Kings of the (rainy) road! 

Still south of France but in the last day it was kind enough to provide a few foggy-cloudy mornings to ease the transition to Scotland

A few days ago I arrived in Saint Jean pied de port, had just a few hours to visit the town (with backpack, after 730 kilometers I don’t really feel the weight of it anymore, just a strange lightness when taking it of) and get the last stamp on my “credential” before meeting my friends and heading to their house, where I spent a (last) night on a real matress. 

The next day, we packed their old car transformed into a minivan with our tents, waterproof jackets and a stack of good coffee and headed north. This is the last month, the last trip before all of us have to get back to work and sedentary life. So to make the most of it we…haven’t planned a thing. We are headed to Scotland, because it was a long time dream of my friend to see the Highlands, and because after 3 and a half weeks in the South of France we might need rain to balance all this sun. What we’ll do when we get there and exactly where we’ll go I haven’t a clue but I know there’ll be more walking (because why not, it’s not like it’s all I’ve been doing for a month, and the calluses I have on my feet and hips (from the backpack, that’s a first!) Might as well be put to continuous use), some driving, a lot of wild camping and probably a bit of whisky tasting. A better ending to this year of half-nomadic life I couldn’t dream of, I even have a few books by Scottish authors in the backpack, so everything is set to go!

P.s. other suggestions in Scottish reads are always (as ever) welcome:)

Faithful backpack has had a few mishaps, allowing me to widen my medical expertise to the non-living (well, non living only if it is still bedbugs free)


Walking on the Chemin de Compostelle, Week 3 (and a half): On beauty and the act of welcome

As I’m approaching the end of my over 3 weeks walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port, I’m starting to notice a few things. First, that I don’t know how I’ll be able to cope with having to go back to a normal amount of food per day (as opposed to here where I can easily have two breakfasts (and have never eaten so much baguette in my life), a lunch break, sometimes an ice cream break, cake if I should feel like it and, of course, a gargantuesque dinner. None of it matters if you walk 35 kilometers. Second, as it is for many things that run on their own time, that it both feels like I’ve been walking for an eternity and that it has lasted only a glimpse, and I don’t want it to end. I’m lucky enough not to end with a collection of blisters (I’ve seen feet that could have gone through wars) so I could go on walking, but if I were to continue on this way to Compostella, I now know why I would go. For the people you’ll meet and the shared moments.It is the first time I do a hike in which the main attraction isn’t the views and the landscape. I mean, it has been beautiful (more so in the beginning and again in the last part, as we walked through the Bearn region, the Pays Basque and came nearer and nearer to the Pyrreneans) but mostly what I’ll be bringing back with me (if I succeed to stay clear from bedbugs until the end) is the amazing spirit of welcome and generosity of some places I’ve stayed on the way. Those “gites”, often run by ex-pilgrims (or pilgrims, I don’t know if you really loose the identity once you’ve stopped walking, I would bet if you ask them they will argue you are changed for ever) are opened doors and cosy places where I’ve had amazing food and wine(of course) but mostly the ability to hear people and their stories, laugh with them, share an evening. In one of the last ones I’ve stayed, in Navarrenx, a self proclaimed “Maison philosophale” run by an alchimist who had posted lessons and motos everywhere, i was nicely summarized:

from L’alchimiste, in Navarrenx

“L’accueil, c’est ouvrir grand sa porte et n’attendre personne”

The act of welcome is to open the door wide and not to expect anybody

And that is what those people do, everyday each season (which stretches from april to november), preparing food and making tired pilgrims feel at home on the way, not really making much money out of it, but becaus they like to give without expecting anything else thant the chance of meeting someone for a while. 

And there is no price to put on those moments spent together, just the certainty that we did meet, and that as I’m walking away I’ll try to keep my door and heart as open as theirs

Bury the dead and Mend the living – réparer les vivants (The Heart/Mend the living by Maylis de Kérangal, book review)

My grandmother mentionned this book to me, a while ago. She said “it’s a book about a heart transplant, it is well written, you should read it”. I know one should always listen to one’s grandmother, and that I in particular should have paid attention because when my grandmother finds a book well written she usually means business (she’s hard to please, in the best of ways of course), but in that case I heard the part “it’s about a heart transplant ergo it is for you” and was – at the time – tired of reading books about medicine. Well, I picked it up despite it and, of course, my grandmother was right. This truly has, as a main subject, the heart of Simon, a young man who dies suddenly, and what becomes of it in the rushed hours after death, when it is decided that it could be transplanted. And from this death – the surreality of it, for the parents, who have to grasp what a cerebral death is, the enormity of grief, the impossibility of death for the living, the young, the healthy, to the symbolic meaning of the heart as much more than a pump, and the difficulty of the decision of donating, for the family, it covers a mountain in a few pages. Everything is true, is well said, in sentences flowing in a fast heart beat, nothing is superfluous, nothing is romanticized but, in this short window in the life and death of a few people, everything is there. And as it ends, leaving you breathless and unsure of the future of this heart beating anew in another person’s thorax, and wanting to carry on with the parents of this young man, the nurses and doctors you meet briefly but who are all so real, so raw, you realize your own heart has been beating frantically with it, all along. 

I could go on and talk specifics but I think the simple truth is there: listen to my grandmother, folks, as for once a french book I’m raving about has been translated (the title is alternatively (I guess there must be a US and UK title) The Heart:a novel or Mend the living, which is much closer to the original title and echoes a quote from Platonov that one of the characters has kept with him: Burry the dead, mend the living. A noble pursuit.