I leave The Hare and the Tortoise on a sunny cool morning with Pierre and Marie. They are very sympa – which is a lot more than congenial, it’s more like soulmates. It’s good walking, partly because of the weather, partly because when I am on the path, off road, the mud is mostly gone. At 11:30 we three stop for lunch. After we eat I go to pay only to find out that it’s already paid for by Pierre.
They tell me that they have space reserved with a friend of Clement’s in Marsolan. I already have a reservation there, but I ask if there is room for one more with them. I want to stay with these people as long as possible. It turns out to be an inspired – and controversial – decision.
Pierre calls, finds out that there is room, reserves a spot for me then, at my request, calls the place where I have already reserved and cancels my reservation. His face gets red as he speaks with the owner of the gite. Apparently the owner thinks that I should pay even if I am not coming. Given the pilgrim traffic here, he is not going to have any problem filling the bed, but he is adamant. So is Pierre. He is furious.
He is a businessman too, the director of two medical supply clinics where he lives, but he says that providing services to pilgrims is different. It is more than just a business and you have to respect the pilgrim as well. He tells the gite owner that it’s not going to happen and ends the connection. If there were going to be a problem renting out the bed, I would have no problem paying, but this is a form of gouging. At the same time I have some sympathy with the gite because I have heard about people who call and make multiple bookings wherever they can, then just pick one and ignore the others – not good pilgrim behaviour.
After a walk of more than 20 kilometres on what turns out to be a hot day we arrive in Marsolan, a tiny, tiny village on a steep hillside. Actually, we arrive separately because they are walking a few hundred metres ahead of me and miss a shortcut that I take, so I arrive a little ahead of them. It doesn’t buy me much because I realise that I have no idea where we are staying, except that it is NOT at the gite where I was booked. We meet a local and ask him the location of the gite Bourdon. He has no idea. We ask him how many people live in the village. He says; “35”.
How on earth can he not know where the gite is? The mystery is solved when Marie goes off on a recce, leaving Pierre and me in the town square. When she returns she tells us that the gite is the very last house on the left on the way out of the village, it is a new gite in a very old building and it is under construction. Part of a wall in the kitchen is actually part of the original wall that surrounded the fortified town.
Phillipe, the owner, is a friend of Clement’s and Vincent’s … and of Thereze. He welcomes us warmly, repeats that the gite is under construction – it certainly is – and shows us to our beds. He takes dust covers off the beds. There is a toilet, wobbly, no seat yet and a shower and construction materials and dust everywhere. But it doesn’t matter. The welcome is genuine. How new is it? We are pilgrims 7, 8 and 9 to stay here. I am the first Canadian, Pierre and Marie are the first couple. Phillipe tells us with a wry smile that he is going to stop counting after 10.
I have a little sleep, Pierre and Marie walk back up the hill to the epicerie for some food for tonight’s dinner. While they are out, Phillipe tells me that he spent several months in Canada some 20 years ago, but did not learn much English. He was always with French speakers who spoke better English than he did, so he depended on them. He also spent several months in the very far north of Quebec in the James Bay region with the Indians of that area. I never do find out what he was doing there. I can usually get the drift of the conversation but remain a touch hazy on the details.
The gite is not yet sufficiently advanced to offer dinner and Phillipe offers that he is not much of a cook. We end up with a huge salad, sausages and pasta carbonara. It is all excellent. We four sit together at the kitchen table, enjoying each other’s company. I don’t know quite how it happens, but Phillipe asks if we would like a little whisky. Marie declines but Pierre and I think that’s a good idea, which sounds good and gets much better very quickly when he pulls out a bottle of single malt scotch. I find the atmosphere and the company just entrancing.
Phillipe is a successful business man from Grenoble who decided that he wanted – probably needed – to operate a gite, much like Vincent and Clement the last couple of days. He found this building with assistance from Thereze, bought it and is just starting up. His wife is in Grenoble and will come here in a year when the reconstruction is complete to help him run the gite. I find these dedicated hospitalieres just fascinating. They have a passion for the chemin and for the pilgrims who travel it. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s not even a get-rich-ever scheme. He charges 16 Euros for the night and that includes breakfast.
We have discovered that accommodation on Condom is going to be a problem for Pierre and Marie. I booked mine several days ago, when I booked four days in a row, using the kind services of Fanny from Moissac. Marie, using the magic of her cell and her considerable persuasion skills, has found a place for them in Condom at an Equestrian Centre a couple of kilometres out of town.
We talk for hours, just four of us, about the chemin, our lives, our families. Marie, a young and attractive 41, is an Emergency Room nurse, 20 years experience, three children from a former marriage from 7 to 17, Pierre, 48, is the director of two medical supply clinics back home in Alsace, two children from a former marriage. They are clearly very happy together. They often walk hand-in-hand, Pierre getting to carry all four poles.
They started this walk in Montcuq and will finish in Condom. Pierre, with a delicious and wicked sense of humour, points out that Montcuq, as pronounced and then translated, sounds like “My ass” in English and Condom needs no translation. I suspect that he may have chosen these points on purpose, although he assures me that it has to do with train connections. I am saddened that we will part so soon. I was hoping to spend longer with them, But tomorrow will be the last day. I am very fond – that’s not strong enough – I am in love with both of them and it’s not driven by lust. Well perhaps just a bit, she is very attractive and warm, but it is much more than that. Sometimes in my life I meet people with whom I make an immediate and deep connection. Pierre and Marie are two of these, as are my recent hosts Vincent and Marie.
Off to bed quite late – after 11, which here on the chemin is really late. The three of us share a room. I go to bed first and am asleep when they come in a few minutes later – they tell me. And it’s off to Condom tomorrow. Should be good for a joke or two in poor taste.