Via Tolosana Day 6: Poubelle Planet

Montpellier to Montarnaud 14kms

Jacques and I met in the small park near our tram stop. Not only had I caved on the getting to Montpellier, I also caved on getting out. The only good thing about this plan was me getting to use the tram system. My love of trams was one of my many reasons for moving to Melbourne. I also love the light rails Europe. They are so modern, quiet and efficient. This one, Line 1 with oiseaus (birds) painted on the outside would take us all the way to the edge of the city, once again skipping the ‘boring’ bits.

Beautiful Montpellier

Montpellier Trompe-l’œil

So after eating our pain au chocolat, off we went. It was pretty cool at 7.30 and my pack again felt heavy. There was trackwork (it even happens in my beloved France). They call it an interruption and it seemed that it had been going on some months already, so there was a section which we had to walk for 5 minutes from Pasteur to Place Albert. After this we went all the way to Euromedicine, whatever that is, and commenced our walk. Uphill along a bike track for the start, past what I called the Pines of the Appian Way (there are two musical references there for those who know Respighi and the multitudes of composers who wrote drinking songs).  We soon left the larger road for a smaller one with our familiar GR653 waymarks.  Today when we weren’t crossing the back streets of small towns, the way was rocky on dirt tracks. Many beautiful vistas, more colourful letter boxes, horses real and sculptured, St Jacques pilgrim things, coquille shells and tampons. And that was just before lunch.

I’d say we’re on the GR653

Pines of the Appian Way

At Grabels, which kind of reminds me a little too much of the word gerbils to be comfortable, there was even a ‘self-service’ tampon for our credentials. The stamp was beautiful, and we availed ourselves of it by entering the partly ajar gate at the church.  Up a couple of stairs, and we found an ink pad with a tampon attached to a chain, so it couldn’t walk off on the chemin itself. I shared with Jacques the meaning of tampon in English – maybe that was too much information, but he laughed anyway. Just outside of Grabels, we took a strange little route past the source of a river, de l’Auy. A new pilgrim sticker appeared, unfamiliar to me and then we started a slow climb through pine trees with the accompanying singers and the most beautiful cloud formations. The marche at first reminded me of My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle for the content and environment.

Ou est le tampon?

Coquille St Jacques

Presbytery Garden

New waymark

Piscine (swimming pool)

My Mother’s Castle

My Father’s Glory

Lunch with The North Face and Kathmandu

Magnificent horses

The last four kilometres, no matter how far one walks, always seem the hardest. We could see Montarnaud in the distance for ages before we even got close to it. It was so hot when we arrived, that we sat on the church steps gathering our energy to find our gite. Despite piscine teasers (swimming pool) during the day they weren’t going to become a reality any time soon. A neighbour heard us asking someone where we might find water, and she offered to get us some, and asked us about our trip after filling our two bottles. Local people seem really interested in pilgrims.

I have done many things for money in my life, and one of them has been working as an extra. I got a phone call from my Canberra friend Fiona one day just as I was getting off a plane in Adelaide. She had just seen me in a scene of Laid. This was a scene where all of the ex-boyfriends of the protagonist had assembled in a pub to discuss the concerning reality that each one in turn was dying. I’ll never forget one of the jokes for the scene because we shot it several times. One of the boyfriends said, “I know we’re all hungry, and angry … we’re hangry“. This became another joke that Jacques and I shared, although I also added another variation for the end of a pilgrim day, ‘thangry‘. We agreed we often arrived thirsty as well.

We walked to our gite, the second story of our host’s house, and fully equipped with kitchen, bathroom and lots of camp beds able to be rolled out should numbers swell for a night. This was another ‘backpacks in garbage bags situation’, and we dutifully complied. I love listening to Camille, a French chanteuse. She has a great song called Aujourd’hui in which she chants about our Poubelle Planet. Poubelle is the most beautiful word for rubbish bin I can imagine. So every time I come across garbage in any form, it sets me off singing it.

We did the usual, bathed and washed our clothes, hanging them on the line out the back of the house. The supermarket was a bit of a walk, but we took it slowly as it was still really hot. This was the chance to buy things for breakfast and lunch the next day. I also bought some gnocchi, aubergine, onion and courgette and with the pesto in the communal fridge, made us pesto pasta for dinner. It was nice to cook again after nearly a week.

My little toe is a little better, but my foot muscles are spent. I walk around in my yellow thongs like an old woman. Steps are a challenge and the situation only improves marginally with seven hours of sleep. Sigh.

Via Tolosana Day 5:  Toujours tout droit … and skip the boring bits

Gallargues to Montpellier 6km … walking

Since I was a child I have disliked the feeling that I might be missing out on something. My experience tells me that when we think that something is going to be a certain way, there can be a 50/50 chance that it will, and the same chance that it won’t. This is what I thought about our plans to ‘skip’ the uninteresting things between Vauvert and Montpellier. The experience of skipping a town I was going to stay in has left me feeling, what did I miss out on? Is company on the road worth the potential loss of things that would have been interesting to me? I suppose this is a choice people make every day, to choose companionship rather than solitude, just to have someone there, despite the toll on the things they are interested in.

I had blogged until late the night before, well after it was dark, sharing my wifi access spot with late night walkers, hoons in cars, and all sorts of nightlife, so I was slow getting up. The youth-hostel like nature of our accommodation was charming and it was sad to pack up and leave. We lost the key to the accommodation (and found it again in the best place for it, in the lock) so we were a little late leaving at 7.30am. I had cleared the tar from my shoes and they felt so much better. I could still feel my little toe, but I was managing it alright. It has a blood blister and I expect the nail will fall off before I finish walking. I think what did it was walking around in Paris for two days in my Keen sandals. The arches of my feet were aching and I still wasn’t feeling in tip-top walking shape.

Le Vidourle – ancient style

Jacques and I walk at the same tempo and we talk when we have things to say, and don’t when we don’t. It is easy and he is a good companion. We walked quite quickly as the roads were fairly major ones with a moderate amount of car and cycle traffic for a Sunday morning. There was a little too much road walking for my liking, (it is not only more dangerous, but also the road is hard on one’s feet) but the countryside was beautiful. More grapevines.

As neither of our maps quite covered our walk for the morning our joke for the day was something the woman at the Office of Tourism told us. When leaving Gallargues, at every roundabout we should just keep going straight ahead – tout droit. To always go straight ahead is toujours tout droit. So on, straight through roundabouts we went, being barked at by most of the town’s dogs. The day before we had encountered a particularly enthusiastic guard dog with an attitude who leapt up onto the high wall in front of his house and barked at us without rest. The manoevre reminded me of the bullfighters leaping over two fences to escape their pursuers. Crossing le Vidourle, we saw two fishermen and I realised I was taking my photos on the ‘ancient setting’ which was giving an interesting effect, however didn’t do a great job of reflecting the cool blues and greens of the river. Continuing along quite a major road it was really disappointing to see a lot of rubbish next to the side of the road. Maybe a ‘Clean up France Day’ is needed.

