Tuesday, January 4, 2011


January 1 started out damp and heavy. The thick grey blanket would snow on us were it only a few degrees colder. On the 9:10 bus to the train station, everybody is still sleeping. Not a cat out. Not a car on the roads. The town has started the year asleep, and will stay that way the whole day. Boring!

I spent some time online Thursday, figuring where I could get to and back today, and realized I've been to almost all those places. Every stop on the line going west. Every stop on the line east to Lyon, every stop on the line north to Paris, I've stopped at. On the line south to Aurillac, there seems to be one or two opportunities still before having to stay overnight.
Brioude it is. I even have a choice of 4 or 6 hours to wander around. On arriving, I thought ...No!!! I've been here already!! I know this road, this station, the long park, that hotel. I must have changed trains here once, with an hour to kill, because I really have been here before. But the hotel I must be confusing with some other town on the Allier where I spent the night before going on to Langeac, because the center of town is not a place I've been before.

Town, or country first? Country. Ending the day in town I'll be less anxious about making my train home. So I just set off. I don't have a map, and there is absolutely no place open to sell me one, not the least newsagents, so I take a good look at the posted map of town, see that the river is south, and head that way. Go straight until I get to a stream, turn left, and it should be straight ahead.

On the way, there are plenty of old, run-down things to see. This used to be an abattoire open for public use. Not many people slaughter their own animals anymore, so it's been closed for some time. There are signs the township has plans for the site, but it's hard to tell if work has been started and abandoned, or just never started.

A detail.

An old farm. There were some nice ones down the road, and some even more wrecked than this. Everything was sad in the grey silence. I liked the colorful barrels, and approaching, it seemed that people were living there, perhaps looking out at me from the cracks, thinking what the hell is this tourist doing, taking pictures of their life.
Sometimes I wonder that too.
I just find old wrecked stuff to be beautiful. Weathered wood and rusted equipment. Ghosts.

I never do find the river, only piddling streams and some ditches full of water. Seems I turned left a little too much, and went parallel to the river instead of towards it. The clouds were so thick there was no telling by the sun, but they thin out just when I get back to town.
This is the main church, a basilica, that's been here since the 11th century in some form or another. The local saint, Julian, dates from the 4th century.

In the courtyard outside, there are clear signs of major rearrangments. There used to be a thick wall about 10 yards from the building, going around it, keeping it in. These graves used to be inside that protective perimeter.

Inside, about 10% of the original painting is still visible. The cathedrals I've been in where this decoration has been preserved are stunning. The church goes from a cold, stony, echoing, stern and forbidding place, to a place of awe where you just don't notice the temperature and the echos.
About half is done in geometric designs, and the other half recounts the bible and the lives of saints (just as the carved capitals and stained glass windows do - every person there is a particular person doing a particular thing, and you didn't have to be literate to know the liturgy).

Outside again, the day had quite cleared up.

In the old center there's a lot of restoration work going on, and a lot that's finished. This half-timbered house declares to be the original structure from the middle ages. The ones next door may just have a fresh coat of plaster over an old structure, or may have been entirely redone. People who live in these town homes often have gardens 10 or 20 minutes walk away.
Nothing is open. Nothing. I would like to sit down and have a coffee, but no luck. Not even next to the station is there a bar open.
I still have an hour before my train, so I wander off in a new direction. The map shows bits of river over this way, too. This road parallels the train tracks, and the SNCF has all sorts of depots for a kilometer or two. One yard is full of stuff all very clearly numbered. I wonder if that means they're going to put something back together. I hope they have good instructions.

Past that, more farmland. More tree portraits.
Then a random, faded sign. For those who are lost: it's that way.
And now I've seen Brioude.


Argent said...

The light in these pictures gives everything such a melancholy look. Thanks for taking us with you.

steven said...

wow! thankyou for this so very cool walk! i would love to be inside the old church and see the paintings myself. steven

Titus said...

Brilliant post! And oh, oh, ah to the Basilica. Isn't everywhere fascinating?
Somewhat envious of your ability to just take off, and full of admiration at your surviving so long without a hot drink. I start crying if I don't get a cup of tea each hour.

Bagman and Butler said...

I'm so envious that I'm almost inspired! I can't remember the last time I took a day and just marched off to someplace I'd never been to explore it. Wonderful walk about.

NanU said...

yes, Titus, exactly! Everywhere is fascinating, and I want to go see it. Though not if it's raining.

jabblog said...

I know I would just get lost . . .