Autumn on the Trail to Santiago begins where Sons of Thunder left off... same man, same spirit... blood, sweat and soul expressed out the same marrow but much is changed with the landscape, skyscape and timescape that inform the in-scape of mind.
The eye popping Whippit hit of June and July's Spain mellows now in the soft autumnal exhale reflected in cooling days, lengthening nights and the repletion and harvest of agricultural labors along a string of trails spanning across southern France, over the Pyrénées, along northern Spain and into Santiago for a second time this year.
While writing Autumn on the Trail to Santiago natural section breaks appeared in a way they did not in the flood-rush of Sons of Thunder. The initial 'On n'est pas riche mais on vie bien' segment is a toast to my family and to the love expressed in a plate of food. 'Between the Rabbits' puts comestible brackets around le Chemin d'Arles, from Arles to the Pyrénées. 'Aragonia' describes el Camino Aragonés' descent from the storm ravaged Pyrénées-Pirineos into Spain, to re-connect with el Camino Francés in Puenta la Reina. And 'Broken Water, Spanish Rain' is the long last leg of the journey; a dark wet trek down the metaphysical birth canal to Santiago, to the sea, and to the rest of life beyond this adventure.
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Autumn on the Trail to Santiago
By James Timberlake
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 James Timberlake
All right reserved.
Chapter Oneon n'est pas riche mais on vie bien
journal - 8/3/06
yesterday's Spain feels like a dream-age ago away. that train from Hendaye stopped often ... Bayonne, Biarritz - and the local summer fiestas are in full swing! people wearing white t-shirts and white pants with red bandanas wattle-knotted round their necks or pulled through belt-loops, all a-stroll and a-stand on the train station quays sliding by my tinted window. steep mountains and Easter green countrysides passing by, closeness blurry ... slow precision far afield.
arriving in late-night Toulouse ... stepped off the train and out of the station, got a cab to my hotel on Place Jeanne d'Arc - fat cabbie thought i was crazy for hiking 1100K. and despite my intention of going straight to bed ... Dan at the bar - a 20 year old from Denver beginning his first couple-week tour of Europe. started talk of travel, the Camino, recovered from a slip into politics ... 'one' turned to 'several' beers. we closed the hotel bar and went to an Irish pub for a whiskey and a Guinness i stopped him from slugging back before the black stout had finished settling beneath its creamy crown - i lived in Brighton for years and there are things one does not do. found an open kebab shop for a falafel gyro ... famished from the fruit-snacked travel day. another European 4 a.m. pissing upside a sidewalk cement planter to the confoundation of tomorrow's dogs.
journal - 8/4/06
bought a French phone card and from a bustling carrousel-ed and café-ed plaza's 'France Télécom Bonjour' phonebooth i called my parents on their cell. they and my brother were actually en route to their flight out of Logan to Toulouse! so looking forward to our week together.
a mellow meditation in Cathédrale Saint Étienne ... from a towering redwood-like center pillar radiates an odd, unsymmetrical combination of churchly buildings stitch-built together over a 600 year period of shifting architectural tastes and styles. the broadly embracing high-domed entry expanse masoned up against a more traditional three-naved temple ... the walnut wood choir, dark with age and burnished-resin, where carved pagan and mythological figures dance Ad Majorem Gloriam Deum rondos and carolas... outer aisles alcoved with blue and red stained-glass chapels glowing Renaissance mind in the Roman umbra of thick stone walls. didn't care for the Basilica ... couldn't get close to the altar where the most interesting painted ceilings were - gates and locks and chains. the Cathedral was open and more proudly outlandish!
with scent and sight enticements Toulouse invites exploration through its narrow pedestrian walkways lined with cafés, bars, boutiques, antiques, restaurants, pâtisseries, and kebab 'n fry shops. four-storied city canyon walls of copper, grey, and golden brick, or faced in soft stucco pastels. facades with wrought-iron twisted grille balconies ... some brightly painted shutters latched against the sun ... some casements merloned with stone balustrades brushed by lacy drapes ... others open to an oriel-nooked breakfast table whose geranium, ivy or potted palm jitter in the breeze. pre11H and post-18H ... the familiar scene of double-fisted baguettes ambling by.
