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peace is every step

Voie de Vézelay: a Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

 

 

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When a single feather and a thousand worlds

are equally this Space,

Who can say which contains which?

Who can find limits

to life’s richness?

                                                                        Tharthang Tulku

 

In the summer 2014, I went on a six week pilgrimage through France, one of the three major French pilgrimage ways to Santiago de Compostela. I started in Vézelay and went to Saint-Jean–Pied-de-Port, the popular starting point of the Camino Frances in Spain. The whole distance was about 560 miles. The walk is also known under the name Via Lemovicensis. I walked alone.

 

As part of the pilgrimage, I did a one weeklong creative writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. The workshop was located near La Souterraine, a town on the Voie de Vézelay. “Closing the Gap” was the theme of the workshop. This was also the intention of my walk – to live in the present moment, closing the gap between body and mind. With this walk, I also closed the gap between the Camino Frances I did with my daughter four years ago and the Via Lemovicensis, the walk from Vézelay to St. Jean–Pied-de-Port. Like always, I took poems, haiku’s and Dharma sayings with me. Often, I pulled one of the sayings for the day. I will include these in my report.

 

I am very happy that I can share my experiences with you. Thank you very much for walking with me.

 

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 1

 

VÉZÉLAY – LE CHEMIN

  

Vézelay is a medieval town in Burgundy, most famous for the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madelaine. Legend says that Mary Magdalene is buried there. This was the reason why the town gained enormous importance during medieval times. The second and third crusade started in this town.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 2

LE CHEMIN – SAINT RÉVÉRIEN

 

Although I planned to take as little as possible with me in my backpack and was well prepared, I was not prepared for the heat. The villages I passed often seemed abandoned with no grocery store to buy water. Sometimes, I rang the bell in a private house to ask to fill my water bottle.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 3/4

St. Révérien – Nevers

 

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope……..

                                           T.S. Eliot

 

When I woke up in the morning, I knew that I was in trouble. My two big toenails were injured and my feet full of blisters. But I did not want to stay and rest in this sad town. After I left in early morning and walked only for several minutes, a Dutch woman invited me for coffee at her home. Her name was Wibecke. After coffee, she invited me to take part in a Happy Happy Dance movie shooting done by the few villagers still living in Angles. A hundred years ago, it was a village of 300 people. It was an attempt to bring life and happiness back to the now semi-abandoned place.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 5

NEVERS – GROSSOUVRE 

 

After crossing the Ponte de Loire in Nevers, I did not follow the traditional route but took the route a pilgrim suggested in Le Chemin. By doing that, I had no book to rely on and no map to verify the way. However, most of the time it was an easy path – I just followed the Loire downstream, which connected to a canal and the canal connected with the river l’Allier.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 6

CHATEAU GROSSOUVRE – CHARENTON DU CHER

 

When I left Grossouvre in the morning, I had to walk for one hour on a busy country road.

 

The following poem came into my mind:

 

Between seven and eight o’clock

On a country road

Cars are coming and going

I feel like a frog

Squished flat.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 7

CHARENTON DU CHER – LOYE-SUR ARNON

 

Md. Malivon’s chateau was close to the canal. She showed me a shortcut through her park and I walked through dense bushes, over a wall and a ditch back to my way. It was not easy with my backpack. When I reached the canal, the joy of walking immediately captivated me again. Little dew drops on the grass looked like pearls in the morning sun and the flowers along the canal were glowing in brilliant colors. It was not long after I started my walk that I found the most beautiful feather. I loved it so much that I made many photos with the feather in it.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 8

LA FOLIE – CHÂTEAUMEILLANT

 

“Just walk the first street left and then 3 times right,” said Md. Jacquet at the breakfast table at La Folie. It is easy to connect with the Way to Santiago. I left earlier than Daniel and Chantelle, the French couple who also stayed at the bed and breakfast place. After 10 minutes, I was already lost. The country road was leading to a dead end. Luckily, I met Daniel and Chantelle again and walked with them. They had a map. We needed two hours to come back to the marked way with many crossroads in between.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 9

