Saturday, 31 August 2013

A literary village

Years ago I borrowed a book from an English friend about the developments around the deployment of a public urinal in a small village in the Beaujolais.

The book was called "Clochemerle", written by Gabriel Chevallier. After having lived in France for a while, I noticed that, no matter how farcical the story seemed, it was an interesting satire on the division that divides France, still, when it comes to the separation of Church and State. One can sense that in "real" politics, but it is very obvious at a local level.
In a nutshell : the Mayor of Clochemerle wants to make a point, and decides to have a public urinal erected, near the church and the girls' school. Being a cunning village politician, he ensures himself of the loyal support of the local "intellectual", the village teacher. The latter is obsessed by fear of intervention from the "conservatives", i.e. clergy (the parish priest) and nobility (the baroness).

Het urinoir
A pious old maid, who is watching this cesspool of vice day in day out from her window, mobilises the conservatives to halt this humiliating performance. The book has a few more story lines, but this is in essence what the book is all about. It is written in a style not dissimilar to that of P.G. Wodehouse.
Not so long ago I learned that there was a village in the Beaujolais which had been used as the model for Clochemerle, as regards to plan, location and inhabitants, sometimes even with their real names. A couple of days ago we visited, for that reason only, the village of Vaux-en-Beaujolais alias Clochemerle. Of course there is a Chevallier Museum, but on top of that, the village square boasts a urinal, especially erected for the purpose. Besides, another building facing the square, has been adorned with a trompe l'oeil with scenes from the book, a mural which cleverly uses light in shadow to suggest reality. The shadow of the man hanging from a rope from a balcony makes this clear.

Trompe l'oeil
I am not so familiar with English book characters, but certainly the Dutch are lacking in fantasy on this front. Most nationwide well known characters from books or novels come from real places like Rotterdam or Amsterdam, very often with real street names as well. Maybe the Dutch are just too dull to come up with a fictitious village or town....

Anyway, those who are interested in the original French version or a Dutch or German translation of "Clochemerle", these are available at La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

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