Rivers not only brought boat loads of wine, grain, fruit, and construction materials (and Norsemen), they also brought people together. Every village in France had a place along the river for women to gather. In a European equivalent of the red tent, they brought their clothes, their gossip, their stories, their wisdom and myths, all to share far from the prying eyes of men and, they thought, far from the intrusions of conflict and war. This image from John Singer Sargent captures the sturdy tranquility of rural women who can not imagine that their lives are about to change forever.

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