I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Day 5: Camblain L'Abbé To Arras

Larger-than-life-size religious effigies greet you as you step into the École Saint-Jean-Baptiste de la Salle — a Catholic boys' boarding school — in Camblain l'Abbé. I must admit I found them rather scary and intimidating. What enforcing effect do these ever-present icons have on the pupils, I wonder?

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.

7 comments:

Bouncing Bertie said...

Another interesting day. I guess a hefty dose of Catholicism is to be expected on such a pilgrimage?
Cheers! Gail.

Ruth Mowry said...

Thank goodness for laughter in awkward moments.

What fascinating human endeavors you share here. Those effigies, the crucifixes, that baroque belfroi - city hall. And here you are walking, walking, walking and making connections. Everything is vibration, all is connected. What will it all mean to you, I wonder?

The Weaver of Grass said...

No, I certainly do not fancy rabbit pizza thank you.

George said...

Nice that you found these good companions, Ernst and Peter. I liked your retort putting an Englishman on the side of revolution and the Frenchman on the side of monarchy. As you know, I prefer a life that is slightly out of kilter. It shows imagination. As for the heavy doses of Catholicism, some of the displays seem more appropriate for a theme park.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for visiting — Gail, Ruth, Pat and George.

Ruth — yes, making meaningful and often surprising connections is partly what all this is about, and what life in general is about. What does it all mean, what will it all mean to me? I wonder! The meanings will, no doubt, emerge (and surely shift too) over time.

The people I met, either briefly or over a period of weeks, were such an essential part of the pilgrimage, George. Perhaps THE essential part.

Rachel Fox said...

The school made me think of this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxo81Ok9Urk

The first minute is enough to give you a taste!
x

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, absolutely brilliant!