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 30: “Ultreia!”

Le Grangé (Giscaro) to Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) – 17 kms

Up early again today. 6:00am.  Pages written, however I seem to have lost my kilometrico (pen of choice). This is a minor disaster, as the Artline pens I write my journal with are not fast enough for morning pages.  Try it. You’ll see. So I now need a new biro. I have also come to the end of my exercise book, so I need to decide what to do about it. I have a fresh one, but do I keep this one or post it home? I’m writing as the sun climbs up at one end of this big building after setting at the other end. Breakfast at 7:00am.

After dinner the night before, Andreas spent quite a bit of time talking to us about the route for the next few days from here. (I also read some of the interesting statistics he had collected about the pilgrims that pass through here. I began in Arles, and a minority start there, only 30%; 20 nationalities are represented – Australian doesn’t even figure; there is a bubble for walkers in their early 20s, and again in their 50s.  So you could say on the via Tolosana, an Australian woman in her mid-40s, who walks from Arles is scarce as hens teeth. It is not surprising I guess, they’re all busy having/raising children. I digress). There were two ways to go. You could follow the chemin de terre, which by-passed the town, or go by road direct through the town.   Before deciding to stay at Le Grangé, I was going to stay at Gimont, but decided against it, and he had helped me phone to the place to cancel the reservation. It is here that I needlessly made this day’s walk longer, and a little more involved.  I decided to ignore the advice to take the direct road into Gimont. I followed my own way with the re-assuring red and white signs. This ended up rewarding me with my first spectacular views of the Pyrenees, however left me with a few worries also.

Bon route! (si on ne revoit pas …. ) et n’oublie pas ton baton!! Good road! (If we do not see you ….) and do not forget your stick !!

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I set off at 8am and made my way down the grass track past the plums. Cloudine told me about some champignons that I missed at the bottom of the row, so I snapped a picture on my way out.

“Ultreia!”  Jacques told me about a pilgrim song with this name on Day 8.  They have thought of everything here, and their care extends to wishing their pilgrims “a good road” in the traditional way.

The distance that le Grange had on it’s sign were:

  • Toulouse – Leguevin – 23kms;
  • Leguevin – L’Isle Jourdain 14 kms;
  • L’Isle Jourdain – Gimont 16kms;
  • Gimont – L’Isle Arne 19kms;
  • L’Isle Arne – Auch 23kms.

Andreas had said there are as many different measures of the distances on this route as there are guide books and people who walk.  Miam Miam Dodo doesn’t provide the best maps, but other walkers have continued to ask to read it to get ideas for accommodation.

Jacques had written overnight: “I think the chemin learn us fraternization, simple way of life, humility, research on oneself, self improvement and more. Marelies and Manfred left yesterday for Lourdes. So I go further with Jacques”.  So it seems that he has been thinking a lot about his walk and the things he is learning.

I walk past concrete/stone cage retaining walls, then 4 dogs greet me up on the fence at a gorgeous chateau. It continues to be really dewy this morning – more than yesterday.

My pack felt lighter this morning for some reason, it made my feet a little more nimble to dodge the evidence of horses on the track. A dam could be seen through the trees. Many men were out busy with their farming.

I thought about my conversation with J-P yesterday. He had tried to teach me the contractions of words yesterday – I failed, but it now made me wonder about language.  Imagine a language that has only the present tense.  I am. We are. It is.

I took a left-hand turn following the markers where the road led into town and this guided me along the saddle of a hill. I happened to look left and saw shadows on the horizon. I was surprised. Jagged, massive, desolate-looking in parts, as if super-imposed on the horizon, like a back-drop curtain being lowered to the stage … the Pyrenees. I have to scale one of those on the last day!

