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Archive for the ‘k. INTERMISSION’ Category

I said the blog would be dormant till my return to Europe. But this little update is a must.

Here I described my experience of a truffle farm in Quercy Blanc. The owner, Rémy Rothan, has just sent me photos of this year’s successful truffle dig, or cavage, which is still proceeding. As you can see, one of the truffles is massive. While not attracting the price of an Italian bianco, these beauties of Quercy, which I’ve only had the privilege of smelling, are superb truffles.

Any pilgrim proceeding from Cahors and now in the vicinity of Remy’s farm, Trigodina (old Occitan meaning “Late-for-Dinner”), really should think about stopping there. Watching pigs, dogs and humans collaborate to discover these black rubies must be thrilling, and the family are happy to involve guests in the experience.

Good boy…and good pooch!

Hey, feels good to be blogging Jacquerie again!

I’m still a pilgrim.

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Here is where we’ve been, minus the three concluding days in Spain.

This blog is now put to bed. Some time in the next couple of years it will be continued, as I trace my steps from Pamplona to Compostela.

Please feel free to make any comments on any of the posts, regardless of date. I’ll be checking regularly.

From back-home in Dondingalong, thanks for popping in and….

ULTREIA.

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What remained of my trip was an evening in Paris.

The Place des Vosges area is where I like to hang in that city. It’s compact, unreconstructed, lively. I’m not meant for the big, wide end of Paris, which always seems to be triumphing over something or other.

Here in the Marais I find a park and a shop I love, and an intimate Jewish Quarter that’s a nice mix of grunge and posh. Maybe I’m too “Sydney”.

From the Marais I walked, via the Bastille, back toward the Gare de Lyon where I was staying.

There it was, above the traffic of the Rue de Rivoli. The newly restored tower of Messire Jacques. I’d touched it many weeks before, on leaving for Le Puy.

The Tower of Saint James has lost its church, and has been lucky to survive. Yet it was once the head of the Way of Tours.

And now, with the revival of the Camino, some pilgrims start walking from that tower, and go all the way to Compostela.

***

I have trouble believing that James existed. I have trouble believing in most things. But I’ve worked out that Saint James, real or not, represents something. That something is, by all appearances, contradictory and unworkable. Christopher Hitchens has wittily described it as deriving from “the boring village quarrels and Bronze Age fables that were drawn from what remains the world’s most benighted region”.

Yet this nonsense has been the generator of a civilisation that is marked, above all, by a flexibility and dynamism that seem taken from nature itself.

By contrast, the very sensible philosophy of atheism is so sclerotic and impotent a thing that it can produce nothing but short-lived slave states, busily but oafishly controlled by a grotesque alliance of theorising lout and murderous intellectual.

So I’ll be a pure skeptic and doubt skepticism. On the grounds of poor results, I’ll reason there must be limits to reason.

Rather than expound further on whether that thing represented by James – namely, Western Christendom – was worth all the effort, I’ll offer an observation.

By his feast day this year, it’s likely more pilgrims will have made their way to Compostela than at any time since the middle ages. Most pilgrims are disciplined types, open, with a wide experience of life.

So quite a few sound-minded people think that James is worth the long trudge; and that what we call the Western Experience must not only be recalled by pilgrimage, but reaffirmed by pilgrimage. That belief, even if half-conscious, draws them along the Camino, far more than the hope of an indulgence or a finisher’s stamp in their credencial. Perhaps these people are products of a century which got to look harder at the alternatives to that Western Christendom.

Finally, I think things are pretty for a reason.

***

Spending time in Sydney before heading back to the bush, I passed a certain church built by an emancipated convict in the early 1800’s. The convicted forger was supported by a dynamic if nutty governor, amid disapproval and adversity. The church was clearly meant to represent something. In connection to that building, which is a very beautiful one, I once wrote in another place:

After the debacle of William Bligh and the Rum Rebellion, a Scot would take charge: a turbulent but humane fusspot. He too would exhaust and impoverish and even disgrace himself  in the struggle to establish that “harsh meritocracy” of the many. He would go far beyond the aspirations of his predecessors, and even the wishes of the Crown.

