Thursday, 5 June 2008


The sun is hot in the courtyard and the bird boxes sway in the tree branches. The uneven flagstones wash against flower troughs full of colour, and I settle under a parasol for lunch. Our hotel in Auxerre. Basic, but the courtyard is a charm. And just then the chef starts singing.

I’m shocked, like a cold cloth on a sleeping face. Song is something we don’t hear. I don’t know what he is singing, but it sounds like an old song, a folk song, and pretty. Just a short snatch, for the joy of it, and then back to work.

Back in St-Rémy-en-Bouzemont in icy March, one of the Dutch pilgrims staying at the same bed and breakfast said that the thing she most missed on the walk was music. We hadn’t quite empathised. Music was not something we had felt a lack of, even though at home we have music playing nearly all the time, mostly classical or choral these days, going back to favourite symphonies, still learning them. But here we haven’t seemed need music. Neither of us plays music, neither of us can sing, so music is something we have accepted as being absent from the year.

Until the chef’s trilling woke me up. I remembered an article in the last Confraternity newsletter telling of two women pilgrims, university friends who came together through music, and whose Camino was counted out in daily sung services of Evensong in honour of the place music had in their spirituality and in their pilgrimage. If only David and I could sing, could play!
Instead, we have birdsong without stinting. In the forests it greets us in volume in the mornings, varied and melodious. The chorus teases us to look up and try to find the singers, to spot one species form the other and to name them.

At Easter I read a book called Animal’s People. A vigorous tale set in India, with sharp overtones of the Bhopal chemical disaster, but not in the least as dreary and worthy a book as might be feared. One image stuck with me as I was reading it and returned to me, appropriately, now. An older man, a musician whose happiness was destroyed by the disaster, has been unable to sing since. But he discourses with Animal, who is the only one not to consider him mad when he says (something like) “there is music even in the croak of a frog. They use the same scale….. If it were rearranged it would be music.”

On the road from St Léon to the Chateau de Montpeyroux there is a large pond in a field. And there we are given back our music. The late afternoon song of frogs celebrates the rains, a whole pondful of them. Two days later it is a Charolais bull, jealous that his cows flock to witness our passing, and who chimes his anger in a resonant baritone.

Maybe we will catch up with pilgrims who speed their days in songs of the road and in hymns, and we will listen with pleasure, envy and fear that we might be invited to join in. Until then, we might learn to re-calibrate the animals and hear songs all around us.

(PS: However hard it has been, I have not yet resorted to dirging “Onward Christian Soldiers!” as I walk!)

30th May 2008

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