Four Great Cities of France
MOTORING in France is now such a common pastime that there must be hardly a village or a road which has not been eKplored by the wheels of some British motor-car. If, there- fire, 1 describe in these columns a recent tour which followed a route as normal as it was delightful, it is only to challenge comparison with other equally pleasing ways.
During last August I was the driver of a car which described what is almost an Isosceles triangle across the face of France ; the base-line running from Boulogne to Antibes, with the apex at St. Jean de Luz. We took the outward journey along the two short lines (from Boulogne to St. Jean de Luz, and froin St. Jean de Luz to Antibes), and came back along the base- line of Antibes to Boulogne. On such a route we had the impression that we had seen the whole richness of France. We were quite wrong, of course, for the whole of the East and the North were both left untouched ; but certainly we saw and enjoyed a lot ! For example, such a route takes one through four of the great provincial cities of France—Bor- deaux, Toulouse, Marseilles and Lyons. In many countries one usually avoids the great towns as ugly nuisances which lie as obstacles across one's road. But how unwise would it be to do any such thing in France ! Bordeaux, for example, is one of the most marvellous cities in France. Many have held it to be the real, essential French city, far more truly archetypal of the country than is Paris. Certainly its com- petence, its wealth, its self-sufficiency, and its hard but always controlled commercialism are worthy of attention. Bordeaux has no pretensions to be a capital ; yet it is one of the most civilized cities in Europe, and its two great restaur- ants, the Chapon Fin, and the Chapon Rouge, consider them- selves far superior to anything which Paris can do, and they are not far wrong. Bordeaux commands one's respect rather than one's affection, and when one sees the prices at the principal hotels, respect may even change into indignation. But the mighty sweep of the Garonne and the exquisite seventeenth-century houses that border it make the city an unforgettable experience.
Toulouse in a very different matter—a much more ordinary, modern, striving, commercial city with far kindlier people, La Ville Rouge, as they call it, is fine to look at, if one drives up in the sunset, as we did; so far as one could see, however,. in a one-night's stay, it was comparatively uninteresting inside.
Marseilles, however (which really, lies off the triangular route I have described, but which must on no account be missed), is, perhaps, the most fantastic and terrifying city in Europe. It is often said that the clash and rage of life are more naked, less veiled and padded by convention and custom, in Marseilles than anywhere else in Europe. Certainly the; population which seethes round the quays is an astonishing one. Down the great central street, called la Cannebiere, under the eyes of a Senegalese sentry pans the jostling crowd of lascars, boys " from Indo-China, curiously coloured inhabitants of North Africa, Japs, Chinese, Indians and
Malays. " Si Paris avail une CannebR re, elle serait un petit Marseilles," is a local saying which seems to express the attitude of the Marseillaise to the capital. The restaurants are famous, but did not seem to us to compare with those of Bordeaux.
The last great city that we saw was Lyons. Lyons is far more overpoweringly industrial than the other three, but it sits superbly at its river junction, where the shallow waters of the Sabne and the Rhone come together. It is a city which has been industrial, and continuously prosperous and wealthy, since the beginning of the Middle Ages. It has an almost terrifying solidity. They say that the rich silk spinners of Lyons are the real core of the French bourgeoisie. One feels their weight upon the city.
The traveller's whole comprehension of France is deepened and increased, even by going through these four great pro- vincial towns. But, of course, it is the countryside which gives one sheer delight. Les landes, those endless acres of pine trees south of Bordeaux, of which Monsieur Mauriac writes, the sinister and stony hills of the Cevennes, sub- tropical Provence itself, and, above all, the hills of Burgundy, unspoilable even by endless description, are still, perhaps, the pleasantest places in the world. One so well understands why no Frenchman has ever emigrated. Why should he ?
There is surely little need to write of French hotels, their prices, or the manners and customs of the French. It is true that the traveller who has never ventured out of .Paris will discover that there still remains a French nation entirely untroubled by the American occupation of the area within a two-mile radius of to Place de la Concorde. I understand that a certain American geography bock contents itself with the following sentence as a description of the Gaelic temperament : " The French are a gay people, fond of dancing and light wine." . The motorist may make several qualifications to this sweeping generalization, but he will, if he is impartial, admit that the French are still the best innkeepers in the world, that their prices are still very much cheaper than what the equivalent comfort would cost (were it, indeed, obtainable at all) in this country, and that France is still the 'most civilized country in the world to travel in— Unless, of course, one reckons civilization entirely by the number of bathrooms encountered, and leaves out of con- sideration the quality of the food, the wine, the architecture of the towns, the politeness of the inhabitants, and the beauty of the country. X.
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