The world is spinning around me, or I am unraveling in wheeling dance.
The earth rises around me, or I am becoming the earth.
The forests spread from the place I stand, tendrils tearing the flesh of my feet and the leather of my boots to root me into the soil, or I am swallowed by the forest.
The rivers are washing through me, pulling me out to sea so that I may seep back through stone into the deep streams which feed me, or I am getting soaked..
It’s all the same right now, and it’s all beautiful.
I am in Bretagne. I am in Rennes. I am in love. I am here disintegrated, shattered into the elements from which I am composed.
I am remembering the eternal, forgetting the future in order to become again the past.
I am arcs of lightning across gold and blue and rose sky after Her rainbow, remembering.
I am flowers and fern clinging to the stone of ancient chapels marked with His name.
I am flesh wrestling flesh, saliva mixed with sweat on the skin of another pressed against mine.
I am dead decomposing, rotting in fallen leaves where I arise again.
I am in Rennes.
This happened before. The course of a river changes, the path of a procession is interrupted. People and water flood when blocked, like tears you can no longer choke back. Dam, damn, fuck like you are the body you are, tasting the skin of the body you now know to be, burst banks and torch barricades until you have covered in him in how you feel.
This happened later, I remember.
“I saw this photo,” he said, not knowing how much he already knows.
“Someone in America used this photo,” he says, and I hear his accent elide the sounds together in my head and get hard.
“I seen it on Americain blogs, someone took this photo, I do not know who.”
I am hard again, laughing without sound.
“So they know it in America, this statue of the head.”
How to tell him how much I dreamt of him by that fount?
How to tell myself, when words are mostly meaningless anyway right now?
What words are there in any language to say it?
I remember when I remembered I would be in love with you.
and I don’t remember when I would not be after.
The Shores of the Mountains: Perpignan, Ste. Marie Plage, the Pyrennes (May 26th-30th)
To tell you of Perpignan makes no fucking sense. The city has faded from memory, like the beach by which we camped, like the welcoming warm sun which further bronzed my skin and gave more life to flesh which for too long has paled in backlit worlds of stilted words.
Perpignan was good, yeah. As was Toulouse. As was all of it, the way you know all the other meals you’ve eaten before the orgasmic meal you’re eating now were good, the way all the other fucks before this soul-quaking fuck now (from which forests could be born, from which mountains could rise from the seas) were good.
You hardly want to betray the good for the incredible. All the good got you through, all the good gave you comfort and contentment. All the good tinted your life in welcome colors.
To speak of the good when you are in the unspeakably brilliant is not easy.
But Perpignan was good, yeah.
Alley and I caught a rideshare from Arles to the sea-side town of Ste. Marie, about 20 kilometers south of Perpignan. Ste. Marie la Plage, more specifically, as many of the ancient villages in that area have expanded in the last few decades to accommodate the masses of people who go to beach in the summer.
We traveled to the area specifically because it was close to the second major pilgrimage that we intended to make, a trek across the Pyrenees. We hadn’t guessed how much of a tourist town the place would be, but we were also fortunate enough to be arriving before vacances actually started.
To understand the French, one really needs to understand vacances. Well, actually, to understand any country in the world with the sole exception of the United States, one needs to understand vacation. The French get a minimum of 25 paid days off from work a year. Add the 11 paid holidays, and that’s 36 more than the United States requires employers to give their workers.
Ste. Marie Plage is one of those towns the French travel to for vacances, for good reason. It’s on the Mediterranean with gorgeous beaches filled with dune flowers with a view of the Pyrenees to the southwest. It’s hardly an interesting town, and built up mostly for those with money, but pitching a tent within 100 meters of the Mediterranean was more than worth the 14 euro a night Alley and I paid (total) to stay there.
We were both sunburned, and it was a bit difficult to come down from the intensity of the pilgrimage of Sainte Sara, so we took a couple of days to do little before starting our hike. We’d take a bus (1 euro) into Perpignan and walk around, staring at the ancient architecture and the last bits of America draining out our souls.
She doesn’t really know this, or won’t know this until reading this, but there were a few ‘experiences’ I’d hope to introduce to her while in France. Call them tricks, or mindfucks, or what have you, but they were all things I’d encountered in my previous journeys which all permanently altered my consciousness like LSD or Ayahuasca might.
Grocery stores were the first. The second? French fast food, specifically, Quick.
Quick is the French equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King, except it’s French. It’s junk food here, of course, and hardly considered anything like ‘quality.’ But it’s also disturbingly fucking good food, burgers made with French beef on oddly high-quality rolls and fries that taste like potatoes and soda not made with corn syrup.
Alley’s reaction was identical to what mine had been when I ate it in Paris a decade ago. Had I taken a video, it’d be viral by now. But it was enough for me to watch someone else experience that same culture-shock which fucked up my world, finding that even trash food in France tastes better than anything eaten at restaurants in the states.
There were many such moments in Perpignan, actually, the others of which I had no part in orchestrating. A few days later she came back to our campsite giddy after hanging out with a large group of leftists-unionists in the town square hosting a party with beer and rappers from the Falkland Islands. Stuff like that happens in France, because many ofthe French still resist the tyranny of Capitalism.
