Beset by the crises of middle age, an author and his photographer wife walk from Paris to the Pyrenees along the Way of Saint James.
Just before he turned 50, food and travel writer Downie (Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, 2011, etc.) discovered that his gluttonous ways had finally caught up to him. Doctors told him that he had become “in essence, a walking foie gras” and was in imminent danger of liver failure. Disillusioned as well by “the forced cleverness of corporate magazine writing,” Downie decided to take time off to recover his health and rejuvenate his world-wearied spirit. A few days before Easter, he and his wife set off down the Rue Saint-Jacques, which marked the start of the route medieval pilgrims took from Paris to the shrine of St. James in Spain. Downie’s desire to trek across France had little to do with any need to find God. “I hadn’t escaped the gurus and drug culture of California to wind up Catholic in France,” he writes. His journey—most of which would take him along old Roman roads and pilgrim routes that wound through the Burgundy countryside—was one he hoped would re-inspire him to ask the “big questions” that had once fired his imagination. Along the “maverick way” the couple followed (and which he documents with photographs), Downie was drawn to the way Celtic and Roman history intermingled in the landscape, architecture and people. He came to understand that however modern France appeared to be, it lived “simultaneously in the past and present.” More profoundly, he realized that he was ultimately no different from the pilgrims who had walked “The Way” before him. His pilgrimage, like theirs, was “both the question and the answer” and a means to heightened awareness.
A witty and intelligent spin on the spiritual-journey motif.