Paris-Jerusalem, walking (by sea)

Worked out original pictures from the journey.

Pictures of differents sights and works of art, downloaded from internet.

Texts: excerpts from ‘Paris-Jerusalem, walking – the metallic order’

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(Pictures are not subjected to rights in Ecuador. Works on pictures: Sonja Kasten)

Getting ideas

It’s not that easy to walk down from Paris to Jerusalem, even, yes, even if it looks quite easy if you just see some marks on a map making you forget there are cold winters and very hot summers, among many other things once you have put your bag on your shoulders.

You don’t remember everything, either, and it is perhaps better like that, because the present gives some strange perspective on the past which, certainly, does make you forget the most boring aspects of a journey. There are, too.

How did it thus happen that we finished by crossing Turkey in the middle of the winter with roads looking more like ice racetracks than like human means of physical transportation?

It’s true that it was more an accident, as it usually happens in my more than troubled existence, which, in itself, kept perhaps the logic of the whole path for the seven months it lasted. In fact I had known a French, FC, of Spanish origins, while I was teaching several languages at Berlitz, Marne La Vallee, during my first year of stay in Paris. She said she wanted to get to know Spain, which she didn’t, and I told her it was perhaps a good idea to travel through the old path of Saint Jacques in order to get to know at least the north of Spain. She ‘engaged’ me thus as travel guide and we left for Saint Jacques (with a car!) that summer.

I don’t remember very much about that journey only that I was very jealous about all those people walking down roads and hills, some walking some on a bike, and it seemed quite attractive to me as holyday possibility, for the year after.

The year after I was at University. I thus convinced some University mates (I’m very persuasive) to try the Saint Jacques path walking even if as little myself as the others had ever done anything such. From the Pyrinees to Saint Jacques there were about 800 km and this was about a month walking, I calculated virtually as having little idea about it all. Finally, Maxime Catroux, Clotilde Bonhomme and David Prudhomme were ‘engaged’ into the adventure, although David Prudhomme would arrive much later and, together with Clotilde Bonhomme, would leave a little earlier, at León.

It was very hot and heat does trouble our mind with incredible easiness. Luckily we had met some Spaniards on the way, Conchi Fernandez and another, so that we wouldn’t finish the path all alone by ourselves.

We made everything wrong, especially myself. In fact, it was already quite a miracle that we arrived after a lot of sunburns and twisted knees and other, but we did. As the Saint Jaqques path was already, and would become even more, a quite beloved destiny of vacation and spiritual meditation, it was already then marked like a GR, with little yellow flags all over and some shelter at the arrival which was carefully kept by villagers and churches as a hundreds of years lasting tradition.

It was during this quite stressing (I must admit) recognition of my very limited resources in things of walking, that, almost at the end, but, as I say, heat does somewhat disturb mental resources, I thought of trying some way down to Jerusalem after having finished University. To walk does make you see things differently – it is as if thought worked all alone inside of unknown realms of soul and progressively you finish by knowing things you’d have never thought of before. And it was already obvious that 4 years of University would need as long a path as one arriving to Jerusalem in order to be worked out, idea which thus – after all – didn’t seem as incongruous after a second thought.

I was said I was completely crazy (which was to be expected) and then, I’d forget with time, but I’m very stubborn and although I did for a long while as if I had forgotten such project, I continued secretly to work on my plans which would be to start, how to convince anyone of participating to such an adventure. (As said, I’m very persuasive.) During the last year at University – but this because I had already managed to get some beautiful maps from the Bibliotheque Nationale, which, I knew, had an appalling power of seduction – there were already 5 or 6 people more or less interested, who, it’s obvious, would not but surrender definitely to the visualization of these horribly beautiful maps.

In fact, I maintained for a long time that I’d do it alone and I didn’t care very much, and this looked like the most persuasive argument of all, as it was evidence that the perspective someone may so proudly claim to have done such a thing alone was reason enough to move hidden forces and resources in general national and international unconscious which led finally to the following staff: from University, Clotilde Bonhomme and Gregory Leurent, as well as Isabelle Rose and Maxime Catroux said, she would join as later, from Spain, the doctor already Conchi Fernandez, met at Saint Jacques, FC’s son Emmanuel Castro, who knew some people in Barcelona as he was going to school there and who managed to push Oriol Vilaseca into the adventure. And myself. Isabelle Rose, whose endurance I tested myself inviting her to a walk in the whereabouts of Paris, claimed after her knee was ill in order to justify hers staying back.

