1939 : The National Geographic Magazine in Vimoutiers



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"Reporter for the National Geographic Magazine in Washington, Harrisson Howell Walker arrives in Vimoutiers on a sunny day of June, driving an old Renault, full-to-bursting with super-sophisticated photographic materials.


From the story of Joe Knirim and Marie Harel : he makes the first topic of his reportage, taking a picture of the statue of Marie Harel, under the Halle of Vimoutiers and concludes : "Still handing today, the Harel farmhouse helps a few homes preserve a pleasant hamlet whose name delights cheese-eaters around the world".



With a room in the Hotel du Soleil d'Or, Harrison drives around. Doctor Jean Boullard, chauvinistic supporter of the Pays d'Auge, likes this pleasant man and he guides him. The reporter writes ...:



 "... On a hilltop we stopped to look down on the hamlet of Les Champeaux. As in most villages of Pays d'Auge, only a few houses huddle around a church. Because it is primarily pastoral country, people live in scattered farmsteads ...

- A magnificent view, isn't it ? The doctor was enthusiastic.

- Magnificent ! I echoed, but I was really watching country folk, plodding up a path, pause before a crossroads crucifix ..."



... "Near les Ligneries, we walked through a crude gateway toward a half-timbered farmhouse :

- Charlotte Corday was born here in 1768, my friend said ... Of course you remember reading of her.

- Well, I ...

- The excesses of the Revolution maddened her, he continued. So she went to Paris and fatally stabbed Marat, whom she considered responsible for so many deaths on the scaffold.

... Today a young farmer and his wife live here, warmed by the same hearth that kindled Charlotte's patriotic glow".

Another day, after admiring the Manoir de Bellou, Harrison Walker stops in Moutiers-Hubert and pauses for a while in the old church at the crossroads. Touched, he prays ... the time for a picture:

"... Several years ago, a fire left only the building's sides standing. Rebuilt with timber, the interior of the chapel is one of the few in wood to be found in Normandy today ... Behind French flags, hangs a rope for ringing bells that call farming folk to church ..."

On writing these words, the reporter is unaware that this more than 700-years-old church will be destroyed by bombing.


A few kilometers from Vimoutiers, he spends a day at the Manoir de la Cauvinière, Notre-Dame de Courson, where :

"Country Gentleman Robert Ribard shoes his own horses, repairs his own windows or woodwork or farm machinery, transplants or grafts his own orchards and makes cider with a century-old press on the premises. Around the circular trough a horse drags a stone wheel that crushed apples to pulp ...".



When he arrives in Preaux-Saint-Sebastien, it is the annual Feast  ... :

" ... 4000 people come from every direction in two-wheeled carts, automobils, on bicycles, on foot. The whole village celebrates the rural festival and a band strikes up a martial air to boom a juggling act ... a religious procession follows a gleaming cross into the near-by church. Hundreds surge behind and hundreds press around the door outside ...

Noon is coming with a big appetite ! ... He joins a party under the trees : ... Eating, drinking, laughing and love-making suggest scenes of rustic picnics painted by certain Flemish artists"(sic).



Continuing his way, Harrison Walker stays a week on Mr Couteau's farm. He wants to live with Augerons (the natives of Pays d'Auge), see them at work, follow them in pastures and walk the hollow paths :



 "He gets up at 4:30 o'clock, time to milk some 24 cows, men and women crouched at work on three-legged stools ... share their breakfast at 7 o'clock ... and it's not just a cup of coffee ... Eggs, sausages, pâtés of duck or rabbit, lots of bread and butter, and even cider ! ... At noon, a substantial meal and at 4 o'clock a collation, similar to that of the morning ... By 7:30 in the evening, the last milking and then the dinner at the long kitchen table. A large bowl of soup, everyone carves his own slice of a bread almost a yard long and a foot wide ...cider, poured from a rustic oak pitcher, washes down meat and potatoes. ... Then, time for equally rituals rosary kneeling and good-night embraces!"



Oh yes, now he gets it, his reportage. When Harrisson Howell Walker leaves the Pays d'Auge, he takes with him pictures of happiness,  some clichés of hard-working Normandy, fragrance of hays, savors of authentic products, the souvenir of the so picturesque weighing of the butter under the Halle, and ...

the kodachrome photography of the market place of Vimoutiers, taken on a monday afternoon, the unique one ever made in color that Vimonasteriens will name later "the photography of the century". Summer is arriving and yes, of course ... neither him nor anyone could imagine ...

Extracts from the reportage "France farms as war wages" which was published in United States in February 1940

...Vimoutiers received it by 1945-1946.




Charlotte Corday

National Geographic Magazine

Sources : - National Geographic Magazine, February 1940 collection©webmaster www.vimoutiers.net - Photos credit ©NGS

- Bulletin n°29 offered by Historical Society of Vimuutier, MC Boullard -