For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 7 January 2008

Dining With The Daughters Of Jesus


Half-way between Cajarc and Cahors lies the Monastère des Filles de Jésus (the Convent of the Daughters of Jesus) at Verlats. On 29 October I spent the night there. A tiny, stoop-backed nun showed me to the dormitory wing in an old stable block. The bedrooms were cold and high-ceilinged. With difficulty I managed to coax an enormous old radiator into life. Good. I could wash my evil-smelling socks and dry them on it. I cleaned my boots, too, which were clogged with thick clay. It had rained in the afternoon and the paths had been very muddy. I didn't know it then, but that day was one of the very few rainy days I would have.

At dinner the pilgrims were seated at a huge, rectangular table in the centre of the refectory. There was a young, self-possessed French girl whose name I can't recall. There were 2 devout French Catholic families with countless children. And there was me. Unusually for France the food was rather dismal, a product of mass catering: lumpy tapioca soup followed by forlorn beefburgers and sticky pasta. However the crème caramel dessert was delicious. Around us sat the nuns, smiling shyly. Most were very old. Some were in wheelchairs. Some had little beards and moustaches.

There were plenty of wine bottles on our table. The Catholic families were not big drinkers so a lot of the wine seemed to come my way. The meal passed ever more agreeably. Whenever I spoke an awed silence descended on the room. Was my French that bad, or were they all astonished that an Englishman was actually attempting to speak it (the English are notoriously shy of foreign languages)? When the assembled diners learnt I lived near Nottingham there were the usual questions: Did Robin Hood really exist? Is there still a Sheriff of Nottingham? Had I met Kevin Costner (who played Robin in the 1991 film)? I replied too loudly and too lengthily with increasing, wine-fuelled eloquence...

At the end of the meal the Mother Superior swept in, talking animatedly into a state-of-the-art mobile phone. She welcomed us with enthusiasm as she stamped our pilgrim passports. "It's free to stay here, but a little donation would be most appreciated," she beamed, pushing the collection box our way. "€20 is recommended..."

Next morning before breakfast I attended morning prayers (lauds) in the chapel. Both Catholic families were there. A little girl found the right place in the prayer book for me. Elderly nuns chanted in quavering voices. I found it all unbelievably moving. I stayed a while in the chapel after everyone else had left. Then it was back on the trail, through endless chalky woods to the scrubby limestone plateau (causse) above Cahors. The photo shows the town of Cahors on the river Lot. With a population of 21,000 it was by far the largest place I had visited.

2 comments:

am said...

Just catching up with you on your pilgrimage.

From a few days ago, I appreciate the reminder of what Peace Pilgrim said:

"I belong to no organization. There is no organization backing me. I own only what I wear and carry. There is nothing to tie me down. I am as free as a bird soaring in the sky."

Thank you so much for the introduction to R. J. Thomas' poetry.

After I had seen "I'm Not There," a friend who hadn't seen it invited me to see it again. I did. I wanted to confirm for myself that the movie soundtrack and the soundtrack that I purchased are not the same. The movie is, indeed, filled with the original versions of Bob Dylan's songs --what for me is his "presence."

Because of that distinct "presence," the movie held up for me on a second viewing. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to splice "Masked and Anonymous" into "I'm Not There," adding the character of "Jack Fate" to the mix. After all, "Masked and Anonymous" appears to be a great part of the inspiration for "I'm Not There."

There are numerous scenes in "I'm Not There" where the "Bob Dylan" character is riding in a car or a train, reminiscent of the scene at the end of "Masked and Anonymous" where "Jack Fate" is riding in the back of a moving vehicle and speaking to the camera.

Also reminiscent of the film from 1965, "Don't Look Back," I noticed that the "Bob Dylan" character often turns around and "looks back" from moving vehicles. As you noted, the movie is a running joke of obscure references that only a long-time Bob Dylan fan could roll along with.

Just came across an interview with Sherman Alexie where he referred to "Seymour" (say more) from his film, "The Business of Fancy Dancing," as a pilgrim. I am enjoying how everything is connected.

The Solitary Walker said...

Most interesting comments - thank you for them.

Seeing connections, hearing echoes, finding resonances - all this gives deep pleasure and makes the world a much more interesting place. It seems to be how the brain operates. It's also one of the mainsprings of artistic endeavour. As you will know, as is evident from your blog, your choice of quotation, your art.