Lunel modern art

The walk was pretty exposed, and usually about a half an hour after I start in the morning I need to wee, and can often find a suitable tree or bush. Not today. We asked at a service station but the woman was not helpful. We passed a Gendarmerie and they very obligingly allowed me to have a pee-pee as Jacques puts it. I feel sorry for the women officers, there was no toilet paper. Jacques said later he thought they were quite suspicious of our packs. Understandably. Relieved, we continued towards the gare (station) to continue our tout droit day – I noticed the yellow compostage machine which reminds me of the signs we see walking. We had a bit of time until the train, so we went back to a bar and I had a cafe and Jacques the chosen beverage for the region, a Perrier, as one does to salute cottage industries turned into multi-national products.

Bon courage at SNCF

Perrier anyone?

Nantes biscuits

The gare in Montpellier is light, bright and modern and has the most magnificent pink floor – granite I suppose. Stepping out of the station and you have arrived in a majestically decorated tram town. No wonder I like Montpellier. It reminded me of other French cities with paved roads and tram tracks, Le Mans, Nantes and Dijon. It makes for a special, person-centred feel and is clearly a hit for the locals and tourists alike. Long, wide promenades and rows of plane trees. Heavily ornamented buildings frame the wide streets and the small ancient rues (streets) of the old town. It was nice to get to Montpellier early and wander around as I had originally planned to be here for two nights.

Rue de Maguelone

Place de la Comedie

Most of the shops were shut, but the restaurants were open, and after finding maps at the Office de Tourisme, we found the Pelerin Sanctuaire Saint-Roch, the patron saint of pilgrims. We continued through the tiny streets past stunt bikes to the Arc de Triomphe and the Promenade du Peyrou and the Chateau d’Eau. Behind it, the Boulevard des Arceaux (Saint Clemente) It was warm. Under the beautiful blue and green glass street lamps and giant plane trees there was a bustling bric-a-brac market. I wondered whether Viola had got here, and was blowing balloons and juggling.

stunt bike

stunt bike two

Aquaduct van Saint-Clément,

Château d’eau du Peyrou (1689)

beautiful lamps – La Promenade du Peyrou

Holding up half the sky

Camino waymarker

If you look closely you can see cocquille shells on the Trompe-l’œl

We decided to return to the Office of Tourism because next door there was a beautiful place to have a picnic on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. On the way we stopped at Les Halles where there was a market in the process of closing. A baguette, some chevre and tomato with a rockmelon made a perfect lunch. I also found out about a hotel for the night as I wanted wifi and a private room for the interview at … 12.45am in the morning! I thought that Hotel Cosmos sounded a little more promising that Hotel Abyss, so I booked that. Jacques would do his own thing.

There wasn’t a lot doing for food near the hotel, so I had sushi, and returned to the hotel for the long wait until 12.45pm – I couldn’t skip that boring bit.

Via Tolosana Day 4: Royal Canin, Perrier and place of angels

Vauvert to Gallargues-le-Montueux  14kms

We got up at 6am and after petit dejeuner, we dragged all of our supplies downstairs to reunite them with our backpacks and do the final packing. Marie-Claude had left a lovely tray for each of us for petit dejeuner, and despite intending to write my morning pages, I didn’t. She was on night shift, so we didn’t get to see her before we left. Once again we again joked when we left ‘just before 7am’. Bull-fighting and feet on chairs aside, it really was a very pleasant place to stay.

I got an email from the Gite in Arles to say they had found my Confraternity guide.

Leaving from Vauvert was again by minor roads, past vineyards. Jacques speaks several languages, as many Europeans do, English being one of them so we discussed the pronunciation of ‘vinyards’ rather than ‘vine-yards’. I don’t know why we pronounce it like this – English must be a very difficult language. The only equivalent in sound I can think of is the station in Sydney, Wynyard, but that is spelt differently. For pronunciation anyway, it seems I was teaching Jacques a few new things too.
We passed some grape pickers/pruners who were just starting their work, and one struck up a conversation with us in English. Just around the next little bend, the road passed under some large shady plane trees and we were greeted with a very cute little maison. The chemin takes virtually no account of whether there are houses close by, and on this occasion it made a circuit right around it, past their fenced off back patio and then up over a bridge over Le Vistre. I kept walking over the bridge, but Jacques noticed cats being fed, and struck up a conversation with the woman of the house through the open doorway.

There is no accounting for what a joke about Royal Canin in this area can open doors to at 7.30am in the morning. The woman invited us in for a coffee! As we’d foregone the fresh coffee at M-C’s place, we were keen. They had four generations of the family staying there that night, and her son, a pompier (fireman) appeared after a few minutes as did the grandmother. Being high summer, firemen are on alert for bushfires, just as in Australia, although it is my impression that while there are volunteers in France also, a lot of the fires are fought by paid firefighters. The coffee was great, and we were even treated to some plums from a tray of fresh fruit their friends had brought around.

The woman was telling us about the other factory of note in this area – Perrier. So if you’re wondering where that is made, wonder no longer. It started as a small concern, a family business, that was supported by the locals, as they could see work opportunities for their children. More recently though, the company had been bought out, and there was quite a lot of despair in the community as the job prospects had dried up with the new management. Jacques later told me you could take a tour of both factories. How about that, what a missed opportunity.

Vauvert vineyards

Track after coffee

Continuing on after our coffee, it became windy and again the cigalles sang to us from their plane trees. We were keenly looking out for signs of large kennels and pet food factories, but all we saw were a multitude of dogs in people’s front yards. Maybe they outsource their testing now in exchange for reduced price dog food supplies. We saw the canal again a couple of times, more vineyards and more peaches. There is another crop that we passed today. I know it as amaranth, but I’m not sure that’s what it is.

Attention Chien

Place of angels?

Balisages

Further on and we couldn’t follow the chemin de terre path that we wanted to because right in front of us were big earthworks blocking our way – perhaps for a new trainline. We ended up walking a combination on the D104 and then on a newly asphalted path to get back to where we needed to be and to walk past the place of angels. I was walking for sometime before I realised that the new sticky tar was all in my boots, and doing a great job of removing any cushioning benefit I might get from the previously great grip pattern. I had fun digging it out when we got to Gallargues.

Earthworks

Camargue letterboxes

Chemin de terre

We passed through Codognan, and I saw a Protestant Eglise and in the process, we missed a turn out of the town. I was obviously too busy taking photos of rabbits.  We looped around an extra kilometre probably to once again get back to the GR653 path and the familiar red and white signs. We probably walked more like 15 or 16kms in the end. My little toe was not as irritated with the addition of some wool for padding, but the arches in my feet get really achy by the end of the day. This aspect doesn’t seem to improve as I walk more.