In fact, even while walking down to Jerusalem, you stay as wicked as any common mortal and hide away inside of such projects vile ideological convictions, reason why I took greatest care no one, but really no one would ever make the whole complete path except of myself. Accidents helped as much as arbitrary decisions which had nothing but this deep goal nobody would have ever suspected, anyhow, although the protestation some arbitrary measures had been taken was heard, and was up to a certain extent justified, although I never explained the reasons. Thus: Clotilde Bonhomme had some problems with her teeth just before leaving and as (it was rule) nobody was to stay back alone, Conchi Fernandez was obliged to stay back for the few days they’d need in order to solve the matter. Gregory Leurent having some problems with his passport in Vienna, Oriol Vilaseca was obliged (arbitrarily) to stay back and missed most of the path in Hungary. Emmanuel Castro would leave in Istanbul, and the other final members of the expedition, my brother Jorge Kasten and Maxime Catroux, would have joined us only in Istanbul. Even Gregory Leurent came back, but had already missed great parts of Hungary, too.

It’s what I said. It’s not that difficult finally to walk down to Jerusalem, the problem is the organization of such an event, and (I maintained stubbornly), the organization was mine. Consequently, to my own eyes, I was the only one to deserve the crowns falling from heavens (If ever) deriving of the faithful acomplishing of every day’s torture. As no one was finally able to get through this ideological point at once I managed with many arbitrary impositions to reach my goal. That’s it, I thought, what happens while you think the ideological background is another, you’re served your failure at the end, when you can’t complain anymore.

But that was also because I had kept some principles hidden away, just in case. Thus, I knew that the very fact of walking down to Saint Jaques and submitting to a certain number of rituals, among which was, already, the proper filling in of some booklet with the stamps of the different places we had be through we had been given in Saint Jean Pied de Port (if I remember well) and some other (to behave well was not among them, explicitely) had as ecclesiatic consequence the pardoning of many years of sins if not all before and some to come. I thus suspected deeply that the fact of walking down to Jerusalem may have as consequence not only the pardon of all possible sins to come but even some extraordinary freedom concerning virtual misbehaviors, which, don’t say, has some seducing and attracting something as idea which you should never forget while planning an adventure. This though I didn’t tell to anyone, and not being excessively sure of the fact some of those may not finally make some horrible misuse of such (to my eyes) extravagant benignity, I carefully avoided they may not claim for eternal pardon after.

In any case it is true that the very well made pattern of the Saint Jacques path would form the guideline of the Jerusalem adventure: 30 km a day, more or less, shelter to ask for, food on our behalf, a booklet that was to be filled in. And some improvements: rest on Sunday, a week’s rest in Vienna and Istanbul and some better outfit, proper shoes and the kind, teachings from the Saint Jacques path where we had just run away with shoes used in Paris and had almost nothing to protect us from sun or rain.

It’s not that there weren’t deep discussions on the different points and Conchi’s sister, Loli, a very kind nurse who usually made the whole psychological backing for her sister, even asked why not starting without a penny in our pockets and hope someone would give us something to eat. “Don’t tempt angels,” I answered, “Won’t jump from the pinacle just because the devil says.” Answer which was considered as satisfying so that no other questions arose on this subject.

In fact I spent my last University year jumping from my ‘maitrise’ to the map of Turkey as I had the deep suspicion Turkey would be the most difficult part and not only because it would be winter, then. A Muslim country whose language we didn’t talk, unknown territories without reference. I don’t know why I meant the very fact of studying the map carefully, by counting kilometers with a rule and writing down beside how often we had to turn to the right and to the left, would at least awake the reassuring feeling of knowing the ‘earth’ and people, I must have thought, are propping out of the earth they’re living in.

On top I knew some Turks in Paris and I asked them how it was possible to get some shelter there, and Semiha said “Hospitality is holy in Turkey. You just ask for the muftar.” (Will have to find the muftar first, I thought, understanding that it must be some kind of major.)

