Wind in the sails. April–May France 2017

London had been busy, I had been really happy there catching up with people dear to me. I had played well in the underworld, a busker again, the Roxy Plaque launch had been a great, well worth the visit, watching Jane Palm-Gold rise and I met Jordan, I don’t have many heroes left, and she is still up there with any greats from what ever age or time. We even made the newspapers, which is just remarkable for me. Whist in France at Ian & Francis’s Jane had sent me the clips. There it is Jordan & I, who’d have believed itRoxy opening-newspaper 28.04.17It had also been great to see Mikheil too he has and continues to be such a good friend and London what a great city, I am at home there, it felt great to be able to fly in and pick up, I’ve spent 30 years there on and off and regardless of my need to go off, I think it will probably always draw me.

I’d flown out just as fast as I’d flown in, and was back in Limoges almost before I could take a breath. Ian was waiting for me at the Limoges Airport. He looked a little pale and tired, he’d had a virus since I’d been away and had been rushed to the hospital one evening due to a minor thing of not being able to breath. It had been a scary moment for them all. After his examination the doctor had said

“You ave aye coff”

Ian has always made me laugh, still didn’t let me do any healing with him though, perhaps he’s known me too long, he remembers me from old.

I’d spent 3 days at their beautiful home up there on that hillside tucked away around the side of Tulle. The Domaigne Du Presbytere which they’ve run very successfully as a B&B but now have it up for sale and are ready to return to the UK, too many demands and one too many petty trip advisor reviews by one too many spoilt bourgeois brats. In all honesty it is one of the most beautiful places you could stay, reasonably priced, beautifully set and wonderful hosts, an oasis of calm and peace, apart from the boys Morgan & Branwell singing Russian classics together when the fancy takes, but they know when to be considered too.

We spent the mornings together in their kitchen, comfortable, chatting and laughing, then later in the day we were engaged by Morgan and Branwell who have been brought up immersed in music by Ian & Francis. They have turned out to be gifted musician each with their own flavor. I have the Punk credentials but in fact I & F have the love the of it all and whenever I come to stay they always turn me onto something great, this time it was “Them Crooked Vultures”

Morgan’s been accepted to Bristol University for Archeology & Anthropology and Branwell is going to Ealing to study music technology and performance. Both are being jarred and jolted at the moment with life’s fresh currents flowing into their lives. They honestly reminded me of a pair of squabbling noisy crows flapping their wings testing their voices preparing to leave the nest, it sure is a lively place at times, going shopping with the two of them is an education.

Ian & Francis Morgan & Branwell 31.04.1720170430_104518I had to tear myself away at times and get to work on the Pearl. I’d been nervous about it since last summer, she’s had some rust growing on the back doors since we bought her and I knew that if didn’t do something soon it was going to get really bad and if I took her into a garage it was going to cost.

So I took a deep breath and began the first hour was nerve wracking as pieces of the door fell away and as I looked closely at her more and more rust spots began to appear, they say ‘rust never sleeps’ its nothing major right now but it needed catching.

I’d done a little research it had said ‘grind all the way down to the metal” Quite a metaphor actually, so I took my time and learned on the job. Ian ran me into town to pick up filler and bits and pieces I needed. 2 days later she was ground, filled, sanded and sorted and though not enough time to paint her, so a bit patchy, she looked surprisingly solid and robust. Ian suggested I’d stay on for extra day so I could relax and get what I needed finished. He was just being his helpful self, he fitted the interior light fittings we’d been carrying all last year, so the two of us had some time together out there.

As I’d was working I’d thought “Gosh after all this time we are still here”

All of the ups and downs fell into place. You could never know something you did 30 years ago would have an effect this far down the line and it will be true of course in another 30 years time, still there.

I’d dreamt that last night, I’d been in a forest, the forest had retreated and formed a circle. I’d been stood in the center in the middle, everything green. As I looked around the circle my point of view rushed forward to the four cardinal points each one in turn and as I reached the last one, I peered forward and looked out beyond into the forest and; it looked back at me. I was observed and examined by something wild; something just beyond was looking back at me. The 4 directions, a compass, wherever I set my mind, it was open to me but; I was watched and it was real. I woke with a jolt that Sunday morning at 8am.

I sat chatting with Ian & Francis, sipping coffee and watching the Crows softening up bread in the garden fountain. Branwell and Morgan got up to see me off too, quite an honour, it must have been 11.30am when I actually set sail. Pearl was packed and ship shape. Air in the tires, gas in the tank, oil in the engine, water filled up, groceries and tins stocked, clean sheets, interior swept, floor mopped and ready. I was quite impressed with myself all I had to do was put my guitar in, turn the ignition slip her into gear and roll out down the hill

I waved goodbye all the way down to the road looking back over my shoulder for the four dear figures, then swung that left down into Tulle and headed south.

