had missed it.  I’m glad I saw Carcassonne, but it feels like a journey of or for another time. There is so much more to see, and I really was limited to just the touristic parts – which disappointed me a little. Although I can’t work out whether my ambivalence is because the place gives me a funny feeling that I didn’t like.

I found many more buildings to snap this morning, the street were pretty deserted and the Pont Neuf was stunning in the morning light, reflecting on the river.  Lovely St Jacques hospital – many coquilles and St Jacques references.

A little further out of town I bought a baguette for lunch – camembert, walnut and lettuce.  Just after I’d found this sweet boulangerie, I found a packet of tissues on the pavement – saves me buying new ones.  A man walked past whistling.

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Rue des Fonataines is very long, some would say ‘boring’ even, but I liked it for found tissues, whistling gentlemen, because it was diagonal to where I started, and it had my first La Poste vehicle for the day.  I ended up seeing 5 in total today AND a motorbike.

After this one-way street, it was out onto quite a big route that ascended past a beautiful, modern, grassed tram line, and on towards Toulouse Airport.  I like the walk out of a big city. It lets the city vibe leave you slowly.  Jacques texted when he left Toulouse.  He left on the train for a town two nights away. I wouldn’t do that. I am even happier with my choice as I begin seeing planes landing.  The GR red and white balisages join me again, although I get a little worried that they don’t stay long, and instead I have the company only of the little blue and yellow coquilles.

Today is a day of much uncertainty, many retracings of steps and of getting lost and tripping over.  I am following the way suggested in the Dodo but when I get to the little town of St Martin, I couldn’t find markings. I passed many people waiting outside La Poste at 9:30am. I saw little bike signs marking the bike path to Airbus territory, and did notice what might have been a number of cyclists commuting to work at the aeronautical company. Airbus – a lot of their staff ride to work I’d guess judging by the bike track signs.  This was exciting for me, as you’ll read elsewhere, I’m quite a fan of the A380.

Through the back-block, acres of Airbus paddocks. I waved hello to some men working there – conferencing outside next to an airbus carcus. I then thought it advisable to thank them for their work – “Merci beaucoup pour le Airbus” I called out. OK, maybe I’m getting a little too cocky with my French.  Apparently you can take a different route out of Toulouse through an ancient forest, but who’d want to do that and miss all the Airbus fun?

10:10.

The familiar fragrance of another butterly bush on the busy road leading to Colomiers.

I paused for morning tea on the lawn in front of what looked like well-kept council flats, the buzz of a lawn-mower starting up around the back, threatening to unseat me if I stayed too long.  I wrote a postcard to my old colleagues and I mused about the opposite of growing pains – are they allowing pains?  I gobbled two peaches then half of the baguette, feeling a little like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m really impressed with these squashed peaches for the road. I climbed the small hill towards the centre of the town but more like a suburb, and dropped into Aldi as I needed more shampoo. Of course, being Aldi, a full-size bottle was the smallest I could find. Not ideal.

Another bon courage floated my way, just a few minutes after I embarrassed myself tripping over. The woman who saw me said nothing, so I had to just get up and go on as if nothing had happened.

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At a beautiful underpass next to a stepped water feature resembling Fingal’s Cave, but more like Fingal’s French Mountain, I met an older couple, he in a wheelchair and she pushing him. I called on my basic, but improving French comprehension to understand that she was saying they had walked the route themselves in years past. Well, it makes a good story.  They were very cute, but also both quite frail, and so I helped push him up the steep pathway back to the level of the road.  I left them and they too wished me bon courage.  Then an English guy rode up to me and asked if I was on the chemin St Jacques. We had a brief discussion about it, but he was riding a long way further today. It was very exciting having an English voice start talking to you in deep France. I should have followed him, because at this point began a paucity of GR markers, and I ended up getting myself totally lost and disorientated. Maybe the ancient forest route might have been easier.

I had walked out of town, through suburbs, across large roads and past railway stations along a road that looked like it could have been the way except that there were no markers. Funny that! It wasn’t too hot thankfully, but it’s amazing how hot and bothered you get when you’re lost. Still no signs. Tell-tale sign that you’re lost.

I eventually got to something like a Kentucky Fried Chicken and asked a guy who showed me a map on Google maps on his phone.  I was still on the page of my map, and actually only 500 metres off course to the south.  On my way back to the track, I grabbed a toilet stop and a can of fizzy drink at a big garden shop akin to a French version of Bunnings, and felt a whole lot better when I started seeing the blue balisages again. I felt tired, not from the walking so much as in spirit. Losing one’s way is so effortful.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t actually walked that much extra, it was a very long trudge for the last kilometre up the hill to Pibrac. Once in the little town however, it was great.  The architecture in this area is very attractive, the red brick continued.  The small Eglise is beautiful and then there’s also a large basilica. The place was quite decorated, but the town had a bit of a beige feel.

I paused pretty briefly to eat the remainder of my brie, walnut and lettuce baguette on a park bench in the square between the two churches, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves and cooling my damp t-shirt.   I spied another pilgrim, but wondered whether he was going in a different direction as I didn’t see him leave.  I continued on a ‘boring’ route to Leguevin. I noticed later that I could’ve taken a more circuitous route through another forest, and I found out later that is the way the other pilgrim went.  I walked out of the town past the large basilica where lots of people seemed to be lying around on the grass at lunch time. The pharmacy informed me it was 26C at 1.40pm.

2:22.

Did I say that Pibrac to Leguevin was boring?  Well not only that, but my feet hurt as I had walked on roadway or footpath all day.  The route followed the main road between the two towns.  It was quite dry, and the gardens were a little dull.  Once again I was reduced to shuffling the last kilometre again up into the town to the Mairie.  The woman there directed me to the gite for accueil, just around the corner. I could go there, get settled, wash etc and then people would come to take the money later.  Perfect arrangement.

At the address I was met with a sign that pointed me in the direction of Santiago and a lovely little tile of a pilgrim installed at the back door. I opened the metal gate and walked in.  I explored the kitchen, took off my boots and left them in the corridor shelf and put on my thongs. It should bring relief, but walking doesn’t get easier with my boots off. I wasn’t there long, perhaps 15 minutes, had found myself a bed (one of 6) and was just getting prepared to have a shower, when the Pibrac pilgrim came in.  Jean-Paul was a Belgian living in Marseilles.  A little later Jacqueline, from Granville then Yves from Nantes arrived. It might be a full house. Later still a couple were brought from the Toulouse airport, Francois et Cloudine from Strasbourg.

Much later I did my washing (in a washing-machine no less), but by mistake didn’t put the soap inside, but outside – stupid!  So when it got to the end, my clothes were still wet and soapy! Bugger!  In they went for another wash, and I hoped that this delay didn’t mean that they wouldn’t dry over night. J-P went out to look around and I sat outside in the warm shady afternoon at the picnic table and wrote. I had a bit of catching up to do. I wrote for a while, but was surprised by a POP, almost a cracking sound, and looked into the garden to see what it was.  I realised it was the bursting hollyhock seed pods sowing their wild ‘oats’ – the sex life of plants hey!

The hoteliers came with the couple from Toulouse and we paid our money and had our credentials stamped along with much French conversation.  We all ended up going for pizza together – just down the road heading out of the town. It was the only thing open.  We shared stories (well, mostly they did, and I listened) and wine (I drank). It was a lovely night. I went to bed at 10pm after staying up a little longer than the rest to write a little more.