I wake up this morning raring to go. The day’s rest has rejuvenated me and I am anxious to be on my way. It helps that the day promises to be gorgeous, sunny, not too warm and the chemin, I am told, is easy all the way to Eauze. I have discovered that the three Germans will be in the same gite, Chez Nadine, as me in Eauze, which is good to know. They are good people and I would like to spend more time with them.I say goodbye to Anita, Michel and Hervé, and walk out of the gite.
I know where the chemin is as I leave but as soon as I get to the bottom of the hill I lose track. However, I see a sign for the road to Eauze which promises to be much shorter than the chemin so I head off on the road. I am feeling really good, physically and psychologically. I am walking through vineyards, gently rolling hills, the weather is cooperative and I am right with the world.
As I walk I see a sign for “massage pelerin”. I stop, think about it, walk on 100 metres , stop again and decide; “What the hell – why not?” I walk back to the sign, turn in and walk a couple of hundred metres to a house. I knock on the door, a short woman answers, a little hesitant. I ask if this is where the massage is. She calls out to someone, it turns out to be her husband, who comes to the door. He is the masseur. I drop my backpack and poles at the door. We discuss what he can do, what the price will be and we agree on terms.
Then we walk through the house and out another door into a garden. There is a blue tent-like structure, about 12 feet square and it is where he does the massage. It is effectively outdoors. I strip off everything except my shorts (I am North American after all), even my MedicAlert bracelet. On to the massage table for perhaps one of the best massages of my life. The birds chirping and the light light breeze make it wonderful. When he is done I am just about asleep on the table. He covers me with a sheet, tells me to take my time. It’s good advice, I don’t want to move, it feels so good. I get up, get dressed and he asks me if I would like tea. Of course I would.
Back to the house, he makes green tea which we drink together on the stone patio. He is Denis, a pilgrim from four years ago, not from this region. He loved this area as he walked through and in eight months he and his wife and their blended family of seven children had moved here so he could serve pilgrims as they walk through. I am amazed at the dedication, almost obsession, of so many of the people whom I meet who are providing services along the chemin to pilgrims. Many of them are pilgrims themselves and it shows in their welcome and their whole approach.
The path changes to a walk in farmer’s fields, a lot of barley and a lot of woods. The last third of the chemin today is a dead straight, dead flat road which is shown on the map as the ancient road to Eauze. From all appearances this must have been a Roman road. It has been engineered to be flat, wide and straight. At times it is 10 metres lower than the surrounding land, at times up to 20 metres higher. The land height varies, the road does not. That is a lot of construction and the Romans were exceedingly good at engineering and road-building.
It is exactly the road that I would have wanted had I been a Roman garrison commander about 1800 years ago who needed to move troops, equipment or supplies quickly to deal with an unruly local population. It reminds me of the Eisenhower Interstate system, built in the 1950s for exactly the same reason: move troops, equipment and supplies quickly over large distances.
I listen to the birds chattering and singing – they are loud and insistent – and I speculate about what is actually going on. I know birdsong is sweet, but here is an approximate translation:
“Hi, big fellow. Got a match?”
“Sure I have, sweetheart. You from around here?”
“No. I’m just in town for the festival. You?”
“Yeah, me too. Like to have a drink?”
“Sure, I’d love one. Do you want to sit here on this branch with me or would you like to find a place a little quieter?”
“Sure. Your place or mine?”
It actually takes a little longer than that, because these aren’t trailer trash, these are birds from good nests but you get the idea.
I come into Eauze about 1:30, discover that it is the capital of Armagnac (it’s on the sign) and have great difficulty finding the gite. The town centre is a square next to the church and there are a number of roads leading off. I get differing opinions on where the specific street is. Part of the problem is that it is Monday, which seems to be synonymous with closed in this part of France.
I eventually get sent off on a road which is leading me quickly out into the country and I have little faith that I am actually on the right road. I run through scenarios in my mind about what to do if there is no number 43 or if it is not the gite. However when I get to number 43, I am very relieved to see the gite sign and turn in. I stand in the driveway, not sure what to do next, when the lady hanging up laundry calls to me and welcomes me in. I have arrived at Chez Nadine – she is Nadine and the gite is just fine. It is the bottom floor of a house and I have a bed in a two-bed room. The Germans from yesterday are in the next room. We embrace like old friends.
After washing up and doing the necessary laundry, we walk back into town and sit in the square and have ice cream and beer. But first, I want to tell you about the shower incident. You will remember, I’m sure, from any number of movies, the shower scene in which the man inadvertently – or advertently – walks in on the 25-year-old woman in the shower. She is, of course, like a deer in the headlights and, depending on the movie, soft- or hard-porn, biology takes its course … or not.
Well, fast forward 50 years. The man inadvertently walks in on the 75-year-old woman in the shower. She is, of course, like a deer in the headlights but, unlike the movie, this is more like soft horror … or soft humour, depending on your bent. It is not a pretty scene. After all the “Pardons” and “Je m’excuse” and so on, the man withdraws. The incident is not discussed again.
As we sit in the square we get to know each other – dressed. He, Wilfried, is a couple of years younger than me, from the Constance area. The two ladies, Inge and Helga – Inge is his wife of 48 years – are good friends. He tells me that he worked for the company that makes the Airbus, but that wasn’t his area of specialty. He was an engineer specialising in secure military airfield communications. The couple have spent at least six weeks each year for the last 15 years in India working with orphaned children. The women are friends who met on the chemin as they walked, starting years ago from Constance to Geneva to Le Puy to Cahors to here. They walk a long section each year.
When I go to pay for mine beer, I discover that it is already paid. The attempt to pay is funny. I ask the young waitress for the rechnung and she looks at me and says; “Je ne comprends pas” and of course she doesn’t. I just asked for the bill in German. When I ask for it in French, she tells me that it is done. When I ask again, she says; “Stop, stop, c’est deja fait.” Stop, stop, it’s already done. Well.
Back at the gite, I have a room-mate. It’s weird Harold. I first saw him a kilometre before Eauze on the trail. He was standing over his pack, complaining that it was too heavy and that he was too hot. Of course he was wearing a heavy fleece at the time and it’s warm out. The next time I see him is here. He spends all of his time poring over his maps and his schedule. He is my second OCD in 2 days! He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat most things, etc. etc. He is quiet, which is good and we don’t have a lot to say to each other. I don’t want to trigger any hidden murderous impulses. I find later that he has already walked for two months from somewhere north of Paris and he is a few months younger than me.
At dinner with the family, Nadine, her husband and 18-year-old son, we have an aperatif, couscous salad, roast pork, frites (that’s a pleasant surprise) and finish with a drop of armagnac. During dinner I am again pressed into service as a translator.
When Nadine finds out where I am staying tomorrow, she is horrified. What has happened is that I have by mistake selected a gite which is not in Nogaro, but about 8 kilometres this side. She suggests one the far side of Nogaro which will give me two reasonable days of 24 kilometres a day rather that one short day and one very very long day. A couple of phone calls – she is efficient – and it’s all fixed. She also insists on a photo with me for the next book. “It’s very important” she says with a big grin.
Off to bed at 9:30. Harold is a quiet roommate.