Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing and Walking

This must be brief, as I am on the clock. In Larrasoaña, Spain, battling with the small bits of Spanish I can pinch together for life living, and the bits of just about every ohter language I know a bit of (Italian, French, English) to converse with other pilgrims as we march up and down the mountains of the Pyrenees.

And I was thinking a lot about the poet as one who writes within the sprint. The short jolts, the electricity of it, the jumps and leaps. But here, trail after trail winding up and down, the lines in my head are long and wandering, the leaps less disconnected and the narrative more solidly present. I feel that it is natural for me to go at my own pace, slowly, inching towards the next village, the sprint and dash far in another mindspace.

It is a long trek, and as the body tries to hold itself together up and down, not slip, the mind wanders forward and back but always linked in a very solid way to the path around and beofre it, thus the narrative, without leaps, the trail chased round the next bend and up over the next peak. Here, I am about to go to Pamplona, the city which for me elicits Hemingway and Picasso, the paintings and sketches of bulls, the book Death in the Afternoon. Red scarves and women with equally bright lipstick.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Out of Water. Then in Poitiers.

Day 14: A day of rest. For I made it, here, yesterday, to Poitiers, over hills in the blazing sun and whenever the slightest of breezes would halt it seemed the earth gave off heat as I strode through vale, then over hill again, seeing only villages in the slight distance to the east and west shimmering through the heat rising from the earth and sunflower fields as the sun beat down along the ancient route of the gallo-romains which, by the by, does not get near much in its 35kms from Châtellerault. The pertinence of that is that as I dashed up and over hill and lane, the heat spitting dust and dirt up over my body and face as I panted and... ran out of water. My 2 liter gourd that had been full up was empty. And I was at a crossroads. Probably slightly heatstruck (if one can say that) and the map I had told me that nothing was close and I was about to march away from all paved roads, all potential refills. What to do? To march or not to march?

So there I stood, at the crossroads as if waiting to make some deal with the devil mid day instead of night, looking up into the clearest of skies (painfully so) and down the four directions of the lanes round me until there was a rumble of an engine from where I had come and then a total boys' boys of an RV drove up with two dudes who had just been golfing (I had walked along the course for ages, which was nice, and cool, as bordered by patches of woods) and who, slowing then stopping at the stopsign where I stood, leaned out, looked at my map and said--pointing stright forward to where there was nothing in sight at all but a slim dirt line through fields and fields (as in my picture of part of it here at the right!) -- "you are not going to find water for awhile yet". And they hopped out, went back to the back of their car and handed me a little bottle of water and said, with a hearty guffaw, "We'll we're going for beers. Good luck!" and pointed towards that long stretch in front of me where there were no more crossroads, no more chance meetings with the stray car of...yes, bizarrely, golfers!

And so, as they drove West towards some slightly distant village and awaiting cold beers, off I headed into dry, dusty, gravelly fields along the old sentier de St Jacques, rationing the bottle of 33cl of water. I knew I had about 6.5km to do before I should come up to some houses on the edge of a village. I knew I could stop there and get my gourd filled. So off I went. Having hallucinations of American southwest films with people trekking lost in circles without food or water midday in the desert, and I thought "Well, at least I know what direction I am heading in, how far I must go, where survival lives." I also thought of those silly people who go on trek-across the Sahara trips, even of the pain of dragging that cross around in the desert of yore for Christ (my bag certainly felt like a cross--and as you can see from my photos, the farther south I get, the more random religious relics and shrines one comes across, sometimes tacked to trees mid no-where, others, like the White Cross at the right are considered historical St Jacques monuments. Regardless, one cannot easily escape the sense of bearing a cross, or of needing to receive some sort of lift from some supernatural source. And no, "Burn" or extra caffeine are not going to do the trick out here mid no where in heat! But I also have not heard the voices of anyone, despite a plethora of Jeanne d'arc (Joan of Arc) sites, statues, artifacts and statures).

