Travelling through the Lot and Gironde in divine weather, unseasonal for early September, was a pleasure. A landscape of vineyards, sunflowers and fruit trees, the panorama from the terrace of the gite, Moulin de Vent, where we dined alfresco and drank the produce of the region as the sunset on most evenings of our vacation.
Driving south to Carcassonne the road signs warned of slow lanes for heavy vehicles, ‘vehicules lourds’ while the destinations offered Toulouse, Tarbes, and Lourdes, where a heavy presence of Catholic pilgrims can be found in all seasons. This Mecca, oops, Lourdes is the worlds most visited shrine for miracle seekers able bodied or disabled. For the blind, the deaf and dumb, crippled or gullible, this is the place.
Las Vegas has bling and a promise of riches in this life, Lourdes offers miracles and blessed bling to ease the passage through this ‘valley of tears’ to the heavenly home: Glow-in-the-dark icons, alabaster statues, water bottle virgins, Grotto mints, onyx rosary beads, Monopoly, featuring the Stations of the Cross, and Holy Water Utility. Oh yes I’ve been there.
My favourite aunt, who was crippled from childhood, was a regular visitor to the shrine and the healing promise, returning home with a treasure chest of Catholic paraphernalia but no miracles. Maybe her devilish sense of fun, gambling for pennies and sneaking cigarettes with us kids, and telling fireside stories of cloven-hoofed strangers while puffing on a mother-of-pearl cigarette holder barred her from divine intercession.
So my visit to Lourdes, though brief, was in solidarity with my aunt whom I knew had crossed these streets and been wheeled along the Boulevard de Grotte to the Basilica and the revered site. The abiding image that replays when I think of that visit is the single file line moving slo-mo, passing into the Grotto and each to a man, woman, and child raising a hand to touch the rock.
Animism is alive and well in the Catholic Canon.