Chemin Q-Z

Does it matter to anyone else? Has anyone noticed that I haven’t finished my A-Z? I doubt it, but in the spirit of Mastermind – ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ – I’ll draw a line under the walk (which I didn’t finish) today.

That’s the problem with blog posts: you need to do them while your mind is fresh with ideas and humming. Otherwise they go stale and become arduous and dull to write and probabIy duller still to read. I  can’t imagine how it must feel to have an idea for a novel, or any book really, start all fresh faced and enthused with plot and characters a-buzzing and to then settle into the routine of writing everyday whether you like it or not. Whether you like the characters or feel the plot holds together or not. That’s when it becomes work. And things take years to write and rewrite and how gruelling that must be, (and that’s even before editing and submitting it to be published).  A bit like marriage really. You start off all dewy eyed and hopeful and then after a few years, a few kids maybe, a few quarrels and differences, some not quite resolved, you realise that it’s all an act of faith. That you are building something which is bigger than the sum of its mundane parts and hopefully it all hangs together somehow. But if it works for you both, then great.

Well that was a tangent. Where were we?

Q – you can do without quite a lot. And quote of the day.

Eg “I am not sleeping in a bothy even if it would make a good blogpost.”

“I’d rather be following Jesus than Rasputin.” Which refers to two young men on the chemin. One of saintly beauty who was suffering with his rucksack and the other who looked his evil twin. And one from last year which has stayed with me: “I’m a pilgrim, not a martyr.”

R – Randonnee as opposed to pilgrimage? This walk did feel different. The French have cleverly integrated the chemin into a long distance walk GR65. And lots of walkers were doing just that. It did change the feel of it for me and there wasn’t the attachment and pull onwards that happened last year. Almost everyone booked accommodation ahead, so that meant you had to too. It changes things. More security but less spontaneity, less choice in a way. It was just different.

S – Stuff. Lots of people we spoke to were doing the walk just to see if they could:not just as a physical challenge, though it was that. To see if they could live more simply. And not as a penance, but as a toe in the water experiment. It was for many a time of refreshment  and opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. To have a break from the news and mediated experience we are force fed – if we allow it. It helps me understand fishing and caravanning a little more.

T – travel. Yes, it broadens your mind. I am a homebody and reluctant to be sociable, but I enjoy the snapshots of the lives that intersect for a moment with mine. Last year on O Cebreiro I saw a tiny wizened woman, probably no older than me, in the pouring rain and sleet getting her animals into her farmyard, thick with muck. Tumbledown fences held together with rotting rope. She was wearing an old dress and overcoat and built up wooden clogs. I would like to have taken a photo of her, but it felt impertinent. This is how she lives.

Tired jollies. Better than ‘panger’ – pre dinner anger. When Helen and I get tired it all gets a bit silly and we start making fun of place names and people and all of it, and I expect it saves us from devouring each other … you had to be there.

Underwear. Three pairs of pants and two bras. Not always dry when you put them on, but clean – ish. Seeing other people in their underwear is  – can’t think of a suitable adjective – an education. The three French ladies we met near the beginning had a complete set of night clothes. They performed an extensive toilette. And after vespers they buttoned up their pyjamas to the very top and turned on their sides and started snoring.

Our last day walking began very early with a surreal breakfast. It happened in an underlit kitchen. The coffee had been made the night before and had to be reheated in a kettle. The bread we retrieved from a paper sack like one we buy large quantities of potatoes in. Toothbreakingly stale. And at the table was a man wolfing  down couscous – his own – in a red t shirt and tight pants. Through a gap in the doorway we could see his wife, still in bed. You don’t get these experiences everyday.

Vaseline. Despite much lubrication I still got a blister. Next time, I’ll wear trainers and change my socks more often.

W wifi. What did we do before it? And offering a Welcome. It’s such a gift and so simple. Of course hosts need to make money from the walkers but some do it with grace and some without. Eye contact doesn’t cost anything.

X – can’t think. Y likewise.

