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How smugglers helped bring France together

“All this [illicit trade] suggests that, while customs barriers stifled trade, they did not necessarily increase isolation. The `fortress’ of France was remarkably porous. Any commemoration of European unity should remember the smugglers and pedlars who helped to keep the borders open.”

Page 152, taken from The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb. The entire book is crammed with wonderful examples of French life down the ages, and in particular, I am struck by what were, by the standards of the time (18th and early 19th centuries) vast migrations of people within the country in a way that resembles the even longer migrations of people around the world today. Even the “Tour de France” cycle race seems to have its echoes in the heroic journeys made by pilgrims, travellers and labourers of ages past.

This is a great book if you are thinking of spending a week in that country. Robb has also written a fine biography of that giant of French literature, Victor Hugo.

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