Caiti came home buzzing yesterday. “Did you hear about that nasty article about Guéret?” she asked.
Since we hadn’t, Caiti filled us in. A Parisian arty magazine, Technikart, has slammed Creuse as a whole, and its principal town, Guéret, in particular in a vehemently unpleasant and rude article. One of Caiti’s friends was quoted in it and was very upset at how her words had been twisted and her views misrepresented. Caiti said how a Facebook group had been started over it, Les Creusois Contre Technikart. It already has 759 members, and has only been going about 24 hours.
I had to find out more. Cait gave me a few leads and I trawled the Net for more. Via Facebook, Tweets and some local French newspapers, I eventually tracked down the article here.
It’s unbelievably sneery and nasty and illustrated with horrid photos that someone had to go out of their way to take. Guéret is no Paris, but it’s a pretty little town with plenty of greenery, some beautiful buildings, a pleasant park and nice pedestrian shopping area, albeit small. It has a modern, new library, and Caiti’s lycée, Pierre Bourdan, is a striking two-colour brick building with a tree lined central quad. Of course it has its less attractive industrial and commercial areas, but what town doesn’t?
It describes itself damningly at the very start as a report from the middle of nowhere – nulle part. It says that Guéret is a trou paumé, a godforsaken hole, and that the département of Creuse is the nerve centre of the ‘diagonal of emptiness’ that disfigures the Hexagone (i.e. France). It talks of the quagmire ambience, of how it’s a dead town and that finding cool kids is like finding a needle in a haystack. There’s a lot of inbreeding going on, brin consanguin puisqu’une personne sur deux connais votre mère, with the last part meaning ‘where one person in two knows your mother’. I suspect that implies ‘know’ in the Biblical sense.
It goes on. The reporter describes how he looked for the moins glauque (least squalid) place to go and eventually found the moins naze (least awful) bar in the town. He saw bouseux (bumpkins) everywhere and reckons that the kids here are coincé (trapped). The only vaguely nice thing he says is about how important the library has turned out to be for young people. It goes on to bemoan how there are only shops like Gemo and Styleco to buy clothes from, and no equivalent to the Galeries Lafayette or Hermes. So what? These are good, sensibly priced stores where you can kit your kids out in reasonable quality, fashionable clothes without spending a fortune. Creuse is an area of low incomes, the average salary being around €19,000. Half of all schoolkids are in receipt of the rentrée grant and more than half the population doesn’t pay income tax since their earnings are too low. We couldn’t afford to shop at a designer label store, even if we had one. And actually there are a few nice boutiques in the centre of town if you’re after something a little more upmarket than the chain stores supply.
All in all it’s an unprovoked, hateful tirade from an outsider about a friendly (apart from a couple of government departments!), pleasant country town. I suppose its purpose was to win a cheap laugh from its sophisticated readership. Boy, has it backfired! From the editor promising in a Tweet to phone the Maire on Monday to grovel, now a contingent of staff is coming down in person from Technikart to deal with the fallout. I hope they get heckled.
I’ve been to Paris, home of this opinionated magazine. Yes, it’s a stunning city, much of it physically built by the famous and skilled Creuse masons (who are also slagged off in the article), but at least in Guéret you can actually use the public phone boxes because they aren’t full of homeless families. You don’t bump into a beggar or get hassled by a drunk every ten paces. You don’t have to be on constant alert for pickpockets and you know what? Fellow pedestrians actually smile at you and you strike up conversations with strangers as you wait in queues or do your shopping.
The Technikart crowd may think everything is better and classier in Paris, but just maybe it isn’t.