Have you ever noticed how many people complain of being alone, of having no one, of being lonely? How is it possible? After all there are now over six billion human beings on this planet and that is just supposing that one has never any company from all the other species who share our common home. How can one ever be alone? Just today I was sitting at a table on the porch of a restaurant and before I knew it a tiny bright green spider had decided to join me. He was quite happy to watch me eat and didn’t seem at all frightened that all this leaning forward and spooning something into my mouth seemed to take place right over his head. When I opened my book and began to read he really got interested and crawled right up on the page to read along with me.
Then the waitress came and smiled. We know each other quite well because I eat there every Tuesday when I come to see my English-American Osteopath in Navarrenx. I ordered my first dish and then inquired about which second dish she would recommend. She immediately said the pork stew so I nodded in agreement and ordered that one. It is so pleasant to have someone to discuss the menu with before making choices, especially when that ‘someone’ has inside information. When the dish came, a while later, I was delighted to see she had suggested the right one for me as I could see a portion of the other dish on an adjoining table and it looked rather dry.
All through the first course, which was a Basque pâté with accompanying salad and a hot, crisp roll of bread, Monsieur Spider and myself continued reading the thick, impressive-looking French novel I am presently enjoying. I found myself getting distracted from the print by the absolute bright-greenness of his abdomen and the perfection of his eight tiny legs which seemed to delight skimming over the print from one side to the other. It actually wasn’t till the waitress came with the second course that the spider decided he had had enough and leapt from the table, swinging downwards on his silken thread until he reached the ground and disappeared. I smiled. What better company for a lunch in the village.
I set my book aside in order to tackle the stew with total relish and at that moment noticed three men talking in a lively manner at a nearby table. They had obviously finished their meal and were enjoying coffee and brandy. They were all way past middle age –especially one who looked to be around my age, in other words, pushing seventy hard-, had sun burnt faces and seemed to have just bathed and changed clothes for they had that spick and span look. One noticed Salomé and immediately told me that he had two dogs at home. I asked where home was and it turned out they were from Switzerland and on their way to Compostela (which literally means Field of Stars). My ears perked up immediately. Salomé –ignorant of the fact that we are training to do the Camino– continued staring up at me in hopes that some of the delicious smelling stew would soon be coming her way. One of the men spoke Spanish so half in that language and half in French, I began gleaning information about their trip. Bits and pieces were useful. I learned that they took a week off of their respective jobs (which were all to do with running hotels) to walk 250 kilometers a year until completing the way to Santiago de Compostela. They had done the whole route already twice and were on their third trip. This was exciting. There was no doubt that life was sending me a message. If he (the one with white hair and an abundance of wrinkles) could do it, why not me? Then I got a useful piece of information:the one I considered my contemporary did not carry his knapsack but rather had it sent ahead by taxi, something one could have done at each hotel or hostel where one stayed. Aha! Good idea. I wondered if I would meet them on route the following year. As they were leaving, the one that spoke Spanish advised me not to say that I “wanted” to do the Camino, but that I was “going to do” the Camino. Ok. Done! As far as it depends on me, I am going to do the Camino.
My new friends went the way of the spider and left me to enjoy the stew. For a while I had been eating just with the company of Salomé, who doesn’t talk much but does look at me beseechingly through the whole meal, when a fly decided to drop in (literally) and try my dish. It obviously was not the wisest thing to do, I think she realized as she found herself floundering around in the soupy stuff. There was no doubt that my new luncheon guest was going to end up being part of lunch if I didn’t rescue her, so in spite of disapproving looks from a neighboring table –who were as unaware of my sudden visitor as they had been of the first one- I dipped my napkin in the stew and fished the drowning fly out. She was grateful, and after cleaning her tomato-soaked wings, she flew off to less dangerous meal invitations.
As I was finishing off the stew, which I shared generously with Salomé who never took her eyes off of me, a couple came and asked the waitress if it was not too late for lunch (it was 2pm where in France the kitchens generally close at 1:30). They were invited to take a seat and promptly served. After about ten minutes, they noticed Salomé and began commenting on what a nicely groomed dog she was (she went to the toilettage yesterday, French for dog-hairdresser) and asked what breed she might be. I went into my usual explanation, pronouncing schnauzer in French: schnoooozzzerrr, and adding that they came in three sizes: giant, medium and small, the latter corresponding naturally to what they were admiring. We went on to have quite a nice chat –in French, mind you, of which I was pleased- during which I learned that they were from northern France but the wife was actually Bearnaise as she had been born in Salies. We rapidly congratulated each other on our good taste, she for having been born there and me for living there. It was as pleasant as if I had purposely invited them to lunch.
As I had finished and had to get to my osteopath appointment, I paid my bill and bid everyone good day. It is so wonderful to know so many people and creatures to share my meals with, especially in a town that I only visit on Tuesdays. Now, just tell me: how could anyone be lonely?