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Archive for the ‘F. THROUGH WHITE QUERCY TO MOISSAC’ Category

English speakers especially could do worse than take a rest day at the Ultreia gîte in Moissac. It’s run by an Irish couple, well known to the kiwinomad, and now to me.

Spacious, relaxed and sociable: what more do you need?

***

Before mentioning those famous stones of Moissac, the tympanum and trumeau of the abbey church of Saint-Pierre, and the glorious cloister, there’s that 1960’s paint job right through the church’s interior. Earlier, in the post on Conques, I spoke of the restoration of colour to great buildings and statuary. I’m for it, without knowing how it’s to be achieved.

Now, it’s not that I’m proposing an endless search for the “authentic” and “pristine”. Those notions are about as dodgy as the “natural”. Everything’s a fruit salad. There’s seldom an “original” idea to distort or rediscover.

All kinds of people over the centuries add stuff, and a few centuries further on we start treating those additions with automatic reverence due to age. (Think of that stupid renaissance portico stuck out the front of Rome’s medieval S. Maria in Trastevere!) The abbey of Moissac has been smashed up, rebuilt…and even had a train line run through it.

It’s just that I feel a bit uneasy about the “wallpaper” effect of the paint in St. Pierre’s.

I dream of something more gooey, or more jewel-like…or somehow both.

I dunno. We’re just not there yet with the colour.

Enough whining. Here are my pics of the tympanum, trumeau and cloister. They look like everyone else’s pics.

I recommend many slow laps of that cloister, for a bit of a mental boost. A dawdle, as it were.

UPDATE:  Kiwinomad in comments just reminded me of something. Vespers sung by the nuns at Saint-Pierre! A do-not-miss.

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Sometimes it’s just nice to hit a sizable town, see the folk, smell the food. A Moroccan wedding…

…posh shopping strip.

A covered market could get you thinking about a rest day…

…or an asparagus stall…

…or a…a vanilla stall?!

You’ve got to be tempted by the thought of a rest day. Then you see it…

REST DAY!

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At this point, the pilgrim starts to anticipate Moissac and its fabled cloister. But there is much interest along the way. The Quercy is now softer:

The water at a choice lunch-spot shows we’re still in limestone country:

Here the pigeons sleep better than some pilgrims:

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A large converted house on the way to Moissac was my booked accommodation for the night. (I was learning to negotiate for my own room at this stage.)

When I rang the bell, a tiny girl came out to receive me. In a mix of French and English, while talking in whispers, she had me follow her into the house and up a flight of steps to a large hotel-style room, too good for the money. Still whispering but not without authority, she instructed me to install myself.

I assumed, with a measure of disapproval, that there was no-one else at home…till the little girl’s mother appeared in the doorway, alerted by the sound.

Receiving pilgrims was apparently her favourite game. With apologies, I was shown out of my lavish hotel room by her English mother to a more modest one in the pilgrim wing. Oh well.

***

The evening brought some interesting characters and talk to the table. A retired geothermal electrician arrived first for aperitifs. His hobby now was building airplanes, especially as an educational exercise for youth. Really. I’d heard talk on the trail of a pilgrim who was wheeling a home-made cart: this was the guy! He’d designed it to carry his handicapped sister’s luggage with his own. The sister had retired from the track, Michel – I think that was his name – was now continuing on his own.

It often surprises me how the French can argue with strangers over a meal in a way that Anglo-types simply don’t do…unless they mean it to get a lot worse. A group of French travellers arrived late for dinner, and explained that they were walking but making use of a luggage service.

Michel, a southerner, quietly alerted me to the grim fact that the new arrivals  were Parisians, regardless of where they lived now – and he seemed to feel that was no good thing. At table, when the jolly and none too fit parisiens spoke of their luggage service, Michel began to challenge this lack of character, pilgrim spirit and so forth.

And yet, by dessert, the subject had changed and all seemed amicable!

Next our host, a Frenchman of the anti-clerical persuasion, grew very critical of the church and local clergy…exciting  further sharp words from Michel.

And by coffee, all was amicable again, digestions were fine. The French. Go figure!

Maybe the presence of another bossy little lady in the vestibule was helping to unite this race across their regionalisms and philosophical divides.

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To this point the towns had been mostly in valleys or on flats. Some, like Faycelles and Montcuq, were on a bit of a rise, with defenses both natural and constructed. This day I came to the foot of a true bastide, a town built on a pinnacle, to dominate the country right round and to defend the road from Cahors to Moissac. Its strategic position and its location on the pilgrim trail made it a prosperous town, and, to this day, a very pretty one. I was surprised by Lauzerte’s finished beauty and wish I’d spent more time there. But the town was booked out!

