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Monastic Life

This is a longer than usual post as this is a spectacular place. My good friend Ralph told me that Conques was magical, so when I arrived my expectations were high. The trail coming in to town was a steep and tough descent.

My walking companion Josette banged up her right foot and was barely able to walk in the morning.

The welcome by volunteers in the e Benedictine Abbye was warm and friendly with all the usual procedures except that our packs were put in fumigated plastic bags (bedbug prevention). Boots and walking sticks in the courtyard.

The sleeping room is ordinary with an excellent bathroom right next door (unisex, as seems to be the custom).

Dinner at 7:00 pm in the refectory was chicken, carrot salad, potatoes with cheese, and good wine. Cheese and cake for dessert. One of the hospitaliers told me the blue cheese was local and where the variety originated.

We had been at the Cathedral earlier for a choral concert by a group of talented women, and now returned there for a pilgrim blessing by the Benedictine brothers. Because I was an English speaker, I was invited to make a reading, as were a Frenchman, a German, and a Spanish woman. The reading wasn’t familiar but was Old Testament-ish, probably from the Psalms.

Following we were invited to an organ concert. I explored the second floor of the immense stone church. The organist played a hymn I remember my mother playing, a very emotional experience for me. The acoustics of a pipe organ in a stone cathedral are amazing. He wrapped up the concert with a spectacular rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun”. He told me afterward that it was made popular in France by a French singer and he hadn’t known of its American origin until some American visitors told him.

Then we went outside and listened to a long history of the town in French. I couldn’t put together the story from what I understood. This is the famous facade of “Last Judgement” in daylight. What followed next (10:30 pm) was incredible.

Using a light projection system (laser?) the colors originally painted there were restored in great detail and vibrancy. An altogether amazing evening!

I am laying in today, recovering from 11 days on the trail. Josette and I shared a last lunch of bread and cheese and grapes, then she caught the bus back to Le Puy. She became a good friend.

Here is a piece of the concert. Conques is indeed magical. I’m back on the trail at 7:30 am, am getting deep into rural French culture.

Donativo

This albergue 16 km before Conques is by donation. We all 5 helped make supper of pumpkin soup, ratatouille, Truffade, all from scratch. 3 hour dinner, best time ever.

Breakfast at 7:00 and we hate to leave.

My walking companion Josette goes home tomorrow. We communicate via google translate. She makes reservations by phone for gites, difficult if one is not fluent in French.

Perfect villages all along the way.

Very hilly. Hard 20 km days.

Michelle and Alain’a albergue reenergized me. Moving on -Conques today!

Pain

Here pain is the staff of life: bread. One think I’ve learned is that you keep your slice of bread on the table, not your plate.

This is breakfast- coffee in a bowl with bread.

A second cup of coffee for the day on this little “place” is a good way to slow down and take a break.

We in Fredericksburg see our city listed in the top 10 destinations, but imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth if the national government gave that designation.

Even though it is pretty, old but in good repair, all these villages are spectacular.

The local Bier is an IPA. Good one, too!

I’m walking with Josette (Belgium) the last of our family, until Conques (Sunday). Then she goes home and I push forward. I don’t know if I’ll have other such friends on this trip, or even how I ended up with them. I miss Anne-Marie, we had a lot of fun. I’m learning lots of French, as Josette doesn’t know much English.

We visited an incredible market today.

Lively place with music playing and beautiful food everywhere. If a person wanted romance, this would be a place to visit. (I’m not looking for romance).

Angels of Mercy

Last night we stayed on the third floor in this 12th century tower in Aubrac.

Bathroom on 1st floor via this staircase

€10 and dinner/breakfast at a nearby restaurant for €22.

Anne-Marie and Josette taking photos of the early light. Our group breaks up in the morning. Anne Marie is going back to Switzerland and I am continuing with Josette. .

Tonight we are in a convent run by the Angels of Mercy. I had dinner in the refectory with one of the 17 sisters remaining (not pictured).