One becomes, in the process of walking for two weeks through various regions of France, aware of the body as such. It is animal, it has needs and functions that take over. It is timed and timing things. A process. But it is still the mind that makes the body carry itself over a stretch of arid land like that. The body, it wants to stop. It wants to lie down in the dirt and let the insects and birds and earth cover it over. The mind is what presses it on, reaches forward. Our will.

And then, the village which like a mirage (with its enormous "château d'eau"--water tower) seemed to always be moving farther away in the humid heat, laughing, taunting as it pulled away and away, was really there. Just after the almost comic post with shell and "phone"(--no, it would not really work to call for help) that I took a picture of, I came out off the path onto pavement and a small stretch of houses reached east into town. I looked down the stretch and thought of going down it, then coming back--of the body having to take extra steps. I couldn't.

Instead I rang at the first gate. A man and his son came out to see who was causing their dogs (two Irish Setters--the breed I would say is most common along the road thus far) to make such a ruckus. The father filled my gourd back up and asked where I had come from that day and in general, I said Châtellerault & Chartres. He told me they had not seen many pilgrims this year though they usually did. I thought that funny in a way--since I have seen none myself. I felt in the heat like some silly thing trying her hand at "extreme sports in solitude". And then he said "But Poitiers is not far off now." And that is what did it.

I had planned to stop in Chasseneuil, a village next to La Fontaine (no joke, that is the town's name--as if to tease folks like me). Anyway, I got there in little time after getting the water supply replenished, and so, with the adrenaline of almost being to Poitiers, my feet and body in peculiarly good condition, and the boost of having survived the hottest stretch of the day and of the past few weeks, I pushed on.

Down into another deep dale. The day was growing longer, the sun seemed tired of bearing down, and a small breeze had picked up along with the few fluffy clouds giving me some respite. Sure, I was tired. I had taken short pauses every 1h30 or 2h, and now it was going on 4pm when I had left at 8h30. It was a lot of walking and Poitiers was.... perhaps over the next hill. I could see the really peculiar angles of futuroscope adventure part off beyond the fields and towns on one side of me, and as I climbed a rather high hill I thought it must be there--and then, it was. The suburb, Buxerolles, came into view and by around 5pm I was there. I sat down on a bench for a rest just inside town and two old ladies, one with her mother in a wheelchair, the other her husband in his, came and sat next to me to talk for awile. We sat there for about 40minutes, and then I thought I should try and find a place for the night, and actually cross over into Poitiers itself. More than 35km walked, in the sun. I thought, I am ready now for the mountains. And I hope I am, because tomorrow I take the train to St Jean Pied du Port and walk about 5km in, to stay the night at a little village at the base of the moutain. Up and over. That is what you can all think of for me! No villages, just nature and paths, and likely many other pilgrims with me from this point out. And lots of higher and lower mountains as I cross into Spain. And head West.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Today: Day 11. Sepmès to Dangé St Romain

I thought I should give you a sense of the meander. For today seemed the reverse of the past few: I meandered. I stopped and wrote in my journal. I paused for a great deal of time on the bridge of La Creuse river just after passing from the Inde-et-Loire into La Vienne Département, and then later, near my final destination (Dangé St Martin)I paused in the shade of a huge tree on the corner of an unexpected enormous stone wall with turrets, though the turrets were crumbling, one with its old wood door still hanging by a thread on its hinges, but filled entirely up with a pile of stones from its once greater heights. Anyway, here are some images plucked from the web (and i thank you that took them for these) as I still have not found a way to get mine off my camera and to you!

Morning. Waking around 7 in Sepmès. Land of goat's cheese, in particular the Ste Maure de Touranine. (pictured right). We had some at dinner last night, a dry one, which was rolled in cinders and had a slight tartness to it--YUM! The dawn was chilly, and I opened the wooden door to say hello to the household's fat tabby keeping guard over the elaborate garden, and to see the sky half overcast, uncertain if today would bring rain or more hot heat making me a bit pinker (red?) every day despite the fact that I feel imbibed in tanning cream. Breakfast: copious. Tartines and homemade jam, a yogurt, peach and coffee. Then onto Draché.