CHÂTEAUMEILLANT – NEUVY-SAINT SÉPULCHRE

 

Today, I had to walk 24 miles so I got up early. My alarm clock was not necessary – at 5:30, the alarm in the house went off. The noise was loud and shrill. What happened? A fire? Or did somebody try to break in? After a while, the fire department came and turned it off. There was only the other pilgrim Michelle and myself in the house. It was strange.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 10

NEUVY-SAINT–SÉPULCHRE – CLUIS

 

Along the Via Lemovicensis, there are many Romanesque churches. I love the simplicity of the architecture, the massive thickness of the stonewalls, the spacious feeling inside and expressive figurative reliefs on the capitals. Whenever a church like that was open, I visited it. When I entered the church Collégiale Saint Jacques, I was blown away by its beauty, simplicity and graciousness. This church- a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem- is dedicated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 11

CLUIS – LA SOUTERRAINE

 

It was the last day before I wanted to be in Ferme Villefavard for my creative writing workshop. Yet I had to still walk over 35 miles, which was impossible for me. No public transportation was running between cities. I did not know what to do. But I was lucky. The young owner of the petite épicerie in Cluis, his name was Kam, helped me find a ride to the next town, Crozant. He knew the people in town and asked an unemployed person with a car who needed money. We both benefitted from each other.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 12

LA SOUTERRAINE – VILLEFAVARD

 

La Souterraine got its name from the crypt underneath the 12th Century Romanesque church. Even before the Romans settled here, the Celtic people venerated Sosterranea, the Goddess of the earth, at this place. Unfortunately, the crypt was closed due to renovation. Therefore, I had time to wander around through the town before the shuttle was to pick me up for Villefavard.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 13 – 19

WRITING WORKSHOP, FERME VILLEFAVARD

 

For years, I wanted to do a creative writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. I was reading her books and did many of her exercises. This winter, I met her for the first time at a Ryokan workshop in Santa Fe. I was excited to be able to spend one week with her.

Shortly before the workshop started in Villefavard, I heard the sad news that Natalie became seriously sick with chronic lymphotic leukemia and could not come. I was very disappointed. But I went, nevertheless – and did not regret it. She was there – through her students, her structure of the course and her past teaching style.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 20

LA SOUTERRAINE – BÉNÉVENT-L’ABBEY

 

In late morning, I started the trek to the Bénévent-L’Abbey, a town fourteen miles away from La Souterraine. With each step I took, I felt better. Walking in nature is meditation for me; it connects me with something bigger than myself – with the bigger Self.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 21

BÉNÉVENT-L’ABBEYE   –   BILLANGES

 

It was great! I did not have to look for the way as Rohan took the lead and I was following him. No worry anymore about getting lost. Eddy was a fast walker and always waited a bit until he could walk at his own speed. We were a great team as we shared our love for silence, beauty and for just walking.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 22

BILLANGES – SAINT-LÉONARD-DE-NOBLAT

 

 

What day are we?

We are every day, my friend

We are the whole of live, my love….

                                                                                              Jaques Prévert

                                                          

 

It was a rainy morning when we left Billanges. Against the grey sky, the green leaves of trees and shrubs were shining in a saturated, deep green. It was a feast for the eye. We walked over paved streets and small forest ways and passed an abandoned looking palace. In a forest, we came up to a decorated tree trunk, the “tronc du pelerin”. This tree trunk was decorated with all kinds of objects people left on their way to Santiago. We had great fun to look at all these different things.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 23

SAINT-LEONARD-DE-NOBLAT – LIMOGE

 

 

By crossing the river Vienne on the 13th century bridge Pont de Noblat, we left the city and came into the rural area again – a hilly countryside with fields of wheat, forests with blooming sweet chestnut trees, mills and stonewalls overgrown with moss. We left the town together and I continued later at my own speed – a pattern that developed until we departed a few days later in Périgueux.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 24

