I wake up early, about 6:20, and am relieved to see that even though it’s light, the sun has not yet risen. I realised last evening as the sun set that when it rose it would paint the vertical surface of the town. So after checking my blood glucose (I do this first thing every morning) I leave the little Amadour Hotel and walk 200 meters to the Esplanade Restaurant where I had dinner on the terrace last evening. There is no-one here but me – it isn’t open yet – and it is a perfect viewpoint for my planned photos.
The sun has just illuminated the chateau and the top of the rock face as I arrive. I place the camera on the top of a flat wooden fence, use maximum zoom, and over the next 45 minutes I sit and patiently and about every five minutes take another photo as the sunlight creeps down the surface of the town. When I leave there is still no-one around. I am quite surprised that I am the only person who seems to have realised the photographic potential of this sunrise.
It reminds me of an early morning in Ottawa about 20 years ago when I went to Remic Rapids with a stepladder. John Ceprano had created some wonderful forms out of rock in and near the shallow water and I wanted to get some photos of them. One problem that I had noticed earlier was that, when I stood on the ground and took a picture, the horizon line of low trees on the Quebec shore always showed up and marred the image. I had figured out that using a stepladder would likely solve the problem.
So there I was, almost alone. The only other person there was Ceprano, fixing up some forms that thoughtless people had damaged. I set up the ladder and took my photos. After a while, Ceprano came over and we talked for a bit. He said that I was only the second person that he had ever seen use a ladder for the photos. He also said that I was in very good company. The only other photographer was Malik. So I was in very good company indeed! Sometimes comparisons are odious but not this one.
Today is our 54th wedding anniversary. It seems simultaneously a very long time and no time at all. I remember with absolute clarity the 21-year-old I married in 1958. I see her all the time in the elegant woman she has become. Later today I will call her and tell her how I feel about her and about our wonderful and enduring relationship. I won’t call her now because with the six hour time difference it is two in the morning in Ottawa and calling now would put a little strain on our relationship.
It is now just after 8. I am going to have breakfast and get my gear together for the trip to Cahors. Oh yes, the hotel does not have a stamp for pilgrims for the pilgrim passport! So we find a more generic stamp for the hotel which indicates Rocamadour and that’s what we use.
The taxi arrives at 9 and I am on my way … I think. Yesterday the Tourism Office in Rocamadour found the bus schedule, showed it to me and gave me one. It shows a bus going from Gramat, about 10 minutes from here, at 9:35, arriving in Cahors at 10:45. So I expect to spend the day in Cahors. I wonder idly what I will do all day. The taxi drops me at 9:15 at the station in Gramat – it’s for both busses and trains – and I wait … and I wait. Usually the public transport in Europe is deadly accurate.
At about 10 to 10, I ask someone in a local cafe if there is a bus today. They think so but suggest I ask in the station. I didn’t see anyone there before but in I go and find someone who eventually comes to the wicket. I ask about the bus. He looks confused. “But sir, there is no bus today”. Now I look confused. I tell him about the schedule, which I left in the taxi. He insists there is no bus today, and I ask if there is any way to get to Cahors today. Yes, I can get a train to Cahors at noon. It takes a very devious route going north and east, then west, with a stop and a train change and then goes south to get to Cahors just after 4 PM. Well, I have the whole day, I just wasn’t planning on spending a chunk of it on a train. There go those pesky expectations again.
So now I am sitting under a shade tree in the outdoor patio of a cafe just across the parking lot from the station, waiting patiently until noon. I have a grande creme and a glass of water to sip on.I have lovely weather, a sunny day, birds chirping, gentle cool breeze to keep me company. It is very pleasant. The train arrives at noon and I get on for the short trip north, an hour wait and another short trip south.
The first stop on the train is – you guessed it – Rocamadour. So I paid 20 Euros for a taxi, waited three hours for the train and I could have gotten on at Rocamadour and spent the morning in the town. On the other hand, the wait at the cafe was very pleasant, the staff were congenial and helpful and they let me use their WiFi.
And twice in the past 24 hours a cab driver has charged me less than the meter reading and has refused any more. Toto, I don’t think that we’re in Kansas anymore.
At the half-way point, I sit in the terrace of the restaurant at the station and have a beer and a small salad. Two tables away, facing me is a young man, slouching, face set in a frown, cigarette dangling and a chip like a 2×4 on his shoulder. He is not eating or drinking, just slouching there. When the waitress asks him what he would like, he says he wants nothing, then ignores her. She tells him politely that if he isn’t going to have anything, he has to sit elsewhere. He pointedly ignores her, then after a few minutes takes something from a paper bag and eats it. Another 20 minutes passes before he gets up, leaves his garbage and walks off. A lout is still a lout in every culture and n every language.
The train down is fast, quiet almost empty except for a couple of young guys with a two-month-old kitten who does not like the ride.
At Cahors I ask at the station for directions to the gite. It is on a road directly across from the station and about 400 metres away. When I arrive, it’s a big building with no-one at the welcome desk, so I sit and wait for a few minutes. Someone arrives and checks me in. He doesn’t seem very organised which is explained when I discover a few minutes later that everyone is in a meeting and he is part of the cleaning staff. But everything works. He gives me a room key (in a gite? That’s a first) and sheets and a pillowcase – another first.
I organise dinner here for tonight and they call ahead for me for the next two nights, so that is all arranged. I have discovered that I like the assurance of a bed reserved for me when I arrive.
I speak to Carroll on my cell and we exchange anniversary greetings. I am looking forward to seeing her in less than a month in Barcelona.
Dinner is different. I am the only pilgrim having dinner here. There are a few others but they are all eating in town. Good choice. There are a bunch of teenagers in the dining room to whom I am apparently invisible. The age gap, from their side at least must appear to be a chasm and, in addition, they are all chock full of raging hormones that have absolutely nothing to do with a fossil. There are members of the opposite sex nearby.
And the food, for the first time in a gite, is really institutional. Overcooked chicken legs in what purports to be a curry. At least the fresh raw veggies are good and plentiful.
It doesn’t help that I cannot avoid comparing this anniversary to the one five years ago in Boadilla, where the whole atmosphere was warm and welcoming. But I am here by choice, so stiff upper lip and on with tomorrow.