Exploring Bourges by Couch
It’s 2:50 AM on Friday morning, so I guess technically I’m now writing about yesterday (the 22nd of August)—what a day it was!
I woke up in La Charite-sur-Loire rested from my first night’s sleep in a real bed since Vezelay, which was three days before. So even though I still probably look pretty bad in this photo, just imagine how much worse I looked before I took my first shower and had my first good night’s sleep in days!
After strolling around town for a couple hours and seeing the famous River Loire, I crossed the river by that beautiful 800-year-old bridge, found a shady spot to stand in, and thumbed a ride with a retired couple from Lyon into Bourges, a city literally in the Centre of France—that’s actually the name for this region. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t walk today, read the post before this one. It’s my Camino, I make the rules!
Bourges is steeped in history, even by French standards. Even before the Roman empire it was inhabited, and under the rule of Rome its Latin name was Avaricum. What’s really cool is that there are still signs around town that say Avaricum rather than Bourges—I think that’s an awesome nod to the history of this place, and a testament to the impact the Roman empire had on the entire continent.
If you’ve been keeping up with this blog for the past week or longer, you may have noticed I have a particular affinity for Medieval churches, and Bourges was definitely at the top of my list on the Camino because of St. Etienne, a massive gem of a cathedral about 800 years old. No photos do a place like this justice. When I entered through the side portal on the front (or West End, in Art History-speak) I took a seat and literally stared, mouth ajar, for about 15 minutes at this cavernous, glorious testament to God’s majesty over humanity, and humanity’s majesty over gravity.
After wiping the drool off my face, I ambled around St. Etienne and took my time looking at the immaculate stained glass windows at the far end of the church; most of them are originals and in fine condition. This is a close-up of Joseph’s Dream, where he prophecies 7 good harvests followed by 7 bad ones in Egypt. Besides the Latin inscription that says “IOSEPH SOMNIAT,” you can tell he’s having a dream because just to the left of his head is a small dove, representing the Holy Spirit, sending him dream-waves (or however Portents of the Divine are transmitted). If you spend enough time looking at Medieval dream depictions, you will see how almost every dreamer is in some way physically in contact with the Divine; in fact, usually you see an angel physically touching the dreamer, so this was a bit of a departure from more typical scenes such as this one of the Dream of the Magi at St. Lazare de Autun.
“Alright already!” you groan in revulsion. Fine, enough Art History 101 (for now). Chances are, you’re probably wondering where the part about couchsurfing comes to play. It’s probably one of the luckiest things that’s happened to me so far on this trip. I was walking out of the city toward the local pilgrim’s hostel to check in for the night and had stopped an elderly woman to ask for directions when a guy wearing an MIT shirt interrupted my feeble attempt at French and offered to show me where to go over a beer. Free beer? How could I say no? So we headed to a bar, where Hippo (that’s his nickname, but it’s accented differently than the way you’re probably reading it) told me (in excellent English) how much he loved the Boston Celtics. Funny, when I lived in Boston I was right by where they played! Anyways, we hit it off and he offered to let me spend the night at his flat in the city.
Turns out not only does Hippo have great taste in American cities, but he also has a lovely wife, and they took me out to dinner at a restaurant on the local city square, where I was stuffed with wine, local goat’s milk cheese, tournedos of pork in a Dijon mustard sauce, and crème caramel for dessert.
They also took me on a walking tour of Bourges, and we passed by the cathedral once more. Hippo tried valiantly to find his family’s crest on one of the windows of the cathedral (he is descended from nobility and his family played its part in helping the cause), but couldn’t because it was dark. In my book, anyone who takes in a stranger off the street, feeds them, and then offers them a bed is nobility though. As great as seeing an amazing cathedral like Bourges is, it is even more refreshing to be treated so well by others. Before I sign off and finally go to bed, I would like to remind you—and myself—that being good to other people is paying kindness forward to yourself. So the next time you have a chance to do something nice for a complete stranger, try to do it! You’ll feel better, and so will they
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