Tonight, on the advice of Mirinda’s little friend, we headed to possibly the most unsavoury part of France we’ve yet encountered. According to Mirinda’s little friend, there was a department store open till 10:30pm in this shopping centre. Well, Mirinda’s little friend knows bugger all about department stores, sending us to what can only be described as a labyrinthine car-park from hell.
In fact, the most interesting part of the whole (mis)adventure was our witnessing of the Flunch Frenzy. This obviously begins at about 9pm when hordes of teenagers descend on Flunch (it’s a bit like Sizzler in that you serve yourself and get something that tastes like food) and start to queue like rabid ducks. In the short space of time it took us to walk to the end of the shopping centre to be told by the Department Store Bouncer that it was closing, to wind up back at the entrance to Flunch, the group of buzzing teenagers had attained swarm proportions.
We left as quickly as we could. You seriously do not want to get caught up in a Flunch Frenzy. Not if you value your life. Speaking of which…being a nun before the turn of the first millennia wasn’t for the faint hearted, I can tell you!
Back in the 8th century, a chap called Girart of Roussillon decided to open a convent on the top of an old Roman Villa in a place that would eventually become known as Vezelay. The convent was raided, looted and dispersed by Moors. Not to be defeated, Girart managed to find another bunch of nuns and built a second convent. This one was burnt by Norman raiders. I think he gave up then.
Move a century or so ahead and Badilio refounded the convent on the site and that one lasted until July 22, 1120 when, during the major pilgrimage of the year, god, clearly upset, burnt the place down, killing about 1,000 people who probably still believed god was good. This was Mary Magdalen’s feast day so maybe it was one of her miracles. In fact, the reason the pilgrims were there was because, apparently, there were some old bits of Mary housed there.
Now this is interesting. It seems that after Jesus did his eventual trip to heaven after refusing to die properly shtick, Mary and some others, wound up in Provence. Maybe they liked lavender, or Impressionism, I really don’t know but it seems that’s what happened. Then she died. Bits of her were cut up and distributed to various holy places around France, the convent at Vezelay being one of them.
And there’s still a bit of her there. I’ve seen it. It looked a bit like a very old piece of half a colon; a semi-colon if you will…though, these days, the Basilica is better known for its capitals.
I didn’t see the point in photographing an old bit of human gristle, so opted for these dudes who are carrying the oversized glass box that houses it. Glass box? Maybe it’s waiting for a princely kiss to reawaken the penitent Mary? Wouldn’t that be something?
Ignoring my nonsense (for a moment), the Basilica at Vezelay (incidentally, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is an amazing building. Mostly because the temperature plummets as soon as you walk through the front doors. This was a very good thing today given the temperature was over 38 degrees today…40 by the time we reached St Ay on the Loire.
We visited the basilica with Lisa, Jack and the kids before we parted company (we’re planning to meet up for dinner tomorrow night at Blois). It was, like yesterday, another place I’d never heard of before this trip and yet it seems so important. Pilgrims (the ones that survived the Great Conflagration of 1120) walk through it all the time on their way to Spain.
It was rather sad bidding them all farewell having spent such a delightful time together at Les Roches. Incidentally, Les Roches was built in 1901 by a judge called Mr Perrot for his mistress, whose name I have been unable to find. Still, here’s what she looked like:
So, having wandered around and through the basilica admiring the carved stone capitals…
…we parted company but not before planning to meet up for dinner tomorrow night in Blois which, we discovered, is equidistant from the two places we’re staying at for the next few nights. Coincidence? Perhaps. Anyway, we then headed off for the strangely unpleasant St Ay.
On our journey we saw the beginnings of a fairy story. Two huge trucks were stopped just off the motorway, one driver returning to his rig. One of the trucks was carrying a load of hay while the second had great massive tree trunks. I wondered if they’d lost the chap hauling the bricks and were concerned that one of the pigs might be upset.
We arrived at our B&B and, like two Magnums left in the sun, we melted into our room.
And, just to finish on an unearthly note, here’s a bit of sculpture from the Basilica. I think he (or she) looks quite Egyptian.