The source of Perrier

La Poste rabbit

Camargues horse

Apart from the leaving before the hour joke, Jacques and I have another which is about taking the train. So today when I was taking photos, and there were powerlines in them, he suggested they could be photoshopped out (he apparently enjoys working with editing software). I said, yes, that’s just what I’d expect from someone who takes the train instead of walking. Just skip the bits you don’t want to see or do. He and M-C had a conversation the night before about how ‘all’ pelerins skip the part of the way between Gallargues and Montpelier, firstly because the first part is next to TGV lines and motorways, and secondly because the outskirts of Montpelier are ‘not interesting’ either. I’m a bit of a purist (I say that after a full three days of walking mind you), whereas Jacques has walked many ways, and at times will take a bus or take short cuts to make the walk easier. I wasn’t convinced it was what I wanted to do, as I had originally planned to stop in Ballargues, but it was nice to have the company while walking, so I said I would consider doing what Jacques decided. We agreed that we would look at the options at the Office of Tourism in Gallargues.

We got into town at about 2pm, and found that the office would open again at 3pm. It was a Saturday, so we were lucky that the boulangerie was still open and we got some lunch, and Jacques asked about the location of the local municipal gite. While I sat and extricated tar from my shoes under the tiny and ancient Les Halles (market building), Jacques did a reconnoitre for the hostel. He came back having found a number to ring on the front gate. It is lucky he had gone to the gate because the contact name and number were different to those in the Dodo and if we’d just rung that, we would never have got through. The woman said she would be there within the hour to open the gite for us and stamp our credentiales. We were welcome to go in to the courtyard and wait there as the gate was open, so after eating our lunch, we picked up our things and walked (I shuffled), around the corner. Everything was close here. The Office of Tourisme was a couple of doors up from the Boulangerie and over the small one-laned street from Les Halles.

Gallargues Office de Tourisme

The local municipal pilgrim accommodation was excellent, and we were the only ones there. It was right next to a workers club and it looked like a gymnasium next door with lots of gym mats on the ground. Jacques joked with the woman and her husband that he thought we might have to sleep on them. It is a simple place with only 8 beds, mostly bunks. The building wasn’t that old, but had really high ceilings and large windows with shutters that opened out onto the courtyard with two huge fig trees and a picnic table and chairs. Jam, dried toasts, filter coffee, tea and long-life milk are supplied so you have everything you need. Our hosts were lovely. Once again I didn’t understand everything they were saying, but the were really friendly and helpful and found me a real cigale to take a photo of.

The day was again warm, so we could do our washing after showering, and the clothes would easily dry before nightfall. After we’d done the domestics, it was time to tackle the issue of plans for tomorrow at the Office of Tourism. The young woman was very helpful, and keen to speak English as she had spent time in Australia. She had also spent time in Belgium so had things to talk about with Jacques too. She helped us by finding that there were no buses running on Sundays from Gallargues, and also no trains would be stopping there either. If we wanted to take the ‘quick’ way to Montpelier, we’d have to walk around 6kms to the next town, Lunel, and catch the train from there. That became our plan.

I got the wifi code – the longest one in the world I think. With these automatically generated codes, I’ve noticed there are many common letters. I think this one had lots of Fs, which is what I felt like saying when it took me three goes to get my iPad to log in. I was already behind with my posting, so I asked whether I could stay and use the wifi in the afternoon and evening. The wifi stays on, so even after the office closed I was able to continue to sit outside under the oversized carport and finish my Paris restaurant blog. Jacques very kindly brought some chairs from the gite so that I didn’t have to sit on the concrete.

Gallargues municipal gite

Real cigale

An epicerie is like a corner shop. It often has fresh food, cheese and meats in addition to canned food and sometimes pre-prepared packaged foods – perfect pelerin fare for heating in microwaves. I felt like an orange and fennel salad for dinner, so that’s what I bought. With rice and tuna salad, rockmelon ham and pineapple juice we had quite a feast. After dinner I went back to La Halle and continued blogging until it was dark. I snuck back into the gite when I’d finished. So now you know the lengths I go to in a foreign country for wifi to complete this blog!

La Halle

Via Tolosana Day 3: Stone fruit, courgettes and faux pas

St Gilles to Vauvert 17.8km

It was quite hot and stifling in our underground room over night, so I didn’t get much sleep. Jacques and I had agreed to leave just before 7am, so I got up at 5:45am to write first. I got a page written around breakfast and packing. Viola was really tired, so had breakfast with us then went back to bed. For some reason it was a bit of a struggle fitting everything back in, but maybe it was because I was packing with an audience and a feeling like I didn’t want to hold Jacques up from starting walking. I made a cheese and avocado baguette for the road with an apricot and peach for snacks. It felt much better to have food to eat for the day.

Jacques and I set out just as the church bells struck 7 and we joked about wanting to leave just before 7am. It was a warm morning, but a beautiful one nevertheless. A taste of what was to come and of course entree into another song – Oh, What a Beautiful Morning. Once we had left the town, we crossed a disused railway line and then wove our way through orchards of apricots and peaches. Olive groves and vineyards appeared along the small farming roads complete with the odd tractor. The sun was not yet high enough to worry us and without really realising it, we’d walked for nearly an hour and a half. Jacques was very kindly (and patiently) assisting me to speak with him in French, and because it was the morning, my brain was fresh, and it wasn’t too hard and it made the time pass quicker.

St Gilles dogs – a beagle for Anita

We paused on the wall outside Chateau Lamargue, a big winery, and my friends from yesterday passed again. They were nearing the end of their walk and so were planning to walk a long way today. He was still keen on the walking, but she was saying that she might not do it again.

Resuming, we soon met the Canal d’Irrigation du Bas-Rhone Languedoc which we walked next to for several kilometres on an at times difficult dirt road. The stones were smooth like river stones, and came in all sizes making it important to choose your steps carefully so as to avoid a twisted ankle. Just before leaving the canal, we decided to have a break in the nearest thing to the Belle-vue on the signpost that we could manage. In reality there was no good place to stop, it was very dry and dusty, so we made do under pencil pines with the associated insect species – you know the ones I’m talking about!

Canal d’Irrigation du Bas-Rhone Languedoc

After this point we were to cross the bridge and double back for a short distance (probably to avoid the more direct route on private property). We then found ourselves walking next to a field of courgettes. Did I say I was in France? Zucchini doesn’t have the same ring does it? Turning again, the sun ripening the apricots, several varieties of peach and nectarine (including my favourite nectarine variety), was now fully on our backs. Most of varieties were perhaps a week away from my kind of ripe, but there was a fallen branch and I found a peach to my liking to feast upon. The track passed into a more shaded area and we passed some pigs – we could smell them and hear them rather than seeing them as they were behind a hedge. It took me back to days at the Royal Adelaide Show.

