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

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Auch

The following lunchtime, after a short, leisurely, lazy morning's walk, I had similar luck and found another wonderfully isolated gîte d'étape - this time a barn next to the old farm of Lamotte just before the hamlet of L'Isle-Arné. The owners, M and Mme Vives, had completed a long and loving renovation. It had a high, timbered roof, limewashed walls and an enormous fireplace - the chimney built of unfired bricks. One cave-like corner - containing a library of books - had been decorated with a Moroccan theme. I spent a very agreeable night there, despite the nocturnal skitterings of a resident mouse ...

Next day a ridge-top path over high heathland led to the village of Montégut, picturesquely perched on a hillside (the château was private and lived-in but the church was open) overlooking more parcels of oak woodland and agricultural valleys. By late afternoon I'd reached Auch, capital of the department of Le Gers, historic capital of Gascony, and, with a population of 25,000, the biggest place I'd visited since Toulouse. I crossed the river Gers (lots of French departments are named after rivers: Ariège, Aude, Dordogne, Indre, Loire, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne to name but a few) and climbed the narrow streets up to the old town. The highlight of Auch is, without a shadow of a doubt, the extravagant Baroque Cathedral of Saint-Mairie. This is the west front of the cathedral. As you can see, it was in the process of being cleaned (the jet-cleaning began as early as 7.30 am):


Inside I marvelled at the carvings on the wooden choir stalls (there are 113 stalls with 1500 carved figures - including one of Saint-Jacques) and the hugely impressive 16th century stained glass windows. It was highly unusual to see so much old and intact stained glass in one place - and artistically worked and designed to such a high standard of craftsmanship. Here's a depiction of Saint-Jacques which gives some idea of the brilliant colours and intricate detail of the glass (notice the scallop shell on the saint's hat):


I stayed the night at the presbytery in the lovely winding street of Rue Dessoles. (A Canadian pilgrim told me it reminded him of the old town in Montreal.) Here bunk beds had been laid out in 3 large rooms; and there was a small kitchen and shower room annexe. It was basic but comfortable. The shower was see-through! However, I'd long gone beyond all the conventional proprieties - you had to, living in such close proximity to other pilgrims - and I didn't care one jot. It was enlightening to see how, despite communal and sometimes cramped night-quarters, everyone subtly respected each other's privacy when necessary. It occured to me that, in some small way, such intimate and sensitive interaction with like-minded people sharing common goals and interests was a model for a kind of ideal, utopian society.

After a self-prepared evening meal of salad followed by a dish of finely-diced carrot, tuna and rice, I slept very soundly. And early next morning, after leaving a donation in the honesty box, I set off for Montesquiou, 30 km away. Little did I know then the problems I would face ...

3 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Still enjoying your journey Robert - sounds magical (not so sure about the resident mouse, though)

Singing Bear said...

This journey is amazing. Makes me want to find my walking boots (if I had some!). I, too, adore stained glass windows.

Fred Bass said...

In the same wonderful gite, La Motte, I encountered in the dark, on a trip to the washroom, what I thought were two very large moths. I turned on the light. There on the wall were two small bats. I politely asked them to leave, pointing to the open window through which they entered. They quickly did so.