The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lourdes, in the south of France

I camped in a very nice campground out in the countryside just south of Normandy. I hate to gross anyone out, but I really wanted to show you the urinals in the campground.
I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but they are outside (and not all that well secluded from anyone who might take a passing interest in what a man is doing.

They are there at the end of the row of sinks where people wash their dinner dishes in the campground. I guess I am a typical sheltered American, but I have a hard time getting used to such things. I remember once years ago at a castle in England when a girl who was about 20 years old carried on a not-at-all-embarrassed conversation with me right beside me as I carried on with the job at hand. I found it very hard to relax, I can tell you.

I have been riding Odysseus, my Vstrom 650, through southwestern France. There has been absolutely nothing to take a picture of or to report. It looked and felt like Kentucky. Part of the ride was through a big forest, but the forest was actually field after field of evergreen trees in all stages of growth: some just planted, some half grown, some mature but very small. I think maybe they were grown for paper pulp because none of them were big enough to become building lumber.

Just as I was coming into Bordeaux on a big, super highway filled with rush hour traffic, it started pouring rain. I had my gps, which I depend on so much, in a zip-lock bag, but it got wet and now has a pale, distorted display. Worse, my daughter's camera, which I had in an outside pocket of my riding jacket, also got soaked. Now it doesn't work at all. I am hoping it is the battery, but I don't have any way of checking it out.

I got to Lourdes, which is right at the start of the Pyrenees Mountains, and had just a terrible time finding the hotel I had booked (It was still raining too much to camp). The streets here are narrow, and often one way, and filled huge buses that dump off tourists who walk right down the middle of the street. It was challenging riding.
I had booked a hotel, sight unseen, through an online agency when I found out it was going to be raining when I got to Lourdes. I had a terrible time finding the hotel, and when I did a sign on the door said they were closed and customers should go to the Hotel Solitude a short way away. There, they had not heard of me and had no clue about my reservation, but I showed them the internet record of it on my cell phone. They were gracious, and gave me the room at the price I had booked it for ($45.00 per night), but I could tell from how posh the hotel was I was getting a bargain. It turned out that the room I got normally went for three times that amount.

Do you know the story of Lourdes? It goes something like this: In the middle of the 1800's, a young, sickly, illiterate girl named Bernadette Soubrious was gathering firewood at this grotto in the picture below, when she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. She went on seeing the vision for two weeks, and attracted both the ire of the local sheriff and church elders, and the interest of the town's people.

Maybe you've seen an image of Bernadette holding a candle, her hands around the flame. When she was not in pain or even burned, everyone became convinced that she was indeed seeing Mary. And, when Mary told her to scrape away some dirt and a spring of water bubble up, they had no doubts left at all.
I went into the grotto. The spring is still there. People have been healed by the waters of the spring. Now those waters flow out through taps where the faithful can bottle it and take it home.
You can also light a prayer candle if you want to.
People come from all over the planet to be cured at Lourdes: people in wheel chairs; people on crutches; people with severe birth abnormalities. I kept thinking: There, but for God, go I.
Lourdes is the second most visited city in France. It is right behind Paris. Does it work? Are there people who are cured? I don't know, but I guess there is nothing lost in trying.

 There are many grand churches built up around the story of Bernadette. One of the most impressive is underground. And church services seem to go on endlessly.

Unfortunately, there is the commercial side of Lourdes: dozens of hotels; hundreds of cafes; thousands of tacky souvenir stores.

I wanted to get away from it all; it was a little too much for me. So I went up into the mountains overlooking the town.
These slugs were all over the place up there. Who but a biology teacher would want to bore you with a picture of a slug?
You know you are ready to get back into the mountains when you start taking pictures of slugs. Odysseus has been patiently waiting for me in the garage under the hotel. Time to head out exploring the mountains tomorrow.
More later,

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