Peach tree

We ate lunch under a large tree in the shade near an old stone building. Bees buzzed overhead in the branches instead of cigales. For the afternoon, we passed bigger, more open farm land and then crossed a road and descended into an unusual cutting made into the clay. It made a trench of varying heights lined with varying sized stones again. Once again the way was found by picking your steps carefully. The smell of pine was heady and there were pine needles along the way also. In the stretches that were not shaded, the sun burnt my skin more each step. We emerged from that little diversion onto a plateau of vines, and we could smell sulphur. In the morning I had explained to Jacques how I had worked for pocket money in Renmark in the summertime as a teenager at first cutting apricots and then picking grapes. I explained how we’d cut the apricots in half and set them out on wooden trays that would stack up to 6 high before being piled maybe 50 high and sulphured overnight. The trays would then be spread during the day for drying. Those were the days, when Australia produced it’s own dried apricots and Turkish apricots saw out their lives in Turkey. Those were lovely summers with Aunty Carolyn and Uncle Don, and my cousins. They are very precious memories, and the reason I know the smell of sulphur a mile off.

Looking back for pigs

Interesting diversion

When I’m writing about this walking, it might sound like I skip along the road effortlessly. Jacques could attest that is not what I look like when I have walked 17 kilometres. Walking into Vauvert could be better described on my part at least, as shuffling – Cliff Young style. He at least was jogging, and he had an excuse for shuffling, he was 76. The other reason for me shuffling was that the copious amounts of stone fruit were taking their toll on my innards, and I’d been needing a toilet for a number of hours. I’m sensitive about number twos in the wild (there’s one for you Jo)! I might need to get over that before 6 weeks is done.

Humbling things happen though when you reach a town. One man had a water bottle, and offered to top mine up. Another woman who Jacques had asked about directions to Coleurs du Sud (our Chambre d’hotes) took our bottles inside to get ‘fresh’ water as Jacques put it – fresh for it’s temperature rather than the opposite of water from a stagnant pond. Her husband came out with a laptop to help with the orientation.

I like this asking thing. I don’t do enough of it. Maybe when I’m full of concerns or think that it is a reflection on my capabilities I find it hard to allow myself to ask. Maybe I just haven’t been very interested in connecting with people. Maybe this is a symptom of burnout. In the past I’ve preferred to work things out for myself and maybe there is conceit involved in this because very often I believe I will have the answer and may doubt if others could provide further value.  Or is it just that I trust my own judgement. Coming to a town, I’d be more likely to just follow my nose until I found what I was looking for, rather than ask. Certainly I think that the language issue has been bigger on previous visits. Now I’m much more likely to ask when something opens or closes, or where to find water for instance. Sometimes I think it is more about the pride I feel when I know I have worked it out for myself. It will be interesting to observe what happens over this trip – whether I use my opportunities to ask.

I had the fortunate experience of travelling around Australia some years ago with an opera company, Co-Opera from South Australia. I helped out with the driving for thousands of kilometres in addition to playing 40 regional versions of Puccini’s La Boheme. One of the things that made the trip a little more interesting for me, was keeping a look out every day for some form of Australia Post van or truck. Most days I wasn’t disappointed, and at random moments the red messengers would cross our path. I expect on this trip, the jaune (yellow) La Poste vans will serve the same purpose. They, because the French have more taste, and maybe more loyalty to their state institutions, do not yet have … “powering online shopping” written on them! I’m not always quick enough to snap them, unless they’re stationary (excuse the pun), but once again, I expect to see them most days.

La Poste – Vauvert

We arrived around 1.00pm at our accommodation and our hostess, Marie-Claude had us decant from our backpacks the bare essentials we would need for sleeping. Our backpacks were then stored in garbage bags next to our boots in the entry hall. Apparently this is a precaution many hosts take in order not to get outbreaks of bed-bugs. I haven’t heard of any bed bugs so far, so it seems like a bit of a rigmarole for nothing, but being a hostess myself, I understand the caution.

It was a nice room overlooking the street with two camp beds and a double. I was happy with the camp bed. Marie-Claude was keen to let me know that the bed is for sleeping in. I wasn’t to sit on it, read in it or in anyway be in it apart from reclined. There had obviously been previous guests who had come a cropper. The bathroom was down a small passage – sans door … racy! I’d just have to trust that Jacques wouldn’t walk in on me.

Traditional costume of the Camargue

Downstairs, they have converted their garage into a beautiful outdoor enclosed kitchen and dining area next to an enclosed patio with high brick walls and it was here that we were treated to anise syrup cordial. We’d later have our beautifully prepared supper there and petit dejeuner the next morning. Jacques and Marie-Claude discussed her work as a maternity nurse. I listened, but didn’t understand much. When the conversation moved to pets I pricked up my ears when Royal Canin was mentioned. You may remember I took a trip to Shanghai with a guy I was knocking around with a few years ago when I lived in Sydney. He was going for a job with this company, so I knew what it was about. When he told me that the job might involve several trips to France each year I said, that would be great. He’d never been to France, so I said don’t take my word for it being fantastic, he might hate France. M-C was enthusiastically telling us about how it is pet food specialised for the age and dietary needs of the dog. This fact sits amongst all the trivia I know that is usually of limited use to me. It might have got me extra credibility with Jacques and M-C on this occasion. What I didn’t know was their factory and the associated kennels were right around the corner from here. Who knew?

After we’d showered and washed our clothes, we were sitting around, letting our muscles repair and M-C offered to show us the pride of the Camargue … bull-fighting. Clip after clip on YouTube showing the bulls pursuing lithe young men who often ended up needing to escape by jumping Ninja-style over two fences. The bull in pursuit at times jumps one fence, ploughing into it with its legs. My sensitivities to these kinds of ‘sports’ which the animal apparently ‘loves’, not my words, have grown over the years. Apart from the fact I could barely stand still from the walk as my feet and legs were aching, I could also barely stand to watch it. I did out of politeness to my host, and for a few beautiful Carmague scenery films, but this was not the highlight of my Via Tolosana adventure.

It was a mutual pushing of buttons I think, because not long after I had felt obliged to stand up for 15 minutes in the same spot, I needed to sit down, and unfortunately literally put my feet up. The outdoor dining area contained outdoor chairs and M-C not being there to ask, I put my feet on one of the cushions. M-C returned to find my feet on the seat and I was in no uncertain terms told that this was not done in France and I was ushered to the chaise lounge outside. Oops. Even pilgrim’s feet don’t deserve a seat when they’re tired, not even for medical reasons.

Via Tolosana Day 2: Les Trois Ponts

Bouchaud to St Gilles 18kms

My juggling friend and I left Bouchaud together setting out for St Gilles in the cool hours around 8am. There was even a light breeze. I navigated as I had the map, back to Gimeaux and the GR653. Viola prefers to ask directions rather than have a map – I like that but it scares me somewhat having to speak in French to strangers. I explained how to read the little balisages (red and white arrows and crosses). It was only the first day, but from what I could see, there were plenty of way-markers. On the way we passed hacienda-style compounds guarded by plaster dogs and porcelain cigales. There was not much traffic all day as the roads were minor farming roads. There was more traffic in the sky – invisible, speed of sound jets, then the French version of the Roulettes did a fly past for us. The French have considerable military muscle to flex – I wondered where the air show was.

