Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Walking with Ghosts and Cows, from Aubrec to Saint-Come d’Oit

Scenes from a moody few days, ghosts and clouds everywhere.

We left early, making our way out way at 8 AM.   It drizzled as we meandered. We'd been walking for almost a weekWe passed the Grand Hotel Prouhéze, shuttered by time, skipping over the railroad tracks to join the trail.
The countryside, of fields and farms still felt warm. 
By 9 AM, we’d walked some five k, passing three cows on the side of the road.
Your brother is about five K behind, two of our friends told us as we walked, approaching the first town.  Will and his family strolled up as I was making my way into the old churchyard.
“Did you see the cows there?”
“The mother was trying to get them to come back, but they were running the other way, a regular family romance right there for us all to see.”
I took in the old church yard of graves from the first war.
Each cemetery has its imprint of time, the Civil War in the US, the First World War here, with monuments to enfants killed found throughout the landscape.  The name of the owner from the Grand Hotel was there, leaving me wondering who they were. 
Walking another five k, Will and I talked about the kids and the hike.
Everyone stopped for another coffee at the next town.
Two of our friends from trail, one from Bratislava and another from Frankfurt dropped, stopped by.
We all started chatting about the cemetery in the previous town.  They were not so moved.
“Then what is your favorite cemetery?” I asked.
“What a great question.”
“The cemetery in Paris.”
“The one with Jim Morrison or the one with Jean Paul Sartre?”
“The one with Jim Morrison.”
“Tell me about the grave yard in Bratislava.”
He smiled and told me. I love Cemeteries, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Glasnevin in Dublin, Paris, and Sleepy Hollow are my favorites.
Caroline and the man from Frankfurt talked about their parents, the war, and the ways history continues to impact us.
“Where was your mom from?”
“Dresden.  She went through countless bombings before she moved to the US.”
“My Dad’s father was captured by the Russians in 1945, not getting out until 1950.  And then my dad was impacted by that in more ways than I can describe.”
“My mom spent the rest of her life making sense of what happened there.  And that impacted me.”
“Hopefully we can learn from some of this.”
“If she had been around to see Trump it would have made her crazy.”
 “A lot of our generation have no consciousness of this history.”
“Well it reminds me why we need to study and focus on peace,” I chimed in.
Somehow the conversation meandered back to Kundera and post war cinema which so much impacts that.
“Kundera wrote the original novel in French after he moved to France in 1868,” noted our friend.
“I read it in French, Czech and then English.  That was hard.”
“How was the translation?”
“Its mostly a Czech book so it was good.”
So we talked about engagement, taking the weight of history on our shoulders and wished our friends the best. 
A trip to Bratislava may be in store, I thought to myself, later mentioning the idea to Caroline who agreed, suggesting we get off the road a few days earlier to we can make it happen.
Walking back, Caroline chatted about our days on the trail and the fun of making it through these adventures together through the years. Memories of Vienna from a quarter century ago passed through my mind.
The kids were walking with us.
Number one and Caroline took a break.
Number two and I walked with Will and cousins another five.
Finding our way to a coffee shop.  Will ordered three glasses of wine, the waitress smoking a cigarette as she poured.   We ate cheese the farmer had given us the first day and enjoyed the wine.  A couple of ducks walked by, starting to fight, as more pilgrims joined us.

