Typing this as I enjoy a plate of provençal brochette and frites from the chip van that’s parked outside the bar in Auchy-au-Bois. I’m surprised to find how many bars and cafes around here are old style boozers with no food at all. But all the customers greet everyone who enters – one man shook everyone’s hand when he came into the bar in Esquerdes yesterday. The people here are nicknamed Ch’tis because of their accent. They tell me that they speak French badly but I can tell that they’re very proud of their dialect and their region.
The great discovery of today’s walk was the town of Thérouanne – a settlement with Pre-Roman origins that became a huge cathedral town. Twice sacked by the English in the Hundred Years’ War, but rebuilt each time. It was finally razed and utterly deleted from the map by Charles V of Spain in 1543. One can see the layout of the old walls in a ditch/hedge border around the town. The town has a new archeological museum with displays of the mosaic floor of the bishops residence and small vials that pilgrims on their way from Rome filled with holy water after paying their respects to the relics of Saint Maxime who was housed there. I wish I had walked there yesterday and had more time to explore.
In the first section of the museum near some displays of roman coins, the legend “Le passé est toujours présent,” reminded me of Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I think you can see this if you take an interest in the history of the places that you walk through and think about how it relates to the present.
On my way to the town hall (where I got my credential stamped), I was greeted by a lady on a yellow bicycle – Nadine has walked from Le Puy to Burgos in stages over the last few years. She was interested to hear about the Camino Mozarabe and of course, we share a common friend in Mahdi du Camino.
I picked up a salad and some treats in the supermarket and had a splendid day of walking under blue skies – a well fed pilgrim is a happy pilgrim.
In Auchy-au-Bois I’m staying at the farmhouse bed and breakfast of Madame Brigitte de Saint-Laurent. She’s becoming quite a celebrity on the Via Francigena and she proudly showed me her guest book, full of photos of pilgrims and their messages of thanks – and post cards that they sent her from Rome.
I had been hoping that I might persuade her to offer dinner for an additional fee – but two pushy Italian cyclists arrived and wrecked any chance of that. I don’t think she liked the way they were acting and when they asked about dinner she pointed them to the chip van up the road. One of them wanted me to translate a request for Madame Brigitte to cook up some spaghetti – but I sidestepped the dubious honour of being the intermediary for a pushy cyclist who turns his nose up at chips. I don’t mind chips. And the barman doesn’t mind me eating chips in his bar. So I’m happy.
The house is quirky and charming in an old fashioned way. I am in the eves with wooden beams and flowery wallpaper. I think Madame has reached peak ornament. But I’m sure she’ll find a way to squeeze in a couple more Delft ceramic houses.
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