Tuesday, 25 June 2019


I wrenched my back in the gym last Thursday while attempting a rather acrobatic bend and learned a lesson in humility.

This morning I read Steve Skojec's blogpost about needing to take more time for his health and his family, and I felt for him because Steve's in the same gritty line of work I am: slogging through the sewers of the Eternal City, exposing the spiritual fatbergs so that they can be cleaned out.

Steve is on an intermittent fasting diet, which is a very good idea for spiritual sewer-workers, I think, because of the temptations of grief-eating.  I grief-eat as I write stories about incredibly sad or horrible problems or events, abandoning my desk several times a day to get something out of the kitchen. When I remember, I stop myself and drink a glass of water instead. This really takes intention, though.
The one good thing about developing stress-induced belly fat is that it has made me more compassionate towards other woman carrying extra weight. There's an obesity epidemic in the UK, and only God knows how much pain is buried in the belly fat.

To face whatever it is that is wrecking our health and to do our jobs without allowing them to hurt us takes intentionality.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Bad Auntie

I have letters to write, cheques to sign, and belated birthday cards to get in the post. Oh, woe. I am a bad auntie.

The thing is, at the end of a long day of writing, the last thing I want to do is write more.

Yes, I notice I am blogging. But blogging is just sign-language, really. It's what I do instead of talking. I was a real chatterbox before the invention of blogs.

Meanwhile this morning I checked the news, went to the gym, went to Italian class, fried up brunch, and rushed to my desk to get going.

One thing about being underemployed--back when I was underemployed--I always had time to get to the post office.

Monday, 17 June 2019

The French were Lovely: Last Words on the 2019 Chartres Pilgrimage

I was surprised to discover, after Mass, that my writings about the 2019 Chartres Pilgrimage gave someone the impression that I thought the Foreigners (literally,   "Étrangers") were treated badly when, as a matter of fact, I thought the French organisers had pulled off an organisational miracle for everyone. As far as I know, they got 14,000 pilgrims from Saint-Sulpice to Notre-Dame-de-Chartres, including me, in one piece.

Meanwhile, the French Chartres organisers seemed to be proud of their Foreigners because we got a mention before the Sunday Mass: apparently we have increased by 50% over the past five years. Although the president mentioned this made planning more difficult every year, he seemed satisfied. And I suppose there's nothing like a thousand-plus foreigners to make Pentecost more Pentecosty.

The fact that I am terrified of Lyme disease is not anyone's fault although, yes, had I known I might be bitten by a tick, I would have thought more carefully about A) how to prevent this and B) going at all. Never mind debilitating illnesses: even a bad cold is no joke when there's cancer in the family. Ask me how many times I have been in A&E in the past 27 months. Go on.

Trick question. I lost count.

One of the reasons for going on the Chartres Pilgrimage could be learning about yourself, and three years ago I learned that after a long hard day of hiking, I crave solitude. In fact, if there really are such things as introverts and extroverts, I am an introvert. Mystery solved.

This year I learned that although I can take pain in my feet (you just walk through it), I am less brave about noise, and also that people don't like it when you complain during the Pilgrimage about the noise (or anything else), so I shouldn't have mentioned it.

It was pointed out to me that Scouts and others playing "O Susanna" and any other innocent song were merely engaging in good, clean fun, and that is true. If I had a son, I would rather he strummed his guitar and sang "Elle descende  de la montagne" at 11 o'clock at night in a campground north of the Loire than smoke dope and harass strangers outside the Gare de Nord or some random Hauptbanhof.

All the same, I was glad I was with the Scottish Chapter by day, for the Scottish Chapter maintained a meditative prayerful environment as we walked along, and I don't think we sang anything louder or more secular than "Waltzing Matilda" or "Flower of Scotland," both of which are patriotic songs.  "Loch Lomond" sounds cheerful, but actually it is appropriately dour, for me and my true love will never meet again by the bonnie bonnie banks of etc.

