I had a pretty good night, not as good as some. My roommate whom I will call Harold for the time being, although that will stop soon, gets up several times in the night. He is considerate and quiet, but I still wake up. He rises very early and has finished breakfast before I get up. Then he spends an hour packing his backpack. I watch him as he folds his towel just so and I can only imagine what his life must be like. I have no idea how he manages.
The three Germans and I eat together, then they are organised and gone while I am still getting myself ready for the day. They are going to Nogaro and I am going a few kilometres beyond, so I do not think I will see them again. When Wilfried asks me if I will be staying at the gite communal in Nogaro I tell him yes, even though I am not going to be there. I have no idea why I tell him this, perhaps it’s me not wanting to have a farewell scene.
As I sit putting my boots on, Nadine is here starting to clean up. I comment that my roommate is interesting. She tells me that they talked yesterday and when I hear the story I am so ashamed. My quick judgement is dead wrong. He had a wife and two children, lived north of Paris, apparently a happy enough life. Then one child was killed in a car accident. Not long after – I don’t know the details – both his wife and their remaining child committed suicide. It is an appalling story.
His name is François and he is absolutely lost. I think that he finds solace in familiar and repetitive processes, which looked to me like OCD. Of all the people on the chemin, he is perhaps the one most in need of understanding – and I couldn’t be bothered to find this out.
I leave the gite just after 8 AM with the promise of a lovely day. My walk will be about 25 kilometres in gently rolling country. I think that for the moment I am out of the big hills and the mud. There is lots of evidence that this was very muddy here as well, so I am grateful for the sun and lack of rain.
After two hours I stop in a little town, Manciel, to buy a banana and some local strawberries, called “garrigette”. They are long and narrow and delicious. I leave the store, walk about 100 metres and realise that I have left my poles behind. When I turn around, there is the attractive – very attractive – store clerk hurrying after me with the poles. The people here are so kind and thoughtful. I return to where I was going, a nearby restaurant where the attractive – very attractive – server makes me a grande creme (coffee with hot frothed milk – it’s a latte).
Now one attractive woman is anecdotal, two is a trend and I am waiting with interest to see what the next data point is.
While I sit here, a big truck stops on the busy road, the driver puts on his flashers and gets out of the cab. I expect he’s going to off-load something. Wrong. He is going into the bakery to pick up a long baguette, after which he gets back in his truck and drives away. I am absolutely in France. And in southern France – I am seeing stands of bamboo and the occasional palm tree.
Off I go to Nogaro. The first part out of Manciel is on a busy road, so I am pleased and relieved when the chemin turns away from the road and back into the vineyards and through farmer’s fields. At one point I discover that I know exactly where I am. There is a wooden sign, “Greenwich Meridian” so I know that I am 0 degrees, 0 minutes and 0 seconds neither East nor West. I am directly south of Greenwich in England, which is where the world is measured from, East to West.
I am walking through Nogaro, thinking that this would be a good time for lunch when I spot François sitting alone in a restaurant. I think that I will join him, perhaps undo the damage of yesterday. I ask if I can sit with him, but that doesn’t fly. He indicates a table next to him and that is where I sit. He tells me that the gite in town is not good. if I understand correctly it is one big dormitory.
I end up ordering the same salad that he is already having. When mine comes – and it’s good – he indicates that his salad is not so good. I imagine that everything he sees, everything he tastes is like ashes in his mouth. He is deeply grieving, trying to make sense of this terrible tragedy and it is just not possible for me to have a meaningful conversation with him, so I ask for my bill, pay it, wish him; “Bon chemin” and leave. It tastes a little like ashes for me too.
On another few kilometres and I am in this lovely gite, where I have brought greetings from Nadine for the owner. There are several Dutch people here who all speak English. They tell me it is a nice change for them to speak English, since they find French more difficult. Me too.
I am able to get WiFi and Internet here. I have a look at the Hospice website, where the donations have stalled. I can understand this. It’s called “donor fatigue”. People get asked to donate to so many worthwhile causes that they just eventually turn off.
Let me tell you about a different kind of donor fatigue. Since 22 April I have travelled almost 500 kilometres, the vast majority of it on foot carrying my backpack as I go. I have been through rain, mud, hail and some seriously steep long hills, as well as some steep psychological climbs. And I have physical donor fatigue.
But I believe with all my heart that what I am doing is worthwhile and I hope that you do too. If you have not yet made a donation to this or another Hospice, please consider doing it now. And please tell your friends about the blog and the Hospice website: hospicemaycourt.com. My hike is on the front page and there is a map there where you can follow my progress – or lack of it, as I work my way across France. I will continue this walk to the end, whatever happens. OK, barring apocalypse. If that happens we are all on our own.
I hope that you will follow me all the way too. I won’t nag about this any more.