Guard animals

Viola had a very big pack, and she was worried about her broken buckle not coping with the strain. She chose to stop for a rest after about an hour near Mas des Bernacles. I really wanted wifi and food so kept going. We said our goodbyes, and said we’d meet in St Gilles. In the distance behind us were a couple I later met, a French woman and her German partner. I found out when they caught me in a little town on the outskirts of St Gilles that their way was from Grenoble to Montpellier and they’d already walked for three weeks.

Viola

Me and my backpack

Way markers – mine are the white and red GR

I was alone in terms of human contact, but as I made my way along the Camargue canals and small roads, I was joined by dragonflies of all shapes and sizes – big blue, small red and blue then some beautiful swans. I was hoping for some flamingoes because believe it or not, they are native. Sadly, they didn’t join me. Instead I just kept singing the song Pretty Flamingo.

Not far from where I’d left Viola, I came across a guy fishing next to a bridge. Blackberries, bullrushes, canals petite and grand, rice paddies and vineyards. Every so often the road took a bend. The uncertainty of not seeing the road a long way ahead was kind of nice in that it broke up the journey and gave some novelty to the road. Funny that the same road can look different when it turns a corner.

Camargue fields

Blackberries

Triple security Camargue style

As I would find many times in the coming weeks, the way is not always direct. The GR653 people not only have the route following old Roman roads, Compostelle ways, but also along paths to take you away from busy roads, past water, and chapels. All of the things a pilgrim needs. I couldn’t work out which one the route into and then out of Saliers was for, but it was an interesting diversion. I saw two beautifully thatched buildings that looked like churches, found water, and eventually sat down for a break under a shady tree. Two boys killing time in front of the town church were kind enough to allow me to interrupt their bon vacance to direct me to the little village’s water supply. France’s future is in safe hands with such polite young people.
In a book I started reading recently, David Downie’s, Paris to the Pyrenees, he included a photo of a fire hydrant. For anyone who has not walked (including myself at the time) the rationale for using a non-descript fire hydrant in one’s collection of pertinent photos of a trip kind of escapes. Now I understand perfectly. On long days, where there are few towns, all you want is a source of eau portable – drinking water. You eye off every fire hydrant enviously, realising they have everything you need, but with no way of making it available to you.

Bridge over the Rhone

Another compostelle way marker

Regional symbol of the Camargue

I crossed the impressive bridge over the Canal du Rhone, but then there was another diversion to bring me into the eastern end of St Gilles and to take me off the busy, semi-trailer filled N572. It involved a lot of faffing around and nearly killed me, but I was quite concerned to ‘go the right way’, so I followed, feet barely leaving the ground as I sauntered along white metal roads, over disused train tracks, next to farms with three exuberant and friendly dogs, two of whom jumped up on me, in what seemed like ridiculous heat.

As if one large bridge wasn’t enough, I came to the petite bridge over the Petite Rhone. Then following signs that looked like they led to nowhere, I found yes, after two lovely horses, another cute little bridge. I crossed a field by chemin de terre, and lo and behold, yes, another little bridge. This one had steps to climb. I was doubting whether after 16 kilometres I’d be able to lift my feet to climb steps, but I surprised myself. Les Trois Ponts, (the three bridges) things always come in threes.

Non-descript path

GR marker

I know where I’ve been

I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid. I find the heat exhausting and it often gives me a migraine. So, to salve this possibility, I brought my own supply of Salvital with me, the thing that always helps me in Australia. I stopped and sat down to drink it in and take a break before sauntering off, only to be dealt a cruel blow. In the near distance, the road rose steeply. I could see for miles before St Gilles that it was on a hill, so I don’t know why I was surprised. Halfway up the hill, and wait, there’s more … steps! At the top, what a vista – the large bridge I’d crossed first, and the surrounding hills. Self-discipline, just keep walking, just keep walking. I followed the little markers, now on street sign posts and house walls, all the way to the Mairie (city hall), with enough French and European Union flags flying to make Tony Abbott jealous. The little red and white signs led me down steep narrow streets towards the centre ville and voila, the Abbey. Magnificent.

Abbaye St Gilles

The two options for accommodation were en face the abbey, the Maison des Pelerin and the Gite La Pause du Pelerin. I sat relieved on the steps of the first, taking a breath while deciding what to do. I decided first to go into the abbey and was met there by a a lovely woman who was happy to fill up my water bottle, tell me about where a cash machine was, and about the very impressive crypt that existed below our feet. You can also have your Credential stamped at churches, and she offered to do this. It reminds me of collecting autographs when I was younger. I have Peter Garrett’s when he was just the cool frontman of Midnight Oil, if that counts for anything now? The crypt closed at 5.00pm, so I decided to make an effort to get to see it.

After this I also gave the Office de Tourisme a try. Philippe recommended the municipal gite as it was cheaper, and I would find free wifi in the bars in the town. I went to get a Diablo Menthe (mint syrup and lemonade) at a bar before making my way back to the gite. It was funny because Paul, the host at the gite, offered the same as cordial when I arrived. I could have saved my money. Jacques, a retired Belgian was booking in also. So if Viola made it, it would mean there would be three pelerins – company on the road!

The way it usually works when you ‘get in’ to a town, if you don’t have a reservation, is to visit the Office de Tourisme. Not only can they help with information and bookings for current and upcoming towns, but they can be mined for megabytes with their free wifi. When you get to your chosen accommodation, you spend the first few minutes booking in and getting your credential stamped, yes with a tampon, (yes I smile to myself everytime I have to say it) and paying your money. If there is a host/ess, you spend time talking to them about what’s on offer. Here it was a donation towards petit dejeuner (breakfast) and a cost of 12 euros for the bed. After this, you choose your bed, shower, then wash your walking clothes, so that you give them the maximum time to dry before leaving the next morning. Nine out of ten times, my socks don’t dry fully overnight – that’s why you see them pinned to the back of my backpack. After this, you survey the available food outlets and choose your food for dinner and breakfast, if none is supplied. What is included in the price varies on the type of accommodation you choose. It is great to stay in these little municipal establishments because they provide all cooking utensils, microwave/stove and often tea/coffee and jams for breakfast. If you don’t mind sharing with other people, and the night soundtrack this sometimes entails, then it is perfect.

Maison des Pelerins

I was on my way to the supermarche when who walked up the narrow car-width street? Voila, Viola! She’d made it. I showed her where the Gite was and went to sit in the bar reading emails under the guise of drinking a coffee. I found out I had a phone interview for a cello teaching job at 12.45am Monday morning. That will be interesting and may require a separate room. I made a quick trip to the Crypt of the church and it’s guardians were right, it is cool, damp and magnificent. Apparently it is also one of the largest in France. On my way out I again bumped into the couple I saw during the day. They were headed on a big 30km walk tomorrow.

