Advancing across that great maritime plain, heading always south, and into the spring…
The heat wave at Lauzerte two weeks back was surely a marker on the trip. Nope.
I have little to tell of the country out of Nogaro, because it was too cold and wet to stop. More cold than wet. It was all France that suffered, but the effect was most freakish in the south.
So it was head down and forward to shelter, all day. Ultreia, immer weiter, no dawdling!
Early May in eastern Australia is the wine of the year, with sappy, radiant days, mostly warm. In that freezing drizzle, the mind might easily wander back there, to my bomby old white-trash deck, looking out to Mount Banda Banda.
But no, shivering pilgrim. Ultreia!
Finally, among the Armagnac vines, I found my rural gîte: a beautifully converted farm-house.
A fire, a room to myself, and dinner with a charming host family. It made sense of the day and the weather. The Camino works like that, and you have to let it work.
Something worth mentioning at this point is French politesse. I’m aware that there are people who feel it doesn’t exist, but this opinion may proceed from a series of misunderstandings. French politeness is based on formalities which are almost Cartesian and cannot be neglected. Here is little Jules, with his mummy, at the gîte Dubarry.
When Jules and his older brother Matthieu met me in the evening, both came up and offered their hands and gave their names.
At the end of the evening, Matthieu came right up to me and stood expectantly at my side. Nothing happened, so he laughed nervously and moved away. A little later, he came back again and did the same thing. Only then did his mother explain to me that he was waiting for the bise, the two or three sided kiss of tradition. I was used to French formality and the bise, but not to this degree. Next his brother approached and we performed the bise.
It’s more noticeable in this part of France. Formality. If one enters a bakery, one greets all the people waiting. Leave a small bar, and you wish au revoir and bonne journée to all. Stop someone in the street for directions, you say bonjour then quickly explain that you want une information (so they know you’re not cadging). Everyone is monsieur or madame, and one does not refer to third parties as the man or the guy (mec), but as le monsieur.
When in doubt, go formal. You can’t lose. Even if you feel like a wanker when doing it…do it! Australia does not run on formality, which is fine. France does run on formality, and that’s fine too.
In Australia, a teenager rough-housing in the street who jostles an adult can’t be profuse in his apologies, or he loses face as a tough kid. The same teenager in France, even if he’s got a dagger through his nose and blue hair and needle tracks up his arm, will immediately excuse himself to monsieur or madame.
Not to do so would be to lose face… as a Frenchman.