In Paris to the Pyrenees, David Downie takes us right along with him on the Way of St. James, without our ever leaving our armchairs. As stated in the subtitle, “A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Ways of St James,” we’re not talking about a conventional pilgrim, so we don’t expect his transformations to be like those of traditional Christians. But then, the Way of St. James, like so many pilgrim routes in the world, becomes a spiritual journey spreading well beyond the confines of Christianity.
Downie makes it a personal journey, full of the classical culture and history he knows so well, and we have the pleasure of experiencing it along with him. His journey through classicism and French history becomes ours, as we learn about the Druids, the Galls, the Romans, former French President François Mitterand, and much more; as he carries around a stone he was convinced had magical power because it looked like a scallop shell, until it becomes too heavy to carry; as we wolf down hearty French meals and sup coarse local wine after a long day of walking, before we fall like a stone into bed.
And though we might not receive penance, we end the journey all the richer in knowledge, having read a good tale, too. The book is a latter-day Canterbury Tales, with a varied lot of pilgrims, locals, and farmers all along the way. Alison Harris’ photos are in perfect harmony with Downie’s narrative. You’ll want to wear a scallop shell around your neck after reading this book.