Near Aveyron, the city of the "Devil's Bridge"
A story by Arnie Greenberg, originally written for
Experience (my) France
It's a magical region on the Lot River, in the département of the same name. The town is Cahors, and to those who have had the good fortune to see it, there is a lasting memory of a unique place. There are many reasons for this. One could identify it with the birthplace of Pope John XXII or Léon Gambetta. One can identify it with the great dark wines that come from the area vineyards. It is close to the ancient caves of Perche Merle where one can see painting engravings dating back 20,000 years.
One can find restaurants that offer local truffles (Black Diamonds) integrated into their succulent meals, giving them a special odour and leaving one with a tasty residue... A connoisseur would know that truffles can cost up to 1000 Euros per kilo. Yet, this treat can be enhanced by the smooth dark wine for under $20 a bottle made from a purple grape. I refer to the Malbec wines from the outlying areas.
Once, the region was devastated by frost that destroyed the vineyards, but the Malbec grape was replanted, and mixed with Merlot to produce full-bodied wine.
The charming town boasts a wonderful Museum & Bishop's Palace, markets featuring fresh local vegetables, domestic meats and even arts and crafts on Saturdays. It sits about one hundred kilometres east of Bordeaux, and its roots go back to Roman times.
One can sip a Kir or wine in this charmingly sunny city in the shadow of her great double-domed 12th century cathedral Saint-Etienne, or you can wander down to the river's edge and admire one of the most interesting bridges in France. Every time I visit this iste, I marvel at the Pont Valentré with its beautiful towers, and my mind return to the legend of the bridge and the reason it is referred to as the Devil's Bridge or Pont du Diable.
The legend began
Apparently, the builder had trouble finding the materials to finish the bridge, and worried over it since the construction could bring safety to the city, with hostile enemies due to invade. He lay in bed agonizing over the fate of his work when he was visited by the Devil. By the end of the night, he had made a pact with the Devil who would help find the materials to complete the bridge. For this promise, the builder sold his soul to the Devil.
Materials appeared, and the bridge with its three defensive military towers was soon ready for completion. But the builder, in a move to break his pact with the Devil, demanded holy water from the church to set the final stone in.
The Devil could not enter a church, so the pact got broken. But the Devil was angry, and stood at the top of a tower, throwing stones down at the soldiers.
The builder captured the tiny effigy of the monster, sealing him onto the top of one of the towers.
He's still there for all to see.
This is a story I always told to visitors who joined me in Cahors. I would offer a bottle of purple Château la Coustarelle to the one who first found the Devil. Since I was supposedly an expert on France in the twenties, I reminded everyone that this particular wane was a favourite of the writer Ernest Hemingway.
In a circle around Cahors, there are major travel finds awaiting to be discovered in Aveyron. East on the Lot River are Rodez, Figeac – the birthplace of Champollion, the translator of the Rosetta Stone – , Roquefort, known for its cheese, and Millau with its viaduct to remember. These are all places one must visit to get the true taste of France.
About Arnie Greenberg: Arnie Greenberg is a retired Montréal college Humanities professor who has written novels and texts, as well as plays about Picasso and one about Gertrude Stein and Hemingway, which was staged in Stuttgart Germany. He also worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, writing over 1,000 scripts, mostly for young people. Mr. Greenberg has dedicated this book to the late Dr. Robert Bartlett Haas, a long-time friend of Gertrude Stein and the author.
Find out more about his latest book:
Don't miss the other story written by Arnie Greenberg about the Compostela Pilgrims here.