Camino de Santiago - Brian's Update No 4

Brian continues his commentary of the people places and events that he meets along the way, and the reflections that occupy him on his pilgrimage.
Days 16 and 17

More of Day 16 - Saturday April 9th and Day 17 - Sunday April 10th

War Memorial - Villedieu les PoelesVilledieu is a beautiful town, if ever I come back this way, and I might, I will definitely call in Villedieu, the town, house or home of God. As I approach the town, a monument, I take a photo, even though I am tired, it is late and I need to check in. This is important, 1939 - 45 War, I was around then. I was surrounded by it, what I am is a part of it. My early days in Liverpool, my arrival in Ireland, my mother and father, my sister Lilly, all that I am is encapsulated in it. I cannot pass.

Photo taken, I must check it out, but I think it couples the American input, under General Patton, who obviously commandeered the liberating forces here, and the local guerrilla forces, who had kept up a relentless struggle against the occupying army, namely the Resistance. But, I am tired and weak I have to find shelter and ease for my tired feet, so I press on.

However, I must stop again as I cannot pass a work of the most exquisite brass casting that I have ever seen! La Fonderie de Cloches. There is a gate and railings depicting a foundry scene, I have been in foundries, so many now sadly closed, I know this scene, I must photograph it, but the sun is directly facing me, I know it would not be a good photograph. I will have to return. I am staying here tonight and I need a rest day, I will come back, no matter how far to get this photo right!

Beautiful hotel, very reasonable, good room, a good bath for wallowing in.

Next morning, Sunday, I resolve to go to mass. I am no longer bound by the obligation of going every Sunday, that is a man-made duty, and I no longer trust the men who made it so. I will be my own man.

I think I am more aligned with the Native American, I believe there is a superior being, perhaps unlike them I believe that Jesus Christ was his messenger and even his son.

Our superior being is a woman, Mother Earth, gives us all, takes all, and returns us to from whence we came. I think of some of the American Indian wisdom in the face of the white mans greed, when faced with yet another trail of tears, he can say "What is life, it is but a buffalo's breath in the wind, it is the breeze moving across a prairie of grass, it is gone in an instant". So transient, how could we argue against that? They are a marvellous people, in tune with Mother Earth. I would like to think that they and I are of one mind.

I must tell you of my experience the following morning. I had enquired the time of mass, oh yes I still believe, Jesus Christ was and is a big part of my life; it is his servants I don't necessarily agree with.

So, I resolve to attend mass. I think, I will take my Compostela passport, and perhaps, if I overcome this reluctance, not fear, this, this embarrassment, I will follow the priest and ask him to give me the seal of his parish, and acknowledge that I have passed this way.

Is it chance? I come out of the hotel; walk a few steps down the street and who is crossing right before me? Yes, it is unmistakably a priest, a youngish man, not in the clerical garb to which I am accustomed, but unmistakably a priest. In my best French, I hail him, he turns, and I produce my Passport, i.e. my Compostela passport. A broad smile, ah, so warm, he turns and I follow, his English is perhaps worse than my French, is he in trouble? We go into the parochial house, he takes a stamp, wets it on the pad and voila, there I have it! My first stamp since St. James Gate.

My God, I think that Guinness man has made a mint on your name, James. But of course, he had a great product.

On our way out of the parochial house, there are three young men, fellow pilgrims, from Mont St. Michel also "a pied"; we shake hands warmly. A language problem but the warmth is unmistakable. The priest explains that at the blessing at the end of the mass, at the final blessing, he will call the pilgrims up for a special pilgrim blessing. Do I understand? - We are to approach the altar, stand in front of it and he will impart his blessing. I nod my agreement. Mass time, we go our separate ways.

Why didn't I take the photo then? I was anxious to photograph the entrance to the Foundrie, those magnificent railings and gates to the Foundrie (Peter not shop more than shop) that I had vowed to photograph the evening before.

Villedieu les PoelesThe sun would now be right, coming over my right shoulder. I take the photographs and return to mass. It is a high mass, sung by Priest and choir, led by a beautiful red haired lady - do they also come out of a bottle? She is very self-composed, of a reasonable age, perhaps a little young, but at a stretch she… she could comply, my mind, fertile that it is, conjectures. Not the sort of thing one should be doing at mass!

Eventually the final blessing, 1 hour 10 minutes later - "Irelande Pilgrim", I'm sure that's not what he said but I get the drift and approach the altar. My three fellow pilgrims are there, the priest blesses us and we move back to our places.

Mass is over. I want to get a photo of us together. This is not the place - outside! I rush out, a huge crowd, I cannot find my friends, perhaps I'll find them on the route, I'm staying over, they move on, but who knows. I have been told many strange things happen on Camino, was my encounter with the priest one of them, I wonder.

My rest day continues, I have saved my soul, I have been blessed, ah yes, I have been blessed in my life or should I say, my wife. She is still very much part of me. But, "love and life is letting go, as much as holding on" or so Colm Sands tells us. I think of the song, perhaps he never thought of what I or someone else might take out of it, for me it speaks of Alice, and my love for her.

It is a beautifully crafted song, it speaks of that being which is there but is untouchable.

"I saw you by the river which goes flowing on for ever, the blossoms from the apple tree were falling for your charms. I looked at you, you looked at me but both of us could plainly see that the river stood between us and the slightest chance of harm". She is there, here, but I cannot touch her, perhaps Anne Marie understands now why I was crying when she found me in the darkness listening to the CD.

It is not easy to continue writing, but the song goes on, "and love and life is letting go, as much as holding on". I wonder if Colm ever thought that his song could have such an impact, I must ask him.

He did me the great honour of asking if I would like to sing at the launch of his last CD, and I did. He came down, Bernadette was with me, she probably was saying to herself "Daddy, these are professionals, what are you doing?" but I felt Alice's presence and went up to sing. I don't regret it. I may not have sung well, I probably never will again, at least not before such an audience, in a session perhaps, try to stop me in the Corner House!

But I sang a Ben Sands song that night, he was on tour and couldn't be there and so I sang for him; another song that I sing for Alice, "Wish I had a penny for every time I see your face".

I have added a few lines of my own that I am sure Ben doesn't mind. After the last verse I sing "Oh my darling girl how I'm missing you, La la lil lah lah, lah, lah, missing you, missing you". It also is a beautiful song, worthy of the man, who wrote it

In Villedieu that morning I also visited the monument that had been erected to commemorate the French Revolution, 1789, ours 1798, most people see the "1798 Rebellion" as purely an Irish Affair but its influences started with the French Revolution, as did so many of the uprisings of the time.

"Vive la Revolution!" - Man was at last realising that kings did not have a divine right to rule.

I think of Paddy and his singing of Tom Paxton's song, "God save the king, he gives us leave to serve him, his praises sing, God grant that we deserve him, 'tis no small thing to serve the king, 'tis no small thing to serve the king"

Days 18 to 29   

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