When Meeting Other People Was OK

It’s that time of the month again, when I re-publish a post from our years in France. This one made me sad. It reminded me of times when people could simply be together enjoying each other’s company; where kindness and friendship were easy to demonstrate; and when an affectionate hug was nothing to fear. Kindred spirits. Ah well…

Walking for the Masses

October 10th, 2010

Walking near Mirepoix

The French love walking – as in hiking.  The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre is an immensely popular organisation with all age groups, and with a somewhat younger image than the British Ramblers.  The French walk alone, with friends, in groups such as ours, Les Rando del’Aubo, and …..on mega-rambles.

We first came upon the mega-ramble when our own group went along, a couple of years ago now, on a walk organised by the FF Randonnée Midi- Pyrénées group.  We and about 800 others.  It’s something of a military operation.  Breakfast is offered, refreshments along the route, which has to be signposted beforehand and cleared afterwards.  Photocopied maps are handed out, and when it’s all over, there are exhibits to mooch round, apéros to drink, trophies to award (the oldest walker, the person who’s travelled furthest to participate, that sort of thing).  There’s often a sit down meal on offer too, though not that day.

Interesting, but walking with dozens – hundreds – of others isn’t really our thing. This means we quite often sit out the Sunday walk, because these occasions happen pretty often.

The poster advertising the day

Today, I made an exception.  In France, basic health care is free, but most people chose to top up by insuring themselves with a Mutuelle, which covers all the bits the system doesn’t pay for.  To publicise themselves, and various health charities, the Mutuelles of the Ariège organised a walk near Mirepoix today, and they needed our help.

Early this morning, under the covered market hall in Mirepoix we set up tables, prepared healthy breakfasts (breads, cheese, fruit juices, dried prunes) and registered walkers.  Some people waymarked the route, others acted as marshals, and lots of us got to walk as well. Only 171 walkers today.  Why would we be so public-spirited?  Perhaps this picture tells you why.

Sitting in the main square in the sunshine, enjoying the meal we were offered as a ‘thank you’ for our work earlier. We’d have done it anyway. A good day.

Something else though.  Sitting down with everyone after it was all over, I reflected how far we’ve come.  This week, Malcolm’s been in England, so apart from exchanging English/French conversation on Tuesday for an hour, and enjoying lunch with an English friend on Friday, I’ve spent the rest of my time walking or eating with friends, shopping, singing, going to the gym and all the rest, entirely in French (well, I’ve done some hard labour at home too.  But I only had myself to talk to).  Over two years ago, when we first sat down for a communal meal, we could see people’s eyes glaze with fear as they thought they were going to be stuck with that English couple.  Could we speak French?  Well, yes actually, but both easy chit-chat, and more serious discussion were difficult for us in a noisy group situation.  Today I was happy to be the only foreigner in the group: instead of fearing me, it was ‘Is that chair next to you free?  May I sit with you?’

#Kinda Square

Six Word Saturday

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

43 thoughts on “When Meeting Other People Was OK”

  1. What fun, and I am so envious of your ability to speak other languages. It is a real problem for me thanks to the teaching style of one of my languages teachers. I’d love to be able to do this sort of thing in Portugal, instead i am generally feeling guilty that I am one of those hapless English people.

    Here’s to better times soon when you will be doing this sort of thing again somewhere xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Becky, I feel for you, our friends have gone back to Cabanas this week. They feel safer there! But it’s hard when family and health issues loom large. Am enjoying new baby here but really missing the sunshine. Wet western Pennines near my older daughter but corona hotspot. Keep safe in Winchester.

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      1. I think I’d feel safer in the Algarve too, but as you say there are upside amongst the hot spots and rain with being close to new babies and family 🙂

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  2. I love this, with the sense of community and friendship. I am fortunate to occasionally see friends in the flesh, as well as a ton of zooming, but I REALLY miss my hugs!


  3. What a lovely piece, Margaret! I have the feeling you’re a very easy team player. Not a role I’m comfortable in. Much better at being a loner, despite walking in groups, as I so often do. Not currently, with the new restrictions. Oh, dear… easy comradery.. where will it all end? Enjoy your weekend! 🙂 🙂

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    1. I wouldn’t say I’m that much of a team player. Yes, I enjoy small groups rather than big bands, and these last few months have definitely taught me to be content with my own company.

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      1. Where we lived, the local cycling club used regularly to propose 3 routes. It made us laugh that the only one to be as ‘little’ as 80 km in our foothills-of-the-Pyrenees terrain was for the oldies – ‘Les Ancêtres’.

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  4. And what a beautiful setting, Margaret! I’m more of a Jo in this kind of setting and would be off mooching under those arches with my camera! Though the breakfast might win me over 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to France – I love the conviviality and all that open space!

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  5. A great memory to keep us going. I am missing contact with friends here in the U.K. But am in a bubble to help with new baby. Your posts suggest the same and I am reminded of charity walks in Tavira. Luckily they are still walking in the Sierra, there is a group that tries to keep footpaths open, not quite a mass trespass like Kinder Scout. When it is not raining I find walking near the Pennines rejuvenating.

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    1. Yes, walking, whether with friends or alone, is thoroughly restorative. And we have to work out how to be in Spain in a few weeks so we can enjoy a new Anglo-Spanish baby.

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  6. Yes your post from times past really does underline how fundamental the changes are. Makes me sad too. Great news about the grandchild (to be?) in Spain. I hope that you can find a way to be there.

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  7. This post demonstrates the French love of ‘convivialité’. This is perhaps the hardest thing for many people during these strange times. Here’s to more walks — and friendly gatherings — soon! x

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  8. Ah yes so very poignant especially when we see reports of their big cities with empty streets under nighttime curfews. Somehow I feel all these restrictions must be worse for the French, Spanish and Italians especially when I see your fabulous photo of the al fresco ‘thank you’ meal.

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  9. Even though I’m not one for big groups – I love outdoor meals in good company. And i miss my old life, our old life. When summer returns, it will be so sad if we still cannot do that…and i guess we can’t. You also remind me of how this was possible not so long ago. Sad. I really hope you can go to Spain to see the little one. Difficult times, difficult life. Thank you for a lovely post.

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  10. Oh. Margaret! I do hope you can get to Spain to see your new grandchild when he/she is born! This is such a wonderful post and I am not surprised at you feeling sad and wistful.

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      1. We are (almost) fine, Margaret, thank you. Life is *extremely* dull and dismal. My younger daughter is very unhappy about university lectures/tutorials almost entirely on video-link. My elder daughter is upset at being in lock-down again in Sheffield. My husband is either spoiling for a fight or is feeling unwell; I’m never sure which husband I’m going to get each morning! I hope Malcolm is in good health again and getting the medical care he needs. So many people are not able to see their GPs or get appointments at hospital at present.

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      2. It really is tough all round isn’t it? I feel so sorry for your daughters, and all other young students, denied the university experience they’d expected. And life ain’t much fun for the rest of us either, though luckily we’re both fine thanks. Keep battling on!

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