Which, well, is also why there are general strikes here at the moment. Right after we arrived in Ste. Marie, workers blockaded several oil refineries, cutting off the supplies of gasoline to most of the country. The railroad workers are also on strike, as were the workers at several nuclear power plants.
Workers here actually take power. In fact, they literally take power by cutting off access to gasoline and electricity to show the government they are pissed. The most Americans ever seem to do as of late is sign a petition, or argue whether a boycott of a company is really fair, and complain loudly when traffic is slowed down because of a street protest.
If this seems at all bitter to you, I’d remind that some of the most powerful medicines go down bitter. To hear tales of the strength of people’s movements in other countries while living in the United States where we beg our bosses for piss-breaks and fear ever doing anything to get the attention of the government should embitter you a bit. Hope is bitter, which is why most of us never dare partake of it.
A few days after we arrived, we traveled to a small town along the border with Spain called Banyuls-sur-Mer to start our pilgrimage across the Pyrenees. Alley’s friend Stephanie, who lives in Perpignan, was kind enough to drive us there, stopping along the way to show us a gorgeous vista over an ancient city. It was also she who informed us of the blockades against the oil refineries, advising us that she had enough gas regardless.
She dropped us off at the start of La Chemin Walter Benjamin. I wrote a bit about our journey here, and though there’s much more to say about climbing a mountain pass into Spain along a communist/anarchist smugglers’ route, following the last days of a brilliant Jewish Marxist mystic, I’ll let Alley tell the rest.
Nothing Toulouse But Your Chains, May 30th-June
Our original plan after the Pyrenees was to travel to Barcelona, from whence we’d then take a plane to Asturias in northern Spain to begin the Camino de Santiago towards Finisterra.
Things change, and we were being drawn elsewhere.
Because of all the strikes, and because we were rather exhausted from the hike through the Pyrenees, we decided to take a covoiture (rideshare) to Toulouse, a few hours north of Perpignan. From there, we could take a bus through the Basque region and up into Asturias, and we hoped also to go to Lourdes for two days.
When we arrived in Toulouse, though, I pretty much shut down. I left Seattle May 8th; I’d been traveling at this point for over three weeks without staying anywhere more than four days. It’s a bit wearing on the soul, the moon was waning, I was exhausted, and anyway, I wanted to go north. Within two hours of arriving in Toulouse, I lost all my ability to speak French and wanted nothing more than to hide in a room drinking tea, chain smoking, letting my body recover and my soul be nothing for awhile.
So that’s what we did. And though my senses were disintegrating, though I couldn’t speak more than three words in French without stammering, and though I didn’t want even to get out of bed, Alley was the opposite.
From her arrival in London until our arrival in Toulouse, I’d been the ‘guide,’ the guy who knew French, the one who was holding the space for our plans. I’d been to France before, have traveled through Europe seven times previously.
But when we arrived in Toulouse, Alley became that person. She suddenly remembered her French just as I had forgotten mine, she knew where everything was just as I was utterly lost.
It was fucking awesome.
I don’t actually know much about Toulouse, because I didn’t do much. I spend at least one day completely indoors, listening to my own breathing and the sounds of very, very old ghosts. I had a dream of the dead, a tortured heretic trying to show me what happened to them. Tortured heretics, particularly anarchists, are sort of a recurring theme on this trip, as they’ve been since late last year.
In fact, I woke from that dream shaking, terrified.
The ghosts of Toulouse are very old. In the centre of the city stands the Basilisque St. Sernin (Saturn) an early bishop said to have been dragged through the streets by Pagans behind a bull. Fragments of a Mithraic temple were found in the spot where St. Sernin was said to be killed, on Rue de Taur (Street of the Bull). Standing at the corner of Rue de Taur and Rue de Trois Reynards (Street of the Three Foxes) will give you quite the trip if you’ve even the slightest receptivity.
The third day we were there, I went to the Crypt below St. Sernin basilica, which became a grand repository for saint’s relics. Toulouse is on one of the routes of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela, and pilgrims would stop at the Basilica to see the relics of Saints. What I can tell you about the place, as far as my senses were concerned is minimal, though there are certainly a few body parts that belonged to the dead people in question.
Saint Assicle, though? No, but there’s someone there anyway, or was. The veritigo I experienced when I stood before his shrine (and, uh, arousal) was so intense that I almost ran back to the cafe where Alley waited for me.
I can’t tell you anything else about Toulouse, because most of my soul had already arrived in our next destination. Taking a nap in our covoiture leaving Toulouse I had a dream, myself, laughing with the voice of the earth, a laughter full of more mirth than I’d ever tasted, pouring out a bottle of beer on the rain-soaked cobbled streets of Rennes, naked of armor like an urban version of The Star.
And it came true.
Previous Pilgrimage Journals:
Can You Tell Me How To Get? (Brooklyn: May 10th-12th)
Across Water Are Other Memories (Manchester, May 12-13th)
What We Are Becoming, Waiting (Shrophire, May 13th-15th)
A Language of Growling Earth (Bristol, Bath, May 15th-May 18th)
An American Exorcism (Cardiff, London May 19th-May 22nd)
We Are Bodies, Desiring (Marseilles, Arles, May 23-May 27)