Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What to do about the weather

I sadly overtrimmed the toenail on one of the little piggies who had roast beef and it turned out to be a bit of a blessing. The minor but constant annoyance of the sensitive skin against my wool sock took my mind off the miserable rain for a while. Some days are just crappy, it's a fact of life. It wasn't cold, there was no difficulty with the backroads, it was just a day that required an all out slog through the steady rain if any progress were to be made. Five hours of my life. The minor distraction helped, but it wasn't quite enough.

Another blessing - I was a 'band fag' as a schoolkid. That was the unfortunate term of the generation, but I was among good company. Our marching band director, getting on in years, turned over active football field and parade participation to me - as head drummer, I set the tempo and the other 125 band members followed. I tapped my sticks together three times, did a short roll-off and we all set off left foot forward. Even now as a pilgrim, the mental hum of '76 trombones in the big parade...' sets me off on my left foot at a comfortable pace of 5 kilometers per hour. Heavy rain, though, needs more...

On such days as the southwest of France has been producing lately, the diversion of a tender toe cuticle and the humming of a marching band standard haven't been cutting it. Deep in my pack, I'm prepared with upbeat favorites on my little MP3 player. I can listen to Vivaldi's Winter storms and anticipate his flowers of Spring. He's written tempest and tranquility in each of his Four Seasons and his allegros get my legs moving.

Although I prefer listening to the world around me, there are times when I don't mind reaching into the micro-electronic age for a little musical assistance. Big, energetic, get-those-feet-moving sounds like William Tell, Ride of the Valkyries, Overture 1812, Carmen... go, pilgrim, go! And there's nothing like Ravel's Bolero for endurance - start to finish and another kilometer's behind me.

Tempests, as Vivaldi has shared with us for centuries, do come in every season. A former pilgrim I met in Tours admitted that it rained for 15 days straight when he started off for St Jacques one April. I wouldn't have the battery life to get me through a 15-day slog, but for now, I can loose myself inside the two tiny wires coming down from my soaked cap and get through a few bad-weather days.

The painting is one of a group of bronze pilgrims in the town of Pons, a few days north of Bordeaux. Slightly larger than lifesize, the modern sculptures show medieval pilgrims experiencing chronic difficulties with weather, with the leader pointing the way to the pilgrim shelter. I did the sketch in the pre-dawn pouring rain hiding under the bronze cloak of another statue.

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