i decided to chow down tonight ... a green salad with smoked duck breast, sliced sausage and the ubiquitous French mustard vinaigrette. if the French can't put mustard in their vinaigrette their pulses seize in mid-diastole. they're nice enough here to make me a half-portion of linguine carbonara, and the wood-oven roasted pizza is delicious with its sunny-side-up egg baked into the center! this place is hopping, and my 'understanding so much more than in Spain' francophone-tuned ear serpentines near tables' glassware, plates and bottles with the pleasure of comfortable recognition, and eaves-dropping.
journal - 8/5/06
woke early and brought my backpack to the hotel my parents had reserved. had a what the (!) $13 cup of coffee on Place de la Capitole. bought subs for the family and will soon head to the airport shuttle to pick them up!
......ten days later...... (silent movie piano playing pass-the-time melodies)
Thursday, August 15, 2006.
Today being the 15th of August, and the Assumption, much of Arles is closed up tight. Remember from this country's perspective Jesus was a Frenchman. And Mary, in some foggy Arthurian past, was indeed the Queen of France. They just go along with that Bethlehem thing because it makes for a moving story.
Trained into Arles, a delightful 27°C after Grenoble's chill... What!? Grenoble!? I'll explain later. Opened to the 'Places to Stay' section in my Chemin d'Arles guide; first one's closed, second one's no answer, couldn't find the third so I barged, pissed-off-crumple-map-fisted, back to Place Voltaire to get my bearings - a room at Hôtel Voltaire! And it was Baby Bear juusst right. For 28 Euros I got a room and balcony kitty-cornered with two weathered wicker papasans overlooking a square whose sycamores shade the café table, chair, and umbrella clutter down below - a seine to the tanned strolling tourists. And with my smiling parents waving me off as the bus turned away from the Grenoble station in my heart and mind, I sat down to write about our week together in Sarlat ...
La Vigne, the house we rented there, is tucked up above the medieval cité in an undriveably narrow rabbit warren of twisting cobbled streets; streets so narrow walking through them, arms extended, fingertips would soon turn red with geranium blooms, green with fern and potted hosta, and ochre from the soft golden stone of the buildings' outer walls. And polychrome hands down our favorite 'room' of the house was the small balcony giving onto a steeply pitched alpine range of clay-tiled and stone-chimnied roofs whose simple foreign beauty entranced us all ... entranced us with the same fascination Monet had painting haystacks and Rouen Cathedral facades in the ever-shifting shadow/light play the different hours of the day played with our eyes and our contentment.
From the morning table piled with fruit, baguettes, croissants and chocolate almond pastry twists we scalloped with walnut cream bought from a local mill, or drizzled with dark amber chestnut-blossom honey wriggling from a wooden spoon ...
From the afternoon table set out with olives, pickled onions, gherkins, local cheeses, charcuterie, and fried blood sausage ... comparing duck and goose foie gras in states 'bloc pur,' 'terrine,' and 'paté' ... pork, rabbit, and fowl rillettes on crackers and croutons washed down with vins de Cahors, Bergerac, and Périgord ...
From the evening table of marinated tomato and avocado salads, and grilled pink trout stuffed with sliced chorizo - so choice a bee converted from 'nectartarian' to mandible-saw a fat flake from the thin trout rib, six-leggedly grasp the morsel and churn hard working wings hive-ward away ... over a clay-tiled alpine roof range.
... to a midnight table full of full white moonlight the crumbs of the day cast sated shadows upon.
As my grandfather used to say ... as Pépère Léo Eugène Roy who worked long and arduous years in the Lewiston shoe mills used to say, "On n'est pas riche, mais on vie bien." 'We are not rich, but we live (eat) well...' reminding that real happiness comes from within only. How we celebrate what we have is the key. There was nothing more contented than that man's smile over a Father's Day picnic table's couple pecks of beer-steamed clams and his grandsons' buttery chins.