Mind you, three years ago I was perfectly happy singing "500 Miles," a rather more raucous and contemporary Scottish song, but I perhaps it was because I was a young thing who hadn't the slightest idea her husband was soon to be in danger of death.

Perhaps some years you are a noisy song sort of person, and some years you aren't.

There is plenty of temptation towards bad temper on the Chartres pilgrimage, and the best thing to do is nip it in the bud.

When you are flapped away when reaching for a snack because the snacks are just for priests, ponder that the priests are all on the job and have to say their daily Mass before 6 AM.

When you walk past endless miles of French tents to reach the Foreign tents, reflect that (whatever Michael Matt might say about a worldwide movement) this is a French traditional pilgrimage for French traditionalists, and it is sporting of them to open it up to so many people who don't speak French.

When you absolutely hate the (possibly fake) posh accent shouting through the megaphone right behind your ear, consider that actually it might really be his own accent, he can't help it, you're no judge, and since when did you become that sort of reverse "Ah-kent-yer-father "snob?

When you crawl into your tent and discover there is really no room for your mat, your luggage, your sleeping bag, or you ... Well, I suppose you must be brave like one Australian pilgrim I'm thinking of and go from women's tent to women's tent (if you're a woman) begging a place. That said, I strongly recommend finding some sort of waterproof sleeping bag cover/bivvy bag* as, honestly, shelter is one of those UN Convention of Human Rights kind of things.

*This one looks economical, weighs less than a jar of coconut oil, and does not violate the Chartres no-foreign-tent rule. I'm a genius. Stay tuned next Lent for the Chartres Pilgrimage Advice Guide I hope to publish in LSN.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Food for the Chartres Pilgrimage

It's a funny thing about hiking over 20 miles a day: you don't much feel like eating while you're doing it. However, eat you must, even if only on breaks, because without food, you can't go on.

Before I left for France, I consulted the internet for hiking advice. Given my weight, the probable weight of my day knapsack, the milage and the speed, I calculated that I needed to eat about 5.5 lbs of food between Saturday morning and Monday night. I briefly factored in the traditional first day apple and the possibility of soup and rolls, but I knew from three years ago that if the food tables were far from the Foreigners' campground, I wasn't going to get food from them.

The most important element of my diet to be considered was caffeine. Happily, I came upon this recipe for "The Barista" bars, which a review said didn't exactly work, so I added 2 Tablespoons of almond butter. Half a cup would have been even better. I also substituted instant coffee for coarse ground coffee, and that worked well. Each bar had about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

I also made "The Elvis" because on the Chartres Pilgrimage, breakfast has to have the least amount of fuss. When you are scrambling to get up, dress, roll up your sleeping bag and matt, pack and get on the road when your  chapter is ordered back onto it, you need something you can shove in your pocket. Every morning I had 2 Barista bars and 2 Elvis bars. The nice bit of the dry Barista bars was the chocolate chips (so-called: I chopped up some dark chocolate) and the treat of the stodgy Elvis bars was the bits of crispy bacon.

I had a bag of peanuts and dried fruit, too, but I soon tired of them, so I didn't miss them on Sunday or Monday. (In future, three separate bags of salted mixed nuts would be better, hold the shredded coconut.)

Lunch breaks involved a little pots of tuna which I emptied on sheets of nori  (the daily vegetable) on top of two small soft tortillas. On Monday the tuna turned out to be "teriyaki salmon," and it was the best ever. I followed  this fish course with kabanosy, thin dry Polish sausage, and small easy-to-peel oranges. I washed it all down with 2 teaspoons of "Bioglam Superfoods Superberries Nourishing Superfoods Power Blend" mixed with 300 mL of water in my steel cup.

During late afternoon break, I ate another Barista bar, for the caffeine, and drank more Superberries because it really was energising.

Dinner was more kabanosy and another orange, and on Saturday a cup of yellow lentil soup because I passed the food table while looking for the Foreigners' baggage truck. On Sunday night I also scarfed another Elvis bar, exulting in the bacon bits.

