Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff

French Pilgrimage

August 14, 2012

Tags: Saints, Martyrs, Pilgrims, Aveyron

Sometimes, casting around for the next destination, I find it between two covers. When the book is deeply-felt, closely-researched and beautifully-written, there can be no better inspiration for a trip, no better guide; in rare instances a satisfaction as complete as taking the journey.

I have never been to Conques, nestled in the uplands of south-central France, but I feel as if I have thanks to Little Saint, an exquisitely tender book by Hannah Green about the medieval hamlet and its patroness, St. Foy.

In the 4th century A.D. she converted to Christianity at the age of 12 and held firm even when her own father turned her in to Roman authorities. Afterward, the girl saint’s reliquary in the abbey church brought a steady stream of pilgrims who, as Green put it, “pray for her help, again and again in their devotion renewing her life, this eternal girl-child, daughter becoming woman, who held within herself the promise of all that is good and beautiful and healing."

Green and her husband, the artist Jack Wesley, discovered Conques in 1975, shortly after the publication of her first book, The House of the Dead--reading it was “like falling in love,” wrote critic Richard Ellman in the New York Times. But Green was a painfully slow writer who died in 2000, leaving Little Saint behind to be published posthumously.

The book unlocks the town, with its narrow streets and half-timbered houses in the Aveyron, a part of France famous for blue cheese but otherwise not especially favored by tourists. French people on the way from Paris to the Riviera zoom across the region on a remarkable new highway suspension bridge, the Millau Viaduct, designed by Norman Foster; others sightsee on the gorge of the River Tarn or hike in the Massif Central à la Travels with Donkey in the Cevennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson (but that’s another posting).

For those who find their way to Conques, Little Saint describes sites and diversions: dinner at the 17th century Hotel Sainte Foy, a bike ride past vineyards, springs and prehistoric standing stones in the surrounding countryside and, above all, a visit to the Abbey Church of St. Foy with its treasury museum and beguiling tympanum depicting the Last Judgment where St. Foy prays for sinners and the devil tries to tip the scales of justice his way.

Every place has a meaning, from Minnesota’s Mall of America to St. Foy’s Conques. Let us all stop for a moment to praise the books that tell use what it is. (more…)
From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point


Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast


Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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