Monday, 6 June 2011

Camino bore: Back on the camino in Chartres

Saturday 5th June: To Chartres.
Council of Europe camino sign.
Arriving at Chartres for a 2 day camping stay, we thought the camino was behind us; but walking into the city, we were delighted to find that the campsite on Rue St. Brice was actually on a camino route, and there in front of us was the familiar Council of Europe sign! This made us very happy. But then, Chartres has an ancient place in camino history, possibly earlier even that Paris, which has records of the existence of a Confraternity of St. James dating back to about 1295. It is possible that Chartres' connection goes back earlier, and that it was there that St. James with emblems of pilgrimage was introduced into French art in the first place, so my 'Shell Shell' book informs me. So it is hardly surprising that if there is anywhere a study centre devoted to matters Compostela, there will be one in Chartres.

So the happiness we felt seeing these signs shows just how much we were going to miss the camino. Even now in 2011 we can be like lost souls now and again, and when we find a St. James pilgrim in a church, a scallop here, a staff and gourd there, we fall upon it as though it is a relic of some lost kingdom to which we once belonged. It doesn't seem too healthy to me to have that sense of longing, it isn't a state I would choose; but I have just had an email from a friend who has been to an institution of a rector in Inistioge in the Republic of Ireland today, who wears a Spanish beret to remind him of his camino (I'll get one for David immediately). So there's a lot of it about. For a long time afterwards I didn't feel 'at home' at home, maybe until now, when I seem to be moving back into my own life. There's a curious sense of dislocation when you get back: all the weeds, having missed the apple blossom, people getting on very nicely without you... a bit like having died really (I AM selling it to you, surely??). It takes time to readjust. Perhaps a year and a week is long enough; it jolly well ought to be.

Another surprise on our walk into Chartres was the Frenchman who jumped out of some bushes and gave me a smacking kiss and got D to take our picture together. I don't know what has happened to his trousers, they don't seem to come to where they ought to. Perhaps he does this kind of thing every day.

Of course, D took pictures of Windows in Chartres; how can you not? And carvings on the cathedral doorway, which had a wonderful depiction of the jaws of hell, along with what I presume are pictorial suggestions as to how you might ensure getting there. Of course, I had to lurk in the doorway in a silly 'at; the camino has not cured me of that kind of thing. I noticed too just how better dressed are the people of Chartres than those in Santiago. And the trouble I had just finding a SKIRT in Santiago to wear on the Sunday! I had visions of finding some grand thing made of thick and crunchy black lace....

But I digress from the serious things that this blog has come to represent.

Sunday in Chartres cathedral felt very 'Anglican' compared with the Spanish experiences in cathedrals in Leon and Santiago. The music, the congregation, many of whom had a Cotswold-y look.  We were getting nearer to home.

And so in 2011 a week of wandering in the mountains is planned. Perhaps we will have time to think together about what work the camino did. We'll be able to see the film 'The Way' too, and can harrumph together at any inaccuracies or misrepresentations as well as delighting in the 'been-there' feeling.

When I crossed the 50-years-old-mark some years ago, I began to think that the part of life to come is one where you have to use yourself up; no more hoarding of any kind. Doing the camino has reinforced this thought. There's no exclusive secret-of-how-to-live that comes out of it. The only way to live is to get on with it, and you don't need to do the camino to know that. But there were still some more camino surprises to come, and there was a sense of rounding off on June 13th in a most unexpected way.

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