Draché. Or, well, the roads leading to and from it. this is the main highway, which I don't take. If I did, I would be walking 1/4th of the distance! But I serpent around it, and back, constantly. It also serves as a compass, or at least did today as i wandered along nearby fields, always aware that if I were still chasting the N10 down south, then I was still heading the right direction across the fields. Mostly sunflowers here, and some harvested wheat. The soil is whiter, and I notice more colorful butterflies--tiger swallowtails, and tiny purple ones, as well as the imeperials.

Off down from Dangé I crossed to la Celle St Acvant, and then over the N10 bridge which has the stone pictured at the right here (and I took the same exact photo!) marking the separation of one department and another. Just over the bridge, one is also in another village: Port-de-Piles (which sounds like the door of batteries, but...)

This villlage, with some small prop-up pools in backyards and its old church (11th c I believe) has a great bench on which I sat writing for a great while, admiring the view over the bend in the Creuse river. The water, as i looked down over the lip of the bridge, was a deep bronze color, but transparent, so that I could watch the moss waving there in the currents.

And then, after the break, I trekked on towards a town called Les Ormes. I decided to cut away from teh GR map (which takes a HUGE detour round the countryside, up and down hills, and... well, you ge the picture. It is a bit of a marathon) And so took the roads through a few farms and alog a few fields and popped up onto the N10 which slows in town. There, I had an unexpected touristy moment. No, not seeing the Chateau des Ormes, for those of you who know it exists, but in fact, thought I did peek into the parc at the back of the Chateau, just opposite I saw and took a picture of the "Bergerie des Ormes" then came across a big door which said "Le Relais de poste aux chevaux des Ormes" ring and come in. So I found a metal pully and pulled and heard a bell clang somewhere inside and so I unlatched the big blue wooden door and entered. Inside was a gorgeous, vast courtyard with a bizarre sort of center space--a large cobblestoned dip and at the bottm a pot of flowers (you can see it on the picutre at the left). I went exploring, not seeing anyone, but was soon joined by the gardian, and grandfather of a family who lives in there. He explained the history of the horses who came and drank and washed their feet in the round space I mentioned, and showed me some documents on the history of their route--which is pretty much my own route! The would run the post up and down the region in the 1800s, before the trains took over.

After Les Ormes, I continued on my version of the trek to find myself on one side of a TGV set of rails needing to get to the other. What to do? Backtrack or try to outrace a train going 200km/hr? So, of course, up and around and back and over the bridge I had passed I went. On the other side, I headed off into the fields and along the village and farm routes again. On occasion it was sunny and hot, but then a cloud would come and sprinkle me with rain so I would throw on the poncho and sweat and then the sun would come out and practically bake the poncho to my skin in a few minutes! I was making excellent time, so stopped along a large wall not far from an old church I did not make the extra excursion to see. This is the turreted wall which I mentioned earlier. After following it along one side I came out to where I could see the steeple of Dangé St-Romain prominently announcing my destination for the day (the town pictured at the top of this blog entry, Dangé St Romain). The church, pictured here, now has a rooster weathervane atop it, which has replaced the cross. I went in and explored (picutres here, are what I saw) and then toured the village a bit, seeing that Obama drew great crowds for his spech in Berlin, noting that the world has gone on going on as I meander. And then, calling from a phone booth the family I am staying at the home of now, in another house with an astoundingly beautiful garden (this one bordered on one side by small grapevines) I ran into one of the pélerins (pilgrims) on bike who had stayed on a few days in Tours. He left Tours this morning and will also be here tonight--and i thought, how amusing, the difference in speed! Here, it took me 3 days walking.

And so, as the haze of the afternoon heat and humidity drops away from the blinding yellow of the sunflowers here, into a cooler, more potentially stormy and rainy evening, I head to dinner with my host family and leave you thinking of the trail to come--off to Chatellerault tomorrow and then towards Poitiers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 10 : The Body and Writing

Perhaps I should say "The Body" vs. "Writing"?  I think of reading Nijinski's cahiers (pub Actes Sud) years ago and how in his first days and entries he focused so often on the body and writing, the stillness of it, the minute muscles used and others not in motion.  

