Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lourdes: a re-visitation (part 2)

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes-003Behind the façade of the grottoplex is the grotto itself – a small indentation in the rock at ground level with a non-animatronic Madonna stuck up high to represent Bernadette’s 1858 vision.

Before you reach that there is a low row of taps (most out of service) dispensing the miraculous waters from the spring which is now protected by a sheet of glass. Visitors queue up to fill up their containers with Lourdes water to dispense miracles at home. I was hoping for a car-wash to help out the old Zafira as it lumbers around Gascony. Air-borne pilgrims are now forbidden to bring their water containers onto the plane, which probably leads to some interesting sights of outraged pilgrims guzzling or bathing in their cargo at the Pyrenees airport.

After the grotto, there are rows of metal carts with burning candles and then a set of metal queuing corrals guiding people who want to bathe in the waters. I couldn’t quite see where they bathed – it all had the appearance of entering the change rooms for a dilapidated municipal swimming pool.

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes  2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes-005
Retracing our steps we took a quick swig from one of the miracle water taps – in lieu of any drinking fountains. Even though my hand got wet, it did nothing for my chafed knitting fingers.

We paid a quick visit to the Crypt and Upper Basilica. The former is a small space lined with plaques acknowledging “spiritual favours”. A side-room has this small gold vessel that claims to have “fragments taken from the body of Bernadette in 1925”. It’s a cheery old place.
Madonna looking over my shoulder at the grotto

As we left the outside temperature dropped another five degrees, so we took momentary refuge in a row of gift shops, warmed by neon and enclosing panels of tea-towels decorated with shepherdesses and Pyrenean Mountain Puppies.

Bits of Bernadette  P1080044

It was now time to go looking for tonight’s concert venue “Auditorium Padre Pio”. The site maps of the booking agencies using this venue neglected to provide a map to it or the “Cité Saint Pierre” in Lourdes where it is located. Neither of them are listed on my GPS or Google maps.

The booking agency emailed me a written paragraph description which seems to assume a familiarity with Lourdes streetscape and gives roundabouts names which aren’t on the maps. I could see the venue noted on a street map in the city and took a photo to consult later. It wasn’t going to be easy because most of the streets leading towards the area of the venue were temporarily(?) blocked off to traffic.

Back in the car, we tried to follow the instructions sent by the agency and finally saw a road sign at a five-way intersection pointing rather unhelpfully into a building, and not to any particular road we could follow. We drove in a big circle for a while trying to see if any of the close-by roads had further signage. None of them did, so we got back to the original sign and followed the road it pointed away from. Eventually we found ourselves up a hill and some small printed cardboard signs from the event organisers showing the last past of the journey for anyone lucky enough to have got this far. It was now dark and we were now a bit “off the grid” for road-signage or street lights, which gave me pause for thought: would the concert might be very poorly attended? Had it been cancelled?

Finally after a few steep twists and turns, we pulled into into what I took to be the Cité Saint Pierre, the entrance blocked by a manned boom-gate. The attendant told us the site wouldn’t be open for another two hours. I asked him if there was anywhere to eat there and he told us there wasn’t.  I mentioned how difficult the site was to find, and informed him that the one sign leading here from the main road was pointing in the complete opposite direction. He found this rather hilarious, saying it had happened before. It must be someone playing tricks as it’s a big arrow that doesn’t look like it would turn in the wind.

There wasn’t much we could do at this point other than mark our location on the GPS and go back into Lourdes to look for some dinner.  This was rather frustrating as well – although there were a number of cafes and restaurants open, it took some searching to find one that served food before 7pm. Our concert was at 8.30 with free seating in the venue, so I wanted to make sure we had enough time to eat, get back to the car and then to the venue in time to get decent seats. Eventually we found a pizza place that was serving food, and got were able to sit somewhere warm, relax and eat.

1 comment:

  1. Lesley8:00 pm

    We vowed never to return to Lourdes. Depressing and, if you are a believer, the place of last resort. The tackiness is dreadful and the public lavatories unspeakable.
    In summer the Pyrenees are wonderful. Pity about Lourdes being so close!

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