And I haven't mentioned restaurant food yet! Sarlat's stone streets are packed with cafés and restaurants whose kitchens must be pandemoniac Hells of duck and goose souls, so much 'product' passes through; restaurants glowing out mossy stone arches, clanking plates down narrow gaslit streets ... tables budding to the eye and blooming on the tongue with salads arrayed with warm chèvre, walnuts, confit gizzards and smoked duck breast; scrambled eggs and omelets steeped in buttery cèpe jus; spicy tomato-mint soups garnished with twists of olive oil and cold cream; crisp confit de canard with duck fat and fines herbes roasted potatoes; Coquilles Saint Jacques - seared sea scallops bathed in herb cream and served in a crackling vol-au-vent well; foie gras stuffed quail; foie gras with onion jam; foie gras with truffles; seared duck breast with peach sauce; fruit and nut purée filled crêpes boozed with their corresponding fruit and nut liqueurs, then set ablaze ... and back-of-the-spoon smacked crackling crust crème brulées.
My parents giggled like Christmas morning children while we savored some of these on a Rocamadour cliff-clung terrace facing sandy gold escarpments rising high above medieval church facades carved into the mountain stone. Facing these and looking up ... a herd, (nothing of such size can be called a flock), a herd of fifteen-foot wingspan wide eagles riding the updrafts, circling above as if Delphically having found the exact center of the World.
Sarlat-le-Canéda expresses itself with Venetian carnival-mask changing faces. In summer fair fashion, street performers - jugglers, mimes, acrobats, clowns, the vibrantly sarapi-ed Peruvian flute band, and musicians busking through the south of France jamming bass, guitar, dulcimer and drum filled the night. Kaleidoscopic market day umbrellas flap and turn in the breeze bringing rotisserie chicken aromas ... aromas of olive barrels and musk melons; plum, chestnut, walnut, paprika, garlic and herb flavored sausages of beef, boar, duck, and pork. The scents of ripe cow, goat, and sheep's milk cheeses aged in ash, oak leaf or fern; sweet sea-fresh crustaceans and fish on ice; the Irish ex-pat's brewer's malt, coffee roaster's grind, lavender sachets ... inhaling past the belly to the toes and to the stone beneath them standing - so happy to be Earth's nose!
One night after a short hike by a massively walled-like-a-dam château and the walnut groves beyond; after a visit to Domme - a fortified bastide from the XIIth Century guarding the Dordogne River Valley below, a valley of sunflowers and deep green tobacco leaves undulant from the heights; after visiting La Roque Gageac - a shaving of a community whose homes' back walls are spackled against the mineral stained cliffs ... whose terraced streets, for the sheltering river fog, are overgrown with tropical banana palms and all manner of frost-fearing blooms; after a winding country drive deep into vineyards for a winery tour and dégustation...
... After this and these - in the heart of Sarlat, in a small 800 year old lantern-lit courtyard where wrought-iron balconies and pastel shutters sculpt alate shadows upon these like golden canyon walls; into this courtyard the four of us made our way and sat among the many in attendance, rapt. Surrounded by upright bass, accordion, violin, and the goblet shaped darbuka drum whose various parts are whacked and rhythmed ... Surrounded by these she stood so barefoot and beautiful, sable hair cascading, her Cleopatra black-lined eyes, Mediterranean dark olive skin - a Turkish diadem in memory's crown. If Edith Piaf's vocal horns could be multiplied, intensified, basso-ed and translated into Middle Eastern folk songs singing raw emotive rapture and melancholy, singing celebration, lamentation, and the mysteries the desert stars whisper to desert sands you'd hear this woman singing arms outstretched ... fingers thrumming the air as if she played an ecstatic Cathedral organ deep within her core.
And through every image, phrase and gastronomic pleasure... through every thread and weave ... family. Kitchen table family love and comfort in a foreign land. The needlessness to explain because we know; the uselessness of escape because we're here; all we need to understand is present in flesh and bone. Be at home and so much idiocy falls away.
Didn't think I'd see Grenoble again, particularly not with my parents. But for the sake of taking advantage of the rapid French landscape change they decided, (after bringing my brother to the airport in Toulouse at the end of our week together), to head east and check out the Alps. And as my post-Sarlat destination is the historic Chemin trailhead in Arles, just south of Grenoble, I went with.
