National Geographic : 1960 Jun
Church and Statue Cap Volcanic Plugs Overhanging Le Puy An ancient center of the lacemaking industry, Le Puy means "the Peak" in the Auvergne dialect. St. Michel's Chapel, ten centuries old, crowns the volcanic exclamation point at left. Visitors to the 280-foot summit climb 267 laborious steps. Residents call this spec tacular outcropping Ai guilhe (the Needle) be cause of its prominence. Corneille Rock (cen ter) bears a lofty Ma donna and Child cast from 213 Russian guns captured during the Cri mean War. During the Middle Ages, great pilgrimage crowds flocked to the Ca thedral of Notre Dame du Puy (right) to ven erate a Black Virgin re putedly taken from Egypt by Louis IX. daughters in a two-horsepower Citroen-the humblest, homeliest, most popular car in France. "A superb car!" a Paris taxi driver once described it to me. "It goes anywhere, costs almost nothing to run, and never gives any trouble. It's like a homely wife who's a good cook and very agreeable to live with." Le Puy had changed little since our 1950 visit.* The strange old cathedral, with its multicolored Moorish masonry, the bronze Virgin on Corneille Rock, and the chapel of St. Michel standing atop a volcanic pinnacle still drew thousands of pilgrims. The near-by feudal fortress of Polignac still guarded its brood of red-roofed houses. In the warmth of an idyllic afternoon, the tidy, open fields teemed with activity. Ox carts creaked and rumbled. A sturdy woman 738 and a little boy sowed barley and plowed it under with two white cows. An old woman washed sheets in an outdoor laundry. An at tractive miss sat watching her cows, crochet needles dancing in her busy fingers. Her shaggy shepherd dog trotted around impor tantly, and a pet goat tried to eat her skirt. No, things had not changed here since our last visit; perhaps not for centuries. Fields That Feed Half of France But French agriculture is not all primitive. It is actually more productive, acre for acre, than our own, although it takes five French men to feed ten, while one American farmer does the same job. The fertile plains be tween Flanders and the lower Loire, worked * Charms of the Le Puy region are described in "France's Past Lives in Languedoc," July, 1951.