There’s a connection. I’ll tell you later.
West from Lectoure, the country looks fatter and richer, especially in fine weather and high spring. Is this Gascony yet?
Today’s trek brings us to an enormous abbey. It was built by a local boy who rose to be cardinal. Perhaps he knew the extra size would be justified by the town’s location, right on the pilgrimage route. The town’s name, La Romieu, is from Gascon, meaning “to Rome”, or pilgrims in general. In fact, we’re still coming!
It was built early in the fourteenth century, hence the optimism. Lousy weather, plague and war hadn’t become the norm yet. (Mind you, as a taste of things to come, Philip the Fair of France and Edward Longshanks of England, both scary guys, had already brawled over this very region, Gascony.)
The abbey is interesting, and offers view from its towers. From up there the cardinal would have known if his tenants were mucking about or getting on with it.
But, ah, the cloister:
I like all cloisters, but the sight of this one through a grate fairly stalled me on my way through town. Is it the rhythm, the repetition, the faint variations? Are there Pythagorean proportions at work? I was soon to meet up and travel with a group of French hobbyists who take an interest in all such things…and even stranger things. But, to put it in my own blurry way, cloisters work because they don’t try too hard. They can be original, but no-one sets out to be original. So no wank. And cloisters are smart: they’re sheltered but open, they connect rooms without destroying the privacy of those rooms. Plus, take one step and you’re in a garden. Furthermore, cloisters…
I just like ’em, okay?
The cats? Why are there sculpted cats all though the town?
It all goes back to little Angélique. They say she was the orphaned child of a woodchopper…but they always say that. They probably say it about little Sainte-Foye. It’s just to get us in the mood.
Anyway, little Angélique loved cats, was followed by cats all day, slept with cats – you know the type.
In the early 1340’s there were some terrible famine years due to cold winters and perpetually wet springs. So people blamed cats, or ate cats, or refused to feed cats. It was bad for cats, who were soon wiped out.
But little Angelique conspired with her parents – so she wasn’t an orphan? – to secretly keep a male and female cat in the attic. She embarked on a breeding program – the cats, like Jean V of Armagnac, weren’t too fussed about inbreeding – and over several years Angelique was able to raise many kittens. Meanwhile, the family lived on wild fungus, tree bark, fern shoots – the usual famine diet.
Good harvest finally came again, granaries were full. But, with no cats, rats were everywhere, creating a new crisis…
Oh well, you can guess the rest of the story. I’m sure there’s a lesson about balance in nature or tolerance or some such thing.
There’s also a legend that, as she grew older, Angélique actually started to look like a cat. You can see a sculpture of catty Angélique in the town – but I’ll just show you one more cat-cat: a dawdler like myself.
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