In fact, it was obvios that difficulty appeared in increasing ways, which would let us some time to get used to it, progressively. Most of us spoke French and at least I spoke German, which meant we would have no problem of communication in France and Germany. Hungary was a Catholic country we spoke no word of the language, but had still something in common with what we knew. Rumania (as originally planned) was Catholic, too, mainly. Bulgaria was Orthodox, but Christian and the difference was thus slowly increasing without being though excessively disturbing. Finally, a Muslim country, still relatively liberal as far as I could understand it. I wouldn’t be excessively bothered by Israel as it was known as receiving thousands and thousands of foreigners a year and up to a certain extent, must be used to some weird people arriving every now and then asking for everlasting pardon.

It was not sure whether we would go on through Syria or just take a boat to Cyprus. Syria causing too much trouble to our organization (we would have had to go to Ankara for the visa and they were fixed in dates, which we couldn’t warrant) we finally decided ourselves for Cyprus.

The very fixed organization was thus kept in some moving general patterns including the possibility of changes depending on what reality would be imposing on us.

It was not easy to make a turn around democratically organized minds whose republican tradition included the possibility of cutting off king’s heads in order to impose a leadership whose arbitrary decisions were to be obeyed to without discussion. But I knew that it was impossible otherwise. You can’t walk about 6000 km without having to take immediate decisions which you can’t submit to referendum every time and thus, I used of some other trick in order to warrant as much as possible the success of the entreprise: I put the doctor Conchi Fernández as vice president of the organization as responsible for health and subsequent matters and then argued that I was the only one to have finished University. It was strangely accepted without problems and thus, the gray president, myself, was intelligently hiding herself behind the scientific acquisitions of Conchi Fernández.

Learning from Saint Jacques

We had made many mistakes while walking down to Saint Jacques, so many, that I needed almost three years to take a lesson out of it.

I, like all the others, was a born capital dweller who adored even the car smoke and the frightful noise of buses and cars, the full underground at peaktime and the wandering around old buildings and crowded streets. As such I pretended of course I could do almost everything and that necessarily some kind of superiority derived of such a fact which allowed thinking you may walk to Saint Jacques without too much of an effort. It’s true that we used to go to the mountains when we were younger, some kind of weekly family expedition, but we didn’t walk very much. The farest I had walked was about 15 km and this had already seemed exhausting to my understanding which has always had some problem in seeing the need of doing something ‘just because’. To walk without goal was thus categorized as nonesense in my personal evaluation table, reason why I would have never moved myself outside of the city walls without any further reason.

It’s true that I wasn’t excessively weak. Some athletics during my youth had already formed some heavy bones and reliable muscles, but that was already a long time ago and in fact, it was, I admit, quite pretentious to do as if the past was still acting 10 years later. For the others it was even worse. Not even athletics. In any case, without a hat, we got burned already the first day in the sharp cold pyrennean wind, especially myself. Without good shoes, we had all the time some problem with knees and ankles, especially myself. On top, we were stupid. We didn’t even know how many kilometers you make a day, nor when to put pauses in between and we went even that far so as to go on walking in the glaring midday times, almost without water. And blisters were worrying, too.

Our first rural medecine lessons were thus taken here, as there were many people around who had some more experience than ourselves. How do you heel a blister? You need a needle you have to sterilize with fire in order to get the water out of it and then you put some alcohol and some band-aid on it. The next day you feel as new, and ready for the next to come. Then you need necessarily some ‘Voltaren’ when you have some inflammation we were generously offered by some temporary companions who looked horrified when they saw the awful state of my knee.

Then you need to remember your mother’s lessons. Because perhaps the most interesting happening during the whole path was the confrontation between Conchi and my mother’s wisdom almost at the end of the path. We were already alone, Clotilde and David had left. Conchi and her friend Pilar were studying medecine and were to get into the last year after holydays. They were from Zaragoza. Conchi had never any kind of problem. Neither was she tired neither had she blisters nor sunburns. While (after having learned to stop at midday) we fell immediately asleep under some shadow offering tree, she went on with yoga exercises and deeper meditations I used to make some distant fun on. In fact we finished by walking almost together after having met periodically and accidentally all over the way.

A few days before arriving thus, she suffered for the first time of the appearance of one single little blister. She meant to heal in traditional ways. After a while it continued hurting and one day I asked her to show it to me. ‘This is an infection,’ I told her, ‘it is red and hot.’ And she answered: “That there were an 8% possibilities for an open wound not to get infected.” The book said. Well, I thought, perhaps, but this one is infected. I didn’t say anything though, because the book looked horribly convincing and who may have dared saying anything to a medecine student in her last year.

