National Geographic : 1923 Jul
THROUGH THE BACK DOORS OF FRANCE Photograph by Crete DECORATING WOODEN SHOES canal. At Nantes they "wash their dirty linen in public" and on a vast scale. The lower decks of these bateaux-a-lavoircon tain hot-water boilers and are fitted with broad gunwales, which are used as wash rooms. Their upper decks consist of drying-space, for use in wet weather. The public washerwomen pay the pa tron of the barge one franc apiece daily and prorate the fuel charge. Early each morning they appear with wheelbarrows full of dirty linen. All day long they stand side by side at the gunwale wash board, soaping, rinsing, and beating the linen with their flat paddles (see p. 40). Toward afternoon the entire canal frontage is white with acre upon acre of drying clothes. And at sunset the finished handiwork is loaded on the barrows and the washerwomen trudge away through the streets, on their respective delivery routes. Such is the daily routine of the "Wash erwomen's Boulevard" - a sight whose magnitude amazes you until you realize that you are beholding the public laundry of 170,000 people. The traditional temper of the Nantese is epitomized in the local statue of their hero, Cambronne, who, when ordered at Waterloo to surrender, replied contemp tuously, "The guard dies, but never sur renders !" THE NANTESE FOUGHT FIFTEEN HUNDRED YEARS FOR FREEDOM For fifteen hundred years the Nantese strove successively against Roman, Nor man, English, and, last, the French for the independence of Brittany. They pre ferred their secluded dukedom to being under a king of all France; and though they had finally to yield, in 1793 they did their utmost revolutionary bit in the cause of the people. If anyone wants proof of the fighting spirit of the Breton, let him search out, in the local museum, the tanned skin of a certain unknown soldier. "I won't be able to fight after I'm dead," this hero told his comrade when he fell, mortally wounded, "but at least I'll keep on mak ing a noise in the world. Just you have my hide tanned and made into a drum head, to put heart into the boys when I'm gone !" His wish was only half fulfilled; yet let us hope that some war poet of the day made this dauntless warrior's words re verberate in his lines.