Sic transit Gloria mundi
A good breakfast, this morning! The proprietor had been to the bakery early to fetch baguettes and croissants. I ate in silence in a huge room that once must have bustled with life. On the mantelpiece were photos of the owner's parents: a beautiful young woman and a serious, upright young man in uniform, serious perhaps because he could foresee what lay ahead. Now he was 97 years old, bent double, and confined to this large house with all its memories.
I set out about half past eight. Today, according to the guide, I would spend much of the time walking along a track on the north side of the autoroute, before visiting an abbey, crossing the massif, and descending into Balaruc.
I reached the auto route and turned right. The way was blocked by heavy wire netting, but I followed the instructions in the guide and made my way through the brambles on one side. I noticed a machine-gun spattering of blood on my arms. Further on, the track was blocked by a heavy metal gate with vertical iron bars. I was able to squeeze through, but none of my corpulent friends would have managed it. Then I was blocked by another gate, and had to climb over the barbed wire at the side.
Suddenly I noticed a car approaching me. It stopped. I expected the driver to pass the time of day, but he got out and said that I couldn't go that way. I explained that I was following my guide and showed him the map. As the French so often do, he phoned a colleague, or perhaps a superior, who then appeared in another car. "You can't go this way," he said. They were motorway security guards and passage along that path was strictly forbidden.
They became almost sympathetic when they realized that I wasn't merely ignoring the barriers, but following a guide book. Their wrath was now directed at M. Lepere. When I asked if I could continue, they surprisingly said yes. "But why would you? It's easier on the other side." So I made my way back to a bridge, crossed over, and found the track on the other side of the motorway. Not only was it easier, it was a GR (Grande Randonnee). I will email M. Lepere and tell him all of this.
The highlight of my day was to be a moment of tranquility in the ruined abbey where I could imagine the monks singing Gregorian chant. Instead, it was full of people in medieval costumes and hordes of tourists. I had arrived on the one day of the year when the local medieval society held its fair. Knights battled, falconers strolled about with their birds on their wrists, and a blacksmith puffed his bellows. Their womenfolk sold food and medieval trinkets.
I didn't stay long. I left and proceeded to get lost. I wandered around in circles for a while following tracks with numbers but no names. Finally, I was able to get down from the massif and into the town of Balaruc.
I walked an extra seven kilometres today, but four of those were spent searching fo a room in a hotel. Not the easiest day!
My hotel is in the commercial complex just out of town. Carrefour and all the other chain stores are here. I could be in North America. Capitalism thrives. But the village itself is dead.
I ate at the Camponile Restaurant. Microwaved chicken, cold on the inside, and then a nasty dispute over the bill. Possibly my worst meal in France.
No photo tonight. You don't want to see a picture of an ass, a peacock, a falcon, or a couple of lads horsing around with their swords in front of the abbey.
Tomorrow is another day.