Here it is the opposite.  Each day I rise between 6h45 and 7h and think first about how the body feels--does it need more stretching?  What aches?  How is that light sprain in my right ankle doing and will I be able to keep going.  It always hurts less in the morning than I think it will the night before, when my muscles are tired and tight and sleep either rushes in or keeps galloping away.  New walls, beds.  

I have taken pictures of the most peculiar things, such as the beds, the rooms.  My body not the size of a French one, my feet hanging off beds, over bedframes.  Or the giant bed in Cancay I could have slept a half-dozen of me in.  Images, two second snaps, outside language, not as demanding...

And now I am in a new village (Sepmès) and tomorrow I will be in another, then Chatellrault and onto Poitiers, always turning farther south, now often followig the GR trails of France: shells marking my way as I follow like the cows I pass in the fields almost numbly along in the summer heat, no shade.  

Solitude: should be ideal for the writing.  All the words are in my head, all the language my own.  As I am still alone.  I did meet another pélerin in Tours while staying at the convent there: Les Soeurs de la basilique St Martin (for many who may not know this, there is also a St Martin pilgrimmage, for which there are lovely white stelle throughout the Touraine region which follow also the same path as the St Jacques trail).  However, the pélerin I met, Ehric, who had carved and inked his very own staff to walk with (absolutely gorgeous, minute detailed work as opposed to my light trekker Decathalon walking poles--which do help a TON keeping weight off the knees, especially when going up and down hills!) Anwyay, Ehric left a day after me, and so is somewhere on route to Montbazon today, and then tomorrow will in fact be here, exactly where I am, as I found this lovely house stay in Sepmès via him (he has organized his route all the way through spain, whereas I.... well, I do know where I will be staying through early next week, then I am skipping from just below Poitiers to St Jean Pied du Port and the trek over the border an onwards for the last MONTH into St Jacques.

Anyway, putting two words together, especially in ways that make sense, in ways one might want to read, is harder to do at the end of the day when each day's trek feels so unknown, and so much can happen.  I have had moments this past five days where I have been tremendously lost, where the city shock of Tours kept me up at night, and yet also there have been some fabulous and unexpected experiences, like going to Mass in Latin sung with Gregorian chants by monks outside Vendome (St Martin).  The field to my left today which suddenly came alive with black crows all taking off, veering into the wind, their dark bodies bluish, the scene recalling that painting by Van Gogh and some latent sadness he must have also felt as they took flight and he could not.  Coming over land that was red, into darker soiled areas, then the wine country of Vouvray and its maisons troglodytes (houses built into the cliffs) to here, another sort of dry, rocky (flint) area where there are again many sunflower and wheat fields, but also fields of fly-covered cows, small coops of geese or chickens.  I cross over the fields in the morning winds and feel the life of everything around me, and language... remains far off, as in a dream perhaps I can return to again once I have rested, once I feel ready to rest.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 5 : Vendôme

Walking past exhaustion, solidtude, capacity to really observe as on day 1. Yet I have gotten better at reading paths and maps of paths, and wished I could have had my own spray paint cans to mark some of the trails (and to fix a few markings, no thanks to someone messing up!!!) And now, I don't look like these cute bearded pilgrims of yore or cartoonism, but hey... we do share the coquille St Jacques (yes, I have one tied to my bag and it flaps in the wind sometimes startling me)

But here I am in Vendôme (pictured left). I had a LONG walk yesterday from the gîte d'étape seated at the bottom of the walls of the Châteaudun castle (if you look at the image at the right, it is of the castle walls, the rooftop of the gite is just in front of it. It is ont he Loir directly on the water, and a nice waterfall runs by it, which sounded great from my room where I was alone as there are not a lot of folks passing through). I walked yesterday around 28km (given the lost moments!) to a wonderful house stay in Frétéval. The house had been in the family sinc ethe 1600s and had been there since the XII century. Amusingly, they had hung the American flag up alongside their French one to welcome me. I think I am kind of a curiosity around here, sort of an anomoly part American part French.

