|No prayers could change the challenging nature of the day: hot sun, biting insects and barking dogs.|
On Sunday 27 July I walked 30 km from Wisques to Amettes under a baking hot sun. I found it quite tough, as there was little shade, and, to make matters worse, I was badly bitten by insects on my face, neck, arms and back. And what was the one thing I'd forgotten to pack? Insect repellent!
I soldiered on, past farms busy with the corn harvest and through villages of modern chalet bungalows and long 'toy town' or 'Lego-like' houses made of of bright red brick and blindingly white mortar — not very attractive. These homes were usually surrounded by chain-link fencing to create a compound for one or more barking dogs, which threw themselves at the fence as I went by. The plots were often untidy and neglected — the front gardens steeply banked and covered in green plastic sheeting to prevent soil slippage and deter the weeds. The effect was pretty gruesome. In an attempt to soften these wastelands of rubbish dumps and dog kennels, most houses had gone over the top with displays of hideously gaudy flowers — red begonias, yellow marigolds, deep-pink hydrangeas — all clashing with each other in one headache-inducing explosion of colour.
|La Ferme des Templiers: unfortunately I could not afford to stay here.|
As you can tell, what with the dogs and the insects and the eye-offending architecture, I was not in the happiest of moods. Eventually, at 5 o'clock, I arrived in Amettes — to learn that the pilgrim refuge next to the Estaminet Saint-Benoît had now closed. Luckily I had another address, and was soon being welcomed by M and Mme Gevas, who ran a farm and chambre d'hôte business at the bottom end of the village. They also provided a small gîte for pilgrims with kitchen, bathroom and shared dormitory accommodation at the pilgrim-friendly price of €12 (plus an extra €5 for breakfast — a breakfast which was one of the best I had during the trip, by the way, with orange juice, cereal, four kinds of bread, creamy butter, home-made jam and wonderful coffee).
|M and Mme Gevas.|
Amettes is the birthplace of St Benedict Joseph Labre (1748-1783), a Franciscan, French mendicant and Catholic saint. He's the patron saint of the homeless, and one of the patron saints of pilgrimage, though not at all as well known as St Roch. He was inspired by St Roch to 'abandon his country, his parents and whatever is flattering in the world to lead a new sort of life, a life most painful, most penitential, not in a wilderness nor in a cloister, but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion.'
And so began a life of poverty and pilgrimage. He lived on what he could beg, then shared those meagre morsels with others; he slept in rags, often in the open; he received abuse; he talked little and prayed a lot. Today we would call him a 'holy fool' — think perhaps of Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot or of the half-crazed, ascetic mystics of Sufism and other religions. Labre died young of malnutrition on the steps of the Santa Maria Ai Monti church in Rome, where he lies buried.
|'Il n'y a pas de chemin. Le chemin se fait en marchant.' ('There is no way. The way is made by walking.')|
|The birthplace of St Benedict Joseph Larbre in Amettes . . .|
|. . . which has a beautiful roof space . . .|
|. . . and a view of the Église Saint-Sulpice . . . Catholicism is intent on hammering home the message, isn't it?|
|The next day it rained all morning, with occasional showers in the afternoon — but I was glad, as it kept the biting insects at bay!|
|This is the château in Rebreuve Ranchicourt . . .|
|. . . and this is the château in Olhain . . .|
|. . . and this is Laurent in the biker bar, 'La Mouffe' . . .|
|. . . where he kept two Harley-Davidsons . . .|