Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Avignon

We went to Avignon this past week but we did not dance upon the famous bridge. No one did, actually. It’s just a song, people. The bridge is too narrow for dancing. If any dancing took place near the bridge it was probably under it, on the island in the middle of the river Rhone. I did sing the song, but quietly, as Julia’s horror was intimidating. The children’s song is still sung most commonly in France and Canada. Yes, the audio guide actually said that!

So not only did we not dance upon the bridge but we also did not cross the famous bridge. You can’t cross the famous bridge. You haven’t been able to cross the famous bridge since the 1600’s when they gave up trying to fix it. The Rhone river kept flooding, taking out sections of the bridge until it just became too much to maintain.

So we didn’t dance upon the bridge, we didn’t cross the bridge. Actually, we didn’t even visit the Pont D’Avignon because the famous bridge of song in Avignon is not the Pont D’Avignon. It’s the Pont Saint Benezet. Somehow, Saint Benezet got left out of the song. It is rather a mouthful. Maybe the tune came first. Regardless, Saint Benezet has a bridge named after him that people once danced…under.

Saint Benezet was a shepherd who had a vision. Didn’t they all back then? In Saint Benezet’s vision he was told to build a bridge, so he took himself down out of the mountains and over to the church to see the bishop. I guess there was a crowd there that day as well there might have been if the bishop was giving audience to the common folk. There were quotes from eyewitnesses to this account so it must have been recorded.

When Benezet (he wasn’t a saint yet) presented his idea, the bishop was quite taken aback. The town mayor laughed outright along with several others. The mayor challenged the shepherd, saying that if he had truly had a vision from God then he should lift a nearby stone and carry it to the river to lay it as the first piece of the foundation for the bridge. The mayor pointed to a large heavy stone that lay nearby, still unmoved because it was too heavy. To everyone’s surprise, the shepherd walked over, lifted the rock, carried it to the river and dropped it in. They build the bridge. I have to wonder if there is a statute of limitations on visions, however, because the bridge obviously didn’t last.

Only four arches out of 22 still remain today. You are allowed to walk on the small remaining section but when it was whole it must have been quite impressive, connecting the Avignon Vatican on one side and France on the other.

Did you know that the Vatican was moved to France for 100 years around 1300? Apparently, they elected a French pope. Times were uncertain with lots of wars and scrambling for land and power. The French king offered protection to the Vatican and the pope obviously like the sound of that so literally bought the town of Avignon and moved the whole kit and caboodle over! The Italians of Rome were none too thrilled about this and things went poorly for quite a while until finally two Vaticans and two popes were established: one in Rome and one in Avignon. It didn’t take long for the Catholics to overcome theis ridiculous mess and soon the Vatican left Avignon and has stayed rooted in Rome ever since. Mind you, the Italians have never quite forgiven the French and in the past 600 years there has not been a single French pope elected.

So Avignon is a lovely city with a huge Papal palace and many beautiful homes built for the holy rollers. I’m going to assumer that the elephant in the square outside the old palace wasn’t there when the pope was. Just a guess.

We found some cute shopping streets and wandered hungrily hunting for food. None of the places listed by Rick were open. Tom remembered Peter Mayle saying Place Pie had all the good eateries so we headed in that direction. Sadly, after 15 years none of the cute eateries were open…or even there. How is it some buildings last for hundreds of years but food joints shut down after a season? We did see an interesting food market. The wall was covered with foliage that reflects the season. I was pleased to see that although it is winter, brown and dead was not the predominant theme. Sadly, the market was closed as well. We didn’t starve though, as we found a cute pasta place back among the shopping lanes. Overall, we decided Avignon is a delightful city.

2 comments:

maryanncart@shaw.ca said...

Fun reading your new blogs...how much longer are you staying? Love Mom

Mynnette said...

Loved that Peter Mayle was mentioned- I was reading one of his books on an airplane and laughed so loud I was GLARED at and shushed! Avignon is neat, liked what you wrote. Xx Mynnette