Back at the Gite, Paul, the host, had rung ahead, and found that the two cheapest places in Vauvert had both closed. He found another, Coleurs du Sud, and Jacques was seeking takers to stay there with him. They had one room for four people. I was happy to agree, as I had no other plans. Though the 30 euro was a bit expensive, there was nothing cheaper. My bed for tomorrow night was settled. Viola thought she would make her own way, possibly camping. I Ioved the walk today. It wasn’t lonely, just solitary, but it seems tomorrow there will be company. The pain in my hip has transferred down my legs to my calves and my feet are aching. I could feel a dull ache in my coccyx by the end of the walk today. Nothing a night’s sleep won’t fix, I hope.

Viola had found out the locations where the locals gathered thanks again to the Office of Tourism and wanted to go busking. I wanted to check out the old town trail to soak up the old building atmosphere – one of my favourite things to do. So after a dinner eaten together with Paul and Jacques, Viola got dressed up and took her balloons to perform. At the end of my trailing, I met Viola down by the river and wrote my journal for a while as the light faded.
Well if this is the life of a pelerin, then I’m for it. There is not much more to worry about than getting up in the morning, walking, eating and sleeping. Back to basics really.

Viola ready for performing

Via Tolosana Day 1: Into Great Silence

Arles to Bouchaud 8kms

I knew I was well rested because when I put my pack on to go, it was lighter – I swear! Although, there were still doubts about having my SLR camera and extra things, but I will just have to see how I go. For breakfast the coffee was instant, the bread yesterday’s but at least it was something. I wrote my morning pages. There was nothing doing in the dining room, unlike the night before where a parade of people passed through – none of them pilgrims. Can’t wait to meet a real one.

I packed up but couldn’t find my Confraternity guide book. I was emailed later to say they had found it, but it was a bit late then. Maybe it was telling me to focus on Miam Miam Dodo, and not worry so much about the other information. I had a brief chat to the woman at the maison, and she said the most popular months are more May/June and August/September. She said she had not seen a pilgrim in a while. I thought, there goes my chances of meeting people on the way. I said I’ve always been a little crazy, to which she replied, only Nazis walk in this heat. Nice!

The day before I had spoken to four people to try and get accommodation in someone’s house. One of them, Annie, after I’d already booked in the Maison, said I would be welcome to stay with her if I hadn’t found anywhere. Then she proceeded to text me helpful information. She was like my first guardian angel. I had asked her for the locations of supermarkets, which she delivered promptly. She checked whether I already had my Credential, and whether I wanted maps to St Gilles (my second stop), and I let her know that I was going to Bouchaud first. She said Vous aimerez le monstiere de Notre Dame des Champs mais prenez une lotion anti-moustiques!! (You’ll like the monastery, but take mosquito lotion!)


Basilique St Trophime

So after snapping another photo of the Basilique St Trophime, I wandered down rue de la Republique to get myself some food and some mosquito lotion. I managed the food OK, but I think my cash passport top up had not gone through and three cards that I had weren’t working. No mosquito lotion. I felt a little vulnerable. I had 3.40 euros left, and my lunch and dinner. If I walked to Bouchaud there would be no wifi and no bank. There would be no money until the next town. I took a deep breath, asked myself what I should do, and the answer came, walk to Bouchaud and everything will be alright. So that’s what I did.

Sunflowers

Hot already from my to-ing and fro-ing finding food, trying to get cash and buy lotion, the sweat was dripping. It must have already been 30C. I continued on the blue dotted line pilgrim route on my Arles town map, out, over the bridge across Le Rhone lugging a plastic bag with my lunch in it, because my pack was too full to fit in anything else.

It was footpaths at first, but then along a stretch of shoulderless road walking against the traffic. I know it is meant to be safer, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. The stencil art continues out the very fringes of the city – even under bridges. My new Salamon walking shoes felt good. Until now I’d been wearing cotton socks with them to travel in, but now with the addition of woollen socks, they were extra tight, but comfortable. My right shoulder gives me a little concern, but not pain with my pack on, just when I take it off. It has hurt since Australia, so I can’t blame the road. I can feel what I think is my hip when I’m walking, which just goes to show what an extra 10 kgs does to my joints.

Van Gogh’s sunflowers, still nodding towards the east, had not yet woken up. Their stance was matched later by a monk in robes, head bent in what I thought was extreme contemplation. After a flutter in an obscured building, I realised he was retrieving the bottles of wine for lunch.

Skirting the town, parallel to the river, I walked further as the road grew a shoulder. That was reassuring as the size of vehicle coming towards me had also grown to semi-trailer size. I came across a collection of vehicles parked next to some make-shift tents … fruit stall by the side of the road. “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it” (Alice Walker), were the words on my mind and I slightly let go of that anxiety I had about finding enough food. A peach, two apricots, an eggplant and pepper all for 1 euro and I had covered morning tea, lunch and maybe a contribution for dinner. I tried to engage the fruit seller in a conversation about the unusual (to me) shaped apricots, trying to ask her what variety they were, but my French let me down, as it often does. One thing that has improved a lot is my numbers thanks to Alliance Francaise so I am able to understand when buying things, however I was away the week they did days of the week, so these are still hopeless. I know Lundi is Monday.

Line markers

Passing a house with what looked like Mexican hats for gate decorations, had me singing the Mexican Hat Dance for a few hundred metres – this is what it comes to when you’re walking … until sunflowers or fruit stalls take you’re attention.

The cicadas again joined me, they were loud and present at each shady tree. I took the D570 at the roundabout happy that I was successfully following the map. Rounding a bend in the road, I was now in full sun. It was really hot, and I was really hot. The road shoulder was only just wide enough.

I would soon find that I spend my days with workers who do all the things most people wouldn’t. Line markers, farm and road workers. It is humbling to be out in the sun walking by choice when a whole lot of people have to do it for their livelihoods. Maybe that’s another idea for my new job.

Road to Bouchaud

After 2.6kms, I found it, marked by a large brown cross, Prieure Notre Dame Des Champs, oh and Domaine de Bouchard. Sounds like Seven Hill winery, French style John.

Bouchaud

Bouchaud

1600’s St Jacques de Compostelle Map

When I looked at myself in the mirror in my sweet little room named ‘Jesse’ (my grandmother’s name), I looked like a beetroot. So I can only guess at what Frere Joseph took me for when he answered my tug on the metal bell chain. I’d apparently interrupted prayers so he told me (not so candidly of course) as he showed me my room and the amenities. He asked where I’d come from, and was surprised when I corrected him when he said Italy. A beetroot from Australie (for work colleagues, my face was ten times more red than post ride to work). I said I had my lunch, so he asked me to join them for dinner at 7.15pm, and I happily accepted, not least because I’d never been to dinner with Benedictines, well not in this lifetime anyway.

