20th May 2010 ctd:
Monster monster day. Crossed over a big ridge to Monistrol d’Allier where we found an unlikely Englishman called Peter running a restaurant. Couldn’t stop him chatting. Had a coffee and a triangular toasted sandwich – the machine for which he hopes to sell in Korea (!) –filling was made from last night’s leftovers gratin dauphinoise, bits of dry cured ham and cheese sealed in a kind of crêpe.Journal
This is becoming quite a chastening exercise because every bit of the journey I read back in the contemporary notes comes to me with extras I didn’t recall at the time – like the fact that Peter the proprietor of the hotel and restaurant brought out a wooden board with a lump of local sausage, olives and a large hunting knife for us to help ourselves as he (mostly he) talked. I got the impression he was quite isolated and rather lonely since his wife and, I think, daughter were away somewhere. I couldn’t resist this photo – “Poseur,” apart from the English loanword meaning, meant something like installer, and I wonder if it referred to houses built for the workers building the SNCR railway track from Paris down to Nice. If you drive rather than walk out of Monistrol d’Allier, you follow the railway line which looks incredibly scenic. The trains were still running infrequently a few years ago and there was a ticket that allowed passengers to get on and off as frequently as they liked. It’s a journey I’d still love to make. According to the Cicerone guide there’s a campsite where we stayed next to the river but I can’t remember anything about it.
Some years later, Madame and I retraced as much of the route as we could in our little Hyundai i10 and we stopped off at Monistrol to spend a night at the same hotel. Peter the owner was still there and at supper he walked through to the kitchen with a big tray of freshly picked bright yellow girolles. They would have cost £50 at the market. Our room was spartan – like student accommodation – but on checking it just now it seems to have gone a bit more upmarket these days, although I don’t think the Korean toasties had taken off. There’s really nothing much to see in Monistrol; Madame vowed never to return, and I didn’t argue.
You get some idea of the terrain we were getting ourselves into from the photos below. The warning below them , which we hadn’t properly embraced, was in the indispensable Cicerone guide “The way of St James”. More on that tomorrow with a bit of luck.
I haven’t been spending all my time on writing up the Camino; we’ve also been incredibly busy on the allotment and tomorrow we’re back off to the Bannau (Brecon Beacons) to spend a couple of days with our friends. Hopefully we’ll have time to put out the moth trap and see some of the spectacular moths you can find there, even at 1000 feet – and the fungus season is cranking up nicely although a large box of girolles is probably not going to happen. Looking at the Camino photos the Aubrac hills, although they’re closer to 4000 feet, aren’t dissimilar.
This was only the second day of our walk but even by then we were beginning to realize the scale of the effort we’d be needing to make. Our rucksacks were back breakingly heavy and none of the training walks had been anywhere near the level of difficulty we were now attempting. Somewhere on one of my dead laptops there’s a spreadsheet with the weight of every single item we were taking – all neatly added up. On the night we actually packed them we weighed them on the bathroom scales and the rucksacks were around 5 kilos heavier – a powerful incentive to send some of the kit back to the UK. Individually the kit was as close to state of the art as we could afford; all of it – from bivvy mats, sleeping bags to quick drying clothes, overtrousers and raincoats, super lightweight – it rains a lot up there in the spring. Looking back, was it really necessary to take a spare pair of shoes? Two cameras rather than one? – the list of errors went on. But there’s a reason for it all that hid under the radar as I was planning, because I’m a bit of a hobbit – I believe I need my familiar objects around me.
I suppose most people would say – off the top of their heads – that the object of a pilgrimage is to get to the destination; the holy place at the end of the rainbow. But for me the essence of the enterprise is to embrace vulnerability. For me, not knowing where I’m going to sleep or eat each night is extremely challenging. Not knowing what the next day will involve or where I’ll finish up; not speaking the language very well; not knowing what we would do if ( as happened several times) when we arrived at the campsite, it was closed and locked, or all the shops shut. I could never come out of a period of vulnerability feeling smug or spiritual; just exhausted, wary and fearful but strangely exhilarated and open, with all my senses on steroids. There’s a clarity of thinking that comes alongside vulnerability. The dead hand of my scripted future is swept aside. One of the notes I found in the notebook today that didn’t find its way into the typed transcript was this –
My worst fear would be that my life would turn out to be a quotation from somebody else’sJournal