Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/297

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289
THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF FRANCE.

The French slopes are, therefore, forest-covered, while in Alsace the lower hills are devoted to the vine, and the upper to grain.

North of the Vosges the boundary line across the plateau of Lor- raine before plunging into the rugged forests of the Ardennes. From the latter it finally emerges upon the coast plains to form the Belgian frontier. Between Belgium and France the political boundary is purely arbitrary. There is not an economic boundary, but rather a hive of industry between the two peoples. The political grouping does not correspond with that of race or language.

This hasty review of the land boundaries of France has embraced the consideration of five distinct mountain regions. The general re- lief of France is less uniform than that of Prussia or Russia, but more uniform than that of Spain or Italy. Forty-six per cent, of French territory is classed as mountainous. Nevertheless, variations in alti- tude are softened, and there is in France a great deal of what might be called transitional country. The highest mountains are fortunately upon the borders, and but two other regions of broken country need to be considered.

Let us, then, turn from the boundaries to the internal geography of France, and first of all complete our enumeration of mountain areas by considering the Central Highlands and Brittany.

In the south central part of the country there exists an extensive semi-barren plateau of highly fractured, crystalline, eruptive and vol- canic rocks. It slopes sharply to the Rhone on the east, more gently to the Garonne River on the southwest, and to the Loire River on the north. The rocks of this region are so fractured that the rains which fall upon them sink almost immediately out of sight. The country is graced by no transparent mountain lakes or sparkling rivulets. Water must be carefully collected in cisterns or laboriously transported from lower levels. Lack of moisture and the forbidding character of the rock make the pastures so meagre that only sheep and goats can be supported. From them is won the wool which supports a household industry, and from their milk cheese is made. In the eleventh cen- tury the cheese of the little village of Roquefort was put away in a rock cave to 'ripen'. It was soon found that this cheese possessed re- markable excellence of flavor. Its fame spread widely, and a new use was from that time found for the caverns which abound in the Cevennes Mountains. The demand was so great that 'bastard caverns' were excavated in the hope of securing the coveted flavor, but the cheese in them has never acquired the properties of real Roquefort. The west- ern slopes of the Central Highlands receive a greater rainfall and possess a more durable pasturage and a more dense population than the eastern. Auvergne is celebrated as the home of sharp cattle mer- chants, as well as of the peddlers of France. The central plateau has