Walking on the Chemin de Compostelle (Le Puy-Saint Jean Pied de Port), week 2: On randomness, light rain and hard roads

Lauzerte. Depending on which hour of the day you arrive you might see a lovely church square or more paved roads to cross

The last time I wrote about the stretch of long-distance-hiking I’m currently doing (I still don’t feel like I can call it a pilgrimage, I’m after all not hoping to find God on the way) I was a few hundred kilometers from where I’m now. It sounds strange, but the kilometers, when your feet aren’t hurting anymore, add up without you noticing them, and in a few days you’ve done a hundred more. But you quickly learn they are absolutely not a reliable way to measure difficulty, or effort, and even less distance, and that the ones you do early in the morning, watching the sun rise over fields, in absolute quietness not only seem but probably are much shorter than the last ones of the day, under a burning heat, on paved roads. So let’s not talk of kilometers anymore.

by far the best moment of my days these past weeks, walking at sunrise

 The landscape is still nice, less impressive than the Aubrac region, with its austere beauty, and sometimes rather dull (or, as another pilgrim told me, “meditation-friendly”, – by which you should understand: there’s not much to distract you from your thoughts or your blisters) with corn fields and cow fields and no hill in sight. (That, I’m aware, is a Swiss biais, as I would definitely prefer any hill climb, be it devilishly steep, to a walk on a flat road anywhere. Don’t worry, I’ve expressed that opinion on the way and have been repeatedly struck by walking poles). But it remains: I don’t like tarred or paved roads, they are much too hard to walk on, they have french-driven (equals fast) cars on them and no charm at all. So, some days have been a bit…unattractive. And call me a profane pessimist but I don’t think you absolutely need a boring landscape to meditate. 

While I understand the necessity for cornfields existence I could easily do without them

Anyway, the small villages, country churches and the few towns on the way are still lovely. And mostly, the people provide well enough distraction, should you need one. I’ve met a lot of interesting ones, some you meet for 5 minutes on a lunch break, others you end up walking with for days, and – and I should maybe state a disclaimer here, so that you aren’t put of with the whole idea – some of them are lovely, absolutely rational people (I’ve met a couple from the Basque country with a dark, self depreciating humour who loved drinking wine while debating on atheism and politics with a retired french teacher, some very discreet and polite retirees, university students and farmers who had decided to go on a break to discover the country so keep them in mind for the following minutes). I’ve also met a woman who was conviced to be the reincarnation of a Korean warrior (who had died from a combat wound to the shoulder, which explained why her (or their combined)shoulder hurt when she was carrying her backback). I’ve met a young (and rather lonely) french guy who was explicitely doing this stretch of the way to find the love of his life, was rather conviced I was the one (despite all the ways I could think of to express him my lack of interest), and sang songs  for two hours straight about spirits, sitting just behind the (closed)  door to my room. I’ve met a German guy who spoke not a single world in French but found the French stupid because they didn’t understand him. I’ve met countless very charming people who, upon learning I was a doctor, took pains to convince me that Western medicine gets everything wrong and that I should go and study acupuncture/herbal medicine/digestive medicine (don’t know what it is either, and yet I’ve had a full exposé on it)/ spiritual healing and so many others I will stop the list here. In short, you don’t stand a chance at boredom, you’ll meet colorful, if somewhat “illuminé” people (a pilgrim from Zurich asked me what the term was and, when I had explained it meant something along the lines of “nice, but ever slightly lunatic”, started a game of diagnosis consisting in hearing a person talk for a while then turn to me and say, with a hopeful smile, “Would you say this one was “illuminé”(en français dans le texte)?

Well, literaly, it does mean lit and I would say they have lit up my days – with the exception of the singing serial bachelor, this one I could have done without (and slept far better).

Useful notice in a church: It is highly likely that upon entering the church you might hear God’s call. It is unlikely however that he should contact you on your selfphone


I shall be walking on – (an update an a review on top)

faithful backpack has found an elephant friend in Cambodia, both ready to ramble again

So I’ve just come back from South East Asia, about which there would be a lot more to tell and hopefully I will write more in the coming weeks, about Cambodia, its tragic recent history mixed with the utter magnificence of its past, about the randomness of restaurants’ and hotels names, and much else.

But for now, I’ve unpacked, spent about a second (or so it seems) in Switzerland emptying the remains of the shared house I used to live in (which feels like the end of an era, and the true beginning of “proper adulthood”, which I am in no hurry to enter into) and repacked. Because this gap year is coming to a close in two months (something else I don’t want to contemplate, let’s forget the last sentence) and I have to make the most of it before being re-stuck in a hospital for countless hours.