My Chapter captain gave me some miniature Snicker bars on Sunday, but I discovered that they made me feel very slightly ill. Sugar in the forms of fruit and bread served me better. Meanwhile, I didn't eat the dark chocolate I brought along. Snacking while hiking just wasn't much fun, and I was just too tired to bother eating more than I absolutely thought I had to at night. The one time I enjoyed eating was at lunchtime, which was just as well.

Naturally the crucial nourishment of the Chartres Pilgrimage is water, but  I learned that I should just keep my water bottle topped up and carry not excess water, i.e. the litre bottles volunteers handed out every five miles or so. I am surprised now to see that those containers of liquid led weigh only a kilogram, i.e. 2.2 lbs. Still, when you are walking 70 miles (I really don't believe the reports saying it was 62 or whatever), every ounce matters.

Nourishment for the feet, mind you, could be a whole other post. In short, you need strapping tape and scissors, medicated blister pads, and possibly band-aids. Compeed plasters are expensive, but I used all five in the little pack. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are also helpful, only I didn't use mine because of muscle soreness but because of headaches. Possibly I didn't drink enough water, but for sure the noise of happy French youth singing "Elle Descend de la Montagne" (apparently a French version of "She'll be coming around the mountain") at the top of their lungs had something to do with it.

Incidentally, inwardly massacring various pilgrims around you becomes a strong temptation, especially if they are shouting through a megaphone loud enough for two other chapters to hear, so it is a good thing there are dozens and dozens of priests around, all eager to hear your confession before you get to the Cathedral.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Spiritual Side

Here's what I had to say about the Chartres Pilgrimage of Christendom 2019 in LSN. Later I'll return and tell you about the food because this year I packed the right things. Of course, there's always room for improvement. The trouble with walking to exhaustion is that you don't really feel like eating afterwards. That said, I passed the famous soup table on Saturday night and, as my steel mug never left my person, I got some. Technically, it was yellow lentils in chicken broth  but it tasted like manna in the desert.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

More Cheerful about Chartres

A doctor has poked my tick bite and made a cheerful prognosis, so I will not worry for now and meanwhile just put her prescribed cream on my rashy ankles. This means I am mentally free to write my LSN article about the actual Chartres Pilgrimage, not about the tick.

However, I will leave some extra baggage here because one of the best things I did for myself three years ago was write a blogpost of advice for people going on future Chartres Pilgrimages.

My caveat is that les Etrangers (foreigners) are NOT supposed to bring personal tents anymore. There is simply not enough space in the foreigners' section for those who rebel against sleeping in the communal tents, packed like pickled onions. If you cannot steel yourself to sleeping 2 inches away from people you've just met (women with women, men with men), then the Chartres Pilgrimage is not currently for you. (Perhaps in future there will be more space in the communal tents.)

Three Years On: Additional Advice 

1. There are ticks. Bring and apply insect repellant as soon as you reach the first park on the outskirts of Paris. Pack a super-light groundsheet as well as your sit-upon and shake it before putting it back on your bag. Every night take 5 minutes before you go to sleep every night of the pilgrimage to examine your body thoroughly with a flashlight. Bring tweezers as well as antiseptic wipes.

2. You have no time in the morning for coffee, so prepare.  Happily, I knew this and so made instant coffee-laced breakfast bars on Friday morning. Yes, I planned to literally rub coffee into my gums. I ate these coffee bars during the beginning of each day's march (6 AM) and at about coffee time (4 PM). No caffeine withdrawal: it was awesome.

3. There is bottled water at every campsite. I mention this because on Saturday, I carried a litre of water all afternoon so I was assured of cooling my feet in the evening. This was stupid, but for some reason I could not let go of that heavy bottle. When you are walking 20+ miles, every ounce of weight drags you down. On Sunday I did not make this mistake.

4. You can buy collapsible washtubs. Because large suitcases are really horrible to drag through Paris, Chartres and the campsites, I took a backpack this time. My ordinary washtub didn't fit, so I found a collapsible one online. It is totally worth the money and any trouble.

