A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 24: Saint-Loup-Sur-Aujon To Langres

The next day I crossed this motorway . . .

. . . and was glad that my road was a lot quieter. In fact I hardly saw a car for hours. 

I had been on my own for the last few days. Peter and my other companions had gone on ahead during my rest day in Troyes. But I relished the unaccustomed solitude, and realised I had been missing the deeper, reflective, meditative aspects of pilgrimage. I have found you can only really touch this spiritual core when you are alone — a solitary figure moving through a landscape. Enjoyable as companionship is for while, and necessary, it is also valuable to throw yourself back onto complete self-reliance, to test fully your own personal responses and resources. You notice more by yourself, your senses are sharper, and you enter a more receptive, more primeval, more animal-like state.

It was a bright, sunny Sunday morning, and all seemed right with the world. As usual, flowers crowded the roadside verges — thistle, teasel, wild carrot, willowherb — and wayside crosses marked the route. These crosses — constructed of rough, local stone — were much more elegant than previous ones along the path. My feet were not too bad — though the blister was still there — and I delighted in eating nature's free bounty: there were some tart, early blackberries, and I also feasted on sweet, wild mirabelle plums and larger, purple plums from the overhanging branches of orchard trees. The villages were neater in this area, and there were more renovated houses — for instance at St-Ciergues, where I passed some some impressive vegetable gardens.

The Église Notre-Dame de Brévoines just before Langres. This church, which dates from the 12th century, was restored in 2003. It's both simple and beautiful. Just look at those roof beams! It is dedicated to St Renobert, patron saint of domestic animals.

I arrive in Langres in the Haute-Marne department of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Often it's the little details which are more telling than the whole picture.

Langres Cathedral.

The Raising of Lazarus, a polychromatic group in Langres Cathedral.

Langres is built on a limestone promontory, and here's the view north from the town walls — revealing the flattish area of woods, lakes and farmland I'd just walked across. 

Place Diderot in Langres. Diderot (1713-1784), who was born here, and whose bronze statue dominates the square, was a major figure in the French Enlightenment, and a big friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is one of my own literary and philosophical heroes (the title of this blog was inspired by Rousseau's work in exile, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker). Diderot's monumental opus was his Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers (Encyclopaedia, or Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts), published in France between 1751 and 1772.

The prospect from the gîte where I stayed in Langres. Not bad, eh?  Father Touvet, a tall, rather handsome priest with a flashing smile, had rushed out of the cathedral, where he'd been organising an organ concert, to greet me. He'd shown me the simple pilgrim accommodation next to the presbytery where he lived. It was adequate, but very basic, with two mattresses and no fridge, and, what's more, I couldn't get the coffee machine to work (which is a big crisis in Solitary Walker World). However, I did manage to put together a meal from stuff I found in the cupboards — pasta, a can of beans, a tin of tomato paste, a stock cube, two eggs — plus some bread and olives I had in my backpack, and half a bottle of wine a previous pilgrim had left. Later I went to the organ recital in the cathedral. I'm not normally a big fan of the organ, but the sound was just fantastic. Buxterhude, Bach and César Franck reverberated from pillar to pew, from font to flying buttress, from choir to clerestory; at one point I felt as if the cathedral were a huge, medieval spaceship about to take off (probably the effect of the two-day-old wine).


George said...

Love your reflection on the return to solitude. It's absolutely vital, whether on the long road or the short one.

Ruth Mowry said...

Robert, this post resonates fully with me. There is a special energy in this one, and I imagine this day will be special in your memory. Just beautiful.

Susan Scheid said...

All so marvelous.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Another wonderful day Robert - love that Raising of Lazarus.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, it's vital to face — and embrace — one's aloneness, George.

Thanks, Ruth. Yes, it was a really special day — this, and the day before, and the day after! Truly, a golden triumvirate of days, wonderful memories I will never forget.

Thanks for reading, Susan and Pat.

dritanje said...

Love the mediaeval spaceship experience invoked by wine!

Jenny said...

Hi, I happened on your blog while researching Georgiana Hyde-Lees, the wife of poet W.B. Yeats. I can't remember anymore how that led me here, but since it did, I have been browsing your beautiful photos and skimming your posts. I plan to bookmark your site and come back, for I too love to walk and I wish I could do what you are doing. Alas I cannot, but I know how to do that vicarious thing. So I'll be lurking, keeping up if I can. Bon chance! ~Jenny

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi, Jenny — welcome aboard.