The window in my ‘Jesse’ room

With my window open, the cigales were relentless outside in the largest plane trees I have ever stood next to. I like the sound. It is reassuring in a funny way. I took my lunch into the garden, and sat next to Jesus in sculpture form and had a lovely view of the lodging area. Another pilgrim was to tell me later, that this is quite a special monastery. They grow rice in the ‘bio’ way. Because it is twice as expensive as other brands, no-one in France buys it, but they supply a woman in Germany who buys it all from them. I suppose this and the money from having people lodge with them, and producing wine pays for their community. Several monks have disabilities, so I was very happy I could come and have a meal with them.

I found a great map of the different routes of St Jacques de Compostelle from 1648 hanging in the passage. It shows the route the other way from Arles, towards Turin and also to Dijon. I would later meet an older Italian man who had started in Turin. For the afternoon I sat in quiet contemplation, wrote, read and slept. It feels like I’m de-stressing. I am glad to have started walking. Gone is the uncertainty of the hot day yesterday.

Lunch with Jesus

Just before dinner, the bells rang. I remembered the keys – a chatelaine. I was ushered to the seat with the blanc serviette, next to an older woman who later told me she was here to get well, away from her town which she said was so noisy. We stood for prayers for a little, then sat down for more readings. I could understand a few words, but not at all the meaning of the lovely French. At the end of this we were served. A large plate of rice, chickpeas and ham cut into tiny cubes was ready at 1 o’clock next to my plate and the knife and fork had coquille shell symbols on them. We commenced passing water, pepper, tomato salad, leaf salad and dressing between us silently, apart from my merci beaucoups, until everyone was served. Accompanying our meal, brothers would take turns reading. It wasn’t from scripture I don’t think, because there were countries mentioned, l’etats unites being one of them. We were watched over by St John the Evangelist and St Catherine, sculptures on the wall opposite the huge hearth. This room had been the centre of this house since the 1600s when it was built. Part-way through dinner I heard it mentioned that ‘we have a pelerin with us from Australie’, and they asked what my name is. Aren’t I glad I can say that in French. Although I think they then realised my French was limited and tried their best to speak in English for me. After main course, we spoke and watermelon was handed around accompanied by lemon verbena infusion – gorgeous. When we could start talking, I had a lovely discussion with an older French man, a novice and born in Vietnam. I was also trying to get to the bottom of the symbol I had seen on many gate posts on the road but no-one seemed to be able to explain it. It is a bull’s head with a trident on top. It reminded me of the disturbing, but excellent French series by Fred Vargas featuring detective Adamsburg that I watched with my friend Deb before I came away.

Towards the end of dinner, another young woman came in. She was seated at another table and I said hello. Viola is Italian, and we agreed to speak in English – if my French is just passable, my Italian is at fail level for conversation. She was walking to St Gilles the next day, so I said let’s walk together. She said she has a 20kg pack because she is juggling things for her work. I thought she might have a computer like me, but no, it turns out, she is an actual juggler! We made breakfast arrangements and said goodnight.

It was 8.52pm and the cigales stopped and the Mistral wind began. I took my credential to be stamped, a little nervous that I had no money to donate. Joseph said that because I was a pilgrim I didn’t need to. I said that I would send some money at a later date.

This whole experience seemed very familiar to me. I haven’t yet seen the film Into Great Silence, but it was one I was always intending to see. There is something about the life of the religious which appeals. Maybe I got my own little taste of it in this place. Maybe I was an abbess in a former life. Keys. Clefs. Musician – that’s an interesting connection. In my childhood, I spent time in Bangladesh, and was often fascinated by the old-fashioned locks on gates. The keys used to turn so easily in those big old brass locks. One teacher, the head of the school, Miss Muchidee had a big collection of keys which she tied to the end of her sari.

Ou est ma clefs? What does this mean for my life now? I am still the holder of the keys, with my Airbnb?
Tre calme, tre reste, tre silence.

read more … Day 2

Priory of Notre Dame, Bouchaud

cigale, coquille and chemin

I didn’t realise how much an umbilical cord wifi was until I didn’t have it. Part of the reason to stay in a more expensive place in Arles was the guaranteed supply of ‘connection’, even if it wasn’t of the pilgrim kind. I had made a commitment to blog – this pilgrim walks and works, but I reasoned with myself that I could simply let this go at any time. Having secured this digital service though, I felt a little relieved, and even capable of taking in some of the sites on offer in the afternoon, despite my heat stroke and nagging headache.

I noticed on the Arles map from the Tourist Office, that the pilgrim trail was marked by a dotted line which began at Les Alyscamp (yes, the word is related to Champs Elysees).  It was hot walking there, still 36C I’m sure, but the short-term pain was worth it to begin the pilgrimage in the ‘right’ place. In reality it is just a stop on the way, as I could easily be travelling in the opposite direction towards Rome along two different routes. The ‘right’ way is relative, and always personal.

All Roads Lead to Rome


I had learned earlier, that a credential permits one to have reduced admission to certain monuments, so I hopefully asked about it being reduit pour la pelerin.  It was free with this little card, so out it came, and voila, I have the most stunning tampon (stamp – if you’re wondering). It was the best one yet.  I wondered whether all the ancient UNESCO sites similarly honoured the lowly spiritual seeker.  I realised that while I hadn’t actually entered any of the other sites in Arles,  in my circular wanderings on my arrival, I had passed by nearly all of them – getting bamboozled by the largest circular one in the centre.  Unlike Colleen McCullough, ancient Rome, and Romans are not so much my thing, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t enter.

Les Alyscamps building


It is a cemetery of sorts, and I love cemeteries. This one is a double whammy – Roman and early Christian. It has a whole collection of heavy sarcophagi (minus lids), that line the avenue towards the slightly decrepit Saint Honorat’s church. They looked like boats, long relieved of their precious cargo in the Elysian Fields, left sitting high and dry at dock. As a side note, in this church, there were speakers installed and they played abstract, atmospheric music. I found it a really interesting addition to an historic site.

Reading from the information boards at the entrance, I learned about Saint Genest who was an Arlesian martyr buried in the South-East edge of the necropolis where the church stands now.  He was a clerk and had refused to sign death sentences during the period of persecutions in the reign of Emporer Dece – what a dude!  Van Gogh also immortalised the place with his ‘Les Alyscamps’ painting of the pines.

Ceramic cigale


The route to the chapel at the end of the arcade was lined with pencil pines, a favourite of the cigale (cicada) and the pulsing song, the natural pine-o-clean smell and heat made for sensory overload. I was to find that these creatures are celebrated in this region. When they fill tall trees, the sound is almost deafening, yet the locals proudly display ceramic effigies of this insect on their houses.

UNESCO Compostelle

Leaving the site, I decided to wander along the Compostelle route back to my hostel – conveniently located on it.  To top off my visits, I decided to visit L’eglise de Saint-Trophime where I sat for a bit attempting to salve my headache, unsuccessfully.  It was a glum church, as many are, and I cried a little with the overwhelment of the day.  It is lucky that Ganesha made an appearance in stencil form on my walk back to my hebergement for the evening.

Ganesha – remover of more obstacles

Whole lotta Arles

There’s a whole lotta Arles going on outside, but all I want to do is sleep.

Rhino

Rhino

My day started at 4.30am when I decided I wasn’t going to get any more sleep and instead arose to pack my backpack.  My train from Paris left right on the dot of 6.20 (TGV, in my experence are extremely punctual), and I sped south to Avignon, accompanied by a loud Charlie Hebdo reader. Her friends were trying to shut her up, but her repartie with the cameraman across the isle went on regardless.  I wish I understood French better because I think the conversation would have been entertaining. Getting out of the train, the humidity and heat hit me. The next leg from Avignon to Arles was a little quieter, although the soundtrack was selected by a reggae-loving, dreadlocked, Rasta man.  It felt rather more like a FNQ (far north Queensland) backpackers than southern France, but at least the bus was cool.

I usually wander in ever decreasing circles when I first land in a new town.  Unfortunately my navigation abilities were severely hampered by juggling a map, water and a heavy back-pack. That and the fact that Arles has an arena meant I walked far too far for a hot day, and I was fast getting a headache, as I do on days like these.

"But the bull is not killed like in Spain"

“But the bull is not killed like in Spain”

There are so many things to do in this town.  If history is your thing, you can choose from almost dozens of UNESCO listed sites ranging from the Roman to the Medieval, some both. Of course, you could attend a ‘bull fight’ – the thing to do in this region – apparently. You could wander through the streets checking out the annual Pholographic Exhibition or if you prefer paintings, a whole musee devoted to Van Gogh.  Your other option, as I did, was to just amble around, looking lost, with a heavy backpack taking lots of photos of walls.  Sorry Melbourne, you haven’t got a patch on some of these beauties!

Urban shooter

Urban shooter


This and that

This and that

So after getting my credential – the little passport for the Arles Route which entitles the holder to pilgrim-priced accommodation and some cheaper meals cheaper I thought I was set. I consulted Miam Miam Dodo and the Confraternity of St James guide, and started ringing phone numbers. After 4 attempts, with broken French and still no room for the night, I was starting to get desperate. There was the youth hostel, but it was a fair way out of town, and I didn’t fancy dragging myself avec backpack all that way. My last option, which was just next to the arena was La Maison du Pelerin … et du voyageur.  The last bit, ‘et du vogageur’ was the key.  I was surrounded by people just there for the cheap price. Not one pilgrim in sight. It disappointed me a little.

Where are the pelerin?

Where are the pelerin?

My roommates were friendly, two French women there for the photography, and a woman from Shanghai doing general touring.  If I was a normal European, or tourist, at 7pm, I would have been getting ready to go out. Not this little black duck – I had a shower, and was ready to curl up into a headachy cocoon and sleep forever. I felt somewhat torn, as I would’ve loved to spend time doing any of the activities I’ve listed. I almost felt like I should delay starting by another day, but I remembered one of the values I wanted to cultivate – purposefulness, and decided that I would just have to come back for all the rest Arles had to offer.  Where before I would have tried to see everything I could, even with a headache, maybe it’s time to consider a new way.  An unfolding, slower, ambling rather than marching way perhaps.

 

 

 

Other lives

Do you feel like you’ve been here before? I don’t mean like Groundhog Day. Do you sometimes go to a new place and have a strange feeling you’ve been there before, or can’t bear the place?  One of the things I spend quite a lot of time pondering is whether I’ve had other lives, or whether I’ll have other lives in the future.  Growing up Christian I’d always learnt about what I’d assumed was more a metaphorical life after death kind of experience, that wouldn’t see me returning to live another life.

I was interested to receive a newsletter from a place called Chanteloube, France where there is a Tibetan retreat centre. In it, an extremely grand announcement was made that a Rinpoche had recently passed away and had wonderfully and auspiciously been reincarnated as a boy of a Tibetan couple.  This news seemed to imply much rejoicing and was celebrated just as any other good news of the earthly realm might be.

I have a friend whose religion teaches reincarnation.  If you die a traumatic death, you may be reincarnated quickly into another life, and that person may have strong memories of the death.  A situation like this was reported recently, when a boy, Luke Ruehlman, reportedly had lived the past life of a woman who had died in a fire.

I’ve had a few healing sessions where I have come into contact with the idea of past lives. In one I was told that I had been a wealthy landowner, but because I didn’t speak up, my husband and children were all killed, and I wandered off into the wilderness to die alone. When the healer asked did I know where this might be, the first thing that came to mind was France.  This was well before my current obsession with all things French.  In another session with a different healer, I explored being the partner of a violent man and escaping to a new life with another man on a ship. I have always been a little fascinated by boats.

Perfume bottle with St Jacques shell

Perfume bottle with St Jacques shell

Those of you who know me well, may know that I have often spoken of becoming a nun or of wanting to study theology.  Probably the former with not too much seriousness.  However an encounter with a friend recently has me wondering whether I may have been a nun in a previous life.  This friend and I met at a French class in Sydney and we have had very similar musical upbringings, both having studied music at university. We ‘clicked’ immediately, and found we share a lot of values in common.  I stayed with her before I left Sydney, and when I was telling her of my travels and my wish to visit Carcassone, she told me that we have been in Carcassonne together before.  I knew exactly what she was saying, and this made me wonder why I am drawn to go on this trip, and to do a detour to a medieval walled city I had heard about a while ago, and had wanted to visit ever since.  Is it just my attraction to beautiful places that may be the root of this, or is this going to be a real pilgrimage to exorcise the pain of past lives?

 

 

The final pack

I have enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore an area of Paris I previously haven’t spent much time in, the 12th arrondissement.  It was quick and easy to catch up with my early music buddy, Jerome and his wife, Laurence, who live close to Colonel Fabien metro in the 19th – one change at Nation.  When we’re together we exchange early music tidbits and Youtube clips and indulge or mutual love of Kate Bush. They kindly agreed to caretake my luggage until I finish my pelegrinage.

The day finally arrives. I get to let go of my little carry-on suitcase and pack up my backpack. This is the real thing now.  I’ve attached the little shell (actually quite big shell) to my pack so it will be obvious I’m a pilgrim (I think that is good thing?). A lovely Couchsurfing hostess in Dijon gave me her St Jacques Coquille shell when I rode part of the Vezelay route in 2011.

All the necessary

All the necessary

The view from my apartment took in the gorgeous five and six storey apartment buildings so characteristic of much of Paris, radiating out along six spokes. I had the useful pleasure of mounting the 121 steps each time I came home and could then look down on the Place to watch the fountain or the old men who gathered on the park benches to pass the time.  It was only after surveying the landscape a number of times that I noticed that the roundabout wasn’t round. It is coquille-shaped.

St Jacques roundabout

St Jacques roundabout