Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Harrowing Journey, à la Sixteenth Century

Welcome to all those traveling today on the rounds of Angela Nickerson's Blogapolooza! Angela asked the thirty or so bloggers participating to recount a strange or scary travel journey. Try as I might, I could think of no harrowing journey of my own to share, so I decided to borrow one from Marguerite de Navarre . This is the opening to Marguerite's book of tales, The Heptameron (published in 1558, although composed during the 1540's). Flooded inns, washed-out bridges, drowned companions, lame horses, murderous bandits, hungry bears: it's enough to make one more than grateful for the comforts and relative safety of modern travel.

"On the 1st of September, when the baths of the Pyrenees begin to have efficacy, several persons from France, Spain and other countries were assembled at those of Cauterets, some to drink the waters, some to bathe in them, and others to be treated with mud; remedies so marvelous, that patients given over by physicians go home cured from Cauterets. [...] [A]s they were preparing to return home, there fell such excessive and extraordinary rains, that it seemed as though God had forgotten his promise to Noah that he would never again destroy the world with water. The houses of Cauterets were so flooded that it was impossible to abide in them. [...] [T]he French lords and ladies, thinking to return to Tarbes as easily as they had come from it, found the rivulets so swollen as to be scarcely fordable; and when they came to the Béarnese Gave, which was not two feet deep when they crossed it on their way to the baths, they found it so enlarged and so impetuous that they were forced to turn out of their direct course and look for bridges. These, however, being only of wood, had been carried away by the violence of the current. Some attempted to break its force by crossing it several together in one body; but they were swept away with such rapidity that the rest had no mind to follow them. They separated, therefore, either to look for another route, or because they were not of the same way of thinking...

"[A] widow of long experience, named Oisille, resolved to banish from her mind the fear of bad roads, and repair to Notre Dame de Serrance. [...] She met with no end of difficulties; but at last she arrived, after having passed through places almost impracticable, and so difficult to climb and descend, that notwithstanding her age and her weight, she was compelled to perform the greater part of the journey on foot. But the most piteous thing was that most of her servants and horses died on the way, and that she arrived with one man and one woman only at Serrance, where she was charitably received by the monks.

"There were also among the French two gentlemen who had gone to the baths rather to accompany the ladies they loved than for any need they themselves had to use the waters. These gentlemen, seeing that the company was breaking up, and that the husbands of their mistresses were taking them away, thought proper to follow them at a distance, without acquainting any one with their purpose. The two married gentlemen and their wives arrived one evening at the house of a man who was more a bandit than a peasant. The two young gentlemen lodged at a cottage hard by, and hearing a great noise about midnight they rose with their varlets, and inquired of their host what was all that tumult. The poor man, who was in a great fright, told them it was some bad lads who were come to share the booty that was in the house of their comrade the bandit. The gentlemen instantly seized their arms and hastened with their varlets to the aid of the ladies, holding it a far happier fate to die with them than to live without them. On reaching the bandit's house they found the first gate broken open and the two gentlemen and their servants defending themselves valorously; but as they were outnumbered by the bandits, and the married gentlemen were much wounded, they were beginning to give way, having already lost a great number of their servants. The two gentlemen, looking in at the windows, saw the two ladies weeping and crying so hard, that their hearts swelled with pity and love, and falling on the bandits like two enraged bears from the mountains, they laid about them with such fury, that a great number of the bandits fell, and the rest fled for safety to a place well known to them. The gentlemen having defeated these villains, the owner of the house being among the slain, and having learned that the wife was still worse than himself, despatched her after him with a sword-thrust. They then entered a room on the basement, where they found one of the married gentlemen breathing his last. The other had not been hurt, only his clothes had been pierced and his sword broken; and seeing the aid which the two had rendered him, he embraced and thanked them, and begged they would continue to stand by him, to which they assented with great good-will. After having seen the deceased buried, and consoled the wife as well as they could, they departed under the guidance of Providence, not knowing whither they were going.

"[...] They were in the saddle all day, and towards evening they descried a belfry, to which they made the best of their way, not without toil and trouble, and were humanely welcomed by the abbot and the monks. The abbey is called St. Savin's. The abbot, who was of a very good house, lodged them honorably, and on the way to their lodgings begged them to acquaint him with their adventures. After they had recounted them, he told them they were not the only persons who had been unfortunate, for there were in another room two ladies who had escaped as great a danger, or worse, inasmuch as they had encountered not men but beasts; for these poor ladies met a bear from the mountain half a league this side of Peyrchite, and fled from it with such speed that their horses dropped dead under them as they entered the abbey gates; and two of their women, who arrived long after them, reported that the bear had killed all their men-servants. The two ladies and the three gentlemen then went into the ladies' chamber, where they found them in tears, and saw they were Nomerfide and Ennasuite. They all embraced, and after mutually recounting their adventures, they began to be comforted through the sage exhortations of the abbot, counting it a great consolation to have so happily met again; and next day they heard mass with much devotion, and gave thanks to God for that he had delivered them out of such perils." (Excerpted from Walter Kelly's online English translation)

Several other of the original companions at the baths show up at the abbey, after having endured similar adventures; while waiting the twelve days necessary to construct a new bridge, the group amuses itself by telling and discussing tales of love--a most excellent activity for those inevitable dead hours that occur on every trip. If you're not one for telling tales yourself, you can read Marguerite's next time you're stuck in an airport somewhere. I assure you, lost luggage or a cancelled flight will no longer seem like a "harrowing travel adventure" when you're through.

A big thank you to Angela for inviting me to take part in her Blogapalooza. Be sure to visit her fabulous travel and book blog, Just Go!, and register for one of the three marvelous goodie bags she's giving away. You'll also find links to all the other blogs participating in the party. Please visit as many as you can and comment. I'm sure you'll be adding several of them to your blog roll.

Bon voyage!


Karen K. Kennedy said...

Yikes! And here I thought indoor plumbing was the greatest invention of our time. I'm changing my mind to civilized modes of travel.

Check out my blogapalooza tale, Donkey with a Death Wish at

sruble said...

Thanks for sharing the excerpt! Love the pumpkins too.

Meredith Teagarden said...

Thanks for the introduction!

Kelly said...

Great excerpt! Thanks for sharing that peek into the past.

Rosemary said...

Wow!! That is impressive!!
How lucky you are to live near HMB.
This was a cemetery in the town, no view. If you look at my post a few down from this one you will see the Moss Beach Distillery picture of orbs.
Happy Halloween,

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Wow, your lead photo of that castle/building/famous place most likely, is so amazing!!!

Rebecca Ramsey said...

It's great to visit you again!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks to everyone who visited during the Blogapolooza! I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt and I hope you'll return. I enjoyed visiting your blogs, too.