Things became even worse. So much that at the end she couldn’t hardly walk. “Now, go to the doctor,” I said, “be sure we’ll be waiting for you.” In fact she was said she had almost caused herself some infection of the bone marrow. And this (don’t laugh) by a doctor called Dolores del Camino, which, even if you don’t laugh, was the only thing that made us laugh, as her name meant ‘Pains of the Path’ translated into English, which, as combination was perhaps a common Spanish name but had some fun seen the circumstances. She was said to stop walking but she decided to wait a few days and go on walking, and she managed to arrive to Compostela without problem.

This event would mark great parts of my philosophy around pain, injuries and illnesses which would determine most of the decisions to be taken during the way down to Jerusalem. I knew a few things about illnesses which had proved quite correct as I finally stated. And doctors made mistakes, too. I decided that there was something, an ‘x’ that was common to some healthy measures you take, of whatever nature, and this was a good criteria to evaluate even doctor’s sayings. The path’s health was to keep some intelligent balance between common sense and scientific knowledge.

Not that she would have a lot to do, after all, although she almost managed to lead to a definite end some members of the turkish population. In fact, we would only have three problems, except of common blisters and the kind: a knee inflammation after Vienna (mine), some horrible flue in Capadoccia (mine, too), some psychotic crisis in Izmit (Gregory Leurent) and that was all. As she though wanted to save the world (which was parts of our mission) she releaved some tooth pain in Turkey with aspirins in someone who was to submit to some surgery the day after. “Made a mistake,” she said, “aspirins augment the blood flow.” (Should have thought of it before, I thought, may blame us now for causing accidental death among turkish population.)

Hats became thus of obligation and good shoes. Midday obliged to some stop in summer and finally we were to walk more or less 8 hours from 5 or six in the morning to 11 or twelve and then a few hours the afternoon. As heat and hunger do make you nervous and even aggressive, we were to keep some healthy balance of food and water in order to avoid excessive frictions.

In fact you quickly stated one thing: our civilization had cut us off from natural behaviour. Neither did we know to rest nor to feed ourselves, nor to protect ourselves from pain or tiredness. Our superficial manners did disappear very quickly when confronted to physical strain. Two things to be avoided: Maxime Catroux had drunk all water in some lonely Spanish desert without thinking she wasn’t alone. And the behaviour having lead finally to make Clotilde and David leave, was to be avoided, too. How? Davids were not invited to the party.

Who was ‘David’? You need the proper localization of the trouble maker before leaving, after it will be too late. Not that the others weren’t, it is that even common trouble makers submit to some kind of order whenever of need and only some others, some rare specimena, may cause the failure of an expedition because of a determined characteristic. In this case, after having made a vast examination, I concluded that the type said “You haven’t asked for my permission”. My tests did always take the most peculiar turns because in fact you have some intuition without name, without structure, without rationalization. You thus make up a situation born of this intuition in order to get the principle in word of what seems to cause trouble. In this case I planned some improvement in philosophy teaching having as goal to underline more the ability of abstraction in the seizing of concepts, demonstration of theses and building up of systems than in the undetermined study of non evaluated authors. When we (the girl’s party which made already quite a large group) had even written down the proposal, we invited David to a meeting in order to ask him whether he would agree. And he said: “We hadn’t asked him for permission.” Ask for permission for what? I said and asked him kindly to leave. Most men were excluded this way, even Jerome, who may have been tempted. In fact, the disposition inside of a general constitutional frame where equality between men and women was warranted, pretending women had to ask for permission to ‘a’ man, in order to move a finger, was the one categorized as ‘dangerous’ for the expedition – correctly. Only one left who was starting to claim for such pretensions, Emmanuel Castro.

Our men were thus factually no men. Straw men to sell appearance and little more. Or too young then to pretend to more. Gregory Leurent avoided men’s circles because he said “he didn’t want to quarrel all the time like a cock.” Emmanuel Castro was 19 and Oriol Vilaseca was 18. That was our ‘male’ environment. Not that I pretended to build up some feministic club, but to my understanding the general lack of respect to constitutional rights was to be considered as dangerous for an expedition. If you’re not able to submit to your own constitution, how do you want to submit to order in case of danger? Good bye, and think about it twice.

