An army marches on its stomach
For the true hospitalier, like Jean-Louis, it is a labour of love. He eats with his pilgrims and shares their stories, he offers an apperatif before the evening meal. He refills the flask of wine when it's empty. And he keeps the toast coming at breakfast. For others, it's a mean little business. (I'm reminded here of a certain food store in Victoria, but you'll have to search elsewhere on my website for that story).
It was truly a wondrous day. And a beauteous one. As I left town, a dove perched on a pole began his mournful cry, "Doo-doo, doot; doo-doo, doot." As I approached, he flew off, alighted on the next pole, and began again, Doo-doo, doot, doo-doo, doot." He was no nightingale, but I thought of my favourite poem.
Adieu! adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill side; and now 'this buried deep
In the next valley glades...
|The street became a lane and climbed steadily. And then, vista after vista opened up in front of me, lush, rolling green fields leading up to snow-capped mountains. The lane became a track, and then an uneven path across a ploughed field. To reach the field, I crossed a primitive bridge of the very earliest design, just a stone slab across a stream, and dating, I suspected, from the Middle Ages. The lavoir, wash house, was not so old. You may be able to make out the coquille Saint-Jacques on the tree.|
Back on a road at the village of Mifraget, I sat on a stone bench in front of the church. I thought of my old friend David, "Sit ye doon," he would have said. I ventured inside, and down into a crypt. I was moved by a simple carving on a stone candle stand. Who was the subject? Who had carved him? What were the circumstances surrounding that moment in time?
I took off along a little lane to the right. I have noticed that since the monastery yesterday day the trail marking has greatly improved. I am told we have entered a new Departement which falls within the purview of Les Amis de Saint-Jacques at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, who take their responsibility very seriously. Shiny bright red and white GR markings every few hundred yards and at every fork, along with yellow arrows and coquilles Saint-Jacques. Impossible to get lost, or so I thought.
As I approached the top of a rise, I heard a tintinabulation of bells, or rather a tinnytinabulation, a cracked metallic rattle of cow bells, but no, as I reached the top I saw a flock of sheep ahead of me, crossing the road under the guidance of their shepherd and their sheepdog. It was the dog doing all the work, with a bark or a look or perhaps a short run.
Yesterday, I came upon a row of sheep all lined up along the edge of the road, but not making a move to cross over. No wire was holding them back but there they stood there at the edge of a field. Why were they standing in a line without venturing across? Then I saw the sheepdog. He was lying down, not moving, just watching them. He would not let him cross over.
I was lost in these thoughts about the skills of the sheep dog when I heard a shout behind me, "Hey, Charles. You've missed the way." It was Servais who fortunately had caught up with me. He gestured towards a track which took off to the west.
That's how it happens. You miss a crucial sign to an obscure path. I would have kept on going along the lane and eventually noticed the absence of markers, and wondered, was it because I had missed my way, or was it because the way was so obvious that it didn't need markers? Servais had saved me from a painful detour.
I climbed up and up, gaining, I estimated, about 600 feet. This was no farmer's track, but a real hiking trail - good old rocks and dirt and mud. Today it was magnificent, but in the rain it would have been slippery misery.
I reached a road, and to one side, where the ground fell off sharply to the left, some idiots, in the manner of idiots everywhere, had decided that this private land made a convenient dumping ground for their refuse. The land owner was evidently not amused, and had left a graphic sign indicating their fate if he caught them. A man of action and few words!
Eventually, I could see Sainte Colome off in the distance. A very friendly farmer told me it was only a couple of kilometres, but at the top of the hill, the GR jaunted off to the right and down into the valley, giving up much of the height I had gained and adding a kilometre or two to my journey. Another time I might have abandoned the trail and continued along the road, but today, I didn't regret the detour, despite the gruelling climb up to the village.
Servais arrived as I was eating my lunch, and after a conversation about Flemish and Quebec separatists, I bade him farewell. He was going on to catch a bus and I was leaving the trail to find a gite in a neighbouring village.
For this, I found the GPS in my iPhone most useful. Siri was not daunted by finding herself in a foreign land, and in the manner of many an American (and other Anglophones, I hasten to add) made no effort to pronounce the street names correctly, her strident voice shattering the tranquillity of rural France. But what did I want, she said: correct pronunciation or accurate directions? I settled for the latter, and arrived safely at the Presbytery in the large village of Aruda, leaving the tranquillity of the countryside behind me.