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Archive for the ‘E. THROUGH QUERCY TO CAHORS’ Category

“…set apart,

In a most desolate stony place…”

While I stroll, old verses can pop into my head: like Yeats’ lines about J. M. Synge looking about for the simplest, rockiest place he could find, in order to dwell there. Would this do?

I think that’s a pigeonnier.  (UPDATE: I’m advised it’s a shepherd’s hut.) The country before the descent to Cahors is the stoniest I’ve seen. Fascinating, in its scrawny, scrabbly way.

Cahors, by contrast, is doubly a river town, being almost a peninsular within a big loop of the Lot. We were talking about variety on the French Camino.

Quercy’s capital, with its barbican, cathedral and medieval centre, is a good choice for a rest day.

Cahors has its share of historical characters. Leon Gambetta is from here, the turbulent Genoese-Jewish-French Prime Minister who once escaped from Paris to Tours in a hot air balloon. A fierce anti-royalist and anti-clericalist, he was also a product of small commerce and was a strict devotee of law. No supporter of barricades or rabble-rule, he only trained his cannon on Prussians.


The name of Clement Marot pops up on signs and buildings. He too was from Cahors, and has long been a favourite poet of mine. Back in the 1500’s, before French verse got all posh and slithery and lost its rhythm, Marot wrote ballads and rondeaux that fairly trip along. What went wrong after that?

The local who most left his mark on Cahors was Jean Duèze…but only after he changed his name to Pope John XXII. Complain all you like about Avignon popes, they could show you a good time. The high-living but capable John XXII was responsible for one of the loveliest constructions seen on the whole Camino. It’s of particular importance to pilgrims, and since it’s most often seen on departing Cahors, I’ll leave it to the next post.

Here’s a curiosity: a name one never expects to see on a monument. But he was praising the fighting spirit of Cahors in WWI…so what can you do?

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Tulip-time in Quercy: some things grow well in these limey soils.

An uneventful walk through stunted oak forest ended on flatter and richer country at the enormous convent of Vaylats.

The convent, which requires a small detour from the GR65, is equipped to accommodate and feed many pilgrims. It’s got a retro look up top, but it’s only a couple of hundred years old. Judging from the size of the village church, the school that the convent housed must have had a fair population of boarders. That’s just a guess, because very small villages in France can have enormous churches for no obvious reason.

Like the convent, the fine church with its Romanesque echos is a relatively modern construction, though on old foundations.

It’s a lot for a tiny village where the convent no longer functions as anything but housing for very old nuns and passing pilgrims. (Fortunately, a vigorous hospitalier and pilgrim, Michel, was very much in charge during my stay).

Vaylats is in an agricultural area which was ravaged in the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, and probably copped its share of revolution and Germans.

What’s most intriguing is that it is just possibly the site of Uxellodunum, the last bastion of Gallic resistance to Julius Caesar! (Most likely it’s a different Gallic site, but every post needs a headline, don’t you think?)

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Surveying the Causses, you might think nothing of value could grow in such destitute, alkaline, rubbly ground. But something very special and of enormous value grows here. A hint about that at the end of this post, and then a whole posting on the subject later.

Above the Lot River at Cajarc on a misty morning, the country looks almost soft. Illusion.

This is the thorny heart of the Causses in Quercy:

With the odd fodder crop on a flat, maybe:

And the odd precious spring, with pilgrims sprawled in the sun.

Limogne-en-Quercy is the destination, another small and attractive town. The widow who runs the gîte Les Gloriettes, a pilgrim herself,  is a bit of a character, as you can see from the decor.

There are people who dislike this kind of thing. I love it. Marie la Belge, stay crazy.

***

The hint? About what lies beneath? Look here:

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Walking west from Figeac we go deeper into the region of the Causses, limestone plateaus which have a very different complexion to all that has come before. The track is hard, the hills grey. Stunted oaks, some vines, some sheep, pale rock…and dolmens!

I walked for some time with a group of French ladies. The retired lady on the right was in pain with every step. Her arthritis was so severe she could barely open and close one fist. When I asked her companions how far she would get in that condition, they told me: Compostèle! When I expressed disbelief, one of them looked at me hard and said: C’est une dure: “She’s a tough one.” Lessons of the Camino!

Here we are before the descent to Cajarc. The lady on the left was born in Clochemerle, which I had always believed to be a fictional town, subject of Gabriel Chevalier’s wonderful novel of small town politics centred on the erection of a public urinal. It seems that Clochemerle is real…and the urinal is still there! More lessons of the Camino.

Cajarc is one of many pretty towns to come, with its own look and interesting circular design at its centre.

But no more soft green hills for some time!

Our group assembled next morning to hear singing in the church. Word had gone out on the trail about a young Swiss pilgrim who sang gospel in churches along the way. There she was, at 8am. She simply took a seat away from the group, and began to sing.

You know the type of sledging Aussie who makes fun of people who sing Kumbaya? I’m that type…or I was.

The singing was otherworldly. The French ladies, les dures, blubbered in the back of the church.

I didn’t blubber. But I’ll never make a Kumbaya joke again.

Ultreia, little Swiss singer!

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