On the nights in France when we cooked for ourselves (maybe once a week, once we figured out how to convert pounds to grams), we would buy a bottle of local wine along with our standard pasta, pesto, mushrooms, and chicken. More often than not, it was a Cahors region Malbec, a vintage with a history going back to the Romans.
Ever since we got home I’ve been scouring the liquor store shelves, looking for a familiar label, but with no luck. The French wine that makes it to the U.S. is almost all Bordeaux.
And then, on New Years Day of all days, I found it–in a small town, in a small grocery store, where the selection is maybe a third of what I can find in the city.
It was the bridge on the label, even more than the name. that caught my attention.
Because a Via Podiensis pilgrim doesn’t just drink Cahors wine. You also pass through the city of Cahors itself. The Camino crosses that bridge, considered one of the most remarkable bridges in the south of France. But it’s more than just a pretty bridge. The Pont Valentre has a unique story, and a memorable legend about the time a man wagered his soul with the devil…and the devil lost.
Built at the beginning of the 14th century across the Lot River, the defensive structure required towers, gates, a series of Gothic arches, and plenty of places where loyal troops could attack whatever enemy of the decade was approaching the strategic curve in the river.
Construction was not easy. Started in 1308, it took seventy years to complete. Legend has it that the master builder, challenged by the design and delays in construction, made a deal with the devil: if the devil would help in every way the builder needed to complete the bridge on time, in return the builder would give him his soul. As completion neared, the man re-considered his eternal prospects and came up with a way to break the contract. For the last bit of work, he told the devil to bring water to make the mortar, and handed him a sieve to carry it in. Not even the devil could transport water in a sieve, and so the final stone in the central tower was never laid, and the master builder kept his soul.
When the bridge was restored in 1879, the supervising architect placed a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of the northwest the towers, where the stone was still missing.
It is now the path pilgrims take to leave the city, just before a steep climb up a limestone cliff that the organizers charmingly call “the sportif route.” But that’s another story for another day…
Today is for opening a new bottle of good wine, because of course when I found that Malbec I bought every bottle on the shelf. 🙂