Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pilgrimage: concluded

Passing by Saint-Saveur's church early this morning, we arrived at the station in good time. Once there, however, my sang froid was tested by the news that a cow had strayed onto the line my train was wanting to use en route for Figeac: the delay would be fatal, so far as my Paris connection in Brive was concerned. But all credit to SNCF: they put me on a bus, then two more trains to Clermont Ferand and Paris Bercy, and rang ahead, so that - in spite of all the London-bound Eurostar trains being fully booked (it's Ascension Day tomorrow) - I squeezed onto the 6.15 dep. from Paris Nord at the last possible moment, and Caroline collected me from Swindon at 9.30.

In the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Le Puy, we were each enjoined to write a prayer, leaving it in the box beneath St James' statue; and to take from another box someone else's prayer, left earlier. The one I took read, "That you may find the peace you are looking for and that the difficulties are the way." For me, this has been the perfect mantra. I was full of apprehension before setting out on this walk, but have found peace through the kindness of strangers and living in the here and now. Taking very little steps, but in my usual rhythm, helps greatly when climbing the steep bits. But I'm not afraid to stop, and just lean on my sticks. "Avoir le temps, pèlerin! Tu es si riche!" says a sign by the wayside just before L'Estrade. The Australian I met, Judy, spoke of loneliness; but my feeling was not so much for Joachim's "frei aber einsam" as for Brahms' "frei aber froh." Walking alone, there was time to reflect on the chapter of St John's Gospel I read each morning - and to experience each of the senses in turn being stimulated by my surroundings, save only taste. Who needs an iPod? It's good for one's humility to find oneself lost, I reflected, and likewise to find that some quite sensible people in this world speak absolutely no English. Most especially, it's been great to walk 250kms. at this most perfect time of the year, with main roads only for crossing, hardly half a dozen gates to open and not a single stile to clamber over. All this through a part of France suffused with the legacy of pilgrims past. Which reminds me, “Le touriste exige, le pèlerin remercie”.

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