LIMOGES – FLAVIGNAC

 

As I walked out of the town of Limoge, I passed the marketplace, the old train station and the Église Saint-Michel-des Lions, a 14th century Gothic hall church. By entering the church, I was welcomed by the warm light and air of uncountable burning candles and the smell of incense. Dim morning light was falling through the huge stained glass windows. The space was magical. I learned that the 3rd century Roman Saint Martial is buried here. He brought Christianity to the Roman town, then called Augustoritum.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 25

FLAVIGNAC- LA COQUILLE

 

 This day was a day of walking through meadows, forests and fields. Quiet lakes were scattered in between with trees being reflected on the surface. It was great just to walk.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 26

LA COQUILLE – SORGES

 

 

Since Châlus, I was in the region of Périgord, a district divided into four areas, each identified with the four colors white, black, red and green. The part I was walking through was the Périgord verd (green) because of its abundant vegetation.

For lunch I stopped in Thivier. Jean-Paul-Sartre lived in this town until he was six years old. He had only bad memories about this place. He described his experience in his book “Les Mots” (the words).

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 27

SORGES – PÉRIGUEUX

 

Sorge is the capital of truffles; it even has a truffle museum. Fenced in oak forests on the way to Périgueux showed how valuable truffles are.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 28

PÉRIGUEUX – SAINT –ASTIER

 

Just simply alive

Both of us, I

And the poppy

                                             Issa

                            

I decided to continue the Way. There was something bigger than myself, bigger than my frustration of getting lost, bigger than the hurtful feet – it was something, which carried me forward, some inner energy, which did not want to stop.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 29

CHÂTEAU PUY-FERRAT – MUSSIDAN

 

 

Before I left Puy-Ferrat the next morning, a group of French pilgrims were singing the pilgrim’s song in the breakfast room of the Château. It was a nice start of the day. By walking through a Hameau -a small village – I met a very nice woman and had a chat with her.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 30

 

MUSSIDAN – PORT-SAINTE-FOY-ET-PONTCHAPT 

 

 

At 6 in the morning, the honking of two cars, loud voices and the overloud beat of music speakers of the cars woke me up. I had enjoyed my solitude of the last couple of weeks so much that this noise was incredible disturbing…………

Again, I had to walk 33 km (20 miles) this day. I needed to make the distance to arrive at Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port latest by July 17.

The Way was leading me through meadows and oak forests and later on to a totally different environment – to vineyards stretching up to the horizon. By coming closer to Spain, the churches also changed to show Spanish influences on their facades.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 31

PORT-SAINTE-FOY-ET-PONCHAT – SAINT-FERME

 

When I crossed the river Dordogne, I entered the area of Bordeaux. Very soon, I was surrounded by seemingly endless rows of vineyards. There was not much else growing. Every little flower I met on the way was joy for me.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 32

LA-FERME – BAZAS

 

 

Without opening your door

You can open your heart

Without looking out your window

You can see the essence of Tao….

                                                                               Lao Tse

 

                                                           

At 9 in the morning we were starting for Cadillac, a town 19 miles west from La-Ferme. Here we found out that the pilgrim’s way was no longer going through this town. My guidebook, published 2012, had not recorded this change. In total, Jean Paul drove over two hours to drop me off on the marked way. His generosity and helpfulness were amazing.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 33/34

BAZAS – CAPTIEUX – ROQUEFORT

 

 

Lass dir alles geschehen: Schönheit und Schrecken.

Man muss nur gehen: Kein Gefühl ist das fernste.

Lass dich von mir nicht trennen.

Nah ist das Land

das sie Leben nennen..

                                                                                                 Rainer Maria Rilke

 

                      

Let it all happen to you: beauty and dread. Just walk – no feeling is too far.Do not let yourself be disconnected from me. Very close is the land they call life.

