Monday, July 14, 2008

July 11, 2008 – The Golden Statue of Conques to Marmotel in St. Geniez

I started my day early in Conques, arising before 8 to start my packing before breakfast. Each morning, we have breakfast in camp, which consists of cereal, freshly cut fruit, an assortment of “du pain” (French for bread – my favorite pain chocolate, which is a croissant with chocolate chunks). There is a coffee press and I have a small cup or two each morning. I am eating a surprisingly large quantity of food now, and still my pants are starting to sag.

After breakfast, I rode up the very steep hill into Conques. My legs were still feeling fatigued, but I knew that the ride for the day was only 50-some miles. My bottom was also still sore, and since I didn’t have any saddle cream, I used what I had available – Vick’s Vapo-rub. It does have the side effect of making everything feel mentholly stimulated, but I’d rather have a little invigoration than chaffing along the creases of my legs.

The streets of Conques are made of stone – as are lots of the streets in these medieval cities – making it difficult to ride on. I parked my bike, locked it, and headed to the museum of St. Foy. The lady asked me something about the Chemin of St. Jacques. Thanks to Dominique, I knew what she was saying and said, “Oui.” Apparently she was asking me if I was following the path and gave me a discount to the museum – 4 Euros.

The first part of the display included old stone fragments and tapestries. The tapestries were interesting in terms of their depictions of religious scenes, but I soon lost interest and wanted to see the golden statue of St. Foy.

The statue and relics of Ste. Foy – a 13-year-old Christian martyr from the 3rd Century – were originally in Agen, France, where Foy lived. They were moved in 866 to Conques..

Ste Foy (Faith in English) was a young girl who was a devout follower of Jesus. She was very concerned with the poor people, and she would take food from her home to give away. Her dad suspected that she was doing this, and one day, he asked her to show her what she had, knowing very well that she had taken food.

She proclaimed that she had flowers, and the food had turned to flowers, one of the many miracles chronicled about the girl. These sorts of incidents were frequent and became known as Foy’s little jokes.

Foy was turned in to the Roman soldiers for her Christian faith – which was beginning a new level of persecution. Foy refused to worship the pagan goddess Diana saying she would rather suffer any kind of torture and death. She was eventually beheaded.

The next part of the museum was called the treasure of Ste. Foy. It is claimed to be one of the five greatest medieval gold plated treasures in Europe. The highlight for me was a large statue of Ste. Foy that was made of gold, gems and enamel. It reminded me of a Hindu Goddess statue rather than a Christian saint statue. Astonishingly, the statue also contains a piece of Ste. Foy’s skull encased within the golden head.

The room was darkened to preserve the treasure, and there was a hush in the voices of others speaking. I stood near the statue for a while, and contemplated the greatness of a young girl who would risk everything to stand by her beliefs.

After the museum, I took a moment to relax and reflect in a beautiful open air space with a large cross. I said another prayer for my safety and my missing cat. Before I left town, I also checked my Internet and had a café au lait. By noon I was out of Conques and on the road toward St. Geniez.

This was a day of climbing and riding. I stopped only for water and a fruit break. I rode slower than usual, but made it to St. Geniez by mid-afternoon. I was hungry since I hadn’t stopped for lunch, so I decided to go to town before finding the campground. As I was pedaling around, I saw a dusty town square and on top were a bunch of men playing what appeared to me to be bocce ball – although I had never actually seen anyone play the game before. I parked my bike and walked toward the game, sitting near the men. They eyed me suspiciously; I got the feeling they were thinking, What does she want? I held my ground and asked them what they were playing.

“Petonque,” said one of the men.

I had them repeat it for me several times and then write the word down. Soon they were laughing at my lacking French language skills and called over one of their friends who spoke some English. He had learned English 50 years ago in India, he told me, but didn’t have the opportunity to practice much in St. Geniez, France. I asked him if it would be OK if I took photos – he said to go ahead.

I spent the next half hour capturing the men at play and watching the game intensely. It was truly a town meeting center.

Following the game, I found a bar with a boulangerie (bakery) next door. I bought some pain with cheese and ham (like a pizza) and a cookie and then walked to the bar, ordered a glass of red wine, and sat down to watch the tour.

At about 5, I left for the campground – called Marmotel. I thought it was odd that a camp would be named after a marmot – and I knew I had to ask about the origin of the name before I left the next day.

Total miles: 55

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