I’d decided on Arles in southern France. It had been a major Roman city at the time of Jesus and legend said it was exactly why Mary and “The Grail Family” had headed there after the crucifixion, anonymity and yet familiar. I have always been interested in Mary, she’d been a great healer, so it seemed like a great first call for me on this particular journey.

I followed the river Correze out of town then up into the hills and the winding roads south, good to be in Pearl and to be in that space. It’s what we’d built her for, our own great heavy road boat. I took it easy winding through the woods and farmlands of that beautiful region rising and falling into and out of sleepy beautiful farming villages Agentat, Aurilac Estang and Esplion. They were all jaw dropping, I could have stopped at any and stayed but I had some miles to cover.

I got onto the A75 over the amazing Viaduct of Millau where the winds tore into Pearls side as if she was a great sail, I tensed and held fast at the wheel. It was there the weather chilled and a thick fog shrouded everything. But once through the tunnel of Escalette the first signs of a Mediterranean landscape began to appear, trees changed posture, houses shrank down and spread sideways, pale red orange tiles appeared, we zoomed downwards anticipating sunshine once past Montpellier, but none came, instead we shot on along the A9 towards Nimes as if carried in front of the winds and almost before I could blink we rolled into Arles in a great cloud of dust and grit

My immediate impression was of a place worn and battered. We rolled through glancing left and right as I always do looking for ‘that’ place to park and bed down safely for the night. I’d done two run throughs noting a forest of parking meters and tow away signs, there was nowhere to pull up. So on instinct I turned towards the river. I said out loud

“Guys, we need to find somewhere safe tonight”

I drove her cautiously down a narrow crumbling street, railway tracks to our right, turned a corner, leaned around a great round about, followed instinct towards the river and came out in a wide car park between the river and the railway station and right there in front of us were 6 or 7 RV’s parked up with tons of space. I couldn’t believe it, right there on the banks of the ancient Rhone. It couldn’t have been better but just to be sure, pinching myself, I knocked on the door of the RV next to us and asked in sign language if it was ok to park there. They affirmed with a shrug of the shoulders that they were and that it was ok. Result!!Arles France 01.05.1720170430_204250

I went off to explore immediately. It was pretty cold that wind whipping dust grime and grit through the place. I’d been driving almost constantly for 7 hours I think, I was tired but hadn’t lost the plot. It’s always interesting to me to walk through the shadows and narrow streets of an unfamiliar city how the mind plays tricks. So though cautious and alert I calmed myself, the inner world is projected outwards into the shadows and onto the stones and faces you come across. It was just me, all was well.

After dog legging through narrow ancient streets of polished stone, past ancient churches and surprisingly massive roman amphitheaters and a few laps of the main street checking bars for a visible plug socket. Oh how our priorities change with time.

I’d had a little drink and worked then gone back to Pearl tired and cold, ate something and just got into the back to sleep. I could feel a melancholy coming on, I’d felt it many times whilst on the road out there on my own and I didn’t fear it now. I simply allow it, I know it will pass and it serves a purpose. I’m used to being active, so I’m moving down a gear, it would take a little time to pass but it would.

It was a disturbed sleep that night so many dreams too much to write about, though one I’d been working on a sports car stripping it down to sliver metal, I didn’t repaint it, I sealed it with something clear so it stayed silver, nothing hidden, all on view, fresh positive new.

I woke next day cold and with a hum of activity outside around Pearl. Arles was awake. I thought I would take a chance and leave her parked where she was as I went looking for a coffee, it felt like a safe place and the other RV’s hadn’t rustled their curtains yet. Later that morning I checked in with the tourist department they reassured me I was in a free parking zone

I’d looking the ancient church of St Trophimus but had walked past it and came out on the main road where there appeared to be some sort of procession. The street was packed full of people, there were beautiful women dressed in, I presumed traditional outfits, colorful billowing dresses, shawls and hair tied up. It’s strange when you don’t speak the language; looking onto something you have no way of asking what it is. You have to make it up.Arles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_093310

Further up the street were hundreds of riders, men astride small white horse dressed in black jackets and black battered trilby hats carrying long poles with crescent moon spikes on the end. Behind each rider was a beautiful woman in a beautiful coloured dress sat on a white embroidered quilt, it was just amazing, so unexpected, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, I’d thought descendants of Spanish Gypsy’s.

