I suspect we were the grungiest bunch of people seen in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges in recent times. Traveling in the grungiest jalopies seen (or heard) in its vicinities too. For one, the pilgrims travel on foot (with excellent walking shoes and telescopic walking sticks). Their rain gear and backpacks: first rate. From what we saw of the locals, some favored traipses through the village with a faithful dog and a flock of sheep or resided inside medieval homes in a state of impeccable upkeep and drove cars better described as recent-model vehicles.
The music took them by surprise too. Many of the older residents who came to the concert looked stunned and attentive during the first set. But since they called in some friends to join them for the second set, I gather they found the experience a change from the usual Occitanian choir group or the classical ensemble in from Toulouse. (Although we discovered a fabulous gospel choir during the after-hours part of the evening).
The highlight, singing-wise: two songs inside the cathedral during an improvised stop (too windy and rainy outside, a few pilgrims followed us inside). Exceptional acoustics. For once, we could hear each and every one of the voices. Total harmony.
Four of us left the all night after-hour early (i.e. two AM). For the time being, words fail in describing the home in which we slept – something like a museum, with the old woman who lives there in the role of caretaker of her family’s history.
She was born in that house, she told me as we left. Both she and her husband trained as pharmacists – the source of one of the collections in her home. The old apothecary jars have names like laudanum or ipeca but also opium, cocaine or haschish “*but those were strictly for medicinal purposes then,” she said. This goes without saying.
For non-medicinal purposes, some of the singers brought bottles of rum and I lugged a large six-pack of mineral water. The rest of the spirits were free of charge – which goes part of the way in explaining why musicians may be poor but poor or not, they’re usually well soused and pickled by early morning.
My upstairs neighbor is singing right now. Off-key, as usual. I have some photos to download, some reading in want of doing, some laundry and some scribbled notes to sort through.
Next concert: Tuesday night in Albi. Final week of school coaching for this year.
*Almost forgot: and arsenic too.