Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 40. Taller to Dax. 25 kms

We shall all be saved, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

Sunday can be a problem on the road. Bars and restaurants open later if at all. Mairies and shops are closed. I ran into some of these problems today.

The proprietors of bars come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments. They are always polite, and sometimes  extremely friendly and anxious to offer advice. Sometimes not. The woman running the bar in Taller was not terribly friendly, and I think I know why. Next to the bar she has a little grocery section. She also sells bread. The bakery, butcher's shop, grocery store have all left the town. In a small way, she has taken over these functions. So she's over-worked.

She's also trapped. She probably can't sell her business. Who would buy it? In her little grocery section, she can't compete with the bigger supermarkets, and only one or two people dropped in for a coffee or a beer while I was there. So she isn't making any money. I suspect it's the same story all over rural France.

She opened at eight this morning and I was able to buy a coffee and croissants.

I walked out of town to a chorus of doves, stopped at the bridge to look at the geraniums, then turned off the road and on to the forest tracks. Not the same winding path of a couple of days ago, but one of those serious, straight limestone roads used by the foresters to cut down the trees, clear out the undergrowth so the larger trees can grow, and turn over the logged areas in preparation for the next planting. I also passed a very large field which had been given over to wheat.

And then In the middle of the wilderness, I came to a series of eight huts in a row with hundreds of half-grown chickens running around in the surrounding field. No one was looking after them, and they weren't fenced in. Each hut had its own automatic water supply, although many of the chickens were drinking water from the ditch. At night they would go back to their roost. What freedom!

No cages. No force-feeding. These chooks were for the chop, of course, but until then, they were living life as they should, clucking, ruffling sand through their feathers, scratching in the ground for grubs, having fun.

I am staying at the Hotel du Centre (30€) overlooking the cathedral. As I type this, the bells are sounding a cacophony calling the faithful to mass. Why don't the churches in France have peals of bells as in England? Why aren't the bells rung instead of chimed?

I have been reading that the Pope gave a controversial sermon hinting that all of us may be saved. Not just Catholics, not just Christians, not just monotheists, but even agnostics and atheists, if they do good according  to their own lights. If so, how things have changed!

Where I was growing up, it wasn't exactly Northern Ireland, but Catholics and Protestants certainly didn't see eye to eye. Protestants regarded Catholics as idolatrous with their worship of saints and the Virgin Mary, and Catholics thought that Protestants were heretics. I remember Catholics who wouldn't set foot in a Protestant church, even for a marriage or a funeral. It seems so silly now. I gather that the Pope was implying that the Where and When and What and How of worship don't really matter any more.

Actually, what interests me is the Why. Why do people worship?

I can understand those Christians who follow a set of teachings, pray for guidance, and give thanks for the good things in life, who have a partnership with their God, if you like.

I can understand those Christians who might turn to God in times of despair, who get off the train here at Dax, and take the branch line for Lourdes, hoping for a miracle. They seek a bargain with their God.

But I don't understand those who worship God so that they might be saved and go to heaven while the rest of us go to the other place. These people have a feudal relationship with their God.

Some of you will have recognized the quotation at the top, and may well have heard, in your mind, the trumpet solo that followed. There are some things that by themselves make life worth living, and one of them is singing and listening to the Messiah. Some purists would omit the article in front of the title, but to me it's warranted, because it's an institution, it's a tradition, it's a celebration of who we are: it's the Messiah. People all over the world take part in the Messiah at Christmas time and stand for the Hallelujah Chorus.

Just as the Ancient Greeks would go to the theatre to hear their stories, to recognize their heritage,  and worship their gods, so do we go to the Messiah. It's a kind of secular act of worship. It's like a Greek tragedy. We may not believe  the story any more, but it's part of who we are. It's a part of me, anyway.

At times I think I see a divinity in Nature. I also hear it occasionally in great pieces of music. And the Amen Chorus from the Messiah is one of those moments. It's the music of the spheres. When we tenors don't mess it up, of course, as we have been known to do.

It was hot today, probably around 30 degrees. For supper, I sat in one of those large outdoor areas in front of the brasserie. Two things reminded me I was in France. A threesome came and sat in the chairs at the table next to me, an older couple and their dog, who was a little miffed when he didn't get to share the crudities. And then the proprietor, unable to fit a plug for his outdoor lights into an octopus of sockets dangling from the metal frame work under which we were all sitting, disappeared, returned with a pair of pliers, and cut off the offending ground prong. Then it fitted.

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