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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday 27 August 2010: Popes and carousels: Avignon

Today Avignon is a city of carousels, boutique shopping and sidewalk eating in the sunshine. The sombre grey stone of walls encircling the old city and the ramparts of a fortified palace remind the passersby of days when beliefs and traditions were strong enough to make Kings bow low before religious leaders.

Avignon's famous landmark is the Pope's palace built as a fortress by Pope Benedict XII and added to by Clement VI, patron of the arts and lover of the high life. For about 70 years the Popes resided in Avignon, the years of the so called Bablylonish captivity. Clement V fled to France in 1309 to avoid papal power struggles in Rome.

Next to the palace is the Notre Dames des Domes, Avignon's cathedral. I found it a refershingly austere structure except for the gilded Madonna on the tower, a 19th century embellishment.

The courtyard of the older section of the Pope's Palace reflects Benedictine simplicity. However, the history of customs and traditions (relayed on the audio cassettes available for hire to guide one around a buillding which has explanations only in French) told a different story. Elaborate courtly procedures accompanied every move of the resident Pope, from sleeping rituals to eating and dressing. It all seemed a far cry from the simple, humble and unworldly example of the Christ whom the medieval clergy were tasked to represent.

I just had to snap the effigies of Louis II ' the good' de Bourbon and his lady, Anne of Auvergne, at whose marble feet lay their beloved and faithful pugs.

Le Pont St Benezet was built ostensibly at the instigation of a young shepherd boy during the 12 century. Over the years the floods of the Rhone took their toll and only three of the 22 arches remain.

The street of the Weavers once housed the dyers who supplied the local weavers. A branch of the river Sorgue flows in a canal down one side. Under the plane trees, the cobbled streets and the grey stone building a stall selling second-hand books caught my eye.

A quirky little cafe indicated what a can of green lime paint can do for two slatted chairs.

I am always on the lookout for something contemporary for Catherine amidst all the baroque. This little imp sits outside the city wall near the Pont.

The shops selling linens and Provencal prints abound. But you have to search the labels to avoid the telltale Made in China or Woven in India labels.