So here I go. I had absolutely no plans, or rather, there are still too many things I want to do and two months would never suffice, but I’ve made my mind – helped with a welcomed coincidence: as I was “complaining” to friends that I couldn’t decide between going trekking along the Camino de Santiago way in Southern France or go trekking in the Scottish Highlands, they mentioned they had wanted to go to Scotland for a while, and so we planned a trip (well, we decided we would go, which is the level of “planning” we usually do) in October. I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, I shall head out on foot, along the “Chemin de Saint-Jacques”, across Southern France. It’s been a while (well, about 9 months) since I’ve done a long distance walk, and since it’s about my favourite way to travel, I am enchanted to start again.

Of course, this choice of way is book-related (what, in my life, isn’t?) as one of the books I read in Myanmar is Jean-Christophe Rufin’s account of his walk to Compostelle, in “Immortelle randonnée”. It has yet to be translated to English, as much as I’m aware, sadly, but it has none of Coelho philoso-mystical ramblings and all of the practical quirks of “the walker”, with his smelling socks, and legendary stinginess, the snobism of the long term hiker towards the daily walker and much more. It is hilarious and light, but it still manages to give you Compostelle envy, so there it goes, I’m going.

All of this to say, I shall probably be away from the internet for a while – as the French “Gites de Pélerins” are probably not equiped with the latest technology, most pélerins actually going there to avoid our connected world, but will try to update when possible.

For those who want to read Rufin and don’t happen to speak French, the only book of his that I can find in translation is “The Abyssinian”, which is not my favourite of his by far, but even average Rufin is worth a read, trust me.

I shall not be afraid anymore (of buying books)

I’ve just had a flash of literary kinsmanship, a true moment of realisation that I owe to the wonderful Jeanette Winterson, and which will probably reveal itself to be very dangerous for the state of my finances and bookshelves, but here it is:

I’ve been dipping in and out of Winterson’s art objects, a collection of essays on art and literature and Virginia Woolf and so much more, a collection so dense and fascinating I usually read one then pause for a few days to let it sink in. And today, the one I read is called “The psychometry of books”, and it is about book collecting. It starts: 

“Book collecting is a  obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin  of stamp-collecting, a sister or the trophy cabinet,  bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind.”

How true, how perfect. I wanted to shout, to sing those lines aloud (even if that might get me transfered to the closest asylum and despite my love of the country I really don’t want to try out Cambodia”s mental health care, thank you very much). Somebody (well of course not just anybody) gets it.

I would have been content just with that,  but a bit further comes the line which I will now utter everytime I ask myself whether I should be buying more books or not:

“That is the way with books. You regret only the ones you did not buy.”

So from now on, fellow book-addicts, I shall procede without guilt and remind myself every time I feel apologetic about having bought a couple books, that first it is not really a choice, more a question of fate. And mostly, that it is the ones you don’t buy that you’ll regret. Enough said.

P.s. since it is now universally proven that it is acceptable to buy books, buy “Art objects”. You won’t regret it.

Sauntering vaguely downwards, and other hilarious considerations on the End of Days – Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, book review

​I don’t feel like doing a traditional review on that one. First, because it’s such a classic probably every one knows what it’s about. If not, well, in short, the Apocalypse is coming, according to the prophecies of a mad witch, the Antechrist (a boy called Adam) is nowhere to be found and an angel and a demon, both not knowing which side they’re on after such a long time on Earth, are trying to sort things out. 

Now, with that premise, and the combined writing of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, you may suppose it’s a fantastic book. You would be right. I re-read this a few weeks ago in the middle of the rainy bicycle trip, and had to explain why I was laughing so much in my tent, under a storm. No, not from exhaustion or as a nervous response to the army of ticks climbing up my tent. From Good omens. And because nothing I’ll manage to say about it will equal the words in it themselves, I’m just going to let them speak: (Warning, behind the hilarity and absurdity, a lot of these might actualy be very true).
“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”
“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” 
 “An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards.”
“Aziraphale collected books. If he were totally honest with himself he would have to have admitted that his bookshop was simply somewhere to store them. He was not unusual in this. In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand book seller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours – he was incredibly good at it.”
“Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out afer they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. ” 
And the most important truth of it all: “All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.” 

