National Geographic : 1927 Aug
IN SMILING ALSACE, WHERE FRANCE HAS RESUMED SWAY THAT fertile plain known as Al sace, which is somewhat larger than the State of Delaware, lies between the storied Rhine and the rugged, forested slopes of the Vosges. Nature has dealt generously with Al sace. Her level fields and rolling foothills are well suited to agricultural exploitation, and although there has been marked in dustrial development in certain sections, the richness of the soil is still the chief resource of the country. Individual holdings are usually small and intensive cultivation is the rule. Alsatian farm products include cereals, forage, and root crops, but few assume large commercial importance. However, hops for beer, cabbage for sauerkraut, and tobacco are raised for export. Cherries, prunes, apples, and pears are grown ex tensively, but wine grapes constitute by far the most important fruit crop. The vineyards cover the foothills of the Vosges, where there is more sunshine and less frost than in any other part of the province. GREECE GAVE THE VINE TO ALSACE The vine was introduced to Alsace by the Greeks through Marseille, before the Christian Era. Its culture flourished under the efficient rule of Rome and continued to prosper under the Frankish kings. Many of the present wine centers of the province can trace their existence as such back to the seventh and eighth centuries. Most of the vineyards are small, but so assiduously are they cultivated that on a plot of little more than half an acre three or four thousand vines may yield nearly 150 gallons of wine. For the grape har vest, in the fall, peasants gather from all over the countryside. They labor from dawn to dark, singing at their tasks, and when the day is done they dance far into the night. The tobacco industry, at one time al most abandoned, has flourished anew since the World War, under strict government supervision, the area cultivated being ac curately designated and registered. Linen, cotton, wool, and silk mills are numerous in the province, the manufac- ture of silk ribbons being an especially im portant industry. Alsace has the distinction of possessing petroleum, a scarce commodity in Western Europe. There are also asphalt deposits in the vicinity of Cleebourg. VILLAGE SAINT'S DAY CELEBRATION IS A COMMUNITY BIRTHDAY PARTY While the traditional costumes of the province are no longer much in evidence save on special occasions, many of the ancient customs of the people still pre vail. One of these is the celebration in each village of its Patron Saint's Day. This is a sort of large-scale community birthday party, when the town takes on a carnival air and tumblers and jugglers perform acrobatic stunts and sleight-of hand tricks, while itinerant merchants sell patent medicines, cheap jewelry, and mis cellaneous knickknacks. For this festival the young people of each village elect one of their number to serve as a master of ceremonies. He or ganizes the entertainment, selects the loca tion of the dancing platform, and is the official escort of the prettiest girl of the village. The day is spent in games and dancing, followed by a banquet at the inn. Cleanliness is a universal virtue among Alsatian families. The peasant proprietor takes a great pride in the ownership of his home and usually has his name or initials, along with the date of construction, dis played on some part of his house. Parental discipline is strict. If Young Alsace seems inclined to rebel he is re minded of the terrible Hans Trapp, fear some creature who is purported to be capable of dreadful things. This legendary figure finds its origin in an historic character, Jean de Dratt, a robber baron who struck such terror to the hearts of the people that after his death they made a bogy of him. The Alsatian is a product of more than 2,000 years of recorded history. Because he is a persistent individualist, he has not only steadfastly resisted the efforts of suc cessive conquerors to mold him to their form, but has striven constantly and with success to organize and develop an eco nomic and social life distinctly his own.