Of course we were said we were all going to die, as usual. Jerome Lafon maintained that, if of need, he would come to our rescue with a helicopter in Turkey, which made me laugh very much (have anything against Turks, the guy?) and even jumped out of a side street the day we were leaving in order to make a last attempt to stop us from our entreprise. I laughed again. “You’ll think of me,” he warned. “Certainly,” I answered, “but I don’t think it will be a nice souvenir.”

They looked jealous, but I didn’t care very much.

What was it then which had impressed my mind so much during the path down to Saint Jacques so as to make the idea of a path to Jerusalem interesting? Not only walking. In fact, if you have to gather all the impressions under one sole name you’d say it was ‘custom’. There is some beauty in staying in places where people have staid for hundreds of years and where villagers offer a chicken every now and then to a church in Santo Domingo de la Calzada in order to keep memory of the following story: during the Middle Ages people were pardonned some greater sin and thus avoided prison if they exchanged a penalty for a pilgrimage to Compostela. There is somewhere an enormous wooden cross carried by some Dutch he finally had to leave in some church. In this case, three French were on their way to Compostela, the parents and a son. They stay at Santo Domingo in a hostel and the maid makes some unproper propositions to the young son, who refuses, alleging he’s a pilgrim. She gets furious and accuses him of robbery. He’s condamned to death and hanged. The parents are about to go on when they decide to say a last good bye to their son, who, they discover, is still alife. They thus run to the judge who is eating some roasted chicken to tell him their son is alife. He says: “As much as this chicken is able to sing, as much is your son alife.” And the chicken stood up and started singing. The boy was thus put free and ever since, people of the town offer a chicken to the church which is kept in some cage in the upper parts of the building. It’s beautiful to see the chicken there after so many hundreds of years, were the story true or invented.

And then there was a custom while arriving to Compostela that those arriving first some day were given gracious breakfast at a five star hotel next to the Cathedral, which had been a former hospital and hostel for pilgrims, and this for a few days. It’s not for the gracious, you really don’t care and need, finally, it’s the custom. And there was some real beauty arising from those customs, something mysterious and relaxing that put some peculiar aura on the whole adventure you can’t forget, at the end. And this was perhaps the most fundamental reason of all. Somehow you prefer to create a surrounding where you have to admit people were not as bad as you’re supposed to believe. It’s not that you may not have afforded to pay some shelter, even if it was not easy to find there where we were, it is that you want to see with your own eyes that people are still able to be generous. And this is more important than anything else.

The wolves gang

was perhaps the most appropriate name for the well ordered hooligan club we had formed almost unconsciously. Members of the expedition were thus:

from left to right, standing

Sonja Kasten (26) born in Madrid – finished maitrise (PhD) in philosophy Paris IV Sorbonne

Gregory Leurent (24) born in Angers – third year of philosophy at Paris IV

Oriol Vilaseca (18 ) born in Barcelona – one year left before finishing school

from left to right, sitting

Maxime Catroux (22) born in Paris – third year philosophy Paris IV

Clotilde Bonhomme (21) born in Paris – second year philosophy Paris IV

Conchi Fernández (25) born in Zaragoza – finished career of medecine in Zaragoza

Emmanuel Castro (19) born in Reims – finished school at the Lycee Francais in Barcelona

Later (not in picture)

Jorge Kasten (23) born in Madrid

Beside the tasks given to each and the charges (president: myself, vicepresident and doctor: Conchi, finances: Clotilde) some individual inspirations were allowed like the production and reproduction of the t-shirt that can be seen on the picture. As far as I can remember it was Conchi’s idea with Oriol’s inspiration to put the Hebrew name for Jerusalem on it. Thus: Yerushalayim, but badly written. Oriol forgot the last ‘y’, reason why we carried an orthography mistake for thousands of kilometers with us.

As we had no music with us, tons and tons of different songs were learned by the way in order to forget distances. Most of them came from Conchi’s repertoire.

