Breakfast at the hostel in Paris consisted entirely of bread. A croissant, a baguette, and toast. Plus some beverages. (Yes, I probably will recount everything I eat in Europe.) Spent most of yesterday in a train. Two trains, actually. And the metro. Happily traveled south through France, eating cherries, reading Mrs. Pollifax, and napping. It became warmer the farther south we went, and Paris' rain turned to hot sunshine. The Basque area of France is gorgeous: all the houses are white with red shutters and terra cotta rooves; there are green mountains, more trees than fields, calm rivers, blooming hydrangeas, sheep sitting under trees waiting for a painter to come by and notice them. Now I'm in St. Jean Pied de Port, still Basque, where the journey begins. It's so beautiful and picturesque; being in St Jean is like living in a story book.
I'm staying in a hostel called L'Esprit du Chemin, Spirit of the Road.Yesterday was the summer solstice, which in France is the Night of Music. People all over France play music all night long. But if you're a pilgrim you don't get to enjoy it, lights out by 10:30 for us! Which is good since they turn on the lights at 6:30 AM whether you're ready or not. Anyway, for dinner we had a myriad of dishes because there are myriad types of music. We started with a fantastic muscatel while everyone went around introducing themselves. Halfway through dinner I realized—much to my delight—it was all vegetarian. We finished with sweetened peaches in a tangy cream—goat's milk?—and peppermint tea in silver teapots. After dinner I stayed on the patio talking to an Australian, and a Belgian who lives in Barcelona, finishing the tea and wine, watching the rain on the glass roof.
This hostel, and being in St Jean, reminds me of living in Holden Village. By turns stillness and laughter, camaderie and solitude; people from all backgrounds; art and flowers everywhere, tucked into corners; space for inspiration and meditation.
I thought I smelled bacon before I got out of bed, and was relieved when I went downstairs to see breakfast was French bread and cereal. It didn't take me long upon coming to Europe to feel heavy and turned off every time the prospect of meat arises. I may not like meat, but now I'm not vegan I can enter into the joys of Nutella at breakfast, or Choco Nussa as we had today. I suppose they don't call it French bread here, just bread.
Everyone but me and the Australian left to hike over the Pyrenees after breakfast. I wandered about St. Jean and quickly discovered the citadel. By legend St. Jean was built in 716, but it wasn't on record until the 12th century. Either way the citadel was where the French fought the Spanish in various wars. I imagined people shooting arrows through the slits in the thick walls, people dying where I was standing, and yes, I also imagined Aragorn defending the walls from the forces of Mordor. The citadel is now a colegio; I saw preteens at PE through the main gate.
The good thing about getting up so early as if to hike is that by 10 AM I was done with my personal tour of the citadel while the other tourists were just getting there.
I've discovered that picking up food from street vendors is more fun than going to restaurants. For brunch I went to a patisserie to get pain paysan and then a fruit stand to get an apple, bananas, pepper jelly. I'd gone to that patisserie yesterday to get a leek tart for first dinner, after a man at a restaurant had turned me away angrily, saying they didn't serve pizza before 7, as if eating dinner before 7 were a ridiculous notion.
Well, to continue with my diary of food, I went back to that restaurant for lunch today for pizza and hard cider. Basque is known for their hard cider, apparently.
Tomorrow I begin the hike. Over the Pyrenees.
This recounting feels dreadfully incomplete. Should I say how the bells ring the hour? How a rooster crowed this morning, and the Pyrenees were covered in mist, and I sat next to a plum tree? How when I got to the hostel they gave me water that tasted of lavender and lime? How I talked to the Belgian about Paulo Coelho? Or how I can almost understand the Italians, or that at dinner we gave our introductions in both French and English, or that I mistakenly pronounce pain like the Spanish pan? This is a pilgrimage, and I can't really explain what's going on.