Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Day 23. Chenay to Saint-Romans-les-Melle. 26 kms (543)

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang

I ate well at the gite last night. It was one of those meals where I wasn't sure whether the second course was the main course or not. You can't ask. It's like saying, Is that all there is?

The hosts have lived in the village of Chenay for 52 years. Before that, he lived a few kilometres away in one direction; she, a few kilometres away in the other. They met in the middle. Sadly, the village has changed since they married. Once it was bustling with commerce. Now there is nothing. I asked if she'd like to visit Canada. "It's a long way away," she said.

The soup was followed by a dish that consisted of sausages mounted on a base of apple sauce. I took one, and then was offered another. The dilemma: was this the main course? If so, the meal was a bit Spartan, but then some people eat very simply. Did I say no, and risk going hungry, or say yes, and risk being full for the main course? I said yes, had a second sausage, and then waited for the next plate. It was a dish of canard magret, fillet of duck, and was followed by a plate of local cheeses, and then dessert. I ate like a king. I recommend this chambre d'hôtes.

I have left the bocage behind. Instead, I walked through wide open, gently undulating fields of grain.

At the cemetary at La Martiniere I noticed a plaque on the back of a large tombstone, facing outwards so that passers by could read it. Erected by his friends, it was a memorial to a former mayor who had died in a Nazi prison camp.

In the bus shelter, I ate the duck sandwich I had been given by my host. Why was I eating in a bus shelter? Because it rained all day. I arrived in Melle, drenched like a drowned rat.

I've been without Wifi for a few days, but in the town I found a bar and got hooked up, so to speak. Reading the Globe and Mail, I noticed that the stories hadn't changed that much: Mike Duffy, Rob Ford, and the pipelines. I was glad to see that opposition is growing to the latter.

I visited the Romanesque church of Saint Hilaire. Particularly striking is the series of apses around the choir, each with its triangular roof. Taken in the rain, the photo doesn't do it justice. Also impressive is the statue, above the door, of a man on horseback about to crush a figure cowering beneath. One theory has it that the statue represents the emperor Constantine about to crush paganism. A bit grim!

I had decided not to stay in Melle, as it was only 16 kms from Chenay, but to move on and to cut a bit off the long walk tomorrow. Just out of Melle I passed a ruined chapel. Perhaps it would end up as a farmer's shed. Sad!

Mme. Nau had recommended that I stay with the sisters at Saint-Romans-les-Melle. I hoped it would be a bit different from my last experience at a religious establishment. It was. There was no girl with a plunging neckline to greet me.

Instead, I was welcomed by a couple of nuns well into their ninth or tenth decades. Another sat in a wheelchair. The two had been expecting me, but didn't quite know what to do with me. They kept muttering, "Where is she?" and disappeared from time to time to look for someone. Then for something to do, one of them took me up a couple of flights of stairs to show me where I could have a shower. Not that I could have one before I had a room.

Finally, the mysterious person arrived. She gave me a smile, but I had the impression that she would rap my knuckles if I got my sums wrong. She was obviously in charge, and took me to my room, which was in a kind of gite attached to the main building. It was slightly warmer than outside. I decided to have my shower right away.

I climbed the two flights of stairs and entered the bathroom. It was in keeping with the rest of the building, straight out of the nineteenth century. The washbasin was tall and narrow with rusted fittings. The curtain on the window was once green, I think, but now was brown. The chasse d'eau didn't work, which explained why the toilet hadn't been flushed. It didn't augur well for the next pilgrim. The shower worked, but the pipes gurgled as if protesting at being disturbed. The water was reluctant to leave by the plug hole.

Back in the gite, I relaxed on the bed, and looked around.Two circular tables with ancient cloths took up most of the room. A couple of old armoires stood against one of the walls, and Mary looked down on me from the top of a cabinet. Opposite, was a unicorn on a huge tapestry. Twin doors on the third wall led to a kitchen and toilet. On the fourth wall, under the window, sat a large radiator. I was cold, so I decided to experiment with it. It was lukewarm. I turned the knob at the end and hot water began coursing through the pipes. I felt naughty, and was afraid I might get into trouble if I was found out.

After a while, I noticed a damp, musty smell, and my eyes began to sting. Evidently, the room had been left unheated in an effort to save on costs. Perhaps my turning up the radiator would dry everything out. I decided to leave a generous donation if the meal was up to scratch. 

It was. At two minutes before the scheduled hour, I was summoned. The sisters were sitting around the table waiting for me. Now they numbered six in all.

We had soup, followed by a salad, and then chicken and roasted endives, cheese and desert. They didn't eat much, but they were concerned that I did. A bottle of wine was at my place. They were interested in Canada and the Chemin. One of them had spent time in Montreal. Another had been to some of the places I had visited, including the magnificent cloister at Moissac. Eventually, I sensed that it was time to leave. They weren't in the habit of lingering over supper.

I wouldn't want to put anybody off. It was a bit primitive, but the sisters were most hospitable. I ate well, and I felt more welcome than I had at Foyer Notre Dame de la Trinite.

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