This was a very hard day, 10 hours on the trail.

Respite with the Angels of Mercy was just what I needed.

French-Speaking Women

Now that I have your attention-my reading about the Spirit yesterday was about sex so I thought I would comment on the women I’ve met. My trail friends here are French speaking (France, Switzerland and Belgium) and most are women.

They are all between 62 and 72 warm and friendly and compassionate. They look like American women, the big difference is that few speak English.

The fact that all are walking a trail with their pack means they are a select group and I couldn’t draw any broader conclusions than this: the women I have become friends with here are delightful.

I’ve been “adopted” by these friendly people, perhaps I am a project. There are some couples on the trail but the majority seem to be women walking alone. I’ve met some guys but they move on quickly, except Benoit, who is struggling with a sprained ankle.

I haven’t seen Edith for a few days but she was fun to walk with and spoke English. Anne Marie (left) is taking a detour today, I hope we meet up again. Anne Marie (2) sings beautifully in an ancient Corsican style, haunting ancient spiritual songs. I’ve only seen a video but she has promised she would sing in one of the churches on the Way today.

Anne Marie (1) told me yesterday that I was like a big teddy bear looking for a soul mate. Maybe I’d been singing the seafood song: I flounder then I lobster.

Now I’m resting on a hillside out in the country after a lunch of bread and cheese. Where’s the wine?

As far as the idea of bringing a French woman back to Texas goes, I’ll take George Washington’s advice and avoid foreign entanglements. But these women are great trail mates.

I’ve quit saying Bon Chemin as people don’t seem to recognize it. Now I say Happy Trails.

Eat, Sleep, Walk, Repeat

The cycle of life on a Camino seems consistent. Here in France the accommodations are generally gites instead of albergues, and so far have all been beautiful places.

This is the sleeping room and bathroom (two shower stalls and two commode stalls). Unisex. €36 for the night and dinner/breakfast.

This was dinner last night at Domain du Sauvage. Soup, beef and potatoes, cheese, bread, wine, cake. And I now know all these people. Two are here at my gite tonight.

This is the village, Les Estrets, where I am staying in tonight. One of the reasons they offer breakfast and dinner is that there aren’t restaurants nearby, and we are afoot.

Walking alone in the morning is good contemplative time. I am fresh and the air is cool. I am working my way through “40 Days With the Holy Spirit” and finding meaning every day. This morning I was breathing in the Spirit.

I had a short conversation with this huge cow early today. He was not talkative but focused intently on me. Later in the day I talked Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr with David, an American (the first American I have met).

This is where I am hanging out before supper. I’ve had a shower, my other set of clothes are drying on the clothes line, and next I am going to try to make conversation in French with my friend Ann Marie, my new friend Ann Marie, Josette, and another Pilgrim I haven’t met yet.

Tomorrow I’ll do it all over again.

Eating with Sauvages

Day 4 ended up in a farm collective originally built by the Knights Templar. They still exist, I stayed in an albergue they own in Spain last year. Now it is owned by the government and is mainly a restaurant with two gites and an auberge. It is called Domain du Sauvage.

I was greeted at the entrance to the farm by a sign that said “wild horses live in the woods keep your distance.” A kilometer later I found the alleged wild horses. The complex of massive stone buildings is in the background.

Earlier I had to thread my way through a herd of dairy cows on the move.

A few times today I wondered if I was in Wyoming. This is very rural and again I saw few people and lots of cows. I walked through three villages and on paved roads and saw not one car on the road.

I had hopes of a snack and coffee at this restaurant but the sign said “Ferme”. I lucked out, remembering an apple in my pack

The auberge is around the back, quite nice, and they resisted the temptation to pave a sidewalk to it to keep you in the moment.

Lunch was fantastic, €12.50 with a glass of Hefeweizen. Some of my trail friends have shown up; Rose Marie and the Canadian sisters Marguarite and Michelle.

Wandering loose the Via Podensia in France.