 

The two days of hiking where miles and miles and miles straight to the west on a former railroad track through a dense forest with hardly any villages in between. The singing of the birds, the sounds of the cicadas and the whispering of the wind in the treetops were the only sounds going with me. Several feet high ferns were growing in between oak and pine trees where the sunlight was making interesting patterns of light and shade.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 35

ROQUEFORT – MONT-DE-MARSAN

 

First you paint a cage

With it’s door open

Then paint

Something nice

Something simple

Something lovely

Something useful

For the bird……..

                         Jaques Prévert

 

 

Les Landes with 2.5 million acres of forest was a long stretch for me too to walk through. I started to memorize the last poem I had taken with me, the poem of Jaques Prévert “ To Paint a Picture of a Bird (Poure faire le portrait d’un oiseau).

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 36

MONT-DE-MASRAN – SAINT-SEVER

 

Then set the canvas against a tree

In a garden

In a grove

Or in a forest

Hide behind the tree

Without speaking

Or moving…

                                                 Jaques Prévert

                           

When I left the town in the morning, the streets where filled with little booths. There was a market going on in town. People prepared their stands for selling fruit, vegetables, clothing, household goods, electronics……

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 37

SAINT-SEVER – BEYRIES

 

Sometimes a bird arrives quickly

But equally it may take many years

Before it chooses to                        

Don’t be discouraged

Wait

Wait many years if needed

The speed or tardiness of its arrival

Has nothing to do

With the success of the picture…..

                                                                                                           Jaques Prévert

                                             

Country streets with nobody driving or walking on it – huge fields of corn and sunflowers on a completely flat area – houses with the wooden window shutters closed – nobody seemed to live in this place. Today, I had to walk 30 km. The visit of the newly renovated Gothic church Notre Dame in Audignon was a nice change. After four years of renovation, it opened for the first day when I was there.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 38

 

BEYRIES – ORTHEZ

 

When the bird arrives

If it arrives

Observe the most profound silence

Wait till the bird enters the cage

And when it has

Gently close the door with your brush……

                                                                                                              Jaques Prévert

 

 

After the strange night in the huge dancing hall with me as the only person sleeping in it, I left Les Landes and entered the region of Pyrénées –Atlantiques with Béarn as the biggest district in it. In this area, the people speak their own language (language d’oc). For a long time, it was forbidden to use this language; now it comes slowly back.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 39

ORTHEZ – OSSERAIN-RIVAREYTE

Then

Erase all the bars one by one

Taking care not to touch a feather of the bird

Then paint a picture of the tree

Choosing the loveliest branches

For the bird……..

                                                           Jaques Prévert

                                

After a nice breakfast with the other four pilgrims, I left the town and was intrigued by the beauty of the countryside. In the distance, the Pyreneans were already visible.  The area was hilly with little villages and many vibrant blooming flowers.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 40

OSSERAIN-RIVAREYTE  –  OSTABAT-ASME

Paint the green leaves too and the wind’s coolness

The dust in the sunlight

The sound of insects, in the grass, in the summer heat

Then wait for the bird to choose to sing

If the bird won’t sing

That’s an adverse sign

A sign that the painting is bad…….

                                                                                          Jaques Prévert

 

 

Dense fog covered the village when I left that morning. Shortly after leaving Osserain, I came to an ancient stone marking the border between Béarn and the once independent kingdom of Navarre. With that, I entered the Land of the Basque. The Basque language is very unusual because it does not have any similarities with an Aryan language. Of the seven Basque regions, three are located in France.

 

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Voie de Vézelay, Day 41

OSTABAT-ASME  –  SAINT-JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT

 

But if it sings it’s a good sign

A sign you can sign your name

Then very gently you’ll detach

A feather from the bird

And write your name in a corner of the painting.

                                                                                                                  Jaques Prévert

                         

 

 

In order to meet Emeline, I got up at 4:30 am. Emeline wanted to continue her way to Santiago today and I agreed to meet her around noon. It was totally dark when I left the refuge, with the half moon shining through the fog. My headlamp helped me to see the markers on the way.

 

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