13 May in Montreal

A rest day today. I have walked about 180 kilometres in 8 days without a break and the idea of a rest day really appeals. I am just at the 400 kilometre mark. This is a lovely gite, spotlessly clean, roomy with really good toilet and shower facilities, even a washing machine and I am happy to be here. I have breakfast with the group who are leaving, then they are gone and I am alone. It is a strange feeling, kind of like having the whole family emigrate to a far-away country. I might catch up with some of them, perhaps not. The weather is good for the walkers today, light overcast, light breeze, warm, not hot.

I keep out of the road as Anita and Michel do their daily cleanup. Then I am invited to have a small midmorning snack with them, sitting outdoors for coffee and a sweet pastry. Anita tells me that they are heading off to a nearby village for a flea market and would I like to go with them. Of course I would. Into the car for a 10-minute drive to Fourcès, where the market is.

The old town is very unusual since the main square isn’t square. It is round, planted with pollarded sycamore trees with five stone benches down each side of a pathway through the centre of the circle. All the stores around the “square” are fronted with a deep arcade. It is very attractive.

The flea market is under the arcade, in the stores and in the centre area under the sycamores. It is a typical flea market, an awful lot of what appears to be junk, but it might be treasure for someone else. We are far from Paris. The dress is indistinguishable from that at a typical flea market in North America. I sit on one of the benches and watch the world saunter by.

I am enthralled by a tall elderly man who sets up four trestles and two flat surfaces immediately in front of me. It takes him a full 20 minutes to do this, moving the trestles a centimetre at a time. I don’t think that I have ever seen OCD in action before, but this has got to be a textbook example. By the time he gets the goods for sale on the tables and arranged, the buyers will have all gone home for the afternoon. When I leave he has just gotten the white plastic cover on the tables. Fascinating and, so far as I can tell, he is oblivious to me sitting there not five feet away.

Anita finds me sitting there and asks if I will join them to taste a local wine. Hardly needs an invitation, does it? We taste an aperitif wine called Ladevèze made from Armagnac. According to the bottle it is the “authentic apéritif Gascon de Ladevèze”. It is 18% alcohol and is made right here in Montreal. I buy a bottle as a gift for my hosts, who are going to regift it this evening for the pilgrims who arrive today. Once again, it is like being an honoured member of the family. It’s a good feeling.

I am further invited to join them with a friend, Hervé, here for lunch. The friend turns out to be a seasoned pilgrim who frequently acts as a hospitalier at various gites. He has dropped in here and will be returning in a few days to give Anita a hand. Michel has been here just two weeks. He walked four weeks from the north of France to be here to help. He met Anita four years ago on the camino in Spain and have remained in touch ever since. A retired air traffic controller, he will be here for two months helping Anita establish the pattern for this gite.

Just before 6 PM, the phone rings. Anita answers it, then passes it to me, telling me; “It’s for you.” I am dumbfounded. How could anyone call me here? I scarcely know where I am. But it IS for me. It is Pierre calling me to tell me that he and Marie are safely home, that they have been reading and enjoying my blog and that they have put a couple of comments on the blog. I had not seen them so I have to go and look.

There is a joke about Condom (I did tell you that there would be tasteless jokes about Condom) and another about Alberto, my Italian travelling companion. Pierre wants to make sure that we have a solid electronic link and I couldn’t agree more. It is deeply moving for me to have this couple go to the effort of figuring out where I am, then calling me.

About 6:30, after having talked to Carroll on Skype, I and all the pilgrims here walk up to the enormous and imposing old church for a brief pilgrim ceremony, led by Anita’s friend, Hervé.

Then we come back here and the three German pilgrims sit outside and start to sing. It sounds like a missionary meeting and I foresee a long evening. But I would be wrong. They sing a couple of hymns, then they switch to Frere Jacques and the like. They just like to sing. We all, three Germans, five French pilgrims, me and our hosts sit outside and break out the fortified wine that I bought this morning. I discover that not only is this wine local, we can see on the distant crest, the actual farm where the wine is made.

The Germans don’t speak much French, the French no German, so God help us all, I am enlisted as the translator between the two groups. Scary. We each have a little shot and make toasts to the chemin, to our various countries and to the peace between them.

Dinner proceeds at the same happy pace, lots of laughter and bad translations. One of the people has been to Canada and visited friends in Vernon, BC. Bear stories appear and I try, with appallingly little success, to tell the joke of how to tell regular bear scat from grizzly scat. It’s the bells. After dessert we are all out of the dining area by nine, including me. It’s off to bed for a 17 or 18 kilometre walk tomorrow to Eauze, pronounced AYooze.

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