Summer reading Tag

IMG_2626Saw this tag over on Booktube (I’m procrastinating the last things I need to do before going to the airport – which is insane, but I’m not the kind that prepares her backpack in advance, there’s a lot more fun to be had with a sense of urgency), the original video was made by Amy Jane Smith. The questions are as follow:

1. What three books do you want to read this summer?
Based on the ones I recently bought or borrowed and will have to read in the next 6 weeks (because they’ll be the only ones available):
  • Amitav Gosh’s The Glass Palace, because it is set in Myanmar (then Burma) where I’m headed in a couple of hours
  • Reader, I married him, by Tracy Chevalier. Because Jane Eyre inspired short stories. And because Tracy Chevalier. Need I say more?
  • The day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham, which is a S-F classic I haven’t read, and I love a good classic in the summer.
2. Which character most embodies the traits of summer?
I’ve been thinking about it and, apart from every character in Fitzgerald’s novels, I would say Laura Sheridan, the protagonist of The Garden Party, by Katherine Mansfield. Not only because the short story itself takes place one summer day but Laura herself, young, joyful, with so many hopes and expectations, is one of the sunniest characters you could find.
3. What book do you most associate with the physicality of summer?
Well, perhaps quite obviously every novel and short stories by Fitzgerald, from The great Gastby to Flappers and Philosophers – particularly the short story in that collection taking place on a yacht. The summer nights with cocktail parties, the colours, everything by Fitzgerald is the embodiment of summer.
Other titles which spring to my mind are Sputnik Sweethearts, by Haruki Murakami, for the depictions of the small Greek Island the novel ends in. I read it before going to Greece on a holiday and had an eerie feeling of deja-vu until I realized it came from Murakami’s atmosphere depiction, spot on.
Finally, there’s a very short novella, almost a short story by Doris Lessing, called The grandmothers, which is everything and more about generations, life, taking place one summer.
4. What kind of books do you like to read on holiday? Any books that hold memories to certain places?
Well, what is available, really, I’m not picky. Growing up the main selecting criteria was the size, because I was allowed to take 10 books at the public library (upper limit, not negotiable, trust me I tried) for the 2months holiday, so each one had to last at least a couple of days. And still the horrifying moment where I reached the end of the pile would come (usually by mid July) and I was left with re-reading every single book in my grandparent’s bookshelves.
Apart from size I like to read at least a Thriller/mistery, and often classics I wouldn’t have the time or the concentration ability to read during the year.

Tuscany summer, by the lake: find a book and hide somewhere

As for memories, where to begin?
I went to Benin a long time ago and still remember all the books I read during those two months, because they are covered in the bright red dust of the Benin earth, and amongst the most battered of all my books. Most strikingly Duong Thu Huong’s Terre des Oublis (No man’s land), a beautiful novel about three characters and the effects of the Vietnam War on individual destinies. Also, and forever, I will associate binge reading comic books to Italy where I used to spend the summer holidays, after aforementioned pile of borrowed books had run out, mostly Tintin and Lucky Luke, but piles of old “Spirou Magazines” as well.
And finally reading Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace in Greece, on a small Island, in one sitting.
5. If you could you go on holiday with any author, who would you go with and where? What would you want to know?

wouldn’t you want to ride along too?

My holidays tend to be rather adventurous, so it would have to be somebody motivated into doing something rather crazy. I think I would have loved more than anything to jump into Nicolas Bouvier’s 4L on a 2 years trip to Asia. As for living authors I wouldn’t mind taking Bill Bryson on a walk across, well, anywhere really, he seems he would be able to point out the quirks and oddities of travel anywhere on the globe.

6. What’s your book of the year so far?
So far… well, looking into my goodreads list, I would have to pick Human Acts by Han Kang – terrifying, but necessary – and The art of asking by Amanda Palmer for non fiction.
7. How did you spend your summer holidays as a child?
In Italy, where my grandparents have a house. 2 continuous months of what is really now the very idea of summer for me: the constant sound of the cicadas, afternoons building sand castles, and lots of climbing up various pine and olive trees to hide with a book.
And: What are your plans this summer? 
I’m on my way to Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, enjoying my last 3 months of freedom before starting work again in a hospital, I’ll be backpacking with a bookworm friend, we neither of us are fans of days of farniente at the beach so it will probably be “as many secluded temples as possible, public buses into the middle of nowhere and letting the road decide where we end up”. And monsoon. My kind of summer.
Here are all the questions, consider yourself tagged if you want to, and enjoy a great summer of reading!

​(Indoor)view from the top of my book, impending doom allegories and Ikea-googling

So I’ve been home,…

(or what comes closest to home for me at that moment, that is the shared house we’ve had with friends for the past 4 years, which we won’t be able to live in any more by end of august, and in which I’m not even an official room-mate any more, having passed my room to a friend for this last year of acute nomadism. So really I should say: I’m on the couch in the living room of what used to be my shared house that is still home to some of my stuff in boxes and my piano, but that’s a lot longer, so…) :

 I’ve been home for 2 days.
Again (and as it seems always) in transit, between two travels, taking time to sort out the remaining boxes, organizing the moving of my piano from one city to another (or rather, trying to, it seems it is akin to getting your Indian Visa renewed in a small not-touristic city in Tamil Nadu (yes, I have fun activities sometimes!) in terms of general organizational Hell). And getting Visas. And hanging out with friends and coffee. And trying to pretend it is summer in Geneva, which means going to concerts in parks and open air cinemas armed with a collection of waterproof vests, umbrellas and fleeces. You can pretend the pouring rain is actually tropical monsoon season if you try hard enough, I know that for a fact.

