by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
My mamie is a tiny woman. No one knows why she’s so very small, but some have suggested that her mother might not have had quite enough to eat during the war.
The day was mild, with fickle clouds that produced intermittent downpours. My companion and I arrived during the early hours of the night before, and mamie had welcomed us into her home dressed in a beige silk nightgown with dainty dentelle lacing covering her décolleté. She’s an elegant lady, you see. But not haughty, no – her smile reaches to her eyes when she laughs, and her touch is warm.
She was already up when we came downstairs, sat at the breakfast table in a red kimono. She beckoned us over and instructed us to eat the mound of hot buttered baguette she had prepared. We sat and ate dutifully. It was good to eat bread on a wooden bench at a wooden table worn smooth with use while outside the morning sun trickled onto the lawn in bursts between the clouds. After a few minutes, mamie announced she was to take us on a historical tour of Cahors.
We agreed to go out before lunch.
Being the end of September, the fig trees around the neighborhood groaned under the weight of their ripened pome as we ambled past. We walked beside mamie as she molded and shaped the land with tales of old.
We swiftly reached the fontaine des Chartreux, a limestone cave carved into the mountainside. Inside was a spring of crystal-clear water. Mamie said the spring had once served as the source for all of the towns around Cahors.
Her voice had changed from how I knew it to sound. It had become literary and booming, as though she were recounting a story to a great hall of people. I, the translator for my companion, struggled to keep pace with her vibrant oratory. She continued: this place was formerly a shrine for Divona (the Celtic water goddess), who gave her name, Divona Cadurcorum, to the city of Cahors.
I stared into the water. There were coins at the bottom. The plaque on the wall said many such coins of Roman origin had been found here. Most of the coins that I could see were modern cent pieces. I wondered if they’d be found in a few thousand years.
We continued onto the bridge nearby, Le Pont Valentré, a medieval masonry structure with Gothic arches and towering square tours of grainy beige stone. It crosses over the Lot River, a walkway to bring one back from the mountains to the town in the west.
Le Pont Valentré in Cahors
Halfway over the bridge, mamie stopped us. She pointed upwards. We followed her finger, and noticed the little stone devil that was crawling up near the top of the central tower. It was frowning anxiously as it looked out over the city.
By mamie’s account, the story of the devil went a little like this:
The bridge took 70 years to complete (from 1308 to 1378). The foreman became anxious at how long the build was taking, so formed a pact with the devil, who would accelerate construction in return for the foreman’s soul (at this point, I laughingly commented to mamie that this seemed rather extreme a pact to make, but she wasn’t to be distracted from her tale.)
Well, all was going swimmingly until the foreman realized that he wasn’t altogether happy to go through with the pact. Consequently, he chose to trick the devil by giving him a sieve with which to fetch water for the laborers.
Incensed at this chicanery, the devil decided never to allow the bridge to be finished. Every night, he’d slacken the bricks of the central tower so it would need fixing the next day. The stone devil was sculpted to dupe him into thinking that one of his own was dismantling the structure, hence he’d let it be.
My eyes were starting to blur from looking up at the sun and tower for too long. I blinked, and thought I saw the devil flash me a smirk. When I focused my eyes again, he was back to his usual, grimacing self.
I looked over at mamie. Her smile had been replaced by a pensive scowl. She caught me looking at her, and her lips curled into a knowing smirk. I grinned back at her.
My companion had wandered over to the side of the bridge, awaiting my translation of the devil’s fable. He gazed silently into the churning waters beneath.
We walked on. There was a gift shop on the other side of the river. We went in. Mamie knew the shopkeeper well, but, then again, she knows everyone – or, else, everyone knows her. I perused the fridge magnets and postcards, then picked out a card which detailed its own account of the devil on the bridge. Mamie plucked the card from my hands and paid for it, and we walked out. My companion was waiting outside, staring across the river at the mountain tops. He grew up in Norway. I have never been to Norway, but I amused myself by toying with the idea that my companion was having a nostalgic moment thinking on the mountains surrounding Stavanger, where he lived for many years. I shook away the thought, lest it transfer onto him and convince him to move back. He was probably just looking at the view in an inconsequential, unmeaningful, perhaps wistful sort of way.
That night, we had dinner together outside on the patio of mamie’s house. She lives alone, having recently separated from her husband, which I thought quite admirable when it happened, but I do believe she is often quite lonely. A woman who knows an entire town is lonely. What hope is there, then, for any of us?
Mamie had cooked us tofu and a sweet, rich tomato stew. We ripped off fat chunks of crusty bread to mop our plates. Life is good in France. It too is sweet, and rich, and fat.
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Other articles by Hazel include Central Governor Theory in Practice, Brett Morgan’s Moonage Daydream, and A Good Night.
Find here an old Carl Kruse Blog.