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.

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