I’d heard a lady talking in English so I’d asked her. She told me it was the crowning of the May Queen, these men were the guardians of the bulls from the farms in the surrounding areas. So happy with that information I wandered through the ranks horses, loving the smell of them, looking into the faces of the beautiful elegant women with their flowing dresses, painted faces, parted hair rolled into buns and tied up with a ribbon on the top, definitely Spanish influence I thought. The Herdsmen, the guardian riders, were tough looking and handsome in their trilby hats, black jackets and colorful shirts astride their tough looking white Camargue horses. What a treat

Arles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_091736The brotherhood of the herdsmen was apparently founded in 1512 and is the oldest brotherhood of its kind in France today, its patron saint is of course St George and their look was established in 1817 by a chap called Marquis de Baroncelli to give the brotherhood identity and a greater unity, it looked like it had come out of the countryside, very rural looking.

The Marquis had said “Listen lads we’ve gotta get it together if we want the women to notice us, everyone, go and get yourselves a black jacket and a black hat any will do.. ok? and yeah you can keep your favorite shirts on”

With a few hundred years it has become a tradition and because covered in that dust it looks cool.Arles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_122544

After a coffee, wrestles, I wandered again and ended up in a great crowd in the square awaiting the crowning of the Queen, I’m sorry to say I didn’t wait, the French like to jostle and I wasn’t in the mood. Instead I detoured around the back and found myself with the horsemen and their beautiful ladies up on a hill outside the church of ‘Notre Damn de la Major’ next to the coliseum it was becoming more and more remarkable. I still wasn’t really sure what was going on or what was being said, though I’d picked out from the broken shards of English a lady in the tourist office had laid down in front me that there was something happening at the Arena and pretty sure she’d said 4pmArles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_121125

I was loving being right there, in amongst it all completely by accident. I imagined England right then in Hastings, what would be happening there, the May Day expressions and how different it was, culture. I felt very lucky to know both. It was a fabulous sight as they all paraded after the blessing two by two around the side of the coliseum and back through the ancient streets

When I got back to Pearl a little later the coach park had filled up, there she was tucked in amongst the coaches, she looked safe, I sighed a relief. I was tired so rested a while then went to sit on the bend of the river playing my guitar for an hour just allowing myself to be quiet.

Then back to the Coliseum. I’d sensibly bought a ticket earlier. I realized I was in a very special place and a very special time. I thought of Orsi she’s always sorted like that. Pearl and parking, all good, there were toilets nearby, all good, food in the van all good, bottle of Malbec for later, all good, right? I sometimes have to be persuaded of the obvious and just enjoy the now.

As I walked up the now familiar streets I realized the show had already begun. It was in the huge Roman coliseum and was already alive with the roar of a crowd I heard and felt it as I was searched going in. I hoped skipped and jumped up the stone steps and into the open, wow. I was taken utterly by surprise. Must have been a few thousand people in there and down in the arena were a group of young men dressed in white running and jumping in and out of the way of an angry bellowing bull, probably because every time they got near to it they gave it a slap. It was something from way back in time the Cretians had done the same thing, there was no blood, there was no need. As I watched I felt that all that was a perversion of this and this was something beautiful, rather like the heavy blood soaked idols in the catholic churches of Spain and Mexico.Arles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_162837

This was all about agility speed and youth and it was wonderful to see. The bull was so fast and really wanting to plant his horns into one of them, no mistake, he was angry and baying and they always disappeared out of reach just so tantalizingly close.

I’d scanned the arena and spied a place on the other side so walked underneath with the crowd roaring above it was just so exciting, I haven’t the words. I hurried.

Sometimes things seem just beyond coincidence, a roman coliseum a town full of white horses and black bulls, May Day, I’d come on impulse, observing an ancient thing, I was jaw dropped. It was the most amazing show of horsemanship I have ever seen. Earlier I’d thought it was lovely and quaint and wasn’t folk tradition interesting but it became gritty real and sparkling, a working place with all its rough edges, it takes a while to get used to these things but once seen and understood, it was alive. I say, set sail set sail set sail, just go, you will be rewarded with what you expect and what you believe.

