National Geographic : 1960 Jun
Harvesters attack a golden field of wheat near Carcassonne. Turrets piled high with crates labeled "primeurs" (early vegetables) and "melons" passed us everywhere, especially in the vicinity of Cav aillon. During our stay in France, we each must have eaten our weight in delicious can taloupes grown mainly in this area. Vineyards cover many a slope in Provence, and fruit trees are abundant. The disastrous freeze of February, 1956, however, had killed more than half the olive trees. Some were centuries old. It saddened us to see row upon row of gnarled, twisted shapes, like a grotesque, motionless army. Olive Growers Switch to Other Crops Near the Fontaine de Vaucluse, on a small domaine, or country estate, we talked of this with M. Henry de Lucenay, who sells agri cultural spraying and dusting equipment. "It was a cruel blow to the olive oil busi ness, which was very important around Salon and Aix-en-Provence. Provencal cooking, as you know, is based on olive oil. Now most of it comes from Tunisia," he said. An olive tree must be at least seven years old before it can bear fruit. Few farmers can afford to wait that long. So they have been planting cherry, almond, apricot, and apple trees-about 40,000 a year in the department 742 of Vaucluse alone. Ingeniously, they "dig" the planting holes with explosive charges. "A small cartridge not only makes a hole of about a cubic meter, but it loosens six times that much ground around it, so the roots can spread easily," de Lucenay said. "Results have been spectacular. They'll be marketing apples in three or four years." The so-called Fountain of Vaucluse, really a huge spring at the base of a cliff, is the source of the River Sorgue. In an unsuccess ful attempt to sound its depths, using Aqua Lungs, Captain Cousteau and Frederic Dumas almost lost their lives in 1946. In winter and spring the water gushes out in enormous vol ume, but when we saw it a mere trickle over flowed from the dark, mysterious throat. We learned its operation, however, from a work ing model in the little speleological museum of Norbert Casteret.* We were thrilled by his exhibit of stalac tites and fairylike crystal formations, the fruit of 30 years of prospecting in a thousand caverns. There are more than 300 forma tions, some jewel-like, some amusing, some extremely delicate, some fantastic-spirals, volutes, needles, flowers. "Most of them appear to defy physical and * Monsieur Casteret takes readers underground in "Probing Ice Caves of the Pyrenees," NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC, March, 1953.