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Now I know the reason for coming this way – perhaps I wouldn’t have seen them if I’d gone direct to Gimont.   Going my own way was not without it’s drawbacks. I stopped for a pee behind a hedge now looking at the Pyrenees. Down in the valley, a way off,  I could see a figure in white wandering along the hedgerow picking blackberries next to what looked like a creek.  As I walked down into the valley veering away from them on the other side of the hill, a ute travelled past them along a track by another creek – which I realised I would swing around and join.  It seems that white vehicles are my new nemesis this week.  A patch of doubt. Trepidation even.   Yesterday I waited for J-P. Today I had no-one. They all chose to go direct to town.  I continued to the bottom of the hill and turned left with the road hugging the creek back towards the van as I expected.  A few hundred metres, and there it was.  Parked off the road. No sign of an occupant. A spade in the tray. Where’s my cloak of invisibility when I need it. Something made me take my phone out and photograph it a little way back. I fussed nervously with the code on my phone, but got it in the end.  I took the photo.  Still no sign of it’s occupant.  I walked past, quickening my steps to get away as soon as possible. Another few hundred metres and I heard the ute start up. It drove up behind me. As it came closer I stepped off the track and walked in the rough earth of the ploughed and freshly sprouting field to let him pass unhindered.  I said “bonjour”. The man smiled and drove on.  There are times you wonder. I had no butterflies, no sick feeling, so of course I was always going to be safe.  It un-nerves me though. I need to call on my angels at times like these.

I continued, past big quince trees and spoke to the woman collecting blackberries.  Beaucoup pour confiture. My version of “many blackberries for jam”.  I met the D160 and walked along it for a while before leaving it again for a small track next to a field. In a few more minutes walking through the back roads near houses on the outskirts of town,  I could see Gimont in the distance, across a valley.

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I could see the path took me right down into the valley and down to the back of the town.  I could have taken the D4 straight in – it would’ve saved time. Oh well. I probably walked an extra km or two by the time I got back into town.

10:10

At the bottom of the town, I took the road back up towards the town square and church. I approached from the side, up really steep streets to the smell of cassoulet.  The name Esplanade des Capucin sounded interesting. It turns out the Capucin’s were an off-shoot of the Franciscans who ordered their life around rules drawn up in 1529.  Maybe the street has been here for a while then.

I wandered around and stopped at a little bar for a short black consumed amongst the smoking men passing their time in the morning – it was too early for lunch. I saw Cloudine and Francois and bought quiche for lunch later. Les Halles (literally translates as ‘the hall’ was the central market of an old town, and in my experience, usually included a big wooden structure). Here in Gimont it still stood, and took up the whole of the small centre of the town (very similar to Revel but much smaller). What’s more, the road went through the middle of it, underneath the large exposed beams. The pharmacy reminded me of the temperature. 27C – seems a bit hot for what it feels like. I needed to get some supplies for lunch tomorrow as it will be demi-pension tonight in another gite nowhere near a town. I purchased peaches and a pear at a little fruit and veg shop.  I can have the packet cassoulet that I bought in L’Isle Jourdain, for lunch tomorrow – then my pack will be a kilogram lighter.  I went to the Boulangerie again to get a coffee eclair. I ate it later when I stopped for lunch – unfortunately it wasn’t that good.

Walking back down the hill, down the main road again, I turned right where I saw further signs, more chemin de terre along the river, then across it (La Gimone) and joined the road just near the eglise – Chapelle de Cahuzac.  A woman was hanging out washing and I saw bull rushes again. They always remind me of Moses.

The church was dark, and the strong smell of Asiatic lilies was augmented by the sun streaming in.  A woman was attending to the flowers on alters.  I asked her where I could get my credential stamped, and she directed me to the hospital next door. Before I left I took some St Jacques and St Roch souvenir pictures. Pushing the big door of the hospital open, it seemed like a hospital anywhere, a real buzz of patients and staff busy with healing.  I got my tampon.  Outside there were some residents enjoying the sun.

Outside the Eglise, and around the back I saw one balisage and I followed the little single-laned road, quite a long way and didn’t see any further balisages.  It was getting hot, and I was already tired, even though I’d not gone far.  I lost faith that I’d find more balisages, and the road looked like it was going nowhere in particular. I thought I’d missed a turn.  I walked back towards the chapel and then left the road to the right along a little track upwards in the direction I was thinking was on track.  Past a Gendarmerie and then a big school-like place.  I just kept going even with no balisages.  I eventually emerged onto a paved road after travelling an overgrown dirt track between paddocks.  None of the road names looked right. Perdue – lost. Again! I thought it had to be further up the road so I kept following it.

Feeling nearly deflated, I asked a young guy in a big white van (maybe they’re not so bad after all) for directions.  He seemed to think I was on the right track, in fact when I went around the next bend, he stopped to show me the right place.  Just after this I saw the familiar balisages.  After he’d delivered something he came back my way and I waved a thank you as he sped past.