I noted the way the tough little horses moved into rank walking sideways, walking backwards, not a natural move for a horse but done without a second thought by them or the rider. It was obvious they were one. Then the race around the arena to pick an orange of a tray a beautiful maiden held out were just amazing feats, then bulls were released, real horns, large and unclipped. A lady in red rode ahead of them then a group of riders surrounded them, one or two with the lances. The white horses closed rank around them in a tight V formation, the bulls seemed to sense safety in amongst them, lifted their heads and actually nuzzled in-between their creamy white flanks, horns interlocked, there seemed to be an understanding between them. The horses up tight and close skin on skin all running at speed, effortless, I felt a tearful to see such a thing, if the horses broke rank the bulls seemed to panic, not trying to get away, they just found themselves alone and wanted to be back in amongst those beautiful white horses againArles Protectors of the Bulls Festival France 01.05.1720170501_173614

There were shows of agility from lancing a ring on a pole, stealing the ribbons from the yellow or blue team or the flowers from a rider given by a beautiful maiden. The riders in their huge leather saddles were impressive but horses were the stars of the show, nimble fleet footed, they seemed to be enjoying their spinning breaking accelerating sure-footed agility, absolutely fantastic. I thought of Tipi Jean, Yazz and Chelsea, they would have loved it. Though with my modern sensibilities it was a little uncomfortable watching the bulls’ verses the horse and rider a bull would get behind and batter a horse from time to time, but they didn’t seem to flinch.

For instance a huge bull came into the ring angry and baying looking for who ever it was that had disturbed him. He mowed down the two men stood with their little sticks and crescent moon spikes. So the white horses came in and he initially went for them, but they never flinched, skin on skin, contact. I noted too he never used his horns with them and soon enough the horses calmed him and rounded him up, again no blood, just speed and trust, horses, bulls and men, such a thing to see. Beautiful.

I’d woke the next day feeling cold, it was a grim over cast day. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself so after a little dillying and dallying I got in the cab and started off for the St Maries de le Mar which was only down the road another reason I’d gone there.

Legend says after the crucifixion of the Christ she’d set sail, some say cast adrift in a boat ‘with neither rudder nor sail’ with Mary Clopas & Mary Salome, they drifted, some say were blown by the winds of heaven, common sense says they would have sailed and landed on the coast of France at that place and though the legend says three Mary’s all the artwork there shows two women in the boat, which puzzled me.Staint Maries De La Mer 01.05.1720170502_093503

Some say they carried the Holy Grail itself, some say Mary Magdalene carrying the baby of Jesus is the holy grail and would become the blood line of the kings of France. Things are so clouded these days that it is hard to know what to believe. Only that she was a remarkable woman that has been written out and her true role censored, which is a great pity.

The Gypsy’s come in their thousand each year in pilgrimage to venerate her and call her St Sarah, though there is also a historical figure called St Sarah Also to pray in front of the black virgin who stands in the corner to the right of the alter in her beautiful colourful ribbon strewn dress. I thought it had to be worth a visit, plus to get there we had to cross a wilderness reserve, what was there to loose

We drove out of town on the D570 that leads the 30 odd km out to the coast, to find a dull windy place full of seaside disappointment and I know that out of season, seaside feeling personally. It was desolate. I parked up and went in search of the church, spied its tower and wandered toward it. the place was so disappointing, but then as I have said I think all things come from within, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind, it was also grey skies and that cold wind swept through the sprawling place, it seemed lifeless and salt worn.Staint Maries De La Mer 01.05.1720170502_105218.jpg

The church itself was pretty enough inside though more like a fortress from the outside, which it had to be due to Saracen and Viking raids back in the 9th century. I sat in there a while closed my eyes up in the apse hoping I would be able to see. I was tired and went very deep and all I could recall was that I seemed to have been handed a bunch of keys. I was puzzled

All the information in there was in French of course so I couldn’t immerse myself. As I came back out, I’m not sure how much longer, I shivered and turned my nose up at all the tacky trinket shops that filled the lanes of the older part of the village, I realized just how lovely Arles was

I shot out of there back across the water logged nature reserve. I’d checked directions and planned to head to the town of St Maxime la Saint Baume where apparently the bones of Mary Magdalene are held in the Basillica de Mary Magdalane. She had apparently lived for 30 years up in the mountains near by there in a cave for after leaving Palestine. Her tomb was discovered made of bricks and tiles, and possibly always been known about, the relics had then been ‘at night and very secretly removed’ to avoid desecration to St Baume on December 6th 710ad. It remained a secret for centuries and would be rediscovered in December 1279 by Charles Salerno. In the marble sarcophagus were found papyrus dated 710 attesting that these were the remains of Mary Magdalene

It was a strange day I was out of sorts not quite sure what sort of lands I had traveled through the day was cold and the road seemed long.

