Celia's blog

Musings on life in Lodeve, Languedoc

Pave Paradise – put up a parking lot.

Posted by celiahukins on 03/05/2009

Gorges de l'Hérault

Gorges de l'Hérault

The first of May – the whole month of May lies ahead. A while before the schoolchildren have to do their exams and their bacs, although of course they should be preparing already. A month to watch the flowers (and the weeds) growing, and to anticipate the warmth of summer ahead. 1 May is Labour Day in France. Most shops are shut, but you can buy your muguets (lily of the valley) from Juste une fleur in Lodève, or at stalls around Lodève and the surrounding area. These flowers are a symbol of spring and the sellers don’t have to pay tax on their sales, something which dates back to the French Revolution.

On 1 May we went to Saint Guilhem le Desert, a medieval town with a monastery where I like to take visitors. One the way we stopped at le Pont du Diable (the Devil’s Bridge). Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair about the parking lot. The problem is that when sites such as the bridge are labelled “Grand Site” they attract more visitors and you have to park somewhere. Last year I parked by the side of the road and scrambled up some rough ground to get a view of the bridge. Now you drive to the landscaped car park and join the French couples and families on the landscaped walk to see the site, and it’s all clean and safe – and artificial. But then how else can you deal with increasing numbers of tourists?

Anyway, from the bridge we went on to St Guilhem le Desert, which has also seen an increase in regimented car parks. The first time we went there, we found a parking space by the side of the road – you can’t park there any more. The next two times we were lucky to find a space in a small car park by the river, and had a picnic there. Today we finally managed to find a space in the designated car park. We walked back through the village to our original picnic spot (see photo above ) and had it to ourselves.

There are stories of devil’s bridges all over France – anywhere in fact where there was a bridge which was so cleverly constructed that people thought that the devil must have been involved. For this bridge, the story goes that the devil would come at night to destroy what the men had done during the day. Finally St Guilhem (he of the monastery) made a pact with the devil that when the bridge was finished the devil could have the soul of first person who came across the bridge. In the end they sent a dog, some say with a frying pan tied to his tail. The devil, mad with rage, tried to destroy the bridge but was thrown into the river.

PS Happy birthday to the man in the paper shop who was 44 today (3 May) “quarante quatre ans, tous mes dents”. He’d been up until 2 am the night before but still seemed quite lively, his hair spiked up for the occasion.

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