Sunday, May 4, 2008

Charming little town called Chatte

My favorite Leclerc shopping center is located on the municipal territory of a tiny town called Chatte (meaning a female cat in French), alongside St-Marcellin.

At first sight, Chatte appears to be a village, but the visitor soon discovers that it has all the trappings of a little town... such as a post office, for example, on a corner of a small square with a republican fountain with a tricolor-waving Marianne.

The town hall is currently decked out in German and Italian flags, because Chatte is twinned with towns in these two countries. Yesterday, the town received a bus load of Italian visitors. On the narrow pavements of Chatte, there's no room to swing a female cat, so I had to step onto the equally narrow road (where automobiles travel at twice the legal speed) whenever I ran into tourists.

It was sunny in Chatte, and the leafy trees around the church provided shade for bikers at lunch. As for the church, in spite of the influx of visitors, it remained shut.

Chatte was the abode of a future Catholic saint, who lived in a charming stone house across from the church.

The plaque informs us that Pierre-Julien Eymard [1811-1868] was the local priest for three years. [Click the portrait to visit a rich website concerning Eymard's ecclesiastic achievements.]

At the center of the town, a café is called, appropriately enough, the Café du Centre. A nearby place is marked hotel/restaurant, but I'm not sure whether it's operational. The only major tourist attraction at Chatte is a small park with a collection of model railways... but I've never been motivated enough to go there.

A tiny stream meanders gently through Chatte, past stone-walled yards of fruit trees and drooping wisteria. It surely has a source and a name, but I ignore these details.

Nearby, the imposing façade of a former spinning mill evokes an epoch, long before our modern age of outsourcing and globalization, when the villages and small towns of France hummed with industrial activity.

Up on a hill above the township, a nondescript stone building is referred to, by local people, as le vieux château [the old castle].

From this vantage point, the view extends across the rich plain alongside the Isère, with fields of walnut trees and colza, to the nearby Vercors mountain range [where my Gamone homeplace is located].

The town might appear to be somewhat drowsy, but it is actually quite a prosperous and progressive little community, with modern facilities such as this media library for young people.

Last but not least [in fact, the main reason why I've been drawn recently to Chatte], behind this children's playground on the central square of the town, there's an excellent service in physical education, equipped to take care of prostatectomy patients.

Christine and I once knew a lady who, whenever she traveled through French villages, would immediately search for the boutique of the local photographer who handles weddings, because she claimed that there's no better way of understanding the culture and general mentality of a community than to see how they get themselves photographed at marriages. Personally, whenever I discover a relatively out-of-the-way place such as the tiny town of Chatte, I'm always intrigued to know whether certain interesting individuals might have grown up there, because I take pleasure in trying to imagine how the environment might have modeled them, as it were, for their future prowess. This is a relatively straightforward exercise in the case of famous residents of a great city such as Paris, but one has to adopt a more subtle approach when you attempt to decide what influences might have been exerted upon adolescents in a place such as Chatte, motivating their later adventures and achievements.

Two local heroes are represented by bronze busts in alcoves in the façade of the town hall.

To the left of the main portal, we find an effigy of Clément Adrien Vincendon-Dumoulin [1811-1856], a hydrographer [map-maker] who sailed to Antarctica on the Astrolabe with Dumont d'Urville during the period 1837-1840. It's amusing to imagine a young man from Chatte in the following antipodean predicament:

In an identical alcove to the right of the portal, a bust depicts Alexandre Collenot [1902-1936]:

He was a daring aviation mechanic who flew constantly with the great pioneer Jean Mermoz before disappearing from the face of the Earth somewhere between Brazil and Senegal.

All in all, I like to think of Chatte, both past and present, as a typical small country town, with a little bit of everything. In saying this, however, I'm aware that the place I've just been describing, through a series of images and terse descriptions, exists primarily as a virtual entity in my head. To get to know the true town, you would have to stroll around there for an hour or so on a sunny afternoon, as I did yesterday.

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