Tuesday 17 April 2012

Void bridges

All together now: "Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse..." Sorry about inflicting you with that earworm, but fair's fair, I had it in my head for all of today. Avignon, with its truncated bridge, is one of the few places left in Europe with a complete city wall, and it's still used today as flood protection when necessary; inside the wall it's old and pretty though still busy and very lived-in. The Popes lived here for nearly 100 years in the 14th century, and left behind a palace that, though the inside was stripped during the Revolution, is still mightily impressive purely on account of its size: chapels the size of cathedrals, walk-in ovens, vast dining rooms, that sort of thing. I was very pleased to have the roof pointed out in the kitchen/oven, where a curve fitted into the corner turns the square room into an octagonal chimney: it's called a squinch, people. I love the word itself, and that it exists at all. I've come to France and increased my admiration for English. How the Académie Française would hate that!

After lunch the outing was to the Pont du Gard, where many long years ago I remember walking along the water channel on the upper level and climbing out onto the lid that runs along the very top of the aqueduct, 49m above the river. They stopped people doing that in 1995, the spoilsports - but it's still a stunner, even tidied up and touristed as it is today. Two thousand years, it's been there, and it's still withstanding floods that sweep away modern bridges. It's yet another triumph of Roman big thinking, bringing water 50km to Nimes, the aqueduct over the Gard River being 274m long and built in only 5 years. All those sums, precision stone-cutting and sheer manual labour, heaving the stones into place, and it's covered with graffiti, tch. I'm referring to the painstakingly-chiselled initials beside various dates: 1880, 1774...

Last today came a wine-tasting at Châteauneuf du Pape, where I swilled and slurped with the best of them but refrained from chiming in with claims of blackberry! leather! charred wood! It tasted ok, I suppose.

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