On mange comme des rois
I have been reflecting how different the gies have been over the last few days.
At Le Mas-d'Azil with Paster Bordes the ambience was somewhat religious. I slept above a chapel. He said Grace before breakfast, and asked questions about my religious beliefs. He was not dismayed when I said I was non croyant and seemed interested in my Protestant background and the state of the various Protestant denominations in Canada. With the community at La Mauraudes, the discussion was more intellectual as we discussed the relationship between Esperanto and other languages. At Portet-d'Aspet chez Jo, the atmosphere was rural French, a slice of life the way it must have been for 100 years or more. Singing, dancing, loud discussion with voices rising to emphasize a point.
Last night was a little different. Apparently, the old farmhouse had been bought and was being developed by a group of nine partners, and one of them confessed that they didn't all get on. Imagine! Even a partnership of two or three could be a risky venture, but nine! Two of the partners were there at the gite: one, rather severe; the other, friendly.
Monique, my camarade du chemin, was perturbed when she found out that the cost for the stay, demi-pension, was 40 euros. It was more than we expected, particularly when the gite had been recommended as pilgrim accommodation. She wouldn't let it go. She pointed out that pilgrims couldn't and wouldn't pay more than 30 €. Her budget, she said, was 29 €. "Well, I guess, today, you'll break your budget," said the severe partner. The friendly one said nothing but looked uncomfortable. This conversation continued more or less pleasantly (I'm not being sarcastic) over dinner.
At breakfast this morning, Monique took it up again with the sister of the friendly partner, who seemed to be the resident cook. She agreed that 40 € was too much but it was the men who decided these things. However, she thought 30 € was fair, and we paid her that amount. Monique continued to argue her case even after the deal was done. I don't know whether the men had already decided to lower the price, or whether the friendly partner's sister was to face the wrath of the severe partner later in the day.
The walk today was very easy: down through a couple of little villages to the bank of the Garonne, and then along a cycle path to Saint-Bertrand. The workers at the gite decided that I needed a stick.
Tonight's Accueil Pelerin chez Mme Huchan has a very homely atmosphere and comprises a couple of rooms attached to a house. Very comfortable indeed. The lady cooked us a simple but superb meal: an unbelievably tasty vegetable soup, consisting of carrots, peas, squash, onions and a variety of herbs, and then stuffed zucchinis and a kind of pate cake. This was followed by two of the cheeses of the region. Accompanied by wine, of course.
I haven't mentioned the weather for a while because it hasn't been spectacular. But it's been good for walking, cool, often raining overnight, heavy clouds above the mountains always threatening a storm but holding off. I haven't needed to get out my rain gear. But this afternoon after I arrived, it started, so I borrowed an umbrella to walk up to the high town to visit the cathedral.
Cathedrals seem to have sprung up like mushrooms in this part of the country. La Cathedrale de Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges is famous for its magnificent choir stalls, 66 in all, beautifully carved with their wooden misericordia and panels behind. And there is a very fine organ at the back of the nave. In fact, perhaps because it was a religious community with few townsfolk in the vicinity, the choir occupies most of the church and the nave is relatively small. The lower town was served by its own church, and nearby, now standing alone in a field is the magnificent Romanesque church of Saint-Just-de-Valcabrere.