In order not to provoke excessive turmoils among parents and family members and though not spend too much money on phone calls, we instaured a circular system. Thus, one member of the expedition phoned to his family and this one had to phone some relative of the next member, and this one to a third, etc as listed on a list that had been distributed before. The week after, the next member phoned to his relative who went on the list starting by himself, etc. Little exceptions were made. In fact only when we decided to change our travel from Rumania to Serbia.

Even if Isabelle Rose proposed to ask for some sponsorhip somewhere, I was finally quite happy her demarche wouldn’t have any success whatsoever.

The project

Paris, June 29, 1992 – Jerusalem, February 1, 1993, having to walk 4140 Km in 228 days, of which 91 will be of rest, volontary or forced.

Meeting Joan d’Arc with a cup of champagne

General overview of the path taken in France. In fact, accidentally, things were made easy to us. Walking upper north than actually needed in order to visit some acquaintances in the region of Champagne (Ay) we were told to just walk along the Marne canal, down to Domremy, the native town of Joan of Arc. We then had to go up the mountains separating main France from Alsace (Vosges) through the very sharp Col du Bonhomme. This made us arrive to Colmar and from there the German border was almost visible.

Duration of path in France: 29.06 – 20.07 (3 weeks)

‘Departements’ (Provinces) crossed: After Paris, Seine et Marne, Marne, Meuse, Vosges, Haut Rhin(Alsace)

around 600 km

First days after Paris:

First and second (Unknown)

Third: La Ferté Sous Jouarre, Paroisse Saint Denis

Fourth: Dormans, Madame Suzanne Vast, 7 Place de l’Eglise

Sixth day, (weekend): Ay, Les hommes grenouille

8th day: Recy, Anne Marie Pastrés, 5, rue de Tournelles

9th day: Saint Amand sur Fion, Mairie

10th day: Cheminon, Menuiserie Pierre Parisot

11th day: Juvigny en Perthois, Pierre Gerard, 7 place de l’église

12th day: Luméville, Madame Levandeau

13th day (weekend): Carmel Domrémy

15th day: Oelleville, Jackie Collin, Café du Commerce

16th day: Derbamont, Paroisse, Abbé A Roy

17th day: Vaudeville, Mairie

18th day: Corcieux, Paroisse de Notre Dame

19th day: Le Bonhomme, Mairie

20th day (weekend): Colmar, Paroisse Saint Francois d’Assise

Napoleon stops at Neu Schwanstein (Germany)

General overview of the path taken in Germany. Quite quickly we decided to change the GR, getting lost in Alpes, for little side roads, avoiding the most possible big towns and touristic places. In fact, we even had to run away from extremely crowded (already) Bodensee. A path marked by the first encounter with Danube boy, thousands and thousands of lakes and marshes and the overwhelming shadow of Alpes to our right.

Duration of path in Germany: 20.07 – 10.08 (three weeks)

Bundesländer (Regions) crossed: Baden Würtenberg, (Breisgau Hochschwarzwald), Baden, Bayern

Around 540 km

Border: Breisach Landstrasse

22nd day: Merdingen, Katholisches Pfarramt Sankt Remigius

23rd day: Freiburg, Misión católica española

24th day: Titisee, Spiegelsbach, Frau Willman

25th day: Doggingen, Naturgemässer Land- und Gartenbar Wehinger

26th day: Hattingen, Gasthaus Sonne, Paul Seyfried

27th day (weekend): Boll, Gasthaus Schwanene, Inh L Löffler

29th day: Kalkreute, Karl Müller

30th day: Münchenreute, Erwin Hinderhofer

31st day: Eintürnenberg, Ruf Berthold

32nd day: Altusried, Katholisches Pfarramt Sankt Blasius und Alexander 

33rd day: Ruderatshofen, Katholisches Pfarramt, Herr Zahner

34th day (weekend): Bidingen, Sig Parrochiae Sanct Pankratius, Herr Siegfried Beyrer

36th day: Peissenberg, Katholisches Pfarramt St Johann, Herr Gerhard Schmidt

37th day: Beuerberg, Katholisches Pfarramt Sankt Peter und Paul

38th day: Rietramszel (under the dark sky)

39th day: Beyharting, Judith, Herbert und Jorun Klinger

40th day: Amerang, katholisches Pfarramt Sankt Kupert

41st day: Altenmarkt, Sigillum Parochiae Catolicae Baumburg, Herr Thomas Scheichlig

42nd day: Austrian border Ettenau