Grenoble, with its grey uniformity of building color, its ornate iron-work against carved stone dragons, lions, birds, and busts that garnish all buildings from banks to apartments, has the feel of a classic crumbled Vienna; of majesty, but a common majesty available to all citizens - and this with the JAGGED ALPS in the near offing.
Snow and glacier veined volcanic tors clung with mist, and clouds creeping across cliff sides with the slowness of something conscious of its own meditative pace. Thunder-high mountains, dramatically un-smoothed by erosion, whose molten youth can still be seen in the tree-ring-like stoney grain lines reaching across sheer rock faces. Following these grain lines with the eye the buckling of continental plates is clear ... earthen birth throes' visible echoes. Having trekked up into the Mercantour National Park on the French / Italian border about four years ago, I encouraged my parents to head down to explore those jaw dropping heights ... and I, I headed south into Provence.
The last night in Sarlat I dreamt of Mickey. Pépère's cousin and his wife, Uncle Lucien and Aunt Jeanne, lived next door to me growing up and their dog Mickey was a friend in my childhood. In my dream he was old, crooked of spine, and fatter than memory recalls but it was him. Rumbling on the bus to Arles, dwelling on the dream - he was the first pilgrim I knew in my 'don't cross the street' bound youth. In those pre-leash-law days Mickey could roam far and free, all the way to the Mecca of Dairy Joy where he'd waggingly wait for someone to drop an ice cream cone. It was an amazement to me then how he could find his way home ... the quiet backyard ways he knew. He's long dead now. Uncle Lucien and Aunt Jeanne have died and their house next door has been sold twice. My parents are reaching the ranks of the older people on the street ... and I'm off waiting for ice creams to fall from a summer sky before finding my way home.
may we have ease of mind; may we have comfort of heart; may our lives be peaceful lives. ~the buddha
journal - 8/15/06
i'd love an ape-clan grooming ... a haircut and close beard trim.
yeah, the Assumption. the Holy Hoovering of Mary up to celestial heights that the body who bore the Christ would not know the defilements of death ... like there is anything unholy in mud, muck, dung and flesh-rot. as most everything downtown and historic is closed for this holiday i headed well out to city outskirt cloverleaf exchanges and to the Géant Shopping Center whose roadside billboards bark in DayGlo phrases that it will be open on the 15th. this one's getting full and i'm in search of a new journal. on the way back i bypassed the Alyscamps but could not go in. too weird to walk away from a modern shopping plaza then tour an ancient necropolis.
got a guide-map at the tourist office. sat at Van Gogh's actual Café la Nuit ... an incensed Frenchman yelling at waiter and boss! sent his food back three times because he got pasta instead of potato or potato instead of pasta with his plat du jour. he's probably still tormented by the starch. a crowd of Japanese tourists sat down. waiters expressing to the universe and all there-in how hard they're trying to be patient - thinking that masks their masks of indignation.
went to a Picasso / Goya / Doré exhibit themed 'Bulls and Minotaurs.' Picasso's eleven stage deconstruction of the Bull was incredible ... from rough hewn sketches, to precise representation, to geometrically cracked fantasia - with a pivoting twirl or two in the center of the room it becomes phantasmagoric. and through some acid-wash process he created seemingly ink-blotted, but meticulously precise, haiku-like bullring scenes ... bulls, picadors, toreadors, spectators. i'm fascinated by the fullness of expression within the simplest of lines. never been inspired to draw before but i bought two waxy pencils and drew my balcony overlooking Place Voltaire ... not bad. and as happens in zennist attention - i lost track of time entirely and found myself calmed and soothed.
a lot of downtime - Santiago, Pamplona, Sarlat-le-Canéda, Arles... sadly, my calluses have softened and my feet are ripe to blister and bleed all over again. but so it goes. i'm excited to drift through cicada-ratcheting orchestrations again, to feel the earth treadmill turn again beneath my feet but i seem to be having a hard time getting started on my way. i've come so far ... now another 1600K yawns before me. no wonder i feel like sitting ... eating aioli, tapenade, and gnawing lavender stalks ... getting fat and listening to cicada songs in Provence.
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