National Geographic : 1960 Jun
FENNO JACOBS, BLACKSTAR Crusty loaves, at times as unwieldy as firewood, bang the knees of a proud errand-goer. French housewives buy this bread unwrapped. Only the durable crust protects it on the journey home. Central, we paused for a day in the lush, green pasture country south of Nevers. M. Emile Maurice, mayor of the little commune of Lurcy-Levis, had promised to show us some of the remarkable Charollais cattle, whose name on a French menu means the best of beef. With M. Maurice and a South African cattle buyer, we plodded through fields of rich grass to see a herd of handsome cows, sturdy calves, and a huge six-year-old bull named "Intrigue." In the barnyard, as he carefully examined a fine three-year-old bull that weighed more than 2,400 pounds, the South African kept muttering "Fantastic." 734 "In my opinion," he said later, "no other cattle put on meat so rapidly. They have strong, wide mouths and eat large quantities of fodder. The carcass is well boned and gives a maximum of good, juicy meat. This is the finest breed of beef cattle I know of." The mountainous south-central region of France, a volcanic land of scenic surprises, deserves to be better known by tourists who, after "doing" Paris, often rush straight to the Riviera, as if nothing worth noticing existed between them. To this end, as a sequel to the bicentennial of Lafayette in 1957,* much effort was being spent on improving hotels and restaurants, and "Route Lafayette" signs had been erected to attract motorists. Highland villages, like medieval Conques and cliff-hung Rocamadour, where our baggage was hoisted vertically to our hotel on a rope, are easy to reach. Chateaus Guard Tranquillity and History We enjoyed especially the lofty Chateau de Mercues, near Cahors, one of several castles recently converted into hotels. As we sat reading in the sunlit garden on a day of unforgettable tranquillity, a lizard scur ried along the balustrade. Cicadas chirped. Cedars poked their pointed caps above the terrace wall to frame a patchwork of fields sloping gently toward wooded hills. Below, the River Lot cascaded soothingly over a low dam and curved away through an avenue of willows and poplars into a darker mass of trees. The scene was little changed from that enjoyed by the bishops of Cahors, who resided here for more than three centuries. In a wilder region, near Le Puy, stands the Chateau de Lavofte, summer residence of Prince Jean de Polignac. We stayed at a little inn with excellent cuisine that has been opened on the grounds. In the grand salon of the castle one evening, with a gallery of ancestors' portraits eyeing our every move, Princess Madeleine de Poli gnac opened a glass case of prized family souvenirs. Among them were the map of the environs of Paris that Louis XVI always car ried when hunting, and six letters from Queen Marie Antoinette, written just before her ex ecution, to Duchess Yolande de Polignac, her intimate friend. The French Revolution had never seemed quite so real to me. The next morning brought us back to 20th century reality as we saw the Polignacs drive away for a picnic with their son and two * Howell Walker tells of the French soldier's back ground in "Lafayette's Homeland, Auvergne," NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, September, 1957.