When I first started French lessons in middle school, my instructor taught us a popular French folk song, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” or “On the Bridge in Avignon.” According to the song “On the bridge in Avignon, we all dance, again and again.” I don’t know why, but this common and somewhat annoying song has always stuck with me and when I learned I would be visiting Avignon, I wanted to do nothing more than see this damnable bridge for myself.
I had a guide for my short visit in Avignon, Dutch by birth but French by choice. She loved her city and was eager to show me as much of this large, wealthy and beautiful city in southern France during the day I had there. As we toured the famous and massive Pope’s Palace, I couldn’t concentrate on the history or the old rooms. Instead all I could think about was the bridge, THE BRIDGE. It had to be close by, I could almost feel it calling me. In my head I always envisioned a foot bridge of sorts, I have no idea why. I’d never actually researched the bridge before, so all I had to go on was just an initial impression formed when I was thirteen years old.
Finally we exited the honestly lovely palace, crossed a park and walked by an overlook point when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I walked over and saw a bridge, but only half of one. This strange looking bridge only extended partway over the Rhône River, stopping for no apparent reason other than laziness it seemed. My guide leaned over and whispered, “That is THE bridge.”
So it wasn’t a foot bridge after all, it was a real, honest to goodness large bridge, except the aforementioned not going anywhere part. Turns out there is a real reason for that other than the ones I was busy making up in the head. Not surprisingly, the bridge did at one point actually span the river. It was originally built in the 12th century and was built up over time. But floods plagued the bridge and after one particularly catastrophic flood the city gave up trying to rebuild the massive structure. In medieval times there were also shops and restaurants under the land based spans of the bridge, which is where the song’s inspiration originated. People didn’t dance on top of the bridge per se, but they absolutely had festive times amongst the bars and markets under it.
I walked down the pathway and excitedly stepped across onto this famous bridge. I wasn’t the only one who looked charmed by the bridge, it appears that people from around the world have also been taught this globally famous song. Chinese, Italian, American, we were all there wistfully traversing the bridge, with vacant looks, obviously thinking about our middle school years.
I didn’t spend a lot of time on the bridge. After all, it is a half finished bridge in the middle of a large, southern French city. But as I left I wandered if it was worth it. Was finally doing a jig on the bridge in Avignon satisfy more than twenty years of pining? Sure, of course it did, because that song brought me to Avignon and while the bridge may not be all that interesting, the city in which it so dutifully sits is one of the true treasures of France.
Is there a place you’re inspired to visit because of a less than original reason?