21st May 2010
No energy today. Every step (all uphill) a struggle. Jacqueline caught up with us and gossiped us over the first huge pass. Stopped at a farm and had café au lait + fresh bread and a small cheese made on the farm. Wonderful!
Ctd next day:- No room at Les Sauvages so we decided to press on to St Alban sur Limagnoles – 35K and nearly killed us. Arrived at the church at St Roch and unexpectedly burst into tears. On and on – it seemed even walking downhill was hard. Arrived at campsite exhausted and on the verge of quarreling. Mercifully the campsite manager cooked us a toasted sandwich and some chips. Slept 10 hours and breakfasted on two bowls each of hot strong and sweet black coffee. Left at 11.00am thinking we had an easy (17K) walk but it was 25°C and uphill (2 big hills and their corresponding valleys. [M] had to help carry my stuff as I was about to collapse. Arrived at Aumont Aubrac to find the campsite closed. Broke in and picnicked on sardines and apricot tart + UHT milk. Still tasted heavenly. We were both feeling demoralized as all the campsites we hoped to stay in were closed for the next three days. Discussed sending some stuff home to save weight. Bed at 7.30pm as we want to leave between 5.00 and 6.00am to miss some of the heat. 25K tomorrow. Can’t get fuel for our cooker anywhere in France. Sharing our vagrant experience with Alain and his wife – he’s made a cooker from the end of a beer can! Crazy as a coot!Journal
Well we didn’t exactly break in but we did clamber over a locked gate. It was a weird experience because the facilities were all locked up with the entrances full of leaves – a sight we were beginning to be all too used to. We’d met Alain and his wife a little while earlier. They were sitting at a table outside a cafe and being mercilessly teased by some of the locals. The village was heaving with visitors partly there for the Pentecost holiday – which we’d failed to factor in; and also because the annual transhumance was beginning and locally it’s a big deal as the cattle, decorated with flags and garlands, are driven up to the plateau to graze the wildflower rich meadows. The French are among the most secular of people, but they don’t appear to have given up on the holy days, and there’s a deep sense of tradition surrounding the transhumance. I found it very moving to watch the cattle being driven up the drove roads, but the downside was a good deal of drinking which left us feeling a bit unsafe at times. That was the evening when Alain – a retired tax inspector – showed us the tiny spirit stove he’d made from the bottom of a lager can. Later on in the walk by which time we’d all got blisters, we found him walking in pink plastic sandals with plastic bags on his feet.
The church of St Roche was almost the only church I actually entered on the walk. Inside was the obligatory elderly woman in black and with rheumatic chesterfield legs hobbling around and completely ignoring me. My mother had died two months previously, but as she’d died with Alzheimer’s and hadn’t recognized either me or my sister for several years, any acute sense of mourning had been dissipated over a long period of what we called pre-mourning– or so I thought. So in a rather blokeish way I went into the church, saw the old lady, came out and completely fell apart; howling all the tears I’d had locked away for a very long time. M looked at me and said – “that was a bit unexpected” and the subject was never mentioned again. I didn’t need a therapist to help me see what was going on there, but a long time later exactly the same thing happened in a psychoanalytic psychotherapy therapy session. I was trying to describe how moved I was by the way that Odysseus’ nurse had recognized him by the scar on his thigh and once again I exploded with what felt like a volcano of grief. Grief seems always to be a work in progress.
The way down to St Alban was steep, narrow and rocky, and with our heavy rucksacks much more of a struggle than grinding uphill. It would have made our journey easier if we’d realized how wonderful it would be crossing the Aubrac plateau the next day, but that’s the way of pilgrimage – everyday is a surprise.