Friday, 13 September 2013

Between the church of St Francis Xavier and the Alchemist

Walking with Hubert is great fun!  He is such a wise man and he has a lovely sense of humour. He asked me how you would say' bon maison' in English. I said' nice house'.I also added that you could say-nice day, nice person or nice thing. Quick as a flash he said:" but not (n) ice berg". Later on he asked me if I realised that snow was forecast for the Pyrenees this weekend! . I hope that you have brought your skis.
We lunched together at the corner of a field. After lunch our paths parted. Hubert walks very slowly after lunch. I soaked up the glorious views, overtook Pierre and Isabel and was in Navarrenx by 2.10. After the experience of Nogaro I sought out the tourist office. Two women were talking on the stairs when I entered but they took no notice of me. When they had finished talking one of them disappeared into her office and the other left. Realising that they were not going to be much help I went to a tobacconist who told me exactly where the Gite is. As I wandered a little further I found Raphael sitting behind a half litre of beer. He told me that the Gite did not open until 3 and so I joined him . eventually Pierre arrived with Isabel a little behind. Pierre refused a beer and headed off for the Gite. Hubert then arrived and joined us for a beer.
Ever since Moissac there have been quite distinctive and enigmatic messages along the way. They are all in beautiful script on a small blackboard and signed: L'Alchemiste' When we were booking our gite in Navarrenx the Gite Communal was full,.Pierre had booked us into a Gite called L' Alchemiste. As Raphael and I arrived outside the lovely house in the middle of the village I recognised the same signs!  We were greeted by Manuel a young Parisian who could be either the assistant or the disciple of the Alchemiste. Out on the patio we were served drinks while the Alchemiste gathered Lavender and Mint in the garden. He was a striking looking man probably in his late 40s with flecked grey hair, a beard, and thoughtful eyes. He greeted us but then went about his business. I couldn't help but notice his enormous bare feet.
After an appropriate time over our drinks Manuel explained the house rules and also said that there is an accueil pelerin in the Church at 6.00pm. He indicated to me that I might offer to say mass!Since there was excellent wifi Raphael and I lounged on our beds whilst Pierre and Isabel showered. Later on-having put my tablet on charge I washed, changed and prepared for the evening. ( One joy here is that Manuel told us to put any washing in a basket at the bottom of the stairs and they would do it for us. )
Achmed ( the young frenchman from Geneva turned up as did Patrice from Rodez. Another couple who had been with us last night also appeared. As I headed downstairs I looked at the door of the Alchemiste room. He has a PhD in Psychology and has studied at Harvard. When I arrived at the Parish Church I discovered that it is dedicated to St Francis Xavier. ( He comes from just over the border).St Francis Xavier is a special Saint for me. He was the patron of my wonderful school Xaverian College in Manchester. In 1983 when I was considering the date for my ordination I consciously chose 3rd December, his feast day. Anyway the church was deserted so I settled down to look at the french text of the Mass. Eventually a lady of a certain age arrived, put on some lights and sat down to pray. I went over to her and introduced myself. 'I will go and see if I can get the keys, she said. About 5 minutes later she came back:"It's Monday she said and there is no- one around. By 5 to 6 there were about 6 pilgrims in the Church, Hubert was among them. I went and joined them. The lady who was leading the welcome when two other ladies came in. They talked in a huddle for a while and then the lady announced: Le Pere Gérard va celebre le Messe. 

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