Saturday, 26 May 2012

Pilgrimages, Buzzards

This whole area falls within the ancient pilgrimage route for those thousands of people who walk to Santiago de Compostella. As an activity, it was the old-time version of going on a holiday, with the benefit of a special kind of blessing for those who could say they had touched the tomb of the saint. Every country had its pilgrimages - the devout went to Walsingham in Norfolk to meet up with Mary and to Canterbury to ponder on the brave end of St Thomas. And some, like the amazing Marjorie Kemp from Kings Lynn, actually made it to Jerusalem. But northern Spain was - and is - a popular destination for people from throughout Europe.
Actually, I even know of two people from little Faversham who are engaged in this particular pilgrimage - Mefo Phillips who travels on horseback and has written books about it, and Carolin Clapperton who is doing the walk in stages, a modern variant where you tick off each section of the walk as you finish it, and then go back to complete the next one.
Today's pilgrims are readily recognised hereabouts. They look tanned and wiry. They carry backpacks - judiciously packed with essentials only, not too heavy. Some have one walking stick, some have two.  They sometimes are carrying a little picnic, and they stride on, along the roads or up to the cathedrals and abbeys, which for these dusty travellers must be like glittering palaces of statuary and gleaming gold, havens, oases of cool air, somewhere to pray and give thanks that another stage of the perilous journey has been accomplished.  We saw them in Moissac, and at Auch, and along the roads and passes.
It's impossible, really to reconfigure the medieval mind, but I feel we can get tiny glimpses into it by watching these walkers and their ecclesiastical destinations, and all the cafes and lodging houses and tat-shops clustered around. It would be another thing to go on a long-distance holy walk myself. Perhaps - one day.

There are wonderful birds to be seen and heard here - notably buzzards and black kites at the top of the predatory tree, I suppose, but we hear songbirds (what is it?), and last night, amazingly, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, a solo peacock.    There are hawks and herons and swallows and martins.  I wish I had brought my bird book.

We saw the peacock en route to a restaurant at Bardigues - quite a smarty-pants place. It's run by a team who rent the premises from the commune - a common idea in these parts.  The meal was swanky and brilliantly described by our waiter while we were ordering. It was also (for us) very expensive and maybe not worth the money - but the evening was warm, the terrasse was welcoming, the decor was pretty, the scenery beautiful, the service reasonably deferential, the wine slickly presented, and the food looked very pretty on each plate.  The best things were the snails in a garlic sauce, the borage flowers decorating my foie gras, and a cheese from somewhere (the chariot de fromages had about 40 to chose from).  The worst thing by far was an inedible portion of veal (gristly and tough), and the smell of the ashtray which my sister insisted on filling, in a continuous chain of fags between each course.   It is a loathsome and unpleasant habit for anyone sitting near, but it is an addiction and the worst part of it is the truculence and belligerence which accompanies it all.  Sigh.  We haven't fallen out over it yet, but we might.

Back to the house, under the stars.  They are pure and brilliant.  It would be worth investing in a telescope.

Today we had planned to go into Toulouse but I am pleased that we decided to stay around the house and do very little. We will cook a tapas type meal this evening, and Tom and Kate Absolom will come over. Then tomorrow we're heading off towards the Cevennes, about six hours away to the east, to see Tom and Sally Vernon, old friends from my BBC days.  We were last at their house - a maison de maitre - belonging to a silk grower, 14 years ago.

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