National Geographic : 1945 Mar
A City Learns to Smile Again BY MAJ. FREDERICK G. VOSBURGIl, AC * S LOWLY, heart-warmingly, before our eyes, a city is coming back to life after years under the German jack boot. It is like a hardy wild flower, bent but not crushed by a careless heel. After the first wave of hysteria with which Nancy, hub of the Lorraine region, welcomed the liberating Americans, it became apparent that this was a city which had forgotten how to smile. Dreary years under Nazi rule leave marks which cannot be erased in a day. If for four years, day in, day out, you had been walking your streets with sober dignity in the presence of the conqueror, never smil ing nor chatting lightly with the enemy, then you could not, in a single day, learn to walk with laughter again. We have been here for many weeks, and now, suddenly, I am aware of a change. Doubtless it has been going on all the time, too slowly to be perceptible unless one looked back to a few weeks ago. It is not one thing, but the sum of many. Omens of Normal Living A small boy clattering along on wooden soled shoes, his bare knees purple in the cold, hails an American soldier with a bright "Hello" or "Goodbye"-they sometimes get the two mixed. He shakes hands in the formal French manner, finds a stick of gum in the soldier's big palm, shakes hands again, ex claims "Merci!" (Pages 366, 381.) And he goes his way with jaws beatifically moving, like those of our gum chums in England of old.t A storekeeper puts hand-carved toy jeeps in his window and sells them all before he even has time to raise the price. I doubt that anybody ever got rich trying to sell a wooden Volkswagen here. At a newsstand, post cards show a hand some Yank driving away a loutish Kraut and rescuing a fair maid of Lorraine, who on * Member of the Editorial Staff of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPIC MAGAZINE now on leave of absence, Major Vosburgh has been overseas since September, 1942. He is author of a number of important articles for THE GEOGRAPHIC. His exceptional reportorial ability and knowledge of mapping particularly quali fied him for his duties with the Army Air Forces. He is now in France with the XIX Tactical Air Com mand. t See "When GI Joes Took London," by Maj. Frederick Simpich, Jr., in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1944. 1See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Feb ruary, 1940, "France Farms as War Wages," by Har rison Howell Walker. tiptoe rewards him with a kiss. These post cards in praise of the Americans, I notice, are mostly sold to the Americans. Girls are seen jitterbugging with as much gusto as any bobby-socked U.S.A. sophomore. Good French girls never danced with the Ger mans, and many are dancing now for the first time in years (page 384). Even yet, the curfew makes such occasions rare. Downy-cheeked young Frenchmen are jit terbugging, too, though more of them are drilling with rifle on shoulder, grimly, but as if they enjoyed it. More people are carrying big brown loaves of French bread as they walk home to lunch or dinner-crusty, submarine-shaped, two foot loaves, unwrapped, or bread in the form of a ring hanging from the handle bars of a bicycle. The Germans blew up the city flour mill as one of their parting "acts of war." Townsfolk are looking a little less starved. I hope that is not my imagination. Nearly all have been undernourished for years. Many adults have lost 40 pounds or more and seem deathly frail in their too-big prewar clothes. In the country districts of Normandy and Brittany, out of easy reach of the rapacious Reich, I got the impression that the French had eaten better than the English.t. Trans port troubles worked to the advantage of farm ers, leaving the food in the region where it grew. But in Nancy most people are hatrack thin. Not Enough Food for Pets Why, I wondered at first, are there almost no dogs? Then I knew: Children must eat before chiens. Milk here has been a luxury known to few but small babies, invalids, and the very old. The Germans took many of the cows, and countless others have died ponderously in their pastures-true innocent bystanders of war. I have seen their bodies from St. Lo to Metz, riddled with bullets or blasted by bombs. Beside a single bomb crater I once counted eight, knocked dead in "mid-cudchew," some how giving an impression of mute, monstrous amazement. Legs stuck out stiffly, like the legs of toys, and bodies were balloonlike in the summer heat. The less penetrating power of aromas is one of the few advantages of a winter war. Then, the other day, not far from here, a German patrol came probing through a mine field, pushing a hapless cow as a mine detector. Result: hamburg steak.