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

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Day 38: Aigle To Saint-Maurice (2)

The Swiss are very good at footpath signage.

Footbridge over the river Rhône. I turned left here and followed a cycle track all the way to Saint-Maurice.

The milky green waters of the Rhône.

It was near to here, on a flower-strewn bank overlooking the river, that I had my picnic lunch: a superb garlic sausage, doux Fontal cheese and pain complet from the Migros supermarket in Aigle, plus a small 20 cl bottle of 'Aigle les Murailles' white wine bought in the castle shop. It was an idyllic place, and, after the meal, I experienced one of those sublime, mystical moments I treasure so much. You never forget such rare, spontaneous events, and they cannot be manufactured or predicted. Suddenly I had a strong conviction that everything was coming together in an almost magical way: my mind, body and soul felt at one with the life I was leading out there on the road — and at one with the universe itself. My practical skills for what they were worth — knife or route-finding or backpacking skills for instance — seemed to merge effortlessly with any emotional and spiritual intelligence I might have; it was an overwhelming, deeply satisfying sense of harmony, control and insight. I have explained it as best I can, but really the experience was beyond words. This intense state lasted for perhaps five minutes, then, when I had packed up and left, the feeling was still there, but more diluted. Here I was, living cheaply and well, each day in the open air and in the heart of nature, like some vagabond or holy tramp, in good health, in good spirits, and as free as a bird . . . Indeed, I was truly fortunate.  

A train crosses the Rhône beneath a stormy sky.

Along the river bank I came across a series of signboards like the one above, all featuring different animals and all based on individual articles from either the European Convention of Human Rights or the European Social Charter — I'm not sure which. Through a picture and a poem these articles were brought strikingly to life. I found them fascinating, and photographed each one.

Above is a close-up of the rabbit poem, and here's my prose translation of it. It's about our right to have a private and protected life:

 Rabbits are terribly afraid of owls, those awful predators who land on their heads. To better protect themselves, and defend themselves from falcons, they dig burrows, in which there are ceilings. Once in their warren they start to yap, dance the farandole or simply sleep. Their holes are their home, their private universe, sheltered from eaglets in a snug togetherness. 

I entered Saint-Maurice by the foot of the castle . . .

. . . and made for the abbey, which I knew welcomed pilgrims. Père Thomas showed me to a second-floor room in the annexe pictured above. It was a good room, with soap, towels etc., but it did cost 35 Swiss francs.  

The door to the abbey church, which opened electronically. (The soldiers depicted on the door are Roman soldiers, and the Roman soldier Maurice and his companions were put to death circa AD 300 for refusing to kill Christian soldiers. He was later canonised.)  At 6 pm I attended Vespers — I was the only lay person there! 17 Augustinian canons sang the psalms, and it was fine singing too. They were dressed either in red, white, black or green — each colour had a symbolic, religious significance. The day was a unique one for the priests, as it just happened to be the 1500th anniversary of the abbey's founding by Sigismond, King of the Burgundians. There had been parish fêtes in the area, and church services and celebrations, and some specially-commissioned commemorative pillars made of stone and stained glass had been blessed. I appreciated the fact that, despite his incredibly busy day, Père Thomas still had time for me that evening — and also had time for me over breakfast the next morning, when he was expecting a visit from some important, foreign, ecclesiastical dignitary. The abbey is also home to a Catholic secondary school with a large number of pupils, and the brothers are the teachers. 

A charming fountain in Place Sainte-Marie-sous-le-Bourg, Saint-Maurice. 

Looking up from the Grande Rue, Saint-Maurice.

Later that evening I ate rösti sitting outside at this restaurant, and watched the rain clouds gather . . .


am said...

Wow! Just reading this post was one of those unexpected moments for me, with a sudden realization that the reason I feel so drawn to Switzerland is that so much of what you have photographed in this country, including the delightful sign with the image and story of the rabbit and the other animals, carries something of the same feeling as the lakes, foothills, rivers, high country, and spirit that is right here in Western Washington. One of my neighbors is from Switzerland, and now I can see clearly why she feels at home here, too.

Thanks so much for sharing this journey where the mind, body, and spirit are one!

The Solitary Walker said...

And a few days later, high in the Alps on my final ascent to the Great St Bernard Pass, with hardly any other hikers seen all day, I met a couple from Bellingham USA, Am, God's honest truth..!

George said...

Magnificent scenery. Seeing the photos makes me want to return to Switzerland as soon as possible. I've done quite a bit of circuit hiking out of Grindelwald, Zermatt, Kandersteg, and a few other locations, but I've never done a village-to-village hike through the whole of the country. I'll add that to my ever-growing list.

am said...

... a couple from Bellingham ...!


Ruth said...

Forgive me, but after reading what you were able to explain about those five minutes of intense utter connection, I had to skim over the rest of the post. My heart leaps!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks George and Ruth for your comments!