National Geographic : 1951 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine brick as a lace vestment with a cardinal's cassock. Entering the Cathedral, we found ourselves in a cool room, very wide and high, with a vaulted ceiling and no pillars. The construc tion is massive and simple, but the decoration is gorgeous. We gaped in amazement at the rich blue and gold of the ceiling (page 31), at walls almost completely covered with frescoes, and at the stupendous jube, or rood screen, the full width of the nave, that looked like petrified lace. Tradition says Cardinal Richelieu climbed a ladder to assure himself the delicate carving wasn't painted plaster. "Magnificent Folly" I bought from the sacristan a little book from which I translated the following appro priate words about the rood screen by the novelist Prosper Merimee: "I don't like jubes. They make churches shrink; they give the effect of a large piece of furniture in a small room. However, that of Ste. Cecile is so elegant, so perfect in work manship, that, completely filled with admira tion, one shuns criticism and is ashamed to be reasonable in the presence of this magnifi cent folly." Behind the rood screen the entire enclosure of the choir, filling the eastern half of the church, is similarly carved, while standing in regularly spaced niches are beautifully exe cuted small statues of angels, saints, Apostles, and other Biblical figures. Seventy empty niches, in the facade of the jube, are re minders of how close this masterpiece of sculpture and all the frescoes came to destruc tion during the Revolution. An immense painting of the Last Judgment, done by French artists, once covered the inner surface of two of the massive brick piers of the tower and the space between them. Un fortunately, the central portion was sacrificed for access to the tower guard room, converted into a chapel, and to make room for the great organ. The vast painting's somber tones and curious conception, suggestive of illustrations for Dante's Inferno, are in strong contrast to the bright Italian frescoes done several decades later (page 30). How to Hold Your Girl Albi is a red city. Most buildings, includ ing the Cathedral and the many-arched bridges, are of red brick. Roofs are red tile. Here even the River Tarn is red. From golden dawn to blazing sundown the roseate hues make a visual symphony as tones endlessly blend and change through every mutation of the weather. Toulouse, Languedoc's principal industrial center, 40 miles southwest of Albi, is also a red-brick city. Arriving in the evening, we strolled beside the broad Garonne, where men were fishing with unusually long poles. Small white sails, seen through arches of a distant bridge, flitted about like butterflies. Boys walked with their girls, holding a firm but affectionate grip on the backs of their necks a style in courting behavior new to us. Next morning M. Theodore Puntous, Per petual Secretary of the Academy of the Floral Games, took us to the old Hotel d'Assezat, the Academy's headquarters. He showed us gold and silver flowers awarded annually as prizes for verse in langue d'oc. In this way the literary traditions of the language are pre served. Portraits of celebrated members, in cluding Louis XIV, decorated the walls of the salon. In the foyer hung a rich painting of the floral games of 1498, illustrating how this traditional custom originated in the "love courts" of the troubadours (pages 1, 22). Lovers of architecture would consider the Romanesque church of St. Sernin alone worth a journey to Toulouse. The Cathedral of St. Etienne, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge of several styles of architecture, a masterpiece of incongruity, all out of shape and balance. Henry James described it aptly as a "dis located fragment." At the base of the central pillar we saw the tomb of an unselfish benefactor of France, the Baron Pierre Paul Riquet de Bonrepos (1604-80), who devoted his life to promoting the canal system of this region. Passing through Toulouse, it links Bordeaux on the Atlantic with Agde and Sete on the Mediter ranean.* The eastern part, the Canal du Midi, built and largely paid for by Riquet, serves the grape-growing regions of Bas (Lower) Langue doc. Wine making is big business here, and Marshall Plan aid helps increase production. Vineyards Suffered in Wartime Louis Pulles, who owns a small vineyard near Carcassonne, told us the vines were neglected during the war and are still not back to normal. "The Nazis commandeered all but the old est horses," he said. "Manpower was short, many workers being absent in prison camps or at forced labor. We lacked fertilizer, sulphur for dusting, copper sulphate for spray ing, and chemicals such as arsenic and vitriol for combating disease in the vines. Horse * See "Across the Midi in a Canoe," by Melville Chater, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1927.