Opportunity, emancipation, and a durable, even beautiful, infrastructure: his aim was a rough kind of nationhood, achieved within one wrenching decade. And, in a rough way, which was the only possible way, he succeeded.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Australia was once faced with a choice: to become a plantation for investors, or a nation for all its inhabitants. Under Lachlan Macquarie, it took the second way.

Governor Macquarie was a cranky idealist, yet with the shaping energy to force the most unlikely results. He was even a kind of martyr. Sound like someone we know?

The name of that church is Saint James.  It´s an Anglican church, but I suggest it would be an excellent place to erect a sign with a stylised scallop shell in blue and gold, an emblem very familiar to pilgrims. And right there could be the head of the Way of Saint James, a point from which Oz pilgrims could walk toward Sydney airport…and, ultimately, toward Santiago de Compostela.

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I like walking, dislike travel. The exception is that heady moment of departing from Sydney airport, family around me. In general, though, people who can city-hop, cover lots of bases when travelling, have my admiration but not my company.

Visiting a place as interesting as Bordeaux, I would normally stay for a week or more, without concern for places left unvisited. It’s the pressure to get on to the “other place” that makes conventional tourism difficult for me, not the popular facilities, guided tours or souvenir stalls, which are simply handy services I can take or leave.

To those who like to cover all the bases when travelling: don’t change!…

But leave me to dawdle. So, I was only a day and a bit in Bordeaux – not nearly enough – mainly to break the long train journey to Paris.

***

If there’s an example of successful urban planning, it must be 18th century Bordeaux. It’s spacious without being draughty, formal without pomposity. It’s also a flat city that knows how to be flat. “Human scale” may be a cliche, but what else describes the counter-balance that gives this solid, ceremonious town its chirp? Of course, Bordeaux was rich from selling wines to England, and even from being English, long before its lavish makeover in the 1700’s. All that claret bought a lot of stone. Some people love central planning on principle. I love it when it works, and in Bordeaux it works. Sainte-Catherine Street (shown higher above) is the longest pedestrian shopping strip in Europe. To be there on a Saturday afternoon is to inhale the pure spirit of bordelais commerce that is as old as the city’s first stone.

Since 2003, a tram network, though buggy and experimental, has nonetheless finished by enhancing the civil feel of the centre.

***

And while enjoying Bordeaux, my mind off the Camino, I passed under the Big Belfry, survivor of an earlier era, with later embellishments. And there it was. The marker.

I was standing right on the Via Turonensis, the Way of Tours. This was Messire Jacques’ gate!

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The way home.

I’d decided on a bus to San Sebastian and some time by the sea before joining the train at nearby Hendaye, just over the French border.

The view from my bus: a real sierra, a saw-toothed range such as I hadn’t seen to this point.

The vivid aquamarine was also a first on the Camino. I’m leaving the Camino, you say? We’ll see.

San Sebastian is an elegant 19th century city, with its neo-Gothic cathedral, Haussmann layout, well proportioned apartment buildings, and ornate ocean promenade.

In the old town, some delicious barroco.

And the main thing, though surfless.

A Sydney boy can’t do much with a beach like that except cool off. I decided on some long strolls, and one of them took me to the elevated west end of the Concha, along the superb sea wall…

…to the frozen-wave rock formation at the point, more arresting than the nearby “sea-comb” sculptures…

…then high up over the ocean.

I saw it, so unmistakable.

A familiar figure was shuffling up the hill before me. A slight, older lady took off her backpack and rested by the road, so I was able to draw level with her and ask the usual questions. I tried Spanish: it’s wise to use the language of the country, rather than English, which some people find presumptuous.

The lady was German, and, yes, she was heading to Compostela!

This was the Camino del Norte, the coastal route from Irún. After a typical pilgrims’ conversation, she headed off west, and I made my way back down the hill to the city. On the way I encountered a group of German pilgrims, older men, barking gutturally at one another, looking for their gîte for the evening. Why was I so eager to help them find it? Why did I feel so engaged with these people?

Ah, Messire Jacques!

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