One of Will’s friends sat with us, snapping a few shots.
“You have a little Patty in you,” he smiled, telling me about his days at the London School of Economics.
We chatting about the Brexit and the middle ages as more people poured in.  We made our way back onto the road, making our way through the fields, past cow after cow on the final five k to Les Gentianes, in a Gite, overlooking a field.  The kids played outside most of the afternoon before we al enjoyed a quiet pilgrim meal.
The next day, we walked through a fog.  It was mostly drizzling as we made our way out, through little towns, 19 k to La Colonie, Maison d'hôtes à Aubrac, France.
Again the landscape felt like Ireland as we meandered past the fields, stopping at a country inn out of time, enjoying a picnic lunch overlooking the fields.  It was too chilly to picnic for long. After lunch the fog rolled through enveloping us on the way. It was like the Tess of the D'urbervilles, otherworldly fog enveloping us as we meandered, past leaning, stretching trees winding their way into the sky. Arriving in Aubrec, we just sat outside, enjoying a pint by an old WWI memorial.  The kids played guitars. We related tales from the day. The little one fell in a pile of cowpoop but didn’t seem too worried about it.
And we slept in La Colonie, Maison d'hôtes à Aubrac, a space Caroline found in the guide book.  Its “a genuinely unique and wonderful place,” she wrote on FB.
The non-descript outside masked a secret house full of treasures from swap meats, markets, books, movie posters, old books, art, and black and white photos. 
The kids stayed inside and ate with their cousins.
Caroline and I made our way back to the restaurant next door for a quiet pilgrim menu, chatting with one of the men we’d met the day before, talking about travels, family, Europe, etc.
The Camino brings out all the good and bad in all us, our pain and our hopes, our frustrations, and our limitations.  We left our beloved La Colonie the next morning, making our way through the morning dew.  It was supposed to be a longer day.  The first eight k were quiet and fun.  But by midday, moods descended.  It was going to be a long one and we were not going very fast.  And it kept going and going and going, up and around, countless ascents, descents, moods elevating descending along with the road.
Walking through a hamlet down the way.  And old man with lung disease had organized a rest stop, with coffee and orange juice.  A few cats sat in the refters, an old plow outside the farm house. A few swiss pilgrims sat drinking coffee.
“We like your pin,” one of the men smiled at number one’s “Fuck Trump” pin. 
“We apologize.  We voted with the majority.”
“Don’t.  Its not you.”
“But we have to.”
So we talked about Europe and the US, politics, etc. They told me about Louie Dalles, the French man who went to Buchenwald.
“Look at the old man with lung problems who runs this place.  That’s what this is all about.  He’s still out there, sharing. That’s what this is all about...”
“So many great people along the way.”
“Don’t worry about Trump,” one man smiled as we left.
During the afternoon, I listened to the Revolutions podcast, John Cromwell, the English and the French revolutions.  The question remains if our revolution was a success.
Its July 4th today, the idea of the US Revolution still resonates.  But here in Europe they describe our system as an oligarchy, not a democracy. We don’t have one person, one vote.  We have a system that favors the minority in less populated states, giving them the equivalent of four New York votes for every one of theirs in national elections.
Walking, took a final rest in a field, sitting rubbing our feet, reading “Alone” by Edgar Allen Poe.
None of the kids really felt like walking any further.  The hot sun finally enveloping us.  It was three PM and we had another eight k to go.
“Lets get a cab,” asked the little one.
“There are no cabs.”
“My pack hurts.”
So we emptied out part of her bag.
“My feet hurt.”
So Caroline rubbed them.
And I real a poem.  No one wanted to listen. So I read it to myself.

From childhood’s hour I have not been 
As others were—I have not seen 
As others saw—I could not bring 
My passions from a common spring— 
From the same source I have not taken 
My sorrow—I could not awaken 
My heart to joy at the same tone— 
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone— 
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn 
Of a most stormy life—was drawn 
From ev’ry depth of good and ill 
The mystery which binds me still— 
From the torrent, or the fountain— 
From the red cliff of the mountain— 
From the sun that ’round me roll’d 
In its autumn tint of gold— 
From the lightning in the sky 
As it pass’d me flying by— 
From the thunder, and the storm— 
And the cloud that took the form 
(When the rest of Heaven was blue) 
Of a demon in my view—

Throughout the afternoon, we meandered through the woods and fields for our final eight K and got to Saint-Come d’Oit and hit the pool. It was a day for the ages, all our bodies ached. July 4th, we’d rest. 

Finally made it after a day that seemed to take forever. The friends along the road were many.

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