National Geographic : 1927 Aug
ACROSS THE MIDI IN A CANOE and out of medieval towers, while be holding underfoot a squalid population at clothes washing or goat milking, before the doors of their rampart-buttressed hovels. ROMANCE STILL CLINGS TO CARCASSONNE Away stretched the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), opalescent in the sun set, while from afar a cloudlike peak re vealed the Pyrenees. And as the Cite's circle of towers faded from golden to gray, we seemed to glimpse against their background a ghostly pageant of long maned barbarians, of Frankish battle-axes and Moorish banners, of mailed Crusad ers, and English yeomen, and French kings-the Cite's successive conquerors passing onward through the arching cen turies. All are gone, and the lineaments of this once bloodstained fortress have mellowed into a rich etching, an exquisite work of art. We had glimpsed our fairy-tale city and must go. Reluctantly, as if losing romance for reality, we descended into the Ville Basse. There we passed a small boy, on crutches, playing in the gutter. I suppose that, living under the Cite's towers, he cherished a lame child's dream of climbing up there some day. At any rate he had, of all toys, a tin castle whose moat he was filling from the gutter. And then we knew that romance wasn't lost, and that, on the rich tapestry of his imagi nation, knights were winding horns at drawbridges and captive princesses in towers were letting down their hair. Beyond Carcassonne lay the canal's loveliest stretch, with the Black Moun tain's peaks rising higher and nearer, day by day, as we approached the foothills of the Pyrenees. Apparently barren, save for occasional vineyards, their outflung line, as seen at sunrise and sunset, glowed like some barbaric necklace of mother-of pearl and gold. GEESE PATROL CANAL BANKS Occasionally, through the framing arch of an antique bridge, we would catch a glimpse of a composition, as painters say: canalward-dipping slopes, cut by prim hedgerows; towering haystacks; a hill- topping, red-roofed farmhouse; a flotilla of white geese patrolling the stream. Sometimes the geese were ranked along the canal side, for a drink, with an old drill sergeant of a gander croaking be hind them, "Company, 'tention! Fill bills-heads back-swallow !" Indeed, so omnipresent were they that we called them the canal patrol. At the lock of St. Jean the canal stretched for perhaps a mile through a cypress alley whose towering walls rivaled the beauties of a formal garden. St. Jean was memorable because of something that occurred as we issued from the lock and into the alley. Pos sibly because the cypresses shut out every thing save a mauve mountain, rising be yond that mile-long vista, we fixed our eyes on the mountain, and, to the lulling stroke of the paddles, fell into revery. It was after some minutes of silence and beautiful thoughts that the bow paddle remarked dreamily, "I seem to have seen this place before." I glanced about me. Not only was the scene hauntingly familiar, but there on the bank stood St. Jean's lock keeper. He was regarding us with a broad grin. "Is it that your anchor is down ?" he called. Then we woke up. We were not ten yards beyond the lock, and for some moments we had been paddling a firmly moored canoe from which the anchor had fallen overboard. FLOATING FOIE GRAS That day when, at Homps, we had passed the seventh lock in one tedious mile, the lock keeper told us: "You'll en counter no more locks for 63 kilometers. The countryside is a veritable desert." The "desert" lasted during two days' paddle through an unattractive region where, save for occasional gunfire in the woods, we sensed no trace of human be ings. At the close of a hard day's work the bow paddle suddenly exclaimed: "Heavens! We've nothing left but two tins of sardines!" We dined out of one and throughout the next day cherished the other with heartfelt tenderness. It had gone the way of all sardine tins when, toward evening, we spied a red-tiled cottage on the bank.