On leaving Montcuq that morning, I found the trail to be full of pilgrims. This was to be one of those unplanned social days such as occur on the Camino. You find yourself walking and talking all day in varied company. Must have been like that for Chaucer, when he took his pilgrimage at this time of year…”when that April with its showers sweet etc”.

There was Yves, who commanded a minesweeper in the French navy. Two co-incidences: my father commanded a minesweeper in the Australian navy, and Yves’ ship was called Lilas, “Lilac”, which is precisely what was in flower along the track. Get all that? Here’s the snap:

And there was Connie from Holland, a travel addict. Here she takes her own photo – of a colourful European subsidy.

Not sure if that rapeseed is for cooking frites or to fuel Prince Charles’ Land Rover, but the acreage over the region is extensive and the effect is pretty.

The day ended in a camping just before Lauzerte, where I stayed in a yurt. It was the only hot day in my entire pilgrimage. Whatever the ventilation theory of the yurt, the thing was too hot and stayed too hot for too long. Theories!

The group of  Frenchmen I dined with in the open air would have been great trail companions…but they liked to walk fast. Can’t have that. Read the title of this blog, please! So we dined on magret (grilled duck breast), and wild asparagus…and it felt like we’d been friends all our lives. Then they were gone early the next day. C’est ça, le chemin. That’s the Camino.

When I finally left in the morning, I’d almost forgotten there was an important bastion-town to ascend and pass through. When I saw Lauzerte, it came as a nice shock.

The town has its own special line. That’s the best way I can put it.

Apparently there were government incentives for inhabiting one of these upper storeys. A bit like growing rapeseed, really.

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Limestone track, like a coastal heath.

Simplicity in limestone.

Limestone elegance.

Limestone town, Montcuq.

A solitary day on the track, and a very quiet night in an empty gîte, but not before a thorough stroll round another lovely old town.

Montcuq has had to defend itself over the centuries. Like many a town in southern France, it was a Cathar stronghold, smacked around by Simon de Montfort and the northern Catholics. Lost its fortifications, was later smacked around by the English, then, a few centuries later, by protestants! Can’t win sometimes, can you?

It still has its donjon, but no-one could stop those anglais just buying the South of France when the pound was strong.

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One leaves Cahors via a “devil’s bridge”, the marvellous Valentré.

An old tradition attributes to Satan any bridge that’s too marvellous to have been made by humans. Superstitions are particularly strong around the Valentré – especially with an Avignon pope involved – and many a wary peasant has declined to use it to cross the Lot. There’s talk of a Faustian bargain by the architect, a missing stone in a tower, of a sculpture of a devil placed at the point where the stone was missing…

Bugger it. I just walked across the gorgeous thing then headed up the hill.

This part of the Camino is in Quercy Blanc, White Quercy. Other parts of the region don’t look like this at all, hence the special denomination. It’s all pale grey…

Or white!

The ascent from Cahors is strenous but bracing. Bit of a highlight. I was drawn to this pale, thin country without knowing why. By next morning, I’d know.

Think of the lost diamond ring under the bed, the winning ticket in the drawer full of old bills, the colour in the seam at Lightning Ridge.

***

The day brought me to a newly opened rural gîte called Trigodina. Not many people were staying there yet, and, to the exasperation of my host, the pilgrim office in Cahors seemed to have forgotten or overlooked its existence.

Guys, check out the family of Remy Rothan at Trigodina if you get the chance. Here’s one much loved family member:

He’s a truffle pig, more instinctive than a dog for the task of sniffing out the truffles. And here is a stunted fifteen year old truffle oak, shorter than some persons.

Nobody has weeded the area around the roots. That’s the famous “burn”, the bare ground which indicates one may have truffles growing around the roots. Without the burn, no truffles. Planting truffle oaks is a lottery. In a good year, a group of trees might yield a kilo or two of truffles, worth thousands of euros. I was there out of season, and there were only pictures of truffles…or so we thought.

Remy Rothan is a master blacksmith who had to be off to work early in the morning. But Remy can’t stop thinking about truffles, and through the night he’d found for me two small forgotten specimens that he had double sealed and left in the bottom of a large freezer. Why the double seal? Because the perfume of these truffles of White Quercy is so penetrating, even in a frozen state.

We opened the jar…

I’ve smelled and tasted them in terrines and flavoured oils. The slightly rank character was absent from these fresh truffles: there was that earth quality, as a bass note, then just the sheer perfume!

We sealed the jar again quickly.

I trudged off that morning into Quercy Blanc, still intoxicated by its black rubies.

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