5. Assume that anything that can leak will leak. When I arrived at my Paris hotel room shortly before 11 PM (flight delayed 1.5 hours, couchemar), I discovered that my little bottle of liquid soap had emptied over everything in my first aid kit bag. I also discovered that my talcum powder had similarly opened itself in the side pocket of my backpack. After rinsing and drying everything of soap (I didn't mind the talcum powder that leaked onto my tent bag), I took the two flat packets of liquid soap conveniently offered by the hotel. I used these to wash my feet on Saturday and Sunday. I dealt with the rest of me with biodegradable wipes from the privacy of my clandestine tent. (I didn't discover it was banned until Saturday.)  Therefore:

6. Save and bring 2 hotel liquid soap sachets for your collapsible washtub.

7. Really, really ponder if you should bring a computer. I meant to write about the Pilgrimage on Tuesday morning, which was overly optimistic. You will be too tired on Tuesday to use your brain for anything much. You get max 6 hours of sleep a night every night of the Pilgrimage, and even if you get 8 or 9 on Monday night, you still will not be fully functioning. Therefore, it is best not to bring the computer, and to inform your workplace that you will not be checking in until Wednesday.

(My computer, by the way, was kindly driven to Chartres by a very busy French official, whom I wasted a great deal of time trying to find in Chartres, and who finally left it at my hotel.)

8. Never assume anyone French, even a young person, speaks English. As a matter of fact, I did not do so badly with my French, even though really it is appalling for a Canadian and someone who has five family members who are completely fluent in la belle langue. Were I to go on the Chartres Pentecost Pilgrimage again (which is not certain, as there is the 'communal tents only' issue), I would not only start practising walking long distances sometime during Lent, I would start doing some French review.  

9. If you decide to go last minute to the Chartres Pilgrimage, you will suffer more than if you decide in advance. "Only Christians would deliberately make themselves suffer," I thought in a somewhat exasperated fashion. "This is not a yoga retreat." If you'd rather suffer less than more, you need to prepare well in advance: practice walking long distances well in advance so you do less damage to yourself. The Knights of Malta first aiders (bless them!) refuse to treat blisters because EVERYBODY gets blisters. Another problem with signing up at the last minute is that there might not be enough room for your foreign self in the communal tent assigned to your chapter. The president of the Pilgrimage said, I think on Sunday before Mass, that the Pilgrimage was more and more difficult to plan every year, in part because of the huge increase in foreign pilgrims. Your humble correspondent won smiles from other women in our Chapter when I gave up my space in the communal tent, erected my illegal 2-man shelter, and said, "Good news, girls, you're getting a tent mate who is a lot thinner than me!"

This was a beautifully elegant Australian who decided to come almost at the last minute and walked for two days in flat leather sandals, a straight knee-length skirt and a very French-looking scarf around her head. On the third day I noticed she had trainers (runners) instead, and no wonder. At any rate, I admired her ability to look so amazing for two days of the Chartres Pilgrimage and I was proud to give her my place in the communal tent. That said, on Sunday night there was no longer any room in the communal tent, and she had to go and sleep in one of the North American tents.

10. When your feet are wet, contemplate the feet of the others around you. My interior life was not fabulous for the first two days of the Pilgrimage, but I made a breakthrough on Whitmonday. Part of this was meditating on the feet of those around me. Because I thought about how wet and painful their feet were, my feet bore me more easily. Also pain, like hunger, comes in waves when you are on a forced march. You just walk through it.

11. Always carry dry socks in your day bag. Not doing so is quite the rookie error.

12. Do not put your cute Chartres dinner outfit in your computer bag, if you bring your computer and a French official drives it to Chartres for you. Because my computer bag and I were not reunited until after 11 PM,  I went to dinner in the black long-sleeved T-shirt I used as my inner pyjamas and my now very dirty Indestructible Blue Denim Maxi-skirt of Feminine Traddery. I wished very much that I had just squished it into my main backpack, which was driven to campsite to campsite and then to Chartres by truck and left in a specific place.