A David Mitchell’s book taking place in Japan on a Yamaha piano. The world makes sense again.

But reading outside is more problematic due to most of my books being made out of boring paper and not waterproof plastic. I know, that’s strange. The minute someone actually creates books for adults that you can drop into the bath without any damage, I’ll buy the lot and go read under water or in the rain. Develop it, someone!

So there has been a lot of reading on my piano stool, as I started sorting out my piano sheet music pile (a.k.a. the modern art installation that is an allegory of impending doom on the left corner of said piano, see 1st picture) and then getting distracted because, well, books are there. And suddenly I realized: all these books are books I bought (or received) after putting all my books in boxes, last August. All of this I bought in 9 months. It may not seem a lot to you but when you think that usually about 90 percent of the books I read are library books, it’s scary. Even more so because at the moment I stacked all my books in boxes there were already way too many books for the space I have in my bookshelves. And, not having the crammed bookshelves on sight any more, I gave myself almost unlimited book-buying license. That is very scary.

Now I have to move my bookshelves, get my boxes and… live another few days of pure horror because some “getting rid of books” will have to happen. And it makes me now sad to look at this lot of books, having realized that. Poor books, they look so innocent here (apart from the Angela Carter’s fairy tales collection cover, that is some devious looking mermaid-serpent-lady , this one knows what’s coming).

Being in existential distress I’ve started googling the location of the Ikea closest to the city I’m moving to. Surely my future room-mate won’t object to one more bookshelf, right?

Dudenblitz and other translated pleasures

I’ve had a busy week (partly because of essays and presentations, partly because of meeting friends in bars and going to concerts and theatres, so I can’t complain too much),  and so, for my first relaxed weekend day today I… went to a bookshop (surprising, I know).

I had a good excuse for it: the need to find more books in German (it’s not book addiction if it helps you learn a language, you see? actually I could use that excuse in any language, now that I think of it, bookshops, here I come!). And I did fulfil that mission (book haul may be coming, but it’s going to be a very Germanic one, if you’re interested). Continue reading

April Favorites

I am – only half – aware that April is long gone (to be honest, the weather here rather feels like july), but I thought I would still do a wrap up of all the interesting things I discovered last month (although, not necessarily things that were published last month). Without further a do here’s a list:


Going through my Goodreads shelves it seems there is no book that I was particularly enraptured with in April (at least, not to the point of giving it 5 stars), I think the real discovery I made in fiction was Aki Shimazaki’s Le Poids des secrets pentalogy, both because I had never heard of her, and because the story construction in 5 small books with 5 different points of view dispersed in time was very ingenious.

Non-Fiction: Continue reading

Irony is no hipster experience

So as said in the previous post, I try to live the Berlin life to its fullest, and sometimes that means check out its alternative scene (I’m trying to make this sound as fashionably laid back as possible). Alternatively, you could also say, one of my friends here, a lovely Dutch young woman who also studies German though she hardly needs to, asked me if I wanted to join her for a night out, because the boyfriend of one of her friends played in a club in Kreuzberg, Berlin’s alternative, multicultural neighbourhood (or Kiez, to be local). So I said why not.


We tried to decipher what the bands would be like from the description on the club’s website, but failed, as it is common practice now, I think, to write those descriptions in the most generic way possible, something like “an alternative-techno-dumbbeat-indie-rock-blues-session that is both sleek, melodious and groovy, a real discovery”. If with that you manage to have an idea of what the band might sound like, you’re welcome to tell me. That might be code for something, for all I know.

Continue reading

Probably the best bookmark ever

I’ve been wandering around Berlin, pretty busy trying to be as hipsterish/cool as ever, which included going to an alternative concert where I had alternative feelings of being “very cool indeed for being there” and “absolutely out of place”, but it was fun, and provided me and my friend with almost endless opportunities to dissect the facial hair style of the public.

Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, yesterday I went to buy some milk at the department store, and stumbled upon a small antiquarian book stand (okay, maybe stumble isn’t the exact word for it: it was at the opposite end of the shopping centre, but still, I reckon it was destiny). And amongst a few crime/thrillers books that I bought in German to practice, …well, my German (by the way, those were “used books” and therefore 1 euro, but they look more new than most of my new books, one of them still has the price tag from 95 on it, and is shiny. Sometimes, I love Germany’s obsession for cleanliness), I found this:

Continue reading