This journal seems to be a tad obsessed with Catholicism at the moment, but I can only reflect the truth of what happened during those early days of pilgrimage, and I felt that Catholicism was hectoring me. Seeking a bed for the night, I knew that the École Saint-Jean-Baptiste de la Salle in Camblain l'Abbé offered beds to wayfaring pilgrims for a small donation. It was here that I met Peter from England and Ernst from the Netherlands, two pilgrims who were to become important, recurring figures in my pilgrimage. They were walking the Via Francigena like myself — but going the whole way to Rome.
|Peter at the entrance to the École Saint-Jean-Baptiste de la Salle in Camblain l'Abbé.|
|Ernst consults the map.|
All three of us dined quietly in the school refectory (the boys were on holiday) with a Père and a Frère, two teacher-priests — a rather eccentric meal of endives with balsamic, cold rounds of beef in gravy, potato crisps and a banana. There was a little wine of dubious quality, and the Père made sure his glass was always topped up. At the end of the meal the Frère left the room and returned with a bottle of Chartreuse, which he produced with a gleeful flourish!
At one point we were talking about the British monarchy, and the Frère declared dramatically: 'Vive la reine!' ('Long live the queen!') Before I could stop myself I came back with: 'Vive la révolution! Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!' It could have been an awkward moment, but we laughed it off. The French in general adore the British Royal Family, and the Catholic Church in particular is allied historically with the conservative establishment.
|A surfeit of iconography: Peter photographs a luridly bloody Crucifixion.|
It was only 16 km to Arras, the first city along the route, and I walked with Peter, who was an artist, and good company. We talked all day, finding we had much in common. In Arras we checked into the Maison Diocésaine Saint-Vaast (€20 per night plus €3.50 for breakfast), a huge Catholic House offering accommodation and many other facilities. Then we had a pizza and explored the town.
|Rabbit pizza, anyone?|
Arras suffered terribly in both World Wars, and much of the city has been reconstructed in the Flemish-Baroque style.
|The belfry (belfroi) and hôtel de ville in the Place des Héros, Arras.|