Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Villeneuve sur Lot

Last night we had a most unusual evening in Villeneuve sur Lot.

Motoring through the Lot valley to get there we passed through numerous sleepy little towns - populated by Muslims of Arab origin. I was very surprised. I had been expecting to see bucolic farmers hanging drunkenly out the sides of their tractors, not men with beards and full length Arabian dress a la Bin Laden.

Villeneuve sur Lot is remarkably pretty but very run down.


And again, it is dominated by hoardes of Arab youths. While I was standing in the town square a fight broke out right next to me between two youths, egged on by the rest. It petered out and at least, unlike in Glasgow, no weapons were involved. In Glasgow I would have been terrified but here it seemed like a piece of theatre put on by the local tourist board.

The town is dominated by a massive basilica that actually looks like a mosque but is St Catherine's RC Church.

God knows how many bricks it took to build it and why here in this small town. It reminded me of the massive basilica to St Theresa which dominates Lisieux in northern France.



Attended 6.30 evening Mass along with half a dozen other faithful souls.


There is a most lifelike statue to a 19th Century martyr within.


HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT:

All of the local restaurants specialising in regional cuisine were closed - infuriating. So went to a Basque restaurant which was excellent but not what I was looking for.

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Last night's dinner:

Beautiful interior:


The first course was ravioli of foie gras with the Basque equivalent of parma ham - superb.



The main course was an unphotogenic chicken stew.


This was followed by some top-notch shaving foam on a plate smeared with raspberry jam. Excellent.



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Hotels in Villeneuve sur Lot:

Considering its location in the Lot Valley, there were few hotels in the town and all were of the 2 star variety. The one we were recommended was full but the owner pointed down a back street to what I thought was a garage.

Turned out to be a really nice, clean establishment - very, very basic. The tiny room's veranda looked out onto yet another backstreet complete with alley cats, barking dogs and more late into the night Arab communing.

It reminded me of cheap hotel rooms in Paris in the 1960s eg the classic toilet mechanism.


The husband and wife team who ran it were a pleasure to deal with - £24 per night.
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Memoirs of a Dervish:

Anyway, all of the above, the incredible heat, the tiny hotel room with its fan and 30 watt lightbulb, and the continual noise of French Arabs made this the ideal location in which to finish Robert Irwin's Memoirs of a Dervish.

This book is very piece-meal. But I like that attribute. Life, in my experience is piece-meal even though I would dearly love it to conform to some grand pattern.

Irwin makes no great effort to come to any conclusions. He is still glad that he converted to Islam and that he adhered to Sufi practices but he sums things up well, I think, with a quote from one of his old Sufi teachers ( an individual Irwin never seeks to portray as some kind of stereotypical guru):

"Though Islam remains true for me (that is for Irwin), I cannot tell you why it should be  true for you, and, besides, Faid (Irwin's teacher) told me, 'You must not say that you are a Muslim. You cannot know.'"

I think I can steal that observation for my own position as a Christian. "I cannot know."

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Cahors:

Anyway, writing all this in a beautiful hotel room looking over the River Lot in Cahors - a fantastic place. Spectacular scenery on the drive up from Villeneuve and on French Radio a whole hour of Bach partitas etc for the cello - very pleasant.

Look at this fantastic painting from an exhibition we saw today in Cahors.



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