Z – we met Zen boy last year who was pretty gorgeous, though we never spoke to him. He consumed a tiny cup of strong coffee with one cigarette slowly and thoughtfully and could make it last an entire Helen and Verity meal . This year we met Zen man – Racing Snake. He was lean and lovely too. Walked in sandals. Surprising what you remember 🙂

But the final Z goes to Katrin of Asperge fame who was telling a horrified roommate that she had set her alarm for 6.15. “But,” she said, ” It’s very Zen.”

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Do it now

This was the scene yesterday. I was by the sea and swam in warm gentle waves. I read some of Wolf Hall and sat with bare arms and legs enjoying what might be my last swim this year. It was glorious.

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And today about the same time this is what I am looking at. Tommy’s first wet walk.

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Everything changes. The leaves that are green turn to brown.  Enjoy it all as much you can. It’s over far too quickly.

And while I am on this theme.

Off now to watch Strictly with my daughter, stir ( and eat) some risotto and help put the boys to bed.

Chemin E – P

So many pretty towns beginning with E: Espalion, Estaing, Espeyrac. We enjoyed them, and they are indeed listed as some of the loveliest towns in France, and I remember each according to their washing arrangements. In Espeyrac we asked two elderly ladies, who had a nice little dog and were doing a wordsearch / sudoku / IQ test on a bench, if we could use their washing line. We admired their dog and appealed to their female fellow feeling.

Seems a shame to waste the lovely sunshine was their take on it. This line was in full sun and on the main road, such as it was. Lucky locals got our smalls and bigs on show for pretty much a whole afternoon. And we got our washing properly dry, (And the sun kills bugs, my microbiologist companion assured me.)

Figeac – jolly nice small town. And we stayed at a Best Western overlooking the river. It was Sunday when we arrived and I’d broken my glasses. I was squinting through the heat haze and making complex plans to have some posted on. Everything was closed. There appeared to be nothing to eat, but we found a fast food outfit which sold spinach and goat’s cheese quiche. Yum. And the next day we found a lovely optician who mended my bins for free and before 9.20 am. We called him Gerard. He was my hero that day. And I told him so. It was all Helen could do to stop me kissing him.

Food. We talked about it pretty much all the time.
France – the most visited country in the whole world.

Gerard – my hero.
Gite d’etapes. Often twinned with a chambre d’hote. Think youth hostel bed fitted out with granny’s lamps and bedding. Ok if the company/food/weather is good. Tricky if too many factors fail to deliver.
Graffiti. There was loads in Spain of variable quality but much of it was encouraging. Buen Camino. Ultraeia. Don’t stop walking. You can do it Duffy Moon. Not much in France and I missed it.

H – Humble. Reverses, small aches and pains, keep you (me) humble.

I (still) loved the walking, the simplicity, only carrying what you need, lack of distraction and being in the moment.

John and Kevin: exceptional men both. Thank you xx

Laundry – totally preoccupying. Second only to showering ourselves and checking the beds were clean. In Cajerc we found a launderette – yippee – but were defeated by the signage. Two reasonably bright women with 70 years of independent laundry experience between them managed to make the machine go but could find no way of adding powder. Couldn’t find powder even.

M is for MONSTER RAVING LOONY HOT.

N and O is for ‘normalement il y a un orage’… I had asked about the meteo – weather forecast – and this was the cafe owner’s reply. We were bewildered too. It wasn’t like we were in the tropics.

P is for Puy lentils. Dressed with oil, vinegar and onion were surprisingly good. And a welcome part of our five a day, which took some planning and finding. It made me appreciate the variety and plenty of my normal diet.

And it’s the contrast with our normal lives which speaks most when walking to Helen and me: having a week or two with few choices, no status, little chance of making this more comfortable with the outlay of a few euros. We appreciate our privilege, not because we are playing poor – we could pull out at any stage and did – but because for a few weeks we choose to simplify and see what really is necessary, and what we can do without.

Quite a lot.