13. 60€-70€ is about right for carrying-around money. I brought 50€. I left a 10€ tip at each hotel (Paris and Chartres) and spent 30€ on Monday supper. However, I did need a little extra for Tuesday, and so had to walk a bit to find a bank machine. A simple breakfast at Le Serpente (coffee, juice, croissant, bread, butter, jam) costs 9 €.

14. Don't let your sunglasses fall out of your pocket and pile your baggage/sleep on top of them or they will break.

15. The Pilgrimage now provides hand sanitiser, but either make sure you use one that does not dry out your cuticles, or put balm on them at night. My fingers are still sore, alas, and it seemed like an age before I could get home to my friendly bathroom jar of coconut oil. 

16. If you have a clandestine tent, make sure you dry it ASAP, which might be overnight in your Chartres hotel room (if you remember), but will probably be the night of your return home.

Now to write my piece for LSN.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tick Terror!

I'm preparing to write about the Chartres Pilgimage for work, but I'm exhausted and had the most frightful scare this morning: a great fat black tick clinging to the pale flesh under my ribcage.

I am absolutely terrified of contracting Lyme disease, and when I heard on Day 2 of the Pilgrimage that there were ticks in the woods and the field we were sitting to lunch in, I whimpered in horror, examined my ankles and reapplied insect repellant to my legs. However, the terror of the fields and woods somehow found its way through my long-sleeved shirt and T-shirt to my non-toxic belly. 

Goodness knows how long it was there because one of the privations of the Chartres pilgrimage is lack of washing facilities for foreigners. Technically there are showers somewhere, but they are located so far from the foreigners' campground, and pilgrims have so little time to dress and pack up, that washing is not feasible. Although I was able to wash my feet at night, thanks to my handy collapsible wash tub, I gave the rest of me only a cursory wipe with biodegradable towelettes. It just never occurred to me to sit under the light of my tent lamp and stare at every inch of my body. 

That said, I had a quick shower last night and didn't notice anything, so it could be that Mr. Tick crawled in amongst my discarded clothes at night and lay in wait inside the T-shirt I used as pyjamas. On the other hand, I wasn't actually looking. I was mostly worried about what I was going to wear to dinner, my clean outfit being in my computer bag which was in the possession of a Pilgrimage official I hadn't yet been able to find. 

At any rate, very tired and very frightened of long-term disease (which is never nice but even worse when your spouse is in remission from cancer), I am having a hard time thinking about what uplifting things to write about the Chartres Pilgrimage. The Mass in Chartres Cathedral was really very beautiful, but I did not sign up for Lyme disease. 

On the one hand, I want to support the Chartres Pilgrimage. On the other, I am a bit horrified at the risks pilgrims are expected to undertake and, as I said, I was not warned about ticks until Sunday at lunchtime. One expects to be tired, unwashed, blistered, sore, grumpy with fellow pilgrims, and perhaps unedified by noisy young Europeans who play their guitars and sing comic songs late into the night, but one does NOT expect to risk contracting a serious disease. 

No, I do not have the telltale "bullseye rash." But I've had headaches off and on since late Sunday afternoon, when I really just could not stand the noise of rousing French camping songs anymore. I thought it was the sun and the din, and I pray it is the sun and the din, but headaches are a symptom of Lyme disease, so hopefully our NHS clinic will see me tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I don't suppose I should write an entire article for LSN about how terrified I am having been bitten by a tick, so I will have to pull it together somehow for the sake of traditionalism. That said, I would not be the first person to point out that traditionalism, like any other movement, has its drawbacks.    

Update: I felt better after talking to another trad pilgrim about his life and Australia, and he very kindly paid for my breakfast. But I won't be writing my "Chartres" article until tomorrow morning after I've had a good rest and (I sincerely hope) have seen or arranged to see a doctor ASAP.