|The pilgrim from Canada|
Working in a library isn’t just about the books, it’s a people role too. There are now many regular faces I look forward to seeing, some each week, often at the same time and on the same day, who have become like friends. Other encounters, likely to be one-offs, are just as remarkable, like this week when I met a pilgrim.
The weather is at last as it should be for this time of year. It’s hot, sunny and it feels like the weight of winter has finally lifted. Our little library is no looker, from the outside at least, and with just one UPVC frosted glass door, opening directly onto the street, no one can see in, give us a wave when passing, or even know we are there. Yesterday, I took the bold step at opening time of unlocking the door and leaving it wide open! A welcoming sign I hoped would encourage people to pop in, and it did. Not only did I see twice as many people than I’d seen the previous afternoon, I also had a special visitor; a pilgrim on the Chemins de St Jacques making his way on foot from Paris to Compostelle in Spain, a 2000km journey he’s planning on completing in 100 days.
Our local town of Melle has been an important rest point for pilgrims on their way to Spain for hundreds of years, so he isn’t the first pilgrim I’ve seen, but he is the first I’ve spoken to. Cleverly using an all-terrain pushchair (just like the one we had for Ed many years ago) means he doesn’t have to carry his backpack, tent or equipment and his sign clearly announces his adventure to the world.
As he used our computer to back-up the photos on his phone, then refilled his water bottles and worked out which road to take next, we chatted, somewhat awkwardly unfortunately, as I found his Canadian French incredibly difficult to understand. His story was a fascinating one as his ancestors had lived just a few kilometres from the library before they set off on an astonishing voyage to Quebec, four hundred years ago. I’d only just been sorting through some of the local area books and had found one all about the history of Quebec, founded in 1608 by Pierre Dugua de Mons, an entrepreneur from Royan and Samual Champlain, an explorer born in Brouage. We have visited both of these places in the Charente Maritime many times over the years as well as the port of La Rochelle which was the gateway to a new life for many from our region.
I took his picture, stamped and dated his pilgrim’s passport with our library stamp and handed over the emergency muesli bar from my handbag as I couldn’t send him away empty handed. He took a selfie with me in it and upon hearing it was my dream to one day follow the Chemins de St Jacques from here to at least St Jean Pied du Port in the Pyrenees, he kindly offered to take my dream with him and release it in Compostelle.
I feel privileged to have met him and especially at such an important part of his journey; the last stop before arriving at the village his ancestors left behind in the 1600’s, and I’ll think of him over the coming days as he walks ever closer to his goal.