From Arthez, it was a day of glimpsing the Pyrenees over the crests of pretty Gascon hills. The Béarn is not to be missed, not to be rushed.
The cute village of Maslacq featured colours I would see again…and again! The maroon and white colour scheme, with the less popular option of green and white, is law further south in the Basque country. Maybe it’s compulsory in the Béarn as well.
It was out of Maslacq that I fell into a pace with my next Camino acquaintance. In truth, I think he slowed a bit for me.
I’d been warned by an Englishman that the Bretons are a morose lot. Others have told me that they’re only that way till they make up their minds about you. That’s certainly how it was with a new walking companion, Michel. He barely spoke at first, then his gruff remarks were of a fatalistic kind that lopped any extension of a topic.
Yet by day’s end, it was as if we’d been buddies for years. The grounded and serious manner was matched with a wild humour, which emerged as we walked.
Like many European pilgrims just tramping a section of the Camino in their spare time, he had something on his mind. He was an IT worker caught up in an approaching mass layoff after la crise. Rather than stare toward the end along with his sacked co-workers, he’d taken some due holiday time. Better a pilgrim than a civilian.
One thing I noted about all French walkers was the improbably elaborate lunch they drew from often very small packs. I joked with Michel about the sweep truck that comes by in the evenings to pick up the dead bodies of the French who have missed their lunch. He was able to counter me easily by remarking on the Anglo-Saxons who frequently miss lunch yet wallow in obesity. Okay, Michel, no more lunch jokes.
We knew that we’d split off to different accommodation that evening, that he’d leave early next day and we’d never see one another again. That’s the Camino.
Some days, when you pull off the track, the fascination of the place can beat your fatigue. The abbey at Sauvelade is that kind of place.
In a tiny hamlet, with little passing traffic or tourism, it is seen mainly by pilgrims. Founded in the early twelfth century by a crusader viscount of Béarn – the ridiculously heroic Gaston – it briefly bore the name of St. James during the thirteenth century, when it was run by Benedictines for pilgrims. Then the Cistercians took over, and they weren’t keen on all the populist trash of pilgrimage and relics. The abbey’s name reverted to Notre Dame. Very enlightened, but a bit stuck up, those Cistercians.
Anyway, the pilgrims are back, and Jimbo is back in the abbey.
In spite of its size, interest and bare Cistercian beauty, the abbey has to get by on the modest efforts and funds of local volunteers and authorities. Yet it’s a rough-cut medieval jewel.