National Geographic : 1923 Jul
THROUGH THE BACK DOORS OF FRANCE Early next morning the declivitous streets were a-clatter with high, two wheeled pony - carts containing blue smocked farmers and their white-capped wives, on their way up to the market place, atop the hill. And there we found them gathered, some holding baskets of eggs, others with chickens under their arms or with haltered calves beside them, and all displaying a clean, starched, Sun day-like air of ceremony. Great bargain-buzzings and the clap of sabots resounded through the quaint streets whose fifteenth-century house walls and carved facades befittingly framed that scene of snowy-capped old women and shovel-hatted old men, with their shrewd, kind faces of apple-red freshness. Never were such old folk as those Breton peasants-old, merely, like some seasoned vintage of "imprisoned sunshine." SCENE OF COMBAT BETWEEN DU GUESCIIN AND THOMAS OF CANTERBURY From his near-by pedestal Bertrand Du Guesclin, constable of France-he and his steed, armed cap-a-pie-looked down on the square where, some six hundred years before, he had overthrown Sir Thomas of Canterbury in single combat. The dispute between the gentlemen cen tered about the propriety of landing Eng lish troops on Breton soil. I daresay Sir Thomas pointed out that his Celtic countrymen had been emigrat ing thither ever since the fifth century, and that he mentioned the protection of minorities, adding that, indeed, the name Brittany meant no more than Little Brit ain. And I daresay that Du Guesclin re torted with, "Take out your Celts, then. France for the Franks !" It was a divided victory; for while Du Guesclin, whose heart lies buried under a slab in the church of St. Sauveur, ex pelled the English troops from Dinan, the Breton Celts remain unchanged to this day, there being no less than a million of them who speak their Welshlike tongue and whole communities which possess not a word of French. Regretfully we paddled away from charming Dinan; nor did we see another town until, five days later, we reached Rennes, 65 kilometers distant. It was all "little country," as the French say, with here and there a cluster of red roofs, or a distant spire, or lock-keeper's house, to add their charm to that canoe-tempting stream on which no canoe had ever been. A COLLAPSIBLE OUTFIT We mustered our kitchen equipment, set up our canvas awning, and padded the Nageonma's mid-space with blankets to a thickness of several inches. This gave us a clear ten feet of lounging room and allowed three more feet at each end of the canoe for storage. You can do much even with a rather narrow 16-foot space if you will observe the principle of mobility and collapsibil ity. For the sake of convenience, the Nageoina's middle thwart had been ren dered removable. Its position was usually occupied by our camping-table-a board two feet wide, fitted to rest athwart on the gunwales. In addition to this folding-table, we carried collapsible food-containers, a col lapsible oil-stove, a folding anchor, a folding water-bucket, and folding cups and cutlery. "You don't happen to have folding hatchets, frying-pans, and flat irons?" we had jocularly inquired of the salesman at the Collapsible Supplies, Limited, in London. And, without a smile on his stolid face, he had promptly produced the trio. I suppose the Xagcoima to have been the first canoe to cross Brittany because, until our arrival at Nantes, we met no one who had ever seen such a craft. In deed, except at Nantes, we encountered no pleasure boating until we reached the Seine. The sensation which we created along those quiet countrysides in the De partment of Cotes-du-Nord was extraor dinary. As our green-canopied craft glided past, the "man with the hoe" forsook his tra ditional Milletesque posture and came leaping across his turnip patch to stare. Women kneeling on their wash-boxes along the bank ceased scrubbing and shel tered their astonished gaze with suddy hands. Whole families, from grandpar ents to toddlers, hurried forth from some thatched farmhouse to exclaim raptur ously, "That's chic, that is!" or, "What a gentille promenade!"