BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Our trombone-playing pilgrim enjoys the benefits of newfound fame
Sunday 22 August 1999
Market day in Le Puy. Every square in town has its own stalls - and buskers: Peruvian pipes compete with classical violins. I set up and add to the confusion. Approached by a very elegant Irish lady. "Oh, are you the chap I've read in the Independent?" Fame at last! Introduced to her god- daughter and the latter's husband and children (31/2, 11/2). Invited to their country retreat, as long as I promise not to betray its location.
The oath given, we drive off - to paradise. An ancient farmhouse by a medieval church, overlooking a broad valley. Outside, a spring, a stream, ducks. Inside, stone-flagged floors, beams, books and music everywhere. Welcomed like one of the family. Help husband tinker with the car. Take tea with the ladies. Act as a mobile climbing-frame for the young. Weekend culminates with a kids' party. Adults tire long before the infants. Oh, for a toddler's energy!
Resting in Le Puy, which has four claims to fame: 1) Green lentils. Connoisseurs rave about them. I try some but fail to die of ecstasy. 2) Chapelle St- Michel. Perched on a 200ft sheer volcanic pinnacle, a beautiful 10th- century chapel. Literally breathtaking - 258 steps up. Home to the fittest priest in Europe. 3) The cathedral. Also on a pinnacle, which it outgrew in the 11th century, so the builders put it on stilts. Main stairway now passes under Europe's most astonishing vault. Polychrome arches, carved 12th-century doors, colossal granite pillars, all supporting 10,000 tons of cathedral. 4) Pilgrims. They are everywhere, come to start the Santiago pilgrimage. Every morning little groups in boots and sunhats descend the cathedral steps after the blessing and head south-west.
On Friday 13th, it's my turn. A dozen of us climb to the cathedral, adrift above a sea of mist. The bishop introduces us all: French, Dutch, Irish, British, Catholics, Protestants, agnostics. The blessing is over in seconds. He hands us each a medallion, symbol of the pilgrim brotherhood. We head downhill, and into the mist ...
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.netplay cafe.co.uk/bonewalk.
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