I then had a relaxing walk from Fréteval to here. Learning to pause often.

Also first rains today. I mostly followed the Loir (ancient map of it on the right!) and then I was pausing just after passing the Château de Meslay on a bench, shoes off, stretched out when.... drip drip. Threw on the shoes, grabbed the bag and dashed over the road and under a big bush-tree. By the time I had dug the poncho out of the BOTTOM of the sack, gotten all of the velcrow and zips undone, it stopped raining. I think I have learned how NOT to pack the poncho.

Tonight, in Vendôme with another wonderful family. I am then off in the morning to Chateau Renault. It is 30km on foot by the paths and dept roads (25 if I could take the interstate!) So cross your fingers for me. I think I should end with my favorite texto of the week thus far, sent to Michelle this morning:

Roadkill I have seen: hedgehog, bees, fawn, toad, butterflies, viper, pheasant, red squirrel, mice, robin, crow, misc fluff.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

La Camino... Walking

After many years of loving Ann Carson's work, something always draws me back to the start, the day many many years ago, in my first year of college, when I read the essay KINDS of WATER in Best American Essays (now in her collection Plainwater). It was one of those moments when your body practically catches fire reading, where you want to leap up out into the world and share the text with everyone around you. I was sitting in a musty xchair in the Haymarket Café in Northampton. It was dim and filled with other college women from Smith and Holyoke feeding on the fumes of wannabe Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson-ness. I never thought my reading would lead me here, to the gritty, sweaty, reality of it: walking.

But here I am. On the camino of St Jacques, major walking for the next few months. I started off on the French holiday, Bastille Day, when I trained to see the 14th fireworks in Chartres, and meet with "Jacques" from th Chartres association des amis de St Jacques who dictated the start of my trek, supplied me with step by step instructions and maps as well as called ahead to arrange house stays for me. I have been touched from that moment forth by the total generosity of people, and hope that in my life and actions I can return all the favors being given to me!

As for the trek, This is day 2 and everything hurts, walked 32km yesterday and only about 12 today. About 20 to Chateaudon tomorrow. Last night, when I tought I just could not move another inch, I was welcomed in by a family with all 4 gfenerations present! We ate cold cuts, salad and peaches with whipped cream and I was asked about Obama, America, the trek, etc. I then slept in a cabana accueil for the Moulin Pelard at the bois de feugères.

Tonight, after a touristy wander in circles of the countryside, I am in Bonneval (not much farther down the road had I taken the straight route and not stopped off in Montboissier to scribble on a bench in the shade as an equestrian center took their horses out for a trot and where Chautaubriand once lived, and taken GR routes back and forth through the greeny countryside, stopping more often to make sure I was on the right route. It is the moisson, and so the wheat farmers are cutting and stacking the wheat. But I have also passed corn, sunflower and a yet-to-be identified crop of fields.

Starting, but not without setbacks: I got a bit lost today, which meant some unnecessary backtracking. And yesterday I ran out of water in the middle of a LONG stretch where there was no access to shade and the sun was pouring down (between la bourdinière and luplanté, then luplanté and beauville. At beauville I drank the water from a well by a church and was told it was likely choc-a-bloc with pesticides. But it was cold, and refreshing... so!

Anyway, I am off to Chateaudon the 17th, then Autheil the 18th then a HUGE walking day to Vendome the 19th where I might stay 2 nights to visit the city and get my next sleeping arrangements made. I will check back here and leave info for those of you following my trek!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

See what's up over at IVY?

I felt it was time to blog like it was goin' outta style. So, for summer reads, to see who has read at IVY, or just to admire my blogomanic masochism (or, cooler yet, to discover some extremely awesome books, and book publishers in French and in English) check out IVY WRITERS

For an unfunded series, Michelle & I have had some wonderful people grace us with their words. Thanks!!!!