Exquisite Sounds

Carcassonne – The End

Thurs. 27/9. Our day of departure. We weren’t due to fly out of Toulouse until late that night. After a lie in, and discovering we could leave our luggage in the casa until the afternoon, we wandered back across the footbridge to the Citadel. The slope was easier to handle than the steep steps, and it was good to find ourselves back in familiar surroundings as we emerged from the Porte d’Aude into the square bordered by the Hotel de la Cite and the Basilique Saint-Nazaire.

artworkI wanted to buy some postcards, and there were convenient public toilets nearby. The Theatre was closed, so we entered the Basilique and sat at the back of the empty church. Four Russian singers, dressed in sombre black, were performing, unsmilingly, against the background of the stained glass windows. Exquisite sound filled the building. A prayerful chant – the Kyrie Eleison – followed by Ave Maria solo in falsetto voce which made my spine tingle. We stayed to meditate for a few minutes, then emerged into the bright sunlight for a walk anti-clockwise round the little city. Cobbled streets, many eating places, intriguing touristy gift shops. The French are versatile in the variety of their trinkets. I restrained myself. I was here for the experience, not for the shopping. But I did buy a couple of keyrings for my daughter back home.

We passed by the two ancient wells and in no time were at the Porte Narbonnaise. We sidestepped the queues of tourists waiting to enter the Chateau and the inner ramparts; we’d been there for our wine-tasting.  We bought ice-creams at a highly recommended shop and sat on a low wall facing the Basilique, savouring our cornets. A gathering of people were trooping into the church so we followed, taking front pews this time. Carrie-Ann delved into her bag for her mobile, and she gasped. Her purse with the mobile was not there. She spilled the contents of the bag over the pew between us. Nothing.

“I must have left it on the wall; maybe someone picked it up and gave it in at a nearby shop.”

“You go and look for it,” I said. “I’ll keep an eye on your bag.”

The quartetThe gigantic stained-glass windows rose above me. The Russian quartet gathered in the front pew opposite. The church was almost full. Carrie-Ann had not returned. The man took their stand in a stolid line facing the congregation. Carrie-Ann came back, a broad grin on her face.

“You found it?”

She nodded. “Someone had handed it in to the nearby shop.”

“Thank God!”

Heavenly voices chanted in Latin and once more the Ave Maria filled the building. The men retired to the pews after a short appeal to the audience to buy their CD. I watched them. Not even when the tourists bought CDs, did they smile. We stayed on for ten minutes to listen again, this time to different pieces.

Not a quiver of emotion passed over their faces.

“They must be quite bored doing this all day, every day, every ten minutes – or maybe they’re immersed in the spirit of their performance…?”

We were hungry.

“Let’s give that pizza restaurant a chance,” I said. “The one which turned us away on Tuesday.”

We felt we belonged, as we easily found the place and ordered a pizza to share between us. The waiter was lethargic, and when it came to issueing the bill, he seemed reluctant. The pizza did not rise to the standard of Katy’s one in the Bastide the day before. Neither of us felt like tipping him.

It was time to go down the hill again, collect our luggage and trundle it to the station. On the way out of the Port d’Aude we saw the little train-shuttle crawling at snail’s pace down the rough pathway. I’d thought of taking it earlier, to save my weary legs, but was glad we’d decided to walk instead.

I needed to post my cards to the family, so Carrie-Ann used her mobile to guide me expertly to the post office. But the battery gave up as we headed towards the train station. She knew the way, she said, and I followed her blindly as we tramped an extra mile round three sides of a square…

Oh well – we caught an earlier train than planned and were in good time to take the shuttle to Toulouse airport. A seasoned traveller now, I checked my case into the handsfree bag drop, no problem, and we had a smooth flight home.

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