Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

HE French Riviera is supposed to be a winter place, and so it is. In truth, however, it is an all-yearround place. Its summer climate is hardly so hot as New York's has become, and its favored shore has always a sea breeze to cool the air.

The peasants who live here (and who say they would not live anywhere else) enjoy life summer as well as winter, and, instead of "laying by " half the year, have labor for every season. They are in general an industrious rather than a lazy folk. Their summer habits are more humane than one might think. Mornings and evenings are, of course, the proper times for work, noon and night for rest and sleep. The peasants are considerate, too, of their beasts; horses, mules, and donkeys are fitted out with hats, much like those the women wear, as a protection against too much sun. In the villages, oven-fires are allowed to die down so as to give greater coolness to the houses, and the

nearest bakeshop does duty for an entire community.

Provence, of which the Riviera is the world-renowned shore-part, is a country by itself. It looks askance at the rest of France. While these peasants are often as garrulous and loud-voiced as Tartarin of Tarascon himself, they are also at bottom saving, shrewd, conservative, independent. They are a people apart. They remind one of the clannish thrift of the Scotch. The various mountain tribes, for instance (and Provence is largely mountainous), live preferably by themselves. They have their own customs, inherited from their Moorish ancestors, or perhaps from the original Ligurians themselves, and they do not look with favor on alliances, matrimonial or other, with the degenerate people of the plain.

In getting acquainted with the Provençals it is a good plan for the stranger to take third-class tickets when journeying by rail hereabouts. At daybreak or even

[ocr errors]
[graphic]

earlier the women will be coming to the markets of Nice and Cannes and returning by the morning trains. Tourists are taking the same trains, too, but will miss much local color by not herding with the peasants. How the latter bundle into the narrow compartments, their great market-baskets hardly wider than their comfortable selves, and both just able to squeeze in at the door! They all seem to know each other, no matter how far apart their stations. A common use of the railway makes many friendships, and the chattering and laughing and showing of white teeth are equaled only in Italy. The compartment is soon as full as it can be of men, women, babies, and baskets, and when smoking begins and garlic rises the good air gets towards the vanishing point. However, one forgets even such patent discomforts in the general delightful expansiveness of the people. They are a strange combination of the wary and the impulsive. The first trait has infallibly been brought out by several hours at the morning market; the second is now in evidence. If the stranger speaks Provençal, he may possibly be the recipient of some naïve confidence before his journey's end is reached; but if he does not speak the language of this country, he may live on the Riviera, as some French folk have done, for two decades and more, only always to be regarded as a foreigner, of whom a sly advantage can be taken from time to time.

The women of the Riviera, if not of all Provence, are more noteworthy than the men. With the agility of young girls, great-grandmothers will alight at crossroad stations and march off with the uncrowned-queen air of the Jules Breton peasant in the Luxembourg. In solid physique and staying qualities these yield to no women. Their short petticoats, white aprons and caps, a gay handkerchief about the neck and an enormous bundle balanced on the head-you may see them anywhere, brawny, broad-chested, bearing down on you like a ship under full sail. As a rule, they work harder than the men, yet they age without breaking down. There are many about here ninety and a hundred years old, still strong, hardy, and tenacious of life. Such women are the physical if not the moral saviors of France.

You may travel about with the traveling peasantry, but it is only on their farms, and in the little towns one, two, three hours away from the fashionable seaside places, that one learns to know the stay-at-homers. Here one finds the real Riviera folk, and in this climate-kind to them always, not too cold in winter or too warm in summer-they live a free, independent life. Who would not, liberated from the fear of blizzards at one season or hot waves at the other? Ordinary indoor avocations are performed out-of-doors, whenever possible; indeed, there is a general turning of indoors out-of-doors. It is better so, for the houses are generally draughty, leaky, ill-smelling.

MONACO Seen through the aloes

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

Outdoor life invades the village church itself. The pious worshiper there is not infrequently disturbed by little children. at play, rushing boldly into the house of God (an open, not a shut, house, as are most Protestant churches) and scampering out again before either priest or verger can catch them. Vox populi is vox Dei here. There is one, there are not many voices, as with us. The town's one church is the church of all the people in the town. Again, the Provençal believes more than do most Frenchmen in the motto of France, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," not only in matters political, but also social and religious. The Roman Catholic religion is, in some respects, excellently adapted to this belief. Churches may reek with bad incense, and offend the fastidious with taw dry images, but they are certainly no rich men's exclusive clubs, as may be found nearer home. More than one leaf out of the Roman Catholic book might be taken

by Protestant pioneers. The latter must offer a religious service appealing to the senses as well as to the soul, if serious headway is to be made among the freerthinking but æsthetic French. Yet the Roman Church seems securer on the Riviera than elsewhere. Free-thinking has not gained ground here in the same proportion as in the manufacturing and socialistic districts further north.

With the exception of the seaside resorts, Riviera towns are mostly rockvillages, and look, I fancy, pretty much as they did in the days of the Greeks and Romans. In town-building, the early inhabitants crowned their hill-crests for two reasons: first, because they could be more easily defended; and then, so that they would not encroach upon the rich soil below the crags. Each town had and has its watch-tower, and a system of signals was understood by the various villagers as against the robber barons, just as another system of signals existed among the latter, by which, from their still more inaccessible eyries and castles, they communicated with one another. After centuries of conflict, this arraying of class against class finally and fittingly resulted

[graphic][merged small]

in the triumph of democracy. So emphatic was this triumph that to-day no part of France is more alive to the spirit of equality than is Provence. The peasant is quite as good as any lord. True, the tall towers still stand, the most prominent objects in Grasse, Auribeau, Mougins, Gourdon, and other towns, but they are now bell-towers for a more spiritual power. Their sonority fills the air, morning, noon, and night, no longer for the brutalities of war, but to call men to prayer, to bid them begin or cease from their peaceful labors.

The land is of moment to three classes -proprietors, farmers, and husbandmen. As to the first, proprietorship in France means something quite different from the existing status in any other European country, for in no other are four-fifths of the rural owners actual cultivators of the soil. The multiplicity of little farms in France surprises the foreigner. They have been, in this century, the country's economic salvation, and, if the large holders only knew it, their salvation also, for they have been so many arguments against envy, hatred, malice, and all un

charitableness. The French Revolution accomplished some good things, and not the least was the opportunity offered to farmers and husbandmen to be themselves proprietors. When farms are rented, the leases run three, six, or nine years, the proprietor paying all taxes. These taxes amount to about one-fifth of the farm's annual value, and the average of mortgages may be put down for another fifth. Riviera farms produce wheat, corn, oats, grapes, olives, oranges, mandarins, lemons, figs, almonds, apricots, plums, mulberries, peaches, pepper, flax, vegetables, salad-stuff, and flowers for the last named are raised here in genuine crops.

During the greater part of the year the wheat supply is quite insufficient for the people's needs, and at any time it is actually higher in price than is the price here of our Dakota product, which has had to pay transportation charges, national and local duties. Corn is ripe towards the end of June, but while the quality is not so bad, the fields themselves are weedy to a degree which would make an American farmer beside himself. The gathering of the grain crops is the principal summer

[graphic][graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][graphic][merged small]
« PredošláPokračovať »