Monday, April 27, 2009

5 Is this 5? I never know.

I had a very pleasant evening with three pilgrims in the Sanctuaire de St Roch, a very basic refuge indeed. There was a communal kitchen for the priest, his helpers and us. Passing from there down a tiny stonewalled corridor we entered our bathroom, and beyond that the dormitory. Think about the logistics of that …
There were four beds, two double. This was fine until two more pilgrims came, a married couple in their 60s. The two brothers in law now shared a bed, and the Canadian and I had the singles. However, he had two mattresses joined together and it was too spongy so he opened them out and slept in the middle. The price was a donation and as it happened we all gave the same amount – 5 E. This will be the norm in Spain.
Gustave and Georg, the bs-I-l, Pierre from QUEBEC AND I ate out. First we went looking for the Cathedral of St Pierre. This proved to be a very large church with a stupendous entry (Pierre said to the glory of the Archbishop and the local government of the day.) There are two immense columns supporting a vaulted porch so high as to be totally useless in a breezy downpour. Inside there are magnificent windows – 2 rose – and the usual side chapels with statuary, in this case of exceptional quality. There are also many huge 18th C pictures, very dark but would probably lighten if the varnishes were removed. The whole place was excellently maintained and was in use by people through the day for prayer – always a good sign.
(Did I say that there was a fine organist and organ at Carcassone? I know I didn’t mention the one in the old cathedral in Avignon. He/she was practising.)
The four of us then went looking for a meal, but Pierre spotted an Internet cafĂ© so after some discussion G & G went to a pub while P & I hammered away for half an hour. Then we ate at a pleasant place whose speciality was beef. I hadn’t had much to eat as the Arles Vietnamese Indian curried chicken passed very rapidly through me. All has been well since.
Then we went to the refuge and juggled who was in the toilet or bath and who was in bed. It worked OK.
Next morning we said our farewells. I gave the German couple the number of the Gite d’Etape (pilgrim place) at Montarnaud and the three others set off by public transport to clear Montpellier quickly. I had a bath and walked off through Montpellier. Big mistake; The instructions were difficult to follow without a map and some local knowledge so what should have taken two hours took over three. Got to Montarnaud to find the Gite d’Etape was full!
Then followed an anxious couple of hours. I had walked over 20 km and was very sore from the Carrix harness so did not want to walk back 3km to another place. The priest was offering a free room but was not at home. Eventually a guy in the pub took over and called a lady 2km away and she organised for an old guy to pick me up at 8.30. Came 7.30 and the chef had not turned up yet. No problem. When he did come he gave me an excellent plat du jour within 15 minutes. It was three slices of beef, lightly cooked, with four potatoes, and a mustard sauce. As well there was lettuce and a section of tomato. It was REALLY good. I mentally gave him a Michelin star.
(Incidentally, in Arles, a place was proudly advertising that it had won a Marmite prize. This is no doubt a prestigious and recognised prize but to me a Melbourne restaurant saying it had won the Vegemite medal would sound a trifle incongruous.)
The old guy picked me up in a 30 yo 2CV Citroen wagon. He forbade me to don the seatbelt and drove adventurously the 2km. The Gite was exceptional, very clean and new. The old lady, who had been a beauty in her youth (pic on wall), was most solicitous, and then left me alone until breakfast at 7.30.
A good night.
Walked into Montarnaud then on. At first I tried to follow the approved way but on leaving the village it became a very steep and rocky path so back to the village and the road. It was barred to traffic for 500m but it was nearly 2km when the reason became obvious. There was a trench the entire width of the road and some workers were filling it. A toot and gesture from the excavator driver and the young compacteur climbed out of the 2m hole and helped me carry the Carrix down and up the other side! Fantastic.
The people here in the south are really very friendly and only too willing to help. Most have a smattering of English to match with my smattering of French. A word about pronunciation. They speak a more guttural style and just can’t hear my feeble “r”s. Saying “Carcassone” got a blank response but if I said CARRRcassonE they heard it straight away. The hardest for me is Arles. My habit is to say “Ahl”. They want to hear ARRler. And NEEmer (as in “mother”).
Anyway I made it to Ariane before 1:30 which enabled me to do a load of washing and not just the socks and undies. The Gite is very pleasant and owned by an architect and his artist and crafty wife. Then I walked through the village. In the old quarter some of the streets are mere passages less than my armspan. There are some fine old churches but no castle like Montarnaud.
I am off for dinner in a minute and also to bring in the washing. Today was a better day for me. Tomorrow, St Guilhem le Desert. He was a cousin of Charlemagne who established a monastery and convent in a cirque, rock amphitheatre carved out by a glacier. His two sisters became nuns. Should be interesting.

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