I came across a gruesome story this week, about ‘La Dame du Lac‘ (‘The Lady of the Lake’) right here in Annecy. It’s a tale of trickery by the devil himself which changes a young couple’s lives for ever, (you can read the full story in English here, if you prefer the original, read the French version here). If you didn’t click on a link, the story ends with the wife throwing herself off the cliff of le Roc de Chère and plunging into Lake Annecy to drown, where she remains submerged and animated to this day, pulling on the feet of swimmers in the belief they might be her husband, causing them to drown too, and taking them to the bottom of the lake with her.
Since then, I’ve discovered that lakes all over France have myths involving various degrees of aggrieved women throwing themselves into lakes and haunting swimmers for ever after. There are legends about ladies of the lake in the Pyrenees, the Ardèche, further north in Lorraine, and of course plenty around here in Haute Savoie.
Take Tignes for instance. Between Tignes and Val d’Isère lies a lake, with the statue shown below overlooking it. Yep, it’s another lady of a lake.
This lady has a more recent story. In 1953, the old village of Tignes was flooded to create the dam that the lady now overlooks. Begrudged locals were forced to move out and, of course, legend has it that one lady refused to leave. The statue appeared as recently as 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the village’s flood, and is said to remember the past while looking towards the future. Personally, I’m not convinced that the story of the stubborn lady existed before the statue was made.
I wonder what the Annecy version would be like. Perhaps the statue would show a couple embracing with the devil standing behind looking at his calendar, or perhaps a lady pulling the legs of a stranger with a look of terror on his face.
The thing I love most about these ladies of the lakes is that I had no idea they were ‘a thing’ until this week. Let me explain. I’ve integrated with the French culture in many ways, like making puns in French or reciting the lyrics of some old French song that nobody expects me to know. That initial excitement I felt every time I discovered (and wrote about) some surprising part of French culture has waned over the past few years. The local dame du lac story has bolstered that feeling and it feels great.
I probably won’t ever swim by the cliff le Roc de Chère again though.