“Châteaudun is the mirror of France!” he proclaims. He means that this small town tends to vote like the whole of the country. “And Marine Le Pen is going to win! This is my biggest concern.” The one who speaks is the mayor, Fabien Verdier. Today he has about twenty schoolchildren in his office. As the reader has probably never heard of Châteaudun, let alone the name of the honorable Verdier, let us first clarify what we are doing here: we will try, for a few days, to explain some French problems through one of those quiet provincial towns where people live quite well and where the spirits are quite bad.
The name of the city leaves no doubt about its origin. “Château” means castle in French. “Dunon” is castle in Gaulish. “Châteaudun” can therefore be translated as “Castle-castle”. And, indeed, there is a formidable castle, founded in the 10th century by Thibaud I “The Trickster” and completed in its current form during the 15th century by Jean de Dunois “The Bastard”. From The Trickster to The Bastard (both had little luck with nicknames), from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, a beautiful fortification grew on top of a rock that can be considered a pioneer among the famous castles of the Loire and continues to fill the city with pride. local population.
Châteaudun holds the status of capital of the Eure-et-Loir district, within the Centre-Val de Loire region. But demographically it is not a big deal: 12,500 inhabitants. It was 18,000 thirty years ago. It happens that young people leave because companies leave too: Matra-Flextronics (telephony) took 700 jobs; the agricultural cooperative, 500. Now it is closing the Air Force base, which provided dunois an entertainment (or blow, according to some) every year: the parade with which the national holiday of July 14 is celebrated in Paris was rehearsed on that base, because the length and orientation of its runway corresponded exactly to the length and orientation of the Elysian Fields. With the base another 1,200 jobs are lost.
“Here you live very well,” says one. “Very well”, repeats the other. Two street sweepers have a morning cigarette near the castle. They are both white and born in Châteaudun, which—please, see no racism here—is a rarity in France today. “Do you have a lot of work?” “Empty the bins and sweep up a bit, people are clean.” The absence of graffiti and graffiti on the walls is striking. “Don’t believe it, a few weeks ago we came across a graffiti down there, in the suburbs. It was not a protest, just a boy who declared in writing his love for a girl”.
This population, in the great plain that extends to the south of Paris (the capital is 120 kilometers away), does not have any tall buildings, except for the castle. At first glance, it doesn’t have any ugly buildings either. They are low, neat houses, around a delightful historic center and on a gentle river, the Loir (not to be confused with the Loire, of which it is a tributary). At some moments one believes walking through a decorated desert. Few people walk the streets, perhaps because it is cold.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Châteaudun has no immigration problems. Châteaudun lacks any security issues. Châteaudun even lacks employment problems: the unemployment rate is less than 7%. So why do the extreme right and discontent not stop growing? Perhaps it is due to the slow decay. Perhaps the reasons are other. We will have to try to find out in the next few days.
Let’s go back to the mayor’s office, a young, dynamic and ambitious economist (he tried to run for president in 2017) who bounced out of the Socialist Party and wanted to join Emmanuel Macron’s party without success. About 25 schoolchildren visit the town hall and Fabien Verdier shows them the Legion of Honor that the French Republic awarded to Châteaudun for his heroic resistance against the Prussians in 1870. The Prussians won and razed Châteaudun. But there is the medal.
“Do you know who was in charge in France at the Battle of Châteaudun?” asks the mayor. A girl raises her hand: “Georges Pompidou!” The girl only misses by a century. Pompidou was president between 1969 and 1974. In 1870, France had an emperor, Napoleon III, imprisoned by the Prussians after the battle of Sedan, deposed days later by the Third Republic and sent into British exile.
Follow all the international information in Facebook and Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits