Thursday, August 1st
Brace yourself. Just had my first croissant in France. For breakfast.
But we're still at the gite. Assisi has gone, caught his bus earlier, and Clementine and Saint Francis are miserable as hell, and aren't in any great hurry to move.
Still here, they've sort of got their act together, finally. All the other pilgrims who'd stayed here have gone; it's a 30km walk to Saint Palais, and it's a beautiful day.
"... do you know
the way to Saint Palais ?
woh woh woh woh woh wowo woh wohhhh ... "
(sorry, just had to do that, it rhymes)
It's main road walking, and apparently plans have been made to hitch part of the way. They've even made 'Saint Palais' signs to flag down passing drivers. Don't like this plan much. I'd rather walk.
Eglise, naturally. Now this one has a trompe over the altar, with JC appearing in a whirlwind to some sailors in a boat, maybe lost at sea. It's trés ordinaire.
At the top of a long, steady climb on a bitumen road. I'd like to say I was thinking great thoughts, but mostly it was doe a deer a female deer, ray etc etc, that was my marching tune. Pathetic really. I'm supposed to be thinking about life, the universe and everything. But I think this may be the best walking day since leaving LePuy. Nice and sunny, gentle breeze. Pretty much a perfect day.
Shite, we're still here, in the same place, by the side of this road, the same cows are still over there, behind that same fence. Nothing's changed. Without Assisi, these two would just sit all feckin' day. Christ, I'm bored.
And, finally, got moving. But, as usual, we're in the eglise here, as you do on pilgrimages. Tiny village, and Saint Grat was born here. Who? you may well ask. You know, the great Saint Grat himself. No, I don't know either. I was hoping one of these two could fill me in on a few details, but they didn't know either. I'm shocked.
I have a theory.
That if there's more than one French person, then one of them must be talking.
It's obligatory. Maybe it's a statute of the French Language Department of
the French Government. I'm not making up the last part, it really does exist.
Maybe they think that if French stops being spoken, even for an instant,
then it's the thin edge of the wedge.
Well, that's my theory.
I'm on a hillside, sitting in wavy wheat-like grass, overlooking the town of Aroue. In the far distance are the Pyrenees, but before them, gentle folds of green hills, some forested, down in the valley are beautiful farmhouses, white with orange-brown slated rooves, to my left is a small vinyard. But over on the right on the other side of the valley, is Aroue. A white church with it's spire, behind it is what looks like a smallish chateau, brownish-grey, with it's square spires.
It's just idyllic.
The sun is shining, it's perfect. The sky is blue, with fluffy clouds like the one's that kids draw, gathering in the far distance, over the Pyrenees.
Eglise, naturally. Talking with Superpilgrim on the way down into the town. When he reaches Roncevalles, he's heading North, to take the coastal route to Compostelle; no maps, no waymarkers, just instinct, and keeping the sea on your right. He wears sandals, and his staff is something resembling a caber. Nice guy though. Asked the two questions everybody asks:
1. Where did you
start The Way from ?
2. Where do you come from ?
Everybody's impressed with LePuy as the first answer, but nobody can quite comprehend the answer to the second. The distance from LePuy they can work out in their heads. The distance from Australia is utterly beyond comprehension.
Anyway, most pilgrims will have stopped here, at Aroue, at the gite, but according to those who know, it's a really shite gite.
Now it's time to hitch a ride. Clementine has her large 'St Palais' sign out. This will be funny at some time. But not right now.
Okay, it's funny now. Not only got the lift, but I'm in Saint Palais. The other two got another car, I assume. I have no idea where they are, or where the monastery is. The only condition the driver had was that I had to be quiet, to not wake the baby that I sharing the back seat with. Okay by me, pal, I can't speak anyway. But, near the end, he asked where I wanted to be dropped off. Le Monastaire. Somehow he knew that I didn't speak French.
Found it. Asked at the Bureau d'Poste, and it's second a gauche. Okay, understood that. Second on the left.
Showered. I have a room to myself. 17 euros, with tea and petit dejeuner. Tea's at 7, and they're quite religious about it, as they tend to be at monasteries.
Apart from the endless waiting around for conversations to end, and there not being a public telephone between here and there, today was good. The walking was fairly easy, although the 1.2kms into Aroue, on the main road with tucks and stuff, was ugly. But the landscape was just perfect.
Then, after paying, I think her name is Demaive (the woman who runs the gite part of the monastery), and getting the book stamped, went wanders, in search of a bar. Down streets, looking for somewhere that has inside tables, away from the fumes of the cars and farm machinery that rolls through Saint Palais. It's very Basque, men with berets, even a few with the red scarf. Found a bar, but for some reason no-one was too interested in serving me, and I suspect a fairly intense game of cards was being played in the backroom. Left. Found this place, and I'm sitting beneath a huge display of the Saint Palais Football Club's Grand Final victory. Not only that, but they wear Geelong colours.
6:45 (by the church
By my reckoning, this is the sixth eglise I've been in today. The first few on the road, small places in small villages. Then the main one in Saint Palais, large, grand, almost overpowering, then the one attached to the monastery. Been here for about 15 minutes, just thinking. If it means anything, or what, if anything, will remain with me apart from the memory of having done a long walk. If it will change me, if I've already been changed, I just don't know. If it has, maybe it hasn't. Maybe I'll just slip back into the familiar when it's over, I just don't know. Whatever, nearly half way now.
There's a modern religious painting decorating an entire wall in the dining room of the Monastery. I'm still not sure what the 'W' above JC's head means. It might be a crown, and not a W at all.
At tea, sat opposite the Friar in his brown tunic. Didn't understand any of the conversation, or why the others were laughing so hard at some story Guy was telling. Maybe his usual story of being mistaken for Sean Connery. he does look remarkably like him.
There's biker pilgrims here too. The walls of the cloisters are lined with their bikes, with panniers, water bottles, flags, some of them are great bikes. But it seems that walkers and bikers are two different species.
Etcheverry Bar, on Place Charles de Gaulle. Another conversation going between Saint Francis and the youth who took our orders, Another syrop, cassis, which I think is blackcurrant. They're talking about Running the Bulls in Pamplona. I'll miss it, as it only happens in July. Damn. 100 bulls and 1,000 runners in one street, and just run like hell. Now, though, I think the conversation's changed to the Pilgrimage.
On the way down here, Saint Francis gave a one-man demonstration of how Pelote Basque is played. Clementine and I in the bleachers applauding every great hit and goal. It's a game involving a ball, a hooped glove and a wall. It's very fast. It's kind of like a lethal version of tennis. The glove is apparently called a shisterra, and somehow you can also use a raquet.
A young boy, about seven, who for some reason is hanging around the bar, was only too pleased to show us his shisterra, and how it's tied onto an arm.
There's a very fat man sitting over there, near the door. Superpilgrim himself is inside, and there's another group of three couples, obviously locals, who look askance at everything.