“For eight years I was an inmate in a state asylum for the insane. During those years I passed through such unbearable terror that I deteriorated into a wild, frightened creature intent only on survival. And I survived. I was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats and poisoned by tainted food. I was chained in padded cells, strapped into strait-jackets and half-drowned in ice baths. And I survived. The asylum itself was a steel trap, and I was not released from its jaws alive and victorious. I crawled out mutilated, whimpering and terribly alone. But I did survive.” — Frances Farmer (Will There Really Be a Morning?)
France has suffered the minor misfortune of being a central focus of not one but two world wars. As you might have guessed, this has had a few long-term consequences. World War I in particular, what with its titanic battles confined in narrow corridors, destroyed some regions so badly that they’re still more or less uninhabitable to this day.
"Zone Rouge" is the name given to a chain of areas throughout Northeastern France where people are strictly forbidden from entering unless they’re on official business or are looking to check “get obliterated by ancient ordinance” off of their bucket list. The environment within these areas is completely inhospitable to human life. The soil is contaminated with arsenic and chemical weapon residue. The ground is still littered with human and animal remains. And most worryingly, only a few inches into the soil, you can find unspent ammunition and grenades and unexploded artillery shells.
However, it’s not exactly safe to go digging in the ground even outside of the red zone. Agriculture is a major industry in this area of France, and farmers have no choice but to regularly Hurt Locker their way through potentially explosive fields with their tractors to earn a living. This is known locally as the “Iron Harvest,” because you’ve got to have a sense of humor about these things. When a farmer finds a shell, they can take it to a special dumping ground, where a team from the government’s munitions disposal team will pick it up. It’s estimated that 900 tons of munitions are disposed of in this way every year. And yes, people do die while doing it.
Frances was a rebel when it wasn’t fashionable — a free-thinking woman of the ‘30s and '40s whose outspoken nature, shocking language and anti-social behavior landed her in jails and mental institutions.
-Rita Rose in The Indianapolis Star (23 January 1983)