I saw the town from the motorway you couldn’t miss it. The Church towered above dominating the surrounding area. I did my usual drive through and parked up in a supermarket lot then went directly into the basilica. It was so dusty dim and cold. There was building and restoration work being done inside but it seemed derelict and sad, though perhaps it was me again, I’d had some correspondence from that windy harbor in the North of England which had saddened and angered me and I couldn’t shake it off.

Staint Maximin La Saint Baume 01.05.1720170502_135745.jpg

I went down to the crypt where the bones were kept my mind afire with ideas and impressions. Does anyone really cares about a few bones, is there anything holy in an old bone. The proof that Mary was there of course, that in itself and if so that is a remarkable thing. The Bones had recently been DNA tested and are apparently are from a Mediterranean woman of around the age of 50 years old. It could be her. The skull was kept behind a metal gold painted grill, (I’ve added a photo from the net so you’ll get abetter idea of the strangeness of it all) I felt so disrespectful looking upon at that skull and the thy bone or what ever. mary-magdalene-skull-reliquary

To connect with these things you have to spend time and I supposed that this was time spent well, exploration, thoughts provoked, though I didn’t stay long in that dusty derelict place, it’s a shame because within us all is that same thing the medieval minds were trying to convey, it is that that I love about these places.

I then somehow ended up in a McDonalds on the edge of town as I knew the internet connection would be good, no parking hassle and I needed a signal to research a little, the coffee was surprisingly good too, just the job.

I had casually typed the “Cave of Mary Magdalene” into Google and up came the directions to the grotto and was only 30 km away. I toyed with it for a few seconds, but then no doubt, I had to go it was Mary after all.Cave Of Mary Magdaline Nans Les Pins France 01.05.1720170502_175651

It was raining heavily and I thought I must be mental to go walking in it. But I thought I could walk off those feelings that had been stirred up that morning. I’d had had such high ideas of what I would do when I reached the place but all I could do was apologize for brining anger there. Mary is dear to me because of my experiences healing; it’s all I can say, for now. I had come to pay my respects but found myself shaking and pre occupied.Cave Of Mary Magdaline Nans Les Pins France 01.05.1720170502_171539

After quite a steep half hour walk up through the lush ancient forests, I sat in the cave at the back for quite some time hood up and hidden, looking on trying to imagine, if it were true. The existence of a person living there, it seemed obvious enough someone would have done and we idealize these things, but it must have been incredibly hard to live up there, beautiful though it most certainly is, no wonder a person from a warm Mediterranean climate succumbed at around the age of 50. It felt dank and cold, she must have pined, maybe; these are all projections of course, maybe she knew how to keep warm from the inside as I know can be done.Cave Of Mary Magdaline Nans Les Pins France 01.05.1720170502_163410

But that drip drip drip in the cave seemed would wear anybody down and who ever it was who lived there I felt for them. I was also quietly annoyed that they had not let it be, why are all holy sights invaded and altered, alters built, everything re arranged. I understand of course, but it is the absolute opposite of what brought the person there in the first place and if it was Mary there, then even more respect to her.Cave Of Mary Magdaline Nans Les Pins France 01.05.1720170502_165453

After quite a while I quietened, the rain stopped too and I walked back down in a more peaceful frame of mind though the wheels still turning. I wondered what would she do with these feelings. I don’t know where it came from but a thought came

“Anger takes from us, joy puts something in”

The human mind is so impressionable and it is only ourselves that can right the wrongs that seem forced upon us. This I think is the journey, it isn’t instant, we have to feel it or else what would we know? What else is there to explore? We have ourselves and this is the canvas. Others bring things that create molten lava, whilst other create blue skies calm seas and the stars, we all lean to the latter of course, but which is more worthy of our attention, it all comes from within ourselves

On the way down I came upon a tiny little mouse right in the middle of the path, it definitely saw me and let me approach. It just stayed still, pretended I wasn’t there, then it looked up at me, I saw its little heart beating but it stayed where it was. I recalled a reading with my dear friend Carol at her place the week before, the mouse card had come up she’d said

“The mouse eats away at the harvest” she looked at me pointedly and said “You know when you are winding yourself up don’t you” bulls eye.

I looked down at the tiny little creature, apologized, and realized the correspondence was just part of the journey and I would with time attempt to put it right. I thanked the little mouse, told it to take care out there.

I spent that evening laughing at myself sat in McDonalds writing, the wifi connection was good the coffee was excellent I swear, and I sent my very best to the North East I hoped perhaps they’d feel it. Tomorrow Italy, Staint Maximin La Saint Baume 01.05.1720170502_142629

Dear Mary, thank you. x

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