I stopped  to eat lunch, right by the side of a road that turned out to be a dead end, so there wasn’t ever going to be much traffic. It was after 12:30. Quiche and peaches. I needed a drink.

Balisages were a little infrequent in the afternoon, but it wasn’t too bad as the guide book map was OK.  I had a look where I had gone wrong and it looked like I had turned too soon, and that I should have kept walking further to make a turn to the left along a dirt track. After lunch I began walking inside hedgerows for most of the afternoon, disturbing lots of nesting birds as I went.  It was cooler as there was no direct sunlight.  Next to farms, cows, grapes, sorghum (?), sunflowers, Fresian cows.

1:11

Patient miles.Grapes again.  Figs. I saw an old bell tower that looked hairy from a distance with all the shrubbery growing out of it. Everything gets more hairy with age. Don’t I know it. Farm machinery lay idle. Everyone was at lunch. I passed deep ruts in the track.  I thought of my first ride from Vezelay where one day I mused about the idea of being stuck in a rut after trying to ride through deep ruts that my peddles nearly got stuck in.

It was beautiful farming countryside with a Pyrenees backdrop. Freshly ploughed fields. Sometimes it is exciting when you can’t see what’s coming.  An old cemetery.  Au Chateau d’Arne. I neglected to say that yesterday two more very young French pilgrim stayed overnight. They were new to the trail, and had walked 30kms and arrived close to dark. They were self-catering, so we didn’t see them for dinner, but we chatted over breakfast.  As I neared the gite, I found them sitting in the long grass opposite the chateau. Their feet were blistering really badly, and I think they were concluding that it was not possible to keep walking such long stages. I wished them well – they were of course going further than my measly 17kms.

Not much further along the road, and I see the turn off for my gite avec fig tree driveway. I noted the ripe fruit for retrieval the next morning. It was really warm already, and I was the first there despite thinking I had got waylayed. I have found the gites need bookings, whereas the Communal Gites seem to be first come first served, so I don’t know why I was in such a hurry today. Pied à Terre en Gascogne is an absolutely gorgeous gite run by a similarly georgous couple, Martine and her husband.

A notice somewhere indicated that I could wait for welcome, so I walked into the largest building and sat and wrote for a while in a nook with an arched ceiling that felt Moroccan, possibly because of the colours and the adobe-look of the walls.  Everything felt very earthy and natural.

I noticed there were interesting pictures of foot reflexology, and then that Martine offered foot massages, so I booked one later for 6pm.  I lounged and another pilgrim arrived – travelling the other way avec trailor.  He’d started in Le Puy, walked to Puenta La Riena and was going back to Arles/Toulouse I think. Good idea! He said following the signs backwards is hard (don’t I know, I did it on my bike on the Vezelay route).  Virginie and Sophie arrived next.  I’d already showered and washed. Then Cloudine draped in her light walking scarf and Francois. And another pilgrim. It had turned out really hot and my clothes were dry by bed time.  Now, the nights get dewy, so I always have to take shoes and clothes inside for the night.  Sophie, Virginie and I continued our funny conversations and ventured into day jobs out on a little patio near the clothes line with our beers/lemonades that Martine keeps stocked in the fridge for a small donation.

Martine had organised dinner, and while it was cooking, was going to squeeze the massage time for me. This amazed me, that she was cooking a meal for around 10 people, and still could give me a massage. What a woman!!  I made my way over to her house, where she showed me to a little room on the outside.  Oils were burning, a soft ethereal soundtrack accompanied and she sat me in a big recliner couch and darkened the room.  Within minutes, I was floating on another planet in bliss. I told Martine I’d experienced sensations like this before when doing Vipassana and she knew of this kind of meditation.  She said she could feel the energy rise up to her head. It was amazing. Just amazing. Afterwards she gave me a big hug and I said we must have been friends in a former life. She smiled. The feeling of the whole place was so calm and grounded.

The meal – fabulous.  Puy lentils and duck, bortsh with bread and rilettes and date cake with custard. Red wine. Of Course.

After sitting up for a little writing and listening to Cloudine and Francois planning their next moves, I decided it was time to retire up the ladder to the group room in the attic. My tired, oiled and massaged feet slept very soundly!