National Geographic : 1951 Jul
France's Past Lives in Languedoc saw in Quezac, chickens and goats occupied the ground floor. In appreciation of his hospitality, we of fered our host a can of pineapple. Though I told him the French word for it, ananas, he appeared not to have heard of it before. He chuckled with delight when we took him for a short ride in what he called our "Plee moot" (Plymouth). Farther down the canyon, in the cliff hanging village of Castelbouc, we came upon the Bouty family shearing a sheep (pages 26, 27). They invited us for coffee to their tiny house. Typical of those in the small villages of the gorge, it was hidden behind the precipi tous slice of rock on which stand the ruins of Castelbouc Castle. Mademoiselle in Seattle Clothes We entered in darkness. Then the shutters of the single window were opened to reveal a small stone-floored room, two little tables, and a few chairs (page 25). This, with a bedroom above, reached by ladder through a trapdoor, was home for Paul Bouty, his wife, and five children. Pretty 17-year-old Marie Jeanne had re ceived a package of food and clothing from Seattle. She exhibited the wrappings and asked us to interpret the address. "It was kind of the American lady, wasn't it?" she said. "Clothes are so expensive. We make some of our own with the wool from our sheep." Bouty met their bare needs by raising vege tables and vines on the terraces behind the village. The frail-looking one-eyed man had a stout heart, for he climbed the high cliffs to tend a wheat field on the causse at the top. On a sunny day we drove from Mende, across the Causse de Sauveterre, and dipped sharply down to red-roofed Ste. Enimie in a narrow part of the Tarn canyon. Here the river makes a hairpin bend. On the stony beach rows of sheets lay bleaching. At the water's edge knelt half a dozen women dressed in black, scrubbing clothes. Joining the nar row road that borders the length of the gorge, we followed it to La Malene. From a buxom woman we rented two flat bottomed boats-one for each of us, so I could photograph the other-and four boatmen to pole them. We were absorbing the changing scene as we drifted on, suffused with the genial warmth of the sun, dreamily listening to the twitter of swallows that swooped around us and appreciating our remoteness. All at once a voice with a Brooklyn accent broke in on our reverie. "American?" We turned to see a beached canoe and a small tent with two heads protruding. "I'm an airplane mechanic from Paris," said the man. "Spent eight years in N'Yoik. Ain't this goige terrific?" We stopped for lunch at the Detroits, where the river is squeezed between two vertical cliffs (page 28). Hardly had the boatmen started on their bread, cheese, and wine when one spied a small snake. "Look out, that's poisonous!" he shouted. They all grabbed rocks and gave chase. Outnumbered four to one, the snake soon succumbed. When I pointed out two more, they panicked and scurried to the boats. A crew member entertained us by pouring wine down his throat as he held a goatskin container at arm's length. It was even more entertaining when another tried, and poured it in his eye. Our brief voyage ended at the stupendous Cirque des Baumes, which we had seen earlier from the Point Sublime (page 16). Ice to Eskimos The following Sunday, when we passed again through La Malene, we found a fete in prog ress. A loud-speaker announced the results of a lottery to an intent little group. Our four boatmen left their seats in the audience, doffed their berets, and pleasantly shook our hands. The stout woman manager of the boat business, on her way to greet us, paused sud denly, listening. "That's my name!" she exclaimed. "I've won a prize!" "Five boat rides down the Tarn," blared the loud-speaker. We drove one morning through a region of thick pine forest to the summit of Mont Aigoual, culminating peak of the southern C6vennes. At the meteorological station, Roget Nou, the weather observer, welcomed a break in his vigil. When he learned I came from Washington, he said, "We use the international code adopted there in 1949 for making our weather reports by radiotele phone. We call it the Code Washington." Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a roughly dressed young man. He had driven his father's flock of sheep 65 miles, from the outskirts of Montpellier, to summer in the mountain meadows. With him were 856 sheep, one billy goat, and two dogs. All but the tiniest lambs wore flat-toned bells that made a delightful tintinnabulation as they grazed (page 38). "I am substituting for the real shepherd," he explained. "He is sick from drinking ordinary water when he wasn't used to it."